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The Natural Gardener – Bare Root season

It’s a great time to plant trees! Not only will they create windbreaks and habitats for wildlife, absorb carbon dioxide, create oxygen and provide food for the native bird life the’ll also grow firewood! Below the surface their penetrating roots enhance the soil structure by improving aeration and drainage. Probing root growth breaks up the soil, which creates spaces for storing air and water. In wet ground suitable trees will dry the ground (a large oak tree can transpire over 150,000 litres a year). Some trees’ roots add nutrients to the soil, which naturally fertilizes surrounding plants and others are nitrogen fixers. A tree’s deep, strong root system protects against soil erosion due to heavy rainfall and flooding.

The cheapest way to plant trees, hedges or an orchard is to buy bare-rooted plants: those sold without a pot and delivered while the weather is still cold and the plants are dormant. As well as saving money, you will often find a much wider selection of varieties and sizes available as bare-rooted trees and shrubs.

Right now is an excellent time to plant bare root trees and shrubs. They will have the whole winter and spring to establish good strong roots for the growing season ahead. If you plan to plant in a very exposed site, it’s a good idea to wait until February or March to avoid the chance of storm damage.

Shop around for the best prices and varieties, ask for bulk discounts (here at Deelish Garden Centre we offer a 10% discount on orders of over 25 plants of one variety and larger discounts on larger quantities). Check that plants have spent a minimal amount of time with their roots exposed, as some suppliers have been known to leave tightly packed plants in bags for weeks and sometimes months! Never buy plants that look stressed or wilted, as these are unlikely to grow well.

Plant as soon as you can, or “Heel in”, (temporarily covering the roots with soil), any plants that can’t be planted straight away.

Soak any plants with dry roots for a few hours before planting, and only take the plants out of the bags just before planting, as roots can dry out very quickly once exposed.

Use a fist-full of Rock Phosphate at the base of each hole per plant in the winter for root development and a fist-full of Greenvale (seaweed dust chicken pellets) around the base in the spring for great growth. If you want to give them a really good start add some Mycorrhizal Fungi powder (if you have healthy soil, this is not needed, as it will already be in the soil). These fungi are living organisms and will live with the plant, sourcing a continued nutrient supply for its entire lifetime –a truly sustainable plant nutrition solution. More on this topic in a future article!

Many people want “instant hedges”, but the smaller bare-root plants will outstrip and out-grow substantially larger plants after only a couple of years. This is also true with trees and I would only recommend using large trees in a sheltered location, as larger trees have a hard time adjusting to exposed sites and spend the first few years growing roots to anchor themselves. You also have the added cost of stakes and tree ties. If in doubt start small and don’t use a stake, as quite often stakes do more harm rubbing away bark on the trunk and tree ties, when forgotten, can strangle trunks. If planting in an exposed site, angle the trees slightly towards the most common prevailing wind direction (usually the south west in West Cork). Over the course of a few years the tree will be pushed into a straight position and will have grown roots to brace against strong winds. If you do use a stake, place it a few inches away from the tree on the windy side (so the tree is blown away from the stake). Try not to damage any roots when driving it into the soil, or put it into the hole before the tree. The top of the stake should be about a third of the height of the tree. If it is longer, cut it off as it can cause damage by rubbing the trunk in windy conditions. The tree tie should be near the top of the stake and nailed into the stake, with a flat head nail (so the trunk doesn’t snag), to stop it slipping down the trunk. If there are branches there is no need for the nail. The tree tie should go in a figure of eight to stop the trunk rubbing against the stake. Sometimes 2 or 3 stakes are used for large specimen trees to protect from all wind directions. After a few years, loosen any ties that are tight and remove stakes when the tree has strong roots.

Here is a list of some common trees:

Alder (Alnus)

Alder is a fast growing native tree that works very well for planting in wet condition. Its round leaves provide excellent shelter in the Summer months and the whippy stems break the wind by about 50% in the Winter months providing all year round shelter. It also provides an excellent nesting and shelter habitat for birds and wildlife. The catkins on the end of the stems provide food also. Alder roots do not cause problems as they are not intrusive like some of the other native trees. Alder timber can be used in furniture making or for firewood. €1 for a 2-3ft tree*

Birch (Betula pendula)

Birch is a slight erect framed tree with light stems and relatively small leaves. There are two types of native birch mainly found in Ireland; Silver Birch and the Downy Birch. The Downy Birch is the most commonly found one as it tolerates poor soil conditions and also wet soil conditions. The Silver Birch needs relatively good drainage. Its root system is not intrusive so therefore it can be planted relatively close to developments etc. Its catkins contain see which can be eaten by birds and wildlife in the winter months. Silver Birch is often used in gardens because of the striking colour of its siler bark in the winter months. €1.05 for a 2-3ft tree*

Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia)

The Mountain Ash tree or more commonly known in Ireland as the Rowan Tree is widely seen around the Irish countryside. Like the Birch it too grows in an upright manner and doesn’t encroach on neighbouring developments etc. It is often seen on hill sides as it will tolerate poor soil conditions. Its creamy white flowers turn to bright red berries in the autumn therefore providing lots of food for the birds. The leaves turn yellow and red in the autumn giving great autumn colour. Like the Silber Birch it is often used in gardens due to its compact growing nature. €1.05 for a 2-3ft tree*

Oak (Quercus robur)

Oak is probably the most commonly known native tree, as at one time Ireland was covered in Oak. But due to lifetimes of harvesting that are very few natural Oak woods left. The Oak is a slow growing broad leafed tree, giving magnificent autumn colour. It will grow in most soils. Oak timber can be used in a wide variety of applications including furniture and kitchen making. €1.85 for a 2-3ft tree*

Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

Holly trees are extremely versatile and hardy, thriving in most conditions and soil types. It is evergreen and has dark and prickly leaves. The Holly hedge is very dense which makes it a great deterrent for unwanted visitors. Females produce colourful red berries in the winter months. Holly hedging is also slow growing, requiring little maintenance. €3.60 potted 2ft tree*

Some hedging options include:

Beech (Fagus sylvatica)

Beech hedging is a deciduous hedge plant that provides all year screening and colour. Beech hedge plants can form dense hedges that are easily maintained and only need pruning once annually. The Beech leaves turn brown in autumn but are retained for the winter months. This enhances its winter appearance and makes beech hedging suitable as a year round hedge screen. €1.95 for a 2-3ft tree*

Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus)

Laurel is a vigorous evergreen hedging plant with large glossy leaves. Laurel hedges are excellent as a screening or privacy hedge and can be easily pruned in spring or late summer. It is also suitable for shady conditions. €2.95 for a 2ft plant*

Griselenia (Griselenia littoralis)

Griselenia hedging is a vigorous evergreen hedge with broad leathery leaves. It makes good windbreaks, especially in costal areas. Griselenia is suitable for most soils and positions, but will thrive in light, fertile, well-drained soil in full sun and sheltered from cold winds. €2.95 for a 2-3ft tree*

Whitethorn (Crataegus monogyna)

Whitethorn plants, also known as hawthorn are a fast growing, thorny, native deciduous hedging plant with dark glossy leaves. In spring, clusters of prominent scented white flowers come into leaf. Followed by glossy red haws (berries) in autumn. Can be used in R.E.P.S and A.E.O.S schemes. €1.05 for a 2-3ft tree*

*All prices quoted are for single plants. 10% discount on 25 or more plants of the same variety, 15% discount on 100 or more of the same variety. All these and many more are available from Deelish Garden Centre. Full price list can be found on our website, or Facebook or Instagram pages.

The bare root season is also a fantastic time to plant fruit trees and soft fruit bushes; apples, pears, plums, cherries, cobnuts, peaches, nectarines, gooseberries, raspberries and many more soft fruits all available as bare root plants, at bargain prices!

Christmas Trees:

Last but not least it is also possible to get living Christmas trees at this time of year. There are many advantages to live Christmas trees, you get to use for a few seasons (you may have to repot it), you don’t loose so many needles over the Christmas season, eventually planting it out in your own garden to grow it for windbreak or firewood! A truly renewable and sustainable option!

Take advantage of the bare root season, as it only comes once a year. The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago! And remember gardening doesn’t have to cost the earth!

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