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Posts Tagged ‘root excavation’

Contractors, arborists, and landscape architects in Massachusetts would do well to check out the Ecological Landscaping Association’s September events list.  The ELA is offering a number of really good workshops, on topics ranging from Boston-area restoration projects to the use of fire in landscape management, as well as a two-part, two-day workshop on root issues.  

One day of the root work will focus on soils(f you’ve read any of this blog, or Taking Place In The Trees, you’ll know that I’m interested in roots.)  In the air tool workshop, entitled At The Root: Air Tools Workshop, Rolf Briggs and Matt Foti will be talking about using air to work in the root zone, to decompact soils, to transplant trees and shrubs and also about how to plant nursery-grown stock properly.  

Matt and Rolf have done a similar workshop for the Mass. Arborists Association in the past, and Matt holds an annual workshop on proper planting techniques.  Being able to see what a root system looks like is eye-opening.  Learning — not just from written specs or a generic tree-planting detail — how a tree or shrub should be planted is essential, and well worth the price of admission.  I have been to at least three of these workshops, and learn something new at each one, and so can say that this workshop is one every landscape architect who designs plantings, and every contractor who sells plantings should attend.

Michael waters in a hemlock whose root flare has been excavated with air.

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It has been a while since I’ve written about root flares. I got some photos from my friend Carl Cathcart the other day, showcasing the excavation of a hemlock root flare. This tree is one of a hedge of 7-8′ tall hemlocks planted two years ago. Its owner had noticed that while the hedge wasn’t failing, it wasn’t exactly thriving, either. He called Carl, a Consulting Arborist, in to inspect the situation.

Carl zeroed in immediately on the base of the tree, and with a little hand excavation discovered that the hemlocks were sitting at least four inches too deep in their root balls. It has been customary for years to plant balled and burlapped trees so that the top of their root balls sits at or slightly above the finish grade around them. Cultivation practices in the growers’ nurseries have changed since that technique became the standard, though, and now it is necessary to check each root ball to make sure that root ball soil is not covering a tree’s root flare. A buried root flare — whether it is buried with root ball soil, compost, or an excess of mulch post-planting — spells trouble for a woody plant, and can be the cause of a tree’s failure to thrive. Small leaves, shorter-than-normal annual twig extension, and thin foliage can all be symptoms of a buried root flare. Root flares are not roots and are not adapted to life under the soil surface; they are part of the tree’s aboveground trunk, and typically need to be exposed to the air.

The in-field solution to this problem (should the excess soil not be removed in the nursery) is to excavate the root flare onsite during project planting. This task should be done before the tree is planted, so that the flare is planted at the correct grade; unfortunately, many contractors are not even aware of the issue, and will not have included time for root excavation in their bid. Here’s where landscape architects can make a major difference in the longevity of their project’s woody plants, and where contractors can distinguish themselves from the competition; LAs aware of the need to excavate root flares should include that requirement in their bid sheets for contractors, and contractors aware of that need (whether they are in a bid situation or not) can use this task, and the benefits it brings to the planted landscape, as a compelling selling point.

When root flare excavation doesn’t take place when the plants go in the ground, the signs of tree stress will likely show up within a year or two. At that point, hand excavation is still possible, but air-tool excavation usually will be more efficient.

When Carl identified the problem, he advised the homeowner to have air-tool excavation done. Matt Foti of Matthew R. Foti Tree and Landscape sent over a crew to carry out the work; Carl’s photos illustrate this post-planting process nicely.

The arborist has tied up the hemlock's branches for easier access in to the root ball. In this photo some of the soil has been blown away already.


A compressed air tool blows off the root mass. Just visible behind the tree is a plywood barrier that helps keep airborne soil from covering the surrounding plants.

The root flare has been uncovered; note the soil line about four inches up from the root mass. When you see side branches at, just above, or even emerging from below the soil level you can suspect a buried root flare. Carefully scraping away soil at the tree's trunk will indicate if further excavation is necessary. Now that the root flare is exposed, it is possible to see the girdling root that has formed on the trunk's left side.


The girdling root has been cut off, preventing any further vascular constriction in the root coming off the trunk and heading toward the photo's lower left corner.


With the root flare exposed and girdling roots removed, planting soil is blown or shoveled back into the excavated area at the correct grade.


The last step, before untying the branches, is to water the excavated area thoroughly, to rehydrate roots and to eliminate any air pockets in the root mass.

Project site: Private Residence, Sudbury, MA

Consulting Arborist: Carl Cathcart, A Plant Healthcare Consultant
Arborist for root flare excavation: Matthew R. Foti Landscape and Tree Service, Inc.

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Here’s a quick post to alert readers to the Massachusetts Arborists Association Special Seminar and Demonstration on air tool use. A team of four arborists — Mike Furgal, Matt Foti, Rolf Briggs, and Dave Leonard — will be showing how compressed-air tools can be used in arboricultural work (root forensics, bare-root planting, bare-root transplanting, shrub moving, etc.), and will discuss the advancements that this technology provide those working with or using woody plants in the landscape.

The seminar will be on September 10 at Elm Bank, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s property in Wellesley, MA — check the MAA link above for registration information. Registration is not limited to arborists, so interested landscape architects and contractors can go and see this work. I highly recommend signing up; last year’s seminar at Matt Foti’s farm, where Mike Furgal debuted the air-tool transplanting method, was really outstanding, and this year there’s bound to be even more information available and a great deal of informed and informative discussion.

One point: Bare-root transplanting, either with an air-tool or by root-washing, may never replace other methods of transplanting. But for specimen tree transplanting, where the value of an existing tree merits the effort involved, it is currently the gold standard. The number of roots retained with bare-root transplanting prevents the tremendous stress caused by other methods, and should be considered a valuable tool in the kit available to landscape architects, arborists, and contractors.

Bare-rooting allows for the moving of a tree this large in less than one day...

Bare-rooting allows for the moving of a tree this large in less than one day...


while preserving this much root mass.

while preserving this much root mass.

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The project showcased in the last post continued this week, with the bare-root transplanting of five London Plane trees (Platanus x acerifolia) and a mature crabapple. Again, Matthew R. Foti Landscape and Tree Service was the prime arborist on this site in a Boston suburb — but this week the Foti crew was joined by Mike Furgal, who was the first arborist to use the air tool for bare-rooting trees in this way.

Mike has been doing this work a bit over five years, and his expertise was the basis for the bare-root workshop sponsored by the Massachusetts Arborists Association and hosted by Matt last August. Neither arborist had moved this many trees of this size — the London Planes ranged from 11 inches dbh to 13″ dbh — and in teaming up they brought all their knowledge to bear to the challenges of this particular project. (The homeowner figured she had hired the A team, given the pair’s depth of knowledge and breadth of experience.)

I took a lot of photos during the first day, and returned today to shoot more. My colleague Bruce Jones and I also shot extensive videotape of the process, which is currently in editing, and will explain the sequence of bare-root transplanting using compressed air (watch this blog for word that it’s done and available).

To avoid computer-use burnout (mine), I’m posting one batch of photos today, and will add another post with more in a few days. I promise, this first batch of images will be plenty to digest for a while….

The site before the five London Planes get moved.  The first tree to be excavated and moved is the one furthest from the camera, just to the right of the white trailer.  These trees flanked a driveway; in this photo the driveway asphalt has been taken up and the gravel base has been partially removed.  Trees are located 3-4 feet from the drive edge.

The site before the five London Planes get moved. The first tree to be excavated and moved is the one furthest from the camera, just to the right of the white trailer. These trees flanked a driveway; in this photo the driveway asphalt has been taken up and the gravel base has been partially removed. Trees are located 3-4 feet from the drive edge.


The mini excavator has dug a partial trench; the trench must be dug in sections, or it would be too difficult to reach in and haul out the blown soil.  A climber is in the tree, tying in lines to be used later during transport.

The mini excavator has dug a partial trench; the trench must be dug in sections, or it would be too difficult to reach in and haul out the blown soil. A climber is in the tree, tying in lines to be used later during transport.


Bare-rooting has begun, and one pigtail of roots is already tied to the tree's trunk.  The tree did not extend any roots into the gravel driveway base, so it only has 3-4 feet of root mass on that side.  It did extend its roots out parallel to the driveway, and radially out into the lawn.  A good depth of soil also let it sink its roots quite deep --  2-3 feet -- into the ground.  Mike Furgal is in the green jumpsuit and facemask.

Bare-rooting has begun, and one pigtail of roots is already tied to the tree's trunk. The tree did not extend any roots into the gravel driveway base, so it only has 3-4 feet of root mass on that side. It did extend its roots out parallel to the driveway, and radially out into the lawn. A good depth of soil also let it sink its roots quite deep -- 2-3 feet -- into the ground. Mike Furgal is in the green jumpsuit and facemask.


Pigtailed roots, and short roots along the driveway edge.

Pigtailed roots, and short roots along the driveway edge.


Good deep soil, good deep roots -- everywhere but at the gravel.

Good deep soil, good deep roots -- everywhere but at the gravel.

Lots of activity at the tree:  two air-tool excavators, an mini excavator digging the trench, a Bobcat taking soil away, and Matt Foti assessing progress.

Lots of activity at the tree: two air-tool excavators, an mini excavator digging the trench, a Bobcat taking soil away, and Matt Foti assessing progress.


Blowing out soil, getting closer to the move.

Blowing out soil, getting closer to the move.


Padding the trunk with layers of burlap for the move.

Padding the trunk with layers of burlap for the move.


Giant forks have been run under the tree, and the loader is getting ready to lift it.  Four taglines are visible in this shot; they won't prevent the tree from falling, but help indicate how it is balanced during the move.

Giant forks have been run under the tree, and the loader is getting ready to lift it. Four taglines are visible in this shot; they won't prevent the tree from falling, but help indicate how it is balanced during the move.


Lifting and backing, slowly and very carefully.

Lifting and backing, slowly and very carefully.


A pause for the forks to be positioned more firmly.

A pause for the forks to be positioned more firmly.


Big machine, bigger tree.  The root plate on this tree extended about 18 feet across at its maximum width.  Transporting a large, upright live tree is a slow-speed operation.

Big machine, bigger tree. The root plate on this tree extended about 18 feet across at its maximum width. Transporting a large, upright live tree is a slow-speed operation.


Compare this root plate to that of a B&B tree, or a tree-spaded one (though this tree is too large for a tree spade), and it's clear what an advance this technology promises to be in benefiting the health of trees to be transplanted.  The tree's energy reserves are largely stored in the roots; save the roots, reduce stress on the tree, and speed re-establishment after planting.

Compare this root plate to that of a B&B tree, or a tree-spaded one (though this tree is too large for a tree spade), and it's clear what an advance this technology promises to be in benefiting the health of trees to be transplanted. The tree's energy reserves are largely stored in the roots; save the roots, reduce stress on the tree, and speed re-establishment after planting.


The tree, post-planting.  The arborists assessed how deep the root mass was and how it was formed, and dug the planting hole to accommodate, roughly, its form.  Once the tree is placed in the hole, the roots are spread out radially by hand, and loam shovelled in around, under, and over them.  Watering starts during the digging process, once the tree has been levelled, so that a loam slurry anchors the root plate and tree to its new site.  A well is formed to retain moisture and more water is added.

The tree, post-planting. The arborists assessed how deep the root mass was and how it was formed, and dug the planting hole to accommodate, roughly, its form. Once the tree is placed in the hole, the roots are spread out radially by hand, and loam shovelled in around, under, and over them. Watering starts during the digging process, once the tree has been levelled, so that a loam slurry anchors the root plate and tree to its new site. A well is formed to retain moisture and more water is added.


Two to four inches of mulch is added around the tree, and kept away from the trunk.

Two to four inches of mulch is added around the tree, and kept away from the trunk.


Minor pruning to fix a lamppost-branch conflict.

Minor pruning to fix a lamppost-branch conflict.


The transplanted tree seven hours later, in its new home.

The transplanted tree seven hours later, in its new home.

Matthew R. Foti Landscape and Tree Service, Lexington, MA – lead arborist
Furgal Tree and Landscape, Northborough, MA – consulting arborist
Robert Hanss Inc. Landscape Construction — landscape contractor
Reed Hilderbrand — landscape architects (Chris Moyles, project manager)

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Here’s a series of photos from an air-tool transplant project executed last week by a crew from Matthew R. Foti Landscape and Tree Service of Lexington, MA.These guys have been using air tools to bare-root trees for some time now, and they have refined the process pretty skillfully.

Shown here are a very large treeform Taxus and a smallish Cornus kousa. The Kousa Dogwood had been planted only about 8′ away from the Yew, and probably had been sheltered by it in its early days. At this stage, though, their crowns had been competing, and a revised landscape design gave further reason to spade out and move both plants.

Taxus and Cornus kousa planted closely together, as part of a larger planting that has already been dismantled.

Taxus and Cornus kousa planted closely together, as part of a larger planting that has already been dismantled.

The Bobcat has dug a trench, and the Foti crew is blowing soil into it. Note that the Yew's branches have been tied up to keep them out of the way.

The Bobcat has dug a trench, and the crew is blowing soil into it. Note that the Yew's branches have been tied up to keep them out of the way.

Taxus is a deeply rooted plant -- notice the trench depth, and presence of roots in the lower part of the mound..

Taxus is a deeply rooted plant -- notice the trench depth, and presence of roots in the lower part of the mound..

Soil and rocks fly during the process, so eye and ear protection are essential. The white jumpsuits keep these guys from getting covered with soil (color is optional).

Soil and rocks fly during the process, so eye and ear protection are essential. The white jumpsuits keep these guys from getting covered with soil (color is optional).

Bobcat continually takes blown soil out of the trench and stockpiles it.

Bobcat continually takes blown soil out of the trench and stockpiles it.

Double-teaming a soil clod. Pushing the nozzle down into the root mass helps loosen soil inside it.

Double-teaming a soil clod. Pushing the nozzle down into the root mass helps loosen soil inside it.

Pigtailing the roots -- tying them in long bundles -- helps keep them protected and out of the way.

Pigtailing the roots -- tying them in long bundles -- helps keep them protected and out of the way.

Twine holds the pigtails together; when the plant is ready to move, twine can also be used to tie the pigtails back to the trunk, to keep them from dragging during transport.

Twine holds the pigtails together; when the plant is ready to move, twine can also be used to tie the pigtails back to the trunk, to keep them from dragging during transport.

Progress shot. Look at how deep the trench is. The Taxus is nearly ready, and shortly the crew will move on to the Cornus kousa; when both trees have been blown out, they will be separated and moved to new locations.

Progress shot. Look at how deep the trench is. The Taxus is nearly ready, and shortly the crew will move on to the Cornus kousa; when both trees have been blown out, they will be separated and moved to new locations.

The following week: Taxus in a new spot, looking relaxed and healthy.

The following week: Taxus in a new spot, looking relaxed and healthy.

Final shot. Asymmetry in the Taxus crown reflects its previous location in a larger planting.

Final shot. Asymmetry in the Taxus crown reflects its previous location in a larger planting.

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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 mass 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 mass has been preserved and will continue to support the tree in its new home.

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If you have read the last post but are new to this blog you might take a look at this link; it’s my Lawn and Landscape article on the bare-root transplant workshop conducted last summer by arborists Mike Furgal (who developed the method of transplanting specimen trees bare-root, using an air spade) and Matt Foti (who hosted the workshop and has gone on to use the bare-root air spade technique on every transplant project he can).

The article describes the workshop’s successful transplanting of several trees on a hot August day, and lays out some of the nuts and bolts of how the work is done. Mike and Matt’s workshop charged up every one of the 100 or so attendees. As a result, many Massachusetts arborists and contractors are turning to the air spade to save and transplant specimen trees. I hope that the previous post (“Air Spade in Action”) helps to expand our understanding of some additional uses of this tool.

(And no, I am in no way affiliated with the company that manufactures either the Air Spade or the Air Knife, or any other kind of tool.)

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