I attended the annual Palmstead Nursery seminar back in September. It’s one of the events of the year for me because they always have really interesting and expert speakers. The subject this year was trees and one of the speakers was Tony Kirkham from Kew gardens.
What stuck in my mind clearly was his advice about planting trees and I was really interested to learn that the most common reason for the unsuccessful establishment of newly planted trees is due to them being planted too deep.
So I thought I’d give you some tips about planting trees so that once they’re established you can simply leave them to flourish…
1. Dig a hole to the exact depth of the pot or root ball
When you put the tree in the ground the base of the trunk should be at the same height as the finished ground level. In fact, it’s better to plant is too high than too deep!
Tree roots need oxygen and it might surprise you to know that most trees’ root systems don’t go further down than around 50-80cm. Planting a tree too deep will literally suffocate the tree.
2. Dig a square hole so that the roots will be encouraged to grow out into the ground surrounding it
Sometimes, with a round hole, the roots grow around the original pot-shaped root ball. Gently teasing out the roots with your fingers before planting helps to prevent this too.
3. Don’t add organic matter or compost to the hole.
Enriching the soil in the hole will encourage the tree to put on lots of growth above ground rather than putting on root growth. It’s therefore better for the tree to be planted straight into the site soil.
4. Only stake if really necessary
The last few times I’ve planted a tree, I haven’t bothered to stake because the site conditions didn’t really warrant it i.e. it was sheltered from prevailing winds. You want your new tree to put out roots to stabilise itself.
If you do stake the tree, make sure that you adjust the tree tie as the tree grows. After 6 months to a year, it’s best to remove the stake altogether so that it doesn’t inhibit the growth of the tree.
5. Water carefully in the first year or until it’s properly established
A rain shower is often not enough when it’s first been planted, and this applies to all new plants you put in the garden, so you might need to water even when it’s rained.
You could use a tree water bag system such as Treegator which you fill with water and leave to drip feed into the ground around the trunk of the tree. You do need to remember to top this up of course, but there’s much less water wastage than using a hose or sprinkler system and the water is ending up where you want it to be.
It’s worth the effort to give your tree some love in its first year. Think of it as a child that needs to be nurtured. Once it’s established you can step back and watch it thrive because you won’t need to give it too much attention from that point on.