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Posts Tagged ‘remedial root work’

Last February I wrote about the bare-root transplant of a large Katsura tree (Cercidophyllum japonicum) at UMass, beautifully executed by the pros at Foti Landscape and Tree. Matt Foti just sent me a photo he took last week of the tree, which has settled into its new home nicely.

Though the crew kept a large slug of soil under the tree’s butt for the move, Matt told me that they did some excavation at the root flare, as they always do, to check for girdling, circling, or damaged roots. (I hadn’t noticed the excavation when I first saw the transplant photos, but if you click back to that post you’ll notice it.) The crew found a girdling root and removed it — and clearly, from this current photo, the tree didn’t skip a beat.

Even in a backlit shot on a very hot day this tree is looking happy.

Even in a backlit shot on a very hot day this tree is looking happy.

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This year’s New England Grows featured a talk by Jim Flott, who discussed the bare-root transplanting of large trees.  Jim talked about root-washing, something he has studied, practiced, and taught, on his own and with the late Bonnie Appleton of Virginia Tech.  He spoke about the history of bare-root transplanting — until the middle of the 1900s bare-rooting was the primary way to transplant trees — and about bare-rooting with air tools.  It was a great presentation; this abstract by Flott and Appleton covers a lot of the territory Jim discussed, and it’s worth a read.

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Bare-root transplant with air tools — 12″ caliper London Plane tree, moved in late July 2009 in Wellesley, MA.

After Jim’s talk in one of the large auditoriums, he moved to a smaller room for an ‘Speaker Unplugged’ session, where people could ask him questions and exchange information.   As had happened at New England Grows three years ago, when Matt Foti discussed bare-root transplanting with air tools, someone asked about the effects of bare-root transplanting on a tree’s taproot.

How does bare-root transplant affect a taprooted tree?  The answer, both from Jim and from Matt, is that taproots are rarely an issue.

A taproot typically forms when a seed germinates; the baby taproot emerges first from the seed, growing down and anchoring the seed in the soil.  Next, the cotyledon shoot emerges and grows upward.  As the cotyledon starts to photosynthesize, root hairs branch out from the taproot, and the root volume grows and spreads.  The depth of roots is determined in part by available moisture and in part by soil type.  Typically, organic soils — which hold water and allow good cation exchange — rest at the top of the soil profile; mineral soils underlie the organic horizons, and are much less hospitable to roots.  Here in New England soils may be quite thin, and are often underlain with rock.

So taproots here will serve that useful anchoring function early in a tree’s life, but soil conditions and the plant’s own tendencies will promote the outward, rather than the downward growth of a tree.  In fact, the overall growth of tree roots tends to be outward, rather than down; the old image of a root mass volume and form mirroring a tree’s crown volume and form has been proven false.

We know that trees tend to develop their roots in the top 18″ of soil; the larger the tree, the deeper that zone may go, but typically it extends no more than 3 or 4 feet below grade.  Some thick roots on very large trees may extend vertically down in this zone, if soil conditions permit, but many more run horizontally away from the tree’s trunk.  The anchoring function of that original taproot, if it remains, is replaced by the anchoring provided by a much broader and more extensive mass of roots growing out and (to a much less extent) down.

As I wrote in an earlier post (with thanks to Linda Chalker-Scott for its title):

It’s helpful to keep in mind another factor when thinking about taproots and transplanting trees.  More often than not, a large tree being transplanted was planted out years earlier as a B&B plant, or possibly moved into place with a tree spade.  Both methods would have cut any taproot in the initial planting.  When the end of a root is cut, the tree tends to send shoots out from just above the cut end.  In a vertically oriented root, the new shoots are apt to extend horizontally from the cut end, and feeder roots would similarly extend out horizontally.  The situation may well be different for a tree that has grown from seed in one place, that someone now wants to transplant bare root, but for most landscape trees the taproot issue is moot — whatever taproot may have existed when the tree seed germinated has already been cut, and the tree has adjusted for its loss.


A carrot grows downward, with rootlets out to the side and foliage above ground. A tree is not a carrot. Photo by obenson in Flickr.

This beech tree was moved last fall, having been transplanted once about 20 years ago. See how the root mass extends far out horizontally, with a relatively shallow depth.

This is one of the thickest roots extending vertically from the beech’s trunk. This root was cut in the earlier (20 years previous) transplant; note the resultant root growth just above the cut.

 

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…and go back to school for a day.  If anyone in the Massachusetts woody-plants world has not seen the latest in tree- and shrub-planting techniques, here’s your chance:  on September 27, Rolf Briggs and Matt Foti will be giving a workshop entitled At The Root:  Air Tools Workshop at the New England Wild Flower Society’s Garden In The Woods.   Matt and Rolf will discuss and show the best techniques for planting trees and shrubs fresh from the nursery (air tools not necessary for this), as well as how to use air tools to trench under trees, decompact soil, and transplant trees.

I have my reasons to promote this workshop (and it’s next-day partner, At The Root: Understanding and Managing Healthy Soils), and they center on the fact that every planting season I find myself coaching laborers on how to deal with the root balls of plants that we’re planting on my job sites.  The boss, not knowing or having taught his laborers the proper planting techniques, usually has priced the work based on a quick  installation (dig the hole, stick the plant in, cover up the root ball, basket, and burlap), and the laborers, knowing only the quick and dirty method, look sideways at me as I show them what I want them to do.  The guys do the work the way I want it, but really, the process would go much more smoothly, and more landscapes would establish and grow in better, if everyone knew , priced, and carried out the work in what are considered the most plant-friendly ways.

Some of the most effective tools available to see what can be considered plant-friendly, and to work in soil crowded with roots, are pneumatic air tools.  I believe that Rolf and Matt will be transplanting a tree bare-root, using air, which will afford workshop attendees a chance to see what a tree’s roots really look like when the soil is blown away.  It’s an experience that can change how anyone working with plants understands how a plant grows and anchors itself, and for that alone this workshop is worth attending.

Watering in a newly planted tree-form Taxus from Weston Nurseries.

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Last year I worked on a large mall planting project.  A number of trees had to be pulled out to make way for a new parking layout; the islands they had been growing in were removed and paved over, with new islands located in a different configuration.  Most of the trees were hauled away by the landscape contractor, but one ended up in a discard pile next to the mountain of loam that had been excavated for reuse.

I was interested in the root configuration on this six-inch caliper red maple.  A mass of fibrous roots wrapped closely around the tree’s trunk, much like cotton-candy filaments spun around a paper cone.  Looking at it more closely, I found that the fibrous roots grew out of thicker woody roots, some of which had been cut during the tree’s original ball-and-burlapping, and some of which, growing since that operation, were circling the trunk.  Take a look:

Fibrous roots circling the six-inch red maple trunk.

Pulled away from the trunk, the roots clearly are circling it. Over time, as the tree grew in girth, these roots likely would have constricted the flow of nutrients between root mass and crown

This sort of circling root is usually seen when the soil mass in a B&B root ball is of different porosity from the soil surrounding it; moisture will not move from one soil mass to the other until one mass is completely saturated.  Because roots tend to grow where moisture and oxygen are available, they will often stay within the root ball, and circle around the trunk as they grow.  The problem is made worse when burlap is not pulled away from the ball, as the burlap constitutes yet another interface for the moisture to move through.

Here's the tree's underside. Note the girdling root snaking on top of the big torn root facing the camera, and the curiously self-contained look of this root mass. The tree's problems likely began early in its life.

Not every B&B tree has these problems, and in those that do, not every rooting problem can be remedied at planting time.  Judicious treatment — looking for circling roots that can become girdling roots, cutting back girdling roots and cutting or redirecting circling roots, roughing up the sides of the root ball, removing or cutting down wire baskets, pulling down or removing burlap — can go a long way in helping B&B trees establish better in the landscape, and in remedying problems that threaten a tree’s long-term health and viability.  For more discussion on root issues affecting B&B trees, check out this post on Matt Foti’s station at the MAA’s Elm Bank bare-root workshop in September 2009.

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Mark Smith, construction project manager for Belknap Landscape Company in Gilford, NH, sent me photos and a description of the air-tool transplant his company executed with Piscataqua Landscaping recently.  Belknap has been using air tools for transplanting, site preparation (excavating roots at foundation limit lines prior to the foundation excavation), and root forensics, and has also used compressed air to reduce weight in larger B&B-dug root balls being moved.

Here’s what Mark had to say about the Weeping Norway Spruce they recently moved from Baker Valley Nurseries (with light editing):

“We moved a 25+ year old Weeping Norway Spruce that has resided in Baker Valley Nurseries in Rumney for the duration of its life.  This tree stood 10-11 feet tall and at least 12 feet wide on one direction.  The last time this tree was root pruned with a spade was 10 years ago.

Through the spading process we could clearly see where this root pruning occurred.  All said and done we were left with a 25-30′ wide root system…You cannot see that in these pics real well, as we had all the roots coiled up into harnesses and sitting atop the root pan.

I helped Piscataqua with the digging of this and am told so far it looks great in its new home on the coast.  Just to dig and get the tree in the truck took about 4-5 hours with 2 of us spading, and then 4 of us to get the tree in the truck which was actually the worst part.”

The tree before excavation.

Branches tied back to permit easier blowout.

Leader wrapped in burlap to protect it during excavation and moving.

Deepening the excavation.

Root plate covered in wet burlap for the pickup and move.

Guiding the forks for the lift.

Confirming a balanced and firm placement on the forks.

Guiding the lift.

A final spray-down before transport.

No photos yet of the tree in its new location, but when they come in I’ll post them.

Tree and equipment supplier:   Baker Valley Nurseries, Inc., Wentworth, NH

Moved by:

Piscataqua Landscaping Company, Inc., Eliot, ME  (Booth Hemingway and Travis Wright) and

Belknap Landscape Company, Inc., Gilford, NH (Mark Smith)

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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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