Experts share tips on safe relocation, replanting
by Laurie Bazemore Birdsong
Poet Joyce Kilmer knew that no expression of natural beauty could be as lovely as a tree. As cherished landmarks, thriving trees endear us to our homes, add stature to businesses and epitomize the intellectual vitality of the university quads they line. All too often, however, construction plans to create sturdier images of homes, businesses and universities override the instinct to preserve the very landmarks that define these entities.
Fortunately, many of the Triangle’s private tree care companies use preventive tree care models that emphasize tree restoration post-construction.
Tree removal is considered a hazardous aspect of arboriculture because of the difficulty of unearthing trees with deep root systems that grow near below-ground utilities. According to area experts, considerable forethought must be given to improving the likelihood that a replanted tree will survive and thrive.
“Tree transplanting, as well as tree preservation, can lead to many challenges,” says Bryan Lowrance, eastern North Carolina arborist representative for Bartlett Tree Experts in Raleigh.
“Location, species and size all come into play,” he adds. “The smaller (the tree), the better. Care after planting and soil preparation are the two things that will make a successful transplant.”
Bartlett Tree Experts began in 1907 as a small, preservation-minded tree care company. Today, it is an arboriculture expertise operation with a Charlotte-based team of research scientists who train and provide technical support to field technicians on such preventive landscaping services as tree replanting and transplanting.
What to consider
Transplanting a tree with deep roots is a job better left to a professional. A more realistic back yard project for the preservation-minded homeowner is to relocate a tree with a smaller root ball or young nursery stock.
Prior to digging, a spot where a tree will thrive best once replanted in similar sun or shade should be identified. Spacing and water requirements also must be accommodated where a tree is replanted. If a tree craving water is relocated next to one preferring dry conditions, caring for both can cause damage to either tree’s root system.
Before transplanting, a shallow hole should be dug about twice as wide as the tree’s estimated root ball. The bottom soil of a newly dug hole shouldn’t be broken up because a transplanted tree’s roots will sink, inviting rot rather than penetrating deeper. Once the transplant begins, a tree’s root ball must be dug up as intact as possible. An uprooted tree with exposed roots must be transferred quickly to the new hole; the longer it goes without water, the less the likelihood of a successful transplant.
“Putting a tree in the right place … is the ultimate in preservation,” Lowrance says.
“There is a big difference between saving vs. preserving and moving a tree,” he adds. “(A saved tree) just holds the spot and gets soil, but with big equipment parked on its roots, it will die two to five years later. Taking the time and energy to properly move and care for a tree adds all the great benefits of trees on your lot.”
The value factor
While some might argue that preserving trees should not be a priority when maximizing a home’s resale value, mature trees can market a home’s appeal in the long run. For example, Japanese maples — particularly when received as gifts — become highly sentimental as they mature.
Phil Crump, owner of Raleigh-based Hunter Tree & Landscape Co., frequently gets calls from homeowners sentimentally attached to their Japanese maples who want his excavation crew to transplant these trees to their new residences.
“Trees aren’t commonly transplanted in landscaping because it’s an issue of unrecognized value where people often don’t know the worth of the plants that they have,” he says.
“Some people would spend $8,000 on an indoor expansion project but wouldn’t spend it on their yard,” Crump adds. “It’s all relative for what that tree is worth to you.”
The value of our trees might be only as quantifiable as poetic beauty. But as young nursery stock tips the balance of our tree lines, we must recognize what catalyzes the changing face of our urban and suburban landscapes.
“Even if we cannot save the big tree during a project, we all need to think about moving and planting climax species trees like oaks and hickories that grow large and are noble trees,” Lowrance says.
“If we don’t (protect them), Raleigh will end of being the City of Maples vs. the City of Oaks.”
Laurie Bazemore Birdsong is a freelance writer based in Chapel Hill.
When trees in the way of a bulldozer are integral to the image of a 200-year-old university, that institution will protectively advocate for them in the face of landscaping morphed by construction.
The McCorkle Place oaks and emblematic Davie poplars at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill alone make the campus’ trees historically significant. So when UNC began an expansive construction and renovation period in the late 1990s, former Chancellor James Moeser commissioned the 2003 Task Force on Landscape Heritage and Plant Diversity to draft guidelines for preserving the campus’ appearance through the heritage of its trees.
Kirk Pelland, UNC’s grounds services director since 1997, oversees tree maintenance and preservation for the university’s 4,000 acres in Orange County, as well as on its 740-acre main campus. His team adheres to task force landscaping guidelines by ensuring that new and redesigned landscapes replace trees lost to construction, as well as by protecting existing trees and shrubs during construction.
For each pre-construction preservation project, Pelland’s crew determines which trees and shrubs can remain onsite and which must be removed with a tree protection plan. To ensure that a construction site’s unearthed trees remain intact, grounds services uses logging mats, water-porous geotech fabric and mulch to prevent compaction, or consolidation of soil sediment, within a tree’s root zone.
“The season has to be right to try to save the plants … approximately October through March is best,” Pelland notes.
“During these months, trees have slowed their rapid root growth to seek below-ground water during the spring and summer seasons and are dormant for a more favorable time of the year to transplant to a new plot of earth.”