David Cox and his company, Environmental Design Inc., handled the daunting task of moving Boise’s historic century-old sequoia tree in June to make way for the planned St. Luke’s expansion in Downtown Boise.
Four months later, the tree has been settling into its new home at Fort Boise Park on Fort Street, near the corner of Fort and Garrison streets. The move inspired lots of public comment — from those hoping for the best for the tree, to those who saw its profusion of brown needles and pronounced the tree dead.
Cox, whose company is based in Texas, visited Boise this week to share his expert opinion.
“She’s doing pretty good,” he said Wednesday.
He added that if he had to give the tree — more than a hundred years old and about 100 feet tall — a grade, it would be a B+/A-.
The tree has become noticeably greener in recent weeks. Cox is optimistic that it is setting new buds that will put out new growth in the spring. The buds are visible all the way up the tree’s trunk, he said.
Drainage around the tree is good, too. A layer of fallen needles surrounds the tree. This is ideal, Cox said, sharing a tip for home gardeners: The best mulch for any tree is its own needles and leaves.
It will take between three and five years before the sequoia is, as one could say, out of the woods.
“The tree is doing better than I expected, but I don’t want to push our luck too far,” Cox said.
He’s concerned about the weather and wants to see how the tree will make it through what could be another rough winter. Sequoias are native to central and northern California. They’re not suited to extended periods of freezing temperatures, nor to extended heat waves like Boise had this summer.
But it’s worth noting, Cox said, that the famous tree has endured such conditions for a long time. To prepare it for winter, the tree will get coatings of “anti-desiccant,” a spray that will coat its needles to help protect them from frost and to reduce water loss. It will also get regular supplemental water through the winter.
Cox will make another site visit in January. The tree will likely get a dose of fertilizer in the early spring.
And the tree, which St. Luke’s donated to the city, will receive ongoing care from city foresters and the park department.
A grand history
Moving the tree was a multistep process that began in fall 2016, when Cox and his crews dug trenches around the tree to contain its roots. The move in June 2017 took place over one night. Once the tree was placed in its new location, crews backfilled the hole around it with soil from its original planting site.
St. Luke’s paid about $300,000 for the move and for the tree’s continuing care. Cox said the tree is the tallest his company has moved.
“It’s special because of its provenance,” he said.
Naturalist John Muir sent four sequoia seedlings to Emil Grandjean, one of the first professional foresters in Idaho. Grandjean gave a cutting from one of those trees to Dr. Fred Pittenger, whose gardener planted the tree on the family estate in 1912. It ended up being sole survivor of the four seedlings. Even as the land changed purposes, from Pittenger home to hospital, the tree remained.
Cox hopes a university forestry department will grow clones from the sequoia’s seeds.
“Sequoias could be planted throughout the city,” he said. “That would be a good legacy.”
Anna Webb: 208-377-6431