Product Review – Slammer Tool, The Ultimate Landscaping Tool?

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One gardening tool to cut through anything, one garden tool that can dig anywhere, one garden tool to rule them all…

The Slammer Tool is an industrial grade, commercial multi-purpose tool that is a combination of a crowbar, axe, spade, mattock and grubber all in one. This tool is designed to cut through tree and bamboo roots, break concrete, remove tree stumps, dig post holes, split wood, loosen heavy soil and more. It combines the force and impact of a heavy sledgehammer with the cutting ability of a digging bar and an axe, that’s serious cutting power!

If you’re wondering about the name, it’s called a Slammer Tool because it uses a powerful slide-hammer action, the downward force of the solid steel inner bar slams down the heavy cutting blade, producing lots of force in the same spot again and again, focusing all its energy in a very small, precise area for highly efficient and accurate cutting.

Using the Slammer Tool is much easier on your back and shoulders than a digging bar, as there’s no twisting or swinging involved. You lift the sliding handle straight up using your legs or core muscles, and then bend your knees to drop your whole bodyweight down with the weight of the tool to SLAM IT DOWN!

Basically, the Slammer Tool is a hand-powered jackhammer that’s great to use in tight spaces where heavy machinery can’t reach. It’s built to last, made from high tensile steel, structural pipe and abrasion resistant steel plate, so it can handle the toughest of jobs. It takes almost no space in a work vehicle, can do those difficult jobs that no other tool can do, is easy to use, and a less expensive option than using heavy industrial equipment or herbicides.

 

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Where can you purchase this product? This product is made and distributed by Ryset Australia, a wholesaler which supplies the retail garden and professional agricultural industry. Ryset doesn’t sell to the public, but supplies retail outlets.

The Slammer Tool can be purchased from www.forestrytools.com.au or  www.theolivecentre.com who both deliver Australia wide. The retail price is around $275.

International readers can purchase the product from the following distributors and stockists worldwide:

 

Product Description

The Slammer tool weighs 9kg (20 lbs), about the same as a large crow bar. It’s made of two parts, one which slides inside the other.

The lower section is made up of a blade welded to a structural steel tube shaft, and weighs 4.5kgs (10 lbs). The blade itself is made from hardened abrasion resistant Bisalloy steel plate.

The upper section which sides up and down inside the lower tube is made of a solid high tensile steel bar with a welded hand guard which forms the handle, and also weighs 4.5kg (10 lbs). It slams into the lower section to accurately and powerfully drive the blade into whatever is being cut.

Conveniently, the tool can be separated into two shorter 4.5kg pieces, one in each hand when walking around, if you don’t want to carry a longer 9kg tool around.

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The lower section has a durable heavy rubber buffer attached to the top of shaft to absorb the shock and eliminate the noise when the upper section slams down on it. There’s also a wool baffle inside the shaft to reduce shock and noise, and a spare wool baffle one is supplied with the tool.

Here’s the tool assembled together, it’s 139cm (954”) long and weighs 9kg (20 lbs)

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The Slammer Tool comes in it’s own tough and really well made carry bag, with Velcro closures and a heavy duty reinforced flap on the blade end. To protect the blade and your vehicle when transporting the tool, the blade comes with a protective tubing safety cover which fits over it tightly.

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The tool uses a heavy duty, sharp, 5-sided blade to cut through roots, rocks and tough ground.  The bladed is made from Bisalloy abrasion resistant steel hardened to around 40 Rockwell C, which is the same as a lawn mower blade.

I did some research on the blade material and found that the company which makes the steel is Bisalloy Steels, Australia’s only manufacturer of high-tensile and abrasion-resistant quenched and tempered steel plate used for armour, structural and wear-resistant steel applications.

The angled sides of the blade make it easy to dislodge the blade when it’s sunk deeply in the ground by rocking the tool side to side.

The welding joint is clean, even and tidy, and it fuses together the blade, the tubular shaft and a solid steel reinforcement rod which sits inside the  shaft to strengthen and brace this critical area. The blade is coated in a durable tough black finish which doesn’t wear off very easily.

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The blade has an nice evenly ground edge or bevel, it’s sharp and ready to go. The angle of the bevel is wide enough to put lots of metal behind the edge of the blade when used against hard materials such as concrete. The front edge of the blade is concave, or curved inwards, which allows it to sit on tree roots easily and not slide off sideways when cutting. The hardened steel blade can be sharpened with a file or grinder to maintain the edge.

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There are two product labels near the top of the handle, one for SlammerTool.com, a website with lots of great information on the tool, and…

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The other label, the Ryset label, the Australian maker and distributor of the tool.

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How it Works

The Slammer tool uses the downward force of the inner bar to slam the cutting blade through roots and tough ground.

To use the Slammer Tool:

  1. Place the blade firmly where the cut needs to be made.
  2. Lift the handle straight upwards.
  3. Drive the handle downwards by lowering the arms and bending the knees.
  4. Repeat until the cut is made.
  5. To remove the tool from the ground after a deep cut, rock it from side to side along the cut and it will lift out easily.

Note: Use two hands to hold the handle, I had a colleague in the photos below use only one hand to make it easier to see what’s going on.

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The Slammer tool comes with a printed instruction manual, and there’s also an electronic version of the manual which is a bit different, but covers most of the same things anyway. You can view or download the Slammer Tool Operating Manual from my site or from the Slammer Tool website.

 

Testing the Slammer Tool

The Slammer Tool used in the first tests was supplied by Ryset, it’s a well-used loan tool for testing, and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to use the tool over the period of two weeks to put it through its paces for the purposes of this review.

 

Test # 1 – Removing a Yucca Tree in a Tight Space

Sometimes a gardener or landscaper encounters one of those jobs in really tight spaces where machinery or other tools cannot be used.

In this case it’s a Yucca tree growing in a narrow 45cm (18”) wide garden bed below a window frame and rendered window ledge, and very close to some tiled raised steps, all very easy to damage. There were some copper water pipes in that bed too running to a nearby garden tap to make things a bit more difficult. One careless swing could become a very costly accident!

The broken stump pictured below is what was left of a yucca tree after a car with a tow rope was used to try to rip it out. Most small shrubs and trees are easy to pull out this way, but yuccas have soft wood and the rope cut through the stem and the roots stayed firmly lodged in the ground.

I should point out that Yuccas have really nasty deep roots, and this narrow garden bed was actually filled edge to edge with very dense surface roots, neither a pick nor a shovel could cut into the ground at all. I know, I tried…

 

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Broken yucca tree stump rooted deeply into a narrow bed with no working space around it, the Slammer Tool is the only tool that I figured could do the job, so I used it for this test!

 

Here’s the Slammer loan tool pictured against the stump to be removed.

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I’ve taken the tool apart here to show the two sections.

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To remove the stump, I cut around it in a hexagonal shape, like a stop sign, cutting straight down as deep as I could go to slice off all the lateral (sideways growing) roots. After cutting all the way around, all that was left holding the stump in the ground was the deep tap root growing straight down.

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To cut the deep tap root, I cut in at an angle of 45-degrees from as many sides as I could get to, lifting the stump up from the ground bit by bit after each cut. The angled cut was made 30cm(12”) below the top of the soil.

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This is the bottom of the root which the Slammer Tool sliced through!

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The yucca root was just over 12cm (4.5”) thick, and cutting at an angle it was a much longer cut to make, closer to 15cm (6”) through solid wood.

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Yucca stump removed safely, no damage done to the house wall or window area around the garden bed. Score: Slammer Tool – 1, Yucca – 0!

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The yucca stump was cut off 30cm (12”) below the soil surface, and to make sure the remaining root didn’t re-sprout, I used the Slammer tool to cut even deeper and make an X-shaped cut at the top of the remaining root, going down an extra 45cm (18”), effectively splitting it four ways lengthwise! It never grew back, and a new garden was planted over the area.

 

Gardening Lessons – An Easier Way to Remove Yuccas with the Slammer Tool

A few weeks after removing the problematic yucca, a landscaper visited my work asking if I knew a way to remove yucca trees easily. I told him about my experience with the Slammer Tool and he liked the idea.

He came back my work a fortnight later, said he bought a Slammer Tool, really loved it, and thanked me for the suggestion! Even better, he figured out a better way of removing yuccas! They tied the tree trunks to a car tow bar using webbings traps to spread the load so they didn’t cut into the trunk, and drove forward very slowly. As the trees bent over, they cut into the roots from the opposite side with the Slammer Tool, releasing the yucca’s tight hold on the soil. The trees fell over easily with their deep roots attached, any remaining roots were cut away to remove the offending yucca trees from the property.

The Slammer Tool is also great for removing hard to access plants such as agaves with their dangerous pointed leaf tips and broad leaves which obstruct access to the base of the plant. The same landscaper told me that before he bought a Slammer Tool, he removed some large agaves with a brush cutter. The juice and bits of plant flying around went all over his legs and gave him a bad rash. Using a manual cutting tool like the Slammer Tool is much tidier, and you won’t end up covered in irritant plant material.

 

Test # 2 – Cutting Back Invasive Tree Roots to Allow Young Trees to Grow

After the first test, I was so impressed with the performance of the Slammer Tool that I bought my own. A colleague told me that he planted some young trees along his fence but they weren’t growing. When I visited, it was clear what the problem was. On the neighbours side of the fence were a few large trees planted very close to the fence, some were weedy trees that would have just blown in. Their roots extended into his garden beds, depriving his trees of water and nutrients, no wonder they weren’t growing after a year! I had the right tool for the job, so I gave him a lend of my Slammer Tool and showed him how to use it.

 

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Trees planted on the neighbour’s side are too close to the fence, the ground below is a tangled mess of hard roots where nothing grows!

 

To give young trees a chance to grow, it’s best to avoid competition from roots of larger, invasive trees. If tree roots have already invaded a garden area, a trench can be cut a distance from the garden area, preferably along the fence line, to sever invading roots.A root barrier can be fitted into the trench if it’s made deep enough, but an open trench will cause any growing roots to be air-pruned as they can’t grow through open air.

Even if a trench is shallow and eventually fills in with soil, or the offending roots finally grow underneath, it will take time for that to happen, which gives new trees the time they need to establish themselves.

The problem with digging a long narrow trench a few metres long in hard, compacted, root-filled soil is that it’s difficult back-breaking work! I brought over my Slammer Tool and showed my colleague how it works, and in no time he was cutting a long trench around 45cm (18”) deep along the fence line.

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Root barrier trench cut using Slammer Tool, no digging required!

 

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Cutting through compacted and root-filled soil is much easier with a Slammer Tool because the impact force goes into exactly the same place each time, every time, it’s much more efficient.

 

Hard, woody roots below the surface of the soil make manual digging impossible, the only way to get into the soil is to cut through them.

 

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Heavy roots below the surface!

 

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Here is a nice clean cut made through a hard woody root, the curve in the front of the blade stays on top of the root and holds the blade in place.

 

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Slicing through more roots, the blade does not move from the cut, unlike a digging bar, which strikes all over the place, and can dangerously deflect off hard, slippery live roots.

 

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The Slammer Tool has amazing cutting power, this cut was made through compacted soil, tree roots and rocks, the blade stayed sharp after a few metres of trench cutting, and the black finish on the blade wasn’t scratched or chipped in the process!

 

Test # 3 – Splitting Firewood

The Slammer Tool is a versatile tool, it has so many uses, which I’ll discuss a bit later in this review, but one which caught my attention was splitting firewood. After cutting several metres of trench through compacted soil, roots and rocks, was the blade still sharp enough to split wood?

I had to try this out on some really hard wood, so we used some rock-hard Australian redgum firewood for this test. The thing with redgum is the that wood is very dense, it blunts cutting tools such as saws, and has very uneven grain, making it much harder to split cleanly.

 

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A piece of redgum standing on its end.

 

Splitting narrow pieces of very hard timber with unpredictable and uneven wood grain can be quite dangerous with an axe the blade may be deflected or run out the side of a piece of timber during the cut. It’s so much safer and easier with a Slammer Tool.

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The crescent-shaped blade tip of the Slammer Tool blade sits securely on even fairly narrow pieces of timber.

 

It doesn’t take much force to split the toughest hardwoods with the Slammer Tool, in the test below the handle was only lifted about a foot to give a fairly gentle tap and the blade sailed right through without any effort. The weight of the tool itself did all the work. When you have a 4.5kg (10 lbs) of force coming down on an equally heavy blade, it’s much heavier than any axe!

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Redgum firewood easily split in two, the uneven split shows how bad the grain is in this dense wood, which plays havoc with axes and block splitters, and can easily cause deflection.

 

The narrow blade works best on hard wood, if you try to cut into a large pieces of soft wood wider than the blade, it may get jammed. The inventor of the tool recommends when splitting to put wood on a hard surface with a piece of plywood underneath, rather than on a wooden block.

Small rounds of timber can simply be split in half. When splitting large rounds, split from the outside using the blade with the grain. To keep the wood in place to be split again, and to stop it going everywhere, an old tyre can be place around larger timber rounds.

 

What Else Can the Slammer Tool Do?

The Slammer tool is a really such a versatile tool, it’s a worthwhile investment because it can do so many jobs that other tools can’t do, and it makes any task that much easier to perform. It’s used by many professional landscapers, botanical gardens and park departments for it’s simplicity, durability and ease of use.

Here is a list of uses for the Slammer tool:

  • Landscaping – digging into heavy compacted soils, or hard ground filled with rocks, roots, or buried concrete can be done much more efficiently with the Slammer Tool, with less strain on your back.
  • Planting – the Slammer Tool can be used to aerate the soil, remove unwanted plants, and help mix compost or fertiliser into the soil to improve it. New plant and trees are better able to establish themselves much faster when their roots can grow more easily through loose, friable soil.
  • Transplanting Trees and Shrubs – is often done using a spade to cut around the rootball, but thick roots can’t be cut through easily, so a digging bar with a wide blade is also brought in. Using the Slammer Tool, it’s easy to make a clean cut around the rootball, and lift it out.
  • Removing Flax, Bamboo and Large Grasses – by cutting at the root base with the Slammer Tool while a second person lifts the plant out. For large roots, cut through at a 45-degree angle from one side, then make another 45-degree angle cut on the opposite side to cut right through, much like chopping through a tree with an axe.
  • Stump  Removal – is much easier when all the roots around the stump are cut, allowing the stump to be moved and levered. Working closer in and underneath the stump, more roots can be cut with the sharp blade, and after the taproot at the bottom is cut, pry the stump out of hole.
  • Digging – can be done using the Slammer Tool just like a  digging bar to break up the soil.
  • Removing Woody Weeds – using just the lower half of Slammer tool with the blade end as a weeding tool to dig out and lift long taproots.
  • Breaking Concrete – is fairly quick when the blade is driven into an existing crack in the concrete, it takes a bit longer if the concrete is intact. There’s also a Chisel Point Slammer Tool available which is specifically designed for breaking concrete.
  • Post Hole Digging – is much quicker and easier when the Slammer Tool is used first to break up the soil. Once the soil is loosened it can then be removed with a hand auger, post hole digger or post hole spade with much less effort.

 

The Slammer Tool is a durable and reliable implement which can be also be used as a first response tool in various emergency scenarios:

  • Earthquake Recovery  – In areas where machinery cannot reach or where power is not available, the Slammer Tool can be used for forced entry, digging and cutting, prying and breaking rubble to gain access.
  • Fire Services – can use this tool to gain access to buildings, break rubble, lever burning logs out of the way, and as a digging implement to dig out burning root systems from the ground, dig trenches, or reach broken pipes in the ground.
  • Mountain Rescue – can use this tool to break rocks and ice, dig out emergency shelters or embed it deep into the ground as an anchor point.

 

Maintenance

High quality, heavy duty tools like this will last a lifetime when they’re looked after, and it’s fairly easy to keep a Slammer Tool well maintained.

I’ve copied the following maintenance guidelines from the instruction manual:

  • Clean the Slammer regularly keeping it dry and free of dirt
  • Separate the inner shaft from the outer shaft and blade. Oil both parts of the Slammer regularly.
  • Use a file or grinder to keep the Slammer blade sharp.
  • The Slammer comes with a woollen noise-dampening baffle inside the shaft. This will need to be periodically replaced based on usage. You can use a 25cm x 3cm strip of a woollen blanket or purchase a baffle pack of 10 from our shop.
  • Under incredibly heavy loads, the Slammer may bend. In this case, it can easily be straightened. Find the apex of the radius and apply pressure in the opposite direction or take the tool to your local engineer.

Conclusion

The Slammer Tool has to be one of the most useful tools I’ve ever purchased, period. Being a heavy duty lifetime tool made from premium materials, which performs brilliantly for the tasks it was designed to do, it’s excellent value for money. In summary, it’s an irreplaceable manual hand tool that packs the punch of a power tool, yet is really easy to transport, and it’s the perfect tool for those impossible landscaping or gardening jobs where no other tool is quite right. It doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with hard ground packed with roots, rocks and builder’s rubble, plants with root systems designed to make them unmovable, or piles of well-seasoned rock-hard firewood timber, the Slammer Tool is the right tool for the job, and I wholeheartedly recommend it!

Deep Green rating for the “Slammer Tool” is 5 stars!

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If you are interested in submitting a product for review, please contact us via email at deep_green@optusnet.com.au , thanks!

 

 

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Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – November

It’s November, the last month of spring, the weather is moderate, deciduous trees are in leaf again, days are warm and there’s lots of green growth in the garden. The changeable and windy weather from October continues, but now there’s also the possibility of very sudden hot weather striking without warning so it’s important to protect plants from sun and wind. Also, regularly water newly planted trees and shrubs as the hot weather and strong winds can quickly dry out the soil.

Things to Do This Month:

  • Mulch around fruit trees and plants to retain moisture in the soil and prevent water loss from
    evaporation (keep mulch away from plant stems and trunks as this can cause stem rot/collar rot).
  • Mulch strawberries by placing straw underneath to keep the berries off the soil.
  • Propagate strawberries from runners.
  • Plant potted fruit trees and vines (having roots, can be planted anytime, best in spring & autumn).
  • Tie growing vines back to supports or wires.
  • Propagating plants by taking softwood (green) cuttings from now till January (after which they
    harden off).
  • Last chance to plant evergreen shrubs and trees (this includes citrus trees).
  • In ponds and water gardens, thin out existing aquatic plants, continue planting new ones, fertilise
    aquatic plants and feed fish regularly.

Vegetables and Herbs to Sow:

Sow in November Harvest (weeks)
Amaranth ds 7-8
Angelica ds 18 months
Asparagus d 2-3 years
Asparagus Pea d 8-11
Beetroot ds 7-10
Borage ds 8-10
Burdock d 17-18
Cape Gooseberry ds 14-16
Carrot d 12-18
Chicory d 16-24
Chinese cabbage ds 8-10
Chives ds 7-11
Climbing beans d 9-11
Coriander d 30-45
Cucumber d 8-10
Dwarf beans d 7-10
French tarragon d 30-40 days
Globe Artichokes s 42-57
Horseradish d 16-24
Jerusalem Artichokes d 15-20
Kohlrabi d 7-10
Lemon balm s 8-10
Lettuce ds 8-12
Mustard greens d 5-8
Okra ds 11-14
Oregano s 6-8
Parsley ds 9-19
Pumpkin ds 15-20
Radish d 5-7
Rhubarb d 12 months
Rocket d 21-35 days
Rosella s 21-25
Rosemary d 12 months
Sage d 18 months
Salsify d 14-21
Silverbeet ds 7-12
Summer savory d 6-10
Sunflower ds 10-11
Sweet corn ds 11-14
Turnip d 6-9
Yacon d 25

Key:
d = sow directly into ground
s = sow in seed tray
ds = sow directly into ground or seed tray
*= frost tender
**= sow after frost

Download printable PDF version of Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – November

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Formative Pruning, Central Leader Form – How to Prune Young Fruit Trees in the First Three Years

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Fruit trees are trained into particular shapes to make them more productive, easier to manage and better able to support heavy crop loads.

Formative pruning (also referred to as framework pruning) is carried out in the first three years of planting a young tree to create or ‘form’ the shape, and establish a framework of main branches.

When a young tree is first purchased, it may already have some branching, or it may be a ‘whip’ which is basically a long, straight stem with no branches at all. Occasionally a garden nursery will carry out the first year’s pruning to begin establishing a tree shape, either a vase form or a central leader form.

The central leader form is the classical ‘Christmas tree’ shape – conical, wider at the base and narrower at the top, with less space lower down where the longest branches are, and more space above. Most often, pears, almonds and occasionally apples are grown in this shape. The advantage of the central leader form is that it is a bit stronger than the more common vase shape, and can therefore bear slightly heavier crop loads. This form is not suitable for fruit trees that are very vigorous and which branch extensively, such as apricots. peaches, nectarines and Japanese blood plums, as the branches grow into a tangled mess.

By comparison, the vase form is the more common tree shape used for fruit trees, especially in backyard gardens. Being more or less a cup or goblet shape, with increased branching towards the top, a vase form has more space below the tree, allowing for the planting of small shrubs such as berries, taller herbs or companion plants beside the trees. This form is very universal as it can be used with any fruit tree.

So, where do we start when looking to select a young fruit tree?

 

Selecting a Young Fruit Tree

There are three important things to look for when selecting a young fruit tree, as no two trees are alike.

  1. A nice thick straight trunk (bud-grafted trees will always have a ‘bend’ at the graft junction).
  2. A good framework of branches (except if the tree is not an unbranched ‘whip’, which is common for fig and mulberry trees).
  3. An appropriate shape – either a central leader form, a vase form, a flat growing branched shape for espalier training or a whip which can be trained into whatever shape is desired.

Once a tree is selected, it will need to be pruned over a tree year period to establish its shape and form.

The Structure of a Central Leader Tree Form

The diagram below illustrates the shape of a central tree form. The trunk is tapered from the wider base to the narrower tip of the tree, forming a central leader, with branches radiating out from trunk at various levels, longest branches nearest the base, becoming progressively shorter towards the tip.

 

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How to Prune a Fruit Tree into a Central Leader Form in the First Three Years

The central leader form is best for fruit trees whose branches have more of an upright growth habit, such as apples, pears, cherries, almonds, persimmons and European plums. The vase pruning form is used for trees whose branches naturally have a wide, spreading habit.

Training a fruit tree into a central leader form is a three-year process, which is described in detail in the steps below. Formative pruning (framework pruning) is carried out in late winter each year, for the first three years. New growth is pruned back to create further branching.

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The aim of central leader framework pruning is to create a tree with a single vertical central leader, with layers of branches spaced approximately 40cm apart radiating out from it, to a height of around 2.5m (8’), or whatever height is preferred, lower or higher. The diagram only shows three branches per level for clarity but up to 5 branches can be grown per level.

 

To create the central leader form:

  1. Starting at the lowest branches, select 3-5 of the strongest branches which are evenly spaced around the trunk, and cut them back to approximately 20cm (8”) long. Make the cut above an outward, downward or sideways facing bud (but not an inward facing bud, see diagram below). The new branches will grow from those buds, in the direction that the buds are pointing.
  2. Create the next layer of branches approximately 40cm (16”) above the bottom layer, once again, selecting 3-5 of the strongest branches which are evenly spaced around the trunk, and cutting them back to approximately 20cm (8”) long.
  3. Prune out any other branches growing between the two layers of branches. Don’t cut of unwanted branches flush against the stem, make sure to leave the branch collar intact! See article Tree Pruning, How to Remove Tree Branches Correctly for further explanation.
  4. Repeat process to create as many layers of 3 to 5 branches up to a height of approximately 2.5m (8’), spaced 40cm (16”) apart, pruning out any branches between the layers.
  5. If the young tree has a long central leader with no branches at the top, prune off the tip bud, making the cut above a bud at a 45-degree angle, 6mm (1/4”) above the bud, angled so that water runs away from the bud, and not onto it. For more information on making pruning cuts, please see article  – How to Prune a Fruit Tree, Step By Step. Cutting off the tip bud will induce the buds along the leader to shoot, forming new branches.

    NOTE: There are two ways to make this cut, either cut the tip bud off and see where the new branches sprout along the stem, or find a group of buds around 40cm (16”) above the highest layer, and prune above those. One of the new shoots can then be trained vertically to create the new leader, which can eventually also be pruned above a group of buds around 40cm (16”) above the highest layer to create a new layer. The process can be repeated until the desired tree height is reached.

    pruning-cut-45-degrees-above-bud

  6. If the branches have any side branches, prune them back to half their length to an outward/downward/sideways facing bud as shown is the diagram to encourage formation of fruiting wood.
  7. Once the desired height is reached, prune off tip bud, which will cause the central leader to grow new shoots at the tip. Cut these new shoots back to a single bud each year to limit height.

 

How to Prune and Maintain a Central Leader Tree Form

The above process explains how the levels of branches of a central leader tree form are created. The levels of branches that are created have to also be pruned in late winter in the second and third years, and every year afterwards to maintain a manageable length and to renew fruiting wood.

  1. In the first year, branches are pruned to 20cm (8”) long to an outward/downward/sideways facing bud.
  2. In the second, third and following years, new growth is cut back by half to an outward/downward/sideways facing bud. Depending on length, as little as one-third or as much as two-thirds.

Never cut back to inward facing buds as the new branches will grow into the tree, ruining its shape and form. Inward growing braches also cross with other branches and rub against them,  creating wounds in the bark which can become entry points for pests and diseases.

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It’s important to not let branches grow too long on fruit trees, as the branches can break off under the weight of heavy loads of fruit. If they are left to grow too long, they have the potential to produce too much fruit and may break off.

If branches grow up rather than out in a central leader form tree, they can be tied to a wooden stake or a brick on the ground to gently train them outwards.

 

 

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Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – October

October is the mid-spring period, flowers bloom in abundance, the warmer weather with rain bringing ideal conditions for lush plant growth. The cold weather hasn’t quite finished yet, cold nights and even frosts can still be expected, along with strong winds, so it’s important to protect tender plants and seedlings.

Things to Do This Month:

  • Plant evergreen shrubs and trees (this includes citrus trees).
  • Relocate evergreen shrubs – they can now regrow their roots during the mild weather.
  • Set up windbreaks (e.g. plastic tree guards) to protect newly planted evergreen trees and shrubs.
  • Plant potted fruit trees and vines (having roots, can be planted anytime, best in spring & autumn).
  • Relocate any self-seeded annuals to better locations in the garden.
  • Tidy up overgrown plants and tie growing vines back to supports or wires.
  • Continue propagating plants by taking cuttings or layering (both ground layering and air layering).
  • Feed brambleberries (raspberries, blackberries & hybrids) and currants.
  • Last chance to remove dead winter growth, and to dig up and divide perennial plants
  • Clean out ponds and water gardens, divide waterlilies, plant new aquatic plants.

 

Vegetables and Herbs to Sow:

Sow in October Harvest (weeks)
Amaranth ds 7-8
Angelica ds 18 months
Asparagus d 2-3 years
Asparagus Pea d 8-11
Beetroot ds 7-10
Borage ds 8-10
Burdock d 17-18
Cape Gooseberry ds 14-16
Carrot d 12-18
Celeriac s 14-28
Celery s 17-18
Chicory d 16-24
Chinese cabbage ds 8-10
Chives ds 7-11
Climbing beans d 9-11
Coriander d 30-45
Cucumber d 8-10
Daikon d 8-10
Dill d 8-12
Dwarf beans d 7-10
Endive ds 10-11
Fennel d 14-15
French tarragon d 30-40 days
Globe Artichokes s 42-57
Horseradish d 16-24
Jerusalem Artichokes d 15-20
Kohlrabi d 7-10
Lemon balm s 8-10
Lettuce ds 8-12
Marrow d 12-17
Mustard greens d 5-8
NZ Spinach s 8-10
Okra ds 11-14
Oregano s 6-8
Parsley ds 9-19
Parsnip d 17-20
Potato d 15-20
Pumpkin ds 15-20
Radish d 5-7
Rhubarb d 12 months
Rocket d 21-35 days
Rockmelon ds 10-16
Rosella s 21-25
Rosemary d 12 months
Sage d 18 months
Salsify d 14-21
Silverbeet ds 7-12
Spring onions d 8-12
Summer savory d 6-10
Sunflower ds 10-11
Sweet corn ds 11-14
Sweet marjoram s 8-10
Turnip d 6-9
Yacon d 25
Yam/Oka d 15-20

Key:
d = sow directly into ground
s = sow in seed tray
ds = sow directly into ground or seed tray
*= frost tender
**= sow after frost

Download printable PDF version of Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – October

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Should You Tease Out Plant Roots When Transplanting?

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Any gardener who has ever transplanted or repotted plants has seen first-hand how plants that have been grown in pots can sometimes get rootbound, with their roots spiralling or circling around the rootball. This is quite an unnatural way for plant roots to grow, as they normally grow outwards and downwards!

Spiralling roots cannot be left as they are when repotting, because they can strangle the rootball, impairing the growth and health of the plant. Even worse, with woody shrubs and trees, when spiralling roots are growing against the stem, near the level of the soil line where the plant emerges, they can girdle the stem.

Stem girdling occurs when one or more roots which completely or partially encircle the stem thicken as they grow, and begin to compress the bark and sapwood of the stem. Since the stem also grows wider over time, it further compounds the problem. When the stem is compressed, the flow of water and sap is restricted, which limits the transportation of water and nutrients (through internal tubes known as the xylem) from the roots to the leaves, and the transportation on sugar-rich sap (through internal tubes known as the phloem) from cells that photosynthesise to ones that don’t.

In severe cases of stem girdling, not only can sap and water flow be stopped completely, but compression can also cause death of the cells of the bark and sapwood, weakening the wood structurally, and creating an entry point for decay to set in.

 

How to Root Prune Rootbound Plants

The best way to deal with spiralling roots of rootbound plants is by root pruning, which is nothing like pruning the above-ground, upper-half of any plant!

Root pruning is a fast and easy process, all that is required is a sharp knife,. The serrated edge of a Japanese hori-hori gardening knife works particularly well, but so does a retractable utility knife (also known as a Stanley knife, box cutter or X-Acto knife). Thicker roots require a sturdier blade.

IMG_20190926_102441-1
The traditional Japanese Hori Hori soil knife is a multi-purpose gardening tool, its curved blade works like a long planting trowel, the serrated edge makes it one of the best root pruning tools available!

 

To remedy the problem of spiralling roots:

  1. Remove the pot, and lay rootball on its side.
  2. Make an X-shaped cut at the bottom of the rootball.
  3. Continue all four cuts down the sides of the rootball.

For a potted tree or plant in a 30cm (12”) wide pot or larger, make the bottom X-shaped cut around 7-10cm (3-4”) deep, and the cuts at the sides around 2.5cm (1”) deep. For smaller pots use correspondingly shallower cuts.

The idea is simply to sever the spiralling roots on the surface of the rootball so they no longer form circles. With 4 cuts along the sides, any encircling root will be cut into four segments, and will no longer be able to cause root girdling.

The diagram below illustrates how to make the root pruning cuts to prevent root girdling of the stem and constriction of the rootball.

 

cutting-rootball-transplanting

If an plant isn’t rootbound, but the roots are just beginning to spiral, they can be carefully lifted and unwound without pruning, keeping the longer roots intact.

The reason why we root prune is to cause minimal root disturbance, because if it’s one thin that plants dislike, it’s having their roots disturbed…

 

Teasing Roots is a Bad Idea…

Why not just tease out the roots by hand? The short answer is to avoid unnecessary root damage! Roots don’t just anchor a plant into the ground, they’re the plant’s major absorption organ to take up water and nutrients from the soil.

In any plant, the leaves and roots are in perfect balance, there is exactly enough roots to support the leaves that a plant is carrying, so when the leaves transpire and lose moisture to the air, the roots can take up water from the soil to replace it. keeping the leaves alive.

If the roots are damaged, they cannot supply enough water to support all the leaves, so the plant wilts and leaves drop. We see this when a plant is over-watered (causing root rot), or under-watered (causing root drying), and the roots die back.

 

IMG_20190911_170908-1

The roots system of plants is an intricate branched network, with one thick main primary root, from which multiple smaller lateral roots branch off from.

The lateral roots are comprised of:

  • Coarse roots, which are woody, they have some ability to absorb water and nutrients, but their main function is to connect the thinner roots to the plant and carry water and nutrients back into the plant.
  • Fine roots, which are less than 2mm thick and heavily branched, and whose main function is to absorb water and nutrients through the root tips, which are covered in fine root hairs to increase the surface area for absorption.

The fine lateral roots are usually short-lived, being constantly turned over by the plant as it seeks to conserve its resources while extending its roots into new areas of soil in search of water and nutrients.

So what happens to all these fine lateral roots, covered with millions of fine roots hairs to absorb water and nutrients, when a gardener teases, tears and ‘massages’ the roots? A lot of these delicate vital structures are destroyed by such rough handling, resulting in a significant reduction in active functional roots which can support the leaves, and as a consequence, leaf drop and a stressed plant.

The roots are a critical part of the plant’s structure, and are easily damaged, so minimise root disturbance when transplanting, and if spiralling roots are encountered, root prune using the cross-cut method described earlier.

As a handy tip, after transplanting, it’s always a good idea to water with seaweed extract, it contains compounds called cytokinins, which are plant root growth stimulating hormones, they help the plant establish itself better and reduce the effects of transplant shock.

 

 

 

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Formative Pruning, Vase Form – How to Prune Young Fruit Trees in the First Three Years

apple-royal-gala

Fruit trees are trained into particular shapes to make them more productive, easier to manage and better able to support heavy crop loads.

Formative pruning (also referred to as framework pruning) is carried out in the first three years of planting a young tree to create or ‘form’ the shape, and establish a framework of main branches.

When a young tree is first purchased, it may already have some branching, or it may be a ‘whip’ which is basically a long, straight stem with no branches at all. Occasionally a garden nursery will carry out the first year’s pruning to begin establishing a tree shape, either a vase form or a central leader form.

The vase form is the most common tree shape used for most fruit trees, especially in backyard gardens. Being cup-shaped, it has increased branching towards the top, and more space below, allowing for the planting of small shrubs such as berries, taller herbs or companion plants beside the tree. The vase form is universal as it can be used with any fruit tree.

By comparison, the central leader form is the classical ‘Christmas tree’ shape – conical, wider at the base and narrower at the top, with less space below and more space above. Pears, almonds and occasionally apples are grown in this shape.

So, where do we start when looking to select a young fruit tree?

 

Selecting a Young Fruit Tree

There are three important things to look for when selecting a young fruit tree, as no two trees are alike.

  1. A nice thick straight trunk (bud-grafted trees will always have a ‘bend’ at the graft junction, that is perfectly normal).
  2. A good framework of branches (except if the tree is not an unbranched ‘whip’, which is common for fig and mulberry trees).
  3. An appropriate shape – either a central leader form, a vase form, a flat growing branched shape for espalier training or a whip which can be trained into whatever shape is desired.

Once a tree is selected, it will need to be pruned over a tree year period to establish its shape and form.

 

The Structure of a Vase Tree Form

The diagram below illustrates the shape of a vase tree form. The trunk is typically between 60cm-1m (2’-3’) tall, with 3-5 main scaffold branches arising from the trunk, which branch further into various levels of sub-branches.

 

tree-form-vase-shape

 

How to Prune a Fruit Tree Whip

When purchasing a young fruit tree from a garden nursery, it may already have branches, but if it’s just a tree ‘whip’, with no branches whatsoever, then it will need to be pruned in winter when it’s dormant to establish new branches.

To get a tree whip to start branching:

  1. Determine the height of the trunk where the branches will appear, this is typically 60cm-1m (2’-3’) for backyard vase-shaped fruit trees. If growing larger trees that a person can walk under for example, select the appropriate trunk height.
  2. Find a group of buds at the chosen trunk height.
  3. Prune above the top bud of the group of buds, make the pruning cut at a 45-degree angle, 6mm (1/4”) above the bud, angled so that water runs away from the bud, and not onto it.
    (For more information on making pruning cuts, please see article  – How to Prune a Fruit Tree, Step By Step)

 

pruning-cut-45-degrees-above-bud
Make pruning cuts at a 45-degree angle, 6mm (1/4”) above an bud

 

Once the tree ‘whip’ is pruned to height, the buds near the top of the whip will shoot to form branches, which can then be pruned to length in the following year next winter.

If left unpruned, a tree ‘whip’ will continue to grow in height and begin branching at whatever height it decides to, which will result in an overly high tree with unreachable fruit!

how-to-prune-tree-whip-into-vase

 

Once the tree has branches, it possible to commence training the tree into a vase form.

 

How to Prune a Fruit Tree into a Vase Form in the First Three Years

Training a fruit tree into a vase shape is a three-year process, which is described in detail in the steps below. Formative pruning (framework pruning) is carried out in late winter each year, for the first three years. New growth is pruned back to create further branching.

 

pruning-to-form-vase-scaffold-branches

 

First Year

  1. In winter, select 3-5 branches to serve as the main branches, remove all others.
  2. Shorten these branches to a length of approximately 30cm (12”) from the trunk, and prune to an outward-facing or downward facing bud (a bud facing away from the tree trunk). These will form the scaffold branches which will support all other branches.
  3. Spread the branches to the best positions and angles to form a vase shape. When a tree is first purchased, or when a whip is pruned and grows branches, the branches may be growing straight up or bunched up close to each other. To achieve the desired 45-60 degree angle from the vertical, the branches can be tied with soft tree-tie material to a timber stake, or a brick, and gently bent into the preferred position. Plastic branch spreaders are also available for the purpose, they are essentially a short rod with Y-shaped ends, and these can be purchased or home-made. Once a branch has set into its new position, there will be no more tension on the tree-tie cord, and the branch can then be untied, or bent further. Gently bend branches only, never force them as they may break, ruining the shape of the tree!

framework-pruning-fruit-tree-vase-form
Tree form after three years of formative pruning, each year’s growth shown in different colours

 

Second Year

  1. Select 2 or 3 of the stronger outward-growing branches on each of the original scaffold branches to extend the branching framework.
  2. Prune back all new growth back by half, to an outward-facing bud, making the cut at a 45-degree angle, and 6mm (1/4”) above the outward-facing bud. (For more information on making pruning cuts, please see article  – How to Prune a Fruit Tree, Step By Step)
  3. Remove any branches growing into the centre of the tree to maintain an open vase shape.

 

Third Year

  1. Repeat the Second Year process.
  2. Continue forming the framework branches over the next few years, as described in the article How to Prune a Fruit Tree, Step By Step)

 

After formative pruning has been carried for three years, the tree will be trained into a nice open vase shape, which can then be maintained with what is termed  maintenance pruning (detail pruning). This type of pruning will keep the tree to a manageable size and renew fruiting wood to keep the tree copping consistently.

 

 

 

 

 

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Garden Arches, Vertical Gardening for More Growing Area in Small Spaces

loganberry-arch-20141023_094541-1-2

Small-space gardening is becoming increasingly popular as outdoor spaces and gardens get progressively smaller in urban areas. There are many ways to maximise the use of limited available space, and one of the best ways is vertical gardening, growing upwards rather than outwards!

Gardeners are very resourceful, and in the gardening world there are many techniques which have been developed to take advantage of vertical spaces, such as espaliered trees grown flat against walls, even more compact columnar ‘cordon’ tree forms, and methods which rely on structures such as trellises and arbours.

Some of the best vertical gardening solutions can be so deceptively simple that it’s often overlooked! One of the least appreciated ways of growing edible climbers is over an arch, mainly because people don’t realize how much growing space is available on a relatively small archway.

 

How Much Growing Space Can Arches Provide?

An arch at first glances would appear to offer very little growing space. How much growing area can a small 1m (3’) wide x 2.5m (8’) high arch, a little taller than a house doorway, actually provide? If we do the math, we might be in for a bit of a shock.

Most people ignored maths at school, and glossed over geometry. Where will I ever use this stuff? Well, life is full of surprises…

To calculate the total length of an arch, we can simply use a tape measure, but when was the last time anyone did that? Arches are often dismissed as being small and insignificant, and without first considering the value of arches, there is no inclination to seek them out for measurement!

Calculations are useful for design purposes, we can use them to work out the size of an arch required to support a certain length of edible vine such as a grape of berry, or we can determine how much growing space an arch of a given size can provide.

 

The short answer:

The formula for calculating the total length of an arch = (2 x length of vertical side sections) + (3.14 x 0.5 x width of arch)

The diagram below shows how an arch consists of two main sections, the pair of vertical sections at the sides, and the curved section at the top, and how their lengths are used in the calculation.

 

calculating-garden-arch-length

 

If we use the earlier example of a small 1m (3’) wide x 2.5m (8’) high arch and put these figures into the formula:

  • total length of an arch = (2 x length of vertical side sections) + (3.14 x 0.5 x width of arch)
  • total length of arch = (2 x 2m) + (3.14 x 0.5 x 0.5m)
  • total length of arch = (4m) + (1.57m) = 5.57m

What this tells us is that an arch not much larger than a house doorway can support a vine over 5m long, and it only occupies a very small area on the ground where the vine is planted, which can be as little as 50cm x 50cm (around 20” x 20”). That’s a very efficient use of space!

 

The long (and possibly unnecessary) mathematical explanation:

How was the formula above derived? This is for those curious about the maths, otherwise just skip this section!

An arch consists of two main sections, the vertical sections at the sides and the curved section at the top. To calculate the total length of growing space of a garden arch, we need to add the length of the vertical sections at the sides to the length of the curved semicircular top section.

  • The length of the vertical side sections are known.
  • The length of the curved portion can be calculated using the formula for the circumference of a circle (the length around a circle).

To explain how the formula given earlier was derived mathematically:

  • For a whole circle, the length of the circumference: C = 2π x r , where π = 22/7 or approx. 3.14, and r is the circle radius (half the width)
  • For a half circle, we halve the formula: length = 2π x r x 1/2 = π x r  = 3.14 x r
  • Since the radius is half the width of the arch, the simplified formula therefore can be expressed as:
  • total length of an arch = (2 x length of vertical side sections) + (3.14 x 0.5 x width of arch)

 

Permaculture Small Space Intensive Gardening Using Arches

The Permaculture design principle known as the ‘Edge Effect’ is concerned with the use of edge and natural patterns for best effect. In Nature we see extensive use of folding to maximise functional area in a small space. The human intestines, both in terms of their outer form and the structure of their internal surfaces for the absorption of nutrients, are both a perfect example of this.

Now consider how long a 5m (15’) long vine really is, that’s quite a decent productive length of vine by anyone’s books, and a trellis this long to support it would occupy a considerable amount of space. If we do what Nature does and fold the support structure in half into the shape of an arch, the growing space ends up concentrated into a much smaller area no bigger than a doorway.

If the arch is situated to span across a path, it converts unused walkway into growing space without obstructing access. A free standing arch in a garden multiplies space, as the the area underneath the arch can also be planted up, creating a double-level planting.

The photograph at the start of this article is of a loganberry arch in my backyard Permaculture food forest garden, which has proven to be extremely productive. This arch sits over a path, one side sits in the garden, the other beside the back fence. The arch is quite narrow, only around 30cm (1’) wide, and I train around 6-8 canes over it, and allow them to grow right over the arch, where they reach the fence. I then run the canes along the fence for an extra metre or two.

Considering that this loganberry arch has 6-8 fruiting canes, each around 5-7m long, is it any surprise that it’s extremely productive? The loganberry only occupies a very small area in the actual garden bed, the footprint is minimal, approximately 30cm x 60cm, around two square feet, yet it supports a total of 30m-56m (98’-183’) of productive canes.

The same loganberry vine is pictured below, during harvesting time. It’s no exaggeration that people have picked enough berries to fill bags and the plant looked untouched due to the very heavy cropping. Daily harvesting becomes necessary with this much production. To protect the berries from birds, it’s easy to toss a length on 2mm insect exclusion netting over the arch, the fine mesh doesn’t get tangled on the brambleberry thorns and also provides 20% shade for the berries during hot, windy weather, preventing them from over-ripening and burning.

 

picking-loganberries-20141211_104409-1-2

 

Arches are a simple way to increase vertical growing space, they work very well for all brambleberries (loganberries, boysenberries, blackberries, etc) and can also be used for grapevines, kiwiberries, indeterminate (vining) tomatoes, climbing beans and peas and many other vigorous edible plants which require supports to climb on. A gardener is only limited by their creativity!

 

 

 

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