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Posts Tagged ‘root flare’

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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Yesterday I drove through Yarmouth, Maine, and stopped by the site where Herbie the New England Champion American Elm (Ulmus americana) had lived for over two hundred years before meeting his end this past January (see this post for the story).  I wanted to see Herbie’s stump and get a better idea of what 217 years of tree age looked like in plan view.

It was hard to get a clear measure of the stump.  It was cleanly cut across the root flare, and there were no signs of internal decay at the cut line, which indicates that no root damage — or none of the kind that travels up the trunk and compromises it —  had affected the tree in its life.

This tree was big.  A slice from the bottom of the butt, mounted on table-height legs, would be big enough to seat at least a dozen people quite comfortably, if a bit irregularly.  The following photos show my attempts at comparative scale.

From a distance, the spot where Herbie stood looks like a small paved dais in a big open space.

A pair of Felcos and a water bottle for scale, and still it's hard to fathom the stump's size.

Hmm. This yellow nursery caliper gauge, maxed out at 4 1/4", doesn't come close to an appropriate scale. The school bus in the background ran past before I could catch its image right in front of the stump, but it begins to suggest a comparison.

This angle doesn't help much either, though it certainly illustrates how Herbie dealt with grade change -- he just grew over it.

People walking by help with scale.

Eureka! The handy measuring tape, laid across the stump's widest part, gives at least some numeric sense of size.

Here's a crop from that last photo, showing the stump measuring at its widest point 9'-2". Herbie had plenty of root room, among other advantages, so he could grow to this size.

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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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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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If you’ve been interested in the issues on this blog, you might well want to look into another blog, this one written by four horticulture professors.  They’re each based somewhere different — Washington State, Virginia, Michigan, and Minnesota — and they write with humor and expertise about plants and plant issues.  The Garden Professors started posting in July 2009.  They talk about root-washing, propagation, nursery practices, soil contaminants, slugs, rubber mulch — you name it, they’re addressing it.  A recent post highlighted the air-tool transplant of a beautiful 10″ caliper weeping white pine by a Michigan State University Nursery Management class and the MSU arborist. — take a look for some good pix and clear, personable, often funny writing about a great range of up-to-the-minute plant issues.

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Dave Leonard from Lexington, KY, manned the root forensics station at the September 10 MAA air-tool workshop at Elm Bank.  He used an Air Knife to excavate the root ball of a 4″ caliper red maple that was showing signs of decline.

Turf provided the only competition for this tree, but it was showing dieback and early fall color at the MAA workshop.

Turf provided the only competition for this tree, but it was showing dieback and early fall color at the MAA workshop. Dave Leonard excavated at its base to take a look at its rooting habit for possible problems.

With soil blown away from the original root ball, it was clear that the tree’s planting had initiated some problems — parts of the wire basket appeared at the edges of the root ball, and cut root ends had sent out an explosion of fibrous roots that turned back toward the trunk.

Root ends cut during the tree's digging in the nursery sent out masses of fibrous roots, quite a few of which turned back toward the trunk.  The interface between root ball soil and surrounding soil can inhibit root growth into the surrounding soil; removing burlap, removing the wire basket, and breaking up the root ball soil, particularly at the ball's perimeter, can help promote the spread of new roots.

Root ends cut during the tree's digging in the nursery sent out masses of fibrous roots, quite a few of which turned back toward the trunk. The interface between root ball soil and surrounding soil can inhibit root growth into the surrounding soil; removing burlap, removing the wire basket, and breaking up the root ball soil, particularly at the ball's perimeter, can help promote the spread of new roots. Note the soil line some inches up the trunk flare; removing soil above the trunk flare will also benefit the tree and lessen its stress.

Dave cut away the roots that he could not redirect outward, and trimmed off the roots that had begun to circle the trunk flare’s base, which would otherwise eventually girdle the trunk and major anchor roots.  Some of these roots were the beginnings of a secondary root system put out by the tree in response to its stress.

Removing the worst of the inward-growing and circling roots improves the tree's chances for survival.

Removing the worst of the inward-growing and circling roots improves the tree's chances for survival.

After excavating the root ball, Dave intended to continue to blow soil out away from the root ball, creating a shallow crater  out at least to the tree’s dripline.  Removing turf from that zone would eliminate plant competition for soil moisture; the addition of 2-4″ of mulch (kept away from the trunk) would help the soil retain moisture and an even temperature, add organics to it over time, and lessen the chance of soil compaction that inhibits soil/air gas exchange.

Dave said that he would also consider lifting the tree a few inches, to bring its trunk flare into a better relationship with surrounding grade.  This tree had been in the ground for a couple of years; Dave suggested that tree lifting might be worth doing within two to four years of planting, but could be detrimental to the tree after that.  (The window of opportunity for lifting a tree would be a lot wider if an air tool were used, rather than a Bobcat or excavator, as the tree could be bare-rooted and set back in place with relatively little stress from the process.)

Demonstrating arborist at this station:

Dave Leonard, Dave Leonard Consulting Arborist, Inc., Lexington, KY

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Yesterday the Massachusetts Arborists Association held a day-long workshop at Elm Bank, headquarters for the Massachusetts Horticulture Society in Wellesley, MA.  Three arborists — Dave Leonard from Kentucky, Rolf Briggs of Holliston, MA, and Matt Foti of Lexington, MA — spoke about particular  root issues; Mike Furgal, from Northborough, MA, discussed the use of air tools in bare-root tree transplanting.  After hearing the talks, the hundred or so attendees split into groups and visited five stations on the Elm Bank grounds where the featured speakers were giving demonstrations on their topics.

It was a fine workshop, and I’ll be posting quite a few photos from it in the next few days.  Today, though, I’m only posting this photo:

Sugar maple whose root flare was excavated several years ago at a Bartlett Tree workshop given to demonstrate the new and revolutionary use of air tools in tree work.

Sugar maple whose trunk flare was excavated several years ago at a Bartlett Tree workshop given to demonstrate the new and revolutionary use of air tools in tree work.

Several years ago, I went with a friend to this Bartlett Tree workshop at Elm Bank, and we were among a smallish group who watched as an arborist blew several inches of soil away from the trunk flare of this Sugar Maple.  As I recall, the tree had been planted a bit deep, it was set in a fairly compacted lawn, and it was not looking as well as it might; at the time (this was perhaps seven or eight, or perhaps even ten years ago) it had about a six-inch caliper trunk and was not thriving.

Now, however, the tree looks really good.  It may have a little too much mulch around its base — built up since its excavation — but its foliage is deep green, its bark is intact (trunk injuries sometimes show up as a result of some kind of root trauma or injury), and it certainly has grown.  A mulch bed surrounds it and keeps lawnmowers away as it minimizes compaction.  If this kind of growth results from attending to root issues early on and from maintaining a tree properly, the arborists from this workshop may prove, down the road, to be responsible for promoting what truly may be the best arboricultural practices around.

Workshop speakers:

Dave Leonard, Dave Leonard Consulting Arborist, Inc., Lexington, KY

Rolf Briggs, Tree Specialists, Inc., Holliston, MA

Mike Furgal, Furgal’s Tree and Landscape, Northborough, MA

Matt Foti, Matthew R. Foti Landscape and Tree Service, Inc., Lexington, MA

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