Big Trees for Crime Reduction

Like Linda, I believe that we don’t plant enough bare-root trees.  Trees that are harvested and sold bare root tend to establish better and recover faster from transplant shock than trees sold in containers or as B&B (balled and burlapped) stock.  But, in general, trees that are purchased in as bare-root stock are smaller than the other two styles, with B&B generally being the production method which yields the largest trees.

I disagree with Linda that, as a general rule, B&B stock should have its roots washed off prior to transplanting — I’ve done it and I’ve lost trees.  Most of the B&B trees that I know of where root washing has been successful have been small, relatively easily transplanted stock.  Once we have a few nice, big, long term studies that shows that B&B trees with their roots washed perform comparably to, or better than, normal B&B trees I’ll start to believe.  (I will note that, as a rule, it looks like B&B stock is dug and cared for much better here in Minnesota than Washington!)

I’m not going to go into the nuances of the arguments here — we’ve done it before if you want to check the archives.  But what I am going to point out is that a new study in Oregon has shown that bigger trees might help to deter crime.  Yet another reason for the people of this country to demand larger stock.

Despite what all of the research shows (that it’s better to plant smaller trees — preferably bare-root) people want big trees — they want an instant landscape.  They want it because to them it looks nice — and now its a way to protect your family too.

Historically this big stock comes B&B and is very expensive, cumbersome, and not the easiest things to successfully plant.  We need a new, cheaper way to grow large stock.  A number of researchers are working on different methods to produce large stock (special containers, bare root from a gravel bed) but nothing has worked out perfectly yet.  It’s going to be interesting to see how all of this shakes out in the future — especially with the loss of ash trees in the Midwest.

9 thoughts on “Big Trees for Crime Reduction”

  1. Until the industry stops treating trees (and their roots) as products rather than living organisms, things will never change. We get these problems because plants aren’t potted in containers that allow for much horizontal root development and are usually left in liners too long.
    The solution, in my opinion, is to go back to field grown trees. And that means field grown from day one. In fact, my next move to the family farm in a few years will entail using part of that 30+ acres to do just exactly that.

  2. Hmm … I wonder what variables other than crime rate and tree coverage the Oregon researchers considered in their study. Might as well be that big trees in the yards and on the streets are an indicator for a neighbourhood with mostly very well off residents. People who for example just can invest more in security measures.

  3. How do we feel about barerooting (washing) root balls of containerized stock. It seems to me this m
    akes more sense than doing it to B&B. Most containerized stock is root bound and exposing the roots allows for prroper distribution and pruning if neccessary. Also containerized trees usually are grown in artificial media and the problem of roots not crossing the soil interface into native soil would be even more pronounced than with B&B. Is there any research?

  4. washing root balls of containerized plants would be more difficult than B&B just because they have a more fibrous root system. I’ve done it, hate it, and don’t do it willingly. You want an average homeowner to do it? Won’t happen, at least not with a happy ending for the tree or the customer who will never shop with you again. As far as bare-root trees, they’re probably the most ideal product. Is it an attractive product for the homeowner? I don’t think so, I think bare-root plants intimidate non-gardeners. B&B is a last resort product for me, as I don’t want the long re-establishment time. I want my trees to be actively growing in 5 years, not sulking because they STILL have no roots.

    I also don’t believe soil interface problems are an issue for a containerized tree that has been properly grown, planted and cared for. (at the nursery, at retail, and after-care at the planting site) I’ve had to remove plants that have been in the ground anywhere from 5-15 years from a containerized plant in soil-less mix planted into heavy clay. They’ve mostly all had properly developed root systems, and were a real PITA to remove. In a healthy system, soil organisms do their job well and they will get rid of all of that fantastic organic matter for you and leave you with a soil closely matching the native soil in no time at all. Do interface problems exist? Certainly. Is a horribly root-bound tree that is planted too deep in the nursery container, not watered enough or too much, planted in mid-July even deeper at the site with landscape fabric to the trunk and mulch 10″ high around the trunk, watered once and forgotten about going to have soil interface problems? Certainly. Is a tree with only one of these stressful problems going to have interface problems? Quite possibly. Is there a huge number of plants with more than one of these stressors going home with customers daily? As this isn’t a perfect world, it’s unavoidable even at the best nurseries and garden centers. Anyway, this is very long, it’s been a very long day, It’s late, I’m tired, and I may read this in 2 days and wonder to myself “what the heck am I talking about?”

  5. Wes – yes, there’s been quite a bit of research on containerized plants (I commented on this on my own post the day before). In any case, Rita Hummel (another researcher at my station) identified structural root problems in containerized stock decades ago. She is a proponent of the “cut and spread” method, which is basically cutting all the way through the root ball to create 4 quadrants. The trick is cutting all the way through – the fatal root flaws are in the center of the ball, usually caused when the plant was in liners or small pots. I had a graduate student research root washing in the early 2000s. I presented a paper on her research at the Landscape Below Ground meeting at the Morton Arboretum in 2008. (Chalker-Scott, L. and T. Stout. 2009. Bare-rooting containerized materials: a comparison of installation techniques, pp. 191-204. In: G.W. Watson, L. Costello, B. Scharenbroch and E. Gilman (eds.), The Landscape Below Ground III : Proceedings of an International Workshop on Tree Root Development in Urban Soils. International Society of Arboriculture, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.)Nick, I feel your pain…and I repeat my observation that until the production nursery industry starts putting plant health ahead of the bottom line the problem will only get worse.

  6. I had the same question as Johannes… I live in Oregon, and many of the neighborhoods with big trees have run down, older homes. Younger trees = newer homes. What crimes are we talking about anyway? Theft might be more appealing in newer homes. Just a thought. Looking forward to reading the real report.

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