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Shall I buy a big or small tree?

March 4, 2012

The market for big garden trees is large in Chiang Mai. People are keen on spending hundreds of thousands of Baht to get a woodland overnight, but not keen on spending 2000 Baht on a good tropical gardening book with advice that would save you a fortune. Luckily there is an article for free illustrating this problem: http://horttech.ashspublications.org/content/15/1/118.full.pdf

The conclusion of the pdf file above is that a cheaper young tree may catch up in size with a larger more expensive tree. I have exactly that experience from jacaranda; tiny seedlings catch up with 2 meter saplings.

My philosophy is to buy a small seedling, saving money, being assured of a healthy condition and feeling the pride of a parent when it grows. A lot of people can not wait and they consider trees to be garden furniture, not living beings.

A few trees can indeed be transplanted also when large, such as Ficus, Plumeria, Bauhinia and coconut, but not without care. Other species may be very difficult to move when large. The 6 months guarantee offered by the vendor sounds generous, but a tree may die over a period of 3-4 years so the vendor takes no risk and can always blame the buyer for insufficient care. In the pdf article above, 58% of transplanted red oaks (Quercus rubra) died within the first year. A reason for a death rate longer than six months is that a fungal rot takes time.

Important factors for the survival of your tree is: 1) age of the tree (the younger the better), 2) presence of damage or fungus 3) selection of soil and terrain (know the preferences of your tree and try to meet those, dig a generous hole and add the soil preferred) 4) selection of time of the year (avoid the hot dry season March-April and the soaking wet season August-September)  5) treatment (water frequently but avoid standing water, shade it) 6) origin (buying rain forest trees such as mangosteen and durian and planting them in full sun here in the dry Chiang Mai is very risky, and so is planting a gorgeous inland tree by the coast where it may succumb to salt intolerance). A basic requirement is to know the scientific name of the tree so that you can retrieve information about it. Do not use a dictionary but a proper flora. If a vendor gives you a name, compare with pictures to make sure he is right.

The principle for transplanting a tree is that you cut some roots first, wrap the root ball and then cut the remaining roots when the previously cut roots start making new root tips. The tree will then be moved to the nursery and kept on the ground. On the ground the root ball dries out quicker which prevents root rot, which is a crucial problem when planted in the soil again. The transportation itself may cause injuries to the bark allowing for pathogenic fungi. The root damage is also a door to fungi and the drought stress in the nursery, sometimes lasting for months and years, may cause drying out of branches which may become bridgeheads for invading fungi.

Good luck!

Eric Danell

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. David Cooke permalink
    March 4, 2012 1:24 AM

    I can only agree wholeheartedly. However I have lost customers when I tried to suggest buying smaller trees. 20 000 Baht trees look good,they either die slowly or don’t grow at all for years, in which time they would have been overtaken by trees that were initially much smaller. Architects are the worse, they want a nice photo for their files.

    • March 4, 2012 9:46 AM

      Yes, the big trees look attempting and appeal to those without much of gardening/farming/biological experience. When you say it is hard to make a large tree thrive, a client may think you do not know enough, while in fact this is experience and sense speaking. Showing this pdf file and stating such a high mortality in the first year may make the client think again.

      Good luck!

      Eric

  2. March 4, 2012 1:33 AM

    “Garden furniture.” Funny!

  3. March 4, 2012 7:31 AM

    Thanks for this post, Eric. I assembled a magnificent palm garden of more than 500 species in Puna, on Hawaii Island, and rarely spent more than US$20 on any plant because i bought them small. That way I could afford rare species, some of them even undescribed.

    • March 4, 2012 9:40 AM

      That sounds wonderful! Ketsanee and I need to go to Hawaii. Over the years we have made so many friends from there. Your garden sounds like a must see – well done!

      Eric

  4. March 5, 2012 5:09 AM

    Sadly, I had to sell that property. That said, you and Ketsanee should visit Hawaii. There are many superb gardens here, on several islands. The U.S. National Tropical Botanical Garden, a germplasm repository for tropical species, is located on the island of Kauai. The island of Oahu, the most populous island, has five or six botanical gardens in environments from wet tropical to xeric. The island of Hawaii (the Big Island) is home to the bulk of Hawaii’s horticultural industry, and many sophisticated plant people maintain incredible gardens there. It was my home for more than thirty years, and I can connect you with members of the island Palm Society there. You will not be disappointed. Also, Oscar, who is a subscriber to your blog lives within a stone’s throw of my old place and runs a tropical fruit business there. I bet he would help you when you visit, as well. my old place is still there and in fair shape. You could still visit, I think. By the time you visit, my wife and I will have probably moved to Chaiyaphum or Khonkaen, where I will start over with plants. I intend to visit your garden when we do.

    In Thailand, you must be familiar with Nong Nooch Garden, in Pattaya. Mainly, it’s a resort for foreign tourists, but I understand the plant collection is world class. The owner, Kampon Tansacha, visited Hawaii Island with two botanist employees when I was there, and because of my position in the Palm Society, I visited many gardens and nurseries with the three of them. I’m not sure about Kuhn Kampon, but the botanists knew their stuff, and Kampon bought everything in sight. He is also known to buy absolutely the rarest stuff all over the world, and he runs a major commercial nursery. I think a lot of his best smaller stuff is in greenhouses and shade houses, out of public view. In my view the plantings in the public gardens are in curious taste, but many of the specimens themselves are exceptional. You are no doubt much more knowledgeable than I am, so maybe you wouldn’t be as I was, but i do know palms and cycads, and I think that those collections are worth a look. If you can connect with Kuhn Kampon, you might get a tour with somebody who knows the collection. I did.

    Aloha,
    Ken

    • March 5, 2012 11:39 AM

      Thanks a lot for the advice and suggestions, and most welcome here when the time is suitable 🙂

      Yes, Nong Noch is fascinating and the botanical manager is another Swede, Anders Lindström. You are correct that the valuable parts of the collection is private and hidden from the public. Dokmai Garden is minute in comparison, a family home and passion, but enough species to keep a visitor busy for a week. Our specialty is to chit chat with visitors so that they learn something (and we too).

      Cheers, Eric

  5. March 5, 2012 3:15 PM

    Yes, Anders was one of the biologists who visited Hawaii with Kampon. I remember him counting leaf pairs on a large cycad frond. The other botanist was Michael Ferrero, but I don’t think he’s with Nong Noch now.

    What you do with Dokmai Garden sounds terrific. Passion makes great things happen.

    Aloha,
    Ken

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