Making a Maple Forest

With Ken Goebel and Cynthia Williams

It’s Feb 15 and it’s time to repot the trident maple seedlings since they are beginning to leaf out in winter storage at 35-45 °F. The trees were stored in a detached, heated garage and low lighting under fluorescent lights since last October. There are 11 trident maples in a couple of nursery pots, and the old soil needed to be removed. The repotting operation took place in the garage so the transplant team wore appropriate clothing for the season.

Meet the team:

Photo 1

Photo 1 – The lovely and talented Cynthia May Williams hard at work cleaning the old soil gently off the roots with a chopstick.

Photo 2 – Wire meister Kenneth Goebel. A tuque was necessary to keep the head warm in order to think about how to place the trees.

The seedlings were pot bound and long stringy leader roots had wrapped around the inside of the nursery pots. These were pulled out carefully using a chopstick, so they could be cut off. As much as 50-60% of the roots can be trimmed off without damaging the maple trees and risking transplant failure. It is best to first remove the leader roots that have none or very little of fine feeder roots attached. It is the feeder roots that channel nutrients from the soil to the tree. We need to keep those.

Photo 2
Photo 4

Photo 4 (there is no photo 3) – After cleaning the old soil off of the roots and cutting off the leader roots, the 11 trident maple seedlings were placed on the worktable according to the desired arrangement in the forest planting.

The roots can be bare rooted if desired. We left a small amount of the old soil on, which contains micorrhizal fungi that help the feeder roots to extract micronutrients from the soil. Since the maples are aggressive root growers, this is not absolutely necessary, and the absence of micorrhizae can be tolerated during transplant recovery.

Next the seedlings were fastened in the chosen arrangement to a porous plastic mesh cut to the size of the pot in which the forest will be planted.

Photo 5

Photo 5 – The white plastic mesh screening is relatively stiff, and each tree was fastened to it with Aluminum wire by poking it through the holes and twisting it around the individual tree roots.

The seedlings were spread out, since maples need extra space for their fast growing roots. They were randomly placed with the taller trees and larger trunks more forward and to the center, while the smaller trees were placed more to the back and sides. Trees planted nicely in rows is not as aesthetically pleasing as random placement, so a random forest it became.

Photo 6

Photo 6 – A layer of fresh soil was placed flat in the shallow, rectangular pot. The plastic mesh with 11 trident maple seedlings was layered on top, and then more soil added on top of the mesh, to cover the trees’ roots and fill the remainder of the pot. The soil was pressed down into the mesh by hand.

A medium size granular soil designed for deciduous trees was formulated for the forest planting. It consisted mainly of a mix of pumice, scoria (red lava), and coco fiber peat, along with smaller quantities of turface, haydite and stalite. This gives a neutral soil with pH about 6.5-7.0, which most deciduous trees prefer. And with water retention and release properties such that it takes about 5 days for the soil to dry out before the next watering, give or take a day depending upon the ambient temperature and humidity.