Tree survival skills: Stresses during handling and transport affect tree health

May 04, 2009

Consider the cumulative stresses that transplanted trees must endure from the time they are harvested until they become established in a landscape. Multiple stress factors can mean the difference between survival and death for trees. For starters, when "balled-and-burlapped" trees are dug prior to transport, the majority of the root system is often separated from the tree. After this initial stress, trees are typically taken to a loading site and placed on trucks or trailers for shipment. At each stage of the transplanting process, trees are exposed to mechanical shock and vibration that can further disrupt the root system and cause considerable injury.

As if these issues are not harmful enough, are not usually watered during transport. If they are not covered to limit evaporation, the trees are apt to suffer additional damage. Transplanted trees can also be subjected to rapidly changing temperatures and humidity levels as they are moved from sunny to shady sites, from low to high elevations, in and out of box trailers, and across plant hardiness zones—all of which may occur in the course of a few hours. All these stress factors can add up to significant trauma, shock, and even death for these vulnerable trees.

Although any one of these stress factors may be the sole cause of a tree's death or decline, it is more likely a combination of stress factors that leads to trees' reduced growth or death after planting. Water stress, mechanical damage, or alone may be sufficient to severely damage or kill a transplanted tree; when these stressors are combined, the prospect of trees' survival in the landscape is greatly reduced.

Andrew K. Koeser, J. Ryan Stewart, Germán A. Bollero, and Donald G. Bullock from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Daniel K. Struve from The Ohio State University recently published a study in HortScience that examines the impact of stress on balled-and-burlapped trees. "We hypothesized that stresses associated with handling and transporting nursery stock during transplanting could be directly linked to reduced tree growth and survival within the first year of establishment. Identifying the specific stress factors responsible for transplant shock and when they occur is crucial if the process is to be improved", Stewart explained.

To determine the short-term impact of transplanting on health and establishment of woody plants in the landscape, the researchers studied maple trees at three critical stages in the transplanting process (initial harvest, handling, and transport) at three sites in Illinois and Wisconsin. Norway and red maples were subjected to three distinct treatments: root-pruned, handled, and transported. "Our intent was not to look at potential treatment differences between the two maple species, but rather be able to generalize our results to transplanting events of several woody species. We then used this information to identify key stages in the transplanting process that diminish transplanted tree growth and survival", the scientists said. Effects of water stress, root severance, and root-ball disruption on twig elongation and tree survival were measured for each treatment and compared with unaltered control trees.

Harvested root balls can be extremely heavy and are relatively fragile. The researchers observed visible damage of root balls during the study. "Based on the data, it appeared the majority of this damage occurred during the handling process. Results suggest rough handling before and after transport should be minimized in an effort to maximize growth and transplant success", remarked Stewart.

The scientists advise that handling should also be minimized when trees are transplanted in order to reduce stress and establishment time. They recommend careful planning to prevent unnecessary movements of trees at both the nursery loading area and landscape site and warn that if trees are placed in mulch or composted material for an extended period of time, burlap may quickly deteriorate in warm, moist substrate.

Information from this research study can be beneficial for tree growers and end-consumers alike. The resulting recommendations can translate to fewer financial losses by offering alternative handling and planting methods that enhance the health and vitality of transplanted trees.

More information: The complete study and abstract are available on the ASHS HortScience electronic journal web site: hortsci.ashspublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/44/1/53

Source: American Society for Horticultural Science

Explore further: Noted researchers warn that biomedical research system in US is unsustainable

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers Getting to the 'Root' of Christmas Tree Problems

Nov 24, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- As Christmas tree farmers prepare for their busiest season, researchers at North Carolina State University are studying how to combat a disease that has killed thousands of North Carolina Christmas trees ...

Recommended for you

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Apr 18, 2014

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.