As always, I am starting a few tree seeds this winter. Most plants sold in the market economy are root bound to force top growth. It sells well because customers can “see” a bigger plant. In most potting instructions, the general rule is 2/3 top growth to 1/3 root ball. This produces top growth quickly but requires a lot of care to overcome the root ball’s inability to support the top growth.
If I intend for the young plant to be planted outside, I approach their growth from a different direction. I want enough top growth to identify the species but I use a large, deep pot to allow root growth that is several times larger than the top growth. This is a natural growth pattern in dry woodland, where a tree seed sprouts and pushes its root system as deep and wide as it can manage the first year. The second year the tree needs more top growth to support additional root growth. Natural trees from seed develop a deep tap root that pulls both water and nutrients from deep in the ground and anchors the tree in high winds. I plant these seedlings while they are still small before they are root bound.
Trees in the market economy are frequently rooted tree limbs, which never develop a true tap root. Under weather stress, they die. High winds blow them over because they have surface feeder roots that will not hold the superstructure against the force of the wind.
During drought, there is no taproot to go deep for water. These trees must be watered to live. A large tree can lose 2 thousand gallons a day from its leaves. This evapotranspiration literally sucks water up through the roots like a straw.
This is the mechanism that has trees be a major factor in the water cycle. It is the conduit between soil water and clouds. Clouds drop rain back to the earth and it waters living plants as it percolates back down to groundwater. Trees bring the water back to the surface and to the atmosphere. This is part of a circular economy… Break the circle and lush land becomes desert. Desertification is a worldwide problem because most are poor caretakers of land.
I plant trees.
My Food Forest has pinyons and junipers. These drought resistant trees have tap roots that dive as much as 200 feet into the ground… for a top structure of around 30 feet. After 11 years of terrible drought, many of our pinyons have died of pine bark beetle infestation. The drought stressed trees are weakened to the point they die from a pest that normally does not get out of hand.
This is a wet year, so the trees not only grew, but produced seed. Wet years are good years to plant trees and shrubs and hope for success.
So when I start tree seeds in large pots, I am allowing them to develop a healthy taproot that can reach down about 14 inches and which is headed straight for water. Unlike a large potted tree from the market economy that barely has 14 inches of mass roots, none of which are a tap root. In dry periods those roots need daily water to support the superstructure because they are six feet or less deep for a large tree. A tiny seedling adds superstructure as needed to support healthy root growth.
I hear people say… but I want a BIG tree! I laugh, because by its third year a seedling tree has outgrown the cutting tree. Ten years later it can withstand higher winds and more drought. Think about this when high winds drop a large tree on your house and the roots are shallow. This is common in Dallas, Texas where full size trees that were originally potted tree limbs are 40 feet tall and falling on houses in big storms. They just don’t have the root structure needed to support the tree.
If you do plant a tree with underdeveloped roots from the market economy, use deep watering stakes to encourage the deepest root growth.
So I have a 14″ tall pot growing my seedling trees. Once planted, they will be fine until the soil is dry to 14″ and will already be racing down for more water.
I commend the National Arbor Day Foundation for selling mostly seedlings. If planted properly, they have a better chance of a long, healthy life.
Here is a photo of my 5 acres in the back. It goes from the bare slash to the top of the hill on the right. This is taken from the gravel road, and also shows part of the wildlife corridor that these hills represent. It is not a huge area, just a corridor left mostly to wildlife. I do not want my house at the top like a pasha, the corridor is very small already.
This spot is between the enclosing hills on the opposite side and these on my side. There is no creek or river, but about a mile to the north (left) the runoff makes a pond. There are six more acres to the left of the barren swatch that I would like to own for a pond. This is about 7500 ft to 8000 ft above sea level.
This was already a mature Food Forest with the pinyon nut trees as its base. I am merely enriching it with additional food plants.
Bottom center is an Elderberry that I planted last year. It is doing well so I planted more this year. They are doing well so far but do not have the north protection this one has. I nested it into an open edge, much like trees grow naturally. It had a few flowers and berries this summer. I got a handful before wildlife got them all. If I can keep six small trees alive, I am good. I should have sprouted the berries in hand… but… berries! Straight from hand to mouth.