I mentioned before that I’m not really a gardener, but I’m foolish enough willing to try. Sometimes, however, right when I’m in the middle of a gardening project, usually when I’m just past the point of no return, I have one resoundingly overwhelming thought: “Woman, you’re a fool.” Such was the case a couple of weeks ago when I had dug up half of my 7 foot tall redbud tree in an effort to move it to another location in my yard.
It started as a good idea. I love redbuds. They’re such a happy tree with their gorgeous pinkish-purple flowers that appear just at the beginning of spring and then give way to leaves that are shaped like hearts. Read that again: leaves that are shaped like hearts. I mean, come on! You gotta love nature for things like that. Here’s a picture I took yesterday of some redbud flowers just beginning to bloom:
Anyhow, the redbud that I decided to try to transplant had volunteered itself in our yard in a really silly spot. It was right under a massive tree and crowded in with a bunch of nandinas.
It was never going to grow well in this location. And it seemed to me that this redbud had a very pretty shape and it was just being wasted in its current spot. Add to that the fact that my little front yard landscaping project — the one that hit a big snag last fall when I unexpectedly ran out of money to complete it — called for a small flowering tree just to the side of the front of the house. So my plan was that I would “save” this little redbud from obscurity in its current location while at the same time solving part of my no-money-to-finish-the-landscape-design problem. Genius, right? So I consulted some online references about the best time to move redbuds and they all said the same thing: in the spring before the buds swell. Perfect. Game on.
Now, my neighbor Jim is a fantastic gardener. His yard is stunning and I’m pretty sure he can grow anything just by looking at it. So I consulted Jim before my redbud transplant project and Jim said, “You know, redbuds are really difficult to transplant, especially when they’re already pretty tall.” Jim is a lovely, gentle man so this was undoubtedly his way of saying, “Woman, you’re a fool.” But did I hear it that way? No. No, I did not. So I went forth with the transplant process. I even got Mark to help me dig the hole where I wanted the redbud to go.
We dug the hole about 4-5 feet in diameter and about 2 feet deep. Then I brought about two full wheelbarrows of leaf mold and dumped some into the hole and some right next to the hole. Next I did the same thing with about 2 buckets full of garden manure. I took some of the heavy clay soil we’d dug out of the hole and mixed it back in with the leaf mold and garden manure.
With the easy part done, I knew it was time to tackle trying to dig up the redbud. Jim came over and gave me some advice: dig up and move one particular nandina out of the way to properly get at the redbud.
But, you see, that’s a big nandina and I’m fundamentally a lazy gardener. So I ignored Jim’s advice (foolish, foolish me) and started digging.
It was difficult at first to tell which roots were the redbud’s and which were the nandina’s. I needed to figure out the root system. So I put down the big shovel and picked up the little shovel to just dig away surface soil.
The redbud had a main root that split off into a Y. The Y went on forever. Then I discovered that there was a similar root on the other side of the redbud. It would be impossible to dig up all of the root system and I had no idea where I could safely cut away at the roots. This was my “Woman, you’re a fool” moment.
So I called Jim to ask for his advice. Jim wasn’t home and wouldn’t be home until well after dark. Sigh. I covered the bare roots with wet shredded leaves and vowed to begin again the next night after I got home from work. And do you know what happened the next night? Jim wasn’t home. Again. Now, Jim is not a man who goes out often. In fact, when the weather is even remotely nice, Jim is in his yard working. Consequently, by the third time I called Jim and he wasn’t home I started to have a little suspicion that this lovely man was toying with me. Did he not realize that I was doomed to fail without his guidance? Finally, I emailed Jim and made an official date so that he would come over and look at my redbud conundrum.
Jim basically said that I should dig up as much of the root system that I could reasonably manage by digging around the roots as far as I could trace them and then pulling on them a bit to see if I could loosen them further. And then he gently reminded me that life wouldn’t end if this redbud wasn’t successfully transplanted (well, my life wouldn’t end; the redbud, of course, would be a goner).
So, I followed Jim’s advice to get as much of the root system as possible. Ultimately, I dug up the redbud with bare roots (probably not the best way to go, but the easiest in order to make sure I got a lot of the root system).
Then I put it in its new home. I covered the roots with about 3 inches of the soil mixture. Then I added about 3 inches of shredded leaves to act as mulch. The redbud wouldn’t stand straight on its own, so I propped it up with some rocks right at the base.
I got some conflicting information about whether I should prune the redbud after transplanting it. On the one hand, the argument is that in the course of transplanting the tree, you’ve probably left some of the root system in the ground (yup, definitely did that), so you should prune away the equivalent of the amount of root system you left behind. Consequently, the roots don’t have to work extra hard to re-establish themselves while at the same time putting forth the energy required to make the same size tree bloom. On the other hand, the argument is that you shouldn’t prune because the tree has already been totally stressed during the transplant process and you shouldn’t give it anything more to freak out about. Well, how the heck was I supposed to know what to do? All I knew was that one of the reasons I wanted to transplant this particular tree was that I liked its shape so I really didn’t want to cut a bunch of it off. So I called the “master gardeners” at the North Carolina Botanical Garden. The Garden offers a free consulting service with master gardeners every Wednesday and Friday afternoons from 12:00-2:00. We’ve used them before to get gardening advice and they’ve always been great. Anyhow, I called them and left a message with my “to prune or not to prune” question. A very friendly master gardener called back shortly thereafter and said that she and her gardener colleagues had a little “discussion” about this issue (I guess there’s some contention about pruning after transplant throughout the gardening world). Here’s what she said: don’t prune. Well, hot diggity, because that’s what I wanted to hear. So I didn’t prune and now the redbud is trying its very hardest to put forth a few blooms.
The blooms are not spectacular – at all – but they’re there. So all I do now is water the tree every few days and cross my fingers.
And this wraps up my incredibly lengthy tale about how sometimes with gardening you can really screw up and the plant grows in spite of you. Pretty cool.