Re potting an Oak

Trying to find the front of an Oak

This oak was given as a garden tree three years ago and in very poor health. The first two years were spent nursing it back to life (it had an ants nest in the roots which were farming a huge colony of sap sucking scale insects and draining the life out of the poor tree). Once I

Photo 1

Photo 1

was sure it was strong enough I pulled it out of its huge pot and hacked the thick gnarly roots back so that it would fit in a plastic training pot (fruit tray), the top was reduced by half to keep the strain on the roots to a minimum. Anyway it was so imperative to keep the tree alive during this heavy prune that I didn’t really worry about the angle in the tray, or the front. As a result the tree was healthy but lopsided, with a flat top and just not very pleasing to view. Photo 1 shows the tree at this stage.

 However it showed such strong growth in 2013 that I knew it was ready for a re pot to try and find the front. The initial section of the trunk was powerful but just too straight to be

Photo 2

Photo 2

attractive. Also the nebari was a mess and so a lot of work was required to find if the aerial roots were providing critical nutrition to the tree or if they could be removed. Photo two of the nebari shows two small aerial roots and a nasty crossing.

After removing enough soil, and being very careful not to damage all the good new roots that had been grown over the past two years, it became clear that the two ugliest roots did not provide much for the tree and could thankfully be cut, the crossing root was an important root for the tree but I

Photo 3

Photo 3

made the gamble that it was not essential to the trees health seeing how well it had responded to previous pruning and decided

Photo 4

Photo 4

to give it the chop as well. Photos 3 and 4 of the aerial roots will very few useful fine root hairs

So now I had a few options to choose from for the front. A good front

Photo 5

Photo 5

can be seen in photo 5, but this left a huge problem at the very base of the tree where it appeared wasp-waisted because of the angle of the two main roots, although the rest of the tree was displayed well this position was rejected
 By rotating the tree through 45 degrees from the previous front and then tilting it 20 degrees to the side it became possible to give the tree a leader, a set of structured branches, to give a little movement to the first section of

Photo 6

Photo 6

trunk. Photo 6 shows the final position of the tree. Although far from perfect I have managed to resolve about half of the problems in this one session. When the tree has recovered I can start work on the branch structure, removing or disguising the straight sections of the scaffold limbs, however you can already make out that a functional rounded domed crown can be easily achieved from here which is how oaks grow naturally… so watch this space in time to come.    Jon Burgess

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