A LABOUR OF LOVE
When Dart Enterprises made the decision to donate part of its Arboretum Nursery property for the future home of Cayman HospiceCare, the management and staff of the nursery faced the daunting task of saving more than 150 trees on the building site.
The Arboretum Nursery was established on land off West Bay Road more than a decade ago and is the first home to many potted plants used in landscaping projects all over the Dart portfolio. It is also the home of hundreds of trees, some of which have been living in the ground on the property for several decades.
The 1.15-acre site on the Arboretum Nursery property identified for the future HospiceCare facility had a variety of trees growing on it, said Giles Smith, Dart Real Estate‘s Nursery & Landscape Operations Manager.
“It had palms, Ficus, royal poinciana, big trees, small trees, oddly shaped trees, you name it,” said Smith, who managed the project of relocating as many of the trees from the building site as possible. “The relocation of trees in the midst of a development site is a concept that is widely encouraged and almost always expected among the many projects undertaken by Dart.”
Transplanting trees, however, is no easy task.
“Each tree is carefully assessed and moved according to its specific needs,” said Smith, adding that there are generally many steps in the process.
The 1.15-acre site on the Arboretum Nursery property identified for the future HospiceCare facility had a variety of trees growing on it.
The process started with an initial assessment.
“We looked at aspects like the species of trees we were moving, their current size and estimated age, their overall health and their current growing conditions,” Smith said. “We also looked at what equipment was required for moving a tree and if the equipment needed was readily available.”
Once the assessment was done, the nursery team made a determination whether a particular tree was a candidate for transplant, Smith said. His team then had to do a future site analysis.
“We looked at where the tree could be transplanted and whether the conditions at the proposed new site were ideal or acceptable for the specific species,” he said.
The nursery team also had to look at how the tree needed to be shaped and pruned prior to transplant in order for it to safely travel, fit and grow properly in its new location.
“We pruned the roots to reduce transplant shock and then followed that with daily deep watering to ensure adequate moisture for root recovery,” Smith said. “We also pruned the canopy to reduce transplant shock and moisture loss.”
Starting with the initial assessment, the preparation process could take anywhere from six months to one year before a particular tree was ready to be moved, he said.
Once ready, the tree was lifted from the ground, a process that normally required a crane, multiple cranes or a backhoe.
“We then loaded and secured the tree on the trailer, which is a very delicate process involving carefully placed straps and estimating weight distribution,” Smith said. “It is easy to lift an object straight up and down, but taking a large tree with a sprawling canopy, lifting it up, and then getting it into a horizontal position for loading on a trailer is no easy task without causing damage to the tree or compromising the safety of the crew and equipment.”
Getting the tree to its new home requires a caravan of escort vehicles hitting the road at 4 a.m. to mitigate traffic interruptions.
“The route to the new site was planned well in advance, taking into consideration distance, turns, stop lights, utility lines and that sort of thing,” Smith said.
When the tree arrived at its new site, it was raised and placed in proper soil composition for the species.
“We also make sure we use the proper bracing techniques for public safety and to give the tree the best rate of transplant survivability,” he said.
Once any tree is relocated, it needs daily monitoring for the first two weeks and then weekly monitoring for six months to a year.
“Supplying adequate water is extremely important for transplant success,” said Smith, adding that vitamins, essential elements and slow-release fertilisers are also supplied to the tree to aid in root development and canopy regrowth.
Sometimes, the initial assessment determines a tree can’t be moved for one reason or another, but Smith said efforts are still made to save the tree.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the time, if the tree cannot be moved, we will work the future site plans around it,” he said. “Removing a tree completely is a last, last resort, and it rarely happens. At times, depending on the species of the tree, we will still try to save it, even if we don’t give it a good chance of survival. We are also very conscious of threatened and endangered species, and of recent changes to the conservation law.”
The trees from the Cayman HospiceCare site ended up being relocated to various properties in the Dart portfolio. Some were planted along the newly opened sections of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway near Camana Bay.
“There are five large Ficus trees and one large scarlet-red poinciana now planted in the new Camana Bay Town Centre Roundabout and several of the trees were installed along the new parkway just south of that roundabout,” said Smith.
“The remaining trees have been placed in a holding area, with nearly all of their future homes already chosen.”
The relocation of the trees from the future home of Cayman HospiceCare was a delicate and work-intensive process, but for the management and staff of Arboretum Nursery, it was a labour of love.
“Trees are a renewable resource, but only when cared for properly,” Smith said. “The relocation of trees from development sites is our way of helping to maintain the unique diversity of the Cayman Islands landscape.”