Wednesday, March 07, 2012
Thinking Outside the Ball and the Burlap
Many years ago I was chatting with a well known nursery owner who opined to me that we - in the green trades - devoted a great deal of our effort to the un-glamorous work of material transport. Not hard to argue with when the weight of a single balled and burlaped nursery tree of moderate size is in excess of two hundred pounds. If, say, you're ordering a few dozen for your village, the pounds quickly run into the tons, requiring trucking at fuel costs over $4 a gallon (in these parts, lately). And this is just the delivery. If the trees have to be shuttled around with loaders and trucks to it's final home, those transport costs continue to accumulate.
It's quite a cost to bear, shuttling around big heavy balls of damp earth - that just happen to be holding live trees.
I was thinking of all this in light of the budgetary issues that many communities face these days in regard to the Emerald Ash Borer crisis - which is now just hitting it's stride in the Chicago area. Many municipalities are having difficulty setting budgets in the wake of the recession. Combine that with the substantial impact from an invasive species and you have a perfect storm of long term tree loss. I was also thinking of a solution that could help solve two problems at once: plant bare root trees.
This isn't as complicated as one thinks. I have been involved with the installation of thousands of bare root trees and shrubs. (Where do you think the nurseries get their plants from?) Granted, it's not a solution that is ideal for all settings, but it can be a terrific alternative if a land owner has time on their side and the ability to provide the proper follow up care. (Note: sounds like pretty much everyone I have ever worked with)
By planting bare root materials you can purchase trees for a fraction of the cost compares to one that is nursery grown. There are some trade offs. The purchaser has to be prepared to devote more time at the front end, during establishment. And there may be slightly higher mortality in this planting method - but that can be more than offset by the lower price. All in all, if the buyer is well organized they can have great success utilizing bare root planting.
We're all looking for ways to do our work more intelligently. Using bare root materials is one way to eliminate the high - and frankly needless - costs associated with transporting tons of soil around. Leave the soil where it is and transport the tree instead. It's an old idea that I hope gets more attention in these days where we're losing our urban trees.