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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

    The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

    They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
    A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

    Dropout generation failed by colleges

    £800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
    Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
    Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

    Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

    Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch