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Choose the right tree for your spot and you'll reap the rewards for years

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 01, 2012

  • Amelanchier bartramiana, above, and Cornus kousa, below left (pictures: Sheila Dearing). Below right: Prunus 'Kursar' AGM (Lesley Kane)

  • Clockwise from above: The bark of acer griseum AGM (picture: Sheila Dearing); Stewartia pseudocamellia leaves (Carol Sheppard); and the bark of the same plant (Mike Sleigh)

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RHS Rosemoor

Placing a tree is possibly one of the most important decisions you can take for your garden. The consequences and effects on the garden, surrounding buildings and the landscape as a whole may be felt for several hundreds of years, depending on the species of tree, so it shouldn't be done on a whim or rushed into.

Unfortunately, most of us are not in the position to be able to fit a site within the garden to the tree, rather we have to fit a tree to the site.

The type of tree you want to grow may not be suitable for a multitude of different reasons, such as root encroachment on buildings and services or it being simply too big for the space available. It may cause disputes with neighbours if it is planted too close to boundaries, blocking sun from patios or windows or shading out existing plantings. All of these things need to be taken into account when looking through books or trawling the internet for the perfect tree.

One of the most important things to consider is how big it is likely to get several years down the line. It may not affect you, but your lack of forethought could cost someone a lot of money in the future. Why and what do you want the tree for; you might want it for shade, wildlife, as a specimen plant or screening, autumn colour, fruits or winter interest.

You also need to take into consideration your soil type; it may be acid or alkaline, heavy clay or light and sandy; it might be rich and deep or shallow with bed rock near the surface. You might want to plant an evergreen if you are worried about fallen leaves making a path slippery in the autumn. Consider if the site is windy and exposed, salt laden winds from straight off the sea or perhaps you suffer from industrial pollution.

Although it seems that there are more questions than answers, help is at hand. We can suggest a few books that we have found to be very useful when looking for trees for a specific site...

One piece of advice that a lecturer once gave me that has stuck in my mind is this: "If you are planting one tree, then make sure it has as much year-round interest as possible."

If there is something about a tree that gives you a good feeling in every season, then that tree is good value for money. Examples include:

Ilex crenata 'Fastigiata'

When seeing this for the first time most people would be surprised to hear that it had anything in common with our native holly. Ilex crenata is a species from Japan that has small, slightly rounded leaves with not a single prickle in sight! There are a wide range of cultivars of this species but I. crenata 'Fastigiata' will make a fine plant over a number of years and its tight, upright stature will ensure that it takes up the minimum of space. This is an ideal candidate if one is looking for a focal point and lends itself to formal or quirky situations.

Cephalotaxus harringtonii 'Fastigiata'

This conifer has foliage that rather resembles our own native yew tree, but the leaves are bigger and almost black-green in colour. The fruit, when it is produced, resembles a small plum. It is slow in growth and over a number of years produces a column of upright stems. Very old plants get quite broad and though they make an excellent feature, they may be considered by some to be rather sombre in appearance.

Eucryphia milliganii

A really delightful small tree, that in July to August produces a lovely display of small white, scented flowers. The habit of this Eucryphia is particularly upright and will be happy in a partly shaded or sunny spot as long as it has a bit of shelter. Too much exposure will burn the new growth at the top and cause the upper branches to die back.

Photinia villosa AGM

This has produced a really small tree over a number of years on the right of the main drive to Lady Anne's House at Rosemoor. It covers itself with white blossom at the beginning of summer and has red berries at the end and into autumn; being deciduous it also produces good autumn colour of orange to yellow. Though related to the hawthorn, to which it looks similar, the biggest advantage is that it is totally devoid of thorns – a big plus if any pruning needs to be undertaken.

Cornus kousa

Certainly one of the most admired trees at Rosemoor must be the Cornus kousa that overlooks the Cherry Garden in Lady Anne's Garden. When this specimen is in flower, the whole plant is smothered in blooms that open creamy white and gradually turn to a dusky pink. They enjoy a sheltered situation which helps to ensure that the blooms last as long as possible.

Stewartia pseudocamellia AGM

As the specific name suggests, this deciduous small tree has camellia- like white flowers that are borne during the summer. The other attractive qualities of this small tree are a smooth orange-to-pink bark that flakes away to leave new brighter patches beneath and also vivid leaf colours of reds and yellows in the autumn.

Other small to medium trees that represent excellent value are: Halesia carolina Monticola Group, Crataegus laevigata and cultivars, Prunus sargentii AGM, Prunus 'Kursar' AGM, Acer griseum AGM, Amelanchier Sp and Pinus bungeana.

After planting your tree you may well want to do some formative pruning to achieve the desired shape, this can be achieved with secateurs and a pruning saw relatively cheaply. As the tree gets bigger, so do the tools! Things such as long-reach loppers and pole saws may be needed so you can work on your tree from the ground. This starts to get more expensive, but amateur tools can be purchased from DIY stores and supermarkets that are more reasonably priced than the professional ones.

If you have picked the correct species of tree for your site you should only have small amounts of maintenance pruning; the removal of dead, damaged, diseased and crossing branches.

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