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Crimes against trees, don't be guilty of committing these planting offences!
Whatever tree you plan to plant (and every garden should have at least one), the most important gift you can donate is to plant it correctly. This will help to prevent major problems in the future, including dangerous loss of tree limbs and indeed the demise of the entire tree together with the hazards this poses to nearby people and property. Around 80 per cent of unstable trees have been incorrectly planted, leading to a problem in the root zone.
Crime number 1: are you planting too deeply?
It's vital to plant at the correct depth and many trees, even those planted by experienced gardeners, are too deep. It's far preferable for the tree to be planted too shallowly rather than deep. Why? Most of a tree's roots are located in the top 60cm of soil where it can soak up three things that are essential: moisture, oxygen and warmth. Premature decline of trees will occur as a result of the stem being plunged too deeply into the ground where there is less oxygen and it is colder and drier. The roots will find it difficult to extend sideways in order to stabilise the entire tree.
Root balling of trees tends to exaggerate this problem as the root ball has already raised the compost level artificially high and it therefore looks as if it needs to go deeper underground. In fact it is believed that most root balled trees are planted at least 13cms too deep. Best practice: when planting a root balled tree, ensure the root ball sits a few centimetres proud of the soil so it can gently settle back down as nature takes its course. Root anchors, although great in many ways, can exacerbate the problem if the tree has been planted too deeply - it will have no hope of finding a better level.
Crime against trees number 2: the hole truth
Hole depth need not be very great for a tree planting ceremony it's the width that is the crucial factor. Before planting a tree you need to loosen the surrounding soil and ensure the roots can spread out sideways. Don't feel you have to go down too deeply. Some people believe it's beneficial to add a teaspoon of sugar in the planting hole. Others never fail to use mycorrhizal fungi which effectively extend the root areas of plants and allows them to make the most of the nutrients available to them.
Crime against trees number 3: it's a stake-out
Incorrect staking at the planting stage can damage a tree and can shorten its life. Some people kill trees with kindness. Their stakes are too tall and the ties are too secure. A tree needs to be able to rock backwards and forwards in the wind. This encourages the roots to develop as the plant learns how to stabilise itself within the elements. Use a low stake, where possible, and only keep it in place for two to three years.
Crime against trees number 4: water, water everywhere... or nowhere
Watering regimes are responsible for a lot of tree fatalities. Some people water excessively after planting and they simply wash away all the goodness. Trees can actually drown and you don't want to see a tree sitting in a puddle of water for too long - unless it's a bog dweller. It stands to reason that under-watering is also a killer. This is a major problem when planting container-grown trees during the summer. They will need regular watering throughout the hot months until they have established.
Which trees to plant in your garden?
If you are planning to plant a tree in your garden, make it a good one! This means that it should serve several functions, not just one. The perfect tree will provide a bit of shade and shelter; it will have plenty of attraction for wildlife; it might produce fruit, and of course it will look lovely too. Some trees are better than others at multi-tasking. Whatever you choose, make sure you plant it correctly, position it so that the shade falls where you want it, and then enjoy it!
Here's a guide to help you select the best tree for your particular purpose:
- Make sure it fits the space available. Look at the ultimate height. You don't want to be forever pruning a tree because it's too big for the space available. Most people have small to medium gardens and they can only cope with a small to medium tree, up to 10m tall.
- Deciduous or evergreen? Does it need to screen something over the fence? If so, an evergreen will be sensible. A lollipop-shaped tree, i.e. with a standard stem, is a great choice for screening purposes. Chinese privet, Ligustrum lucidum, is a popular screening tree.
- It is important to have a crop from your tree? Fruit trees such as apples, plums and pears can be used for shade, beauty and wildlife too.
- Consider the shape. Some trees spread as wide as they are tall. If you have only a slim space available, go for a fastigiate, or upright shape. Prunus 'Amanogawa' or Pyrus 'Chanticleer' are popular choices.
- Do you want something for all seasons? Some trees have spring blossom, attractive foliage, fruits, autumn leaf colour, plus a good winter structure. Amelanchier lamarckii is a brilliant choice.
- Perhaps a weeping form would suit your space. Everybody knows a weeping willow but it is only suitable for a large garden and does like to be near water. There are alternatives such as a weeping pear, Pyrus salicifolia 'Pendula' and several different varieties of weeping cherry trees.
- Want a tree with berries for birds? You can't go wrong with a hawthorn, Crataegus. It also provides lovely spring blossom and it's a great nesting tree too.
- Perhaps it's the bark that pleases you most? If so, there are trees with amazing stem colour and texture including the lovely paperbark maple, Acer griseum; the Chinese red birch, Betula albosinensis and Prunus serrula with its rich mahogany colour stem.