Oak Work Update

March 05, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

About five years ago I decided to do some work on a Chinkapin oak in my front yard. My yard has two Chinkapin oaks, both apparently planted at the same time, before I bought the house in 2002. The one on the north side of the driveway was growing significantly faster than the one on the south side, which seemed to be languishing. Upon investigation, I realized it had some significant issues, relating to errors that occurred at the time of planting. Roots were extending east and west, but not north and south, with the result that the tree rocked back and forth in the wind. Excavating the roots revealed some other issues.

This post revisits the work I did and includes updated pictures showing progress.

Quercus muehlenbergii from northQuercus muehlenbergii from northThis tree came with the house I bought in 2002. Unfortunately, there were some issues with this tree, and I set about diagnosing the problem. Last year I concluded it was planted too low and had potentially strangling roots. Here you see the result of my efforts to jack it up last year. The tree has responded by thickening, especially where it is in contact with the brick. The boards will eventually rot. I will periodically monitor activity around the brick, and remove it when the tree has grown enough to not need its support. I may also leave it. I can't think of a reason it would be harmful to the tree there.

This picture shows the tree about a year after I jacked it up. I had placed wood and bricks under the jacked up tree.

Nearly 5 years later, the brick is still there but the wood has rotted away.

View from SouthView from SouthThis southerly view shows clearly the section I excised from the wrap-around root. There are new roots growing toward the east and toward the south. I will nurture that small root heading south. It may eventually turn into a major root for this tree.

You can't really see this very well, but the cut root closest to the camera has built up a callus where it is in contact with the brick. This helps to firm up the tree's anchorage. Unfortunately, there are no new roots growing from this cut root.

To the left is a picture showing where a section of root was excised. The two roots going to the right are on the east side of the tree. The nearer one is actually the root that was severed. It had grown over a lower root and grafted to it. My plan in 2011 was to take out that section of root and graft a seedling to the stub on the left, the south side. The problem the tree had was that there were no roots growing to the north or south. Grafting the seedling was intended to remedy this problem. In retrospect, I should have used an older plant with a longer root, but I didn't have one at the time.

The brick you see here is opposite the one seen in the picture above. I jacked up the tree by using the trunk as a lever, rocking it back and forth, each time scooting the bricks further under their side of the tree. In all, I think I elevated the tree 5-6 inches this way.

Southeasterly view of graftSoutheasterly view of graftAnother view of the graft -- also a good view of the callus on both sections of severed root.

The seedling is approach grafted. For the first attempt, shown here, I simply wrapped the join with tape. That did not actually work, I suspect mainly because of the tree rocking back and forth from the wind.

Here you see the graft a couple years later. I redid the graft by first making fresh cuts, then nailing the seedling in place and wrapping in parafilm. Another issue with the tree involves the roots on the far side. They are crossing each other, which is not a good thing. It's not as bad as it could be because they're fairly far apart. That top root arches completely out of the ground now that the tree is jacked up. It was underground before I jacked up the tree. I'm thinking that in a year or to I may switch those roots' positions, severing them both and reattaching them so that they don't cross. I'm not doing that now because the tree is actually finally solid, and it looks like that arching root is primarily responsible for the tree's stability.

South view of approach graftSouth view of approach graftUsing a gouge blade on my Exacto knife, I removed a section of wood from the cut root. I also removed a thin layer of bark from the adjoining portion of the sapling. I tied it securely with green tape and then wrapped that with parafilm (not pictured).

Front view of the graft. The small right to the right of the cut came from another plant and was removed.

Several years later, the seedling has grown up and branched out. I expect that as it continues to grow, it will thicken substantially more below the graft than above it. We already see a hint of this, but on the other hand, seedlings also show the same feature as you can see in the left picture.

View from EastView from EastFrom this view you can see how the roots are really parallel to each other, offering very little north/south support. You can see bricks under the tree both on the north side and the south side, and a board on the east side.

Side view of the graft site before the graft was made. This view is interesting because it shows more clearly than other views how much the tree has grown. Note the thickness of the roots compared to the size of the space between them.

To stabilize the tree I pounded a steel stake into the ground and held the tree with a wire. The tree grew over the wire, and when the wire broke, I added a rope. Today I removed the rope and cut off the wire. The tree is very solid now.


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