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Alternative soil excavation methods exist that preserve tree roots. These methods include manual, hydraulic, and pneumatic soil excavation methods. The manual soil excavation method utilizes hand tools, such as shovels, to remove soil from the root zone. The manual soil excavation method is more appropriate to excavate small areas of soil.
In recent years, the hydraulic soil excavation technique has been refined (Gross 1995). The hydraulic soil excavation method utilizes water to remove soil from the root surface. The soil excavate is converted into a slurry. The primary benefit of the hydraulic soil excavation method is that the method is the most powerful, and therefore the fastest, of the alternative soil excavation methods. Hydraulic soil excavation can result in minimal observable impacts on living roots, and once excavated, the roots can be inspected if desired. There are several drawbacks to this soil excavation method, such as available water supply, specialized equipment, training, and the slurry itself. The hydraulic soil excavation method is recommended for high volume excavations, in which trench depth and clean up are not issues.
The primary benefit of the pneumatic soil excavation method is that it protects tree roots, including small diameter and fine roots. Additional benefits of the pneumatic soil excavation method include unlimited air supply, relatively minimal clean-up, and re-usability of the excavation. Another benefit of the pneumatic soil excavation method is that it can be used along with conventional machinery after the root zone is excavated of soil. First, the soil among the roots is excavated using the pneumatic method. Drawbacks of the pneumatic soil excavation method include the need for special equipment and training.