Gardedning: Navigating roots

Time flies, and with it comes an annual dilemma for many gardeners thinking of planting a tree or shrub '“ whether to get the job done or wait until spring.

Thursday, 2nd February 2017, 1:50 pm
Updated Thursday, 2nd February 2017, 1:51 pm
ON GUARD: Newly-planted trees may need protecting from pests like rabbits or deer.

Many favour autumn when the soil is still warm enough to encourage new root growth before winter bites, and freshly-planted trees and shrubs will not be bothering to grow new foliage – all their energy can go into what’s going on below ground.

And yet tree-planting can be carried out at just about any time of the year and usually be quite successful.

But with the best will in the world, and the best planting conditions, things can – and do – go wrong. And the biggest cause of failure is poor soil and site preparation.

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If the hole isn’t big enough, the soil isn’t rich enough, the support stake’s not sturdy enough, and the gardener’s not savvy enough to know when to water, when not to water, when to firm down the soil around those growing roots, and when to provide protection from the likes of rabbits or even deer, then there’s a very good chance that the plant will fail to thrive.

There are other things which can turn expectations of a gardening triumph into a disaster, such as, planting the wrong tree in the wrong spot (soil too dry or too waterlogged, site too shady, too exposed, or too sunny).

Failing to break up the compacted root ball when the plant first arrives means that eventually the roots will continue to grow in a circle and the tree never gets an anchor in its new home.

And bear in mind that a tree which is struggling is more prone to fall victim to diseases and pests.

Just as a dog is for more than just Christmas, so a shrub, and especially a tree, is for more than just a year or two; sometimes it’s for a lifetime or two - or even more. So get the preparation right, get the aftercare right, and there should be more smiles than tears.

Occasionally, no matter how much preparation and how much care and attention the gardener lavishes, the tree or shrub will fail to thrive.

That’s just a fact of life and you have to accept it.

But preparation and the right choice of plant will go a long way towards ensuring success.