Although mechanical tree spades have been around for some time now, they’re not too common a piece of equipment for most contractors. Why? Because tree spades are specialized equipment that cost alot of money, and for most contractors it’s not something they would use often enough to justify the expense. Landscape contractor Dave Kennedy has been transplanting trees for most of his years in the industry and has equipped himself with machines in the mid-size range. In the first picture the spade is positioned to dig a Norway Spruce. It opens like a clam shell and closes once around the tree; all with the power of hydraulics driven by the skid steer.
The 4 metal blades are independently controlled (again by hydraulics) and are water lubricated to help them penetrate the ground. When the blades are beneath the earth and around the root system, the tree can be safely raised. A wire tree basket lined with burlap awaits the freshly dug tree.
To dig this tree the conventional way, i.e. “balled & burlaped” by hand, it would take two men at least 2 hours. One of my upcoming posts will show a hand-dug transplant so you can see and compare the process.
The biggest use of these machines is in the growing nurseries where thousands of plants are grown and dug for market. Their ability to do volume work in a short time makes them the industry standard. As you would expect, mechanical tree spades need room to work. Just the large blades themselves require a certain amount of clearance to operate. On some project sites there is simply not enough room, or the land is too sloped, or there are underground utilities “too close for comfort”. These are just some of the conditions where “hand-digging” would be the method of choice.
In less than an hour Dave’s mechanical tree spade had these 2 existing trees out of the ground and into wire tree baskets with burlap. The crewmen shave the excess soil off the tops of the balls, fold over the burlap and tie the upper loops of the basket in a “criss-cross” fashion to make a tight package. These trees are ready to be repositioned and replanted.