The Pleasure of Planting Mature Trees
There are probably few things more exciting (in the world of garden design) than the arrival to site of mature trees ready for planting. They add a structure, maturity and instant three-dimensionality to a scheme that otherwise may take 5 -15 years to reach its design intent. Above anything else, even within tight budgets, indulging in a few key structural elements such as trees is always our preferred option.
However, roughly speaking, the larger the tree the more experienced handling is required for this to be successful. Few of us like plant failures, especially if we have spent large sums of money on key trees. We encourage our clients to visit the various tree nurseries with us, to select their individual forms and feel connected with the process from an early stage.
Here, a beautiful Pinus waterii is winched across a garden wall - requiring a team of 5 to ensure no damage was done to both tree and existing canopies. Handling is centred around the root ball rather than the trunk which can seriously damage the tree.
Often small city gardens hugely benefit from bold design [as opposed to lots of three-quarter sized gestures] – and mature trees can be wonderful in fulfilling this role.
A few other things to consider, which at times are counter-intuitive.
- Killing with love! Whether watered by hand or irrigation system, a common mistake is over watering. Whilst a tree’s root ball must be kept from drying out, a few generous soakings is better than daily watering . This will encourage roots to go down in search of water – ideal, rather than create lots of shallow roots. Irrigation systems have their value, but still require a human input depending on the weather conditions. It is not enough to think all is covered and requires no further thought.
- Planting hole preparation: Wider than the root ball, but no deeper to avoid sinkage. To rough the sides of the planting hole will make it easier for roots to establish. The commonest mistake is the removal of the hessian and wire mesh. This will biodegrade naturally over time and protects any root damage in planting. Some suggest using mycorrhizal fungi may help trees and shrubs establish.
- Anchoring: To avoid damage from wind rock, we mostly used underground anchoring systems such as Platipus. These encourage a stong trunk and have the added benefit of removing any unsightly tree stakes.
- Planting: Another key element in planting the tree is the rootball / soil level. Contrary to one’s instinct, ideally the root ball should be ideally 5cm above soil level. A submerged stem can kill the tree. The value of planting trees is manifold. The personal, emotional connection with something that will outlive us all runs deep; the habitat creation for birds and insects, the cool dappled shade to sit beneath on a summer’s day, the natural screening of an unsightly neighbour, the list goes on and on……
Further planting info is available on the RHS website,