Stop by for a Seminar Saturday, April 2nd at 10am!
By Bernie Car
Have you ever had a “sick tree” and the advice you got was “Let’s fertilize it and see what happens”? Or, your trees and shrubs had various insect or disease problems, and the advice was to “spray the bugs”. On the surface, these seem like reasonable, common sense approaches. But they are the horticultural equivalent of “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.” Simply put, this approach is about treating the symptoms without addressing the underlying problem. It’s like turning up the radio to drown out the loud clunking sound coming from underneath your hood!
At Organic Air Tree and Shrub Care, we get to the root of the problem. Literally. This is because most problems visible above ground, whether dying branches or attacks from pests, are the result of a root-related disorder. Once that disorder is addressed, the tree can begin its path to recovery.
Root disorders generally fall into two categories: stem-girdling roots, and general root dieback due to lack of available oxygen in the soil.
A stem-girdling root is like a noose that eventually “chokes” and kills a tree. It most often forms when there is excessive soil or mulch piled against the trunk above the root flare. The flare is that outwardly curved region at the base, that many of us used to accentuate in our childhood tree drawings. Now, most newly planted trees go straight down like telephone poles, and the flare is buried. This is bad.
In other words, most new landscape plantings start out with trees and shrubs that are planted too deeply, and eventually lead to plants dying prematurely. Furthermore, once the tree is placed in the planting hole, the original soil from the hole is commonly piled back on top of the ball against the trunk, and then mulch is added. The end result is a root flare that can be four to twelve inches below the soil line. These trees become “time bombs” waiting to die, and the property owner eventually has to bear the expense of planting a new tree.
With regard to root-available oxygen, this is the single most-limiting factor in root development. Roots won’t grow where oxygen is lacking. Soil compaction after construction, naturally heavy clay soils, and deep planting, all affect root-available soil oxygen. As roots die, the plant becomes stressed because the supply of water and nutrients to the canopy is reduced. Much like a malnourished or stressed-out person, a malnourished or stressed-out plant falls prey to attacking organisms (insects and/or fungus).
Organic Air can repair soil oxygen issues and stem-girdling roots with a specialized tool called a Supersonic Air Knife. By using compressed air, soil can be taken away from the base of the trunk so we can surgically remove any malformed roots. Air is then injected deeply into the ground, typically 18 to 24 inches down, to expand pore spaces in the soil (think of a new sponge expanding when put in water). It truly is like a breath of fresh air to a struggling root system.
Aerating is not only good for roots, but it increases the activity of beneficial soil organisms, which also require oxygen. Earthworms and good bacteria and fungi help release vital minerals, such as calcium, iron, and manganese that plants need for proper function. When organic fertilizers are used in conjunction with well-oxygenated soils, the microbe populations explode, bringing even more nutrients to plants. This is different from conventional fertilizers, which focus on nitrogen as the primary nutrient. Most people know that fertilizers can “burn” plant roots if too much is applied. Products such as urea, which is a common source of nitrogen in synthetic fertilizers, can cause dehydration in the soil. That dehydration may also interfere with populations of soil organisms, ultimately having a negative effect on nutrient availability to plants. As microbes fade away due to the continuous use of synthetic fertilizers, there becomes a greater reliance on chemicals to keep plants healthy. Going organic can help break that cycle.
In the end, the secret to healthy plants lies in healthy roots and soil. Organic Air’s combination of Air Knife services and Organic Tree and Shrub Care are unique in the Lorain County and Western Cuyahoga County region. Watch a video of the Air Knife at our web site, www.organicairtsc.com, or call us at 419-668-3457 for a free consultation.
Below is a listing of specifications used by many Northern Ohio municipalities for all new city tree plantings. It is provided by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry. Note emphasis of removing burlap, twine, and wire basket.
Planting Balled and Burlapped Trees:
1. If not readily apparent, locate root flare by removing twine, burlap, and excess soil.
2. Dig tree hole at least two times wider than the tree ball, with sides sloped to an unexcavated or firm base. Dig hole to a depth so the located root flare, at the first order lateral root, will be at finished grade.
3. Lifting only from the bottom of the root ball, position tree on firm pad so that it is straight and top of root flare is level with the surrounding soil.
4. Remove all twine from the root ball. If present, remove and discard at least the top one half of the wire basket. Burlap shall be removed from the top to a point halfway down the root ball and discarded.
5. With clean, sharp pruning tools, prune off any secondary/adventitious, girdling, and potential girdling roots.
6. Backfill planting hole with existing unamended soil, and thoroughly water.
7. Mulch the entire planting surface with composted bark applied no less than two inches (2″) deep and no more than three inches (3″) deep, leaving three inches (3”) adjacent to the tree trunk free of mulch.
Bernie Car is an ISA Certified Arborist and the owner of Organic Air Tree and Shrub Care. He also serves as a member of the Norwalk Tree Board.