Gardening: How to choose, plant and care for a tree
To celebrate National Tree Week, Adrienne Wild shares her tips on how to choose, plant and care for trees in your garden
You don’t necessarily need a reason to plant a tree, but it’s a good way to celebrate a special occasion like the birth of a child, a wedding day or the passing of a loved one.
Trees have the potential to outlive several generations, so it’s important to buy wisely and plant with the future in mind, not just sink it in the ground to give your garden instant height and a feeling of maturity.
Plant a tree today and you’ll be playing an valuable role in maintaining the wellbeing of the planet too. These eco-friendly plants are known as ‘lungs of the earth’ and help to filter pollution from the air, recycle water and prevent soil erosion. In your own garden, a tree will provide food and shelter for insects, birds and animals, and could even be a source of fruit and nuts.
Children, especially, will find it fun to grow a tree from seed and also enjoy nurturing a seedling that they’ve collected from a walk in the country or even Granny’s garden. Not only educational, in time, ‘their’ tree could become a symbol of the changes in their own lives.
Chat with friends and you’ll find that often trees have played a memorable role in their lives, whether it’s when they made their first den, daredevil attempts at climbing, precariously swinging from a rope fixed on to branches or when a tree became a shady retreat to rest and reflect, or a hideaway for romantic liaisons.
Apple trees, in particular, appear to provide some of the best-loved memories, even more so when the fruit was made into unforgettable pies and the prunings became fragrant firewood.
If you’re inspired to plant a tree, it’s essential that you buy the right one for your plot. Before splashing the cash, you need to know your soil type as some, such as Japanese maples, prefer slightly acid soil, while flowering cherries do better on chalky and alkaline soils. Look at how much space you have and research the tree’s mature height and spread, as well as the speed at which it grows, as it can be very costly to cut down large specimens.
Where space is limited, there are slim-fit trees with a fastigiated (single column) habit that can be squeezed into
Acer griseum is often voted as the number-one tree for a small garden
a corner of the garden. One of the best for a small garden is the maidenhair tree or gingko biloba. This ancient tree is the oldest deciduous conifer on the planet and was around when the dinosaurs roamed – a talking point when friends come over for a barbecue.
The Japanese cherry, Prunus ‘Amanogawa’, won’t take up much room either and will thrive even in narrow borders next to a building. It produces pale pink clouds of almondscented, pompom flowers in April, followed by a spectacular fiery show of yellow, orange and red foliage in autumn.
Acer griseum is often voted by gardeners as the number one tree for a small garden. It’s also known as the paperbark maple because its cinnamoncoloured bark naturally peels away in thin layers. In autumn, the leaves turn vibrant shades of deep crimson before falling off to reveal the bark, one of the highlights of a winter garden.
If you’re looking for a small specimen tree for a manicured lawn, woodland setting or wild garden, you’ll no doubt find a rowan, or mountain ash, appealing as it’s a beacon for wildlife. Bees adore the scented, creamy-white flowers of early summer, and birds love to gorge on the orange or red berries in autumn. It’s a perfect plant for problem soil too, and Sorbus aucuparia ‘Asplenifolia’, which has a narrow pyramidoutline, is ideal for a gloomy small garden, with dramatic autumn foliage colours too.
For something more exotic, there’s the easy-going honey locust tree, Gleditsia triacanthos. The variety ‘Sunburst’ makes an impressive mop-headed tree, clothed with weeping foliage that’s initially yellow, then light green.
Acer griseum Japanese maple