Secret of healthy trees is in the preparation

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Now? Or later? Forget about Hamlet and his bee or wasp or whatever, that is the question – whether to plant trees and shrubs now, in autumn, or wait until next spring. I favour the here and now 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.

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 in this area is poor soil and site preparation

If the hole isn’t big enough, or the soil isn’t rich enough, or 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 leave well alone, then there’s every likelihood that the chosen plant will fail to thrive. But that is not all that can go wrong.

The other things which can turn a triumph of expectation into a disaster include:

Planting the wrong tree in the wrong spot (soil too dry, too waterlogged, site too shady, too exposed, too sunny).

Failing to break up the compacted rootball when the plant first arrives so, eventually, the roots 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 for 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 pay attention to detail. 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 TLC the gardener lavishes, the tree or shrub will fail to thrive. That’s just a fact of life and you have to accept it. And try again.