Pruning Young Trees - Now with pictures

whaas_5a(5A SE WI)November 5, 2009

Here we go. Pictures posted below. Looking to prune the various main trunks that are crossing/rubbing. When should I make the move?

Katura = Planted fall 2009

Serviceberry = Planted spring 2008

Seven Son Flower = Planted fall 2009

Spring Snow Japenese Lilac = Planted fall 2008

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

first pic.. whats the perfect circle of stuff on the ground.. around the trunks ...

is there any reason they needs to be staked at this time??? if you grab and tug.. is there any movement of the WHOLE PLANT???? whats your base soil????

second pic... what are the black bands for??

third pic.. whats all the hemp??? BB twine?

whats the stuff on the 4th pic.. coming from the bottom right??? looks like a white/clear plastic stick

why wasnt the twine and burlap removed????

as for the pruning... how about a pic of the whole plant ....

basically .. to preserve flowering.. pruning is done as the flowers fade ...

if you are worried about rubbing at the base of the plant.. i guess i wouldnt be all that worried about it.. there should not be that much movement down there.. and frankly... i dont know how you would remove a piece without damaging the remainder .... in other words.. you might do more harm than good ....

and.. the closeness of the growth at the base.. in most likely inherent to the definition of a shrub.. and no amount of pruning is going to change that ....

but that shouldnt stop you if you want to have a go at it .... lol ...

i am more concerned about freeing them from the shackles of the twine .... and the stakes ...

have a great day ....


    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 8:40AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

I agree with Ken's thoughts and have most of the same questions.

Who planted those? If that was a landscape company, I would never let them back into my yard again and would ask for a full refund for at least the price of the installation. Not only did they leave the burlap on (even exposed), but they didn't even remove the ties!

    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 9:59AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

No worries on the twine and burlap, it will degrate by spring. I just planted them so I have to remove the twine yet (it to will degrate by spring but I just don't want it there). The burlap will not be removed (please lets not have that conversation, lol).

The clear stick is pointing to the stem/trunk in quetion. I have no concerns on how the removal of the trunk will effect the aethtics or crown of the tree.

My main concerns...

Based on when I planted them when can I remove those stems/trunks?

Second, do I even need to remove the stems in quetion? My concern is included bark, stems rubbing (and yes they rub now) and lastly as the stems increase in caliper could they potential snap or in the lilac's case be crushed?

I have the least concern with the Katsura as the stems are fairly evenly spaced.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 10:57AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

I really don't understand your thought processes here, but trying to stick just to your questions...

"Based on when I planted them when can I remove those stems/trunks?"

Removing just one trunk on well developed shrubs like that should be of no consequence (plant-health wise). I might wait until late winter/very early spring to do the job, but anytime would really be fine. Almost everyone agrees that rubbing limbs can be removed at anytime on most trees and shrubs.

"Second, do I even need to remove the stems in quetion?"

That's hard to say. If the branches are rubbing each other raw (which would be somewhat unusual, based on your pictures), then it would be best to remove an offending branch. If not, you probably don't really need to remove a branch. Included bark in this situation will not hurt anything. That said, I might remove them anyway, just for the heck of it.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 2:30PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Let me know me know if I can clarify anything.

I think I got your point. Bascially its not critical to remove them, but it wouldn't hurt to remove them.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 2:52PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Yes, that's the 1 cent version of my 2 cents.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 2:58PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5


some were planted in fall of 2009 .... ????

you should know the old axiom .. more leaves.. means more food production.. means more root growth.. means faster 'establishment' ...

sans a significant injury .. no pruning for at least a year.. and maybe two ...

removing 1/3 or 1/4 of the canopy ... on a preventative basis ... might not be in the shrubs best interest .... especially in regards to the other issues you wish to not think about ...

but the bottom line is ... they are shrubs.. most likely you could run them over with the truck .. and they will live ...

now that they are leafless.. why do they need the stakes???? are you dealing with clay soil???


    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 3:12PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Ken...Take another look at the pictures..."1/3 or 1/4 of the canopy"...nowhere close.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 4:13PM
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Dan Staley

My clever reply disappeared.

You can start closer to Christmas, and whatever that string is around that one trunk should have been removed the day it was installed. Otherwise brandon is in line with my thoughts.


    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 4:20PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Thats what I'm trying to figure out. If I "should" prune, do I need to wait 1,2,3 years?

The AB Serviceberry had a broken rootball. I'll be removing those stakes this weekend, along with all the twine on those other trees.

If its better in the long run to remove the "tight" stems, I'm all for it. But as you can see they are a little tricky.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 4:23PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

I've never used one, but have you seen those wire saws like are sometimes included in wilderness survival kits? They should be widely available at sporting goods stores, etc. Maybe someone here has experience with them and can tell you if they'd work well enough.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 4:50PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Good suggestion on the wire saw, might post a seperate topic on that if I don't get any responses on it.

Sounds like I'm getting a general consensus that it will be ok to remove the stems/trunks in question after at least a year.

Not to open a can of worms, but the nursery that I purchased these trees from strictly says not to remove the biodegradeble twine as it keeps the rootball in tact. I myself will still remove it, but out of curiosity I called to ask why. They stated, they have the best luck with that strategy and many of their on staff propagators and horticulturists request that it be left on. That includes Micheal Yanny.

I would have a tough time arguing with Micheal Yanny.

Here is a link that might be useful: Johnsons Nursery

    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 5:27PM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

My faith in Johnson's took a major hit.

This from their website:

"Do not remove any burlap from balled and burlapped plants. Burlap is biodegradable, roots readily grow through the burlap, and left intact the burlap helps keep the plant stable in the ball and planting hole. Likewise do not remove hemp (tan in color) twine from around the stems or trunk of your plants. Do carefully remove any twine and excess burlap around the base of the plant in 3 to 6 months after planting.

Do remove any synthetic twine (usually white) used around the trunk or stems of plants. Remove synthetic twine after the tree is in the hole and almost completely planted. Wire baskets should be left intact."

Not sure why the soil wouldn't keep the rootball intact once it's planted. Especially with no leaves on them.

I never heard anyone say to leave any twine on. And though burlap is debated, for kicks I tested how quickly it breaks down. In the spring of '08 I took two layers of burlap off a Pinus koreansis I planted. The new outer layer I saved, but the already one or two year old inner layer I composted. A year later in ideal composting environs it was still quite intact. And the 4 foot koreansis which was basically bare rooted is doing quite well. Since you kept the burlap on, make sure to cover it with mulch because it is wicking water from the rootball even as you read this. It is good you'll be removing the twine.

Oh yeah, the pruning question. It is a minor amount, so no harm if done now but unless there's a need to remove them I'd wait.


    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 6:43PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Not that this really means anything but I just saw the village of Menomonee Falls put in a row of 6 trees by the business park I work at. They left the twine and burlap on.

I've felt uncomfortable leaving burlap on in the past but after it decomposed after one growing season on multiple plants I wasn't worried about it. Of course its covered with mulch. As you can see only the Katsura has a little burlap showing...that is going to be trimmed out once I remove the twine.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 8:38PM
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Carrie B(6B/7A)

"Wire baskets should be kept intact"???

Not according to Rutgers' Professional Landscape program, and not according to The Morris Arboretum's (ISA certified) Consulting Arborists.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 10:59PM
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Carrie B(6B/7A)

Just wanted to get back to Ken's comment that "they are shrubs". For the most parts, he's correct that they are shrubs (or, at least, small, multi-stemmed trees). Katsura, on the other hand, get to be very large trees, as demonstrated in my attached link to one here in Philadelphia.

Here is a link that might be useful: Katsura - Morris Arb

    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 11:18PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

If you remove the burlap and the wire basket from a large B&B tree, you have an extremely high chance of the rootball breaking (based on the soil type in our area). In fact the ONE, yes the ONE tree I removed the wire basket and burlap from, the dang rootball broke. Yes the Serviceberry shown above. Since then I only remove twine and the top layer of burlap. Speaking of burlap, here is a good article.

October 19, 2009
The Flap Over Burlap

posted by Bert Cregg

This months issue of the Oregon Association of NurseryÂs Digger magazine includes the second part of a two-part article on urban foresters perspectives on nursery stock. It was interesting to note that some urban foresters felt they were in a quandary because their specs require removal of burlap from B&B trees, yet many nurseries will void their warranty if burlap is removed from the root ball.

Removing burlap from B&B trees is a practice that is widely recommended, yet there is little, if any, data to support it. The logic, of course, is that burlap will prevent root egress into the surrounding soil after planting. But is this really the case? We conducted a study a couple of years ago using 3" caliper B&B green and white ash trees as part of a trial on the movement of a systemic insecticide (imidacloprid) for treatment for emerald Ash Borer. Since we were using radioactive carbon-14 as a tracer, safety regulation required us to keep the trees contained. The trees were dug with a 36" tree spade and placed in burlap-lined wire baskets by a local nursery (Discount Trees. Inc.) using their standard procedures. For the study we placed the root balls in large orchard boxes backfilled with top soil. We removed all ropes and the top of the burlap. The trees were used for a study that lasted two growing seasons. At the end of the second season we conducted whole tree harvests on a sub-sample of the trees. My vision for the root system harvest was that we would simply chain up the baskets and pop the trees out of the boxes; the burlap would help contain the roots, right? Wrong. Separating the root balls from the boxes became a major ordeal that involved a whole lotta shakin with the front-end loader. Once the root balls were finally extracted it was obvious that the burlap provided little resistance to root egress into the surrounding soil.

My former grad student, Grant Jones. "He said it would come out easier than that..."

Mike Kuhns at Utah State University conducted a trial several years ago (J. Arbor. 23:1-7) in which he observed a similar phenomenon. Mike compared root egress of B&B maples with burlap removed versus a single or double layer of burlap by calculating a RTRATIO which was based on the amount of the total root system weight that was found outside the original root ball. There was no difference in the RTRATIO between trees with single burlap and trees without burlap at any date during the 2-year study. Double burlap decreased RTRATIO initially but there was no difference by the end of the study. Annela et al. (Arb. & Urb. For. 34:200-203) compared various growth parameters of baldcypress, plane tree, and freemani maples transplanted bare-root or B&B with only the top of the burlap removed. After two years the only statistically significant difference was an increase in shoot growth for the B&B maples.

So what does it all mean? My personal opinion is that when it comes to establishing trees in the landscape we spend way too much time worrying about trivial matters like this. (Digging a planting hole 3X the width of the root ball and amending backfill are others but weÂll save those for another post). Matching species to site, quality planting stock, and proper after transplant care  especially mulching and irrigation  are way more important but still neglected. If we plant quality plants in the right place and take care of them properly the first two years after planting we would eliminate 80%+ of the transplant issues I see. Burlap or no is a tempest in teapot.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 11:36PM
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So the root ball breaks up - no big deal! In fact, it is preferable than leaving a clay B&B root ball intact for a variety of reasons. That heavy clay root ball is there primarily for the ease of harvesting by the growers., timing of harvesting and to maintain a stable moisture environment for the roots while the tree is out of the ground. That's where the benefit of an intact root ball stops. There is a rapidly growing professional body of opinion that 'washing the roots' - essentially bare rooting a B&B or container grown tree - before planting will hasten its establishment: one can detect and correct improper root growth; many B&B trees are wrapped too high during the digging/wrapping process, effectively smothering the tree and leading to trunk rots; and the soil is typically of a substantially different texture than that found at the planting site, impeding both water movement and root establishment.

"Trivial" or a "tempest in a teapot"? Hardly. Correct planting practices - including a properly sized, dug and non-amended planting hole and removing protective wrappings (there only for the ease of transport and nursery care) are critical in the proper establishment of new trees. Anything that interferes, delays or impedes this establishment process impacts the long term success of the tree. While it may seem trivial to go through the effort to follow commonly accepted and widely recognized planting procedures, the evidence to support them exists. Even natural burlap is frequently treated with a preservative to extend its life expectancy and any burlap left above ground for any length of time will wick water away from the root ball, drying it out. And it is nearly impossible to rehydrate a planted clay root ball when this happens. At the very least, all ties/twine should be removed and the burlap unwrapped from the trunk and pulled down form the sides.

"Planting is one of the most important cultural practices that determines success or failure of tree establishment. Transplanting is not successful until the tree returns to a normal growth rate. This transplant recovery period normally takes three years, but may range from 2-8 years. To get the most satisfactory performance from trees, attention must be given to planting details. Using quality plants and following good cultural practices such as watering, pruning and fertilizing will not compensate for poor planting techniques or poor plant selection."

    Bookmark   November 7, 2009 at 3:02AM
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Dan Staley

I can tell you here on the Front Range B&Bs that have the wire and burlap on have a very, very high mortality rate. We are trying in our neighborhood to solve the problem of hundreds of trees dying due to burlap and wire left on (and likely lower quality stock & bad planting practices).

Anecdotal evidence aside, I'm not sure I know anyone in the trade or academia who thinks leaving wire and burlap on is a good idea.


    Bookmark   November 7, 2009 at 6:29AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Here is a list of nurseries that say the burlap and wire basket should be left on.

Lieds Nursery, Heritage Nursery, Minors Nursery, Johnsons Nursery and McKay Nursery.

Do we just have it all wrong here in SE Wisconsin? LOL

The issue with the broken root ball with our type of soil is that the it severes the roots. TRUST me you don't want a broken root ball! I had a Oakleaf Mountainash die on me because of it...too many roots where severed.

Again personally, I always remove all twine, the top layer burlap and will try to cut the upper wire basket portion.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2009 at 9:34AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Sorry for the double post...I didn't catch that link from gardengal.

Very interesting concept. What I don't understand is how do you get a tree (lets say 2.5" in caliper) to stay upright? Is this type of practice a prime candidate for staking?

I tried planting a 4' shrub bare root and had a heck of a time keeping it upright. I ended up having to compact the soil around the roots.

Oh by the way, how can I get so many passionate reponses on burlap, pruning and wire baskets but I can't get anyone to recommend tree cultivars! lol

    Bookmark   November 7, 2009 at 9:57AM
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Dan Staley

whaas, the nursery trade is one thing and the arboriculture trade is another.

Look for arborists advocating leaving on the burlap and just tucking the wire - few. Why? They have to deal with them in the ground, long after the sale.

You'll find the good arborists and the newer ones going through the classes with the latest info eschew leaving them on.


    Bookmark   November 7, 2009 at 10:57AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

I get that, but why do all the horticulturists at these nurseries endorse otherwise? Most of them are top notch coming from U of Wisconsin Madison.

I also talked to Wachtel, which is apparently the "premier" group of arborists in Wisconsin. I personally spoke to Dave Scharfenberger and he said if you completely remove the wire basket and burlap you substantially increase the risk of injury to the root system.

I'm definitely not arguing with anyone, just sharing what I'm being told here. Apparently this guys has some serious credentials.

Dave Scharfenberger
Board Certified Master Arborist
Certification # WI-0131B
President & ISA Board Certified Master Arborist, Dave Scharfenberger is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point with a BS in Urban Forestry and has over 34 years of experience in the science of tree care. Dave is on the Board of Directors and V.P. on the Executive Committee of the International Society of Arboriculture. Dave is also a Wisconsin Arborist Association Honorary Life Member and is an active member of the Tree Care Industry Association and the Wisconsin Landscape Contractors Association. He is a past president of the Wisconsin Arborist Association and is a recipient of their Distinguished Service Award. Dave has also received the Wisconsin Urban Forestry Council's Distinguished Service Award. Dave is on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Emerald Ash Borer Management Panel.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2009 at 12:03PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

the bottom line is all this is ...


whether he is right or wrong ....

leaving the burlap above ground.. can cause wicking of moisture from deep in the ball .. IF you insure that it doesnt do that.. you should be all set .... if the middle and bottom the ball gets dry... oh well ... DO NOT LEAVE ANY BURLAP TO THE ELEMENTS .... in other words.. your mulch is improper .... because we can see the burlap in the pix ...


    Bookmark   November 7, 2009 at 4:36PM
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Carrie B(6B/7A)

Not to take away from the existing debate, but...

do these trees look like they're planted too deep? I don't see any root flare on any of them.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2009 at 4:54PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Wow was today a nice day! 65 degrees...all twine and burlap is now gone.

By the way, I picked out the Seven Son Flower from the field in mid-September. It was delivered with fresh burlap. After about a month (October was a wet, cool month) the burlap had already decomposed, it pulled right up and tore easily. Obviously the part you see was intact but the outer layer around the ball (covered by mulch) tore right up.

Getting back to the original question about pruning, has anyone used a wire saw like Brandon mentioned? Or some other type of pruning tool for tight places.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2009 at 5:45PM
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Dan Staley

why do all the horticulturists at these nurseries endorse otherwise?

They are not current.

I didn't really look closely at the pics, but carrie brings up a good point. Another issue with B&B is that they often are planted too deeply. The top 4-6" of soil must be removed from the ball before planting.


    Bookmark   November 8, 2009 at 10:02AM
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The conflicting information you find is usually the result of the lack of keeping up with current trends and findings. Many old schoolers believe they know all they need to know and seldom attend industry and trade seminars or partake of continuing education. This is a pretty rapidly evolving course of study and practices that were accepted and very commonplace in the past have frequently been found to be less effective than assumed or even counterproductive. And, not all horticulturists and arborists agree on all the practices :-) This is not a perfect world and sometimes old habits die very hard! btw, the nursery industry is not typically where one finds a lot of trained horticulturists -- the pay is generally not anywhere commensurate with the training :-)

As to Ken's adamant statements about not voiding the warranty, I'd pretty much blow that off (sorry, Ken!). It is extremely unusual to find a plant warranty that extends longer than 12 months and many of the problems associated with improper planting practices (i.e., leaving on wire cages, NOT correcting root defects, planting too deeply etc.) will not manifest immediately. As the quoted text above indicates, the establishment period for planting/transplanting easily exceeds that 12 month period and a good many problems associated with poor planting practices will not become apparent until well after the warranty period is expired. btw, local nurseries here DO tend to recommend the removal of all wrappings and often their warranties will be voided if you DO NOT!

As to bare rooting B&B trees, read the link. It explains very clearly how to properly seat and secure the root systems in the planting hole, frequently without the need for any staking. And the breaking of the root ball should not sever any major roots unless they were damaged by the digging in the first place. There is often some loss to fine feeder roots but the removal of the heavy clay encourages their replacement, which typically will happen much faster without its impediment. And it is the development of these feeder roots that is of critical importance. And the benefits generated by loosening and removing that heavy soil and being able to accurately assess and correct root defects, determine root flare and correct planting depth outway any temporary root loss.

And to get back to the original issue, I see nothing in the shrubs illustrated that would urge me to any significant stem removal or pruning at this time.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2009 at 10:20AM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

gardengal48, all good points.

My experience... not all multi-stemmed trees have a very visible root flare.

In this case, I make sure the first emerging root is at the soil line/just slightly below.

The only one I didn't check was the Seven Son Flower. After removing the twine it was ok.

Oh and all the nurseries I have purchased from didn't state the warranty would be voided if I removed the burlap.

And lastly all the trees depicted above didn't have a wire basket.

I did leave wire baskets on the various 500 lb rootball trees I Maples and Honeylocust.

I can't seem to find much info on this water wicking topic. Any links would be appreciated.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2009 at 11:11AM
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brian_zn_5_ks(N.E. Kansas)

Well, whaas, since you asked...

I think the burlap "water-wicking" may well be another of those "sure seems logical so must be true" horticultural notions. It may indeed be a problem in those areas of the country where burlap very slowly degrades - in cool, short season northern climates, or cool, dry areas like the Colorado Rockies front range. In my area of the midwest, where soils are moist and warm, burlap degrades easily in one season - even treated burlap. So wicking, if it occurs, is of little consequence.

I would be surprised if you found any study on burlap wicking other than horticultural hearsay.

This thread has covered a lot of interesting issues in the nursery industry that are going to be more and more important as time goes on. As always, gardengal has pointedly and succinctly discussed the major points.

I'm very glad to see these issues brought up in this public forum. Both professionals and consumers are better off with this information. Alas, i don't see any rapid change likely to happen in either our production or planting methods. Not only is the industry pretty conservative in techniques, it is also one of the few remaining American businesses not dominated by a mere handful of companies. Instead, there are literally hundreds of thousands of small growers, retailers, and landscape contractors nation-wide. Getting them to change their ways might be harder than herding cats....


    Bookmark   November 8, 2009 at 3:15PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

has anyone used a wire saw like Brandon mentioned?


i tried a cheap one once.. may as well have been sawing with a plastic knife.. it was more of a burning through wood rather than a 'cutting' ....

it was a presumably cheap one.. since good old dad brought it over.. lol ... so i dont know if there is better current technology ...


    Bookmark   November 8, 2009 at 3:17PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Well maybe I'll purchase one and test it out on one of the limbs waiting to be burnt up in the fire pit.

I only asked about the water wicking as I never heard of it, or ever being an issue. As Brian mentioned the burlap used on all the plants I've planted decomposed in one growing season, as long as it was covered with soil or mulch. As evident on the Seven Son Flower, began decomposing within 30 days.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2009 at 6:33PM
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Any burlap exposed above the planting hole can be a culprit for wicking - if buried below the soil surface, it does not tend to create the same problems although B&B rootballs come with their own set of issues regarding their ability to dry out if watering practices are not carefully adhered to. As to the 'science' behind the wicking theory, I have never found anything that actually documented it -- I'd assume it to be more just logical, common sense :-) Wicking is a pretty common phenomenon with regards to various fabrics and moisture and is used a lot with athletic and winter clothing. If you Google "burlap tree wrap, wicking", you'll turn up a number of hits from extension services and arborist's sites that all mention it. Here's just one:

    Bookmark   November 9, 2009 at 9:27AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

A few points...

In additions to the previous suggestions, I think one big reason for some nurseries recommending against burlap and wire removal is that they are concerned about the plant's survival in the short term, not the long term. While the first-year survival rate is higher for b&b left intact and with the burlap left on, the long-term survival rate (as well as long-term general vigor) is lower. It's in the nursery's best interest for the tree to survive for at least a year (warranty, reputation, etc), but it can also be in their interest if the plant needs to be replaced after a few years.

If short term health of the plant is the only concern, follow Ken's advise and go with the nurseries recommendation to maximize chance of warranty coverage. If however, you plan on enjoying the plant for more than a few years, I'd strongly recommend removing the burlap, cage, and ties (at least along the top and sides of the rootball).

Brian's concerns concerning burlap and water wicking are somewhat misguided. The problem is mainly a short-term issue (before the burlap would have any chance of breaking down), not a long-term issue. Once the plant has a chance to become somewhat established, it is unlikely that water wicking form the burlap would be much of a problem. Before the plant's roots grow out into the surrounding soil, exposed burlap can dry out a rootball literally overnight. After a few months or so, this part of the burlap problem (water wicking) self-corrects.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2009 at 10:32AM
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