View Full Version : Move the bigger sapling or save the weaker one?

08-05-2014, 11:22 AM
I finally convinced someone they needed a large item from my yard, and now I have an empty spot. Courtesy of a neighbor's tree, I have 2 volunteer northern catalpas growing in this area. Normally I remove volunteer saplings before they reach an unwieldy size, but due to the large item I couldn't get to them. I would be planting a tree in this area anyway, and I've always had a fondness for catalpas (yeah, I know many people consider them to be giant weeds, but they're the largest shade trees with showy flowers that grow in this area, and at full maturity they have about a week where they're really spectacular) so I figured I'd keep one of the saplings.

Here's the thing. One of the saplings is already perfectly spaced in line with the other trees, near an area vacated by a departed elm. This sapling is about a foot tall and while it looks reasonably healthy, rather scraggly. The other sapling is less conveniently located (out of line with the other trees, not that they have to be perfectly lined up/spaced, but more importantly too close to the house) but much taller, about 3 feet, straighter, and, well, prettier. I don't know if it is bigger because it is older (I honestly can't remember how long each of the saplings have been there, at least a year), or if it is generally healthier, or if it just likes the inconvenient location.

I don't think I should leave the larger sapling in its current location, but I'm undecided whether I should dig up the smaller one and transplant the bigger one to that spot (taking the chance that it doesn't survive the move) or just sacrifice the bigger one and hope the smaller one thrives. I've had some experience transplanting trees, but my success rate has been oh, maybe 50%, and I've never tried transplanting a sapling with a long taproot as a catalpa is supposed to have.

What would those of you who actually are good at this sort of thing suggest?

08-05-2014, 12:14 PM
Could you move the larger one near the smaller one, and plan to remove one later, after you see how both are doing?

08-05-2014, 12:19 PM
Switch the two, see which one thrives, and if it's the currently small one, replace the currently big one with it.

More seriously, you should probably do a little digging to see if there's a reason why the lesser one is lesser. Transplanting the bigger one there might just kill it if there's something wonky going on underground. If it's just the runt of the litter because that's how life deals the cards, then you can just transplant, but if turns out to be planted over a sunken '57 Buick, you've got bigger problems.

Note: Not a gardener.

08-05-2014, 12:21 PM
leave the smaller one.

kill or move the larger one.

if you need more then you can get them, they are a weed tree.

08-05-2014, 12:24 PM
You know, I considered trying something like that, but I was afraid that the subsequent digging up of the reject would end up damaging the roots of the tree I wanted to save...I suppose saplings wouldn't have much root spread?

08-05-2014, 12:27 PM
I've had a little experience transplanting trees -- mostly Doug firs, which might be a little hardy than catalpas. I think Ethilrist has a good point: see if you can figure out if the smaller one is in bad dirt or growing above rock. If not, I'd say keep the smaller one, fertilize and water it properly, and remove the bigger one. Good luck.

08-05-2014, 12:28 PM
Oh, sorry, I was answering ZenBeam and didn't see the other replies.

Yeah, I wanted to get various thoughts on this, so I appreciate any responses. (And yes, if this doesn't work, I can easily get more, at no charge.) (And I will look around for that Buick.)

08-05-2014, 12:41 PM
At this size, I don't see a problem with moving either sapling. I'd be hesitant to do it now, though... this is the hottest part of the year and the time when it is most stressful. In fact, you might be advised to wait until next spring after the last chance for freezing has passed. (That said, I'm not an expert on that type of tree or your area; some are more forgiving than others).

Do investigate the soil around the smaller sapling. Are there big rocks, buried debris, poor soil etc. that would cause a problem?

And I like the idea that some people have for moving the bigger one and leaving the small one, then seeing how they do. That gives you time to make a final decision on which one is healthiest.

08-06-2014, 03:53 AM
That mysterious "large item" that was removed from your yard -- was it a big tree that sucked up all the ground water from these saplings? Or something that overshadowed them and reduced their access to sunlight?

If so, do nothing for at least a year, and see how these saplings do freed of that.

08-06-2014, 05:41 AM
Our Japanese Maples occasionally reproduce, so I've moved dozens. I don't remember ever killing one. I take moderate care and transition them into a pot for a season, eventually giving them as gifts.

08-06-2014, 10:03 AM
Our Japanese Maples occasionally reproduce, so I've moved dozens. I don't remember ever killing one. I take moderate care and transition them into a pot for a season, eventually giving them as gifts.

I am trying to imagine how thrilled my family and friends would be to receive pots of silver maples, walnut trees, & mulberry bushes. You just got yourself a classier kind of volunteer tree there.:)

The mysterious large unwanted item was one of those concrete table/bench sets, heavy as a mother, left behind by a tenant who insisted she'd be back for it (10 years ago), in a spot accessible (because it required either a front end loader or a lot of strong guys & a trailer) only through the neighbor's back yard.

Anyway, thank you to everyone who chimed in on this (admittedly not earth shattering) question. Right now I'm thinking I'm going to go ahead and dig up the smaller sapling, which will give me a chance to poke around in the dirt and see if there are any obstructions. Then once the bigger one goes into dormancy, I'll go ahead and chance moving it.