Planting Trees And Shrubs

Today, many people begin gardening, which often means tree and shrub planting, without the slightest previous practical experience. Therefore, terms and phrases of whose meanings they may be entirely ignorant are found regularly, even in the popular press.

A deciduous tree or shrub is one that is bare of leaves in winter, then sprouts them in spring and loses them in autumn (often after they have turned gorgeous colours). For quite a time, therefore, such plants are relatively dormant, giving a long period during which they may be transplanted with safety.

The individual leaves on an evergreen tree or shrub have a life of more than a year, even up to three of four, before they fall. This means that the plant always carries a lot of leaves. These leaves are, however, to some extent always active; an activity that may be reflected in the need for root action. Thus expeditious handling when transplanting is essential so that root action is not unduly checked. Further, to prevent this, planting in early autumn or middle to late spring is desirable as the soil is then warm and natural root action is taking place. This applies to such plants as hollies, rhododendrons and laurels. Conifers, botanically different from these, and for the most part carrying their seeds in cones are also evergreens and must be treated the same way.Planting Trees


Most deciduous trees such as crab-apples, cherries and rowans are supplied as standards. That is, in the nursery they are trained up on single bare stems (or legs) with a bunch of shoots at the top. The stems are about 5 ft. high, and are kept clean by pruning away side growths. Among the cluster of branches there should be one somewhere near its centre which is growing vigorously and is forming a leader. This branch should not be cut back, as it is the key to a well-formed crown or head to the young tree.


Trees on a stem about half the length of a standard, are sometimes produced and can be most useful.


These are quite simply the very numerous woody plants, deciduous or evergreen, which it is virtually impossible to train as standards. They grow naturally from the ground upwards with a number, indeed often, a tangle of shoots.

Trees and Shrubs on a New Property

As a first step, it is essential to make sure that there are not preservation orders on existing trees; such trees must not be touched. The local authority (usually its Planning Officer) will give information on this matter.

There may also be restrictions placed on the felling or even planting of trees by the owner or seller of the land which will be a condition mentioned in any contract. This point will be dealt with by the solicitor before the purchase is made.

Placing Trees

Of a more general and practical nature, the planter should study the placing of his trees to ensure that :

(1) The eventual size will not block his view, or overhang his house.

(2) Overhang a neighbouring property or a road, or interfere with electric or telephone lines.

(3) Be planted so that the root system will not interfere with proposed or existing drains.

(4) Carefully consider the eventual size of any tree planted to ensure that it is proportionate to the size of the property and will not occupy too much space.

(5) Should there be trees already present on the site, examine them carefully. If any seem to be unsound, consult a qualified tree surgeon or at least someone with a knowledge of trees, as for example a member of the local Parks department’s staff, if this can be arranged.

It cannot be over-emphasized that attention to these matters at an early stage may possibly save a great deal of trouble in the years to come. The smaller the garden, the more important it is.


A great many of our woodlands, such as those of oak, ash and beech among deciduous trees and even more so evergreen conifers, grow on the sides of hills and mountains. This means that the rich, fertile soils of the valleys are not essential for their growth, but suggests that they do like good drainage. In other words most trees and shrubs on the market are well suited by the usual soil conditions on a modern housing estate.

There is one important qualification to this. There are certain trees and shrubs that will not grow where there is above a certain quantity of lime present in the soil, particularly if the situation is chalky.

In practice, if rhododendrons or azaleas are growing in or around the new garden and the leaves do not look yellow, then you can grow all the trees and shrubs listed as lime haters.

Even so, you can grow some of these when lime is present- for example, you can make a raised bed of peat into which water from the surrounding soil does not drain, and water it with rain water. Or you can treat plants with a chemical, sequestrene, which helps to overcome the effects of the lime, but the effect of this is not permanent.


Assuming that you have decided where to plant your trees or shrubs, you may obtain them in two ways:

First, if they are ordered from a nursery they will arrive carefully packed during the dormant season-that is at any time when the leaves have fallen, if they are deciduous trees or shrubs. If they are evergreen trees or shrubs, say conifers or rhododendrons, they will come when growth has apparently ceased- preferably in autumn or early spring.

That is still the most usual method followed in supplying trees; the plant is very carefully lifted from the ground by skilled labour and packed so that it will stand the rigours and delays of modern transport on its way to the recipient.

There is now another method, that of ‘instant’ trees (or shrubs) when the buyer selects his plants in the nursery and takes them home to plant without delay.

To start with standard trees, if a decision has been made, not necessarily of the kinds to be used but as to their position, a start can be made in the autumn. If they are to be in grass, then an area of up to a yard in diameter may be sprayed with a weedkiller. When, in due course, the grass has been killed and has gone straw-coloured, it should be skimmed off. The ground can then be deeply forked over and such things as the roots of nettles and docks, which will not have been killed, pulled out. If the ground is very light, compost may be forked in; if it is heavy, some peat will do good.

For the actual planting, you will need to have some moist peat ready and a good, stout pointed stake, say from 4-5 ft. long, with a supply of the specially designed tree-ties and some string.

If the tree arrives by rail or road, loosen the packing. But do not attempt to plant if there is any frost in the ground, or if the ground is saturated. Leave the package in an unheated shed. If conditions for planting are suitable, completely unpack the tree. If deciduous, disentangle the roots, cutting off cleanly any that are broken – if it is a conifer, the roots will be in a ball of soil and do not disturb this too much. Then in the prepared spot of ground, dig a hole wide enough to take the roots spread out, and deep enough for the previous depth of planting, easily identified on the stem by the soil mark, to be as near as possible to that of the present level of the surface. Now drive a stake in, carefully avoiding damage to the roots, as near to the stem of the tree as possible and loosely tie the stem to it. Then start filling in the hole; it is a good thing to sprinkle plenty of moist peat on the roots. Firm the soil by treading gently on it, and before the hole is full, give the tree a good soaking. Then use a tree tie to replace the string. This can be done single-handed, but a second person to hold the young tree in place, is a great help.

  • Firmness and stability are the secrets of tree and shrub planting. Nurserymen must benefit enormously from the number of trees one sees flopping about because they are not securely staked and the roots fail to get a hold in the soil. The adjustable tree ties must be examined, say, twice a year. The stake can be removed when it is obvious that the trees are firmly anchored.
  • The treatment for ‘instant’ trees and conifers is much the same, but here you have the roots carefully grown in a ball, which must not be broken. Staking is just as important, if indeed not more so. Regular watering for at least the first season after planting is essential, for it is easy for the ball of roots to dry out and it is difficult to wet it properly once this has happened.
  • The planting of shrubs, which is usually done in beds, follows exactly the same principles. But these branch down by the ground, and usually very little staking if any is necessary as they do not blow about except, for example, in windy sea-side districts.

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