Practicing what I learned

Last spring, I was lucky to be able to attend an entire workshop on trees hosted by Collier’s Arbor Care. We learned about different aspects of tree care, which I wrote about here.

For a while now, I’ve had a rescued tree languishing away in a far too small pot. I got it for next to nothing, knowing full well that it was exceptionally root bound. Even so, I decided to go for it, because I happen to really like that kind of tree – it is a Gleiditsia triacanthos inermis ‘Sunburst’ (or Honey Locust) – and figured I’d try out my newfound knowledge on it. Knowing what I’ve learned about root bound trees in nursery pots, there really wasn’t much point in giving it a larger pot until I really had time to tackle the issue. Anyway, today was the day.

As you can probably see, this is just one big clump of tangled roots and very little soil.

As you can probably see, this is just one big clump of tangled roots and very little soil.

I took out the watering hose, and started untangling, rinsing the roots clean one little piece at a time.

I took out the watering hose, and started untangling, rinsing the roots clean one little piece at a time.

At first, I just used my hands, but soon I had to bring out secateurs, a saw, and a crowbar. Damn, those roots were tangled!

At first, I just used my hands, but soon I had to bring out secateurs, a saw, and a crowbar. Damn, those roots were tangled!

Some roots were strangling each other. I cut those off.

Some roots were strangling each other. I cut those off.

Here, most of the roots have been freed, but you can see how they are shaped to the contours of the pot they had been locked in for so long. Poor things...

Here, most of the roots have been freed, but you can see how they are shaped to the contours of the pot they had been locked in for so long. Poor things…

Here is finally the liberated root ball. I think I spent the good part of two hours on separating roots as gently as I could. What a tangle, huh?

Here is finally the liberated root ball. I think I spent the good part of two hours on separating roots as gently as I could. What a tangle, huh?

I grabbed the biggest pot the house has to offer (thank you, MaryBeth!) and poured enough soil in there to make a mound. Then I centered the tree on that mound and pulled out the roots in a splaying fashion. It fought me all the way, as the roots were so misshapen. They wanted to grow the way they were used to. Oh well, I separated them as best I could, and added some fertilizer with mycorrhizae.

I grabbed the biggest pot the house has to offer (thank you, MaryBeth!) and poured enough soil in there to make a mound. Then I centered the tree on that mound and pulled the roots out in a splaying fashion. It fought me all the way, as the roots were so misshapen. They wanted to grow the way they were used to. Oh well, I separated them as best I could, and added some fertilizer with mycorrhizae. Hopefully it will begin to feel loved.

Here it is in its new pot!

Here’s the tree in its new pot!

Here is a close-up of its leaves. Now you see why I wanted to try to rescue it - its airy, chartreuse loveliness is worth it - if it survives. It's not a tree that casts dense shade - it provides a light green, filtered light that I love.

Here is a close-up of its leaves. Now you see why I wanted to try to rescue it – its airy, chartreuse loveliness is worth it – if it survives. It’s not a tree that casts dense shade – it provides a light green, filtered light that I love.

So, why did I plant it in another pot, you ask... Well, it's a temporary arrangement. The  southwest corner of our lot is currently occupied by the biggest lilac I have ever seen. A couple of years ago,  one of its trunks blew down, and other parts of it are looking awfully brittle too. I started hacking away at it (and all its little suckers) last week, but I think I'm going to have to get some help to get it all out.

So, why did I plant it in another pot, you ask… Well, it’s a temporary arrangement. The southwest corner of our lot is currently occupied by the biggest lilac I have ever seen. A couple of years ago, one of its three trunks blew down, and other parts of it are looking awfully brittle too. I started hacking away at it (and all its little suckers) last week, but I think I’m going to have to get some help to get it all out. You can see its two-trunked glory behind the Fatsia and the Aucuba.

Here you can see its decomposing old trunk. Better to get it out now, than when it itself decides it's time.  If the 'Sunburst' survives my violent treatment, it will take its place - thus the temporary potted arrangement. Time will tell - now we wait! Fingers crossed it makes it!

Here you can see its deteriorating old trunk. Better to get it out now, than when it itself decides it’s time. If the ‘Sunburst’ survives my violent treatment, it will take its place – thus the temporary potted arrangement. Time will tell – now we wait! Fingers crossed it makes it!

About annamadeit

I was born and raised in Sweden, By now, I have lived almost as long in the United States. The path I’ve taken has been long and varied, and has given me a philosophical approach to life. I may joke that I’m a sybarite, but the truth is, I find joy and luxury in life’s simple things as well. My outlook on life has roots in a culture rich in history and tradition, and I care a great deal about environmental stewardship. Aesthetically, while drawn to the visually clean, functional practicality and sustainable solutions that are the hallmarks of modern Scandinavia, I also have a deep appreciation for the raw, the weathered, and the worn - materials that tell a story. To me, contrast, counterpoint, and diversity are what makes life interesting and engaging. Color has always informed everything I do. I’m a functional tetrachromat, and a hopeless plantoholic. I was originally trained as an architect working mostly on interiors, but soon ventured outside - into garden design. It’s that contrast thing again… An interior adrift from its exterior, is like a yin without a yang. My firm conviction that everything is connected gets me in trouble time and time again. The world is a big place, and full of marvelous distractions, and offers plentiful opportunities for inquiry and exploration. I started writing to quell my constant queries, explore my discoveries, and nurture my curiosity. The Creative Flux was started in 2010, and became a catch-all for all kinds of intersecting interests. The start of Flutter & Hum at the end of 2013 marks my descent into plant nerd revelry. I occasionally contribute to other blogs, but those two are my main ones. For sure, topics are all over the map, but then again - so am I! Welcome to my blogs!
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21 Responses to Practicing what I learned

  1. Evan says:

    I hope your Sunburst survives! Keep it watered and shaded in this heat. I like them, too, and I’m planning to add two or three to the garden this fall. I enjoyed this post. It took me back to my arboriculture class in college. We had a few labs focusing on roots. Did you check where the roots meet the trunk for circling or hooked roots, as well?

  2. annamadeit says:

    Thanks, Evan – I will do my best to keep it happy. There was something a little goofy looking up by the flare. I was tempted to cut it off, but didn’t. Maybe I should have…? Can you see it in one of the pictures? Do you think I should? Now that you mention it, it bothers me that I didn’t…

  3. FlowerAlley says:

    Pat yourself on the back for taking your time to relieve a tortured tree. This is the kind of post I want to read. GOOD FOR YOU! One plant at a time gardening.

    • annamadeit says:

      Haha – yeah, and one corner of the yard at a time. I’m starting to feel like I’m making at least a little bit of progress! But I might need the aid of some big and burlies for that lilac to come down. 🙂

  4. Alison says:

    I seldom have the patience to untangle roots as rootbound as that, so kudos to you for doing it. I would have just cut them all off and then repotted it. I’m a brutal plant carer.

  5. Loree says:

    That is a beautiful tree, so much nicer than the lilac. I am sending healing, happy, growing thoughts and can’t wait to see your rescued tree in its new spot. Oh and I enjoyed your tales of being careful with the roots. I spend so much time hacking at agave roots (that need so little care) I sometimes forget to be gentle with other plants, the ones who need it!

  6. rusty duck says:

    Goodness, that’s a big tree to be in such a small pot. I hope it survives, it’s a beauty. I am guilty of keeping things in pots way too long. The trouble is I often need to prepare a new area of ground before I can plant anything. I should repot more too.

    • annamadeit says:

      I hope so too, Jessica. I have the same problem, and this time, I have to take a big tree out first. Not as big as yours, but still… Yes, seeing it in that small pot for so long has been eating away at my conscience. Can you imagine wearing shoes a couple of sizes too small for months on end? Ouch… that poor tree!

  7. mattb325 says:

    Great job on getting that tree out of the pot! I have exactly the same issue, as I buy plants first and then dig new beds later, so things end up in their pots for far too long!

  8. Pauline says:

    You have endless patience! Well done for managing to untangle all those roots, I’m sure your lovely tree will appreciate all your efforts!

  9. Kris P says:

    Thanks for the instructive post, Anna. I try to work the roots with every (usually root-bound) plant I buy but I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time – or shown the patience – you did with this tree. I hope it does well in its new spot when that’s ready.

    • annamadeit says:

      I hope so too, Kris. Isn’t it aggravating how much of what we buy (plant wise) is root bound? We see so much of it at the nursery, and it makes me so mad. It makes it really hard to keep the plants alive too – especially in these hot temps we’ve been having. You can really tell the conscientious growers from the not so good ones…

  10. I’m sure your honey locust is starting to feel loved. I appreciated this post, as it seems so many trees, shrubs, and plants that come out of garden centers are hopelessly root bound.

  11. Peter/Outlaw says:

    Best of luck to your locust as it recovers from surgery! You’re a good plant mom and patient surgeon. Was any anesthetic used? (For the tree, your drinking doesn’t count.)

    • annamadeit says:

      Thanks Peter! Nope – no anesthetic needed – the roots were so dulled from being in cramped quarters for so long, that I bet it didn’t feel a thing! 🙂

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