Plants almost always suffer if they are close to the area where you are installing a stonework project. Not only does most stonework require some excavation, it also adds tremendous concentrated weight to the underlying soil. Nearby roots are likely to be damaged while you’re working.
Ninety percent of a plant’s feeder roots are in the top foot of soil – the area most often disturbed by stonework. Although some controversy exists about where a plant’s primary feeder roots are located in relation to the trunk, horticulturists agree that compacting or severing a plant’s roots can temporarily reduce vitality or trigger a gradual decline.
Create a temporary holding bed for any plants that are in the way or might get damaged during installation. You can safely move many plants, even several species of mature trees. But before you start digging, do some research. Several variables affect a plant’s ability to survive transplanting and temporary relocation, including soil type, plant species, time of year, general health, lead time, access and your capacity to provide care both in a temporary holding area and after the plant is permanently replanted. In the case of large plants, the cost to move them is a significant factor, too. Under the right conditions you can move an 80-foot-tall tree, but it will cost thousands of dollars.
If you need help evaluating whether a plant will survive, consult with a landscaper, arborist or grower who is knowledgeable about the species you want to move and has experience moving mature plants.
Coddle Displaced Plants. Many species of plants can survive in temporary locations for several years if they have good care. Regardless of your relocation method, keep the plants out of the wind and give them similar or less exposure to sunlight than they had in their former location. They will need more water than normal, especially if they are out of the ground or only partially re-planted. Some species, such as those with high moisture requirements or coarse root systems, may benefit from being cut back to minimize transplant shock. Check with a knowledgeable landscaper to learn whether this is a good preventive measure for your plants.
Dig the plants in the late afternoon or on a cloudy day to reduce the stress they’ll experience. After digging, to give them a temporary home, you can
- Set them on the ground in a shady spot. Wrap the rootballs in burlap. Cover rootballs with a thick layer of mulch to shield them from sun and wind, and to retain moisture. Use bark mulch, wood shavings, hay, horse manure mixed with bedding, or evergreen boughs for mulch. Water daily or as needed.
- Partially or completely replant your plants in another location. If you partially replant them, cover the exposed portion of the rootball with mulch.
- Pot the plants. You might have difficulty finding a pot large enough for a tree, but many shrubs can fit into a half-barrel or other large container.
To save sod for future replanting, use a square-edged shovel to cut it into manageable pieces. Although you can roll up larger pieces if soil adheres to the roots, 18-inch squares are manageable for most people. Undercut the sod with 1 1/2 inches of soil. To save the sod, place it on bare ground that has been at least lightly cultivated, fertilize it lightly and water thoroughly. Continue to provide supplemental watering if rainfall is less than 1 inch a week.
Working Around Mature Trees and Shrubs
Large earthmoving equipment compacts the soil and breaks roots. This alone can kill some plants. To distribute the load from heavy equipment, lay down planks where the equipment will be used. Depending on the disruption to plants on the site, provide preventive or remediation care. Water the plants, divert excess water from the area and fertilize as needed. Wrap furniture-moving pads around tree trunks to protect the bark from impact.
If your excavation comes within 10 feet of a large plant’s drip line, you will sever some roots. To reduce shock and minimize stress, cover the ends of exposed roots with mulch, apply a root stimulant either prior to or after excavation and provide supplemental water. You may be able to purchase a small amount of root stimulant from a nursery stock grower. Watering plants with a diluted seaweed solution can also help them recover from severed roots.
Changing The Grade
Adding or removing soil around a plant can affect the plant’s vigor. How much change in grade a plant can tolerate depends on the plant’s general health and its adaptability. For example, soft maples tolerate dramatic increases in grade, but sugar maples do not. Consult a professional to learn how to improve the chances that mature plant will survive any changes you make.
Altering Natural Watercourses
When you divert water away from stonework or install drainage, you’re changing the patterns of natural watercourses. Plants in the area have adapted to these watercourses and may suffer from the changes you’ve made. Monitor plants that are downhill from areas where you have diverted groundwater or rainfall runoff. Provide supplemental water if plants show signs of stress. Signs of stress include slowed growth rate, change in foliage texture or color, earlier onset of dormancy and increased pest infestation.
I hope this has armed you with the information you need to successfully protect your plants during your next stonework project. Your comments are always appreciated. If you found this post useful we would be very grateful if you shared it via the social media buttons on the left.