Gardening: Caring for trees
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A few weeks ago, I woke in the early hours of the morning to the sound of heavy wind. Sadly, when I woke, I noticed two very large trees had blown over and left a huge scar in my once beautiful forest.
My first thought was where are the birds going to sit and then how to make use of the trees. Luckily, the one tree Erythrina lysistemon or Coral tree, can be grown from trungeons, which is done by taking large stem cuttings and planting them in the ground, which then root and produce a new tree.
Trees are very important to the environment because they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, provide shade, and keep our environment cool. They also act as host plants for wildlife and create so much beauty when they fruit and flower. They prevent soil erosion and absorb carbon into the soil. But often when buying and selecting a tree for our garden we choose the wrong tree which in the long run can create problems. Get advice before you buy a new tree, they grow quickly and once mature, are very difficult to remove.
Incorrect pruning make trees vulnerable to rot and attack by termites. Here are a few important tips on how to maintain your trees:
Select the right tree for the right place. Most nurseries will have staff on hand to give you advice. Make sure it is healthy, has a straight stem, a healthy root system and a healthy crown of leaves, and that the main stem is not scarred or damaged.
When planting, dig a hole that is twice the size of the bag it is growing in. Add topsoil and compost to the existing soil and press the soil down once you have added the new medium to the hole. This reduces the amount of air pockets and prevents the tree sinking when you water it. Make sure the top of the root ball is the same level as the top of the hole. Don’t plant too deep or too shallow. Too deep rots the stem. Too shallow causes the roots to dry out.
Once planted make sure the tree is straight in the hole. Take a large tree stake and place it next to the stem. Push the stake deep enough into the soil next to the stem and tie it tightly on the stem. This prevents the tree from moving in the wind and damaging the roots.
Water will to allow the soil to settle around the root ball and give the tree a much welcome drink. Make sure you water the trees at least twice weekly in the early stages of growth. Monitor the leaves. If they are wilting or turning brown, you are not watering enough. Often trees will drop their leaves when you plant them which is a form of protection. It allows the tree to recover and not lose too much water from the stem and leaves. Soon these trees will produce new leaves, bringing the tree back to life.
As the tree grows remove any thin or dying branches. This prevents any disease from attacking the healthy stems and allows new growth. If you plant a tree that is deciduous or loses its leaves in winter do not cut it down thinking it is dead. It is just resting for the winter and dormant.
Once the tree grows to maturity you can prune the tree to keep it in shape and allow it to grow within the size of your garden. Make sure you don’t let the tree get too big, especially if you live in a tiny townhouse. Pruning does stimulate growth and is good for the tree. Remove all diseased, dead, and dying branches.
If you see another tree growing in your tree, such as a fig, remove it early or it could kill your tree.
Mulch around your trees in winter to keep the roots warm and moisture in the soil. This helps prevent weed growth.
When pruning a large branch do not cut the branch too close to the stem. If you do cut it too close this can cause rot at the cut and possible death of the tree. Prevent tearing the main stem. This happens when the branch is too heavy when you do your first cut. Best to remove half the branch which then takes weight off the branch before doing the second cut.
Fertilise once a year with a balanced high nitrogen fertiliser and remember to mulch throughout the year.
October is an exciting time of the year with summer, on its way. I took a walk through Jameson Park last weekend to see a tree in its last stages of flowering and had happy memories of when I was a young horticultural student back in 1985 working at Mitchell Park and the rose garden at Jameson Park. This small fragrant white flowering tree called craibia zimmermannia or peawood belongs to the legume family and flowers in September to mid-October. Some of the nicest specimens in Durban can be found at Jameson Park and the Old Fort Gardens. It is the ideal tree for a small garden as it grows to about 5m under good conditions.
Plant lots of the indigenous grasses especially aristida junciformis (ngongoni grass) or melinus repens or Natal red top. These ornamental grasses grow quickly either from plugs or packet material. If planted in spring, they will grow into a mature specimen within three months, which is ideal for difficult rocky areas in your garden.
- This article is sponsored by Chris Dalzell Landscapes, specialising in landscaping, consultation, plant broking and Botanical tours. If you have any questions, email [email protected] or visit
The Independent on Saturday