Planting progress

The contracts boom may be over but evolution of tree-related products continues.

Some landscapers are reporting good business. Others say that enquiries are few, confirmations are slow and most of the work is small contracts. It’s difficult to forecast what to expect in the future.
On the domestic front, people are in post-Christmas mode. The bills are landing on the doormat, causing a dip in spending as bank balances recover from Christmas, holiday bookings and increases in heating bills. Redesigning the garden ready for a summer barbecue is likely to be a long way down in the list.
On the commercial scene, businesses such as hotels and leisure complexes are concentrating on absorbing price increases for energy and labour as well as trying to compete with cheap flights abroad. Again, we may find that re-landscaping the building’s entrance and enhancing the grounds may be put on the back burner for the time being.
In forestry and roadside planting schemes, many contractors found that realignment of planting grants and the reduction of new road projects caused business to slow dramatically last year. Current reports indicate improvements, with a number of ventures planned under the new English Woodland Grant Scheme, but competition to win contracts remains intense.
One thing is clear, however — if you have planting contracts in the pipeline, you could find that the prices of many planting products have gone up in the past few months. Increases and surcharges of five per cent or more are being added to the price of products made using raw materials from the oil industry. If you are involved in tree planting, now is a good time to take a fresh look at what you are doing, why you are doing it and how much it is costing.
There are several elements involved in the cost of tree planting but one of the biggest is labour. Green-Tech, based in York specialises in landscape and forestry products. Director Mark Shaw says: “As ‘time is money’ the landscaper is always looking to improve speed of operations, without compromising quality, or health and safety of staff.
“A large number of commercial landscape schemes are undertaken in winter, when the window to carry out such operations is limited, so it means that as much work as possible needs to be done in a minimum amount of time.”
Some industries lend themselves to total automation. Landscaping is not one of them. The variety of tasks, the changing conditions and the care needed when handling plants mean that many tasks are still labour intensive.
Over the years, a widening choice of machinery and products has helped speed up the process of tree planting. Tree spades are now commonly used for transplanting specimen trees from one area to another, and augers — hand-held or mounted onto tractors, skidsteers or excavators — are used to reduce time and effort needed to dig planting pits.
Large trees can make a dramatic impact on a new landscape project but are expensive to buy and plant. Their health and well-being must be ensured and establishment promoted as early as possible if the tree is to flourish. The importance of creating the best soil conditions, along with good husbandry, must not be forgotten. According to Shaw, anchoring products, such as the Duckbill System, are increasingly used in planting schemes. The same can be said for the Greenleaf tree irrigation systems, again from Green-Tech. These are primarily used to help promote the survival of trees, especially the larger sizes, that are more vulnerable during their first year after planting.
Tree tying methods have remained consistent for years — many landscapers still use the traditional rubber pad and strapping such as the HoldFast range. Recently, products such as Velcro strapping have been produced to speed up the tying operation. A product more usually associated with the commercial landscape industry is the Super Soft Tree Tie, which threads and ties around the stake and tree without the need for hammers and nails or spacers.
For staking purposes, timber remains the most popular method for trees up to heavy standards and in cases where semi-matures are used where staking will not affect or damage the rootball. Shaw reports that machine-rounded, tantalised stakes are the preferred type of stake. At TreesPlease in Northumbria, hardwood stakes are also stocked — demand is due to their strength and for environmental reasons, as they are not treated with preservatives. Plastic posts have made an entry into the industry but tend to be used for retainers of boundaries for play areas as they are at present too expensive for tree staking.

External protection
Tree guards of various forms and sizes have long been used to offer protection from browsing animals. Shelters — which create a growth-enhancing mini “greenhouse” climate around the plant — have been produced since the early 1980s and are accepted as a proven aid in the establishment of trees and shrubs. But they have nuisance factors.
For starters, some contracts specify the removal and disposal of guards and shelters after a set time. That can be costly although many guards and shelters, such as those from TreesPlease and Tubex, are photodegradable.
In December, world-leading tree shelter manufacturer Tubex was one of several companies forced to reconsider their prices. Tubex shelters can be seen in many motorway planting schemes. Against the backdrop of substantial oil price rises, the company decided to introduce a five per cent surcharge.
Tubex UK & Northern Ireland sales manager Tim Oliver explains: “It’s purely down to raw materials. We buy our raw material — the polypropylene — in quarterly batches, having predicted demand. The price of the raw material went up by 20 per cent and we had no option but to pass some of it onto our customers.” He assures us that the surcharge will be removed at a later date if the price of raw materials reverts to more normal levels.
Biocycle, in Llangefni, Gwynedd, recently launched the world’s first 100 per cent biodegradable tree shelter. The BioTube shelter avoids the volatility of the plastics/oil markets and eliminates removal later and landfill costs.
Biodegradable shelters still need testing long-term on larger commercial plantings but seem to offer a solution. Tubex also has a programme to produce biodegradable shelters. Oliver says: “We see a future for a good biodegradable product. We’ve got Welsh Development Agency funding and have been working with Bangor and Swansea universities.”
For plastic tree guards a solution may be to use the re-usable types. PG Horticulture, based at Eye in Suffolk, is supplying the DSC7297 re-usable guard. Made from heavy-duty rigid plastic, this guard is said to be easy to fit and remove and to last for at least 10 years. It expands as the tree grows.
Another recent development from PG is the Isomat Tree Mulching Mat — a non-woven degradable geotextile made from 98 per cent natural jute and wood fibres with a polypropylene backing.
At Westonbirt Arboretum, re-usable Netlon Tree Guards are employed to protect trees and shrubs from browsing animals. Westonbirt’s collection of 18,000 trees, some of them rare and exotic, is set in 250ha of landscaped countryside and attracts thousands of visitors every year. A wide diversity of birds and animals is also attracted to the site and some of them are interested in eating the tasty young shoots.
Westonbirt arborist Mark Ballard says: “The resident population of roe and muntjac deer, assisted by rabbits, are the main culprits. We have removed our unique and valuable trees and shrubs from their diet by protecting them with Netlon Tree Guard — a high-density polyethylene mesh with an appropriately sized aperture. The benefit of this format of tree guard is that it can be formed into a one-metre-high guard of any size diameter, which is ideal for the more shrubby plants.”
Marketing the tree guard in the UK, Sue Spencer of Derby-based Growing Technologies says: “We’re pleased to be helping protect this world-class tree collection. Tree Guard is specifically designed to give maximum protection without causing abrasion to the plants or injuring the deer or rabbits. It comes in formats that allow protection to any height or diameter. It’s also long lasting and reusable.”
Increasingly, guards are made of recycled materials — another way of lessening dependence on the oil industry. Rainbow Tree Spirals, for instance, are made of 100 per cent recycled material, providing a minimum of four years of protection on sites subject to average UV levels. The spirals contain a patented design that shows the correct way the spiral should be installed.
There are plenty of products in the market and new developments coming to the fore — what we need now are the new contracts.

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