This past Friday, my two dear co-workers Gina, William and I, got to enjoy a day-long seminar on various aspects of tree care, hosted by local pros Collier Arbor Care. It was fascinating, and I learned a ton, so I thought I might try to pass on at least a few of the highlights. I had a morning dentist appointment, so unfortunately I missed the entire first segment on diseases and pests, and part of the narrative on their work on tree inventory solutions, but at least I have clean teeth. 😉 You’ll have to ask the other two for details on that.
Most of us are probably not normally involved in tree inventory, but I’m willing to bet that all of us have – at some point or other – bought a tree or shrub that has been ridiculously root bound – which is why I found the next segment VERY interesting. You know how you finally get that poor tree out of its pot, and its roots are in a mad pursuit, circling the edge, round and round again, tying themselves into a big, strangling knot. So, you cut the roots on the surface in an attempt to abort the circular chase, and tease them out as best you can before planting. The people at Barlett/Collier went further than that – a lot further. Because root bound plants seem to be a very common problem in the industry, they have spent the last several years experimenting with how much of the root mass can be removed to give the root bound tree a fresh start. Circling roots severely hampers growth, so if the tree just gets planted as is – with only rudimentary untangling, chances are it won’t perform to customer expectations anyway – which of course is a liability. So, the goal with their research is to find out where the fine line is between death and marvelous recovery.
Girdling roots tend to get worse in the kinds of heavy clay soils we often have here in western Oregon. In the case it is suspected (or discovered after-the-fact) that a tree has been planted with circling roots, a remedial treatment actually exists. It’s a really cool tool called an air spade. Using pressured air, it removes the soil (as long as it’s moist) around the roots so that you can un-earth the root in question and cut it. It’s always a judgement call, of course – sometimes it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of scenario, and you might just as well take the tree out. But, you never know until you look.
So, for when you bring home that root bound tree – what does this “disturbance” of the rootball entail? The kind people at Collier gave us a demonstration of that as well. It was pretty brutal to watch them hack away to get at the girdling roots, but the process revealed a lot about the state of some growers. So, if you’re in the market for a tree, Buyer Beware! We asked, but the Collier guys wouldn’t tell us where they got the three trees they were doing the demonstration on. In all fairness though, they told us that two of the trees were half off, whereas the third was sold at full price. You will find that even at 50% off, these trees were no bargain.
You know how when you plant a tree, you want the part where the trunk flares out to be level with the top of the soil? And you probably also know that trees that are planted too deeply will eventually rot? We were astounded to see how these trees had been potted up to larger pots – each time planted deeper than the last time. A couple of the trees had at one point been balled and burlapped and simply stuck in a pot. The ball – twine included, and still in a knot – had been covered up with more soil. As you shall see, these trees were in a terrible shape… understandably so.
This was such a wakeup-call. That said, I know there are reputable growers out there, and now my eyes are open to seeing them. From now on, whenever I’m tempted to buy a tree, I will pull it out of its pot at the nursery and check its roots – BEFORE I buy it. I wish they would have been unprofessional enough to tell us where they got these trees, but alas, they were not. We tried hard to squeeze it out of them – to no avail. 🙂
We also got a demo in structural/developmental pruning of trees. Damn – these guys were fast! If it were me, I would be sweating bullets in my indecision over which branches to trim. This one was done in a jiffy – snip, snip, snip – done! I was very impressed! And, it looked like a very fun job too – climbing and swinging around in the branches of trees…
The last demo of the day was this high-tech contraption that measures how sound travels through wood. The jist of it is that sound travels at a faster rate through healthy wood than it does through damaged or hollow areas. Sensors that are hooked up to a laptop are pounded into the wood – deeply enough to go through the bark. As the sensors are pounded by a small hammer, the readings appear on the screen, and can be analyzed. This technology is used to detect defects and weaknesses that are not apparent on the outside of the tree. Pretty amazing stuff…
The most humbling part of the day was the Tree ID contest. This is where we walked around the property and took a stab at identifying 15 mostly deciduous trees that of course were completely winter bare. Afterward, we gathered for some beer tasting and the award ceremony. Needless to say, I didn’t win – but I didn’t feel I did too poorly. I’d say I got more right than wrong, and sometimes that’s all a girl can hope for. It was a pretty tricky selection. They guy who won second place was the curator for the Hoyt Arboretum, so I don’t feel all that bad. Anyway, I so appreciate both the excellent show put on by the Bartlett/Collier Arbor Care people, and Jeff at Garden Time who, via William, invited us to go. And, since identifying trees was such a game of chance with me, I amused myself by taking pictures. I got a couple of good ones – do you know what they are?