Arbor Day is a long held tradition in this country. People have been planting trees to mark the occasion since 1890! There was even a time when people were given the day off school and work to go off and plant trees. These days it often slips by unnoticed except by a few intrepid gardeners determined to restore habitats and biodiversity. Arbor Day on June 5th is a thing and we should all embrace it. Plants and trees are the lungs of our planet and hold things together in more ways than one. We need the trees so we should plant them. It is quite simple.
As a child my favourite place to be was in a tree and we had many in our sprawling backyard. Some I enjoyed for the lofty heights it offered me. I could see forever and felt like the king of the castle. Other trees where bushy and full of leaves where I could sit and hide and get away from the pressures and stresses my eight year old life held. Sometimes now I long to find a good tree to just sit in. It is such a tranquil thing to do.
But my favourite trees were the fruit trees. We had so many of all different kinds and all summer long they were filled with the chatter of greedy children gobbling down as many sweet ripe fruit and some not so ripe before we were called in for dinner. Just the taste of a juice, red delicious plum can pull back the years and take me to a carefree place where the summers lasted forever.
Kids don’t seem to climb trees these days. But they should. Falling from a tree was just what kids used to do, and almost an essential part of obtaining the biggest, ripest fruit in the highest branches. In order for kids these days to climb trees, they need to have trees to climb. There is an old wise saying “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb, and with Abor day approaching now is certainly a good time.
Arbor day isn’t at this time of year by accident. Late autumn, early winter is the perfect time to plant tree as many trees aren’t actively growing and the deciduous ones are dormant. It also allows the roots to establish before the leaves place their demands on the young plant.
Before you even go tree shopping you need to decide what you would like to grow and where you would like to grow it. Find out as much as you can first. How tall does it grow? how wide will the roots grow? People often make the mistake of planting a tiny sapling too close to a house or a fence only to find it begins to damage foundations or blocks views or the sun entering windows. Tree roots are often the cause of blocked pipes and planting away from your amenities is a good idea. You really want to view your tree as a thing of beauty and wonder, not a pain in the backyard.
Once you have found the right place for the right tree, it is a good idea to dig the hole first. These days the thinking is to make the planting hole square as the tree will often be found in a round pot. If the tree has been in the pot for a while then the roots will tend to grow in a circular direction and can continue to do so in the ground and become root bound. In a square hole the roots will find themselves confronted by the sides of the hole instead of running alongside it they will grow into it.
If you do find the roots are a little root bound when you take it out of the pot, you can tease them apart and even prune off damaged or overly bound roots. Pruning roots can have the same effect as pruning branches – it will encourage more root growth.
Other advice for planting trees to make sure the hole is twice as wide as the root ball, but importantly – to the same depth. You can adjust this once you have your plant beside your hole, but by digging it first your poor plant isn’t hanging about above ground longer than necessary. If you plant it too deep you could rot the trunk and too shallow will not make a suitable anchor to support the tree and the exposed roots will dry out and die.
The advice to fill the hole with all sorts of goodies to feed the tree isn’t thought of as such a good idea these days as it can encourage the plant roots to stay in the hole instead of reaching out in the ground around so it is better to fill the hole with the same soil that came out of it. Too much of a good thing can also harm the roots. Also as the tree is dormant at this time of year, it doesn’t actually need a lot of extra nutrients.
So set the tree in the hole at the right height and gently backfill, tamping down the soil to exclude air pockets until it is at the right height, but not so firm that it would be difficult for the tree roots to penetrate.
Hammer a stake into the ground beside the tree, taking care not to go through the root ball, secure to the tree with a soft tree tie. Don’t tie it too tight as the tree needs to be able to sway in the breeze to form a strong trunk. But not so loose that the root ball is continually rocking in the wind.
Water well for the next few weeks while the roots establish. A mulch can help retain moisture but don’t mulch up around the trunk as this can cause the tree to rot.
And it is that easy. So now you know how – this Arbor Day, plant a tree so in the not too distant future a kid can climb up into its branches and feel the pleasure of indulging in fruit still warm from the sun, listening to the breeze in the leaves and looking out over their neighbourhood and feeling on top of the world.
Come again soon – winter is just around the corner.
Sarah the Gardener : o)