Gary Zimmers | Growing a Giant Sequoia in Indiana

By Brent Cotter

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I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't exactly enthralled by the idea of collecting dozens of different leaves for Mr. Zimmers 9th grade biology class. But as we all know, our interests change over time, and recently I've had a growing fascination with Indiana's native trees.

So, after watching a television program one evening about the Redwood forest in California, I couldn't help but wonder if such a tree could grow here in Indiana. 

It turns out that the Redwoods that grow on the coast of California most certainly would not be able to grow in Indiana. However, it's biological sister the Giant Sequoia, is able to. I discovered this when I found out that my former Biology teacher Gary Zimmers was growing a Giant Sequoia. 

The two species of trees are often considered one and the same, but there are a few differences. Most notably, the Redwood is the tallest tree in the world, growing up to 360 feet. The Giant Sequoia grows "only" to 300 feet, but it is the largest tree by volume, growing substantially wider than a redwood. Additionally, it is the largest living organism on Earth.

Some other interesting facts about the Giant Sequoia is that they have been growing on Earth for nearly 200 million years. That nearly pre-dates the dinosaurs. Also, they can live to be as old as 3500 years. You'd think that such a resilient tree would be easy to plant and grow, right? It turns out that growing a Giant Sequoia in Indiana poses some unique challenges. Gary was kind enough to answer our questions and explain the process in greater detail

A Giant Sequoia planted by Gary ZimmersUCN-What made you decide to grow a Giant Sequoia?  

GZ-I'm working on creating a mini-arboretum on my property.  After reading about Giant Sequoias, I found out there are several in the Midwest.  I had to try to grow one.

What challenges have you encountered so far?  

My first tree grew like crazy, but didn't survive the winter.  The company I bought it from thinks I didn't water it enough into the fall.  I watered the next two trees until mid-November.  The second tree didn't look good when it arrived and never did take off.  It died before its first winter.  Tree number three is my current survivor.  It was a little sparse on foliage, but sturdy.  I had to plant it in the mud during the spring of 2011.  It literally blew over, stake and all during a storm.  I made improved stakes and kept it alive that summer.  Last winter was mild and the tree survived.  This hot, dry summer meant lots of watering, but it took off this fall.  The deer rubbed it on two separate occasions recently, but I think it'll survive the upcoming winter.

If the tree is able to grow for several hundred years, in what ways could it alter it's surrounding ecosystem?  

Considering my property is moderately-wooded, it should be fine.  There is a field around my three acres that won't be affected, either.  My hope is that it will eventually grow large enough to be seen from miles away.  I fully realize this is a long-shot, but I'm hopeful.

How many different species of trees do you have on your property?  

There are over 100 trees of about 30 species on my property.  

Are there any other seemingly exotic trees that you'd like to plant?  

I have Paw Paw and Persimmon trees, which aren't too common any more.  I plan to keep adding a few trees every year.  Next year's trees will be Sweet gum and Sycamore.  A teacher friend of mine gives me her free Arbor Day trees from her church, plus I start new Willow trees from cuttings of my older trees.

Have you ever seen a mature Giant Sequoia in person?  

Not in person, but I hope to in the future.

If someone you knew was wanting to grow one, what advice would you give them?   

Read a lot from sites such as, www.giant-sequoia.com  Plan to water on a daily basis during the first year. The deer rubbing is a fall deal due to Rut, but spraying the trees with a mixture of eggs and water helps prevent the damage.  This fall has been so rainy that I didn't keep up with it well enough.  Even if a person doesn't want to attempt growing Sequoias; plant trees!  It's great for the environment, plus it's SO rewarding to watch them grow up during your lifetime.  You'll leave a great memory for others, too.