22 September 1995

Care at planting is the

key to survival

There are golden rules to tree planting and maintenance which are often forgotten in the rush to get the job done quickly. Jonathan Dickens, of Malvern-based Woodland Management Consultancy, guides Andrew Faulkner through the basics of how to give a young tree its best chance for survival

SUCCESSFUL establishment of a young tree is about a whole lotmore than simply digging a hole, dropping in a young tree and firming it with the press of a stout heel. Buying quality trees, careful planting and guarding, and a minimum of two years diligent maintenance are needed to achieve a 90-95% target survival rate.

Those same basic rules apply whether planting bigger areas for grant-funded projects or just dotting trees in odd spots to improve the farms look.

Here we concentrate, in words and pictures, on tips for amenity establishment – planting the occasional broad-leaf up a farm track or filling in a small wooded area – because chances are a specialist contractor and associated equipment will be used for bigger projects.

Choice of tree

Native broad-leaves are a popular choice for amenity purposes and it is best to select a mix that is already predominant in your particular region. For example, sweet chestnut and birch prefer drier, lighter soils whereas oak, ash and alder like damper, heavier sites. Beech and cherry is a colourful mix for chalky soils.

Buying and planting trees is best done from November to March, when nurseries are lifting their bare-rooted stock. Opting for root trainer stock – grown on and supplied in a tube of peat – gives more timing flexibility but will cost more.

Cost is also determined by the number of trees bought. Typically 60-90cm (2-3ft) tall plants, depending on variety, almost halve in price when ordered at the per 100 rate – from 50 to 499 plants – as opposed to the per 10 rate.

Before making out the nurserys cheque ensure the best plants on offer have been chosen. Most important is a strong tap root as well as a fibrous, well developed secondary root structure, which need to establish quickly after planting, ready to support the trees first spring leaf growth.

Planting and guarding

In transit and prior to planting best practice is to keep the young trees in strong plastic bags. This protects the roots from wind and frost and keeps them moist.

Before finally shedding the roots nursing bag the site needs preparing. After clearing space and any matted grass comes the spadework. As a guide the planting hole should be a single spade width square by a spade lengths depth, but comfortable accommodation of the plants complete root system is the more important test.

Then heel in with friable soil, avoiding the temptation to replace slabs of turf as dug.

Guarding is the final step. To protect the young trees there are two types of guard commonly available and two schools of thought as to which is the most effective: Spiral guards are cheaper, prevent rabbit damage and get the tree quickly used to the climate, while the more substantial tubular guard is stronger and provides a micro-climate for initial establishment. Some say this softens up the tree so that when it does emerge the new climate comes as a shock and knocks the tree back.


With the trees safely in the ground and guarded the most common fault is to sit back and forget about them. That approach explains why many young trees fail to make it through their first growing season.

The first two years summer growth is critical and to give the plants the best possible chance of survival it is important to keep the immediate area around the tree free from competition. Spraying off weeds twice during the season – May/June and August/September – should be sufficient to maximise root growth and make that 90-95% survival rate attainable. &#42

Typical planting costs

Ash plant (60-90cm tall,

per 100 rate)36p


Tubular guard42p

Woodland Management Consultancy (01684-575349)