0 A Ten Point Guide to Tree Planting

What can be better than sitting in the shade of your favourite tree on a hot summer's day, sleeves rolled up and sampling your favourite tipple whilst watching an epic battle of first class sport unfold before your eyes?

Perhaps it's the sense of relief you get from making that mad panic dash to take refuge under a tree's canopy, just as a sudden downpour of rain starts? Maybe it's having a walk amongst the golden tones of autumn or the fresh vibrant colours of spring in a tree lined avenue? Or possibly knowing that dreadful architectural eyesore on the skyline has been blotted out with a green and pleasant environmentally friendly tree?

There are many reasons for wanting to plant a tree in or around your sports turf facility and, with careful selection, the advantages will far outweigh the disadvantages.

1) Reasons for planting

Why would you want to plant a tree? (why wouldn't you?) The motivation for planting a tree varies from reducing sun or wind interfering with a sport, through to visually enhancing a facility or providing habitats for wildlife as part of an environmental stewardship scheme.

Perhaps even as a long-term crop on some set-aside land. In some instances it is to provide security (with spikey shrub-like trees such as Hawthorn), or to mark an occasion, and in the case of golf courses, to create additional hazards and to define areas. The list of reasons goes on; it isn't endless, but it is long.

2) Tree selection

The most important consideration is the tree species itself; matching the right kind of tree to the environmental conditions it will be growing in will generally improve its chances of survival. But also, selecting a tree that will provide the effects you require is paramount. The first thing to do is ask yourself lots of questions about the site where you want to plant a tree, and the type of tree you want to grow. Your questions should include:

• The site itself
• Is the site a low lying area or an exposed windy site?
• Is the site in permanent shade or full sunlight?
• Is the site prone to spring frosts?
• What is the site's average annual rainfall?
• Are drainage pipes present? (if so, avoid pipe loving roots such as those found on Poplar)
• Is the soil free draining or prone to waterlogging?
• Is the soil acidic or alkaline?
• Is the soil fertile or not?
• Do sapling snapping adolescents live in the area? (which will influence the size of the tree to be planted)
The tree's characteristics
• Do you want the tree to provide full or dappled shade?
• Do you want the tree to provide a splash of colour?
• Do you want an evergreen or deciduous tree?
• What eventual shape and size do you want? (short, tall, bushy, columnar, spreading, weeping, open?)

3) Types of saplings available and the time of year to plant them

Bare-root: Bare root saplings have virtually no soil on their roots, and are bought when they are dormant i.e. not in leaf. Bare-root saplings are usually only available for deciduous trees, and are generally the cheapest option to buy. Bare-roots can be planted in mid autumn to mid spring, but don't let the roots dry out prior to planting, otherwise you'll be planting dead wood.

Root-balled: A root-balled sapling is where the soil surrounding the roots is still intact, and is held in place by a hessian sack or other such liner. They are more expensive than bare-root plants, but cheaper than container grown examples; root-ball specimens can be planted early to mid autumn, or mid to late spring.

Container grown: Container grown plants are expensive, but can be planted any time of year, ground weather conditions permitting. However, it is important that you ensure the plant is not pot bound (an over-crowded root system), as more often than not pot bound plants do not establish an effective root system when planted.

It is preferable to plant any new saplings in the autumn, as it enables the roots of the tree to establish before the arrival of winter, making the tree more likely to survive any hot dry spells the following summer. It would be prudent, however, to have a ready available supply of irrigation in case of prolonged dry periods during the first year of establishment.

4) Size of tree

The choice for size and shape of the sapling to be planted can vary, and are generally referred to as transplants, whips, feathered and standards.

Transplant: Transplants are cuttings or seedlings that are grown on and transplanted in a nursery. Transplants can be up to four years old, and tend to have a bushy growth habit.

Whip: Single whip-like shoots, the height of which varies.

Feathered: A spread of lateral branches extending from a single main stem. The lateral branches begin at ground level.

Standard: A single main stem up to three metres tall, with no lateral branches above ground level for the first 1.5 metres.

As a general rule of thumb, larger specimens, such as a Standard, are more expensive to buy, require more labour to plant them, and take longer to establish. However, their advantage is that their impact is immediate and they are less vulnerable to vandalism from the local sapling snapping adolescent contingent. Smaller trees, such as whips, are usually cheaper and establish more quickly, although they don't have the immediate impact that larger specimens have, and they can be more susceptible to damage.

5) Planting scheme

Single specimen trees can be planted pretty much anywhere, as long as they are suitable for the surrounding environment and don't interfere with play, although consideration must be given for any buildings or plants that may be affected by an adjacent tree. For instance, you are planting at your peril if you stick a big tree right in front of the neighbouring retirement home's lounge window, because you'll soon find yourself propelled to the top of the blue rinse brigade's mobility scooter hit list (ask Laurence).

Mass plantings, on the other hand, need a bit more thought. It is better to have a mixture of species rather than a mono-culture, unless you are growing a specific crop for its future commercial value.

Mono-culture tree planting, like a mono-culture turfgrass sward, can be at risk of catastrophic die back if one tree in the planting becomes infected by disease. If intervention is not immediate, it is quite probable that the disease will spread like wildfire to all of the trees in the planting, as they will be equally susceptible to the same disease.

An additional benefit of a mixed species planting, however, is that it gives a bit of variety with the different species having distinct characteristics throughout the year, such as autumn colour. It is also a little bit like spread betting and not putting all your eggs in one basket, because there's always the possibility that one species won't grow as it should, if at all, in spite of what all the tree books say.

6) Spacings, straight lines and irregular plantings

The spacing between the plants depends on their initial size but, typically, two metre centres should be sufficient, with the trees being thinned out as they grow, so that a forest of lanky tall skinny trees isn't produced - unless that's what you want of course.

If you are intending to carry out mass planting, it is worth considering the end result before you start. That is, how it will look once the trees have established, or at least appear to be a reasonably mature stand of trees.

Plantations that have been formed out of regimented planting, with a consistent spacing along and across the area planted, always end up looking unnatural and contrived. Whereas trees planted in a haphazard fashion become more natural looking, as if they were planted by Mother Nature herself.

However, the area between the planting is easier to maintain where a regimented planting scheme has been adopted, while haphazard plantings can be a bit of a pain to manage in the initial years of establishment.

7) Planting method

I'm sure the readership of Pitchcare magazine know full well the rudiments of planting so, rather than go through the step-by-step process, here are a few add on points.

• For small bare rooted saplings in a mass planting scheme, making a slit in the ground is usually sufficient. Place the sapling in the slit and gently heel back the slit around the plant.
• For larger bare rooted saplings you will need to dig a hole as you would for a container grown plant. When back filling the hole, gently shake the sapling up and down to ensure the backfill is filling in between the roots, so that large air pockets or cavities are not created.
• The use of a mycorrhizal fungal dip on the roots is thought to speed up establishment of the sapling.
• The use of well rotted compost and manure also aids the development of the sapling by enhancing the beneficial microbial populations around the root system.
• The use of slow release fertiliser guarantees a ready supply of nutrients in the initial phase of establishment.

8) Staking

Over time, opinions change and what was once wrong is now right and vice versa; staking is a case in point, one minute stakes should be high, the next they should be low. It's a bit like eggs, first they are good for you, then they are not, then they are good for you, oh no they're not!

I'm not sure what the current stance on eggs is (personally I'm a crème egg fan), but I do know that short stakes are very de rigueur at the moment, as they allow the saplings trunk to bend with the wind, creating a rocking action that is supposed to encourage stronger rooting. It sounds feasible but, whether it is true or not, I couldn't say. Having said that, the size of the stake is ultimately governed by the size of the sapling it will be supporting.

For very large trees a stake is unlikely to be sufficient. In such a case guy lines are employed to support the tree, just like guy ropes on a tent.

The important thing to remember is the mantra "wind, stake, tree". The stake should always be positioned on the prevailing wind side, so that the tree leans away from the stake in windy conditions. Putting the stake on the wrong side will risk the tree rubbing against the top of the stake, which could damage the tree, possibly causing it to snap in severe winds. Perhaps all tree damage isn't caused by adolescents after all?

9) Aftercare

Once you have planted your tree, the next thing to do is keep it alive. The primary objective is to ensure it doesn't dry out and die of thirst in its first year, so some watering may be required, depending on the unpredictable weather you are experiencing. Key indicators of a thirsty tree are leaf wilt and premature leaf fall.

Other essential jobs include periodic removal of grass and weeds from around the base of the sapling, as they will compete for water and nutrients, which can drastically reduce the saplings rate of growth and establishment.

I once read some research that found keeping a vegetation free area of 1-2 square metres around the base of the tree can have significant affects on the rate of the saplings establishment, compared to a tree that has grass and weeds at its base. But, alas, I can't remember the author or title of the research paper; perhaps it's something you can put in to a search engine in a bored moment, or when you've run out of places to browse on the internet.

The two best control methods for the unwanted vegetation are a strimmer, or weed killer but, be careful, don't strip the bark with the strimmer, and don't get any herbicide on the sapling.

Alternatively, you could go completely tree hugging mad and take the green route by pulling them up by hand. But then you will be releasing unfriendly CO2 into the atmosphere if you pull up the soil too, plus you will be bringing dormant weed seeds to the surface, which will readily germinate and clog up the base of the tree again. So, a strimmer or weed killer it is; or you could try mulch.

Every year check the tree ties that hold the tree to the stake, to make sure they are not strangling the trunk as it grows. Loosen off any offending ties, or replace if necessary, as sometimes the tree grows too well. Where growth has got to the point where it needs to be trimmed back to maintain the tree's shape, or to stop it encroaching into the path of pedestrians, vehicles, buildings or other trees, only carry out the trimming when there is no active growth.
But please avoid being over zealous with your saw on low level branches, and creating a forest of unnatural lollipop looking trees, which leads me onto the final point.

10) Things to avoid

As mentioned earlier, avoid planting Poplars near drain lines, as their roots will invade and clog up the drainage system.

Steer clear of putting trees with large leaves, such as a Norway maple, near to your fine turf, as they will cast dense shade over your endeavours. In fact, if you are able to, plant your trees on the north side of your turf areas, that way they won't cast any shade on the turf (unless you live in the southern hemisphere).

Another "must avoid" are trees that are renowned for dropping blossom, as the novelty of clearing it from your turf will soon wear out. Trees with poisonous leaves or fruits are best avoided too, especially in a municipal area.

Planting a hideous flowering tree amongst a mature stand of indigenous trees is a faux pas too far that pushes the boundaries of taste and sensibility over the edge and into the abyss of novelty tree planting; it turns a good mixed planting scheme into a confused and unsightly planting scheme.

If your club membership wants to buy a tree for your facility, draw up a list of acceptable trees that will complement the existing planting scheme.

And the last thing to avoid? Getting in the way of a crazed blue rinser as they aim their jet powered directional mobility scooter missile at a sapling snapping adolescent!

Dr. Colin Mumford

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