Tree planting and establishment
Choosing good quality specimens, planting them correctly and looking after them for the first two years are crucial to successful tree establishment.
Other things to consider;
- It is important to choose species suited to local conditions, such as soil type and exposure
- Find out what the expected height and spread will be; chose one that will not outgrow the space available
- Buy good quality, healthy trees with a well-balanced branch system. If grafted, the union should be well-healed. Check for obvious signs of damage to the trunk. Avoid trees with long circling roots or where thick roots protrude through the drainage holes of their container
- Specimen, semi-mature or other large trees are much harder to establish than the smaller trees sold in garden centres, and these in turn require more care when planting than the 1.2m (4ft) young trees often called whips and available from specialist nurseries. This applies equally to existing trees that are being transplanted as to newly purchased specimens
Feeding: There is no need to apply fertiliser in the first growing season. The roots should be encouraged to grow out into the surrounding soil in search of nutrients and moisture to establish a healthy root system. On infertile soils, feeding the year after planting may be beneficial. Apply a balanced, general-purpose feed over the entire root area at about 70g per square metre (2oz per square yard) in the spring.
Watering: During the first two seasons after planting, newly planted trees require thorough watering in dry spells to ensure that the water reaches the full depth of the root system. The quantity required will vary with soil type but typically 30-50 litres per square metre (4-6 watering cans) each week in dry weather will be necessary.
Well established trees should not need to be watered, except in very severe drought.
Weeding: Grasses and weeds compete with young trees for nutrients, light and especially moisture in the first five years after planting. If planting in a lawn leave a circle of at least 90cm (3ft) diameter free from turf as competing grass can seriously affect establishment and later growth.
Once established, weed control and underplanting is less potentially damaging as the developing tree will deprive competing plants of light and moisture.
Mulching: Trees, especially newly planted ones, benefit from mulching to suppress weeds, provide nutrients, support the growth of mycorrhizal fungi, improve soil conditions and conserve moisture. Trees are usually mulched in late winter, after any fertiliser application, to conserve winter moisture reserves in the soil before the spring and summer.
Suitable mulches include woven polypropylene or proprietary tree mulch mats. Organic mulches include bark mulch, leafmould or well-rotted manure. While clear of weeds apply a mulch 7.5cm (3in) thick over the root area (a minimum of 50-75cm (20-30in) in diameter). Draw the mulch back 10-15cm (4-6in) from the base of the stem to prevent rotting.
Adjusting ties and removing stakes: Inspect tree ties in spring and autumn and adjust ties to prevent constriction of the stem. After two growing seasons the tree should make sufficient root growth to anchor the tree and the stake can be removed.
Reversion and Sporting: Remove reverted (in variegated trees) or sported shoots promptly.
Suckers: Remove any shoots arising from below grafts or from the roots.