In our March issue, we shared details about the exciting tree restoration and replanting project our Grounds department is working so hard on. Our first article can be viewed here. Above all else, this project is a true collaboration between several major stakeholders on campus: SSC Grounds, TAMU Facilities & Dining Administration, and the Office of the University Architect.
SSC Grounds associates working on this project are thrilled about being able to do this kind of work on campus. They take great pride in their work and it shows. Certified Arborist JJ Aguilar says of the six trees planted in Academic Plaza (as part of phase 1), “We couldn’t have done it without the efficient teamwork that we have here at SSC. This was a new endeavor for our team but we overcame many obstacles and successfully were able to plant all six trees in a timely manner.”
Mike Teal, Grounds Manager over Landscape Construction and Heavy Equipment says, “It is exciting to be able to do tree restoration and improvements on campus. The overall health of the trees really sets the character for the entire campus experience, and we now have the opportunity to improve that first impression.”
Work on phase one is nearly complete. Currently, the team is doing removals on New Main - part of phase 2 - and will be quickly coming back in and grinding stumps and planting new trees. A berm will be built on the outbound side of New Main, which will provide better drainage in the area and will be critical for the trees to thrive.
The three main restoration methods that will be used in this project are root collar excavation, vertical mulching, and radial trenching. These methods will be employed after both phase one and two are complete.
Root collar excavation is done to ensure that the soil grade around the tree is where it should be. This restoration method is used when there is soil built up around the trunks of the tree. The excess soil is removed to help prevent girdling roots and crown rot.
The ultimate goal of vertical mulching is to relieve compaction. “Vertical mulching is where we create a grid of holes 3 feet apart and about 6 inches deep within the canopy of critical root zone of the tree. This allows air, water, and nutrients to get down to the roots,” says Joseph Booth, SSC Certified Arborist. The holes can be created either through compressed air, drill, or pressurized water. They are then backfilled with a product called Renovate/Plus, a 50/50 combination of EarthWorks Renovate and Eco-Lite. This product is, “a powerful amendment that will open tight soils, speed turf recovery, and stimulate soil biology without a big nitrogen push,” according to EarthWorks’ website.
The final restoration method that will be used is radial trenching using AirSpade tools. Like vertical mulching, radial trenching’s goal is to relieve compaction so roots can take in nutrients. Radial trenching encourages new root growth, which greatly benefits the tree. According to AirSpade’s website, there are many advantages of air excavation. “Air excavation has become a preferred method for digging on many jobs ranging from utility work to advanced tree care. Excavating with the AirSpade offers a number of advantages over conventional tools such as picks, shovels, and backhoes.”
Phillip Zellner, Regional Director of Operations-Grounds, says, “The major benefit of using AirSpade tools is that it can relieve compaction without damaging roots because we are able to remove soil with compressed air rather than mechanically.”
Once radial trenching is complete, Grounds will be going back with an amended soil specific for urban trees, which will act as a long-time slow release organic fertilizer which has a high value biologically for tree health.
With a big smile on his face, Phillip Zellner says, “I’m excited for this entire project to be happening on campus. Once again, it’s a huge visual impact and is going to allow for a fantastic first impression for students, faculty, staff, and campus visitors.”
The entire tree restoration and replanting project is still on schedule to be completed in May. In a forthcoming newsletter, we will be doing another article providing more updates on this significant project.