Potty for Repotting

It took all day to repot our trees.

I thought it was going to be a simple task that would take a few hours, but that was not the case.

We have quite a number of trees mostly hazelnuts and kousa dogwoods waiting to be planted. They have been waiting for a few years now, but since we have all the useless dead and dying trees to move out of the way first we don’t have space to plant them yet. – Yes we could have someone come and cut them all down for us, but it would cost a LOT of money, which like most people working a farm we don’t have. – So it’s a gradual process.

I had repotted the trees into the largest pots we had available, really large pots cost a LOT of money. However we were fortunate enough to find a wholesale nursery that was going out of business and had a lot of used pots to get rid of. They were only too happy for us to haul them away from them, so we loaded up our trailer and dragged them home. I know many people don’t like re using pots, but these things are large and expensive. Most wholesale nurseries do a reasonable job of keeping pests down, if they did not they would go out of business. Plus we could pressure wash them with bleach solution before we used them.

Our trees were getting bigger and they kept falling over as the pots were not large enough. Add to that that when we had them stood up the deer just love to come along and walk right through the middle of the bed and knock them all over again. A few years ago a bear wandered in and not only managed to knock half the pots over but totally destroyed the irrigation system we had set of for them. We needed a better solution.

line of potted trees and shrubs
Trees repotted in large pots

I decided to move the trees to the small berm that runs along the west side of our house. It is most likely the soil that was dug out to make the miniscule basement we have (but that’s another story). The area gets a lot of sunshine during the daytime so its perfect for the trees. We moved them all there after removing them from their winter protection in the hoop house. However this area is a little more exposed and it was a forgone conclusion that the pots would fall over. Never fear we had all the new super large pots.

Problem is that a super large pot takes a LOT of filling. I wanted to use the mushroom compost for most of the pot filling with a layer of our sandy loam soil on the bottom and the top to help keep the moisture in. Rather like a reverse Oreo. I had already done a few pots on my own and realized that it was going to be a two person job to get it done faster and effectively. Since we needed two soil sources, move the pots down from the berm, – its too hard to repot on a slope – then repot them and move them back with a hand truck. I filled and repotted the trees, Steve shifted them back. We both dug compost and he got soil from the field for the outer Oreo look and feel. Having soil on the top of the pot was essential as the mushroom compost looses moisture much faster than the soil does. A layer a couple of inches thick on the top helps to keep the moisture in and the plant happy. It was also important to use last years compost which had compacted down. The new stuff is light and fluffy, if we use that to fill a pot it compacts down during the next year or so and the plant is left with only about half the depth of the pot in soil.

Because some of the pots were quite large, it took a much more soil than I had expected and we had to fill three cart loads of mushroom compost and at least 6 barrow loads of soil to get the job done. We spent all day at the task and still did not entirely finish.

However now all the new trees are in much larger pots that wont fall over in the wind, and wont get knocked over by the deer. A bear could still do it if he is determined, we just have to hope he’s not. The trees will be fine now for a few years, and with any luck we will have their final home in the ground ready before they outgrow these pots.

This weekend we planted trees.

It may seem strange for a farm that has so many trees to want to plant more, but trees are very important. You just have to have the right kind of trees. The ‘Christmas’ trees we have are old, straggly, and in many cases dying. These need to be removed. Our forest trees are too much of a monoculture. Most of them are new growth, according to the previous owner he just let things grow and could not be bothered to do any work. This means we have an overabundance of Sweet gum trees and not much else. Having a more diverse woodland, and in our case trees that will be more useful as medicine are important to add.

moving chestnut tree
Moving Chestnut tree (Aesculus hippocastanum) to its new location.

So this weekend we cleared away some of the understory and greenbrier thicket (man I hate greenbrier, it’s lethal) removed a few small sweetgums and a couple of dead or dying chokecherries and planted a few new trees. My new trees are two lovely horse chestnut trees and three Chinese apricots. Usually expensive trees we were fortunate enough to pick them up at a bargain price from a nursery that was closing and no one else wanted them. I am delighted. The apricots are lovely small trees with beautiful flowers in the springtime and medicinal fruits later. The horse chestnuts we planted are about 15 feet tall but will still be a few years yet before we get useful fruits from them.

Cutting pot from chestnut tree to preserve the roots.

Five trees, it does not seem as if it should take that long to plant, but when you have to clear out all the underbrush, remove all the greenbrier, clean out all the fallen branches, twigs and other unwanted material before you even start to plant it takes a while. Then we had to fix the desired position for the tree, dig the hole to the correct depth, ease the tree into position and fill the hole back up again. We had hoped to get it all done in one day but somehow it took most of the weekend. Still finally we have some different trees in our mix.

Orientating tree before placing in hole we dug for it.

Eventually the larger sweetgums around the new trees will be removed and recycled as shitake food or logs for our winter fireplace. Our new trees will offer a better green canopy and provide a more diverse woodland at the same time.

Settling tree into its new location