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 .