Hello Fellow Readers,
Early spring, after the ground thaws, is an ideal time for transplanting many deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs before they break dormancy. It’s the second-best time in my book. The first best time is after the leaves drop or when they go dormant. That way the roots, which remain active all winter long, will have time to recover and begin to settle in before they put energy into new growth. However, there are plants with “thick and fleshy roots,” per Penn State’s Extension office, such as Oak, Birch, Hemlock, Magnolia, Tulip Poplar, Rhododendron, and Flowering Dogwood that do better transplanted in the Spring.
While walking Miss Ellie past a farm that recently changed hands, there were large cherry trees with root balls loosely wrapped in burlap lying in the field. The trees were about six to eight inches in caliper, the diameter of the trunk at chest height. I’ll admit seeing them laying there for a few days tugged at my heart. These folks were certainly not being careless or hurtful to the trees as evidenced by the burlap for protection. In fact, based on their intended placement, the new farm owners were being thoughtful about where to plant the trees. As with any new planting, choose a location that fits its cultural requirements such as sun versus shade, soil pH, moisture level, and tolerance of wind. The cherry trees will help shade the goats nearby and the sunny spot will be a happy home for the transplants. It would have been better though if they dug the holes before they excavated the trees so they could put them immediately into the ground.
Just as with plants from a nursery, dig a hole two to three times the width of the root ball and the height of the root ball. Be sure the soil is moist, but not overly wet as it will cause soil compaction inhibiting airflow to the roots. The objective is to keep the root ball intact. Otherwise, the roots could break killing the tree.
A rule of thumb is to dig a root ball eight to twelve inches from the trunk for each inch of the caliper of the transplant. For the farmers’ six-inch caliper trees, the ball should be eight feet or more, clearly requiring a machine. For ambitious hand diggers, stick with transplants that are no more than two or three inches in caliper and have strong helpers.
Before you lift your newly dug tree out of the hole, rock it to one side and tuck burlap under the ball and tip to the other side to create a wrap, tying the top loosely with the twine. Carefully lower the tree into the new hole, straighten, and put the soil back carefully; tamping the soil but don’t overly compact.
Cut away the exposed burlap and twine when you’re about two-thirds to the top, then finish backfilling. Fertilizing is a no-no now as it adds stress to the already stressed transplant. But topping the disturbed soil with three inches of hardwood mulch, keeping it away from the trunk or stems, will help retain moisture. Proper moisture levels for the first two years of a transplant’s life is most critical.
While it’s true early transplants will have double duty, recovery and new growth, their resilient nature will prevail if we do our part treating them with kindness and respect. Much like people. Garden Dilemmas? AskMaryStone@gmail.com