Lessons from a tree plant­ing dis­as­ter

Trees are one of the most re­ward­ing long-term in­vest­ments you can make, but get­ting it wrong can be heart-break­ing.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - CONTENTS - Words Nadene Hall

The most amaz­ing tree I’ve ever seen is on my brother’s block in a 1.6ha stand of old na­tive trees that run down the steep­est part of his prop­erty. Stand­ing un­der these trees, in­hal­ing the cold earth, look­ing up to sparkling specks of sun­light, is like be­ing in a cathe­dral. It feels holy.

It is a puriri, and so mas­sive it’s eas­ily spot­ted on Google Maps, the canopy cov­er­ing about 400 square me­tres. I am prone to ex­ag­ger­a­tion, but care­ful mea­sure­ments on a satel­lite pic­ture show it cov­ers ap­prox­i­mately 20m x 20m.

Sev­eral hun­dred years ago, what was then al­ready a big, old puriri fell over, com­ing to rest with part of its root ball still in the soil. What had been side branches reached for the sky and are now mas­sive trees in their own right, form­ing the huge canopy.

About a kilo­me­tre down the road is another amaz­ing puriri. This one was in the gar­den of a child­hood friend and it was ev­ery­thing to us: our hut, our se­cret hid­ing place, our fort. But over a cou­ple of years it slowly died off. The own­ers were wor­ried the rot­ten branches would fall and hurt some­one, so they had most of it re­moved, leav­ing be­hind a rot­ting, 3m-high stump.

But the tree changed its mind. Within a few years it had re­stored it­self to grandeur and de­cided to share it­self with the world. Hun­dreds of seedlings started sprout­ing all through the gar­den and the own­ers al­lowed me to dig them up.

I gath­ered over 100 trees, pot­ting them on sev­eral times over a cou­ple of years un­til they stood more than 1.5m high. When the time was right, I spent week­end af­ter aching week­end dig­ging mas­sive holes – the root­balls were 50-60cm across and just as deep – plant­ing my very own puriri for­est.

It lasted a week. I care­fully cov­ered all of them with cloth, but morn­ing af­ter morn­ing, for 10 days in a row, there were dev­as­tat­ing frosts. The leaves turned black, but worse, the trunks split open and days later, my years of work were all dead.

The re­main­ing trees were do­nated to my brother and par­ents. Ten years later, those trees are magnificent, the big­gest mark­ing the grave of Freddy Bear the cat and stand­ing well over 5m high.


find out what suits your cli­mate and plant to that; there is no pro­tec­tion in the world that would keep a puriri safe when you get hard frosts like the north Waikato does.

don’t plant big trees – small spec­i­mens are cheaper, eas­ier on the body at plant­ing time, and you can plant 5-6 of them for ev­ery large one.

buy in bulk; there are nurs­eries all over NZ that of­fer great trans­port deals and when you buy in bulk, the price per plant drops dra­mat­i­cally.

get your spac­ings right; walk through gar­dens or bush you like and mea­sure the dis­tance be­tween the large trees and plant to that spac­ing.

don’t plant too close to power lines, drive­ways or build­ings; it might look great when they’re small, but trees grow fast and branches spread for me­tres and then be­come a nui­sance that must be hacked back, ru­in­ing the tree’s nat­u­ral grandeur.

if you’re plant­ing na­tives, nurs­ery trees like manuka are your friend, grow­ing quickly and of­fer­ing pro­tec­tion to more del­i­cate species (like puriri) that you can then in­ter-plant through them in the years to come.

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