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GINGER GAIRDNER: When is the best time to plant trees?

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There is a Chinese proverb saying, ”the best time to plant a tree was 20 years, the second best time is now”.

This is true on a couple of levels. A tree can take many years until it reaches maturity, although we may have been the ones to plant it there’s a good chance we wont get the opportunity to really appreciate the tree in it’s full glory, planting more for posterity.

A perfect example of this can be seen with the collection of conifers in the Victorian pinetum where I work at Scone Palace, the planting was first started in 1847 by the then 3rd Earl of Mansfield.

During his time he wished to enhance the reputation of the Palace by having a grand garden, his vision saw him desire a collection of the exotic conifers that were newly being introduced to our shores from around the world at that time.

Planting a tree

I can fully understand the excitement he must have felt being one of the first men in our country to see and hold a young sapling of one of these trees, barely a few foot tall.

I can only imagine how he would feel today if he got the chance to walk amongst these now majestic giants now over 50 metres tall he planted nearly 175 years ago, now standing in their prime.

We are also now fully aware the roll that trees have on the health of our planet, they are the lungs of our earth cleaning the air we breathe.

Pretty crucial yet due to agriculture, logging and livestock farming we are losing trees at an alarming rate with the existence of a third of our global tree species now being under threat.

Something that is also contributing to climate change.

Of course it would have been better if we had reacted 20 years ago but at least now we are starting to recognise the importance of trees with many planting projects under way or in the planning.

I cant help having a chuckle though that tree planting appears to be the golden ticket to all our problems being seen as the simple answer- “fly with us and we’ll plant a 100 trees, shop with us and we’ll plant 200 trees”- tree planting needs to be just a small part of a bigger project if we are to do better to protect our planet.

The main thing is, we are beginning to do something about it but the next question is where are all these trees now needed, going to magically come from?

Tree planting

Hopefully from home with budding nursery men and women out there ready to seize on this opportunity.

However the Horticultural Trades Association are highlighting that the existing tree nursery grant scheme needs to go further and with action to improve access to skilled and seasonal labour from abroad if we are to meet this demand for this huge quantity of trees.

Here we are talking about big projects on a large scale but as we move into the tree planting season there’s also a nice wee initiative starting allowing us gardeners at home to play our part too.

Called ‘The Queen’s Green Canopy’ we are all being invited to “plant a tree for the jubilee” in which to mark Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022, the intention to create a legacy to honour the Queen’s leadership of the nation.

Personally I think the sentiment couldn’t be better.

Not only will this make a lasting tribute but also one which will benefit future generations, brightening up our parks and gardens making the spaces around us nicer places to live with all the positive health benefits that will bring too.

Plant nurseries and garden centres around the country are full of trees just now ready for planting at this perfect time of year.

Weeping purple beeches of slender habit that form curtains of hanging branches.

Crab apple trees giving us showy flowers in spring and edible fruit in autumn which can be used for making jelly and trees grown more for their ornamental bark like the Paperbark maple Acer griseum, who’s red-brown bark naturally peels away or a white barked Himalayan birch both ideal for winter interest.

Dunbog community planting trees donated by the Woodland Trust in the community park in November 2020

Make sure when choosing a site to plant a tree that you take into account what it’s ultimate height and spread is going to be, this information should be found on the plant label.

Dig a hole for planting roughly twice the size of the pot but the same depth.

Personally I’m not a fan of ‘improving’ the soil by mixing in some compost as I feel this can encourage the tree roots just to stay within this lush bubble.

What I do like to do is apply some mycorrhizal fungi which benefit the plant roots giving it the best chance possible to settle into the soil of it’s new home.

In exposed situations support the tree with a stake pointing in to the direction of the prevailing wind at a 45 degree angle which will be needed for at least the first few years of its life.