GEARHEAD DIARY: Plant a (dead) tree

PHOTO BY MATT BARTMANN Do not try this at home. It's bad for your car, and could be hazardous to your health. That tree is heavier than it looks.

by Matt Bartmann


“What are you doing?” asked a neighbor, as I was finishing up my latest project.

“Planting a tree!” says I with a smile.

“But it’s dead. Aren’t there enough dead trees around here?”

“Yep. But none quite like this! Isn’t it beautiful?”

Earlier this year, a tree fell in the woods. This particular tree, an aspen, had grown next to a large spruce tree, rooted in a hillside. This awkward location (coupled with genetics, perhaps) caused it to grow abnormally, with no low branches and a big gnarled, twisted top. A wonderful tree worthy of display.

Unfortunately, due to saturated ground, or wind, or both, the tree came down, very close to our driveway. So close, I feared it would get smashed by our plow over the winter. I had to save it.

“Hey! How you doin’? You care to help me load a large, heavy thing onto the roof of the car?” I begged of a friend who happened to be passing.

“Sure, when?”

“How about right now?”

Only about 20 feet tall, 8 inches diameter at bottom, this was not a huge tree. But, being “green” still, it weighed about 500 pounds. Friend and I managed to muscle the tree onto the car (sorry, Car!). Most important, we only broke a few twigs.

I took the car and the tree back to the house. Two days to ponder how to off-load it and plant it. Without breaking any more branches. And lifting by myself.

Engine hoist? Check. Chains, ropes, various tiedown and tow straps? Check. A hand winch? Check.

The right tools for the job? Hardly. But I figured it should work.

First I parked the tree-laden car near the hole I had already prepared. Then backed the pickup truck down to the side of the car. I set the hoist up in the back of the truck and chained it down so it couldn’t move in the bed. Using straps, I hoisted the tree off the car…slow, safe, steady. Then I backed the car out from under the suspended tree.

It started to snow. Too late in the day to finish. I got the base of the tree in the hole and propped the top off the ground so it wasn’t hanging precariously.

The next day, I repositioned the truck and hoist, and using the hand winch, I got the tree standing proudly in its hole. A couple of bags of concrete, and our new tree was planted.

Estimated project time: 2 hours.

Actual project time: 2 full days and worth every bit.

Steller’s jays wait on the newly planted aspen tree, replanted after falling earlier this year. Photo taken through our living room window.

But why plant a dead tree? I’d like to say that dead trees are for the birds. But no. It’s for us. A staging area for our feeder birds, so we can see them from our living room window. It’s also great for taking natural-looking bird pictures.

Not your “normal” Christmas tree, but we love that the birds love it. Blue Steller’s jays, a dozen golden evening grosbeaks, little chickadees, all our usual feeder friends come and go like living Christmas ornaments, to and from the twisted branches.

I’m reminded that I need to update my list. An electric winch, and a tractor with a loader, please. Thanks, Santa! That’d be great!



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