Tree Care

Tree Characteristics

Trees come in all shapes and sizes as well as deciduous and evergreen forms, so quite often the choices can feel a little daunting. Take your time in selecting your tree, here are some guiding questions to have in mind as you deliberate:-

Choosing trees for your garden

This page will focus on tips and advice in selecting small trees for your garden. The factors to consider in choosing a suitable tree can be divided into 2 broad categories, firstly the environmental conditions and secondly the tree characteristics.

Environmental Conditions

Different trees favour particular environments to enable optimal growth and a healthy full canopy for you to enjoy.

Firstly the soil condition needs to assessed, the ideal soil for most trees needs to be a well balanced mix of clay and sand that drains well but can retain moisture. The soil texture can be changed with the use of organic matter such as composted manure with coarse sand or clay to alter drainage characteristics. Whether the soil is acid or alkaline also determines tree species you can grow; a pH test kit can easily be purchased to assess your soil. For acid soils adding lime can reduce the acidity but will need renewal over the years to ensure the artificial change is maintained. I suggest that in most cases it is best to work with the natural acidity of your garden in choosing a tree.

Secondly you need to look at the shade conditions in selecting a tree; many species thrive in direct sunlight where this position encourages growth and in some cases enhances variegated foliage colours through the year. Where trees are grown in shady locations quite often the foliage has less variation and interest for you. If you would like to plant a tree to create a shady area then the tree may need space to develop a breadth rather than height.

Autumn healthy tree check

As autumn now approaches it is a good time to do a general health check on your garden trees. Here are 10 quick and easy points for you to do your own health check for trees in your garden.

  1. Start at the base of the tree. Are the roots exposed at the surface and are they damaged by lawn mowers etc?
  2. Are the roots lifting up on one side of the tree? Your tree could be over weighted to one side
  3. Look for fungus and decay in or around the root area
  4. Are there wounds on the trunk? Is the bark dead in parts or peeling away?
  5. Look into the canopy. Are there hanging branches?
  6. Do branches cross over each other and rub in windy conditions?
  7. Are there dead limbs? Look for decay on old tree wounds and points of surgery
  8. Do any branches have splits along or across them from wind damage or over weighting?
  9. Are the leaves in good health? Look for branches lacking foliage or with a colour that does not match the rest of the tree. Look at the tips of the canopy for branches lacking leaves as this can indicate root problems
  10. Is the whole tree well balanced in form or is it leaning to one side? Often trees can be shaped to bring back a symmetrical form
If the tree is too large for your garden tree surgery such as crown raising can improve light conditions at ground level; alternatively your tree can be reduced in size or thinned out to improve its proportion to the landscape of your garden area.

The health can also be improved by a cleaning out of dead, diseased or crossing branches.

Remember a check is needed to ensure your tree is not subject to conservation area or tree preservation order restrictions.

Planting a tree

The process of planting a new tree in your garden needs careful consideration to avoid future problems unforeseen when your sapling becomes a mature specimen. It is often a good idea to note trees that you see on your travels that you like, make a wish list from which the selection can be made. Here are some tips to guide you in selecting a tree

  1. What is your soil type? Many trees have preferences for particular soil conditions including the acidity and moisture levels. For example trees that favour heavy clay soils include Aesculus, Betula, Catalpa, Magnolia and Tilia; whilst chalky soils favour many Acers, Cedrus, Laburnam, Malus and Prunus. Purchase a soil testing kit from a local garden centre to do your own check.
  2. How big do you want the tree to grow to? Many people plant a tree such as a Willow or Eucalyptus and within 5 years have a giant in the garden. Check when purchasing the tree the height it can grow to and the vitality (speed of growth).
  3. What shape do you prefer? Trees can vary in form from rounded to oval, columnar, weeping, conical and spreading. The shape of the tree you choose depends on the aesthetics of the appearance you desire and the width (spread) you wish it to fill.
  4. Evergreen or deciduous? Evergreens retain their leaves and thus can provide visual interest all year round as well as being good trees for screening noise, wind and giving privacy. Meanwhile a deciduous tree can provide summer shade and a range of foliage colours as the leaves grow, mature and fall in the autumn; these trees include the fruit trees that provide spring blooms and food if necessary.
  5. Shady or sunny position? Trees often have preferences for growth in full sun (6hours+ a day direct sunlight) to shade (no direct sunlight).
  6. Distance from Buildings? This is very important as trees can cause immense problems to foundations and services if the wrong tree is planted too close to your home. As a general guide plant trees that are likely to reach 50 feet or more at least 40 feet from your home, medium size trees 30-50ft in height can be approximately 20 feet away. Do not forget to check that the tree will not grow up and into your telephone line!

In planting your tree give consideration to these tips

Buy your tree from a reputable supplier to avoid disappointment. Look et the tree and check that the leaves are in good colour, that the tree looks tidy with a size and form that is in keeping with it being well maintained at the nursery. Inspect the root ball to check it is not pot bound or too dry.

When and how to plant your tree:-

  1. Dig your hole at least 3 times bigger than the container, wire basket.
  2. Loosen the roots and plant in the hole leaving a 2 inch rise above ground level at the root collar (where the stem of the tree joins the root plate).
  3. Backfill with soil and compost if required, then water well.
  4. Stake the tree to support it, drive the stake at an angle to the trunk rather than parallel to it, this avoids potential damage to the root plate.
  5. Apply a mulch around the trunk which will help keep it moist, inhibit weeds and reduce runoff in heavy rain.

Trees are best planted outside of the warm summer months, most planting is advised for the late autumn/winter period. Planting in the summer will require regular watering and monitoring by you.

Ongoing care

Keep an eye on your new tree, this includes watering, mulching, fertilizing and pruning.

Tree planting tips

Preparation tips

Prior to the planting ensure your soil is of a good quality with added composted manure/lime/sand and clay additions as required. A good tip is to order a cubic metre of screened topsoil that can be used for the planting and help freshen up your flower beds elsewhere in the garden.

Planting the tree

Dig a whole at least 3 times the diameter of the rootball and loosen the soil around the edges, this will ease the establishment of the rootplate as the tree grows. Fill the hole with water and leave this to infiltrate into the soil, avoid planting a tree in a hole still full of water. Mix in topsoil and mulch before seating the tree into the hole, the root collar (junction of the trunk and roots) should be level with the surrounding surface. Then fill in around the tree roots healing in the extra soil to firm in the roots.

Monitor your tree

For the first year or so it best to ensure the tree is well watered (ideally with rainwater) and kept mulched and fertilised if required. A lack of moisture in the rootball area is the most common cause of dieback and death in trees. Formative pruning needs to be limited until the tree has a reasonable foliage and needs to be done at the right time of the year for each species.

Buying a tree is quite an expensive commitment so giving due care and attention to a successful planting operation is all too important. A healthy well formed tree can reward you with many years of pleasure.

Types of tree sold

Trees can be bought as bare roots, as root balls or in containers. Bare root trees are usually just sold in the winter period and are deciduous trees, care must be taken to avoid any frost damage to the roots before planting. In all cases it is advisable to inspect the tree roots and branches for a healthy condition, roots should be substantial and evenly spread out from the root collar, if the roots are too dry then it is best to avoid a purchase. In our experience root ball and container grown trees are usually the best option as long as the roots are not too root bound (packed tightly in the container). Do ensure the soil around the roots is kept moist especially if there is a time gap of several days before planting.

Stake the tree

The best method to stake a tree is using a stake driven into the soil at a 45 degree angle to the trunk. This avoids any chance of damaging the roots from driving the post through the roots parallel to the trunk. A buckle and spacer tie from the stake to the trunk minimises rubbing on the trunk but still gives support in windy conditions. In gardens where the tree could be impacted by lawn mowers and strimmers a tree guard can be wrapped around the trunk for additional protection.

A guide to tree fungi

We frequently come across concerns from customers over fungi found on or near garden trees, this page will aim to address and alleviate some of these worries.

I am sure we all recall our school day Biology lessons on the Carbon and Nitrogen cycles that explain how nutrients are recycled in our natural environment. Fungi are a key component in this cycle, they play an essential role in breaking down organic matter to produce nitrates and carbon dioxide that re enter the nutrient cycle to allow our biosphere to continue operating. Fungi are therefore not something unusual to see in your garden, they can come in a wide range of colours and forms for many people they can be seen as quite attractive.

In terms of trees the presence of fungal diseases can create a weakened and/or unstable form, so monitoring of the health of your trees is advised. The spores that cause these diseases are spread in a variety of forms including through the air, via insects and in dead leaves. Many fungi exploit the vascular system within the tree that move water and nutrients around, as they grow they extend root like threads (hyphae) into the wood; these fungi are hard to spot as they work within the tree. Other types of fungi grow fruiting bodies on damaged areas like snapped branches, rootplate areas or on leaves, as such these can be a little easier to spot and identify.

Tips to avoid active fungal activity

  1. Fungi love damp areas so try to avoid planting a tree in an area of waterlogged soils, most trees favour well drained soils.
  2. Keep your tree in good health. Just like humans a good diet (regular fertiliser applications) and watering in dry months keeps your tree in tip top vitality and improves its chances to avoid fungal activity.
  3. Remove dead and diseased limbs as soon as you observe them especially in the winter months, this slows the spread of fungi through the tree ( do ensure your pruning tools are cleaned after use to avoid spreading the diseases across trees).
  4. Where leaves have been diseased we advise collecting them in the autumn and disposing of them away from your garden at council recycling depots or via incineration.


Many issues are raised over the use of watering or spraying fungicides to control the spread of fungal activity. Do ensure that you have correctly identified the fungus and apply the fungicide wearing appropriate protection for your eyes, lungs and exposed skin to avoid reactions and illness.

Honey fungus (Armillaria)

More than any other parasitic fungus this one is the most common one we encounter in SW London. They often grow in clumps as a yellow brown mushroom on the surface and white cream paper like sheets under the bark affecting many types of trees and shrubs including conifers, cedars, willow, birch, cotoneaster, plum, apple and cherry trees. The fungus can spread to surrounding trees via rhizomorphs (thread like strands) in the roots in some trees it may not kill the tree but it may weaken it so an inspection by qualified arborists is recommended.

Treatments are available such as Armillatox sprays several times a year around root collar areas but these cannot contend with large area infestations, the best option is to remove the tree and stump when a severe infestation is identified. The replacement trees or shrubs should have a good resistance to Honey fungus (eg. Yew ,Oak, Juniper, Laurel, Acacia, Beech and Ash).

In summary the best advice I can give is to give your garden trees the best opportunities for a healthy life with regular care and monitoring. If in doubt get free professional advice and don’t worry fungi are a part of the natural assemblage of life!

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