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Air Spading

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An essential tool in organic care, the Air Spade™ utilizes compressed air to safely and efficiently break up difficult soil.

There are four patterns of soil aeration that we typically perform: Root Collar Excavations, 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 Spade. An Air Spade 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.

Accessing root systems with an Air Spade 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, or assess and correct girdling (circling) roots.

Soil Compaction

Aerating the soil in a hub and spoke pattern allows us to focus on rejuvenating the main roots of a tree.

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. When the nutrient deficiency is great enough, that can be enough to damage a tree on its own. 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.

Girdling Roots

Trees 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 can reveal girdling roots. Left uncorrected, these circling roots often 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 root flares and around the trunks of trees.

During this process, Almstead Technicians use Air Spade technology to blow excess soil from around the root collar and then evaluate the structure of the root system to determine the appropriate corrective measures needed to enhance root development or repair damage to the tree trunk itself. Once diagnosed, these problems are manually corrected to create the right environment for the tree to flourish.

Vertical Mulching

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 deep root fertilization.

With vertical mulching, we remove cores of the soil over a tree's root system and backfill with compost and soil amendments. (Image - International Society of Arboriculture)

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.

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