Grit Blogs > The Daily Commute

Save Money in 2009: Transplant Free Trees

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

Tags: save money, trees, planting, farms,

Early last week, while walking with the dogs through our various patches of woods, Kate noticed a large number of tree saplings and seedlings in the under story. She also noticed a number of small Eastern Red Cedar trees and a few isolated Osage orange saplings growing out in the meadows. Her question to me on New Year’s Day was whether we oughtn’t just save on our landscaping budget this year by transplanting the free trees that were provided all over the farm by Mother Nature.

A little elbow grease is all it takes to transplant free trees.

I was all for Kate’s idea, I mean who doesn’t want to save money in 2009.

Years ago, in South Dakota, when we were just starting out we had very little in the way of discretionary funds. We also had a bare piece of ground to build our homestead on … it was a lovely piece, with a creek running through it, but it was treeless, except for the massive Cottonwoods that populated the low end of the pasture and one lone Green Ash that grew up through the old windmill tower, its roots reaching clear down to the water level in the old dug well.

This free oak sapling will provide shade and acorns eventually.

Closer inspection of that piece of ground revealed a Cottonwood tree seedling nursery at the confluence of one of our waterways and the creek. With a strong need to get some large trees going quickly and to stabilize the creek bank to the west of the house, Kate and I spent many early spring days over the course of a few years digging cottonwood seedlings and saplings from our natural nursery (some about 10 feet tall) and transplanting them about a half mile away by the house. Those free trees are more than 50 feet tall today … they help protect the house from wind and they stabilized the creek bank.

Last Saturday, Kate and I identified a few small oak and Osage orange saplings to transplant. These free trees all had substantial taproots (which got shortened considerably) so the digging wasn’t as easy as if they were year old seedlings. Transplanting the free trees was really easy once they were dug, however. And since they are perfectly dormant, and will remain so for the next few months, they should have plenty of time to establish sufficient root mass to support themselves (with some nurturing) in 2009.

The trick to transplanting free trees is to dig them while they are dormant. A little extra effort with the digging to get as much root as possible will pay a large dividend. Keep the roots moist until you get the trees planted in their new location. Water the trees as you backfill the planting hole and be prepared to give them plenty of water as they come back to life in the spring.

Transplanting free trees isn’t the only way to save money in 2009. We plan to make and root cuttings of the lone Cottonwood on our place … and our corkscrew Willow too. We also plan to collect a few bucketfuls of Osage orange fruit and plant the seeds.

I will report on these Save Money in 2009 topics and plenty of others right here. Stay tuned.

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

cindy murphy
1/6/2009 5:56:01 PM

Hi, Hank and Joe. There may have been a number of things that could have resulted in the corkscrew willow dying back. Willows are not only prone to insect problems, they are also affected by a number of diseases - anthracnose and cankers being top concerns. The wood of the corkscrew willow is also very weak; the tree often suffers from wind damage. If there are suckers coming up from the base, Joe, I'd just leave it and see what happens. We had a storm damaged corkscrew willow break in half at the nursery a couple of years ago. For whatever reason, it never made it to the brush pile, but was stashed in an area on the back forty that we refer to as the "recovery zone", (probably meaning in a rush it was quicker to drop it off there since it still had some life in it, then all the way back to the brush pile). I sold it this fall; it had filled out more bushy and full than any of the other corkscrew willows, and the woman who bought it fell in love with its form.

hank will_2
1/6/2009 4:47:06 PM

That is wild, Joe. I have seen some young fruit trees split bark (but not die), but not a healthy willow. I wonder it there's more to it. I know there are a few insect pests that can really damage the above ground parts.

1/6/2009 10:34:33 AM

Hank, We think that is what happened, yes. We aren't in the ideal climate for a corkscrew willow, but from everything I've read they seem to be fairly hardy. Ours was thriving, and one summer it failed to sprout. Now there is a split running the length of the trunk, and the only growth we see on it is some new shoots springing from the trunk's base. Joe

hank will_2
1/5/2009 3:34:50 PM

Hey Joel -- Right now the willow looks fine, but I only planted it last spring. It performed just fine, but that isn't long term. We planted one in South Dakota ... and I saw it a year ago ... thriving. The SD tree is in a low by the creek and some small branches have broken off and sprouted on the bank quite a ways down the creek. I haven't seen one as you describe ... did it split its own bark by growing too fast?

1/5/2009 3:22:59 PM

Hank, How is your corkscrew willow doing? I had one grow right out of its shell on the family farm — have you ever seen anything like it? It is a wonderfully perplexing tree, and it was a shame to see it go. Any suggestions for future willows? Joe

hank will_2
1/5/2009 1:11:32 PM

I think the fruit growers always worry about early bud break here. But we get these balmy days with strong south winds ahead of the next cool front. By Saturday night it was 24 degrees. Temps in the 40s and 50s are more typical, I have been told. Our farm looks to be on the line between a legitimate USDA Hardiness Zone 6A and 6B. High winds in the heat and/or cold can enhance the effects of temperature extremes.

cindy murphy
1/5/2009 12:43:44 PM

I realized Kansas is a different climate from Michigan, but sixty degrees?! In January? Wow, talk about mild weather! Nothing like here, (check out my upcoming blog entry pictures to get an idea of what kind of weather we have now). At our present thirty-four degrees with the sun shining, it seems almost balmy outside in comparison to what we've had. Are your winters always this mild, and if not, is there concern among the farmers that buds will break early and then refreeze? That's always a worry with the fruit farmers here, especially the peach trees.

hank will_2
1/5/2009 10:23:01 AM

Hey Cindy -- It was in the 60s on Saturday, when we went after the saplings. Our ground had zero frost ... there is a little bit in it today due to 24-degree nights (2 in a row). Those pesky little oak taproots were shovel bending :)

cindy murphy
1/5/2009 9:52:53 AM

Good tips, Hank, on getting free trees established. It makes me want to get out now and dig all those Sweetspire, (Itea), runners that I meant to do last fall but never got around to before winter set in. There are enough to put together make quite a few substantial shrubs from - perfect to stablize the new hill-side garden we've made. It'd be back-breaking work though....and probably shovel-breaking. The ground is frozen solid, and the Itea babes will have to wait until spring to be separated from their mother plants. Now if I can only remember to do it before the buds break.