Thursday, 17 April 2014

How to move a Monkey Puzzle tree.

Best done while they are still tiny...  a friend of mine moved last year, and when the tree blokes came to chop down some over-exuberant Leylandii hedges, they pointed out that the small, funny-looking tree right by the back door was actually Araucaria araucana, also known as Monkey Puzzle, or Chilean Pine. And it was going to get very, very big.

She offered it to me, on condition that I came and dug it up myself, which seemed like a reasonable bargain, so I went over there a couple of weekends ago and did the deed.

Here is what we started with: one small Monkey Puzzle, squashed into a tiny border, and right by the back door.

Can you see that the ends of the lower branches are not single at the end, but have branched out?

That is because the previous occupiers have hacked off the ends of the branches in order to get past it. And whenever you cut the tips off the branches, they, well, branch!

 Digging it up was not much of a problem, there were two longish roots that I couldn't quite get out, so they had to be cut off.

The tricky bit was wrapping it up beforehand - in case you didn't know, this tree is just about the prickliest thing known to man, and draws blood at the most casual touch.

In order to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, I gently bent the branches upwards, and tied them with string, then wrapped the whole thing in brown paper (with copious thanks to Paula for the suggestion) and tied it again.

Here we are safely at home, and plunged into a trough of water to have a good drink and recover from the experience.

Please note that the brown paper wrapping is nearly off - it's a real wriggler!

Next day, it was time to get it into a pot, so I pulled the brown paper back into position and potted it up.

Once again, please note that the tree is definitely trying to wriggle out of the wrapping!
 Without the paper, here is the strange contorted branch arrangement, without which I would not have been able to dig it up.

It was bad enough potting it, I had to wear my thick Winter Touch gloves.

And even then, one little branch escaped the string, and stabbed me in the wrist.


With cries of "stand well back!" I released the string, and here it is in all its glory.

It was immediately apparent that as well as being flat on one side - where it backed onto the fence - it is disproportionately wide.

Looking at it from the "right" side, it's clear that those lower, tufty-ended branches are going to have to go, along with three spindly ones that are adding nothing to the overall shape.

"Snip! Snip! Snip!"

Done. Much better.

Ah - Houston, we have a problem!

Bearing in mind that every leaf on every branch is tipped with a rock-hard, razor-sharp spine, this little tree is in the wrong place!

This is the only corner of my front yard that has room for it, and now I can't get to the Fritillary.

Looks like it's going to have to emigrate to the back garden, any day now... 



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  1. Hi Rachel,great information - did the Monkey puzzle survive - I've just done the same this weekend - have in a big pot with the same soil it came from. Any tips would be great.
    Hope to hear from you soon.
    Dean the amateur gardener

  2. Hi Dean,

    Oh, yes, Spiny Norman is still with me: he's getting way too big for my back garden now (although still in the pot) and I've offered him for sale. No takers yet, but I live in hope!

    I've taken care to keep him well watered over the past three years: not least because he's quite top-heavy, being in a rather small pot. With conifers, it's always hard to tell if they are struggling from lack of water, as they don't conveniently wilt, so it's worth watering the pot regularly.

    He's now about my height, so despite the bonsai treatment, he is still growing!

  3. I bought a MP tree a few years ago but couldn't think of a suitable long-term place for him in my garden, so I planted him in a Victorian chimney pot until I decided where he would live, permanently.

    That was my first mistake, as his roots have grown and now broken the lovely old pot. My second mistake was waiting too long to decide, and now that I have found the ideal spot, he's far too tall to move without ripping my hands to shreds!

    Gotta love him, though. :)

    1. Oops! That's a shame, another chimney pot down the drain. If you see what I mean....

      As for him being too tall to move... well, if you can get a big enough sheet of brown paper!! Seriously, though, if he's grown so tall that you can't easily wrap him up, then maybe you could consider pruning off a couple of the lowest branches. No-one wants spiky branches at much below chest height, because of grass cutting, weeding around the base, etc.

      So if he's tall enough to be a proper tree, he might be tall enough that you could lose the lowest branches, then you can wrap the trunk in brown paper (for the benefit of anyone who's never had one, the trunks are as spiky as the branches) so that you can get hold of it.

      Upper branches can be lassoo-ed and tied up temporarily with rope, to get them out the way.

      And I would recommend wearing eye protection as well.

      Good luck!!

  4. What does Spiny Norman look like now?

    1. Hi Samuel,

      I sold him: he went off to a new home (wrapped in brown paper again!) to be planted out, and allowed to reach his full potential. I did hear back from the purchaser, a year or two later, they said that he had almost doubled in height, and they were thrilled!


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