If you made your living telling fortunes for evergreen trees, you would not read their palms, you would read the little brown nubs overwintering on the end of each branch. In spring those nubs stretch out to become the tree’s yearly growth. How long they will get is anyone’s guess, but how many needles they are going to unfurl was decided last summer.
It’s easy to misread your Conifer. If a tree finds itself a few needles short, it can make allowances in the length of its branches and the size of its needles. When the needles are spaced far apart, we might think they look spindly while actually the tree is having a better year that it expected. Conversely, in a bad year, they will fine tune by growing shorter branches with the needles that are tighter and shorter, which we mistakenly see as thick and lush.
Conifers are operating on a different time frame than you and me. If you fertilize them — don’t expect to see the results till at least next year. And if you relocate a tree, you will not know how the tree is taking to its new digs for several years while transplant shock works its way slowly through the tree’s deliberate processes.
Keeping the tree’s timetable in mind, the best time to transplant a big tree is at the end of the summer after the growth for the next year has been determined, but while there is still plenty of time to make new roots. Root growth doesn’t shut up shop till early winter.
On our 44 acres, more than 22 of them were planted into a pine, spruce and oak tree farm by the previous owner, and as we have restored a prairie where some of those trees were growing, and cut in a driveway through other rows, we have been transplanting dozens of trees standing in the way of “progress.” Doug and I have really come up the learning curve on this subject over the past few years.
Here is what works for us.
1. Try to transplant in late summer, taking advantage of that period when the tree has stopped growing, but is still packing it away for winter.
2. Keep the roots wet with a sprayer, and get them transferred as fast as possible. Those trees whose roots we sprayed and wrapped in plastic till we could cart them to their new home are doing remarkably better than our first efforts where we just levered the root ball into the wheel barrow and hauled it bare. A mere 15 minutes out in the open air – probably even a minute of two – can fry those delicate root hairs where the major drinking action takes place.
3. Mulch them well and keep them moist for the rest of the fall and be prepared to haul water the next spring, if Mother Nature is stingy with rain. You are going to need 3-5 gallons a week to establish each planting.
4. Cross your fingers, and set your watch to Conifer Standard Time.
My next post on Wednesday will be an update on The Mystery of the Missing Lady Slipper.