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The Ellen White Method of tree planting

 
pollinator
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Has anyone tried this? I did this years ago with some slight variations when planting Plum trees but I don't see any noticeably different results. I realize there are some odd features to her method but I can't resist the allure of anything contrarian:

Ellen White Method
 
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I have not tried this method. What I have tried is amending planting holes with leaf mulch and/or compost along with maybe some guano or fish, whatever I had on hand, and I have also tried planting into native soil with no amendments other than a microbial inoculant. In my experience, the method that has worked best, and by worked I mean the best growth with least disease & pest pressure is planting in native soil with microbial inoculant. I quit adding amendments to planting holes for fruit trees and berry bushes also. The growth and overall general healthy appearance is better than the old method I abandoned.

When I look at the diagram of the method shown in the original post, I see the potential for what is called "clay potting" or when roots grow in the nice, comfortable, fluffy amended hole and then encounter the wall of native soil. It seems the tree senses the change in soil, with all the good stuff being back closer to the tree, with little good stuff further out, roots can sometimes then grow in a circle, not reaching out into the native soil. This limits a trees access to water, and it can also potentially compromise a trees ability to resist tipping over in high winds as it grows larger.

When a tree is planted in a hole with the same soil that came out, going back in, the tree sends roots far and wide seeking minerals and thus reaching into a larger area which results in access to more water, resources and better anchoring.

 
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It looks like a complicated and laborious method of planting; maybe worthwhile if you are trying to grow a tree in ground that is not otherwise suitable.  Maybe something to try if your trees are not growing well in native earth. I can't see going through all that prep as a general rule, though.
 
Michael Helmersson
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I agree with both these responses. I can't remember who I first heard this idea from but it was an elderly guy on a podcast. He'd used this technique for many decades and swore by its results. The one thing that I do recall is that he talked about the benefits of getting oxygen to the roots and mentioned playing around with a manual air pump that was oxygenating some vegetable that he was growing. By occasionally giving it a few pumps whenever he passed by he claimed to have drastically reduced the time from planting to maturity. I'm guessing that this is the reason for the void in the bottom of the hole. I think that when it rains the air would get forced out and up through the roots, then when the water drains out of the soil it pulls new air down through the roots.  
 
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Funny how planting advise constantly changes.  At one time it was suggested to amend the soil in the planting hole but then it was discovered that these tree roots got used to the amended soil and didn't want to venture out into the native soil.

I am more concerned about the tin can collar.  If for some reason you were unable to tend to those trees or moved, those collars would still be there.  Yes, some of them may rust enough that the tree will be able to break free, but there's the possibility of it also choking the tree.  
 
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The uniqueness of the "secret" White method (that IMO allows the method to have a name in the first place), lies with the addition of *rocks*.

I cannot get past the rocks.  Gimmicky.

Especially because:  Take away the rocks, and you're left with compost, leaf mulch, etc. that most of us use and find ideal for planting.  
 
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I find the large rock below the tree interesting. I have noticed when pulling out some of the (healthy) trees here to make room, a lot of them had their roots growing down over a large rock or a few rocks. Now this is possibly totally coincidental, but seeing it done intentionally makes me wonder. Are these trees able to establish more quickly because they have something to grab onto? Is it getting extra minerals from it? *shrug*
 
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I've noticed roots following the outlines of rocks, but only in very hard, compact soil. To me, it looked like they did because the soil/rock interface provided more space than the soil itself. That wouldn't be the case in a nice, prepared planting hole. But I suppose the big rock right under the tree is to make the roots spread outward. Wonder what that would do to a taproot species... Also, the tin can is positively weird.

EDIT: When I say "following the outlines of rocks" I mean that was the only place I found roots at all (below the very thin layer of topsoil).
 
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The only real merit I see to this method is its elaborateness.  I guarantee that if you dig a hole the size of a hot tub and place a variety of complex layers with exquisite care, you are now very invested in that tree that you planted, and are more likely to pay attention to it once you've planted it.  Thus any watering, manual pest removal, bark protection, et cetera is more likely to happen.  

Me, I know I'm gonna neglect the trees I plant.  Mowing near them a few times a year if they are lucky, watering them a few times their first year or in an extreme drought, that's about it. So I start as I propose to continue.  I get out my dirt auger and dig a few four inch holes down to the hard lifeless clay layer, spending about thirty seconds per hole.  Drop the tree in the middle hole after backfilling with enough dirt to get the level right.  Backfill everything with the remaining dirt that came up.  Cover the area with a layer of wood chip mulch, the thicker the better.  Boom! Tree planted.
 
Michael Helmersson
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Eon MacNeill wrote:I find the large rock below the tree interesting. I have noticed when pulling out some of the (healthy) trees here to make room, a lot of them had their roots growing down over a large rock or a few rocks. Now this is possibly totally coincidental, but seeing it done intentionally makes me wonder. Are these trees able to establish more quickly because they have something to grab onto? Is it getting extra minerals from it? *shrug*



Okay, I finally found the audio interview and PDF that this all came from. It was called "Fruit Trees on Steroids":

podcast and PDF relating to Ellen White Method

The PDF is the transcript of the podcast/interview.
 
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James Freyr wrote:

When a tree is planted in a hole with the same soil that came out, going back in, the tree sends roots far and wide seeking minerals and thus reaching into a larger area which results in access to more water, resources and better anchoring.

I have minimal top soil on top of clay/rock subsoil, so as much as I agree with what you've written in principle, at times, I intentionally dig a hole several feet away from a new tree, drop some punky wood into it and a few goodies, and what I'm hoping is that the young tree will stretch those roots out to reach the goal I've set for it. Ideally, I'd do several narrow deep holes 3 to 5 feet away from the young tree in different directions, but my soil is sooooo.... hard to dig, I'm happy to do even one. I can always got back and dig more!

Michael Helmersson wrote:

It was called "Fruit Trees on Steroids":

It seems to me that in my climate, that's exactly what I *don't* want! Trees on steriods need constant watering and babying. The grow lots of big fruit, but not necessarily fruit that's as full of nutrients, because the tree can just fill up on the easy stuff and not work a little at surviving.
 
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I question the "Ellen White Method" when I saw the credit and initials on the sketch. " H. C. W."  and "Above is California Orchardist Herbert Clarence White's diagram for planting a tree"

Assume this is a husband-wife team.

My questions for the OP, Michael, is did she explain what to do when the tree outgrows the "large tin can"? What happens when the tin can is removed and all those layers fall on the tree?
 
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I think that if I used that method here I would lose every tree at around 3m tall. The tap root down into bedrock is important here to hold them up against our pretty constant high winds (all trees self prune into an interesting shape from the wind) You also run a risk of waterlogging the tree, if your soil is not very permeable all you have done is dig a pond and then fill it with compost. We do not add anything to our tree planting holes, I do not keep the native "weeds" away from them either once planted, if my tree can't compete with the grass/strawberry/chives ground cover in my orchard then it doesn't deserve a place there.
 
Michael Helmersson
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Jay Angler wrote:James Freyr wrote:

When a tree is planted in a hole with the same soil that came out, going back in, the tree sends roots far and wide seeking minerals and thus reaching into a larger area which results in access to more water, resources and better anchoring.

I have minimal top soil on top of clay/rock subsoil, so as much as I agree with what you've written in principle, at times, I intentionally dig a hole several feet away from a new tree, drop some punky wood into it and a few goodies, and what I'm hoping is that the young tree will stretch those roots out to reach the goal I've set for it. Ideally, I'd do several narrow deep holes 3 to 5 feet away from the young tree in different directions, but my soil is sooooo.... hard to dig, I'm happy to do even one. I can always got back and dig more!

Michael Helmersson wrote:

It was called "Fruit Trees on Steroids":

It seems to me that in my climate, that's exactly what I *don't* want! Trees on steroids need constant watering and babying. The grow lots of big fruit, but not necessarily fruit that's as full of nutrients, because the tree can just fill up on the easy stuff and not work a little at surviving.



Yeah, I cringed when I read the title "Fruit Trees on Steroids". Not a term that anyone would associate with permaculture or health.

The features of this method that I'm intrigued by are the aerating of the subsoil and the impact (if any) of electrical conductivity. I've heard elsewhere of people noticing higher yields from plants adjacent to metal fence posts, etc.  
 
Michael Helmersson
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Anne Miller wrote:I question the "Ellen White Method" when I saw the credit and initials on the sketch. " H. C. W."  and "Above is California Orchardist Herbert Clarence White's diagram for planting a tree"

Assume this is a husband-wife team.

My questions for the OP, Michael, is did she explain what to do when the tree outgrows the "large tin can"? What happens when the tin can is removed and all those layers fall on the tree?



Ellen G. White was a co-founder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in the 1800s. I believe the H.C.W. is her grandson.

I saw or heard no mention of what later became of the large tin can. I assume this to be for rodent protection, the way we utilize hardware cloth or plastic spirals.

** I did search for this topic before starting this thread, but a Duck-Duck-Go search brought up this: a previous thread on this topic
 
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Add me o the list of people that used to amend planting holes for tress, and no longer does.
 
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Jay Angler - that's a great idea. I'm really struggling with getting trees to survive. Our soil is 1/3 rock, and entirely sloped. We don't get much rain and when we do run off is an issue. I'm using hugelkulture to try to lessen the run off and fed the trees, but digging at least one hole might help as well.
 
Dan Boone
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Michael Helmersson wrote:I saw or heard no mention of what later became of the large tin can. I assume this to be for rodent protection, the way we utilize hardware cloth or plastic spirals.



Notwithstanding my general skepticism about this elaborate method, I don't see the tin can as an issue.

Traditionally, a steel can exposed to the elements would completely rust away within a few years.  Modern cans have a plastic coating; vintage ones were coated in thin layers of zinc (galvanized) or tin (hence "tin can").  None of these do more than add a few years to the life of a can set in soil.  In all cases, a "large" tin can would IMO be corroded to insignificance by the time it might otherwise pose a threat to the tree.  If it's a concern, burn the can (throw it in a small wood fire) to burn off coatings.  Then it will be sure to rust away in a year or two.
 
Jay Angler
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Stacy Witscher wrote:Jay Angler - that's a great idea. I'm really struggling with getting trees to survive. Our soil is 1/3 rock, and entirely sloped. We don't get much rain and when we do run off is an issue. I'm using hugelkulture to try to lessen the run off and fed the trees, but digging at least one hole might help as well.

When possible, my first digging location is up-slope of the plant. Have you seen the pictures of how a swale creates a bloom of water underground down-slope of the swale? There's no way I can do actual swales, (and in my ecosystem, I'm not convinced they're as good an option as either an above-ground or below ground hugel), but my idea is to have a place where I know that water can infiltrate quickly to attract worms etc to aerate and feed the soil. A similar concept like this had been used to fix abused lawns. I've also read that tree roots are smart enough to seek out water (hence the danger of tree roots invading drainage tiles!), so I figured that if I want my tree roots to spread, I should give them a target they might like?
 
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