Sunday, December 16, 2012

Transplanting a Specimen Japanese Maple

In the final days of the feeding frenzy I've come to call "The Big Haul"*, I was poking around an adjoining lot with an eye toward scavenging any interesting plants (the owners had all said that I could take what I want and we would settle up later.)  I've had my eye on a certain prostrate Japanese Maple, and as luck would have it, the owner (digger of the massive Atlas cedar and Acer Triflorum)  was prowling around on his skid steer.  The tree's large weeping canopy ruled out the option of using a tree spade and meant that any tying of the limbs was out of the question.

"If you hand dig it," he said "Ill pick it up and put it on your trailer."  Total cost: $50.

The tree had been dug about three years ago and sat in a pile of chips and earth.  Its roots dove straight down into the soil and the hand digging took about 45 minutes.  When I was sure that I had severed all the main roots, the forks arrived and a massive four foot diameter root ball emerged from the earth.  This was not what I had planned for my first run with the new forks I had made for my Kubota.

Driving home, I knew I was cutting a sort of "Sanford and Son" figure with the ten foot wide branches flapping as I tooled along at 20 mph.  The local gendarmes are known for ticketing dodgy-looking trailers, and I was a prime suspect.  Matters were made worse when I ended up in the middle of a charity "CropWalk"; the walkers seemed into the whole "big-tree-on-a-little-trailer-thing."  Step one was complete-- the tree was home in one piece.

There are two things Laura will not do: cut grass or dig holes. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and she dutifully joined me at the end of a shovel.  Her presence was a charm and, I'm not exaggerating, the ground opened up as mounds of loamy, rock-free soil came forth.  In less than 30 minutes we were ready to plant.

There was good karma all around as my first attempt with the adjustable forks worked a treat, and as the ball had a high concentration of roots, it was lighter than I had anticipated.  Because of its size, this was a directly-from-the-forks-into-the-ground endeavor -- and that means you have one shot at success.  Again, Laura's presence brought good luck and the tree slid into the hole without as much a wobble -- plumb and level without any adjustment.  This is a first for me.

Back-filling was textbook with lots of tamping the loose soil, and in less than an hour, the hose was trickling onto the new tree.  Total time out of the ground: four hours.

As with all fall planted trees, we wait and see if it survives and flourishes in the Spring -- and I'm just superstitious enough to make no predictions.  It's in the lap of the transplanting gods.

* The "Big Haul" is my adventure as a layman at the auction of a nursery business -- the subject of a future post.