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  • Writer's pictureCraig Richards

Perfectly planted trees

Town officials and industry professionals praise work of Green Giant Nursery and Landscaping

HAMMONTON—Landscaping professionals and town officials are confident that the type of tree, the planting process and especially the landscaping company itself who performed the work were all top-notch. Despite some who raised concerns over the project, Mayor Stephen DiDonato said the level of expertise involved in the entire process ensured an exceptional outcome.

“Louis [Cappuccio] is a tremendous landscaper who does beautiful work. He did an A-number one job and they’re planted exactly by the book,” DiDonato said.

That sentiment was echoed by local, regional, and state landscapers interviewed by The Gazette. Although concerns were expressed by members of the Environmental Commission during their March meeting regarding the planting process of the trees, every professional questioned about the work said the job was done right. Professionals interviewed not only confirmed the process as industry standard, but some went as far to say Cappuccio was a premier specialist in this area and often sought out for his expertise and experience in this and other landscaping topics.

Trees are not only transported with the burlap covering the root ball, but also planted with the burlap in place. Following the industry standards, these trees, exceeding 500 pounds, were moved with the burlap to protect the root system during transportation, especially for the size and weight of the trees planted downtown. In the case of the trees planted in Hammonton, each were planted with a bio-degradable burlap sack covering the root ball. In addition, a stabilizing wire basket was utilized to support the tree as per industry standards. Upon placing the tree in the prepared hole, the rope securing the burlap sack was loosened and, in this case, cut loose.

On Friday afternoon, March 22, Councilman Steven Furgione, a professional landscaper himself, revisited the trees planted downtown to review the process. The inspection was in response to photos taken shortly after trees were placed in the hole and before they were completely installed. The photos were provided by a member of the Environmental Committee. Furgione found the trees properly installed with ropes cut away from the tree trunk. Furgione was one of several professionals that said the job was done exactly the way they would have done it, the way it is supposed to be done. Cappuccio said that he had already cut the top rope around the trunk earlier than they typically do in the planting process, at the request of Environmental Commission members, to appease the commission’s concerns.

At the March meeting of the Hammonton Environmental Commission, members expressed worries about the manner in which trees had been planted. Public Works Manager Robert Vettese represented the town at the meeting. During the conversation, Vettese emphasized that the committee should refrain from asserting that the trees had been planted incorrectly until they had gathered more information. Dan Bachalis, Chair of the Environmental Commission, mentioned that the commission had substantial evidence backing their assertions but provided only conjecture about the planting process.

The objections voiced at the meeting were that the trees would become root bound, a condition that occurs when the roots of a plant have outgrown the container or space in which they are planted. This argument was dispelled as professionals interviewed for this article explained that the breaking up of the concrete found at the base of the downtown trees now exposed the roots to soil outside of the original container.

The commission also argued that the trees are being planted with the burlap still intact and tied around the tree. This concern was in opposition to the professionals interviewed who unanimously agreed that the process of the burlap left in place and the loosening of the rope are industry standards as best practices for tree planting.

According to the mayor, he feels confident not only in the process but especially in the provider himself.

“We’re talking about a guy with 45 to 50 years’ experience putting trees in the ground,” DiDonato said.

Cappuccino's experience extends beyond the decades of working in the nursery and landscaping business. He also served as the town’s shade tree commissioner, a position responsible for overseeing tree maintenance, removal and planting. In the late 90s he served on the Board of Agriculture. Cappuccio is an active 18-year member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, serving as commissioner of the board for the past 12 years.

“Louis has been planting trees since he was a kid, his father was in a nursery as well. By now if there was an issue, he would have seen it at other jobs. I trust Louis impeccably; I think he’s a tremendous landscaper. I was happy that he was the low bidder, to be honest with you, because I thought we were going to get a sharp job. And he did that,” DiDonato said.

The added years of expertise were something both the mayor and several on the council were thankful for. Historically, the town has had three or four different trees in various holes around town and they kept dying. While several issues could have been the cause including over saturation of water and salt build up, Cappuccio’s commitment to the job includes extended oversight of the trees for the critical period of time following planting.

DiDonato said the origin story of the trees downtown started with remaining dollars from a state grant. In the end of 2023 approximately $30,000 remained in the balance of the second year of grant money.

“We get $125,000 from Neighborhood Preservation Program every year. It is a four-year grant from the state. We were in the second-year last year. And we had about $30,000 left in the account around Thanksgiving. We had to use it or lose it,” DiDonato said.

The mayor said that the town pulled the benches in and considered using some of the money to recondition them. They gathered some prices on materials. Early indications were that the project would cost about $3,000 to $4,000 dollars, maybe $5,000 dollars including labor.

But at the same time, the mayor suggested looking at addressing the troubled and deuterating trees downtown. DiDonato suggested paying for the benches from town funds and using the remaining grant money for the trees. The town secured quotes for approximately 46 trees to replace existing ones. Those quotes came in under the $30,000 remaining in the grant.

Discussions continued between the town, Scott Taylor, the landscape architect for the town and Jerry Barberio, a professional municipal consultant and arborist. The discussions were focused on determining the right tree for the Hammonton climate as well as aesthetic qualities. The tree needed to grow a little taller, so people didn’t have to deal with a branch at six feet. Ideally the lowest tree branch would be six and a half feet from the ground. In addition, the tree should produce some color to add to the overall appearance.

Discussions also included possible reasons for the repeated need to replace trees downtown. Several possibilities were discussed including the existence of concrete basins that could have been retaining both water in heavy downpours and salt distributed by the state during winter seasons.

Those discussions led to the type of tree planted last week. The current tree flowers, producing bottom branches that will ultimately start at anywhere from five to six feet and a half feet from the ground and form a lollipop like silhouette. The tree may have to be trimmed but shouldn’t impede any wires. The selection was deemed best for the urban area of planting and ideal for its controllable growth.

The mayor said the trees were paid for in advance to meet the spending criteria timetables for the grant money. The trees were put in reserve to delay planting for the ideal season. The procedure secured the new trees without local tax dollars.

During the bidding process Cappuccio, owner of Green Giant Nursery and Landscaping, provided the lowest bid and was selected to perform the work. After receiving the job, Cappuccio contacted the mayor, picked up the trees and determined the appropriate time to plant them. Based on the weather and timing proposed to enhance the downtown before Easter, Cappuccio scheduled the work last week.

The mayor approved the timing and Bill Deininger, field supervisor of Hammonton Parks & Rec., started shortly before Cappuccio’s crew removing old trees and preparing the holes. At that time it was determined that the enclosed concrete boxes below the street level the old trees were planted in were the cause to repeated issues with the trees over the years. The boxes were likely retaining too much water and salt slowly killing the previous trees. The boxes were also restricting the roots leaving them nowhere to go because of the concrete.

While town crews began breaking up concrete, Cappuccio offered additional crews and a jackhammer, using an electric generator to avoid gas powered equipment on the busy streets downtown.

Cappuccio’s crew then began the process of hauling eight to ten trees a trip on a flatbed truck. The approximately 500 plus-pound trees each, with roots wrapped in burlap to protect and safely transport them, were then meticulously placed in each hole.

The breaking up of the concrete in the holes and method in which the trees have been planted are designed to protect the tree, create proper water flow and allow the roots to expand naturally. As far as protecting them against salt, DiDonato said that around November or December, before salting begins, the town is working on a project to install plastic around the base of the trees. The design will allow water to flow properly but act as a buffer against salt being tossed on the roads.

With the assistance of Green Giant Nursery and Landscaping, town employees and town leaders, the newly planted trees will be closely monitored. From concept to planting and maintaining the trees, according to experts in the field and the expert hired to plant the trees, the Town of Hammonton has done everything possible to improve and secure the longevity of the trees in the downtown area.


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