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Flower of Franklinia alatamaha by William Bartram (1782)

Conserving Historic Trees

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When managing a multi-acre historic property, there is extra attention to be paid to significant historic trees. Some of our elms are 200 years old and we have a 100 year-old Franklinia tree that is said to be gifted from Ben Franklin himself. Regular arborist visits and a good relationship with a competent tree care company are a must.

We work with Bartlett Tree Services to prune and maintain the health of our trees. A great deal of time is spent on enriching and equalizing the soil to cultivate strong root systems. Bartlett provides a service they call ‘Prescription Fertilization’. They sample and analyze the soil at various places around the property and recommend treatment. 

It’s surprising how much the conditions vary on one large property. Sun, rain, landscape and the amount of care in each area determine the soil conditions and the health of the trees and shrubs planted there. Our rep comes once a month, checking trees and doing topical fertilization as needed. About twice a year, they head over with an injection fertilization truck and shoot liquid fertilizer deep into the roots of our significant trees. 

Recently, we had a construction project that required felling or relocating a couple of our historic trees. We enlisted our county arborist to help us determine the health of our trees and whether or not they could be relocated. Fortunately, we were able to move all but one, which had exceeded its life expectancy and was deemed not viable for transplant.

After we determined which of the trees got the axe (…literally), and which ones would be transplanted, our next step was to order the heavy equipment and tree spade needed to prep the new space with enriched soil.  This process is going to leave you with large mounds of earth that need to be backfilled into the holes where you removed the trees. Make sure you have your grounds crew at the ready with shovels and wheelbarrows. We ordered a second small Bobcat to help expedite the process. 

When the job was done, we had a list of questions for the arborist that might be helpful for anyone in a similar situation:

Visual Signs of Stress?  Other than leaves shriveling up and turning brown, ask if there are specific signs of stress or pest you should watch out for the first year after transplantation.

Irrigation?  After transplanting trees to a new location, find out how much water is needed for its survival. If the transplanting company does not supply watering bags, TreeGators are a great option to provide a constant, non-plumbed source of water. They are available in 15 and 20 gallon sizes and can be zipped together for larger trees. Keep in mind, during the summer larger trees may require well over 100 gallons a day.

Fertilization? If there is a fertilization contract for the trees on your estate like we have, that’s great, if not, ask your arborist about the proper mix and fertilization schedule throughout the year. 

Check Ups? Ask your arborist if you can schedule a follow up visit (or two) throughout the first year of the transplanting.

Your landscapes are often a visitor’s first impression of a property and the owner’s oasis. They deserve as much consideration and care as your properties building and interiors. A good crew and resources like a tree service and arborist are key to maintaining beautiful spaces for generations to enjoy.


Kimberly Varney

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