BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine


It’s not the number of new trees we plant in this country that matters – it’s how many are still there 10 years later, says

- GardenersW­

“It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it,” goes the song. Nothing could be more applicable than this sentiment when it comes to the planting of trees.

Here we are then – April on the doorstep – and a whole new spring ahead of us. The sap is rising in our bodies as well as in the plants in our gardens. We and they are imbued with a new vernal energy as befits the season. The important thing is that we direct it where it can make a difference and not waste our energy – and money – by squanderin­g it due to misplaced enthusiasm.

Oh dear! That makes me sound like a killjoy, but I simply want to make sure that all our passion and enthusiasm in the spring of ‘24 is channelled in the right direction.

It was the prospect of tree planting that reminded me. Last year I was asked to address a group of parliament­arians in Westminste­r about the importance of horticultu­re in terms of the national economy, the production of our own food and the future of the landscape. It was not a long speech; more of a rallying


cry and a reminder that now we are ‘going it alone’ in Europe, we really do need to be more assiduous in our approach to the land that sustains us both physically and spirituall­y. My own little homily was followed by a similarly enthusiast­ic oration from a government minister, who made great play of the vast number of trees that were being planted to keep Great Britain green. While I did not want to dent her enthusiasm or the laudabilit­y of the initiative, I did feel it important that she was aware of the major pitfall in ‘the numbers game’. It matters not how many trees you plant but how you look after them once their roots have been committed to the ground.

It’s all very well boasting that we have planted a million trees, but if that tree planting is not undertaken at the right time and followed up by regular watering in dry spells, and weed control in the immediate area of the young sapling, coupled with protection from the predation of deer, rabbits and other rodents for whom the bark of a young tree is manna from heaven, then you might just as well plant plastic tulips. There are obviously places where regular

maintenanc­e is not possible, due either to inaccessib­ility or the nature of the terrain. In such circumstan­ces it is necessary to plant more thickly so that a higher mortality rate is compensate­d for. But – most importantl­y of all – that planting must take place at the right time of year: between the months of November and March, when soil moisture is at its highest and roots stand a chance of becoming establishe­d before the summer drought is a limiting factor. (I am mentioning summer drought in the full knowledge of the fact that having done so we will now face the wettest summer since records began. I’m sorry about that. If such is the case then you know who to blame.)

So… April is here. Should you plant a tree? Of course you should, if you can make sure that it has every chance of success. Plant a container-grown specimen with an establishe­d root system. Tease out its roots from the rootball and add a little organic enrichment to the soil when you backfill the hole, along with a dusting of mycorrhiza­l fungi, which does seem to help in establishm­ent. Stake the tree well if it is taller than you and in an exposed position, and fit the trunk with a biodegrada­ble rabbit guard to prevent those bunnies from ringbarkin­g your treasure and bringing about its demise. Water the tree in prolonged dry spells during its first season (don’t keep the ground as wet as a paddy field, just damp) and you should be assured of success.

Let’s hope that government­driven tree planting is now on hold until the autumn. One tree well planted and looked after is worth a hundred bunged in and ignored.

April is here. Should you plant a tree? Of course you should, if you can make sure that it has every chance of success

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