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Installing Trees With a Rented Skid Steer: A Guide for More Successful Planting

Installing large trees in your yard is almost impossible to do without some sort of heavy machinery. The root balls of trees can weigh hundreds of pounds, and straightening trees without the help of mechanical strength can be very difficult. So, if you are planting some substantial trees, you probably should rent a skid steer to help with the process. However, all skid steers come with a learning curve, and installing trees with these machines can be tricky. However, with a few tips and tricks, you will be planting trees like a pro in no time.

Understand the Tree Attachment

Skid steers are incredibly versatile because they are built to have interchangeable attachments. When renting, be sure you also include a "tree T", which is the attachment used to move and plant trees. It looks like a single vertical bar, with two chains attached at the tip. Each chain has a hook at the end. If your trees are delivered without a wrapped root ball, you will need to move the trees with a bucket or digging attachment instead. However, the tree T is the easiest method, so if you can, try to buy trees that have roots wrapped in burlap and packed in metal baskets. 

The chains and hooks will actually attach to the basket of the root ball, on either side of the trunk. Using the foot or hand control, you can then lift the tree off the ground and tilt it so that the root ball rests against the attachment as you transport the tree. This keeps the tree from moving too much, as the weight of the ball will actually stabilize the tree when it is chained. 

Lift the Tree

When attaching the chains to the tree, it is best to set the hooks on the outer edges of the basket top. If the hooks are too close to the tree, it will not be as stable when lifting. The optimal position for the hook is at about four and nine o'clock—not quite halfway. This way, when you lift the tree from the ground, the root ball will have a slight tilt, which will help it rest more firmly against the attachment. 

Once the tree is hooked up, slowly raise the arms (without tilting the boom) until the tree is hanging from the chains. Then, slowly tilt the tree toward you until it rests against the bottom of the tree T. 

Move with the Tree

Driving with trees is simple, as long as the skid steer is strong enough for the task. Because the root ball is heavy, try to keep it as low to the ground as possible, and drive slowly over bumpy ground to prevent the tree from being jostled about in transport.

Lower the Tree

One you get to the spot where the hole for the root ball has been prepared, it is time to lower the tree into the hole. This is the trickiest part of tree planting. Follow these steps to avoid damaging the tree as it is lowered:

  1. Lift the boom arms to give the tree room to hang.
  2. Slowly tilt the attachment forward until the tree is no longer resting against it, but again swings freely.
  3. Approach the hole. Get as close as you can without driving into the hole with the front wheels of the skid steer.
  4. Lower the boom arms until the far edge of the root ball touches the back of the hole. You want to use the hole to help guide the tree down.
  5. Slowly tilt the attachment back toward you. The danger here is that the tip of tree T attachment can gouge the trunk when the tree is being lowered. You will have to move very slowly and carefully, and pull back gently on the attachment in order to prevent any damage.
  6. Once the tree is resting firmly on the ground, get out the machine and detach the chains. 

Straighten the Tree

The only thing to do now is to straighten the tree so that is sits evenly in the hole and grows properly. Use the hooks on the T to move the root ball in the hole, pulling in the direction the tree needs to go. Never straighten a tree by the trunk, as you risk breaking it from the rot ball. You may want someone else to help guide you so that you don't have to keep getting in and out to see your progress. For more assistance, contact local bobcat rental facilities.