This sling would go under the
root ball to lift the tree.
Cercis canadensis ‘Covey’
(Eastern redbud)
The variegated pine needles
All done! I think it looks
pretty good, don’t you?

The day started off as a day like any other; it was clear and nice as we began our horticultural duties. Carrington Flatness, another intern on the horticulture staff, took a turn at the Toro Dingo, a walk-behind skid-steer machine, and carried an Eastern redbud up to the great lawn. Once there, Rodney came out and showed Montana Williams (another intern), Carrington, and me how to measure and plant a ball-and-burlap tree. In the process of digging out the grasses to make room for the redbud, one of us cut the irrigation line! This was just the start of our misfortunes during this day. I’m about to tell you all about how not to plant a large ball-and-burlap pine. For those of you who don’t know, a ball-and-burlap tree is a tree that has been grown in a field nursery row, dug up with the soil intact, and then wrapped with burlap and tied with twine.

Pine trees are unique because they typically have about four good roots, and then the rest of the root ball will be loose soil. This makes them especially hard to transplant because they will fall apart if the job is not done properly. In our case, it was not done properly. There are many different ways to plant a tree. Sometimes it all depends on how you transport the tree. For instance, earlier in the day we helped plant a redbud (Cercis canadensis)  that was transported by using a sling on the dingo. With the sling, we cut off the metal cage and twine; then it was a very simple process to pick up the tree and slowly lower it into the hole. If you are not using a sling, then getting the tree into the hole is a whole different story.
Now I begin my tale of how not to plant a variegated pine ball-and-burlap tree. The tree of interest is the Burke’s red variegated pine. To start off, horticulturist Will Bridges, Director of Horticulture Rodney Easom, and Montana took a little bit of time to get the heavy variegated pine onto the Dingo. It eventually was put on at an angle and strapped into place to ensure that it wouldn’t come sliding off on its road trip up to the entrance of the Haney Hillside Garden. As we found out later, you never cut off the twine or metal basket of a tree until it is in the hole. That was our first mistake; the second was trying to slide the tree off the Dingo into the hole. Although we thought our plan would work, we were sadly mistaken. In our attempt to slide the pine, it came off the Dingo with a thud, sideways. We now had a horizontal pine tree!
Montana, Carrington, and I tried for 30 minutes to get this tree to stand up straight. But it was like trying to pick up an elephant, darned near impossible! Finally we had to ask humbly for help in fixing our little mistake. It took another 30 minutes, but Will and horticulturist Dick Zieg were innovative in their methods to coax the tree upright. It was a victory, but not for long. The tree, in all our struggles, had ended up about a foot too high in the ground, but the day was over and we went home feeling satisfied that we had at least made some progress.

The next day, with Rodney’s help, we were able to get the sling around the variegated pine’s root ball and attach it to the Dingo, where we could then lift it and excavate underneath to lower the hole in which the roots would be buried. It was now a simple process to lower the pine back into the hole and then pack in the soil around it. The pine was in and straight! We stood back and looked at our accomplishment. Although the tree was in, we had managed to destroy some of the patch of evening primrose sundrops (Oenothera). We evened out what was left of the patch and mulched around our pine. Although it took much more effort than it should have, I think it turned out okay and the variegated pine will look lovely in its chosen spot. Although the mistake made for a difficult and interesting day, I learned a lot about planting ball-and-burlap trees and will not make those mistakes again. So, when planting a very heavy ball-and-burlap pine tree, never cut anything until your tree is in the hole, never drop the tree, use a sling if possible, and always have someone there who will be able to creatively help if you make a mistake.

Kristin Neill