ERIKA REEVES continues an occasional gardening column by writing about trees and how to go about planting such a key element of any garden. She will also answer any queries sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
I am a child of the eighties, and so I remember hiding with my sister in the most structurally unsound hut, built under the shiny white body of a fallen Elm tree. We created walls with the sharp branches which were strewn on the ground and challenged each other to duels with only the most pointy. As far as I was concerned dead Elms were prime real estate for huts. It seems nearly morbid now when I look back at it. I am grateful for my oblivious innocence as a child. The effect that Dutch Elm Disease had on our landscape was shocking, we lost all of our large Elms.
Unfortunately similar diseases to Dutch Elm have found their way into Ireland and are capable of having a comparatively disastrous effect. Horse Chestnuts have been effected by ’Bloody Canker’, and Oaks, Beech and Japanese Larch by ‘Sudden Oak Death’, which as the name suggests kills without warning and very quickly. When just 0.1% of our native forests remain today, there is an extreme urgency to protect what we have from such threats and where possible restore what we once had.
Now is the time to plant bare rooted trees, but any time between late October and late February and sometimes in cold years up to mid March is perfect too.
Place you tree in a bucket of water, this will stop it from drying out.
Dig a hole twice the width of the root ball and about one and a half times the depth. Try to spend a decent amount of time at this stage, it really pays dividends for the tree as it tries to adapt to its new home.
Break up the soil that you remove from the hole and remove any grass roots or weeds. It’s a good idea to add in some well rotted manure. This will encourage growth of fibrous feeding roots over the coming season.
Before putting the tree into the hole, backfill a little with some of the broken up soil, then sit the tree onto this nice soft earth. You will be able to tell where the tree was originally planted to, as there should be a mark on the trunk just over the roots. Always plant the tree to this mark, never over or under it.
At this stage it is possible to sit a piece of pipe toward the edge of the planting hole and down as far as the lowest roots. When by some miracle the hot sun pelts down on us this summer, the pipe will allow for economical watering and will bring the water to where it is needed, leaving you free to sunbathe.
When you have your height adjusted you can start to backfill the rest of the soil, making sure that it is well broken up and that there are no large stones.
When the planting hole is three quarters full, hold the tree firmly with one hand near the base and the other about half way up, give it a gentle shake up and down. This ensures that the soil falls between the tiny roots and fills up any air pockets.
Fill the remainder of the hole and then gently foot it in with the ball of your foot, don’t be too over enthusiastic with your threading however, as the soil will become too compacted and may in fact stop surface water from making its way down to the roots.
Finally the stake. Nowadays it has become popular to drive the stake down at a forty five degree angle to the tree, away from the delicate roots (conventional staking is required where the tree exceeds five or six feet in height). Strong gales will not affect the stake if it is placed in the general direction of the prevailing winds. Using a tree tie, hold the tree securely to the tree.
When all the planting is over and done with and your lower back it slightly achy, give the tree a good drink of water. Watering will need to be continued regularly during the growing season for at least the first year.
Trees are among the most crucial elements of any garden, whether they are a hundred feet high or eighteen inches confined in a ceramic pot. They are the living equivalent of hard landscaping, creating strong visual impact but with softer more natural lines. They are generally the largest and longest lived plants in your garden , so selecting and siting are primary decisions.
Choosing the right tree for your garden is key. I am pretty sure that most of us will have fallen in to that trap where a tree ‘looks’, lovely on the label. We get it home, plant it, and for a few years it sits quietly in the corner. A few more years pass and before you know it there is little else in that corner.
Set yourself some guidelines when shopping for that perfect tree, height, spread, shape, whether its evergreen or deciduous, ornamental or native etc are all important considerations. The purchase of a particularly flamboyant specimen can really hit the wallet, so you must be sure that you have done your homework.
If price is a consideration, try a local nursery, as they can supply a smaller tree then the garden centre for a fraction of the price. And for all of us die hard gardeners grow from seed, few gardening projects are as rewarding.
For anyone interested in learning more about trees and in particular our native trees check out the Tree Council of Ireland’s website www.treecounsil.ie. Our National Tree Week also runs from March 4 to 10 this year so get planting.
SAP Nurseries. Garnavilla, Cahir, Co. Tipperary.
Dundrum Nursery and Garden Centre. Ward Pk, Dundrum, Co. Tipperary.