March 01 2023

Head Gardeners’ tips
March 2023

Amy Moffett - Head Gardener, Stoke Mandeville

As little bursts of colour start to return to our gardens, Head Gardener Amy shares her top tips about trees.

We all love the feeling of looking forward that the spring brings, so why not make a long term investment in your garden and plant a tree this year? Now is a great time to do this as the soil is warming up and we are itching to get out into the garden and plant new hope and potential. A tree adds so much value to a garden; it can provide shade from hot sun, protection from wind, it can help absorb pollution, take up water in flooded areas, and of course provide valuable habitat for wildlife. All that without even getting started on all the benefits to mental health and well-being!

Spending time in nature improves our sense of well-being, even if it is only for a few minutes. Taking some time to be amongst your garden, in your local park or woodland, or even just noticing a local hedgerow, can boost your levels of concentration and productivity. It’s also been shown to reduce stress levels, improve your mood and physical health and to help connect you to others in your local community.

There are lots of qualities to consider when choosing a tree; are you looking for spring blossom, autumn colour, summer interest, wildlife value, bark texture, fruit (edible for you or for wildlife?), or just sheer beauty?! No matter what you go for, picking something the right size for your garden is absolutely crucial. You may fall in love with something at the nursery and hugely regret planting it in 10 years’ time. If you have a small garden this is more important than ever – there’s lots of advice online about trees for small gardens and there are loads to choose from, so spend some time researching the right one for you and it will give you, and others, joy for decades to come.

Some lovely examples of small trees that we have at Horatio’s Garden Stoke Mandeville include Cercis siliquastrum, with its stunning spring flowers, followed by beautiful heart-shaped leaves; Euonymus alatus, with its fiery red, jaw-dropping autumn colour and curious fruits; and Amelanchier lamarckii, with its beautiful soft clouds of spring blossom and it’s delicate, leafless winter structure.

When it comes to planting a tree, the most important thing to remember is not to plant it too deep. If you look carefully at the lower part of the tree, you will see a small flare where the base of the stem starts to reach out to the sides and become roots. This is called the root collar. It’s really important that this part of the tree doesn’t end up submerged under the soil as it can rot; try to get it level with the soil surface or slightly above. The best thing is to try to dig the hole to exactly the right depth and make sure the base of the hole is firm so that the tree doesn’t sink down as it settles in. A square hole is preferable to a round hole as developing roots will reach a corner and push outwards, rather than continually spiralling around. This is especially important in clay soils where roots need to work harder.

Don’t be tempted to add organic matter to the hole; this will break down causing the tree to sink later. Firm the soil in around the tree and a mulch such as leaf mould or composted wood chip can be added on top once the job is complete. Just keep it clear from the base of the stem.

If your tree is exposed to the wind, it may need staking to stop it wobbling in its hole while it gets established. Try to stake low down so that the tree can naturally start to build its own ‘reaction wood’ to support itself and check the stake ties regularly to make sure they are not pinching the stem as it grows. Smaller trees are less likely to need support than larger ones. Don’t forget to protect the young tree from rabbits or deer if that’s an issue in your garden.

Water the tree generously at least once a week while it’s getting established. If you can keep this up for the first couple of years, especially over the summer, you are much more likely to get a very happy, healthy, established tree. We all see new trees planted in our local areas that are drying out in their first years of planting, so why not water those as well if we can!

Happy planting!

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