Plant a Tree for National Tree Week
The first week in December marks the 40th Anniversary of National Tree Week here in the UK. This is recognised as the ideal time for planting in temperate regions and National Tree week was introduced to encourage folks to plant more trees in their gardens. Garden trees are essential to add height to the planting and to make the garden landscape three dimensional. But more important than their aesthetic value they provide an essential link with the surrounding countryside, keeping wildlife routes open through developed areas.
I know many will already be shuddering at the thought of planting a tree on their plot. It might get too big, invade the drains, undermine the foundations, drop its leaves, cast too much shade, damage the lawn.....There are undoubtedly many more reasons not to do it. All of the founded by making the wrong selection in the first place. Choose wisely and your tree will become a friend to be loved through the seasons, rather than something to be feared.
As the festive season is upon us I worry that some will decide to opt for a Christmas tree with roots which can be planted in the garden afterwards. This is not the objective of National Tree Week. Conifers grown commercially as Christmas trees, such as Picea abies, Abies nordmanniana and are ultimately big plantation trees that are totally unsuitable as long-term garden subjects. There is nothing wrong with buying a cut Christmas tree. It was planted as a crop meant to be harvested. You are not saving the planet by buying one with roots.
Nor is it a good idea to plant a big hardwood such as oak, ash or beech, unless you have a really big space where they can develop and mature for future generations. I know some sources promote native saplings and encourage their planting; great in big spaces, but not in the average garden. Instead plant something that will give more than one season of interest and one that is the right size and shape. I would avoid weeping trees, even small ones in small gardens. They take up ground space where you could grow other things. You need trees that go up and use the vertical space efficiently.
Good choices for small gardens include:
Prunus 'Pandora' - Compact, flame shaped head, small leaves, mass of pale pink spring blossom, orange-red fall foliage.
Malus 'Evereste' rounded head, not too large, easily pruned to shape in winter. Mass of apple blossom flowers in spring, healthy foliage, orange red fruits that last into winter.
Sorbus aucuparia 'Sunshine' compact-headed tree, fern-like foliage, small leaflets, rich fall foliage colour. Clusters of creamy-White flowers in spring, bunches of golden yellow fruits in fall.
Alnus glutinous Imperialis. A lovely, airy tree with finely cut, Fern-like leaves on an open tracery of twigs. Great for wet soils.
Arbutus unedo a slow-growing evergreen option with dark green foliage and lovely cinnamon coloured bark. Small bell-shaped flowers bloom at the same time as round strawberry-like fruits ripen on the branches. Good for drier, sheltered situations.
Amelanchier lamarckii. Small pale green leaves which colour well in fall. Copper coloured new growth in spring around the same time as sprays of starry white flowers. Good on most soils. Although never recommended for shallow chalk soils it seems to thrive anyway.
Container grown, root balled or bare root?
Container grown trees probably started life in the field. They were then dug up and potted and grown on for a season or two. When you plant they will have an established rootball and should suffer no transplanting check. Smaller sizes are easier to handle.
Rootballed trees are dug up retaining a ball of soil, undisturbed around the roots. This is an advantage with some species that do not transplant easily when lifted bare root. Betula, liquidambar and juglans are best bought in this way if field grown rather than container grown. Root balled trees are heavy to move and roots are naturally cut beyond the rootball.
Bare root trees are lifted from the field without much in the way of soil around their roots. They do however retain good root length and some species transplant readily this way. They are easy to plant and easy to stake. Malus, Acer campestre, Acer platanoides, salix and pyrus transplant well in this way.