Ball and burlap (B&B) trees move with great success. We want to cover; the best way to unload the truck, equipment selection, advantages of pre-digging the holes, and exactly how to place and straighten the trees without distressing the root-ball to trunk connection, and the best use of your planting team.
Treat the Trucker Right!
Ball and burlap trees will arrive on a flat bed truck. Standard trucking practice will allow a two hour window for unloading, after which the customer will pay the trucker $100 per hour for additional time needed. This is paid in cash directly to the trucker. Usually the trucker will cut the twine that is holding the tarp in place, but help him out when it is time to pull the tarp off the trees, and do help him with throwing it back onto the trailer after unloading, especially if it is wet.
Taking the Trees Off the Truck
I have a short 7' piece of 3/8 chain I made up, and attached a hook on each end. Drape that chain across about five teeth on the bobcat bucket so there is about 2' hanging down on both sides of those teeth. Gently lower the bucket down so the hooks are hanging just above the root-balls you want to hook to. Have one helper stay up on the truck to connect the chains to the top strand of the wire baskets. If you are unloading 22" or 28" root-ball trees, you can take two at a time by hooking the chains to the wire basket two different trees. Hook to the top strand of both wire baskets. If you are unloading 36" root-ball trees, connect both chains to the same root-ball, hook to the top strand at two points at least 16 to 24 inches apart. You can also hook one of the hooks to a lower strand of the wire basket and the other one to the top strand. Remember the goal now is to just unload the truck so at this point the trees do not have to be hooked any special way. It is nice if the trees travel about 45% angle to upright. If you have a lot of trees, have one helper that stays on the truck to hook chains, and one that stays on the ground. Once you gently lift the trees, back up and turn the bobcat so the trees are clear of the truck, then gently lower the bucket so the trees are lower than three feet above ground. You should travel with the trees hanging low to the ground like this in case a wire basket breaks, the Nellie Stevens Holly tree will not fall far enough to damage it. Have your helper on the ground walk along holding the tips of the trees as you travel, so they do not swing back and end up under the bobcat treads. Goal now is to line them up is some way so you can move them to the holes after the trucker is paid and gone. Using forks to unload requires that the man (or men) on the trailer stand each tree vertically on its pointed root-ball so the bobcat operator slides the forks around the point of the root-ball. I previously unloaded using this approach; Don't do it. Someone can get hurt with all that lifting up on the truck.
Best Equipment for Unloading
I usually use a T190 bobcat and a bucket with teeth. One point about using rental equipment, like I do; be sure to have the equipment delivered the evening before your trees will arrive. Let the rental company know it has to be delivered the evening before. I personally prefer to go by the jobsite that evening and pull the key out so no teenagers will go for a joyride. I usually request a T190 equivalent Bobcat.
Using a Dingo to Plant Trees.
If you are planting smaller trees, 22" root-ball on 7', you can use a Dingo and may have to if you have a 3' wide gate to go through with the trees. One point on using a Dingo: It may be rated to lift 500 lbs, meaning you can use it to handle the 28" root-ball trees, but it will not lift high enough to allow unloading as described above using chains from above the root-balls. You will have to get forks with your dingo, then you will only have to lift as high as the truck bed or a little higher if Thuja Green Giant trees are stacked two high. The man on the truck will have to do more lifting etc, since the trees need to be stood up vertical to slide the forks under the root-ball. If you stop too quickly with a 500 lb tree on the forks of a Dingo, your machine could tip forward. If you had a tractor trailer bringing only a half load of 28" root-ball trees for example being 45 instead of a full load of 80-90 trees, you could use a Dingo with forks and would only have one layer of Nellie Stevens Holly trees it wouldn't be difficult. One issue with using a Dingo; assuming you are going to also dig the holes with the same machine, it is easy to blow the hydraulic seals in the Dingo auger head due to digging in rocky ground. Use a bobcat instead with the more powerful hydraulics if possible. For example your Bobcat with delivery and auger attach might cost 650$ vs. the 450$ Dingo, but remember if the auger head started pouring fluid, you job is at a stop until the equipment rental company sends a repair man out, and then only if they have a second auger head they are willing to bring you. They will realize your rocky soil has ruined one auger head and if they have another one ready to bring won't likely let your job damage a second one. I remember the last Dingo rental of mine turned out exactly that way, I had half my holes dug when it started pouring fluid, the repair didn't come all day, finally a neighbor came with a backhoe and headlights and saved the day by digging my holes. Always rent a machine with higher carrying capacity than your trees will weigh. 22" root-balls trees weight 250 lbs, 28" root-ball trees weigh 500 lbs, 36" root-ball trees weigh 1,000 lbs, and 44" root-ball trees weigh 1,500 lbs if Leyland Cypress, Thuja Green Giant, Nellie Stevens Holly or Cryptomeria Yoshino varieties. The same size root-balls on trees like Zelkova, etc will be lighter.
Tree weight based upon Root-Ball Size
Larger trees (44" root-ball and above) are tough since they weigh 1,500 lbs and up. Trees with larger than 36" from our nursery will have seat belt material woven through the wire basket. When you connect your hooks to that seat belt material, always connect to the "X" where they intersect, so you are distributing the load on both straps.
While your chains from the bucket are connected on one or more trees you are planning to ease off the truck, you can knock a neighboring tree off the truck. There is risk to anyone standing on the ground near where the trees come off the truck. Your man on the ground may walk along holding the tips to your drop area, but don't allow him be in there close to the truck where the trees first come off. One thing to watch for that causes an additional tree to get dragged off the truck is the twine wrapped around the limbs of one tree can become hooked to a lose piece of wire on the root-ball of a tree you are lifting off. Also, renting a skidsteer and doing clearing work etc is a fine way to learn how to run a bobcat. Don't learn how to run a bobcat by renting one to unload a tractor trailer of trees! Your bucket movements need to be smooth and easy when working so close to your helpers to be safe. While you are learning you will occasionally move a controller the wrong direction and also you will not get smooth with the controls until you have run it over eight hours. Always rent a skidsteer with higher carrying capacity than your trees will weigh. 22" root-balls trees weight 250 lbs, 28" root-ball trees weigh 500 lbs, 36" root-ball trees weigh 1,000 lbs, and 44" root-ball trees weigh 1,500 lbs if Leyland Cypress or Thuja Green Giant varieties. The same size root-balls on trees like Red Maple, etc will be lighter of course.
Ball and Burlap Tree Planting - Pre-Digging Holes and Soil Types
The two main advantages pre-digging the holes for your trees, including how that effects productivity and how pre-digging can let you know if soil drainage is adequate. We also cover two disadvantages of pre-digging, including the extra effort to clean out holes if it rains hard, and risk of some-one falling in an open hole overnight. We also cover some different soil types and how that effects watering schedule, from white sand all the way to the worst of all, pipe clay.
Pre-digging the Holes - productivity plus
There was a time that I would rent a Dingo, take vacation from my regular job at noon on Friday, and went from job to job getting all my holes dug by dark on Friday evening. Beginning at daylight on Sat am, the truck would come to those three or four drops, I would meet the truck at site # one, unload those trees, follow the tractor trailer to site # two, unload those trees, etc. You can leave two helpers at drop #1, have them complete that job then drive to drop #2 and plant those. You are the equipment operator, with one worker riding with you. When your assistant and you have completed unloading drop #4, you and him plant those Nellie Stevens Holly trees, then drive to site # three, plant those and all four jobs are complete. You should then drive to drops #1 and #2 to check out that work and collect payment. In this case we would never have completed the 4 jobs on Saturday without having the holes pre-dug. We could not have asked the trucker to wait at each planting job while we unloaded those trees, changed to the auger attachment, dug those holes, etc. You can hardly get a trucker to make four drops at all!
Two Disadvantages Pre-Digging
Be mindful that someone could be walking through the neighborhood at night and trip into a dug hole. If you are planting in a rural area this may not be a risk. I remember a job in Richmond VA at a corporation that was behind a large chain link fence, so I was able to pre-dig the holes one week ahead of planting day. When we came back on planting day we found it had rained heavily and washed about half of that loose dirt back in the holes. It took more work to "clean out" those holes by digging out the heavy mud than if we had dug them freshly.
Advantage of Pre-Digging - ensure your soil drains.
I also remember another planting job near Fort Washington, Maryland in a secure area, so I pre-dug the holes. The whole property was built up from fill dirt many years before. This soil would not drain at all. When we came back to look at the job, all holes were full of water, with deer tracks leading to each hole where deer had been drinking water from the holes. I was real glad I checked that site before the day the truck arrived, so we could re-schedule the planting day for 1 week later. I explained the problem to my customer. We rented a Ditch Witch, and dug a small trench leading away from of each holes in order for it to drain well. Then the holes looked like a comet with a tail on it. Those Nellie Stevens Holly trees would have all died due to being planted in holes that would not drain. We would have never known it except for the pre-digging. In summary the advantages are; planting day will go quicker if the holes are pre-dug unless there comes a heavy rain and washes the loose dirt back into the holes. The second advantage is you will find out if the soil does not drain well and address it by pre-digging. If this is the only goal, you may want to just pre-dig a few and actually fill them with water using a hose. If you come back the following morning and they are still almost full, you have to address it before planting.
People ask me if Leyland Cypress will thrive in red clay; they do fine in red clay, red clay drains very well Watch out if you see a grey clay soil while digging, sometimes it will be in a layer about one foot deep and is called pipe clay. Once wet it feels like Silly Putty in your hand. That layer below will cause water to accumulate and kill trees. Loamy soil found in the Hamptons area of Long Island drains very well, therefore trees planted there require more water than other soil types would require. If planting in a berm made with any decent top-soil will also drain well so therefore require additional water. Water as a guideline 5 gallons per tree twice per week for ten' trees. You could water 5 gallons three times per week during the first month if planted during hot weather, then cut back to 5 gallons twice per week. Leyland Cypress thrive in white sand and tolerate salt very well. I planted 13 big Leyland Cypress in Mantoloking, NJ in white sand, with seagulls flying overhead, my customer reported they were doing fine.