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Organic: Air Spading
An essential tool in organic care is a pneumatic device called the Air SpadeTM that utilizes compressed air to safely and efficiently break up difficult soil...
Accessing root systems with an Air SpadeTM is done for a number of reasons. An arborist may want to check for root rot beneath the surface, break up compacted soil that has been preventing nutrient and water flow to the roots, assess and correct girdling (circling) roots, or perform a root collar excavation (RCX) -- a treatment to remove soil around the root collar.
There are four patterns of soil aeration that we typically perform: Root Collar Excavations (RCX), Hub and Spoke, Vertical Mulching, and Sheet Excavations.
For a long time, the problem of defective root systems was a great source of aggravation to arborists, because accessing them was so laborious.
The cost of physically digging to expose buried roots was high for tree-care companies and clients alike, and that was just for a diagnosis. But thanks to a new technology, we are now able to access root systems much more easily.
The industry's tool of choice for accessing root systems, and the one we use at Almstead, is the Air SpadeTM. This device uses compressed air to break up and remove soil. It works much more quickly than conventional digging, and it eliminates the danger of damaging tree roots or utility lines.
When the root zone of a tree lives in compacted soil, the rest of the tree is negatively affected. Without the proper flow of nutrients and water moving through the root system, trees become stressed. In turn, that stress opens trees up to insect and disease problems that they would otherwise be able to fight off.
Aerating the soil in a hub and spoke pattern allows us to focus on rejuvenating the main roots of a tree.
Compaction can be the result of a construction project or simply everyday vehicle or foot traffic over the roots. Also, some soil types (like clay-heavy soils) are more prone to compaction than others. When nutrient deficiency is great enough, it can damage a tree on its own.
Plants are commonly planted too deep or have excess soil or mulch covering the root flares resulting in decline, girdling root formation, root rot and even tree death. Rope or twine left around the roots when planted is another common cause of girdling root formation.
Performing a Root Collar Excavation using an Air SpadeTM can reveal girdling roots. If they are left uncorrected, these circling roots can damage the stability of a tree's root system and restrict the flow of nutrients to the trunk.
Girdling roots grow around the main stem of the tree and cut off or restrict the movement of water, plant nutrients and stored food reserves. A root collar excavation (RCX) is the process of removing excess soil from the top of trunk flares and around the trunks of trees. We use Air Spade technology to blow excess soil from around the root collar and then evaluate the structure of the root system.
Sometimes in cases of severe tree decline, major soil compaction, or for mature specimen trees vertical mulching may be recommended instead of or in combination with root fertilization.
Vertical Mulching is the process of air-boring holes in a grid pattern beneath the canopy of a tree. These holes are filled with a combination of soil amendments and other specialty materials which allows oxygen, nutrients and water to penetrate to the roots. Vertical mulching can be very beneficial to a tree's root system and is used quite often to strengthen stressed or declining trees.
Vertical holes about 18 to 24 inches deep are made beneath the canopy of the tree. They are filled in with soil amendments and other material that will benefit the root system of the tree.
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