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.
|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.