Auburn University officials have asked fans not to roll the Auburn Oaks at Toomer's Corner after wins this season as the two trees continue to grow toward full establishment.
"While we all would like to get back to the traditional rolling of the two Auburn live oaks located on the corner, our position and decisions reflect what is best for the trees,” said Justin Sutton, director of Landscape Services at Auburn University. “The long-term establishment, overall health and projected long life of these new trees is our goal.”
Fans are asked to also not roll the 10 descendant live oaks lining the walkway through Samford Park. Instead the University is encouraging fans to target their rolls of celebratory toilet paper at the two large southern magnolia trees and the white oak in front of Biggin Hall.
"We appreciate the Auburn Family's dedication to this same goal, and helping us through these growing pains by not rolling the live oak trees, which in time will allow us to bring this cherished tradition back to the corner," said Sutton on the goal of resuming the tradition of rolling the Auburn Oaks.
Planted in 2017, the two live oaks continue to make progress during their fifth growing season, according to Auburn University Arborist Alex Hedgepath, who added that the two oaks would have a longer establishment period than smaller trees the University plants on campus.
"The larger the tree, the longer the establishment period," he said. "They're improving every year, and they're actually on a pretty good trajectory for full establishment."
University experts continue to track root growth, which has now expanded outside of the fenced area. The goal is to encourage downward root growth, with a soil enhancement project using vertical mulching planned soon to that end.
"Basically, it's just the process of inserting high pressure air into the soil, and it more or less fracks the soil," said Hedgepath. "It creates a space where we can then insert a coarser soil texture to allow more air and invigorate root growth. And wherever that hole is, the path of least resistance, that root's going to follow. Through vertical mulching, we can encourage downward root growth."
The University wants the roots to grow into the Silva cells installed underneath the brick pavers in the plaza, said Hedgepath.
"Those are long-term goals that we're currently working on," he said.
The oaks' canopies are becoming more dense and the nutrient deficiencies are "very minimal," he added. The University is continuing to pull soil samples on a biannual basis to make sure the fertilization program being used is accurate.
The most critical element for the long-term health of the oaks is root growth, though.
"They're doing great," said Hedgepath. "They're just still very fragile. We're still talking about very small diameter roots. If they were to get rolled, cleaned, more foot traffic on them, they're just not there yet to where they've got that level or resilience to be able to take that kind of stress. But as they stand right now, they look really good."
Hedgepath added that they didn't see as much crown, or tip, dieback than what is usually experienced by transplanted trees.
"You didn't see a whole lot of that with these trees," he said, pointing to the University's water irrigation and fertilization regimes as the main reasons. "I feel like they're at or a little bit above where we would expect them to be."
The descendant live oaks lining the walkway in Samford Plaza are doing great, said Hedgepath.
"When you plant seedling grown trees, there's a lot of genetic variation, so some people might point to one of the live oaks and say, 'Oh, it's weeping,' or the other ones, it might be kind of sprawling like what you would expect a live oak to do. And that's all just genetic variation from those two original Toomer's Oaks, which is kind of fun to see. Some have a denser crown than others. I don't think that's indicative of health. I think that's got a lot more to do with genetics.
"They're pretty much reaching full establishment, but there's still low-hanging branches that we just try to keep the attention off of them for right now."