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Archive for the ‘Trees’ Category

Say you’re a growing country club in a nicely-treed community, and you need to enlarge your parking lot. And perhaps you want to lower its grade. The lot has some mature oak trees in it, and they add a certain je ne sais quoi to the scene, so you decide to save the trees by keeping the grade as is around the base of their trunks. You retain the roots and soil with a mortared stone wall. Voila!

Good idea – but woops! The minimum standard for root preservation is to keep 10 inches of root mass diameter per caliper inch of tree. For these trees, that would spell at least 360-inch diameter root masses. Because the trees are so close together, their roots overlap significantly — but still, 360 inches is thirty feet of diameter.

This 18-footish enclosure takes a tad too much root; the country club will almost certainly be watching these trees decline and die over the next few years (and they may well drop dead branches onto the parking lot, or cars in it, in the process).

The idea of saving a mature tree is a good one, as long as the tree’s actual requirements for continued healthy life are met.   Now that we have the tools to see how large a tree’s root mass really is, it’s much easier to see how big the unimpeded area around it has to be for the tree to survive happily and to thrive.

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Last week I was lucky enough to see the loading, unloading, and half the planting of an 18″ caliper European beech tree.  The tree had been air-tool excavated, and was being moved over state highways to its new home at the residence of a former client of mine.  Here’s what the tree and its immense root mass looked like:

Giant root mass, 30 feet across, preserved by air excavation. Note the trunk's heavy padding, and pigtailing of the roots.

So that's what a beech's roots look like. This tree had been transplanted with a tree spade about 20 years ago, and it was possible to look under the root plate and see where severed roots had sprouted out.

The 30-foot high tree being lowered onto a specially rigged trailer for transport.

After the tree had been loaded onto the trailer, its roots were covered with burlap and sprayed down for the ride to its new home.

This post is just a teaser; next spring after the tree leafs out I’ll write a post on the  whole air-tool transplant operation, and give all the who’s, what’s, why’s, hows, wheres, and whens.  Stay tuned.

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To continue yesterday’s post on the bare-root transplanting of a Norway spruce at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA:

The crew uses a heavy canvas strap wrapped securely (more than once) around the trunk, and pads the Bobcat fork bracket. This tree's flat back meant it could be pulled securely up onto the forks without tying up branches; other trees would need to be tied up for easier spading and transport. Here, the forks are poised to push under the root ball, just below the wire basket.

Rolando prunes thin fibrous roots from under the basket, to release the root ball from the ground. Most of the root mass has already been blown out.

Spruce on the move. With almost all the soil blown off the root mass, it is light enough for the Bobcat to carry the tree easily across campus. Canvas straps secure the tree to the Bobcat; Rolando rides along just in case.

Closeup of the root mass. Virtually all of the roots on this tree were quite thin, and they made a dense mat that extended about nine feet out from the tree's trunk on several sides.

Mynor had dug out the hole with the Bobcat while Sonia and Rolando blew out the soil from around the tree. This site, next to a busy campus parking lot, challenged the crew to place the tree carefully. Cars were parked just to the right of the orange barrier in this photo, and other relocated trees ringed the dish on two other sides, so maneuvering to get the tree in place was a bit tricky. It's relatively easy to spin at least a small B&B tree to the right orientation; turning an air-spaded tree requires a bit more forethought. In this situation, a bit of three-dimensional visualization was necessary to be sure that the flat side faced away from the parking lot.

Sonia and Rolando used a rake handle and tape measure to determine the root mass's depth before adjusting soil depth in the new hole.

Additional native soil is added and compacted to make a pad under the trunk. When in doubt, it's better to place the tree slightly higher in its new location than to risk it settling deeper once it has been backfilled and watered in; tamping the soil firmly under and around the roots right at the tree's base helps insure both that the soil won't subside and that air pockets are eliminated.

Rolando guides Mynor in setting the tree in the right spot. Good communication is key through this entire project, and these guys were excellent in coordinating their work with each other.

Rolando and Santo shovel native soil under the rolled-up root mat, to secure and level the tree before its roots get spread out.

Sonia and Rolando spread soil under and over the roots as they unroll them from the bundle. Note that they are using soil excavated from the site, with no amendments. Bare-root transplanting eliminates the difficulties associated with moisture transfer between two types of soil (root ball soil and soil outside the root ball), which makes establishment in its new site less stressful for the tree.

With backfilling complete, the crew builds a berm.

With the berm in place, Sonia waters the backfill thoroughly. Some crews shovel in the backfill and water simultaneously, "mudding in" the tree for extra stability and the complete elimination of air pockets. Mulch will go on this new planting next, and then more water. Note that you can see the root flare, now that the tree has been excavated from its original root ball and planted at the proper depth.

Project site:  The Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA

Project manager:  Sonia Baerhuk

Project crew:  Rolando Ortega, Mynor Tobar, Santo Masciari

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The Massachusetts Arborists Assocation bare-root workshops — one in August 2008, and one in August 2009 — have been spreading word through the Commonwealth about the benefits of air-tool tree transplanting, and word is travelling throughout Massachusetts horticulture circles now.

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with Kristen DeSouza, one of the horticulturists at the New England Wild Flower Society‘s Garden In The Woods, and she mentioned that she had passed my name along to Sonia Baerhuk, who tends the grounds at Watertown’s Perkins School for the Blind.  Kristen told me that Sonia and her crew have been using air tools to  transplant trees on the school’s grounds for the last several months, and suggested that I get in touch with her.

And so last Thursday, a couple of emails and a phone call later, I pulled in to the visitor’s parking area at the Perkins School.  Sonia soon arrived in one of the grounds department’s Gators.  She very kindly showed me around the campus, explaining that a new and large building project had required the removal of dozens of large trees.

It’s a scenario typical of many institutional sites:  a program outgrows its home, the phasing of a master plan leads to a shifting of facilities or the construction of a new building, and the vegetation on site must either be removed or relocated.  Having worked at Perkins for several years, Sonia was no stranger to this course, of events, but still, she had been dismayed to see so many large specimen trees being cut and fed into the chipper.

Though the grounds crew does most of its own tree work, over the years they have called in arborists for their expertise, and Sonia knew and trusted Matt Foti’s expertise.  Matt had told her about the air-tool method, and on the strength of his recommendation, she signed up for the MAA’s Elm Bank bare-root workshop this past August.  At it, she absorbed as much information as possible.  She came away from the day’s event convinced that air-tool excavation and transplant was the best way for her crew to relocate any salvageable campus trees.

So Sonia and her boss Rich Falzone equipped the crew with an Air Spade and an Air Knife, coveralls, eye protection, ear protection, and respirators, and began to direct the relocation of trees.

To date, the Perkins crew — Sonia Baerhuk, Rolando Ortega, Mynor Tobar, and Santo Masciari — has moved several 15-20′ Norway spruce, a fastigiate white pine, a Forest Pansy redbud, several apples, and a beautifully structured 25-30′ tall Halesia.

On the day I visited, they were ready to move another Norway spruce from a location that is slated to become a pondside patio.  Its new home would be a lawn next to a parking lot to which they had already moved a number of evergreens.  The new planting is beginning to screen the lot from adjacent buildings; over time, this grove will shade the parking lot and the walkway near it.

Sonia Baerhuk marking the new home of a 15' Norway spruce to be relocated.

Fifteen-foot Norway spruce in its original location next to the campus pond. The crew discovered that the Norway's roots were interwoven with roots from other nearby trees. This tree was flat on the side facing the fence.

Currently, the grounds crew rents compressors. These two generated air for an Air Knife and an Air Spade. Note the plywood barriers set up to prevent soil overspray onto the lawn. In this project, the crew did not dig a trench to hold blown-out soil; they simply started blowing soil out from the trunk and followed the roots out to and beyond the dripline.

Sonia and Rolando, kitted out in their PSE: coveralls, gloves, hats and hoods, ear protection, eye protection, and respirators.

Blowing soil off the roots took about three hours. Sonia likes to divide the root mass diameter into quadrants and work systematically, while Rolando prefers to work all around the tree; when they work in tandem they use whichever method fits the site conditions best.

Edges of the original B&B root ball are barely visible here; it was roughly 24-30" across. Rolando and Sonia discovered the wire basket still around it. They also discovered that the root flare sat several inches down in the original root ball.

The spruce was anchored with a thick mat of fibrous roots; the crew found virtually no roots larger than 1/2" in diameter. Here, they are pruning root ends under the eighteen-inch deep mat.

Still pruning the mat, and rolling it up toward the trunk to blow soil out from under the tree.

The root mat rolled up and bound in burlap for further blowing-out and moving.

Project site:  The Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA

Project manager:  Sonia Baerhuk

Project crew:  Rolando Ortega, Mynor Tobar, Santo Masciari

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Big-leafed mystery

Last June, I notice three small woody plants in the front yard of an unassuming house in my town.  They had each been carefully planted and mulched, and each had enormous leaves — about 12″ across, which for a three-foot high plant really is enormous.  I was fascinated, and through the summer watched them take off and grow to about twelve feet in height.

Paulownia detail

Couldn't figure out what it was: Catalpa? Castor bean plant? Some kind of Rodgersia? Big leaves, even when small -- but then it grew to about 12' in height in one season, and those speculations dissolved.

Paulownia vert

This mystery tree, paired with two others nearby, baffled me for months.

Paulownia horiz

One day in October I walked past with my camera, trying yet again to figure out what these 14-inch leaves on fast-growing stems could be. I was ready to steal a leaf and start keying it out.

And then that night, just before I fell sleep, the words ‘Paulownia tomentosa*’ floated across my mind’s eye.  Next morning I pulled out Dirr and — voila! — the mystery was solved.  I’d been watching three juveniles of the Paulownia genus (also known as Empress Tree, Dragon Tree, or Princess Tree) take hold and begin their march toward world domination in the suburbs south of Boston.  From what I’ve seen of these plants, they are like those guests at a party who arrive at full volume, make a big scene, and leave early (though these have kept their leaves into November now).

I’d first met Paulownias in Somerville, MA, where a picket-fenced yard on my bike route home from work was home to several large trees.  One day I was riding past, and noticed lots of large mauve flowers strewn on the road and sidewalk.  I looked up, and saw still more flowers hanging from the overarching branches.  The trees in flower were spectacular, though the yard itself looked a bit down at the heels, with dry bare dirt where lawn should have been.  Later, I saw some in bloom next to Route 1 in Westwood; they had clearly volunteered in some roadside fill, and were putting on their spring show.

This summer’s mystery planting was the first of these three sightings that I could tell had been intentionally planted.  I aim to keep an eye on them through the winter to see how their buds fare in this zone, and then watch out come spring as the show begins again.

*Not sure of the species, of which there are many.

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Root flare

Root flare — where the trunk of a tree and its roots meet — is a critical  juncture in a tree’s anatomy.  Nowadays, trees coming onto the Massachusetts market often have root flares buried in the B&B root ball when they reach a job site for planting.  The contractor then has to remove the covering soil (removing burlap and wire basket in the process, which is a good thing) so that the tree and its root soil sit at the proper relationship to finish grade.  Once the tree is dug and watered in, the contractor adds 3-4″ of mulch, keeping it well away from that newly revealed root flare.  In this post from Taking Place, and this one, I show the crown effects of buried root flares on pear trees and on sugar maples.

So that’s what juvenile trees with buried root flares look like.  In contrast, here’s a photo of the thriving root flare on a large and quite mature sugar maple:

Parry maple flare

Ever seen a sugar maple with knees?

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Gleditsia pods

 

p1030994

What autumn in Boston brings.

 

 

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Mike Furgal sent me photos of an 8″ caliper Weeping White Pine  that he moved a couple of weeks ago, remarking that this tree, though relatively small, was the most challenging tree he’s moved bare-root.

The tree was situated in a small berm next to a house and a driveway, and shared the bed with a 7′ Hinoki Cypress and an 8′ Blue Holly.  Mike blew soil out of the entire bed to move all three plants, whose roots were interwoven.

Pine roots running toward the house and drive extended no more than three feet. Roots running under the lawn told a different story; the two main roots that Mike found were 16-18 feet in length; they had plenty of moisture available and plenty of rooting room to grow.

Mike began work on the bed by blowing soil at the tree’s dripline and at its root collar, to assess where the roots were.  He found that they ran along the edge of the bed until they hit the house; from that point they grew out into the lawn.

Here are his photos:

beginning location 2

Rooting space is constrained by the berm's proximity to the house and the driveway.

begining location 3

Ample lawn space gives plenty of rooting opportunity in other directions.

beginning location 1

Lots of roots here -- note how they run along what had been the bed edge, and extend back toward the house. Once they hit the house, they then ran out into the lawn.

beforemove

Here's what the excavated bed looked like, with Hinoki Cypress, Blue Holly, and Weeping White Pine roots woven together.

veron pine diggiing

Tremendous root extension can be kept with air-tool excavating, and while not all fine roots remain, a significant number of them do.

veron white pine digging 2

The Pine ready for its move. These lawn-side roots are sixteen to eighteen feet long. Compare that root length to the accepted standard size of a B&B root ball, which allows ten inches of root-mass diameter for one inch of trunk caliper. For an apples to apples comparison, if we include the three feet of root on the tree's other side, this tree has 19 to 21 feet of root extension, as opposed to the 6-foot, 8-inch root mass diameter you would see on a B&B specimen.

veron white pine digging 3

Moving the excavated pine was the trickiest part. Mike and his helper used a Bobcat and a Dingo -- tricky to coordinate both machines at once.

veron moving 3

Closeup of the two monster roots extending away from the house and drive.

veron moving 1

Anyone else reminded of a bride with a really long train? One major difference: a bride doesn't require this kind of machinery to move around.

veron moving 2

The pine moving to its new home on the other side of the house.

I’ll post photos of the tree in its new location shortly.

Arborist:  Mike Furgal, Furgal Tree and Landscape, Northborough, MA

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Posted on Taking Place on July 1, 2009:

A few posts back I mentioned my February 2009 article in Lawn and Landscape Magazine on bare-root tree transplanting using an air spade. That article was preceded by my December 1, 2008 article in American Nurseryman, in which news of the technique debuted. Both articles describe the workshop at which several trees — a Juniperus virginiana, a couple of Acer palmatum, a couple of Betula pendula ‘Gracilis’, among others — were spaded and moved. Both articles outline how to carry out the process, though the Lawn and Landscape article is a bit more explicit. And they compare the merits of different methods of transplanting (tree spaded, ball & burlap, and air spade), including how cost, speed of operation, and effect on tree health may vary.

The beauty of using an air spade to transplant specimen trees is that so much root mass can be preserved and moved with the tree. The following photos of a dwarf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum dissectum), lent by Matt Foti, illustrate just how effective at saving roots this technique is.

Matt and his crews are using an air spade routinely now in transplanting work, because it preserves the tree’s resources so well, minimizing transplant shock and easing re-establishment. They moved this tree in early September of 2008. Take a look:

Acer palmatum dissectum awaiting its move.  Soil under the tree has been lightly spaded to check surface roots.

Acer palmatum dissectum awaiting its move. Soil under the tree has been lightly spaded to check surface roots.

Same tree, roots now exposed by the air spade.  Note how far beyond the tree's dripline these roots extend.

Same tree, roots now exposed by the air spade. Note how far beyond the tree's dripline these roots extend.

Tree being lifted up for the move.  The crew has wrapped its trunk and main limbs, to avoid injury; guy lines insure that it won't tip in transit.

Tree being lifted up for the move. The crew has wrapped its trunk and main limbs, to avoid injury; guy lines insure that it won't tip in transit.

Wrapping thoroughly during this kind of move lessens the chance of bark injury.

Wrapping thoroughly during this kind of move lessens the chance of bark injury.

Tree in its new location, backfilled and awaiting thorough watering.  No staking is necessary, as most of the root plate has been preserved and will continue to support the tree in its new home.

Tree in its new location, backfilled and awaiting thorough watering. No staking is necessary, as most of the root plate has been preserved and will continue to support the tree in its new home.

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In the fall of 2008 Carl Cathcart persuaded Cavicchio’s Greenhouses to wash the roots on a stressed B&B Quercus rubra (Red Oak), and to plant it in a spot where it might be able to settle in.  Carl sent me photos of the root-washing process, which I posted on Taking Place last summer.  He and I then drove to Sudbury to see the tree, and to check out the three Red Oaks in similar condition that Cavicchio’s had planted conventionally, to see how they would progress in relation to the root-washed oak.

Photos of all the planted-out trees are on Taking Place, and because there are so many of them I’m simply posting the links to those posts here.  To see the photos and read about the root-washing experiment, click here first, and then click here.

The summary:  in mid-July, the bare-rooted tree looked best of all four trees.  It had some dead wood, but nothing that hadn’t been on the tree the previous autumn, and it had good foliage color and density, if the foliage itself was a bit small.  By comparison, the other three trees looked as if they were struggling: each tree had sprouted out new shoots along its trunk, often a sign of a tree in decline; foliage was small, and there was lots of deadwood in each tree.  It’s not a scientifically rigorous experiment, but one worth following over the next few years, to see how the trees progress.

Leaning into the root ball.  Lower water pressure may be a bit easier for those tiny feeder roots, but high pressure makes getting the hard clay soil off a faster process.  It's not clear yet how feeder root regrowth is affected by this kind of treatment, whether the pressure comes from air or water.  Early reactions seem promising, but it may be several years before a re-examination of the roots shows how risks and benefits balance..

Leaning into the root ball. Lower water pressure may be a bit easier for those tiny feeder roots, but high pressure makes getting the hard clay soil off a faster process. It's not clear yet how feeder root regrowth is affected by this kind of treatment, whether the pressure comes from air or water. Early reactions seem promising, but it may be several years before a re-examination of the roots shows how risks and benefits balance..

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