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

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - NEWS - with 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.

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