Underground Discoveries Made When Replacing Trees In Orchard

Underground Discoveries Made When Replacing Trees In Orchard

Wes AsaiOne of the advantages of doing my own backhoeing when I replace individual trees or portions of older orchards is the things I get to observe during the digging process that would otherwise go unnoticed. Even as a kid growing up, when my dad would do the backhoeing and I would be the one sifting through the holes picking up the broken pieces of peach and almond roots, I would see the same things.


One of the surprising observations was the number of voles (often referred to as meadow mice) that come running out as the stump is being removed. During old orchard removals, virtually every stump yields at least one vole running away. Often more than one per tree can be seen, and this doesn’t even count the ones that probably get crushed during the digging process and go unnoticed. All of this happens with little surface evidence of their presence. Any of you with drip or microsprinkler irrigation systems that have to repair the numerous razor slit cuts in your hoses after starting the pump for each irrigation can appreciate what a nuisance these voles can be, even if they don’t appear to be harming the trees.

Large grubs or larvae of beetles are commonly found with older stump removals. I have seen other growers’ orchards with damage from large numbers of larvae from ten-lined June beetle, but even in perfectly healthy orchards, there are various other large grubs burrowing in the major roots that can be seen as they are broken during removal. We used to call them “finger-worms” as kids because these larvae are the size of your fingers. Apparently, even with their presence in healthy orchards, the trees appear to be growing fine.

Nematode feeding, especially root knot damage, can be readily seen in non-resistant rootstocks. In some situations, the galling and stunting is so severe that the root system is one-third to one-half the size of a normal healthy tree, and in the form of a dense matted mesh close to the trunk’s base.

Digging Deeper
Perched water tables and “blue layers” caused by the anaerobic decomposition of organic matter can often be revealed several feet below the surface. This may explain why trees growing in what appears to be good soil from the surface are suffering from below. Water tables can and do fluctuate and can sometimes come within inches of the surface and go undetected. Methane gas injury from the blue layers is often responsible for pockets of poorly growing trees in delineated areas. Even if you did not bury or level over large clumps of Bermudagrass or cattails, previous tenants may have done this decades ago, and the ramifications will continue to appear for decades to come.

Poor planting techniques can be seen, even years after trees are removed. This is especially true where a planter may have spun trees to coil the root system during planting to avoid having to dig a larger hole. These spiraled roots can girdle the trunk base as trees mature.

Miscellaneous surprises can also surface during backhoeing. This year I was digging some trees next to an old barn where growth was stunted and trees were not growing well. Below the root zone I discovered used baby food jars, rusted electrical junction boxes, and vintage soda bottles that had the old raised labels on the surface (amongst other items I could not identify). Who knows how long ago the previous owner buried them there?

It’s always an adventure removing trees.