March 18, 2012

The Big Move

Last week I finally tackled a job that I have been dreading all winter. I moved some trees.  It was surprisingly easy.  Well, not easy, these are five foot tall trees, and I had to dig and move them by hand, but it wasn't as bad as I feared.

I have long wanted to move the sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) away from my patio wall.  I love this tree, it's striking.  But it provides no shade, and my patio bakes in a western exposure all spring and summer.  I need a shade tree in that exact spot.

Sourwood in bloom in June.  Kinda cute.  Not very tall or shady.

Sweetbay, who blogs from the south, says that sorrel trees, or sourwoods, grow happily and wildly all around her pastures.  But up here at its zone edge in southern New England, it is a difficult tree to get going.  It wants perfectly acid soil, and mild winters, and it is a very slow grower.

A mature sourwood in October at Tower Hill Botanical garden.  Will mine ever . . . .?

Mine is almost stunted, although healthy enough.  But it's so small, a dwarf looking thing, not increasing in size over five years, and heavy snow loads broke a few branches, causing it to lose stature this past year.

A frosty morning in fall.  Black eyed Susan seedheads hide the sourwood's spindly trunk.

So I finally did it.  I dug out the tree, but Jim had to help me wrestle the sourwood into its new location, it was quite heavy.  It came out of the ground ok.  It was shallow rooted, and not very wide (although I cut some long roots to get it out).  But still, it's a five foot tree, and a lot of soil came with it, and it was very heavy.
I love the sourwood's Lily of the Valley blooms, and the bees do too. 

Oxydendrum does not like any kind of root disturbance.  Really hates it.  So this may have been fatal.

But it moved with little fuss, Jim got it positioned next to the gravel garden, and I filled it in with soil and watered it well.  It is standing straight, there wasn't much maneuvering to get it upright.  All in all, very little trauma, and less spousal irritation than putting up the Christmas tree together.

My little sourwood after transplant

Then I moved a young river birch (Betula nigra) that was growing in the back into the now empty spot by the patio.  I like it already, with the rusty orange winter leaves of the zenobia shrubs at its feet.

The small river birch is now next to the patio
This is another river birch that I grew from a 10 inch seedling -- this is four seasons' growth

Here's why I feel pretty good about this move:
  • The river birch is the same height as the sourwood was, but will quickly grow very tall, and will make some shade for the patio, and that should easily happen in a season or two.
  • The sourwood actually looks better next to the inkberry hollies by the gravel garden.  It's better as an element of a woodsy planting rather than as a single undersized focal point.  It was just too small next to the patio, not providing enough shade and not holding any visual weight there.
  • The sourwood might actually do better away from the less acidic stone wall and walkway.  That is, if I haven't killed it.

Here's why I am distressed about this move:
  • I pretty much destroyed some of the alliums I had carefully planted around the patio wall last fall.  Some were starting to come up, but got dug up and disturbed during this move.  I tromped on others.  Never mind that I probably killed the sourwood tree as well.
  • The transplanted Mara des Bois strawberries that I intended to spill over the edge of the gravel garden got destroyed too as we wrestled the sourwood into place.
  • I'll get shade on the patio from the river birch, but as it grows into a big tree it will dominate the view out my kitchen window.  I won't have such a clear look into the back yard when all I see are leafy birch branches.
Betula nigra is leafy and shady, just what I need by the patio.  Peeling bark is interesting up close too.

So . . .  was it worth it?  Yes. 

I went inside after the big move was finished, satisfied, but praying a gardener's urgent prayer:

Please, please, let the sourwood thrive in its new home, and may the birch grow quickly without overwhelming that spot.  

And let a few trampled strawberries and alliums come up after all.  


That's all I ask. 

20 comments:

  1. Laurrie, if I were a betting girl I would put money on this move. Trees, despite the moniker that they're fussy, will thrive if put in a preferable location. And I have to say I'm biased because I have a beautiful white birch outside my window but I'm sure you won't mind seeing pretty peeling bark and bright green leaves when you look outside.

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    1. I gave this move the best possible chance of success, including some warm temps in early spring. Let's hope . . .

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  2. What big moves for some fine trees. If you ever could have found the best time to give them fighting chances, this seems to be it. No guts, no glory. Good luck, Laurrie.

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    1. Lee, Thanks! I took a chance, that's for sure, but I have great hopes that the trees will survive and do me proud.

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  3. Oh, that's a big job! My back hurts for you. I think your alliums will rise again, if not this year then next. And knowing nothing about sourwood trees, I can only say that the name sounds spiteful, so I think it will flourish, if only to make you feel extra bad for moving it. ;)

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    1. Heather, ha! Sourwood does sound spiteful, even though I always think of it as a cute little tree. Most of my plants do defy me, so this one might just do that after all.

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  4. Of course all will be fine when everything gets settled in. I think your prayers will be answered.

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    1. Lisa, Your optimism is so encouraging!!

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  5. River Birches are rascals, as soon as you turn your back it'll grow a couple of feet, so no problem there.

    The Sourwood was obviously not happy where it was, so if it doesn't make it, maybe it was destiny and you just put it out of its misery ;)

    My husband and I had to move a 6 foot tall Japanese Maple last year and we waited too long, it had already leafed out. However, even after having to hack away at the roots a bit, once we got it replanted, it never even dropped a single leaf from stress all summer! Maybe your tree will do just fine! Good luck!

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    1. Julie, I really didn't want to admit that the sourwood was not thriving where it was (and thus no loss if it doesn't make it in the moved location). But I think you're right. I'm glad to hear you moved a big Japanese maple and it did fine..... trees are pretty amazing creatures, and yes, some of them are rascals!

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  6. Hope all goes well with your move. Trees are not always an easy move for homeowners, but it sounds like you did a good job. River Birch are really tough cookies, so I bet it settles in well.

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    1. Donna, thanks, I am not at all worried about the river birch. It will take off in its new location!

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  7. Moving trees and shrubs is always traumatic in some way. We never know if we've don the right thing until, sometimes, years later. As with all tree plantings, its a forward-thinking maneuver.

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    1. Joene, forward thinking, definitely. All of my major landscaping is designed to look good or turn out ok in another five years or so. So long to wait!!

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  8. I totally relate to your angst! You can always replant the strawberries and alliums. I bet your trees will be fine. Just give them lots of love. The river birch may dominate your view but it will be so filled with birds, you won't mind. I LOVE my birch. The bark and dark branches are incredible.

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    1. Tammy, thanks for the encouragement. I can't wait to sit in the shade of the birch --- maybe even this summer!

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  9. Laurrie, I think you made the right decision to move the trees. While I love sourwoods, it is too bad they are so slow to get established. I think the river birch by the patio is ideal - it will give you lovely dappled shade when you need it most.

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    1. Debbie, I'm glad you think the river birch will work by the patio. I do know they are messy trees, with a lot of twig drop, but I can manage that. And I'll need to keep it pruned up for neatness and to see the interesting bark too.

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  10. The River Birch will be a nice shade tree, and keeping my fingers crossed for you that the Sourwood will be fine. If it makes you feel any better the Sorrel Trees we have are slow growers too, but I think they're kind of picky, you know one of those plants that like moist and well-drained soil at the same time.

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    1. Sweetbay, I do know that the sorrel trees are picky, but if they grow wild, they must be adaptable in the right conditions. My fervent hope is that I gave this one the right conditions!

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