Thursday, 18 June 2009

'Cloning' Aspen Trees

On our small acreage we have a spot where there used to be trees, but there isn't. When this house was being built (by the previous owners), a section of the aspen poplar trees was graded away, probably to make the septic field. Other than this ~25 ft long section, the rest of our acreage is ringed with these aspen trees. We refer to the place with no trees as 'the gap.'

We have attempted to fill 'the gap' with tre
es in a couple of ways already. First, we tried to dig up some little aspen trees from elsewhere on the acreage and re-plant them. This didn't work, because, as we found out when we dug them up, they don't have individual taproots. Instead the new little trees emerge from the buried roots of bigger trees. So these uprooted little trees died in short order, even when we managed to dig one out.

Our second try was to buy some pre-rooted seedlings from a tre
e seedling company last summer. These were bare-root saplings that were each about 1 1/2 - 2 feet high. We planted five of these aspen saplings in 'the gap' at the same time as we were planting about 20 other small trees (maple and spruce) from the same company all around our place. Well, it turned out to be pretty much impossible to keep up with the watering on all of these trees. (I don't recommend planting this many trees at once unless you have someone at home who can commit to watering them as often as they need it, which was pretty much every day.) We did keep them alive for a few months, but then the deer nibbled the tender tops off, and later the neighbor mowed over the property line and took one tree down to about three inches. Even that one lived for a little while, but this year it is quite dead. One of those five trees has leafed out a little bit this Spring, so there may be some hope for it.

I would love to just go out and buy some 10 ft tall aspen trees to fill in the gap, but that gets expensive. The nurseries also tend to stock more 'decorative' varieties than this one, so chances are trees from a nursery wouldn't really look right in the gap anyway. So, when I found this "rootpot cloning" system, I decided to give that a try instead.

First, we picked out 10 trees that looked healthy and were not too big and not too small. Then, I
followed the instructions as best I could and used a paring knife to cut a small ringed section of bark out of the tree stem - this is called the 'wound,' apparently. Some rooting gel goes on this 'wound' to encourage roots to emerge from it. Next, I dunked the folding rootpot into some water, to fill the reservoir at the bottom of the pot. Then I put the folding rooting pot around the tree stem and clicked it shut. In went the moist, soil-less potting mixture, while taking care not to wipe off all the rooting gel from around the 'wound.' Then I put on the dark stickers, to keep the light from the newly growing roots. Finally, I topped the pot off with its dark colored lid. Once a week I add water to the reservoir with a syringe - this part has proved the most challenging so far since the place to put the syringe is so small, but I have managed it. (But I'm not looking forward to it when there are tons of ants and mosquitoes around!)

According to the rootpot people, in about 8 weeks there will be a rootball formed in the rootpot which, when severed from the rest of the tree will give me a free-standing sapling equivalent to one that is about four years old (3 - 4 feet high). I can then plant these ten sapling 'clones' in the gap, all for a total investment of about $30 dollars and a few hours of my time. The stems of the trees I lop off in 8 weeks should regrow other branches, maybe even with some kind of topiary effect. So I am not killing any trees in the process, which is good - I want more trees, not fewer.

I'm quite excited about this whole process, and I'm really looking forward to having 'the gap' filled in at last. There is something about an unfinished circle that makes me want to try and complete it, somehow.


Eco Yogini said...

wow super cool! I had no idea this was possible. I guess the "gap" is a good example of just how precious trees are and how long they can take to regrow. :) I'm looking forward to seeing the "clones"!

Theresa said...

Neat, hey? I was blown away by the idea when I saw the rooting pots in the Lee Valley catalogue. I sure hope it works!

Apple Jack Creek said...

I knew that had to be a Lee Valley widget!

What a cool idea. We have some saskatoon bushes around here that might be candidates for this treatment ... I will anxiously await the results of your experiment!

Theresa said...

AJC - any woody-stemmed plant is apparently a candidate for these rootpots, so saskatoons should fit the bill nicely! Those Lee Valley folks sure are creative - every time Iook through their catalogue I say "what a good idea" every couple of minutes! Some of their stuff is a bit pricey, but these rooting pots weren't.

SoapBoxTech said...

Nice. I hope this works well. If not you might want to consider transplanting useful bushes instead. My guess is there's something in the soil now that the aspens don't care for but that you might find raspberries or currants or something just adore.

The cloning is very cool tho and something I have been meaning to look into.

Peace and comfort.

Shari said...

That's a fascinating idea. Thanks for including the photos or I know I couldn't have imagined what it looked like.

BTW, it's very dry here in Oklahoma this summer too.

Theresa said...

Hi Shari - thanks for coming by and taking the time to comment. :) It is an interesting contraption! It is too soon to tell if it's working yet (i.e., no new roots visible) but in another month or so I should have some idea!