How do you know if you’ve got the right guy at your corporate door to preserve your tree?  Well, you either got a word-of-mouth referral or you saw his advertisement somewhere; perhaps on the web, perhaps you googled, tree preservation; perhaps you found the guy in print somewhere.  But you’re a smart guy yourself.  You did not get to where you are by not asking the right questions.  If you did marry the boss’s daughter you earned your position.

You already know that the 1st question you should pose regards the ANSI standards.  If the guy looks at you with a blank stare you’ve probably got the wrong person.  Remember please, the 1st rule of tree preservation, or for that matter any assignment, is to protect the client.  You cannot protect the client from tree failures, wrongful death, personal injury, or breach of contract by not 1st covering your posterior with national standards.

But what about after national standards, what comes next?  Well, the tree care practitioner in front of you should at a minimum present to you some testing to be conducted on the tree you are considering to preserve.  Recall what happens when you go for your annual checkup.  Does the doctor take blood work?  What would your reaction be if the doctor came into the office, sat down, and started telling you what was wrong with you?   No bloodwork.  No x-rays.  No type of testing whatsoever.  Just started to diagnose your problem by looking at you.  How would you respond?  Seriously.  After the initial shock you most undoubtedly would leave his office never to return and never to have forgotten the experience.  Yet you’re ready to do that with the important tree which you hope to preserve.  Right?  Right.

The arborist at your proverbial tour should be recommending to you soil testing and tissue testing.  Think of a buffet table.  As you walk down the endless array of choices before you, do you take a little bit of everything that’s offered?  Of course not.  Now think of the soil in which your tree is growing as the buffet table.  You need to know what’s on that table before you make a selection.  You need to know what’s in the soil before you start the preservation protocol.  But what’s in the soil is only part of the story.  You also need to know what the tree has taken up from that which is being offered.  That’s tissue testing.  The soil may, but certainly will not, have an abundance of nutrients in it but the tree will not take up all of those nutrients.  Just like you did not take a sampling from the buffet table of everything that was being offered.

Once your arborist has both of these tests they should be placed in a juxtaposition for analysis.  There is a plethora of diagnostic information that must be known before a tree can be successfully preserved.  As an example, probably the most important component is the soil ph.  PH, the power of hydrogen, tells you if the soil is “sweet” or if the soil is “sour”.  Why?  Because it affects the ability of taking up certain nutrients from the soil profile into the tree.  PH affects a number of other things including microorganisms and their activity in the soil.  For your purposes, you want to know about the up take phenomena.  There’s also the cation exchange capacity which will tell you what nutrients will leach out of the soil profile which in turn will enable you to create a maintenance regime that will keep the tree healthy in the after situation of the preservation effort.  The estimated nitrogen releases another important component of soil testing.

More easily explained are “danger words” or “quack-talk” that is certain to come from the person in front of you should they not know that of which they speak.  Some of these bad words include organic inoculations, liquid organics, mycorrhizae injections / inoculations, deep-root fertilization, and fertilization itself; especially bad, nitrogen.  Should you hear any of these words please let them serve as danger signal to you that the person in front of you knows not of tree biology or meaningful tree preservation?   They are quacks.  Sometimes unwittingly; sometimes not.  But it doesn’t make a difference.  Get them out of your office as quickly as possible.  If they sit there too long they may talk you into buying their service.  And that would be a mistake.



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Samnik & Ballard Preserve Four Grand Oaks

Samnik and Ballard were selected to preserve four highly visible grand oak trees in the cities of Sarasota, Florida and Tampa, Florida.  Their technique of applying soil on top of existing roots to regenerate and grow new roots is beyond cutting-edge technology and will be implemented on these subject trees.  The old dirt, aged over a century, is first removed as part of the overall treatment plan; much like repotting a houseplant, except the soil required is typically 50 cubic yards.   Tissue tests reveal to the parts per million what nutrients are and are not present inside the tree biology.  Deficient nutrients are then added to the tree in chelate form.  The most recent and highly publicized use of this technique was the historic Baranof oak in Safety Harbor, Florida.  This unique improvement approach to tree preservation was discovered accidentally by Joe over 20 years ago.  He and Lori have perfected this approach now used on highly visible and valuable trees throughout the southeastern United States.

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TREE PRESERVATION Joe Samnik, Consulting Arborist

Different people have different perspectives on tree preservation.  The first thing a client, typically a developer thinks about regarding tree preservation is money; nothing wrong with that, and it’s perfectly understandable.  The first thing a tree colleague thinks about when preservation is the subject is tree biology.  Nobody is right and nobody is wrong.  It’s always a matter of emphasis. But what should be the first thing the consultant thinks about regarding tree preservation or its kissing cousin, tree transplanting?

The Golden Rule at Samnik and Ballard is:  Protect Your Client.  The first thing that ought to come to mind as a consultant is how many national standards, best management practices, or other treatise must be considered to protect the client from litigation or claims if something goes wrong.


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In London 68,000 people had just died from the plague. In 25 years the Salem Witch Hunt would begin. The famous buccaneer, John Davis had burned the city of St. Augustine. In that same year, 1665, an acorn fell onto the ground in a place now coveted by people everywhere, especially the citizens of Safety Harbor, Florida.  Against all odds that acorn broke through its shell and drove down into the earth a miniscule root; a root so small as to be barely noticeable if observed at all.  With no irrigation, fertilizer, sprays or care whatsoever, the root became several roots and the top had a leaf or two.  The ensuing centuries brought floods, drought, fires, hurricanes, lightning strikes and other vicissitudes of weather.  Yet, the tree prevailed over all obstacles, insults, injuries and, more recently, people. That tree became the Baranoff Oak.

Fast forward to the year 2014; 350 years later. A consulting arborist with 47 years’ experience, Joe Samnik, and the past city arborist for Clearwater, Florida for 26 years, Alan Mayberry fell into a casual conversation.  Both had observed the great legend, the Baranoff Oak in decline.

Saving any tree in decline is questionable but a tree 350 years old was next to impossible. More to the point: impossible.  The two arborists decided that anything was worth a try; there was nothing to lose and everything to be gained and they developed a plan of action.  There were many obstacles in their way, the least of which was that the tree belonged to the city of Safety Harbor, Florida.

A field meeting was held with city staff present and the city could not have possibly been more cooperative.  They donated time, experienced irrigation staff, money to purchase over 100 yards of manufactured potting soils, a landscape architect, and equipment.

The A team of arboriculture was formed.  All participants donated their time, money and equipment in the effort to save the Living LegendIndependent Tree Service from Tampa, Florida provided the pruning.  Prime Environmental Services provided the soil replacement and treatment of the canopy. Wayne Smith came out of retirement to install lighting protection. Samnik & Ballard, Expert Tree Consultants, provided the specifications and the supervision of the work.

This was the first time that a tree this big was literally repotted.  The centuries old soil was removed from the roots and a manufactured potting soil was installed in place of the old dirt. The canopy was analyzed for nutrient deficiencies, it was known to the parts per million what nutrients were and were not in the tree’s system.  Soil tests were taken and from the species requirements and field test results a custom blended potting soil was manufactured for use in re-potting the Baranoff Oak.  Over 100 yards of soil were used in the effort, 80 bales of pine straw and over 100 gallons of nutrients were applied to the tree canopy.

One of the methods implemented for reversing the decline was extremely controversial and went against the grain of conventional wisdom in the field of arboriculture.  Samnik had applied this method successfully in the past; however, it was considered to be the number one thing to avoid when attempting to preserve a tree.

Samnik recalled the high water mark of uncertainty of the project when Mayberry commented under the tree, “Are you sure this is going to work Joe?”  The entire A Team, aware of the unconventional approach to reversing decline of a tree, held their collective breath as the days post treatment turned into weeks. The danger time zone had passed and the tree did not respond in a negative manner.

But would it respond in a positive manner?

Less than one year later the results were astonishing; nothing less than amazing. Places where people used to be able to walk along the sidewalk unencumbered now had to duck their heads in order to pass by. Branch growth and canopy growth were both exponential.  Foliage was a dark green in color. Birds were noticed to frequent under the tree due to the new organic soils. Post tissue tests were taken and all nutrients were found to be balanced. Life for the Living Legend is good.

During the year post treatment inspection, the care of the Baranoff Oak was turned over to a colleague and master arborist, Art Finn.  Art is the new arborist for the city of Safety Harbor.  The city could not have selected a better person for the job.

And, so, the Living Legend, the Baranoff Oak remains as the sentinel caring for a city and citizenry rich in history and steeped in their love of trees.

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