Arbor care – learning lessons from the pros

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. ūüėČ You’ll have to ask the other two for details on that.

My merry band of co-conspirators!

My merry band of co-conspirators РWilliam being a goofball of course, and Gina.

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.

Terrible photo of one of their slides, but hopefully you will be able to make it out. The photo on the left is of a tree planted as is. It's pretty much sitting on a doughnut of spiraling roots.  The tree on the right was brutally "disturbed" with lots of roots removed. The first year, not much above ground growth was noted, but the second year it took off, and has been doing beautifully ever since. In this case, it was well worth "disturbing" the tree, despite the first year's setback.

Terrible photo of one of their slides, but hopefully you will be able to make it out. The photo on the left is of a tree planted as is. The poor thing is¬†pretty much sitting on a doughnut of spiraling roots. The tree on the right was brutally “disturbed” with lots of roots removed, involving removing all soil with water, and then cutting out obstructive, misshapen roots. The first year, not much above ground growth was noted, but the second year it took off, and has been doing beautifully ever since. In this case, it was well worth “disturbing” the tree, despite the first year’s setback. As it is involved in self-strangulation, the tree on the left is understandably not very vigorous, although it is hobbling along.

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.

Air spade in action. Can you see the smaller root that is wrapping around the front of the trunk?

Air spade in action. Can you see the smaller root that is wrapping around the front of the trunk? That one is small enough to be easily snipped off….

... whereas this one takes a little more effort.

… whereas this one takes a little more effort. Once this one has been cut, step back and hope for the best. If all goes as planned, the strangle hold will lessen, and the tree will eventually be able to resume its normal, expected growth rate.

The newly treated tree got a dose of charcoal which aids its uptake of nutrients, and serves as a boost to its health.

The newly treated tree received a hearty dose of charcoal which aids its uptake of nutrients, and serves as a boost to its health.

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.

This is what they started out with - some pretty large pots.

This is what they started out with – some pretty large pots.

I have no idea of the name of the tool he is using, but it served him well in trying to tease out what little roots where in there.

I have no idea of the name of the tool he is using, but it served him well in trying to tease out what little roots where in there.

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.

Remember how large those pots were? Well, this is all that was in it, in terms of roots. And notice how high up the soil line is on the trunk. And, how there are NO major root development - its all just a tangle of small roots, some of which are growing upward.

Remember how large those pots were? Well, this is all that was in it, in terms of roots. And notice how high up the soil line is on the trunk – way above the flare. There is NO major root development – its all just a tangle of small roots, some of which are growing upward.

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. ūüôā

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…

IMG_7358

 

He seemed as comfortable up there as our primate cousins. I mused that this might be the perfect job for my one kid who loves to climb trees.

He seemed as comfortable up there as our primate cousins do. I mused that this might be the perfect job for my one kid who both loves to climb trees, cut things, and has an artistic eye to boot.

IMG_7367

Here is a quick lesson in ornamental pruning as well - a Hinoki Cypress getting a trim.

Here is a quick lesson in ornamental pruning as well – a Hinoki Cypress getting a trim.

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…

Mason is explaining how the sensors are placed at chest height at equal intervals around the trunk.

Mason is explaining how the sensors are placed at chest height at equal intervals around the trunk.

Reading the data...

Reading the data…

If you are unlucky, this is what the data might show - that your tree is hollow, and probably should be removed - for safety's sake.

If you are unlucky, this is what the data might show – that your tree is hollow, and should be removed – for safety’s sake.

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?

IMG_7388

IMG_7389 IMG_7391

Okay, so this is not a tree. It's a Witch's broom, but I thought it was cool, so I'm including it. :)

Okay, so this is not a tree. It’s a Witch’s broom, but I thought it was cool, so I’m including it. ūüôā

 

About annamadeit

Born and raised in Sweden, my aesthetics and outlook on life are strongly shaped by a culture rich in history and tradition. I care a great deal about environmental responsibility, and my aesthetic reflects the visually clean, functional practicality and sustainable solutions that are the hallmarks of modern Scandinavia. I was trained as an architect at the University of Cincinnati and as a color specialist at the Scandinavian Colour Institute in Stockholm. I'm obsessed with plants and gardens, and aim to take my skill set a step further by designing gardens as well as interiors. As someone so aptly said: " Architecture is the skin that separates the exterior from the interior". So true - you can't successfully focus on one without incorporating the other. I'm also an avid cook, and I love to ski. In addition, I put time and efforts into trying to rectify things that I feel are wrong in my immediate community. As you will see, The Creative Flux will touch on all these things, and more. For sure, it's all over the map, but then again - so am I! Welcome to my blog!
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11 Responses to Arbor care – learning lessons from the pros

  1. Alison says:

    Thanks so much for sharing what you learned. Looks like a fascinating class. I usually tease out the roots on everything I plant, not just trees and shrubs. I doubt I would do well on identifying the bare trees either. But the one with white bark I’m going to guess is either a birch or an aspen?

    • annamadeit says:

      I think I guessed it was an Aspen too, but I can’t remember what it actually was. As might be expected from tree enthusiasts, they had a number of really unusual ones. No wonder everything looks so lush in your garden if you take such great precaution before planting! Seriously – I was appalled at the state of the trees they did their demo on… Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have taken them even if they were given to me.

  2. mattb325 says:

    This is a great post – thankyou! Another way I know of for dealing with a pot-bound specimen is to simply use the garden hose and wash the soil away. Messy, but satisfying ūüôā

    • annamadeit says:

      Good advice, Matt – that is exactly what they did too. They washed off as much soil as possible so they could discern the roots. When they were ready to plant, they made a soupy slurry with soil and water, to ensure there were no air pockets whatsoever left after planting. A good technique for sure!

  3. Loree says:

    Gosh, now you’ve got me wondering about the trees I’ve planted…

  4. Rose says:

    This sounds like a great workshop, Anna! We have to replace a tree in our front yard this spring, so I will have to remember the advice about the roots. Like Alison, I always tease the roots out of anything I plant, even annuals. The sensor contraption looks like such a great idea.

    • annamadeit says:

      I learned som much, Rose! Make sure you pull the tree out of the pot before you buy it, if you do it that way. I couldn’t believe what I saw…. ūüė¶ Those poor trees…

  5. ericrynne says:

    I was fortunate enough to have a great neighbor who is also our local Tree Expert and taught me so much. What a wonderful workshop! I would’ve loved to have attended such a great event.

  6. Pingback: Practicing what I learned | Flutter & Hum

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