If you can extract yourself from in front of the heater, now is the best time to plant your trees, writes Justin Newcombe.
With winter fast approaching and things winding down outside, it's easy to neglect some of the winter jobs we should be doing and then trying to catch up in spring. Planting a tree is one such chore which is so easily jettisoned for a comfy spot in front of the fire or telly. I'm not saying that such neglect will spell doom and gloom for your trees should you decide to plant in spring, far from it, but it's certainly easier to do it now. Most of the tradition around tree planting at this time of the year evolved around deciduous trees. During the spring the sap rises with the trees responding by producing blossom. Flowering without leaves makes pollination by wind, birds or insects more efficient. As the daylight hours extend, new leaves appear. During early summer the tree is in full flight and at its most vigorous but also at its most vulnerable. Any major disturbances, especially to the root system could shock and stress the tree. As summer winds up and the chlorophyll decreases the leaves turn yellow, brown, purple and red and eventually fall, leaving the branches bare. Once this happens the tree is dormant and can be transported, moved or planted with great ease.
Even with the conditions on our side we still need to be mindful when planting if we want to give our trees the very best start.
* Choose trees of an appropriate size for your garden and check your existing soil conditions.
* To avoid a fruit glut (usually followed by a famine) choose trees that fruit at different times.
* Choose a tree on the right rootstock. Paying attention to some of these factors at this stage can save you a lot of work and frustration later.
North facing is always best and close to a wall is even better. A wall can provide extra warmth and a more stable environment with less temperature fluctuations.
Clear the ground of weeds and lawn then dig a hole roughly twice the size of the tree's root ball. This can vary depending on the soil. You can plant straight into volcanic soils but clay soils (you know who you are) may need a much bigger hole.
To help combat heavier clay soils, line the hole with gypsum, then mix compost and sheep pellets with some of the existing soil. Fill the hole so the root ball will be one third out of the ground once planted. Heavy soils may also require drainage.
If the root ball is dry, water it thoroughly before removing the bag or pot. Place the tree in the hole and gently build the soil around the root ball until the hole is full with a raised mound around the base of the tree. The soil must not cover the trunk.
Stake and mulch
Use sturdy stakes (not bamboo) and permeable arboricultural tree ties. Avoid having lawn right up to the tree trunk, Instead mulch under the tree well beyond the drip line.
In dry conditions water thoroughly and keep weeds away with cardboard and mulch. Dress with sheep pellets, compost, or seaweed.
And come spring and summer, you'll reap the rewards.