Time to plant a couple of maples

March 18, 2012

My dad always had the view that if you were going to plant a tree, you should choose the biggest you could handle because it would produce shade more quickly that way. On the 24th of May, 1984, I used my dad’s loader to lift three, twenty-five foot maples out of the woodlot, hauled them, leaves and all, to Smiths Falls in the back of my Ford Courier, and planted them on Ted and Maria Ferrant’s lawn. When we moved away twenty-six years later, the three maples were fine shade trees.

Around the house on Young’s Hill I used the same technique: dig a hole with the forked bucket on the loader. Then, as soon as the footing allowed it during spring thaw, drive into the woods and pick up an appropriate maple to fill the hole. Keep the tree out of the ground for as little time as possible. Water sporadically the following summer.

As long as I dug the trees into a sloping bank in a fairly dry location, they all lived. Similar plantings along the road did not succeed, though. I guess a shoulder next to a ditch, showered regularly by sand and salt, is too extreme an environment for a hard maple.

This weekend Charlie wanted trees to shade the back windows of his garage. The only problem was the high water table where he wanted to plant them. If we dug them down, the maples would have wet feet, and when we planted the maple orchard on the northern corner of the property for the plowing match, any of the bare-root saplings we plunged into a flooded hole died soon after.

Mom and I had decided to cull one maple from her perennial bed. It grew in the shadow of a promising, taller maple, so it was the first target today. Charlie and I dug enthusiastically around the root ball, but we couldn’t move it, no matter how much we pried.

Away I went for the old Massey Ferguson 35. Its lopsided loader has a narrow bucket with forks, though Peter Myers made me a plate to keep topsoil from falling off the root ball during these operations. It could be relied upon to push a 29″ wide “shovel” quite deeply beneath the roots of the tree. Charlie directed me into position with a series of frenetic hand movements. The tractor grunted, but the down pressure on the loader enabled me to get under it and lift the ball free of the rose bushes.

We carried our victim over to the back of the garage and I plunked it down on the turf. The tree needed to be higher than the surrounding land, so I brought a bucket-full of topsoil from a pile and put Charlie to work with a shovel. I think the covered root ball made a rather elegant berm on the lawn. Promising to do all mowing around them, Charlie brought stakes from the shed and carefully tied the sapling into place. The thing was done.

That had gone well. I had earlier shown Charlie a larger maple on a corner in the woodlot where it clearly wasn’t enjoying itself, covered with several species of vines and overshadowed by a black walnut tree. We decided we might as well try to dig it up and drop it into an abandoned hole at the other side of the garage.

My early memories of the Massey 35 involve getting the thing stuck in the road to the woodlot, two springs running. But conditions have improved with gravel imported for the plowing match. The ground showed no frost when I skidded the bucket off various rocks in an attempt to undermine the maple. Overpowering this tree wouldn’t work; I’d have to dig all around it. The poor old Massey dug and pried. On the fourth attempt the tree came free of the ground. With large pruning sheers Charlie disconnected our specimen from the trailing vines and we headed for the house.

This tree with its root ball was pretty heavy, but it slid into place just like the other maple. It sat up quite high above the soil level, hole or not, so I hope this maple will find enough dry soil to survive.

Family members came to look and all agreed that the back of the garage looks better with a couple of shade trees.

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