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How to Plant a Tree

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All these photographs have been taken at Caerhays Castle and Burncoose Gardens.

Digging the hole
1. Dig out a circular hole which is at least twice the size and depth of the rootball or potful of roots which you are planting. Always loosen the soil at the base of the pit to encourage root growth. If planting in a grassy area as opposed to a weed free border always clear well away all turf and weeds from the planting position.
Fertiliser in hole
2.For best results and especially when planting trees add some peat, leaf mould, compost or well rotted manure to the base of the pit and to the soil which will go back into the planting hole. Add a small handful of fertiliser (e.g. Vitax Q4) or Blood Fish and Bone to the planting pit.
Teasing Roots
3. Gently ease the tree or plant out of its container or rootball wrapper taking great care not to break the rootball. If the is especially pot-bound and the roots are densely intertwined gently tease some of them from the edges so that they can gain purchase on the surrounding soil and grow away properly.
Getting correct level for tree
4. Lower the tree or shrub into the planting position. IT IS CRUCIAL THAT THE PLANT IS PLANTED NO MORE DEEPLY THAN IT WAS IN ITS POT OR PREVIOUSLY IN THE GROUND. THE SOIL LEVEL IN THE POT MUST MATCH THE SOIL LEVEL IN THE GROUND.
Getting correct level for tree
5. Back fill ensuring the soil level is not higher than before. Use a cane to ensure correct level.
Rabbit Guard
6. If rabbits are likely to be a problem the best rabbit protection is a wire netting surround which is at least 2 or 2 foot 6 inches tall.
Spiral Tree Guard
7.A simple spiral tree guard may suffice where trees have straight stems and are not prone to rabbit damage (NOT SUITABLE FOR MAGNOLIAS). Tree spiral guards can normally be removed after three years. It is risky not to do so as ants, slugs and worms can build up soil inside the spiral which again can cause grafts to rot or fail.
9. Staking can be carried out in different ways in different locations according to the size of the plant.

The windier and more exposed the location the more essential it is to stake properly. Stakes should always be inserted on the side of the plant facing the prevailing wind so that the plant pulls away from the stake in gales rather than rubbing against it.

All stakes and ties should be checked at least once a year so the expandable plastic ties can be loosened or removed altogether as the trunk of the tree grows and expands. Sometimes the expandable plastic ties move on the plant and cause the tree to rub against the stake. This can cause long term damage and again needs regular checking.

Staking a tree
Large trees need substantial staking as shown below. This may well be a job for an expert or landscaper.
Staking a tree
Trees of six feet or more in size do need a firm stake and one or two expandable plastic ties until their root system can get established.

10. Mulching around your new tree is probably a good idea in formal planting schemes because it will inhibit weed growth but is not always essential in a woodland setting. Careful spraying with weedkiller around the base of a tree in April or May can achieve the same effect which is to ensure that in dry periods rainfall gets down to the roots of the tree rather than being absorbed by grass and surrounding vegetation. Never use coniferous bark mulch for this purpose as it can be toxic to ericaceous plants and again never cover the graft with bark mulch as this is just as likely to kill the plant as covering it with soil.


11.     Plants and trees which have leaves which are attractive to slugs and snails (eg especially Magnolias) should be protected in late Spring (April/May) as the new growth first emerges.

12.     Always prune out any growth which appears from below the graft on the rootstock. If the rootstock grabs the energy from the grafted part of the plant it will become starved and die.

13.     In periods of drought or dry weather in the first 2 or 3 years after planting takes place, watering two or more times a week will be helpful to avoid casualties on stunted new growth. Once watering commences it should carry on until the weather changes.

14.     A dose of granular fertiliser at the start of each subsequent growing season in March or April will encourage the plant to grow more robustly.

15.    The commonest ways of killing newly planted trees and shrubs are:-

a)     Breaking the rootball during planting

b)     Planting too deeply

c)     Covering the graft in soil

d)     Leaving the plant exposed to deer or rabbits

e)     Inadequate watering in dry spells - especially where weed growth is not controlled

f)     Poor and inadequate staking combined with a lack of heeling in after major storms.

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