I Can Move That – A Transplanting Triumph

I had scored an end of the season deal on a specimen Stewartia I had been keeping my eyes on. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I planted it, but apparently did not consider tree growth. The neighboring juvenile Linden tree was enjoying its undisturbed, wood chipped root area and expressing itself accordingly. It would only be a matter of time before it would dominate Stew. Perhaps I thought I would have moved on to greener arboretums before then, but here I am.

Putting the “pro” in procrastinates, time passed like it always does and I continued to happily ignore the insidious goings on in my front yard. I no longer noticed the fabulous white blossoms and mosaic bark that Stew was offering up. The Linden had somehow grown bigger, and Stew was losing his relevance. I suppose I could have pruned the Linden back, but that would only be a temporary fix. Besides, I was grateful for the screening it provided from my neighbors wood farm and min-van, which has been slowly sinking into the earth for the last 15 years.

Meanwhile, 20 or so feet away, a Norway maple adjacent to the driveway was playing out its slow agonizing spiral to death. I have been on this property over 20 years. In that time, it has shrunk considerably. A RCX done in 2006 revealed serious girdling root issues, a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” decision. I went with “don’t’” (it’s easier), and decided to let things take their course.

Channeling the Knight from Monty Pythons Holy Grail, the tree continued to shed parts, yet still stubbornly put out foliage. “I’m not dead yet” it seemed to exclaim. So I disregarded its decrepit appearance and let the death spiral proceed until a discarded chunk nearly bounced off my squash. Festooned with more dead parts than a Zombie movie warehouse, my chain-sawed hand was forced. The time had come to say farewell.

Finishing up with the stump cutter, I stood and contemplated the void left behind. The site would be perfect for a small to medium sized tree. Where might I acquire a specimen worthy of such prominent placement? Twenty feet away, I could sense Stew practically ripping himself out of the ground and shaking his little limbs all akimbo. I kid Stew of course; his promotion to celebrity status was the obvious choice, and I began to ponder my approach.

I knew the soil here to be excellent for digging. Eight to twelve inches of clean loam sits over sandy-clay subsoil. I was anticipating fairly uniform root distribution, made up primarily of small fibrous roots. Being late November, the timing couldn’t have been better. The soil was moist, but not saturated. The temperature was cold, but above freezing.

I took a measurement of the tree caliper to determine the size of the root ball. The 4” caliper tree would require a 40-45” root ball that would weigh in the neighborhood of 1,500 pounds. Hmmm. I planned to move this tree with my mini skid-steer, a.k.a. “Dave”, which is rated to lift 500 pounds or so. This would be a problem. I probably should have gotten a bigger machine, but that would have been wiser, easier and therefore, out of character. Besides, this is not the first time Dave and I bit off more that we could masticate, and I had a plan.

Many moons ago, we moved a fairly large Japanese red maple through a pool area with limited access. I thought I could employ the same tactics to move Stew, and began to dig. The excavating was agreeable. I exposed the root ball parameters, and cleanly cut any exposed roots. Hopes and dreams realized, a fibrous, uniform hub and spoke shaped root system was revealed. I was becoming increasingly confident the tree might be successfully moved without missing a beat.

Although I was feeling good, there was still the slight matter of the extra 1000 or so pounds that would need shedding. My plan was to free root from soil, from the outside in, until a manageable weight was obtained. I’m not sure if it was the time or the money it would have taken to rent an air-compressor, but I walked right passed my fancy air tool and grabbed my father’s ancient pitchfork to do the job.