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Transporting trees to the landscape

trees in containers

Shipping issues

Root balls are fragile and should be handled carefully. Those in hard plastic containers or boxes are most resistant to abusive handling; those in soft, fabric containers and balled-in-burlap are most sensitive. Since picking the tree up by the trunk could strip the bark, carry or lift it by the root ball if possible. NEVER drop the tree because this will disrupt contact between fine roots and soil.

Tie trees securely to the truck so they do not roll around during transport. Rolling or other movement during shipping can crack the root ball and break roots. Trees transported on open trucks loose more water than those shipped in a closed truck and can come to the planting site in poor condition unless appropriately covered during transport. The cover should be tightly secured so air moves over the cover and does not penetrate under it. Never transport trees uncovered; this can reduce its ability to survive planting. Be sure trees are irrigated just prior to shipping to help minimize desiccation.

Do not allow closed trucks to remain standing in the sun unless they are air conditioned. Trees could be injured if the temperature inside the truck is maintained at more than about 100 F.

Some nurseries shrink-wrap black plastic (see photo below right) around the outside of the root ball prior to transporting. In addition to helping hold the ball together, this practice appears to reduce water loss from the tree and root ball during transport to the planting site.

Recent studies show that trees come to the job site with less water stress than those without plastic (Gilman, 1995). Once they reach the planting site, do not let clear plastic-covered root balls remain in the sun. Keep them in the shade or remove the plastic to prevent temperatures in the root ball from reaching lethal levels. Plastic must be completely removed prior to planting.

Prior to shipping, some nursery operators routinely spray trees with an antidesiccant (sometimes referred to as antitranspirants). Some of these reduce water loss during shipping and increase survival (Englert et al, 1993), but could hinder photosynthesis for several weeks after planting. This could lengthen the period of establishment by slowing root growth.

Most horticulturists find that antidesiccants provide no benefit to survival except for certain species during certain times of the year (Harris and Bassuk, 1995). With careful handling and proper aftercare, antidesiccants probably are not routinely needed, however more research will be welcomed in this area.

Branches normally are tied together close to the trunk to prevent breakage during shipping on certain species. They can be secured with string, plastic straps, fabric and other plastic around tree root balls

Holding area at planting site

It is best to plant trees the day they arrive at the planting site if at all possible. If trees can not be planted for an hour or two, irrigate them as soon as they are inspected and unloaded from the truck. Trees left out and not planted can deteriorate in quality quickly when not properly cared for.

If trees can not be planted the day they arrive at the planting site, establish a holding area at the site. The holding area should be as shaded as possible and away from the wind. It should also have provisions for irrigation. This area should be setup prior to bringing trees to the planting site.

As soon as B&B trees arrive in the holding area, cover the sides of the root balls with soil, compost, mulch, saw dust or other organic matter to help prevent root desiccation. This also helps irrigation water penetrate the root ball. Do not cover the top since this could restrict the flow of irrigation into the root ball.

Trees in containers should remain in the upright position so irrigation water can seep into the root ball. Group them close together to provide mutual shading of the root balls since direct sun hitting the side of the container often increases temperatures inside the root ball to lethal levels. Roots can die in a matter of hours so prompt action is essential. Root systems on bare root trees should be covered with moist sphagnum or other moisture holding material and kept out of the wind and sun to help keep them alive.

Unless trees will be stored in the complete shade, do not cover root balls or trees with any type of clear plastic since this could increase temperature to lethal levels. Irrigate trees in the holding area as they were in the nursery.

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