Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Learn from my mistakes...please!

Ok, they weren't all my mistakes. But the red twig dogwood was. It looked great year round. It thrived. But it was a bully and before long there was no root space left in the container for anything else. And while a mass of spreading red twig dogwood might be a good thing in Central Park, in a container overlooking said park it is not necessarily welcome. What a root mass! After a half hour of digging, chopping, sawing, and rocking, the heart of the red twig lost its fight.

That was just the beginning. The arborvitae hedge had outgrown its containers as well. This was NOT my mistake, since the 15' trees predated my arrival as gardener more than 10 years ago. I tried to convince my clients to replace them with a slower growing (and more beautiful) species, but alas, they wanted more arborvitae. I tell myself that when this hedge needs replacing I will be long gone.

We started by limbing the trees and sawing off most of the main truck, leaving enough to act as a lever. Digging out the primary root ball was difficult. If we hadn't had to preserve the custom made stainless steel containers, we could have worked more quickly.

How to describe the dull thud of spade blade against unyielding root mass? Once the trees were removed, we thought it would be easy to remove the old soil. But no. There was no old soil. Instead there was a thick and intricate mat of arborvitae root.

Because our prying ability was limited (remember, we had to preserve the containers) we were reduced to sawing and chopping, sawing and chopping, removing pieces of iron-hard root mass, bit by bit. It took longer than getting the trees out, but after several hours we were triumphant. Planting the new trees in fresh soil was a piece of cake.

Many thanks to Mimi and Mark for their focused and strong work.

In containers, as in traditional gardens, you always need to consider the ultimate size of your plants, especially with woodies. Resist temptation to make the garden look established right from the start...unless your clients demand otherwise. And promise me you'll never, EVER, plant a red twig in a container!


Frank said...

I remember spending half a day chopping an ancient maple out of a 5 foot wide tub on a rooftop somewhere in Manhattan. Miserable, but at least our tub was wood!

SaraGardens said...

I just dug a bunch of dead Hakonechloa out of a front planter - how something so dead could be so rooted and fierce, I have no idea. My heart is with you & your team. (I blame the irrigation AND whoever dumped leftover subsoil into that container during the backyard reno, and I blame them with a black and vengeful heart - like your arborvitae, it was before my time, but it is Very Bad And Wrong nonetheless.)

Those stainless containers, it must be said, are glorious. And I'd love to know what your dream replacement would be for arborvitae... 'cuz I'm pretty sure I want that (and I will totally teach it on Wednesday to my container students!)

Also feel compelled to say nice things about some of the midget red-twig types... less sucker-ish. Also having great luck with known-to-sucker Clethra in containers, btw. I do have a plan to manage it, but quite honestly, you are a far better manager than I am.

Also, you edible gardener, some blueberry cvs. have more ferociously red stems than others... next time something falters on that particular terrace...

meemsnyc said...

Wow, thanks for writing this. Good to know.

Marie said...

That is hard work.

I have growly feelings about arbor vitae too :-)

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