Home Is Where Your Trees Are

The Naked Acre. Part 3

Trees newly planted in the autumn, when rains increase, need less watering than spring plantings, which get drier as the sun gets warmer and whose new roots are sooner on the move. Trees should be watered through holes put down through the turf, where it can permeate before it evaporates. A good plan: When the planting hole for a new tree is dug, trowel two or three channels down its sides to root depth and set into them cardboard cylinders filled to the top with pebbles or finely crushed rock. (See Fig. 16.) Flooded to the brim a few times each week, such drinking tubes will offset the direst drought; through them, too, you can give the tree liquid feedings if necessary. After you have watched professionals transplant "material" - as they brusquely call it - from a nursery, you can save many dollars below list prices by doing the same yourself, where this is permitted to the customers. When you go foraging for specimens in the wild, the only new work you will have to practice is the root-pruning. The smaller the saplings you choose at first, the better success you will have, but after a few tries there is no reason why an able-bodied man with a halfway able helper should not collect trees at least three inches in diameter. That would be a fairly considerable oak, ash, or dogwood for the family "estate." It would be a very fine cedar or spruce, birch or sassafras.

cylinder, pebbles

Field-grown wild specimens are best not only for their filled-out tops but for the manageability of their roots, which will likelier run only under sod than among rocks or the roots of other trees. Except perhaps for a few experimental "switches" which you may take home bare-root, your quest on a first field trip will be to locate and root-prune some sizable specimens for moving much later. Besides your topside pruning equipment, including tree paint, the tools you will need are a mattock (broad-bladed pick-ax), a "round-pointed" shovel, and perhaps your punch-bar to take strain off the shovel's handle in case of rocks. A bushel basket or two may come in handy, as will be explained. If your prize is three inches thick at the height of your hip, sink your trench around it at a distance of fifteen inches from the trunk and down to where you encounter no more roots. (See Fig. l7.) Cut off each large root cleanly. If it is an inch or more thick, paint its raw end. Remove all removable rocks that you come to and when you have the tree standing clear in its little island, prepare to refill your trench with soil and some kind of mulch.

If you are in pastureland, your mulch problem is soon solved. One basketful of dried horse or cattle droppings will be ample. Or gather a couple of basketfuls of leaves or grass, dead or alive, and churn them into your loose soil as you refill and tamp the trench. Now, with your shears and pole-pruner, give the tree a going-over aloft to compensate for the feeders you carved off its bottom. Give it a year to grow a new, concentrated root-ball and your tree will be ready to go home with you. If it is much larger than a three-incher, take its preparation in two bites. This year trench only halfway around, in three equal sectors equally spaced. Next year dig the other three sectors, and take up the tree on your third visit, two years hence. (See Fig. 18.) When you do take the tree, follow the balled-and-bur-lapped or bare-root routine you learned at the nursery, with this addition: to make the newcomer feel more at home in your grounds, fetch with it a couple of basketfuls of the topsoil to which it is accustomed. Whichever of the two digging systems you use, don't try it without a station wagon or a pickup with a tailgate. Make yourself a skid of planking, up which to slide your load aboard, roots first. Earth-balls weigh about 100 pounds per cubic foot, and the finest tree that ever grew is not worth a hernia.

root pruning

Some of the thriftiest trees one sees at homes are specimens of which the owners say with fond surprise, "That one started growing all bv itself out back. So we moved it up where it would show, and just look how well it's doing!" Such trees are called "volunteers" and there seems to be something special about them. Out of the thousands of "flyers" sent off by a maple, or acorns from an oak, a few seem to have extraordinary vigor or to land in most favorable spots. Like stray kittens or puppies they will thrive where pampered thoroughbreds have pined away. This is natural selection ("survival of the fittest") at work - the principle put to work by the nurseryman when he culls seedlings to produce a strain with desired characteristics. The home owner, in a nursery plot of his own, can similarly play games with baby trees. He needs very few of the very best to supply his needs, and the effort involved is insignificant. To render his infant specimens more fit for moving in their second or third year, he can raise them in sunken cans or cartons, to get compact roots. (When they are transplanted, such roots should be separated and spread to keep them from "girdling.") Evergreens are easiest of all to bring along, as will be detailed later in some paragraphs about raising Christmas trees. When evergreens are moved, it should always be with an earth-ball, and they need no pruning above. Knowledge of what the soil in your grounds is like can be obtained very simply. Fill some milk bottles half full of water. Trowel into them samples of soil taken down to the two-foot level at various spots. Shake well. Let the bottles stand a day or so. Out will settle your soil's components - gravel at the bottom, then clay, then the loams, then the humus or topsoil, then a layer of clear water. (See Fig. 19.)


Before any planting is done, the chemical character of your ground should be determined and adjusted. Soil chemistry is for the farmer, not the home owner, except in one important particular: the pH index. This refers to the amount of free acid (H) or alkaline (OH) molecules in the soil. At pH 7 the soil is said to be neutral. The acid scale runs down to pH o, the alkaline up to pH 14, each degree in the scale indicating a tenfold change. Most trees like slightly acid soils ranging from pH 5.5 to pH 7. Above pH 7 most trees have difficulty absorbing some of the trace minerals they need - iron, manganese, zinc, copper, boron. A few species are acid-lovers, like sourwood and yellowwood. To find out what your soil reads, get your County Agent to test it, or test it yourself with a cheap litmus kit which your drugstore will sell you, with directions for its use. If the pH of your soil reads low, raise it by spreading lime. Where it is too high, lower it with aluminum sulfate.