We have probably 20 volunteer red bud trees growing in the landscaping of our back yard. If we simply let them be, they are in the wrong spots and far too crowded for sustained growth. The best choice is to pick two or three and move them to where they will have a chance to flourish.
As I have been researching this, one article I came across suggested cutting the roots in roughly a 15″ radius around the base of the tree in all directions. By cutting directly down and through the longer roots, it forces root growth near the ball that will allow the tree to transplant better.
This same information was learned in a different context by a colleague this Sunday.
The lectionary scripture for the day is about the gardener, the owner, and the fruitless fig tree in Luke 13:6-9.
In the parable, the fig tree isn’t dead… but it also isn’t bearing fruit. The owner wants to cut it down, but the gardener wants to give it another year. He wants to “dig around it and give it fertilizer.”
Dig around it… maybe like cutting the roots in all directions?
My colleague had a parishioner come up after her sermon and share her own anecdote about digging around to help something bear fruit:
…She grew up in Eastern Washington state, on an apple and pear farm. And she said she didn’t know anything about figs, but with the apples and pears trees, if a tree was otherwise healthy and fine but not bearing fruit, as a last resort they would take a spade and about a foot out from the trunk they would chop all the roots all around the tree. This makes the tree kind of “panic” and think it is dying, for some reason the reaction to the panic is that it bears fruit!
Plants like fig trees or apple trees or even my raspberry bushes can grow vibrantly and abundantly… and still not put forth fruit. Sometimes this has to do with it being too crowded or having a bad season or putting too much energy into other places like leaf production. And sometimes, they need a radical kick in the rear to jump start production.
And I think our faith is a lot like that, too. I think sometimes we need someone to dig around us and cut all of the long roots that keep us healthy, but also keep us from bearing fruit: wealth, comfort, success, health, freedom…
It’s not that these things are bad – but we can put so much focus on them, that we forget all about the bearing fruit part. Maybe “digging around” and cutting the roots can help us to not take those things for granted; help shift our focus and our priorities so that there is room for other roots to grow; help create energy towards fruitfulness and not simply stability.
And sometimes in the process, we find ourselves uprooted and transformed and transplanted as God sees our renewed strength and thinks: I have just the place for that disciple to bear fruit…