Large Plants Mean Large Trans-plants!
Transplanting is something that should be interesting to anyone who has any passion for plants or horticulture. There have been so many years of transplanting practices and experiments that shape the way we transplant plants today, particularly larger trees and shrubs.
This April I had the privilage of working with the Nursery crew at Longwood for a month’s time. This was on the tail end of the transplanting for the season, until this coming fall when plants begin to slow down and the temperatures begin to cool. But, I was still able to get a lot of experience transplanting various deciduous and coniferous large trees and shrubs form the nursery plots!
Our special project for the second week in April was to remove two selected Taxus sp. topiary shrubs from the nursery growing areas; to replace two older and senescing Taxus sp. in the formal topiary garden, within the Longwood Garden proper. Both of these shrubs were easily over eight feet tall and have been previously sheared and trained in a specific shape and form that will be used to replace other dying topiary shrubs in the topiary garden. Longwood gardeners are able to assess the condition of the existing formal topiaries and determine if they will need to grow a future replacement plant. And if so, then the growing begins and that specific plant is trained into it’s own unique shape.
First, the two selected Taxus sp. were marked for removal. We began by tying up the branches using inserted three, 1″ thick piping into the root area near the trunk and tying each individual branch to one of the poles. This required at least one person controlling the top on each branch, and another person gently be tightly forcing the branches in toward the center for a tight tie.
Next, the roots are assessed with a spaded tool and the width of the root ball is determine. Generally, nursery workers say that for every 1″ of stem thickness or caliper, you should have about 12″ of root ball width or, root width. In this case, the shrubs were more-multi-stemmed and we were able to estimate an appropriate width for this particular application and transplanting process.
Once the width was determined, the excavation began! We used a small excavator/backhoe machine to carefully remove the soil around the root ball area. The areas near the future edges of the root ball were dug by hand with edging spades/flat shovels. A proper taper was applied to the sides of the root ball with the hand spades and the root ball was shaped for future burlap material.
Once the root ball was shaped to the correct size and taper, burlap material was then applied. Many pieces of burlap were used to cover the entire exposed root ball area. 3 ply Sesil twine was then used to ‘drum lace’ the root ball tightly and prepare it for removal. We applied two drum laces for this root ball to ensure stability.
After the root ball was secured and balled and burlapped, it was time to cut the bottom and separate the root ball from the existing soil. We used a JCB front end loader machine with a fork attachment. We attached a cable to either side of the fork attachment and placed the loop of the cable around the other side of the root ball. By slowly backing out of the area, the machine was able to slice through the bottom of the root ball.
To remove the Taxus sp. from the area, we used various chains and straps to lift it. The partially transplanted large shrubs was placed on a large movable platform for future transportation across Rt. 1 and into the gardens! From this point on, the Taxus sp. was carefully transported to the topiary garden on a large truck and was planted in place of a previous Taxus sp. topiary.
This was a great experience to take part in. I have been learning how important it is to know how plants will respond to transplanting, when you should or shouldn’t transplants, specifically what methods are used in what situations, and how transplanting ‘overly large plants’ to some people, can be done successfully! I guess Longwood has a history for taking on large projects, and I am sure that this one was not a record breaker by any means, but certainly an awesome opportunity to experience as a PG student! (Longwood has transplanted large trees from other areas via helicopter, in the past! Very awesome!)