If you’ve ever wondered how to properly maintain the health of transplanted trees or shrubs, we’ve got your covered with this fantastic and informative passage from Growing Trees from Seed. As you might imagine, there are a number of variables that can cause stress to a tree and render a transplant procedure unsuccessful. These include but are not limited to: overwatering, extreme temperatures, mineral status, the species of tree, chlorosis, plant genetics, and soil conditions.
Read on to learn more, and feel free to comment. We’d love to hear your tree transplant success stories! And YES, we will help you with your next transplant – so don’t hesitate to reach out if you have doubts about the process…
Transplanted trees and shrubs may be killed by overwatering (drowning the roots) just as easily as by drought. An initial soil wetting is adequate for dormant bare-root plants. Once the leaves begin to unfold, the moisture loss from the plant increases. However, well-established roots are able to meet all but a hot, windy day’s demands for moisture from a moist soil. If the soil is moist, adding more water doesn’t remove heat stress. Instead, you need to reduce the plant’s need to cool itself by providing shelter or by giving the leaves a cooling shower at midday, when desiccation rates are highest. The effort you make to cool down your plants during periods of heat stress will pay off: it will dramatically increase their chances of survival. Of course, this is more easily done on private property, in close proximity to a watering can, than in the larger landscape.
Hickory, oak, and other species that are considered difficult to transplant can be protected out in the landscape by a temporary shelter. A few branches of pine, or some stick stuck into the ground and topped with burlap, will protect your plants while they are becoming established.
Some plants just do not grow well, often because the soil doesn’t suit the species. Soil that is too wet or dry for a particular plant will damage its roots, resulting in small leaves, weak growth or death. Plants that are grown in soil that is too alkaline for them may have an iron manganese deficiency, resulting in chlorotic leaves – leaves that are yellowish with green veins.
Alkaline soils tend to stress most seed sources of black oak, sassafras, holy and witch hazel, and severely stress striped maple and hobble-bush. Beech seedlings become more chlorotic in the absence of their specific mycorrhizal fungi. Horticulturists like to practice intensive care on chlorotic plants, using manganese and iron foliage sprays or adding peat moss to the soil in order to turn their plants green, but to what end? If acidic-preference plants are not in the right soil, they may never really thrive. You will be tempted (we all are at first) to use these horticultural life-support methods to help them, but, if time is limited, try to focus your efforts on the plants that are most suited to the planting site.
Why You Should Forgo Weaker Plants
English novelist and gardener Vita Sackville-West (1982-1962) advised, “Never retain for a second year, a plant which displeases you.” I have heard occasional stories of plants that were nurtured along and have grown into healthy trees of shrubs, but most weak plants belong on the brush pile. If the soil characteristics are not optimal, my experience has been that weak plants usually continue to decline.
When growing plants with special requirements on inappropriate soil, such as many of the oaks, red maple and tupelo, a few dark green healthy seedlings may flourish among dozens of chlorotic seedlings. They healthy ones may have a genetic trait for adaptation or tolerance and continue to do well. It is worth spending extra time on them.