By Dale Crook, Outdoor Plant Manager at Ransoms Garden Centre
Autumn is nature’s planting time. The cooler temperatures reduce the amount of watering required and allow the plant time to settle in to its new home before spring. Tree planting is easier than you think and anyone can get involved and now is the perfect time to get started.
Stuck for ideas? Here are a few of my personal favourites to get you started. For our fruit trees, click here.
Sorbus Joseph Rock – I love this tree because it offers stunning autumn leaf colour set against the yellow berries, which birds will love. It grows in a neat, upright habit and is suitable for small gardens. Pruning is usually just limited to damaged and crossing branches and is easily done when the tree is dormant.
Malus – There are so many types of Crab Apple around and they provide spring blossom, food for birds and autumn colour. You can choose from green foliage right through to dark purple and fruit that vary from pea sized to small apples. Their hardiness and availability as a patio tree make this a good choice for most people.
Cherries – Of all the fruit trees Cherries are my personal favourite. They can easily be grown in both containers or open ground and are easy to look after. As long as you protect them from birds you’ll be rewarded with glossy red fruits in the summer. Most varieties are self-fertile, so are perfect for those just wanting one tree.
General planting advice
The first thing is to make sure you are choosing a suitable tree for the site. Quite often we see trees being removed or failing and this is often a result of the wrong tree being planted in the wrong place. Get advice to make sure the tree you are looking at will grow in your soil and situation. Right plant, right place.
First dig a hole twice the size of the pot and soak the bottom of the hole with water. This will encourage the tree to send its roots deep to find water, which will help it in the warmer months. I recommend using Rootgrow when planting trees, the natural fungi helps nutrient uptake and aids establishment. Place the tree in the hole, making sure the top of the soil in the pot is at ground level and firm in well. Using a stake will ensure the tree doesn’t rock in the wind and cause problems.
Watering is vital. A large proportion of tree failures with recently planted trees is down to drying out. A newly planted tree needs to be regularly watered during its first season. A good watering is best as it will help the tree put down strong roots. Using a hose pipe on half flow for 20 mins is usually sufficient. Just by planting in the autumn you will reduce the need for watering.
Feeding isn’t generally necessary for trees in open ground, unless the soil is poor but I would recommend a good feed in the spring, before the new growth starts and a good mulching in autumn. Mulch keeps moisture in and reduces weeds, which will compete with your tree for water.
At some point your tree might come under attack from pests or disease and this can be worrying. A large percentage of pests won’t kill a healthy tree and can be easily treated. The best thing to do when you first notice something not quite right is to get the problem identified. Take a leaf, or a photo of the leaf (top and underside) and a picture of the whole tree in situ to us, it will help us give you the correct advice.
What can I grow in a container?
Fruit is a very good choice for container gardening, as they are often available on smaller rootstocks that reduce the size of the tree, whilst still producing a decent crop. Fruit trees will provide you with a beautiful blossom before rewarding you with your own fruit and who doesn’t love home grown food? Look out for apples grown on M27 rootstocks, pears on Quince Eline or cherries on Gisela 5, as these are best suited to container growing.
If you prefer something ornamental then there are patio Malus (Crab Apples), Flowering Cherries, Acers, dwarf conifers and even Eucalyptus that will live happily in containers. Some varieties will need pruning to keep them at the correct size.
To do’s for successfully growing in containers.
Once you have selected the correct tree for your situation, it will need repotting.
- A pot of around 50 cm is a good starting point for a 12ltr tree; this may need repotting later on depending on the ultimate height.
- Always use good quality compost, which is moisture retentive but free draining, as this will help prevent drying and reduce the risk of root rot.
- The most important things when growing in containers are water and food; regular watering is key, keeping the plant moist but not saturated is usually ideal. Feeding requirements can vary but as a general rule a liquid fertilising in spring is good, as the growth with be most vigorous then. Depending on the tree you can the supplement this with feeding during the growing season.
- Pruning: You may need to prune your tree to keep its size and shape but in most cases this is limited to removing any damaged or dead branches and light pruning to shape or encourage new growth.
- You will need to keep the pot weed free and don’t be tempted to fill the base with more plants, as these will compete for valuable nutrients and water. If you do want some colour then seasonal bedding plants are fine.
There really is no better time to plant a tree, so find a space in your garden and get planting. Whether you fancy starting an orchard, or just want to grow a small tree in a container, trees will provide you with years of enjoyment and are an investment in the future. Happy planting.