1. Cut away old tree trunk smothering tree. 2. Dig out old roots and contaminated soil. 3. Mix amendments with soil from elsewhere in yard, and refill.
Our old Purple-Leaf Plum tree has struggled since before we lived here. It marks the old fence line from the 1940’s, before the City granted an easement on an old access road expanding the yard in the 1970’s or 80’s. The tree had grown under or too near the fence and was cut away by the City, but regrew out from under its dead self when the fence line expanded. It ramps up at a hard angle, then rises straight enough. It has struggled with leaf blight of the shotgun variety for the 9 years I’ve been her care-taker. I’ve done the spring emergent spraying for years, cleared the ground of any surface contaminants, pruning back, food spikes, watering deep with a plunge rod; and every year she diminishes a little bit more.
Over the holiday weekend we had an employee of a local garden shop offer to come over and have a look at her. He recommended immediate surgery to remove the entire tumor of the old dead tree trunk, warning that it could reveal unrecoverable issues- in which case we would need to bring her down and plant anew.
This is my only before image of the tree, from a few years back when Stanley was still with us. The ivy was all the way up into the branches when we moved in, and here has grown up again over the dead stump that the tree grows out from under- with a dead low branch flying Frylock the Dragon skull to the right. I’ve also pruned her.
Last fall I cut back the old stump about 20″, revealing a choked collar of living tree under the high end of the stump. Now I removed about 4 feet of remaining stump. Surgical Tools: Chainsaw, Sawzall, Hatchet, Pickaxe, Adz, and large woodcarving scoop blade to remove 90% of the strangling stump. I’ll get the last 10% when my arms / hands recover from all the impact work.
The white trunk is a medicinal/antifungal/insect repellant/sunblock I added this spring- it marks the newly revealed massive choke point where the old dead trunk had been. (Last fall’s same job went about 20″ up the white tree to the first knot at the shadow line, this area is squeezed a bit flat, and collapses inward on the other side.) I’ve opened a large triage area around the tree, removing dead old roots encrusted with white fungal infected bark. All of that root mass and soil was wheelbarrowed away.
This is a living root that spanned over the old dead trunk and taproot, all removed. I have backfilled the hole about three feet at this point. To the upper right of the living root is more dead trunk that I have been carving out with a large woodcarving scoop (from back in the days when I sculpted in large wood). It is a mess of boring larvae. My arms get splattered with their goo as I carve away their nest. Wasps have been swarming in to eat the exposed larvae.
I watered this area a few times since cutting away the trunk, so the concrete/clay “soil” would be soft enough to move without a pickaxe. This allowed me to shovel around and find the living vs the dead roots, and plunge down three or more feet. I mixed up 4 gallons of root-growth-promoter & water, and poured it in as I added the new soil. The new soil is created by blending many bags of Oakdell Egg Farms Organic Compost (25lbs) with Basin’s Best Organic Soil Enhancer: Gypsum / Compost / Humates (8lbs) and mix this 50/50 with native soil from elsewhere in the yard. The land here is all the old lake bottom of Lake Bonneville, and is a sterile sodium and clay and mineral dead zone. The gypsum bonds the sodium and allows moisture to be absorbed by the roots; even when the ground is wet, moisture is bound in the clay by the sodium and not available to the roots. This soil amendment permanently changes the hardpan soil to a rich aerated moisture retaining humus. Plus I added in Dr. Earth Fertilizer and liquified worm castings.
I’ve done the same soil triage for 11 new plants and a few more established plants, making entire areas of new deep bedding, nearly going through 300# of compost and 100# of Enhancer. E and I continued on up to Layton after the grand opening of the Farmington Nature Center to J&J Tree Nursery (we had been there for the Labor Day sale, for the first time- great place!) for another round of 300# of compost and 100# of enhancer, and their after Labor Day 70% off sale made Dr. Earth fertilizer and worm castings affordable. Soil amendment will go to all the established plants around the yard, creating a new top layer as well as using a post hole digger to drop deep wells of soil, which should alleviate most of the hardships in the garden.
Still more triage to go, but the day has heated into the 90’s with 5% humidity (that’s about 105-110 in full sun), so I water down the new soil that fully covers the living roots.