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Posts Tagged ‘tree issues’

Last week I drove to Wellesley College to see the Dwarf Alberta Spruce that Jim Doyle and Don Garrick had moved bare-root last November.  Fritz Hoffman, an Alaska contractor in town to learn about bare-root transplant work, accompanied me, and we walked and walked along the lakeshore looking for the Spruce.

Well, it wasn’t there.  We turned around, backtracked along the pathway, and came upon a grounds crew working on a plaza installation.  We stopped and met John Olmsted, Manager of Landscape Operations, who told us that the Spruce had died.  He said that despite its loss, the arborists had recently transplanted a Sugar Maple, two Kousa Dogwoods, and an American Smokebush bare-root.

The Dwarf Alberta Spruce didn't make it, but this spring-transplanted Kousa Dogwood may well thrive in this spot.

Later, Jim Doyle told me that he thought they had moved the Spruce to a too-exposed location.  It seemed to fare well through the winter, but in March had turned brown and had to be removed.  We speculated that the move from a very sheltered spot to an open waterfront location might have placed too high a demand on the plant.  It might have survived the dangerous phenomenon of frozen soils and warm air had it been wrapped in burlap, but it’s impossible to know.

Nice trunk flare on the newly transplanted Sugar Maple at Wellesley College.

What is heartening is that the Spruce move came about because Jim and Don took a chance — and though the risk didn’t pan out, the College believed in the possibility of success, and authorized the bare-root moving of four more plants.  When it comes down to a choice, especially on a large campus, between moving or destroying a tree, the opportunity to move and save the tree may make sense.   Actively managing a landscape — especially one with valuable mature trees —  requires this kind of decision-making, and newly available technologies can give greater flexibility in the move-save debate.

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A reader, Mark Vanderwouw from Shady Lane Expert Tree Care, Inc. wrote a comment on the post titled Another Air-Tool Bare-Root Transplanting (cross-posted from TakingPlace.net, the other blog I co-write for landscape architects).  His company is excavating out several large specimen trees for a one-year storage period, after which they will plant the trees in their new home.  I answered his questions in the Comments section of that post (click on the link above and scroll down to the Comments), but they, and the questions I’ve been asked quite a bit in the last few months, need airing and discussion in a larger format.  So here goes:

Q:  How long did it take to excavate the Taxus and the Kousa Dogwood that were  growing next to each other?

A:  It took the better part of a day to excavate and transplant these trees.  Because their roots were intertwined, the process took longer than it would have had they been stand-alone specimens.

Interwoven roots of two trees to be moved makes the excavating process more time-consuming.

Q:  Is it necessary to keep the roots moist during the excavation?

A:  It is a good idea to do so, as compressed air tends to dry soil and roots.  Having a hose on hand to spray down the exposed roots every so often makes sense.  There has been some discussion among the arborists doing this work that because such a large volume of root mass gets saved, the tree is much more resilient and adaptable to the short period of drying caused during air-tool work.  Compressed air will blow off quite a lot of the tiny feeder roots — but they tend to regenerate pretty quickly once planted in the new site, and the ‘reservoir’ of moisture and nutrients in the remaining large roots helps sustain the tree during the excavation and move.

I don’t know of any scientific experiments that have been done to date to test this hypothesis — right now, the results are anecdotal — but I’m guessing that we will be hearing in the next few years about controlled experiments that prove or disprove this idea.  In the meantime, if you have been transplanting trees bare-root with air tools, feel free to write in and share your experience, and join the community that’s pushing into this new territory.

Q:  Do you use hydrogel on the roots of air-excavated trees?

A:  If a tree is being moved from one location on a site to another within a relatively short period of time (say, within a day), then hydrogel is probably not necessary.  If the tree is being moved from one site to another, and trucking or trailering is involved, a hydrogel spray and a secure tarp covering are probably advisable.  The following pictures come from Bransfield Tree Company LLC, which moved a large Beech tree last fall (subject of post next month):

Jonathan Bransfield spraying down the root plate of a tree with water and a 1% solution of Wilt-Pruf before tarping. Hydrogel was used in the backfill at planting.

The newly tarped root plate getting sprayed down with water before the tree's drive to another site.

Q:  Have you seen any mortality from this method of moving trees?

A:  There is some evidence that trees with particularly tender bark don’t do well with direct pressure from compressed air.  Matt Foti notes that two cherry trees he moved last year died; a few weeks ago he moved a cherry on his own property, and had his crew blow soil out from under the tree, aiming the air in toward the trunk from the blowout trench.  He has planted the tree out in his nursery and will watch it for the next year, to see how it respond to the more sensitive treatment.   Here’s an instance where the technology is available to do the work, but our knowledge is still catching up with the technology.  If anyone wants to do a controlled, scientific study, this species-specific question would be a great one to explore.  In the meantime, arborists doing this work will report in as they learn more.

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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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Another question asked at last week’s New England Grows about bare-root transplanting was “How do you make sure the roots don’t dry out?” The answer, of course, is that you water the tree you’re moving.  You water it thoroughly a couple of days before the transplant, to insure that the tree’s tissues have good turgor pressure and moisture reserves for the bare-rooting.  You take a break every now and again during the blow-out (if you’re using compressed air) and spray down the exposed roots with water.  You may spray more water on the roots — the top, bottom, and inside of the root mass — when you pick the tree up on forks to deliver it to its new home.  You ‘mud in’ the tree as you backfill, saturating the backfill soil with water to eliminate any air pockets and again, to combat root dessication.   And once you have mulched the tree well, you water still more.

Water in all phases of the operation is key to tree transplanting.

Cornell’s Urban Horticulture Institute advocates using a hydrogel slurry to hold water on the bare roots during planting.  Their excellent Creating the Urban Forest:  The Bare-Root Method describes the process of planting young trees bare-root, and is well worth reading.  The challenge of using a slurry for large-tree transplanting would be in getting a consistent coating of hydrogel on the roots (you can’t dip the root plate in a tub, the way you can with a sapling root mass) — but there must be a solution (so to speak) to that problem. And finally, aftercare is critical.  Moving a large specimen tree bare-root takes time and effort, and it would be folly to follow all the steps, get the tree in the ground, and then leave its re-establishment and survival up to chance.  Some arborists add fertilizer and bio-stimulants to the backfill, some don’t.  What is essential, again, is water.  Consistent and adequate water for the first growing season is the best way to make sure that a transplanted tree makes the transition to its new home, survives, and thrives.

Watering in a root-washed pin oak at Cavicchio's Nursery. Photo courtesy of Carl Cathcart.

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I was in Maine last week, and planned to stop in Yarmouth on Monday to watch the removal of Herbie, the champion American Elm (Ulmus americana) that had finally become too compromised to stay standing.

For several months,  stories about Herbie and his long-time steward, Yarmouth tree warden Frank Knight (at 101 years old, he is now retired) had been appearing in the news — Knight had cared for Herbie for over 50 years, and had treated the elm in repeated battles with Dutch Elm Disease.  He had succeeded for decades, but in recent years the disease and old age had been catching up, infecting whole limbs and making it necessary to remove large chunks of the tree’s crown.  Last summer, the town’s current tree warden, Debra Hopkins, determined that Herbie should come down, and Knight concurred.   The date of removal was set for January 18.

There were reports that arborists and Herbie-fans from around New England would show up to watch the proceedings.  As I would be driving past Yarmouth that day, I decided to join them.  Work was slated to begin at 7:30 a.m.

Fortunately or not, a heavy snowstorm started on Sunday night, and when I awoke at 5 on Monday morning several inches had already fallen, with no end in sight.   A couple of tasks delayed my departure by several hours, and as it seemed unlikely that the work would proceed that day anyway, I didn’t arrive in Yarmouth until about 2:30 p.m.  Herbie still stood.  As I drove up, several people were snapping photos of the tree; more showed up when they left, and still more arrived as I was leaving.  Lots of people wanted to get a last look at this giant.

Herbie the American Elm, on the day scheduled for his removal.

Herbie was massive — in his prime, he stood 110′ tall, with a crown spread of 120′ and a girth of 20′.  Disease and age had diminished him, and it was clear that this was a tree under serious stress, but it was impossible to stand next to or near him without feeling awe.

To get a sense of the tree's scale, note the people standing to the left of Herbie.

Someone had tied a red, white, and blue ribbon around the tree, and people had attached cards and well wishes and information on this champion to it.

The placard in the middle is an 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper, with facts on Herbie's size and life.

The tree had quite a lot of evidently viable growth in the canopy, but the canopy itself had been hugely compromised, with several very large limbs removed.  I remember hearing Alex Shigo talk about how and when to make the decision to remove a tree; he spoke eloquently about the native dignity of trees, and about how at some point the act of removal shows more respect for the tree than leaving it in place.

There comes a point in a tree's life where removal of this much of its crown is a removal of dignity, as well. Though the tree's trunk appeared to be sound, and the limb removals had eliminated hazard wood, Herbie's time had come.

For about 15 minutes, I ran around in the cold photographing Herbie from different angles.  As I did, I saw carloads of people arrive, jump out, snap photos of themselves with the tree, put a hand out to feel its bark, and then gaze up at it reverently before they left.  And then I went over, put my hand on the craggy, lichen-speckled bark, and also said a silent goodbye.

Herbie in his heyday. This was a classic American elm.

Herbie was taken down the following day, with Frank Knight in attendance.  To see removal photos and videos, as well as how the wood from this elm will be used, click on this link.

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The Massachusetts Arborists Association has a new volunteer initiative starting in 2010.  They aim to build on the traditional Arbor Day celebration by instituting a statewide volunteer service day on that day, which falls on April 30, 2010.

To get the ball rolling, the MAA is inviting anyone to identify potential tree care projects in their own communities, and then to post those project ideas on the Arbor Day link at www.MassArbor.org.  They hope to get ideas from all 351 Massachusetts cities and towns by January 15.  From that list, MAA members and member companies will choose projects for their own Arbor Day of Service volunteer effort.

This is a great way for professional arborists to make a contribution to the civic good, and for cities and towns to reap the benefits of a concerted professional effort.  Safety pruning, tree planting, hazard tree removal, ornamental pruning — a community you drive through daily may have the project that’s perfect for your company to tackle on Arbor Day.  To submit a project for Arbor Day of Service consideration by the MAA arborists, visit http://www.MassArbor.org by January 15, and click on Arbor Day.

Help younger generations grow up with the Arbor Day of Service.

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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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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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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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