As construction on the teaching and learning center gets underway, a team of arborists has been enlisted to move Barnard’s beloved magnolia tree to its new home near The Diana Center terrace, about 30 feet from its current location.

The New York Times highlighted the occassion of the tree move in its "New York Today" column.

How do you move a decades-old tree, especially one as large as the Barnard magnolia? Answering this question and many more are Kevin Kenney and Dr. Neil Hendrickson of Bartlett Tree Experts, the company in charge of moving the magnolia.

Also, Nicholas Gershberg, coordinator of Barnard’s greenhouse and Professor Hilary Callahan, chair of the biology department, explain how preparing for the magnolia move has been a teaching and learning opportunity.
 

How did you prepare the tree for the move?
Kevin Kenney: First, we spread a lot of mulch, because there were macro- and micronutrients in the soil that we needed to elevate. In July, we did a root pruning of the exact location from where we are going to lift the root ball in order that all the root growth would happen only inside the root ball. This ensures that all the tree’s energy is actively concentrated on building a root system inside the ball that we will take with us.

Neil Hendrickson: Right. The most important thing is the root system. Roots are very opportunistic. They grow where conditions are ideal. So, what we have been doing these last few months is creating ideal conditions for growth.

How do you create these ideal conditions?
NH: When we talk about moving trees, what we’re really doing is managing macro-pores in the soil. The soil we’re after should look a lot like a kitchen sponge. If there are macro-pores in the soil to let in air and moisture for the roots to exploit, they’ll be fine. The move is all about the finer roots, or feeder roots, which are microscopic and exploit a very small soil volume. If that soil volume is very rich, the roots have no incentive to go beyond. The only places where roots go down deep is where there’s a lack of water, and there’s been plenty of water over the years this tree’s been here.

What exactly will the move entail?
NH: We’ve created this ring around it, because the whole point is to have uncompacted soil; the ideal area around the roots looks like a peanut butter cup, with the tree a toothpick in the middle.

KK: The day before the move we’re going to drum-lace the tree—which is how you would normally see a tree at Home Depot, except the magnolia will have a 20-foot root ball. It will be picked up by a crane and moved to its new location. In addition, we'll build a “lift frame” around the canopy of the tree. The lift frame will be attached to the root ball, and helps protect the tree canopy as the tree is lifted by the crane and moved to its new location.

What will happen once the tree moves?
KK: We’re going to mulch it in and give it a nice little warm bed for the winter, and then, in the spring, you really shouldn’t notice anything else about the tree, other than that it’s in a different location.

Why is November the best time to move the tree?
KK: The tree will be in its dormancy cycle in November, which will continue during and after the move. The soil outside of the new ring will be very accommodating for new root growth, which will take place over the winter months.

Learn more about the teaching and learning center.