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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Saturday - September 01, 2012

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Planting, Trees
Title: Disagreement on amending soil for planting from Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

In today's newspaper column, you answered a question about transplanting a redbud. You said to follow the instructions on the WFC web site, except you recommended adding compost to the backfill soil. As an arborist for 20 years, I have been taught repeatedly and consistently that amended backfill creates a challenge for the plant because disparate soil types drain at different rates, making it difficult for the new roots to transition from the planting hole into the native soil. Every research study I've seen backs this up. The International Society of Arboriculture continues to recommend unamended backfill when transplanting trees. So why did you alter these instructions for this situation?

ANSWER:

Here is the previous question you are referring to. You should know that we do not write those articles directly for the newspaper, but they are taken from our Ask Mr. Smarty Plants site. We get questions, quite literally, from all over the world, and we try to make our answers general enough that everyone can possibly use the information, but also specific enough to address the conditions at the place of origination of the question.

You are correct, the standard instructions, including that taught Master Gardeners, which I also am, is to put it in the hole and force the roots to live with it. I have been a Texas gardener for about 60 years, and I have found that living in dry, hot times has  caused me, personally, to change my tune on that. We deal, in Central Texas, with alkaline clay soil, and probably we should tell the baby trees to just "suck it up" as new military recruits are; however, we are noticing from the many questions we get that transplanting in the heat and without allowing for drainage frequently results in transplant shock. Since you can't very well go back and unplant a tree, and losing one is a big loss in resources, we don't think it can do any harm to coddle the baby tree a little bit. Mr. Smarty Plants by no means is the final word, we are just a team of volunteers that try to help inexperienced gardeners do the best they can, and we do that without ever seeing the gardener or the garden. Since you are a professional and obviously on the site where trees are being planted, you should certainly maintain your own standards, and we respect that. Most of our questions are from people who freely admit they are new or inexperienced or reluctant gardeners. There are no doubt soils in our territory, which is North America, that are ideal and you can just pop a new plant in the ground and it will flourish, but that is NOT in Central Texas.

 

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