Trees: A tree-planting guide

Anna Pavord provides a step-by-step guide to planting and caring for trees.

It is easy enough to plant a tree. Ensuring a future for it is a different matter. As babies in prams are irresistible, so winsome little larches, oaks, cherries and monkey puzzles look enticing in pots at the garden centre. But (though tempted) you don't chuck out your baby when it has grown into a large, unmanageable, demanding teenager. So it's unfair to chop down a tree when it has grown too big for the space that you should never have put it in anyway.

Before you plant, have very clearly in your head the eventual size of the tree you have in mind. Pace out 30ft on the ground and imagine that space filled with branches. Think too, what the tree is likely to do for your neighbours. Will it block out their sun for most of the day? Think about the habit of the tree. In small spaces, trees that go up rather than out are generally easier to manage. Flowering cherries are generally wider than they are high, so may not be a good choice.

Weeping willows are disastrous choices for small gardens, as are blue cedars. Both, unfortunately, look wonderful as babies, but the willow makes a tree 40ft high and wide underneath which nothing will grow and the cedar, if allowed to express its soul in its own way, will soar to 130ft. That's big.

Then there's the aftercare. Easy enough to plant, as the endless tree- planting schemes of recent years have shown: trees in new housing estates, trees along suburban roads, trees to humanize hideous industrial compounds. But who waters them in their first summer? Nobody, to judge from the death rate. The summer following planting is the most testing time for a new tree, and a failure rate of something like 80 per cent in the trees newly planted for instance on the approach road from London to the M3, shows that without TLC, at least for the first two years, planting is pointless.

Oh! doom and gloom! doom and gloom! But it matters to get these things in perspective. New starts are sexier than old difficulties and some commitments more effortless than others. We get an easy fix of concern for the environment when we trundle bottles to the bottle bank, recycle newspapers, use bio- friendly washing powder, sprout conkers in yoghourt pots. But the long- term commitment to bring the resulting seedling horse chestnut within sight of maturity, has to go hand-in-hand with the God- like buzz of creating it.

So, you have done your homework and selected the right tree for the right place. You have resisted the temptation to scoop up some container grown bargain at the local garden centre. You have either grown native trees from local beech mast, hazel-nuts, holly berries, wild cherry stones and acorns. Or you have sorted out a nursery where you can buy a "bare-root" tree; that is, one that has been grown in the open ground. These are lifted anytime after leaf fall. These are the most important things to get right in planting a tree.

The advantage of a bare root tree is its superior root system. A decent tree needs an underpinning as extensive as its top growth. A decent root system cannot develop in a pot. The roots, with nowhere to go, spiral like demented snakes. The trees never produce big strong, anchor roots. The exceptions are conifers, which have compact rootballs, and eucalyptus, liriodendron, nothofagus (Southern beech) and davidia, which all resent having their roots disturbed.

There's another reason why bare root trees establish better than container- grown ones. Growing in open ground, the same as the ground in which you are going to replant them, the roots have been used to pitching their wits against stones and impenetrable clay. Container-grown trees, usually raised in soft, emollient, loam-free compost, won't have had to work very hard for a living.

Plant in autumn or winter rather than in spring. In normal conditions in this country (though they get less normal all the time) roots go on growing until the turn of the year. It is a great advantage to a tree to be able to settle into its new surroundings, get its roots comfortably within reach of food and drink, before the branches on top start browsing and sluicing.

The actual planting is simple. Start by digging a hole twice as big as the one you first thought of. Settle the tree in the hole, checking that you have dug deep enough (a tide mark on the trunk usually gives a clue to the correct depth). Spread out the tree's roots so that they do not cross over each other. Gradually fill in the hole, using first some good compost into which you have added a couple of handfuls of bonemeal. Jiggle the tree up and down so that the compost works its way between the roots.

Firm this first layer of compost with your foot. Continue to backfill with the earth you dug out of the hole, firming as you go. Water the tree well and, to conserve moisture, spread a thick layer of mulch (rotted leaves, farmyard manure, mushroom compost) in a circle round the tree. Then - commit.

Suggested Topics
Voices
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond delivers his speech at the Scottish National Party (SNP) Spring Conference in Aberdeen, Scotland April 12, 2014.
voices
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Pare as Megan Draper and Jon Hamm as the troubled, melancholy Don Draper
tvAnd six other questions we hope Mad Men series seven will answer
Life & Style
The new low cost smartphone of Motorola, 'Motorola Moto G', is displayed in Sao Paulo, Brazil on November 13, 2013. The smartphone, with dimensions 65.9mm W x 129.9mm H x 6.0 - 11.6mm D is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 with quad-core 1,2 GHz CPU, a 4.5-inch display and Android Operating System 4.3 and a suggested price of $ 179 USD.
techData assessing smartphones has revealed tens of millions of phones are at risk of being harvested
News
David Beckham is planning to build a stadium in Miami’s port for a new football team he will own
news... in his fight for a football stadium in Miami's port area
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
weird newsMan live-photographs cracking of mysterious locked box on Reddit
Sport
Oliver Giroud kisses the Arsenal badge after giving the Gunners the lead
sportArsenal 3 West Ham 1: Two goals from the German striker and one piece of brilliance from Giroud puts the Gunners back above Everton
News
Plans to decriminalise non-payment of television licence fees would cost the BBC £500m according to estimates drawn up within the Corporation
people
News
weird news
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
filmAs 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star James Dean perfected his moody act
News
Obesity surgery in rats has been found to change the way the body processes alcohol
news
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
artThe Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
Life & Style
US Airways has been at the centre of a Twitter storm after it responded to customer complaints with a graphic sexual image
techUS Airways takes an interesting approach to customer service
Arts & Entertainment
Philip Arditti as Yossarian and Christopher Price as Milo Minderbinder in Northern Stage's 'Catch-22'
theatre
Arts & Entertainment
The Purple Wedding: Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell tie the knot
TV The second episode of the hit series featured a surprise for viewers
Life & Style
Back to nature: women with body issues have found naked yoga sessions therapeutic
lifeDoing poses in the altogether is already big in the US, and now it’s landed here – in mixed classes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Move from Audit to Advisory

    £45000 per annum + benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Move from Audit to Advisor...

    Management Consultancy - Operational Research Analysts

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: You must ...

    Secondary Teaching Assistant

    £60 - £70 per day: AER Teachers: THE SCHOOL: This outstanding Secondary School...

    Application Support Analyst (MS SQL, java based webserver, batch scripting)

    £36000 - £40000 Per Annum On call allowance.: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Day In a Page

    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
    Supersize art

    Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

    The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
    James Dean: Back on the big screen

    James Dean: Back on the big screen

    As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
    Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

    How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

    More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
    10 best activity books for children

    10 best activity books for children

    Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
    Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

    Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

    Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
    Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

    Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

    Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
    Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

    Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

    With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
    Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

    NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

    Politicians urged to find radical solution
    Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

    Ukraine crisis

    How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

    The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

    A history of the First World War in 100 moments
    Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

    New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

    Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
    Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

    Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

    Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?