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When digging transplants from the wild, keep as much soil as possible around the roots. Bring a bucket of water or slurry if possible and something to wrap the plants in. Keep the roots moist and shaded. Trim roots if necessary and prune branches if the tree is in leaf. When collecting large numbers of small plants, dig them bare root and wrap 50-100 in a cloth or plastic bag with moist leaves or soil around the roots. This is an easy way to acquire large numbers of plants at little cost. Put them in a nursery bed and you will have excellent stock for planting in a year or two. The extra growing time adds height to the seedling and encourages the formation of a dense root mass. This will greatly increase the success of your final plantings. Ask the landowner’s permission before digging plants and make sure to leave the site in good shape. Woods roads, ditches and old fields are good sources of species such as white spruce, white birch, red osier dogwood and willow. Digging from woodlands can rarely be done without damaging roots of existing trees. It can also result in unsatisfactory transplants and so is not recommended.
Timing is the key to successfully transplanting bare root stock. Fall transplanting is usually acceptable, but spring is the best time, preferably before the leaves have come out or the new needles have started growing. Spread out the roots and making sure that the depth is correct. Prune roots of small transplants so that none are longer than 6 in. (15 cm) and trim any that are circling the trunk and might eventually girdle the tree. Dig a hole 12 in. (30 cm) deep and at least that wide, roughing up the sides to allow easier root penetration. Place a ball of topsoil or compost in the hole and spread roots over this mound. The transplant should be at the same soil depth or slightly higher than it grew in the nursery (look for a change in bark colour at the root collar). Fill in the hole and tamp down well to remove air pockets. Water deeply if possible and mulch with a 3 in. (7.6 cm) layer of leaf mould or wood chips, keeping the mulch 3-4 in (7.6-10 cm) from the trunk to discourage rodents during the winter.
Timing is not quite as important for container-grown seedlings and they can be successfully planted throughout the growing season. Remember we are talking about trees grown in 1 or 2 litre milk containers, not tiny plugs. Even with the extra roots and soil, containerized hardwoods should be given special attention if planting out when the growth is already well underway. Shade plantings need little maintenance, but plantings in full sun should be watered regularly and kept well mulched. To remove the transplant, turn over the container and give it a good rap with the palm of your hand. Catch the root ball with your other hand as it slides down, being careful not to damage the stem. Prune any roots that are circling the trunk and might eventually girdle the tree. Using a screwdriver, pull some of the larger roots away from the ball to help stimulate new root growth. Dig a hole 12 in. (30 cm) and at least 2-3 times the
container width, roughing up the sides to allow easier root penetration. Place topsoil or compost at the bottom of the hole. The transplant should be at the same soil depth as it grew in the nursery. Fill in the rest of the hole and tamp down well to remove air pockets. Water if possible and mulch with 3 inches (7.6 cm) of leaf mould or wood chips, keeping the mulch 3-4 in. (7.6-10 cm) from the trunk to discourage rodents.
Dormant nursery stock will not usually need pruning. If bare root seedlings are in leaf, remove about 30% of each branch, taking care not to damage the leader. Container transplants do not normally need as much pruning at any time, especially if they are young plants. Staking is usually not necessary with smaller trees, but if size requires it, use two stakes and rubber tubing or hose. Remove stakes after six months.
The more you know about the needs of each species of tree, the more successful your plantings will be. It is well within each of us to gain the knowledge necessary to plant trees and shrubs for a wide variety of purposes and the rewards are worth the effort. Richard St. Barbe Baker, forester and founder of The Men of The Trees Society, put it very well when he said: “Who plants a tree loves others than himself.” In that spirit, make your plantings a celebration of the good work you have put into growing the trees.