Site and soil for trees FAQs

Suggestions, please, for some trees to provide shelter from salty gales in our seaside garden.

The following are good, hardy trees which will help provide a wind-break; you will need to provide a temporary barrier between them and the wind for a year or two while they get hold: common hawthorn (Crataegus monoqyna); scotch laburnum (Laburnum alpinum)—the commoner L. ‘Vossii’ would soon be damaged; the beach pine (Pinus contorta); the pussy willow (Salix caprea); and the whitebeam (Sorbus aria).

We live at the lowest point of a shallow valley, and the ground tends to be boggy in parts of our garden. Is there a tree which will thrive with its roots permanently in moist soil?

The swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum) would be ideal for these conditions provided there is room in your garden: it grows eventually to about 24 m (80 ft); it is a deciduous tree, with foliage somewhat resembling that of the dawn redwood. The alders (Alnus) and willows (Salix) are also good trees for damp situations.

I wish to plant a row of cypresses to form a shelter belt, but have been told that the shallow, rather chalky soil of my garden is not suitable. Is this true, and if so what can I plant instead?

It is true that most conifers do best in a well-drained soil, or a well-worked clay. Shallow chalky soils are not suitable. For shelter on such a soil you could try hawthorn, beech, spindle-tree (Euonymus) ash, laburnum, and whitebeam (Sorbus aria). Whichever you plant, shelter them from wind for three years while they become established.

Is there a specially good type of soil for trees?

On the whole, most trees will grow in most soils—the deeper the better. So far as general likes and dislikes of particular types of trees are concerned, silver birches prefer a sandy type, beeches thrive on chalky ones, conifers do badly on sticky clay soils, and one or two trees need acid-reacting soils. Your local nursery or garden centre will tell you whether a particular species in which you may be interested has any definite preferences.

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