Don’t be scared of odd alien-looking shoots
If the trees in your garden start sending out odd shoots there’s no need to worry as they can be put to good use either by being used for cuttings or grafted onto rootstock to form new plants, writes PETER CUNDALL
Sometimes, perfectly healthy trees send out odd shoots which either look quite different or grow in a different direction than other branches. They may grow straight upwards, or dramatically droop towards the ground.
Occasionally a branch produces leaves that are of a distinctly different shape or colour. They may be yellow or purple, an unusual shade of green or even attractively variegated. These weird forms of seemingly alien growth are perfectly natural and in most cases normal, healthy variations. They are known as ‘sports’ and the most attractive of these oddities can be put to good use.
When separated from mother plants, propagated by cuttings or grafted on to closely-related rootstock, these sports retain their uniquely-different characteristics and a new variety has been created. This is a major reason why we are able such a wide variety of trees and shrubs that weep, grow strongly upright or have attractively-different foliage.
Nearly all ornamental weeping trees – apart from those with a natural weeping habit such as willows - were originally selected from outstanding ‘sports’. They include weeping silver birch, fig, elm, Japanese maple and an impressive range of ornamental trees, especially crab-ap- ples and flowering plums with branches that droop to the ground. These are among the most beautiful of all ornamental plants.
Weeping Japanese maples have a special enchantment and clearly thrive in most parts of Tasmania, provided they are completely out of the wind.
However, if you live in a coastal district, forget trying to grow them because salt-laden winds have a deadly, shrivelling effect on thin, soft foliage.
Among the most beautiful of all weeping trees are the Japanese ‘Lace-leaf’ maples (Acer palmatum) with the extraordinary ‘Dissectum Atropurpureum’ by far the most outstanding.
Slow-growing and thriving in perpurchase
Weeping Japanese maples have a special enchantment and thrive in most parts of Tasmania, provided they are grown out of the wind
fectly-drained, slightly acidic soil these small, compact trees are now forming their first purple leaves.
As summer progresses the foliage turns a lovely green-bronze and around mid-April a glorious orange red before they fall.
The good news is, they require little pruning apart from removing dead or diseased branches but regular summer watering is essential.
In fact they colour up even better in light, dappled shade because too much direct sunlight usually prevents the richest colours forming. Even in winter when branches are bare, these superb, multistemmed maples look fantastic.
Many other extra-vigorous weeping trees need to be grafted on to standards two or more metres high to allow outer branches to droop freely to the ground, otherwise they would spread untidily over the surface.
Young, grafted standard weeping trees on display at garden centres are understandably expensive, but some may appear ridiculous at first.
With skinny, easily bent standards, some even thinner than broom handles, with immature little branches sticking out at the top, they are unable to stand without support.
These fragile young trees need strong supporting stakes with extra-skinny standards secured at intervals to ensure they remain straight. In the right location, al- ways out of prevailing winds, these trees soon take off and grow strongly. After a few years all supporting stakes can be removed as trunks thicken enough to be self-supporting.
Pruning most of these trees is a simple operation. Those that bloom in spring are pruned after blossoms have withered. However it is a mistake to prune back outer branches, apart from any dead or weak growth. All healthy drooping branches on the outer perimeter are best left untouched. The only branches that need removing are those hanging, deep within the canopy. The idea is to keep this space clear to create a kind of leafy room, the walls being the long outer branches. Also, any branches growing upwards must be cut out completely.