Choosing trees for a small gardenAlison Marsden
Trees can add instant height, structure and several seasons of interest to a garden but choosing a tree for a small garden takes careful consideration. July is not the best month for planting if you can avoid it because the soil is dry and temperatures higher and these add to the stress of the plant when the roots are disturbed by planting out. The best time to plant trees is in autumn for pot grown specimens or winter for bare root trees. What you can do in the summer is take your time to decide if, where and what you want to plant.
The first question is why you want to plant a tree in your garden. Is your priority functional: shade or privacy? Or ornamental: blossom, fruit, autumn colour? If you cannot put your finger on the most important factor then maybe a tree is not the right answer in a small garden. Also take a look at your ‘borrowed landscape’ – the view and the items in it. If neighbouring gardens have tall trees that fall into your view, ask yourself if you really need and want to plant a tree in your garden too.
Getting clear on why you want a tree will immediately narrow down choices by defining some ‘must have’ qualities. If you need privacy or to screen out a poor view then consider an evergreen tree that will have a rounded canopy. If an aim is to add a focal point in a corner, then a fairly vertical outline with good leaf colour, at least from spring to autumn, may be a priority. While a desire to support wildlife may prompt you to choose a tree that bears blossom and fruit or berries and ideally a UK native.
From a purely practical viewpoint, a small garden is not the place to plant a ‘forest tree’ like Oak or Beech. These are beautiful and majestic in the right setting but quickly overwhelm a small garden casting shade, dominating for water in the soil and shedding leaves. Of all the forest trees, Beech can be pruned to limit the size but this creates a ‘topiary’ effect rather than a natural tree shape. The best place for a huge tree in a small garden is next-door-but one!
Native Field Maple, Hawthorn and Holly can easily be controlled without butchery. More exotic versions of some of our native trees are often less vigorous, for example Himalayan White Birch and various species of Sorbus, related to the Rowan. A multi-stem tree gives you an instant cluster effect while splitting the vigour into 3 or 4 trunks and limiting the height.
Planting trees is for the long term. Choose carefully for a long and happy relationship.
Happy Gardening from Alison
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