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Going mobile with your tree?


Tree transplantation may be eco-friendly, but it's expensive and risky. Hema Vijay looks at the other options

Courtesy: Appaswamy Real Estates

The different stages of tree replanting at Appaswamy's project in Pallikaranai. 1. Selecting species of plants that can withstand transplantation.

It seems to have become the fashion, and an to exercise to notch up points on the green scale. “We do over 80 tree transplants a year, and we are getting more and more enquiries,” says nursery developer and tree transplanter P. Deenadayalan. And the cost doesn't seem to be a deterrent: landscape consultant B. Ilango of Jeyam Landscape Consultants, transplanted a 60-year-old banyan tree at a cost of Rs. 75,000 some time ago!

However, tree transplantation is a very tricky operation — like human organ transplantation. Not only is transplanting a tree an expensive and risky proposition, but also, there may be alternatives which might offer better and lasting solutions.

The viability question

If you are thinking of transplantation, there are several factors you need to consider. First, the tree's age. Transplanting a grand old tree might sound a very noble and eco-friendly thing to do, but it is very difficult for an old tree to adapt to its new home, but you are not going to see too much of growth or yield down the years, and besides, its days are numbered.

A 20-year-old tree is also costlier to transport than a younger tree, because transplantation costs are linked to size of the tree and the distance involved; tree transplantations can cost anything from Rs. 3,000 to tens of thousands of rupees.

2. Uprooting it over a few weeks.

“Instead, I would recommend planting 2-3-metre tall saplings, available with the forest department and many nurseries. These tall saplings can grow very fast to become trees”, suggests Prof. Narasimhan, Botany professor, Madras Christian College.

“And unlike small saplings, they also don't need protection (like tree guards) from stray animals,” adds Ilango.

“Only when an old tree has historical, cultural, or acute sentimental value, or if it happens to be of a rare species, should transplantation of an old tree be taken up,” Prof. Narasimhan suggests.

Badam, ficus, neem, and palm are species that take transplantation well, but trees like tamarind and rain tree do not do so well, says Prof. Narasimhan.

Transplantation dynamics

For commercial builders, what makes transplantation an attractive proposition, is that despite the initial expense, the process provides a readymade tree (with its associated benefits) for their landscaping needs. Providing, of course, the trees survive the transplantation process. So when Appaswamy Real Estates started work on a project at Pallikaranai, of the 20 trees on the site, 13 were found fit for transplantation and transplanted to the park area earmarked in the residential project.

3. Protecting and transplanting it at a suitable place.

Additionally, the builders conserved the fertile top soil from the location.

“This is in line with our policy to build green buildings and protect and preserve the environment,” says Col. P Isaac, General Manager, Project Co-ordination, Appaswamy Real Estates. When Suseela Vergis re-located out of the city, she decided to transplant a few very young coconut trees. “This way I will get the yield soon,” she says. She also transplanted a few small trees like the Indian coral tree and the gulmohar. They are doing very well now, in her sprawling garden on the ECR. Sometimes, it happens that you are not ready to say goodbye to the trees you have personally raised.

“While many companies are eager to take up transplantation for easy publicity, they do not take care of the trees post transplantation,” says a landscape consultant who doesn't want to be named.

“After-care is very crucial. Sometimes these trees require extra care for several years after transplantation,” points out Ilango.

Sinking in

Also, in transplantations by corporate groups, there is no genuine concern for the tree, and the transplantation is rushed through in a day. Actually, the transplantation process should be executed in a phased manner — over two to three months — to help the tree to absorb the shock factor. “Even digging out the root ball of the tree should be done in a spread-out manner, with week-long gaps between the digging process, so that there is time for the tree to send out new roots, withstand the shock and adapt to the situation.

4. Taking extra care after transplantation.

“It has to be covered with moistened gunny sacks and left in the shade for a week or more before replanting. If replanting is done immediately, the tree will be affected by the heat of the soil and shock factor,” points out Prof. Narasimhan.

So there might be worthier and easier green alternatives to transplanting.

And then… you can plant 100 tall saplings at the cost of transplanting one old tree. In the end, to transplant or not to transplant is something that needs to be decided tree by tree.

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