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April 17, 2018

As an arborist I often try to save little seedlings that will be lost for some reason or another. In this situation, a Park Ridge homeowner had a little bur oak, a few feet tall, that a squirrel had planted in the middle of a landscape bed. The bed was going to be turned into a patio, so I asked the tree owner if I could try and save the tree.

They agreed and I came back with a used five-gallon nursery pot and carefully dug up the little tree. I was fortunate that the taproot had grown horizontally and I was able to pull out about 5 feet of root and spiral it into the bottom of the pot with some soil.

I brought the tree to my home in Brookfield but I didn’t have a home for it right away. I had an area of the yard with a compost bin where I stored mulch, leaves, soil, and other stuff. I threw the oak tree in that corner of the yard, in the pot, with others in my makeshift nursery--a golden raintree, maples, a horse-chestnut, and other trees looking for a home.

I forgot about the oak and it sat in that pot, barely getting by, for about three years. The roots had grown out of the bucket and into the surrounding soil. When I moved from that house to Harvard, Ill., I decided to bring the little bur oak with me. There was a creek along the back of the property and I found a little open area to finally transplant this poor tortured tree from the five-gallon nursery pot into the soil. 

Once in the ground, the little tree was getting established when someone mistook it for a weed, yanked it out of the ground, and put it on top of the compost bin. It was late fall, and the roots had been exposed on top of the compost bin for some time before I realized the tree was in trouble. Once I saw it, I replanted it again and hoped for the best over the winter.

The tree leafed out the next spring and I thought it had finally overcome the hurdles of becoming a tree. Boy, was I wrong.  About one year later a woodchuck or muskrat or some other critter I had not seen chewed the stems down to the ground. 

I thought that was the end of the poor little tree, but it once again proved how much it wanted to live. I didn’t dig up the roots--mostly because I had forgotten about it. The next spring two new stems came out of the little stump. The tree has grown consistently over the past few years and it is now about seven feet tall, with each stem about an inch in diameter.

I can’t guarantee the tree is going to become some giant mature bur oak 200 years from now, but I can tell you I am amazed at the persistence of that little tree. Just goes to show that we all want to live.


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