Air spade tree transplanting

grizwaldDecember 9, 2012

Hello everyone,
I know there are lots of YouTube videos about using the airspade but I thought I would tell folks about me experiences so far.
There are no local equipment rental places that have an air spade so following instructions on the Internet I made one. It seemed to work well but I have no basis for comparison. Cost was about $80.
Rented a 185 cam compressor and hired a local teenager. If you have your own teenager you can save a hundred dollars. Personally I prefer to rent.
I have read in multiple places that going out 10x the diameter of the tree will take in most of the roots. Based on my now massive experience of 2 trees, it seems a substantial amount of the root structure extends much further than that. I made a hole about ten feet in diameter for a 3 inch diameter tree. There was still a dense root mat even that far out.
From the lessons learned from the first tree I excavated a trench at the periphery this allow you to get the extra dirt out of he hole without damaging the roots you are trying to save. I should add that I used a sharp shovel to circumscribe the circle which I hope will be clean enough cuts to the roots.
From this trench I was able to slowily undercut the roots all the way back to the center. Obviously this required tying up the roots as you go along.
I found it very interesting that there were very few roots that went more than 2 feet deep at the most.
Even with most of the dirt removed it was still heavy to drag to the new site. This is where the teenager is key. The are also useful for shoveling the dirt out of the trench as you go along. They are also amazingly good at disposing of any excess food in your refrigerator.
It Is important not to dig the receiving hole to deep. Unless you enjoy dragging the tree out of the hole and partially filling it in. After doing this twice I found that I enjoyed the process less each time. I have resolved to make the next hole too shallow to see if it is more fun to drag the tree back out and deepen it. Stay tuned.
As both of the trees I transplanted we're dormant deciduous it will be hard to know if they will survive, but I have great hopes just because there is so much more root mat preserved I am going to try an evergreen oleander next week which should give me a better idea which I will dutifully report.

If anyone has experience in this arena and care to advise me on anything I am doing it would be greatly appreciated. I have read that those doing bare root planting dip the roots in a glycol solution but given that we were immediately putting it in the ground I didn't do this.
Thanks everyone.

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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Yes, you want to get more roots by bare-rooting rather than cutting the root system down small so you can lift an intact soil ball. The exception is the minority of species of trees that cannot have their roots exposed to air for any length of time. And like the others this minority will not like having their roots cut way back.

Yes, you want to dig wide, shallow holes and do not want to plant over loosened soil that the tree will sink down into later. The new area of loosened soil around (and not under) the tree should extend well beyond the ends of the existing roots at planting time. Do not stomp the fill soil down around the roots after the tree is in place - an apparently common tendency - as you are installing a living thing that occupies the humidified air spaces between the soil particles - and not a fence post. Growth of new roots into the soil around the planted tree will be most robust if the soil is loose and well-aerated. New root growth from the cut root ends will not start until the dormant winter buds at the ends of the shoots open in spring. At this time hormones are generated by these buds that cause new roots to be made and grow out from the ends of the existing roots. These quickly grow a comparatively short distance and then root growth is reduced again until fall, when there is a major stretching out of existing, intact roots - 60% of the entire annual total of root growth occurs at this time. This schedule means that your transplants will have reduced top growth the first summer, with normal top growth not returning until next year - after the big root push has occurred next fall.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 2:15PM
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Thanks for that info. I had not thought about extending the loose soil past the end of the roots. Makes sense. Currently in northern California we are on the end of almost a foot of rain so the ground is pretty much mud. Do you think this is aerated, enough and if not what would you suggest for improving the soil. Based on the weight of a shovel there is not a molecule of air in there anywhere. .

In terms of keeping the tree upright do you recommend staking rather than packing down the dirt?

What is your opinion on lining the receiving hole with compost or horse manure or ?

Thanks again for sharing your knowledge. I had no idea of the root growth timing.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 5:48PM
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what i find that helps is heavily water the soil and the root flare before digging up it makes it easier in the heavy clay and it makes finding and uproooting the roots easier.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 6:19PM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

grizwald, I wanted to thank you for an informative and well told story!

Generally it seems most are for not amending the new site unless there is some deficiency. In that case I know I'm lazy and don't want to have to baby a tree to 80ft tall as it will get expensive.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 7:18PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

If the ground is mud you need to wait for drier conditions before undertaking this operation. You do not want to mix any textural modification materials (bark, compost, peat, sand...) into the planting hole backfill.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 12:18AM
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I forgot to mention that grass is not your friend when you are airspading. If you have the time to put something over it and let it die back this is probably a good idea. Otherwise you can blast it with air and then pull it out manually. Another use for your rental teenager.
The stuff is amazingly tough and will make blowing out the dirt much slower. I suspect that the added air cannot be good to the little rootlets that one is laboring to preserve.

On a related note has anyone tried airspading while simultaneously sucking up the dirt with some thundering big vacume excavator or shop vac on steroids. The cost of renting a vacume excavator and a compressor would make this too expensive for me but given the number of pros on this forum I am currious as to how well (or poorly) it would work.
thanks griz.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 4:05PM
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Update on progress.
Have moved 6 tree now. One evergreen Oleander which has been sitting in it's new location for a bit more than a month without loosing a leaf. While it is certainly possible that it could still croak I am thinking it will be okay. The last tree I moved was a 30 ft Crepe Myrtle with about a 5 inch diameter trunk. Even with all the dirt off it's root it was at the extreme end of what my tractor will lift. I am waiting for the rains to stop before I try anything else. May need to use the trees to build an ark.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 5:51PM
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Griz, given the conditions you describe, I'd rather see a couple stakes holding up those transplants than to have the wet soil packed down around them.

Staking is fine-just get them off in a year or so.


    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 6:08PM
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Hello all,
In the continuing saga of airspading, all transplanted trees are staked and doing fine. Not a single death so far. The yard does look sort of like a military ropes course but other than that no issues.
HOWEVER I have now encountered a problem I did not foresee. In the latest attempt to move a very large oleander I have discovered that the root mass is too thick for the airspade to penetrate. Even when undercut I can't blow the dirt down or out enough to make the root mass pliable. Sooooo.....
Question. Has anyone tried using water (aka hydraulic) to remove dirt from tree roots. The downside as I see it would be the need for a great huge area to pump the dirt/water to and the subsequent hole in the ground. The tree has to go so if I can't get it moved it will be cut and I hate doing that.
thanks for your thoughts, Griz

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 11:01AM
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