Roots to success: How to plant the perfect tree
Friday 25 April 2008
* "Anything you plant could be there for decades or centuries," Paul Underwood, the head gardener at the National Trust's Blickling Hall Gardens and Park in Norwich, says, "so give them room." Avoid walls, buildings and places that might have extensive foundations and underground cabling.
* Tailor the tree to your "microclimate". Are you in a "frost pocket" – a low-lying area that encourages frost – or a coastal area, which might receive salty spray?
* Consider the season. You can buy either "container-grown", "root-balled" (roots bound into a bundle) or "bare root" (simply dug out of the earth) trees. A container-grown sapling can be planted later in the year. Juvenile trees establish their roots quicker, but older – and more expensive – purchases have an immediate visual impact.
* Browse before you buy. Check out the tree's health. The mass of roots should roughly equal the mass of leaves and stems.
* Before planting, think about whether you'll need a stake to support the tree when growing. Small stakes allow trees to develop good anchor roots, but a more expensive, loftier support might be required in the windiest of sites.
* Dig for success. Mark out your area, about three to four times the size of the tree's root ball, and lift up the turf and remove any weeds. Excavate a hole one-and-a-half times the depth of the root mass. Prick the sides of the cavity (especially in a clay-rich soil) with a fork to help the roots establish. Remove the topsoil, put it to one side, and mix one part compost to four parts earth (which you'll need when planting).
* It's planting time. Hammer your stake into your hole, off centre, on the windward side of the tree, so that tree blows away from it. Remove the tree from its container and lay it on its side to tease out its roots. If container-grown, use a garden cane to check you are planting the tree to the same depth as it was growing in the container. Then fill in with the soil/compost mix.
* Water the tree before and after planting, and prune off any damaged stems. Apply compost as needed.
* Stay vigilant. "Keep a close eye on your tree over the first two years," warns Underwood. "Make sure it gets enough water, especially in drought conditions." Give it a balanced feed, such as Vitax or Growmore, every year and prune according to preference.
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