Saturday 7 December 2019

How to put down roots

Plant a tree now and your grandchildren will thank you, writes Gerry Daly

Leaving a legacy for future generations
Leaving a legacy for future generations

Everyone should plant a tree or, better still, trees in their lifetime to leave a legacy for the future, just as previous generations have left us the trees that we enjoy every day. National Tree Week arrives in the first week of March with the aim of increasing awareness of tree planting. March is a good time to plant trees because spring is under way and trees can get established quickly.

Trees and shrubs are sold either as container-grown plants or in the traditional way as bare-root stock. Deciduous bare-root plants can be planted from the beginning of November to the end of March. So now is the time to act. Evergreen bare-root plants are planted in October or April. Container-grown plants can be planted at any time of year, even in mid-summer. However, they establish best if planted during the traditional planting months.

Completely remove any grass or weeds from the planting area, especially perennial weeds such as docks or nettles, because grass and weeds can reduce the growth of young trees by half, and also result in losses. Dig over the area where you're planning to put the planting hole, breaking down the soil lumps. Before planting, soak the roots of the plants in water. Allow container-grown plants to drain for a while afterwards. Cut through roots that have grown in a ring around the pot rootball.

Make the planting hole deep enough and wide enough to take the roots or rootball. Break up the soil in the bottom of the hole. If you have it, apply a 5cm layer of planting mix and mix it well with the soil in the bottom of the hole. Drive in a support stake at this stage.

Small trees, whips or transplants to about one metre or so generally do not need a stake, except in a windy area. If a stake is used, it can be a short stake, driven in at an angle. For taller, light-stemmed trees, tie in the tree using two ties, one near the top and one half-way down.

Place the plant in the hole and spread out the roots. Check that it is the same depth as it was previously planted by looking for the soil mark on the stem. For container-grown plants, make the hole deep enough to leave the top of the compost just level with the soil surface. Be sure to avoid planting too deeply, which is a common cause of poor growth because tree roots are starved of oxygen.

Scatter some compost over the back-fill soil, and a handful of general fertiliser if the soil is of poor quality. Back-fill the hole with a few spadefuls of soil. Work this in around the roots by giving the tree a little shake, adjusting root depth as necessary. Firm the soil gently. Add more soil and firm again. Leave the soil surface neat. Water immediately after planting to settle the roots.

Be patient - some flowering trees such as magnolia and laburnum take a few years before starting to flower. And sometimes trees in flower when purchased in the pot cease flowering for a few years as they put on a spurt of growth, the roots having a free run of the open soil. They will come back to flowering in due course.



Learn to identify native trees, sow seeds, plant bare-rooted trees, measure the height and age of a tree, find out about the animals that live in Curraghchase Forest and go on the tree trail; as part of National Tree Week, from 11am to 2pm, see


Claude Monet's beautiful garden at Giverny in Normandy is just one of six famous places to be visited by Waterford Regional Garden Club in association with Kavanagh Travel from 17-23 June 2018; for more details, 087 650 2067


Read about The Hidden Life of Trees (Greystone Books, £16.99), Peter Wohlleben's fascinating account of the communal life of a forest, their wood wide web, and ability to learn and remember; you will never take their beauty for granted again.

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