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How to dig a tree by hand

Posted by sam_md z7 MD (My Page) on
Tue, Mar 19, 13 at 9:33

Around here if you pass by a commercial nursery you see hundreds of root balls dug and sitting above the ground ready to be loaded and shipped. The season for digging trees & shrubs is in full swing.
Today this is commonly done by machine and placed in a wire basket. Whenever that is not possible/practical we have to fall back on hand digging. I have linked a video from the Univ of Kentucky.
Digging starts with tieing up the top, am really glad to see that, it protects the branches during digging and shipment. Notice the Leonard spade, GOOD CHOICE. They are really the standard for those of us who dig trees by hand. One thing missing from the video is a digging bar if you have rocky soil as in my case you really need one. After you dig and shape the root ball with the spade pin on the burlap and lace it up. Notice how he fills the hole and uses leverage to roll the ball out which is really the best way. Once out of the hole tie up the bottom of the ball and move with a tree cart. If you are going to load it into an open bed truck you must cover with a tarp even if it is dormant. Most commercial growers will not let you leave the place without covering your trees.
Much of the value of dug stock is in the quality of B&B job. Poorly dug trees with a loose ball will be low value.
Another method of lacing for high value trees is drum-lacing. Search hand tree digging lost art from Angelica Nursery for their video.
Note: An economical alternative to B&B material is bareroot which is sometimes available for deciduous species during the dormant season. Digging and shipping bareroot trees can be done at a fraction of the cost however selection will be limited.

Here is a link that might be useful: Univ of KY youtube

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: How to dig a tree by hand

hi sam..

reminds of some post i just saw in various posts .. lol ...

one thing i have found.. is that sharpening your shovel.. REALLY makes a difference .. that old dull shovel really doesnt 'cut' thru anything ...

the other trick.. they really dont show.. is that your shovel should face AWAY from the ball you are trying to form ... otherwise.. when you crank the shovel down trying to wedge out soil ..... you eventually destroy the ball you are trying to form ... been there.. done that ...

and finally.. i have learned.. in my sand.. that the whole ball thing doesnt really end up working.. as the sand falls away in the end.. so TIMING is imperative if your native soil is sand [you want to move thing totally dormant if bare rooting] ... you never see a tree farm in sand.. and most BB stock you buy.. you will find it clay .. there is a reason for that.. and its the ball itself. ...

and go figure ..... in the many times i have done this.. it never crossed my mind to lift it with the backfill.. absolutely GENIUS .... a big DUH on me.. lol ...

otherwise.. thats the way to do it ...


Here is a link that might be useful: how a non-professional does it.. note it is done on a much smaller plant ...

RE: How to dig a tree by hand

  • Posted by botann z8 SEof Seattle (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 19, 13 at 13:35

I use a long handled construction shovel. Those short handled shovels are for little people or kids. I'm almost 70 and have no back problems after being a landscaper for over thirty years. I have dug a lot of trees.
When digging a tree of the size shown, I put my left shoulder to the tree and back around it while digging. The back of the shovel faces the root ball at a 45 degree angle. My back pushes the branches out of the way and I don't have to wrap it. I too, use the backfill to get the root ball out of the hole.
When transporting trees I lay them down in the truck and cover with a tarp with a net thrown over it. The net keeps the tarp from flapping and hooks to the tiedowns with out tying. Much faster than a rope to hold the tarp down and a net by itself wouldn't stop the wind when going down the hi-way.

RE: How to dig a tree by hand

Am really starting to appreciate the video from U of Ky.
Compare with this video of Japanese Holly being dug. They lift what passes for a root ball out and place it on the burlap. Look at the ratio of foliage to root ball. I wonder how much of that foliage will be shed????? I suppose its not important since JH is not a high value plant. Of course you would never treat a valuable plant like this.
Here's the problem as I see it, while there are knowledgeable plantsmen in the green industry who work with high end material, they are surely not taking the time or trouble to make videos.
If anyone could link to a really quality B&B demostration of a substantial tree I would appreciate it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Leaves something to be desired :(

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