Guest post by:  Jeff Hughes, Grounds & Sustainability Manager at Seattle Children’s

Moving day is never easy on anyone. The months of prep for a big move, the planning, labor, intricacies of the complex projects involved, stress from the move itself, and adjusting to inevitable changes after a move are tough on people. Change is hard! But, one day at a time, one task after another, we get through it and adjust, and life moves forward . Trees, shrubs and plants are no different.

For the hospital’s expansion, we’ve been working for almost three years to plan for every plant on the property. Every tree, shrub, and plant currently on the Laurelon Terrace site has been inventoried, catalogued and charted. We know precisely which ones we’ll be able to move, which will stay where they are, and those that will go to a holding spot for later population of the new landscape.

This exceptional Red Maple (Acer rubrum) will be moved. It’s really huge, and will require great effort and cost to move it successfully, but it’s worth it. Check out this video of a red maple tree we plan to move.

Just like people, some specimens are more adaptable and well-suited to change and being moved. Others are fussier, less tolerant of change, or require special TLC and handling. For an eligible tree, as it’s being dug, the root ball, trunk and limbs need to be protected and stabilized, with specially designed heavy equipment. We call in specialists: arborists, landscape architects and tree movers. In some cases where size is appropriate, a big tree spade comes in to dig it out. This machine has spade-like arms, which go into the ground on all four sides of the tree, forming a conical rootball around it to lift it out. The tree is then transported, by the spade (actually on the back of a large truck), to its new home. It is placed in a conical hole which was previously dug by the spade, so it matches the root ball exactly.

In a larger than can be spaded tree, for instance an 85 foot tree, the root ball might be 20 feet across and 8-10 feet thick!  We’ll use huge tractors to dig all around it, and then build a superstructure under and around it. A crane is used to move it into place, anywhere on the site.

In past years, we previously moved 75% of our campus plantings, so we already know how to do it. We’re shooting for 100% success for every tree we move. We expect to begin site excavation in January 2011, so we’re planning the staged movement of all salvage plants, including trees, shrubbery, perennials, ferns, grasses, and bulbs now and through the winter.

Sadly, there are a few trees we can’t save. It’s very difficult and expensive to move each big tree, so we’ll move those we know will do well. There’s no point attempting to move something that won’t make it. We balance risks and benefits and decide on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes a tree is too fragile to withstand a move, so we know we shouldn’t try. Fungus, rot, insect damage, tree scarring or disease can limit a tree’s ability to be moved. Those are not my happiest days, but if Mother Nature teaches us anything it’s that life moves on, seasons come and go, and sometimes the old makes way for the new.

Questions or comments? Feel free to contact Jeff Hughes directly: 206-987-3889 or jeff.hughes@seattlechildrens.org