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A Venerable 65-Ft. Ginkgo Biloba Tree Moves in Brooklyn

Fri December 19, 2008 - Northeast Edition
Jennifer Hetrick

By the end of the calendar year, homeowners gratefully put away rakes and leaf blowers, happy to see the last of the raking season for another year. After all, one towering tree can cover a lawn with enough leaves to fill 40 or more leaf bags, which equates to hours and hours of work.

What could be more difficult than moving those mounds of leaves? How about moving the whole tree? This is what the people at Perfection Tree Experts LLC have done all year long, all over the world for more than 30 years. Founded by John F. Locke III, wife Debora Locke and son John F. Locke IV, Perfection Tree Experts was originally located in Gainesville, Fla., but relocated to the Hudson Valley, N.Y., in 1995 to begin construction of the Quaker Hill Native Plant Garden, a 200-acre representation of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Florida was a good location in which to learn the art of transplanting fully mature trees, due to site mitigation laws stating that trees above a certain caliper or “age” in Florida and many other cities across the world cannot be cut down and must be saved. This is where Perfection Tree Experts adds a new option for clients in the ability to relocate these large pieces of natural history and use them as key landscape features, sustaining the feeling of age within the property and structures.

Taking on The Big Guys

Over the years, the requirements of Perfection’s clients have been as complicated and varied as one would expect when dealing with enormous, yet fragile, trees. In the well-known Quaker Hill Native Plant Garden (one of the world’s largest constructed gardens), Pawling, N.Y., Locke III moved a 300-year-old white oak tree that had a 34-ft. root ball, a 60-in. diameter trunk and a 90-ft. spread. Moving a tree of that size was a three-year project; two years of pruning the roots and monitoring the tree’s health, and then finally moving the tree in the third year.

Another particularly challenging job in Pawling, N.Y., involved moving a Sugar maple that was on a 40-degree slope. Locke IV had to use 40,000 lbs. (18,144 kg) of oak cribbing to support the uneven mass of roots for transport, removing and replacing power lines along the way. In Florida a difficult task involved putting two massive Ficus banyon trees bare root on a 190-ft. (58 m)barge and moving them to an island.

Historic Tree Preservation

Currently, Perfection is on the job at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden moving a Ginkgo biloba tree 200 ft. from its original home. The enormous Ginkgo is currently located directly within a new visitor center which the gardens are to begin construction on this spring, and as one of the first trees planted when the garden was established in 1910, cutting it down was not an option. Ginkgo biloba trees are very common in New York, planted years ago because they are resistant to drought, air and soil pollution. The tree is one of the largest around at 44-in. in diameter and 65-ft. tall. The root ball is 27-ft. across and weighs 130 tons.

Patrick Cullina, vice president, horticulture and science research at Brooklyn Botanic Garden said, “The entire site is being reworked for a new visitor center. It’s an extraordinary building and a great opportunity for us. The entire administrative staff agreed that the tree is a significant specimen of Ginkgo biloba and we wanted to save it. It has been moved to a more prominent position and will be a part of the visitor center landscape.”

Despite the venerable status and daunting dimensions of the tree, Locke III said, “the only significant challenge was that the soil conditions were hard and rocky. But on the plus side the tree was very healthy, there were very good access points to the tree and we did not have nearby utilities that were presenting any problem.”

Defying Logic

There is a common myth among arborists, landscape architects, land development and construction firms that any tree that is larger than what a tree spade can handle cannot be moved, cut down or planned around. But Perfection has been able to disprove the myth time and again. To move a tree like the one in Brooklyn Botanic Garden Perfection starts with estimating the area of the tree’s root system and the depth of the roots. The root system is then pruned by hand. The dimension of the trunk tells them how big the root ball should be. Typically the root ball is one foot wide per each caliper inch of the tree trunk. So a 20-in. trunk would translate to a 20-ft. root ball. Once the root system is pruned and cut back it is wrapped with a combination of burlap and field fence. The fence is used to create a sidewall for the root ball. After the root ball is constructed a series of pipes are placed side-by-side underneath the root ball forming a platform. Then an I-beam is attached across the platform in the front and back, creating a skid, which is then pulled from the front with an excavator and pushed from behind with a wheel loader, moving the tree to its new location.

The Right Stuff

To accomplish what many think is an undoable task, Perfection relies on Pine Bush Equipment Co. Inc., Holmes, N.Y., and the Komatsu equipment that the company provides.

According to Locke IV, “We were doing work in New Zealand when we were first introduced to Komatsu products. We typically rent our equipment for jobs because there is such great distances between our projects it is not cost effective to transport the equipment. Since using the Komatsu products in New Zealand we have tried to stay with the Komatsu brand ever since.

“On this project we are using PC-400LC; PC-300HD and PC-78US excavators and a WA-380 loader, all of which were rented from Pine Bush Equipment. The logistics of getting the Komatsu equipment into the job site has been tedious and time consuming, yet Pine Bush Equipment has really delivered for us, getting the equipment in and out at lower costs than we had anticipated.

Due to new bridge regulations, the Throgs Neck Bridge had to be shut down to automobile traffic just to get the equipment across. Again, this was a costly process, yet using Pine Bush Equipment saved us significant amounts of money. Their support has been tremendous, their staff was able to evaluate our equipment needs and match us up with the right Komatsu product to get the job done. Their people have been there and/or responded quickly to any of our needs. The equipment we rented was late model and in excellent condition and the Komatsu machines have operated flawlessly. The PC400LC and PC300HD ended up having enough power to move the 130-ton tree uphill with no other assistance.”

The combination of Perfection’s skill and Pine Bush’s equipment was a winning one for Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

“We knew of Perfection and had heard about what they can do. The [new] site was prepared so that the tree could settle in immediately and not be shocked by the move. Perfection also cabled the tree with four guy cables, which kept it upright for the move and offered it added protection. The entire staff of the garden came out to watch the tree being moved. It was pretty amazing. Now we are gathering all the images and video of the move to put together a presentation for the visitor center to educate people about the history of the tree and to give them a sense of the scale of the moving project. That’s definitely a story we want to tell. We will also want to impress upon the public, among other messages relative to BBG’s mission, the green components of the LEEDS-certified structure we will be building along with it’s landscape features, of which the ginkgo is a major component,” Cullina said.

(This story also can be found on Construction Equipment Guide’s Web site at CEG

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