Root, soil connection essential for transplant's success

: My neighbor is getting rid of his two Italian cypress trees and my husband offered to dig them up and transplant them into our yard. They are about 8-9 feet tall and do show a bit of browning. Is it worth the effort of transplanting them or will they not take the stress? If we do dig them up, how far out to we dig?

A: The chances of success for a transplant, if the trees have been in the ground for about three years, are pretty marginal under the best circumstances. If you are going to do it, you should try it now although the best time is probably fall. You will need to take as much of the root system as you possibly can and the soil with it, intact, if possible.

When I have moved trees by hand in the past, I first dry out the soil around the tree. This helps to hold the soil around the roots and keep it from falling apart. The type of soil surrounding the roots is critical as well. Soils with some clay in them are best.

During this drying time, prepare the hole for the new tree and plant it immediately after it is moved.

Pick a cool day with little to no wind. When the soil has dried, trench around the tree about the diameter of the canopy to a depth of 12 to 15 inches. Undercut the roots at the bottom of the trench, trying to keep the soil around the roots from breaking and the rootball from falling apart. Don't push on the tree to try to free it from the soil or the rootball will fall apart.

If you are lucky and the soil holds together, get some help and lift the tree and its rootball on to some old carpet. Lift it by the rootball, not by the limbs or trunk. Then lift the carpet, supporting the rootball, onto whatever device you are using to transport the tree. Once loaded, protect the rootball from drying by covering it and transport it carefully so the rootball does not bounce around and fall apart.

Carefully place the rootball into the new hole by lifting and supporting the rootball. It should be planted the same depth as it was in its old home. Immediately start filling the hole with water and put amended soil taken from the hole back into the hole. This is called backfill. Make sure a high-phosphorus fertilizer is added to the backfill. Allow the water in the hole to help eliminate air pockets as you are adding the backfill.

Stake the tree as soon as it is planted to immobilize the roots. This is extremely important. Taller evergreen trees have a lot of leverage on the roots during windy weather.

If the rootball falls apart, you can still give it a shot but get the roots into water within minutes after you remove the tree from the soil and have exposed the roots. Transport the soilless roots in fresh water or wrapped in wet materials and plant it the same way.

These trees may recover from transplant shock gradually over about three to four years if you did a good job. In the meantime, you could have purchased 5-gallon trees and they would have caught up to the older trees in the same period of time. It's your call.

Q: When is the best time to fertilize dwarf oleander and what type of fertilizer should be used? Also, when should this shrub be pruned?

A: Oleanders bloom on current season's wood, which means they produce stems and leaves first in the spring and then bloom on this new growth by early summer. Knowing this tells us when to prune, when to fertilize and what kind of fertilizer to use.

Oleanders are frequently pruned with hedge shears, which is not the best way to prune them. If we were to prune oleander in the spring with hedge shears, right after it starts its new growth, then we will delay its flowering until it can produce some new wood. If we hedge prune regularly during the growing season, we will see little to no flowers produced because we are continually removing the new growth it needs for flowering. Hedge shears should only be used when pruning during the winter.

If we prune oleanders at the base of the plant with hand pruners and selectively remove older wood, then it will make no difference when we prune.

Flowering plants require a different type of fertilizer than plants that only produce new leaves and stems. Flowering plants require high levels of phosphorus but they also require moderate amounts of nitrogen and potassium. So, when fertilizing plants that are valued for their flowers, look for a fertilizer that has moderate levels of nitrogen and potassium but high levels of phosphorus.

Nonflowering plants, those valued for their leaves and stems, require high levels of nitrogen. Phosphorus and potassium are also important but in lesser amounts than for flowering plants. So when fertilizing plants valued for their leaves and stems, look for a fertilizer that has moderate levels of nitrogen and potassium but higher levels of phosphorus.

If plants grow rapidly and are also profuse bloomers, then their requirement for both nitrogen and phosphorus is high. Plants that put on a lot of leaf and stem growth need more fertilizer applied to them as opposed to plants that put on small amounts of leaf and stem growth.

Generally speaking, plants that grow and flower a lot need more fertilizer more often than those which don't. The amount of fertilizer to apply should be balanced with the plants' growth and frequency of pruning. When using a hedge shears for pruning you do not want to encourage lots of new leaf and stem growth so the amount of fertilizer to apply should be in smaller amounts.

If the oleander does not have to be contained then higher amounts of fertilizer can be applied, which will result in a better display flowers due to more growth. The fertilizer to use would be similar to a rose or fruit tree type of fertilizer (moderate amounts of nitrogen and potassium, higher levels of phosphorus).

Flowering plants like oleander, if they are a focal point and prized for its flowers, should get a fertilizer application prior to and just after flowering. If it is used as a hedge, then one application per year applied in the spring is enough. They usually do not require any iron fertilizers.

Bob Morris is an associate professor with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Direct gardening questions to the master gardener hot line at 257-5555 or contact Morris by e-mail at