Choosing and Planting Trees
'The right tree for the right spot' may sound simplistic, but time spent finding out your soil type (acid or alkaline?) and assessing the site for sun or shade and shelter will pay dividends.
Cercis siliquastrum (Judas tree)
The golden rule is to identify the conditions of your location first and then find a tree to suit. Cherries thrive in alkaline soils, most willows (Salix spp) prefer it damp, Japanese maples (Acer spp) like dappled shade but the Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum) wants full sun.
Buy the best quality tree you can (particularly avoid any pot-bound specimens), and buy small: saplings of 1m (39in) generally survive and establish more easily than larger more developed trees. You'll also have a choice between container grown trees, planted at almost any time of year, and bare rooted trees - cheaper, but ideally planted in October to early December or, failing this, February to the end of March.
Plant your tree as soon as possible after purchase. Don't leave the roots exposed to wind or sun while digging the planting pit and in warmer months, plant towards the end of the day rather than the beginning. Experienced tree planters will plant when rain is forecast.
Begin by stripping off the turf or surface vegetation over an area of about 1m (39in) diameter. Dig a pit in the centre of the stripped area which is at least 15cm (6in) wider and deeper than the root system of the tree or its container. Heap the soil from the pit on a polythene sheet. In soils which have either a high clay content or are extremely free-draining, mix into the soil some well-rotted organic material such as leaf mould or garden compost.
Break up the walls and bottom of the planting pit with a garden fork to ensure roots can penetrate into the surrounding soil. Then water the pit, the soil heap and the roots of the tree thoroughly.
It's worth considering introducing a short length of plastic pipe - such as kitchen waste pipe - into the pit prior to planting. This should be at a 45° angle, with the lower end positioned directly beneath where the root system will be, and the upper end just above the ground surface, approximately 60-90cm (24-36in) from where the stem of the tree will be. Once planted, you can water the tree by hose or watering can down this pipe, ensuring water gets to where it is most easily absorbed by the roots with minimal wastage or evaporation.
If you have chosen a container-grown tree, remove it from the pot and softly tease the roots on the outside and bottom of the root-ball away from the compost. Place the tree in the centre of the pit, making sure the top of the root-ball is level with the surrounding ground outside the pit. Then replace the heaped soil around the roots in the pit, firming gently with your heel as you go.
Once planted, place a 1.0m (39in) diameter mulch mat (a piece of carpet underlay or thick blanket will do) around the tree. Finally, apply a mulch of treated pulverised or chipped bark, available in bags from most garden centres and nurseries, over the matting to a depth of 5cm (2in). This suppresses weed growth and helps retain moisture in the soil.
Tony Russell is the editor of Gardens to Visit.