How To Plant and Cultivate Garden Trees

A somewhat depressing, although fascinating, aspect of trees in the garden is the fact that they will probably outlive their planter! They have an air of permanence about them. The mulberry tree, for example, which can grow on for several centuries, bearing fruits like huge raspberries the while, seems to exude an impression of immortality which might make you slightly resentful -or perhaps respectful. Either way you certainly can’t ignore trees. They are almost an essential part of the garden scene, and they come in a huge range of shapes, sizes and colours. Some present what might, be considered the ideal – a colourful bark, followed by an attractive showing of spring leaves, a good display of blooms and, in autumn, a change of colour before the fall of leaf.

Trees will, in the main, grow in almost any soil, provided drainage is good, although some won’t flourish in soils with a high lime content. This must be remembered when buying.

A common error is to buy elegant young trees which will outgrow their surroundings. Probably the most common mistake in this respect is the weeping willow. Inevitably, in the course of time, the poor thing must be uprooted or mutilated in a vain attempt to keep it within bounds. The rule is, therefore, to find out beforehand how tall and how wide your tree will grow.

Where space is at a premium your best bet is probably the upright type of tree, in which case pyrus salicifolia pendula is worth noting. It has the most beautiful silver-grey leaves and takes quite twenty years to reach fifteen feet high. For something even smaller, if you must, go for the sorbus decora with its dark green leaves and white flowers which turn, in autumn, to scarlet berries. If it’s colour you want then make a note, too, of the malus tschonoskii. It is cone-shaped, with white-pink spring flowers and leaves which turn from silver to dark green, then to a brilliant red in autumn.

There are many types of prunus suitable for small gardens and, in this context, mention must be made of dwarf conifers which grow to fifteen feet – or to only three feet if you’re after a miniature tree, these being a splendid asset to rock gardens. Going to the other extreme, the cupressocyparis leylandii must be the fastest growing tree in the country. Planted close together it will make a wonderful screen, and unless you keep it topped it will grow to sixty feet by twelve feet at the rate of three feet each year.

You can plant trees any time from November until the end of March, except in snow, frost or very wet weather.

Remove the topsoil and break up the subsoil, to ensure good drainage. Mix peat, compost or manure into the subsoil and, in the case of standard or half- standard trees, fix a strong stake to give support Always put the stake in first, by the way; if you put it in afterwards you might damage the roots. Stakes should remain until the tree is about three years old, by which time it should be absolutely firm. Make sure the planting hole is wide enough for the roots to spread out unrestricted, and deep enough for the soil mark on the stem to coincide with ground level when the tree is planted. Be sure to work the soil in around the roots when filling in the hole, pausing now and then to make sure the soil is properly firm.

Stand by to protect your newly planted young charges in the cold months. It’s quite possible they’ll need watering, even in winter, but this must be carried out only in frost-free weather. It’s a good idea to apply a mulch, too, to keep moisture in around the tree and frost out. Some newly planted young trees need protection from frost and wind, in which case it’s worth making a framework of stakes round them and packing in straw or bracken. Snow weighing down branches can cause them to break, so it pays to go round with a pole and knock them free. This applies particularly to conifers. Retreading round the tree after a frosty spell is another ‘must’ because frost can loosen the plant. Spring winds, sometimes accompanied by spells of drought, can also have a disastrous effect on foliage, so windbreaks are necessary. Again, conifers are particularly vulnerable. Water-logging, certainly for any length of time, will kill trees, particularly where heavy soils are involved. If in doubt about the condition of any tree, scratch the bark with your thumbnail; if you can see green beneath all is well! Trees require the minimum of pruning. You need only shape them initially. Don’t prune the leading growth, although the side growths can be cut back by half, to an outward-facing bud. Other than that, apart from cutting away any dead wood, unwanted branches can be cut away, right back to the stem.

Let’s finish off with a list of selections for varying situations, beginning with a tree to grow against a wall: a magnolia grandiflora could well be the number one choice. For autumn colour: the acer pelmatum, a maple.

For a blaze of early spring colour: the forsythia intermedia, followed by the laburnum vossii and the Crataegus oxyacantha. Summer would bring out the colours of the rhus cotinus, the buddleia davidii and the ceanothus burkwoodii. For a graceful evergreen choose the juniperus communis hibernica. The carpinus betulus (’hornbeam’) is a good choice for a hedge tree; so too is the ilex aquifolium (or ‘holly’). The liriodendron tulipifera (’tulip tree’) must be in the running for its scented flowers in early summer; likewise the philadelphus (’mock orange^. The foregoing are special favourites from a huge selection.

A final reminder. When choosing a tree, bear in mind its intended background. For example, don’t put pink-flowering almonds against brick walls; a dark evergreen would look so much better. Colour harmony is the keynote!

Not many of us own acres of rolling parkland! When it comes to brief selection of small trees which have proved themselves popular thinking about trees many of us try to cram a quart into a pint pot— for small gardens, as follows… and live to regret it. Laburnum vossii. It grows to twenty feet and produces long racemes of yellow flowers.

Magnolia stellata grows to about twelve feet with starry white flowers.

The flowering cherry, prunus ama-nogawa, which grows to about twenty feet with a fine showing of pale pink flowers.

Sorbus vilmorinii grows to twenty feet. It has feathery leaves and is studded with gorgeous coral red fruit.

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