Volunteer Tree - maybe Brachychiton....what to do about it?

slowjane CA/ Sunset 21May 23, 2014

Hi all,

So there is a volunteer brachychiton (I'm pretty sure after much research - aka Bottle Tree) in my very small backyard that I haven't had the nerve to remove.....I'm not sure why I have a sentimental attachment to it - irrational for sure. We bought the place a year ago and the yard looked like an abandoned lot - but there was this funny little 18" high tree growing and ...well I didn't pluck it when it was easy and here we are. It's now like 9' tall and growing like gangbusters!!! It seems to be a rare kind as I haven't definitively identified the cultivar...maybe a crossbreed.

It either came in via a bird, or perhaps someone else previously cut it down and it came from a root?

There is a huge old orange tree back there too - about 12 feet from it. Another concern is digging up/injuring orange tree roots which cover the whole yard pretty much.
Its size is finally making inaction no longer possible. Do you think I could dig it up for transplant? Or is that silly/impractical/misguided? Or just chop it at the ground?

A volunteer squash is growing at its base....no idea what it is either and been waiting to find out. ;)

Any advice for a hapless newbie to landscaping?

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georgeinbandonoregon(z9 OR)

my guess is that the tree (brachychiton or otherwise) is probably too big to safely dig up (and likely during the warm dry part of the year is a very bad time to try, IMHO). for the good of the plant a large attached and intact root ball of soil would have to be removed when digging up the tree (bare-root especially at this time of year is likely not a viable option). OTOH, the tree is likely to get significantly larger and potentially overwhelm the small area it's in over time with its roots and shade---so it may well have to go and go soon, sad to say. you might consider cutting it back to a rather short stub (say 12 to 18" tal) and then seeing if the plant comes back from the base (give it some TLC in the form of some extra water to help it along) and then see if you can maintain it as a shrub with regular trimming??? hope this is of some help. good luck.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2014 at 5:50PM
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slowjane CA/ Sunset 21

wow do you think I could cut it short? I had thought of that as a way to transplant it - cut it shorter and then you need less rootball - right?


    Bookmark   May 24, 2014 at 1:03PM
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georgeinbandonoregon(z9 OR)

don't know what it's response would be to cutting back---some plants (sucalyptus for example) generally sprout back strongly but some do not. cutting the plant back would not necessarily reduce the need for a good sized rootball AND again any kind of digging up and transplanting at this time of year (the beginning of the hot and dry season) would likely be lethal to it. my suggestion is that if you are thinking of any method of transplanting is to wait until at least november or december when conditions are generally at least relatively cooler and moister. good luck and hope everything works out for the best for you and your tree.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2014 at 2:46PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

It's not an endangered species. If you don't want it, dig it out. A tree can be a weed. They are not sacred. There are a lot of weed trees in Southern California. I must pull a dozen palm, Euc, jacaranda, ash, and alder seedlings a day in my yard.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2014 at 6:44PM
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Been there, done that ... left a tree that needed removal too long. Will probably do it again. :)

One technique for moving something big is to dig it over time, allowing the roots to be trimmed and have time to branch out closer to the shrub/tree you want to move before the actual digging up part. I use either a sharp perennial spade and slice down in a semi circle out about where I will be digging it up in the future, around half of the tree. This trims those roots. Now let the tree do it's thing till next year. That year I do the other half. The third year I then dig the tree, which now has increased smaller feeder roots.
The other option that works better in some cases is to use a pulaski ( type of pick ax the forest fire fighters use.. great tool ) to dig a trench in that semicircle around the tree, filling it back in, and letting it grow the same as when I just can slice the roots.

Personally I would first identify the tree.You could also see how long it takes to mature enough to bloom and set seed. Think how easy it would be to get rid of this one, that seems to not be well placed ( I'm looking at you nice little veggie gardens) if you had pots of babies from it sitting there.

Figuring out if it did start from a seed or might be coming up from a stump/root would be a good idea too. That involves getting up close and personal with the tree at the base, then with a sharp stick ( I use my pointy sharp grape shears... if you have something like that) and start poking around close to the base. You should be able to see how it all fits together and how it's coming out of the ground.

Edit because I see I left part of my brilliant plan out. LOL

So once you learn this guys identity, if your going to dig and move it, you could also be pruning it during that time frame and keeping it at a manageable size. The trick there is to be sure you have good guidance on the pruning for that particular tree so you don't end up uglyfing it. Of course that would make the cutting it down and composting it part pretty easy. Let's not go there yet.. I think it's a very cool tree.

Here is a link that might be useful: Or.. how about replacing it with a real bottle tree ?

This post was edited by plaidbird on Sun, May 25, 14 at 23:34

    Bookmark   May 25, 2014 at 11:21PM
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slowjane CA/ Sunset 21

well hoovb you will be proud! i thought about your strategies plaidbird but the hard truth was that it was right next to the patio and the drip line of our orange tree - to dig it out properly would have meant damage to both. i will try to learn this lesson for the future - it would have been easy to transplant last summer when it was only two feet high but procrastination limited options.

it's a brachychiton that can reach 60 ft tall btw - far far too large for our space. comedic really.

it is in the green bin and my veggie garden will be happier for it. ;)

thanks for your advice and support y'all!

    Bookmark   May 26, 2014 at 2:14PM
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