AUBURN, AL (WTVM) - Auburn University will remove the current Auburn Oaks at Toomer's Corner and replace them with two new live oaks the morning of Saturday, Feb. 18.
"The fire in September severely damaged the Magnolia Avenue tree," said Gary Keever, Auburn University horticulture professor. "The appearance of the tree is unacceptable, and we don't believe it will recover within a reasonable time period."
University officials decided to replace the College Street tree, too, after finding two replacements that match each other in size and appearance.
"The College Street tree has failed to become established as you can see by dead branches at the top," Keever said. "If it had not been for the fire, though, we would have pruned those branches and continued nurturing both trees."
The famed, original Auburn Oaks were found to have been poisoned in early 2011. The university attempted to save the trees, but had to remove them once it was determined they would not survive. Two new trees were transplanted in 2015. The oak on Magnolia Avenue did not survive the move, so it was replaced a few months later by the tree that was subsequently damaged by the fire.
Keever says the new trees have a diameter of 11-12 inches and a height of 30-35 feet and should take root better because they are slightly smaller than the original replacements, which were 14 inches in diameter, and have been root pruned multiple times. The trees also were dug 12 months ago and held in a nursery prior to Auburn acquiring them, which will help accelerate establishment.
"Smaller trees generally work better for transplanting because they are more tolerant of root disturbance and because a smaller percentage of the root system is lost in digging," Keever said.
Auburn got the two matching live oaks from central Florida and is using Twelve Oaks Landscaping of Canton, Georgia, for the transplanting, according to campus planner Ben Burmester.
"These trees should work well," Burmester said. "They are smaller than the ones two years ago but are still large enough to look appropriate on the corner. We are committed to having vibrant trees on the corner for the Auburn Family."
Prior to the 2016 football season, the university reinstated the tradition of rolling the trees with toilet paper after athletic wins, but rolling was halted on the Magnolia Avenue tree after the fire.
"The newly transplanted oaks should not be rolled until it's deemed they can tolerate it," Keever said. "We enjoy tradition, but we have to balance tradition with the health of the trees."
The university is also reminding fans not to roll the 10 smaller oaks lining the walkway from Toomer's Corner to Samford Hall. Those trees, descendants of the original Auburn Oaks, were planted in spring 2016 and are not fully established.