Tree Planting

We encourage planting more trees, it is one of the best service one can do to the environment. We found an interesting article in the book called “Trees for the yard and Garden” by “John Cushine”. Presenting some of the tips mentioned in the book:

Planting a tree

     Unlike herbaceous plants and some shrubs, a tree is a long-term plant.  With luck it won’t ever need to be moved, which means that planting time is your best opportunity to give the plant roots what they want, and you should make the most of it.

1 Make the planting hole larger than the root area of the tree.  Keep the topsoil in a separate pile to the subsoil — you will know when you hit subsoil as it is harder and poorer.  Fork up the base of the hole, allowing water to drain and the roots to penetrate the subsoil.  Don’t unwrap the roots until you are ready to plant or they will dry out.

2 Place the tree in the hole, making sure that there is enough room to spread out the roots.  Where a stake is needed, work out the best position so that it won’t interfere with the roots.  Remove that tree before you drive in the stake to avoid damaging the roots.

3 Spread a layer of rotted farmyard manure in the base of the hold — it gets the trees off to a good start and retains moisture when they need it.  Cover with 6in of topsoil.

4 Put the tree back in the hole and spread out the roots.  Prune any broken roots back to healthy tissue, taking care not to damage the small fibrous roots.  Plant the tree at the same depth as before – there will be an obvious soil mark on the bark to guide you.

5 Mix a couple of handfuls 3-6oz of bonemeal and some old farmyard manure into the topsoil.  Back fill around the roots, shaking the tree to settle the soil.  Firm the soil with your foot to exclude air pockets, and tread the surface around the tree down into a dish shape so that water does not run off before it has time to penetrate the soil.

6 Water well after planting to settle the soil around the roots.  For the first season keep the soil in the vicinity of the roots well watered and spray the foliage to prevent the tree from drying out and wilting.

7 Use a strap and pad to hold the tree firmly to a timber stake.  A short stake tied at a height of 24in will allow the tree to move in the wind while the root is held steady.  The movement will thicken the tree trunk so that after a short time it will be able to stand without support.

Planting a Whip

     Small whips- young trees usually available from nurseries as bare-root plants – are easiest to plant than standards, but it still makes sense to do the job properly.  They may be planted without digging a proper bole.

1 Instead use a spade: push it into the soil, lever it backwards and then lift it out, leaving a slit to hold the roots.

2 Slip the roots of the whip in and firm with your foot to seal the hole.


     There are occasions when it is necessary to transplant trees.  You may be moving house and want to bring a tree of sentimental value with you. Before the sale is agreed it is essential that you provide your agent or lawyer with a list of plants you intend to remove.  If a favourite tree can’t be moved until later in the season, an understanding buyer may allow you to return at the proper time to dig it up.

     Trees may also have to be moved to be allow an extension to be built. If they have been spaced incorrectly and are in competition, one will have to be moved before both trees are damaged.

     Deciduous trees may be lifted and replanted from late autumn to early spring, depending on the soil conditions.  Evergreens are best moved in mid-autumn when the soil is still warm, or alternatively in mid-spring when the ground is warming up.  The larger the tree, the more difficult it is to lift it with its roots intact.  There comes a point where the amount of work needed to prepare the tree for transplanting does not justify the effort or expense.

1 Even large trees may be lifted successfully but, where time allows, it is best to prepare them the year before.  Excavate a 12in trench around the tree 24-40in away from the trunk and cut through any roots.

2 Fill the trench with mixture of soil and compost to encourage new fibrous roots to grow into the area. The tree may be lifted the next year after the root area has been well watered.  Prepare the new planting hole before lifting the tree.

3 Mulch around the collar of the tree to retain the moisture in the soil and help prevent weeds growing in competition.


     Watering should be done properly.  That means applying enough water to soak the soil thoroughly.  Use a spade to check that the soil is wet to a considerable depth and not just the top 2in.  Shallow watering encourages the roots to stay near the surface instead of going deep in search of water.  Deep roots are desirable as they seek our nutrients and trace elements, as well as anchoring the tree upright in a storm.


     I am a great believer in feeding young trees and leaving the older trees to their own devices.  Young trees will benefit from an annual feed using a slow-release fertilizer.  Apply it in spring, washing it into the surface of the soil in a circle at least as large as the spread of the branches.  When applied at the recommended dosage (read the instructions on the package), the fertilizer will be released into the soil over a period of up to nine months.  This type of fertilizer works on the principle of osmatic pressure.  Moisture enters through the outer shell of the fertilizer granule, dissolving the nutrients and releasing them into the soil.  During periods of dry weather the action stops through a lack of moisture.

     Nitrogen fertilizers encourage fast, soft growth that will be liable to frost damage later in the year.  By contrast, high levels of potash in a fertilizer will harden growths and encourage flowers, berries, and fruit.  Phosphate encourages a good root system.  Applying a balanced fertilizer that incorporates these three main nutrients will ensure sturdy growth.

Training and pruning

     A well-behaved tree may make good growth each year, but it still needs a helping hand to produce a balanced shape that is pleasing to the eye, with no crossing branches or congestion.  This is where training and pruning come in.

     The most important pruning is that undertaken when the tree is young.  The ultimate shape of a mature tree is often decided by the framework of branches formed at this time.  A satisfactory shape may be achieved quite quickly, but pruning may be necessary to encourage the new shoots to head in the right direction.  For extra information on pruning conifers.

     Many of our better-known garden trees have been trained by pruning into an artificial habit and require maintenance to retain their shape.  Standard and half-standard trees, such as cherry, mountain ash, crab apple, and laburnum, have had the side shoots removed from the main stem so that the tree forms a “head” at the required height.  Some trees may have been grafted on to a different rootstock at the desired height and allowed to grow on from that point.  Birch and alder will usually form feathered trees, with branches up the stem from ground level, although as the tree ages these may be shed.  Conifers and hollies form a similar shape but always retain their side branches.

     Multi-stemmed trees such as magnolias behave in the same way as large shrubs, producing lots of branches at, or close to, the base.  However, some multistemmed species, such as Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia,’ may be trained as a standard instead.  To do this, remove all but one of the branches and train the single stem up a stake.  Allow a branched head to form when the stem reaches 6ft 6in. The end result is an impressive well-shaped tree that shows off its display of red berries.

When to prune

     Mature deciduous trees are easier to prune in winter when the leaves have fallen.  The exceptions are cherry and plum trees, Which should be pruned in summer, to guard against silver leaf disease, though this is not a great problem in north America.  The spores of this disease are dormant in summer, so there is less risk of infection then.

     All trees are to “bleed” if pruned in the spring when the sap is rising.  Some species, notably birch, have a powerful capillary action, causing them to drip badly when cut.  The cut branch may drip for weeks, weakening the tree and increasing the risk of disease.

General guidelines

     When pruning, always use sharp tools.  Small branches can be cut with a knife or hand pruners.  Larger branches up to 2in in diameter can be removed or shortened using a pair of long-armed pruners.

     Use a chain saw or hand saw to remove large main limbs.  Cut partway through on the underside of the branch first.  The weight of the limb will pull the branch down and, without the preliminary undercut, it would rip the bark right down the trunk.  Then make the main cut in line with the branch collar where the limb joins the main trunk.  Finally use a sharp knife to trim any ragged edges of bark, leaving a smooth wound that will soon callus over with new bark.

     Where a tree is planted in grass, remove any very low branches for ease of mowing.  Remember, pruning promotes growth.  The amount you prune off will regrow elsewhere on the tree.

Shaping the framework            

     The results of spending a few minutes shaping the framework of a young tree will still be evident years later.  There are three golden rules for success.

1 Prune our weak or diseased branches first.

2 If two branches are rubbing, cut off the weaker, diseased, or most misshapen branch.

3 Where two main stems meet, avoid a narrow angle that will be a weak point vulnerable to splitting when the tree is older.  Cut off the branch that is most angled.

Directing a shoot

     There is a simple principle for getting a shoot to grow where you would like it to.  Choose a growth bud that is pointing in the direction you want the stem to grow.  Growth buds are usually thin and pointed-flower buds on the same tree will be fatter.  Cut the shoot back to just above the chosen bud.  A bud on the upper side of the shoot will grow upward, probably at a 45-degree angle.  To avoid branches growing into the center of the tree, never shorten a shoot to an inward-pointing bud.  It would be more than a labor of love to shape a large tree using this method, but for young trees it is decidedly worth the effort.

Rejuvenating an old tree

     The effect of pruning in stimulating a tree into growth can be used to bring a new lease of life to a neglected tree.  Some trees are more tolerant of severe pruning than others, and these include elm, horse chestnut, lime, mulberry, oak, poplar, linden and yew.  Even cherry, mountain ash, and Norway maple will recover from a fairly hard prune.  On the other hand, beech, birch, and walnut dislike being pruned as large trees.

     Branches that have been shortened will make new growth towards the end of the cut stem and in a short time will be as large as before and more bulky.  Apply a surface feed to the root area in spring to help regenerate growth.  Water the tree regularly in dry weather to help it recover.

1 Before you tackle an old tree, spend some time sizing up the job.  Remove dead, diseased, and crossing branches first. Cut them as close to the ground as possible:leaving stumps is not a good idea as they are prone to die back and become a source of disease.

Which tree where?

     In the Directory section of this book, tree genera are described in some detail and in most cases with enthusiasm, which is why they are there.  Only one or two get a bit of a brush off.  It will be noted that most of the genera have several distinct species.  Often from very different parts of the world.  I never cease to be amazed at how trees that virtually define the eastern North America tree scene-for example, briodendron.  Nyssa,  liquidambar and sassafras-have oriental kissing cousins.  And in addiction, there are a number of cultivars of these species that have been propagated from naturally occurring variants (purple leaves, vertical habit, etc.) or intentionally bred for particularly desirable characteristics-frost-hardiness, or flower or fruit size.

    While common names are used conversationally in the general parts of the text because it is both unnecessary and pretentious always to refer to beech, for example, as Fagus sylvatica, there is no alternative to botanical names in the lists.  These define exactly, universally, what plant is being referred to and when used in a nursery catalogue ensure that you are getting the plant you want.  It would be maddening to find you had planted, say, Acer pseudoplatanus when you wanted Platanus occidentalis, just because both are commonly called “sycamore,” albeir on different sides of the Atlantic.

     Using botanical plant names is neither snobbish nor showing off; it’s just sensible and universal.  It’s no big deal, anyway.  Pronunciation need not be a concern, for correctness varies, depending on where one is.  Every syllable has weight: thus Daphne, of course, has two and Nerine three.  So the answer is to utter the names where needed loudly and with complete conviction.  One doesn’t need to be a Latinist to do that; just read names phonetically, for there are no dotty surprises that have to be learned as in English (cough through the bough, etc.).  And if you really want to know more than everyone else has forgotten, consult Professor William steam’s monumental Botanical Latin.

     There is also reference throughout to climatic zones, as published by the United States Department of Agriculture.  As a guide to what plants are hardy where, North Americans are very conscious of these zones, and with reason.  Climates on the North American continent vary from the frigid to the subtropical, and a glance at the map on page 198 shows that average annual minimum temperatures differ vastly.  But it must be emphasized that these are agricultural macro-concerns based on isotherms, while most gardens are on a small scale in which helpful microclimates occur and can even be encouraged.  Any winter weather forecast warns in tones of doom about today’s wind-chill factor and how necessary it is to wrap up warmly.  Keen gardeners are equally concerned to wrap up their plants metaphorically or even literally (in japan the latter has developed into an art form in its own right) and much can be done.

     The important thing is to take zone lines as valuable general guides but not as prescriptions; unfortunately especially in North America, too many gardeners accept them as gospel and suffer from a complaint known as zonitis.  This leads to an unquestioning belief in media pundits who are bound, for fear of their reputations, to substitute cowardice for caution.

     In Britain, the mildish oceanic climate would show, if the same system were adopted, most of the country to lie within the 7-9 zone bands, which sounds wonderful.  Not surprisingly, next to this, North America’s continental climate is apt to be unfavourably compared.  But this is a simplistic view; the vagaries of the British seasons, which must be compared with the near-certainties across the Atlantic, are a major concern.  Problems are equally present.  They are just different.

     Following the above barb against populist punditry, it is rash to write rules here, but offering some suggestions is in order. While being conscious of zonal guidelines, one must observe, record and work within the potential and limitations of one’s own space.  Thus:

1 Choose the right plant for the right place.  Trees whose role is protective, giving wind shelter, must be utterly hardy and adapted, especially in coastal conditions, to that particular role.  These are not the sites for one-off optimistic experimentation –that comes within the garden which is now protected.

2 Be conscious of katabatic effects: cold winds drifting downhill are caught in frost pockets, which exaggerate cold nights.  Those traditional sloping walled gardens in Scotland often omitted the southern side, reduced its height or replaced it with railings to let the cold air flow away. Making a gap in a similarly sited hedge or taking out a tree or two to break a line has the same effect.

3 Good soil drainage is often just as important; plants whose roots sit wet over winter are more vulnerable to winter cold. Mulching around plants with known shallow root systems, such as rhododendrons and most of the Ericaceae, is a help. Magnolias and Japanese maples are equally appreciative.

4 It is always upsetting when newly planted trees get beaten up in their first winter, and if there is doubt as to their ability to withstand it, plant in spring, which gives a longer period for root establishment before they have to meet adverse conditions.  Also, as plants seem to acquire a bit of extra hardiness with increasing maturity, added protection for the first winter or three is really worthwhile.  A tepee of evergreen branches or a windscreen may make all the difference.  The moment of its removal in spring is as important as its installation.  A warm March in Britain may herald a frosty April and the situation must be watched, while in North America that sudden spring warmth can provoke growth inside that is dangerously soft if uncovered too late.  No apology is offered for re-emphasizing these warnings and adding them to concerns about protection from rodents and deer: nothing is more maddening than to lose young trees when one could have done something about it.  None of this, however, is meant to inhibit trial and experimentation.  Few things are more pleasurable than proving the experts wrong, and success is wonderfully encouraging.