Top Tips for Planting Trees

Wade Muggleton
Friday, 21st October 2016

According to the Tree Council, 1 in 3 young trees planted, don’t make it to five years old. Here are Wade Muggleton's top tips to keep your newly planted trees alive.

Here is a shocking statistic: it is claimed by The Tree Council that 1 in 3 young trees planted, don’t make it to five years old, i.e. they die prematurely. This is a tragedy for all those trees as well as a dreadful waste of the time, energy and resources of growing, nurturing, transporting and planting them.

So just as there is that popular car sticker, “a Dog is not just for Christmas”, surely we need a campaign based on “A Tree is not just for planting” - it needs some TLC to get it going in the world.

So how about a Permacultural extension to Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share and add in Tree Care too.

There is something wonderful about planting a tree. It is good for the soul, is a statement of positivity, and an investment in the future. We are all know trees are good for the world so why are 1 in 3 of them dying in tree infant hood?

Well just as a 'dog is not just for Christmas', a tree is not just for planting and then forgetting about. It’s a harsh world out there and they need a bit of TLC from us to help them along the way. A little help in the early years and if you get it right your tree will go on for decades or even centuries.

So here are pointers to top Tree Care to ensure your tree isn’t one of those 1 in 3 that don’t make it.

Quality Stock

A young tree is only as good as its genetic makeup, its parentage or provenance as we call it in the tree world. So when acquiring trees to plant, it is essential to get good quality stock from reliable sources. Or raise your own from seed, as seeds gathered from trees already growing successfully in your area are by logic suited to that area.

Those end of season, bargain basement, left over, knock down sales might seem appealing, but you really do need to check what you are buying. Left over root bound potted trees are stunted from the start and may never fully recover. So spend your money well and get quality stock from quality nurseries.

Quality Planting

Now planting a tree might seem obvious; dig a hole and stick it in. Well yes and no. You need to dig a slightly over sized hole, break up the edges, and add a little fertility, but don’t over do it. Many nurserymen recommend mychorizal root additive that create those fungal associations so vital to good root establishment.

Back fill to the same level the tree was growing in its pot or nursery bed and water well, adding a good mulch which will slowly rot down and feed the young tree.

Weed Control

Trees hate grass. Probably more young trees die as a result of grass competition than from any other single cause. This is because in the early years the young tree roots are in the same soil zone as the roots of grass and we all know how thick and matted the roots of turf are. So the grass competes with the tree for water, nutrients and space and invariably wins or at best reduces the growth rate of the tree by half. So it is essential for the first 3-5 years to keep a grass / weed free zone immediately around the base of the tree. Ideally with mulch, or physical barriers like weed mats.

Moisture and Fertility

Whilst it is not remotely feasible to keep watering a young woodland or larger scale tree plantings, do make sure to give them a good watering in immediately after planting, and in an extreme drought give them a bucket full - an occasional dousing is far more effective than regular light watering.

For large scale planting schemes, try and get them in as early in the winter as possible so that the winter rains settle them in long before spring comes.

A young tree needs fertility so again in small schemes a mulch of anything from well rotted compost or farm yard manure, wood chip, leaf mould etc. will all mulch out weeds, keep in moisture and slowly rot down to feed the young tree.

Pest Control

So having protected your tree from grass, the next consideration is protection from pests who might eat or physically damage it, be they 2 or 4 legged, so deer, rabbits, hares, voles, domestic livestock or vandals. And the need to do so will depend upon the situation, some of these may be utterly irrelevant in some situations, whilst one of them maybe a specific threat in some locations, so we are talking spirals, tubes, guards, cages etc. and the right one for you will depend upon your situation and what the threat might be.

But few things are as disheartening as returning to the tree you lovingly planted and finding it has been eaten or snapped off. There is a cost here as spirals aside, almost all other protection will cost way more than the tree it is intended to protect. But there is no point in planting the tree(s) if they come to a premature end. So select the right kind of protection for your tree.

Formative Pruning

Entire books have been written on pruning but when it come to young trees you need to look after the leader that is the central strongest shoot until the tree has reached the desired height, then by nipping out the leader your tree will bush out to form a crown.

You may also need to consider pruning your tree to contain it within a certain space or stop it impinging on other spaces like paths, sheds, washing lines etc.

The Father of Permaculture

In September this year, Bill Mollison, the co-founder of permaculture died. He was well known for advocating the planting of trees, and so the Permaculture Association have suggested it would be nice idea if as many of us as possible could plant a tree to remember Bill by.

So go forth and plant a tree for Bill and if you follow the above, hopefully your tree won’t be one of the 1 in 3 that don’t make it, and if enough of us follow this code we might even up the survival stakes to a far better percentage.

A tree is an investment in the future... make sure your tree has a future.

Useful links

India plants 50 million trees in 24 hours

Planting fruit trees - which fruit?

Improving soil fertilty with fungi

Useful books

Book: Getting Started in Your Own Wood

Book: Trees for Gardens, Orchards and Permaculture


David Kennett |
Thu, 27/10/2016 - 15:57

I read the article 'Top Tips for Planting Trees'. Here in a semi-arid region of Australia, the climate and endemic trees are very different from those in the UK. With concern for the environment, aware that 70% of the planet's land mass is arid or semi-arid and a desire 'do my bit', I have planted over a million trees since 2001, developing planting techniques specifically for dry regions of the world. They are so simple and could possibly work in less harsh conditions. One checks that the tree seedling are not root- bound (those I plant are about 1ft - 25cm tall). If they are, I cut the bottom half inch (1cm) off and cut through the roots up and down the rootball. If well-designed forestry tubes are used, (they have root-trainers that prevent root from growing around and around and have very open bottoms that ensure air-pruning of the downward-growing roots), the plants will not be pot bound. Prior to planting the trees, while still in their tubes or multi call trays, they are immersed in water to ensure total saturation of the root-balls. The trees are then planted very deep so just the very top of the seedling is visible, this reduces the plants transpiration rate as a result of burying the leaves, when then die, returning nutrients to the heart of the seedlings. The hole is then filled with DRY soil - and that is it. The DRY soil insulates the rootball from heat, drying winds and low humidity. This is very important when the trees are being planted in temperatures of over 40degC (102degF) with humidity around 0% to 2% and hot winds. The trees are NEVER watered - to do so guarantees their death within a couple of hours - because the water on the surface evaporates and draws all the moisture out of the soil and rootball. I have a website and facebook auria forestry research. I would be interested to hear from people who try this technique in regions where there is higher rainfall.