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Tree of life - a celebration of trees - Arbor Day

Written by  Dale Barber
| in Tuin
| October 7, 2014

As long as I have been involved in horticulture, September has always been synonymous with Arbor Day.

It’s been great to see awareness grow over the past thirty years, and the Day of the Tree has, in some instances, grown into
a week-long event. Arbor Week runs from the 1st to the 7th of September, and is an initiative of the National Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

        Arbor Week is an opportunity for Government, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s), the private sector, and the public, to get involved in greening projects. Planting trees and the greening of areas takes place in communities; and it is important that we all get involved in trying to make a green difference. Greening of communities refers to not only the planting of vegetation, but also the care and management thereof, in both urban and rural areas.

tree-of-life         Arbor Day originated in Nebraska, USA, during the 1870s. Settlers missed the forests of their homeland, and on 4 January 1872, a journalist named J. Sterling Morton proposed a tree planting holiday to be called Arbor Day.  At a meeting of the Nebraskan Board of Agriculture, the date was set for the 10th of April 1872. It is estimated that over 1 million trees were planted on that very first Arbor Day.
Other states followed, and Arbor Day germinated into a celebration of trees that branched out to countries all over the world.
        Historically, South Africa did not have a culture of planting trees, but in the 1970s the need was recognised, and the concept of a national Arbor Day took root in 1983. In 1999 the Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry extended the Arbor Day celebration from a day to a week.

The objectives of Arbor Week are to:
• Promote a better knowledge of trees, particularly indigenous trees
• Stress the necessity for everyone to plant and care for trees
• Highlight the vital role of trees in our lives
• Contribute to the achievement of a green, dignified, and healthy environment in all parts of South Africa.

         Every year Arbor Week highlights two specific trees – a rare tree, and a common tree. The common tree for this year is the Lavender Tree (Heteropyxis natalensis), whilst the rare tree is the White Ironwood (Vepris lanceolata).

Selecting a tree for your garden

tree-of-life-2        Trees form the largest natural component in the garden. We often refer to them as the skeleton, or frame, of the garden.
        The trees we plant will eventually have an effect on all the other elements in our gardens as they impact on light by providing shade. It is therefore important to plant trees in the right place. If we have a spot that we want to remain sunny, it would be advisable to plant the tree on the south side to prevent shading of that particular area.
        Trees form effective visual barriers and as such, can be utilised to screen off particular areas that may be unsightly; or alternatively, they can be used to beautify or frame a desirable view. Trees can also be used as effective wind breaks, filtering and slowing down the intensity of the wind.
        Deciduous trees can be used to create a cool shady area in summer; yet once they lose their leaves in winter, also beneficially allow the warmth of the sun in.  They do, however, create the additional work of collecting all the leaf litter regularly.
        Trees come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes – some tall and slender – others shorter and spreading. Some have interesting leaf textures, whilst others have striking blooms.
These are all factors to consider when selecting the ideal tree for you, as in most instances they will be around for a lot longer than you are.
          Fruit trees are also great additions to the home garden; and those blessed with an abundance of space could always plant a small orchard of their favourite fruit trees.
         Stone fruits including peaches, plums, nectarines and cherries are all related – and some intrepid nurserymen have come up with a single tree that carries two or three different kinds of fruit. These are ideal for a small garden, and I bet it would make a great point of discussion at your summer dinner party, whilst tucking into your fruit salad.
         Note: when selecting a tree from your nursery always look for a good healthy plant with no sign of disease or dead wood.

Planting your tree

        Selecting your ideal tree and identifying the place you’re going to plant it is only the beginning – the hard work is about to start.
I don’t think you will ever get a group of gardeners to agree on the best method to plant a tree, as no two gardeners plant a tree in the same manner. Over time I have realised that a tree is a substantial investment of time, energy, and hard work. My method, tried and tested over the last thirty years, has given me a lot of success.
        I believe in giving the new tree the best advantage possible, and this equates to hard work at the planting stage. The following method works for trees in 50kg bags (or smaller).
        In the area I wish to plant my tree I mark out a one metre by one metre square, and this is then dug out to a depth of one metre.  Make sure you dig a proper square, with neat sharp corners. The sharp corners give the growing roots a good point of entry into the soil once they start growing. If the hole is rounded the roots continue to grow round, following the shape of the hole, and don’t get to penetrate the soil adequately. This results in a tree that is pot-bound, even though it is growing in the open ground.
        The topsoil (the soil in the first 30 to 40 centimetres on the surface) is then separated from the subsoil. Topsoil is the upper layer of soil, and contains the most soil bacteria and micro-organisms, which makes it fertile.
        The subsoil (the less fertile layer under the topsoil) is then either disposed of, or prepared for use later, by mixing thoroughly with compost at a ratio of about 70/30 (70% compost and 30% subsoil).
        This mixture can be left in a heap to be used the following year, as over time beneficial soil bacteria and micro-organisms will have developed, giving the soil life.
        The topsoil we’ve dug from our hole is then mixed with good coarse compost in equal parts. If the mix feels a bit too clay-like, add a little coarse river sand to lighten the mix. My mix of choice is a mixture of 40% topsoil, 40% coarse compost, and 20% coarse river sand.
        I then refill the hole with this topsoil mix and give it a good drenching, leaving it to drain for a day or two before planting. Once the soil mix is damp, rather than water saturated, dig out just enough soil in the middle to comfortably accommodate the new tree. Remember to also dig this new hole (within a hole) in the same square manner, with sharp corners for root penetration.

         A tree does not like being planted too shallowly, nor too deeply. The soil line from the nursery bag is the correct height, and this will indicate the ideal planting depth. The tree is then carefully removed from the nursery bag (or pot), trying not to loosen the root ball too much. However, if the tree has been in the bag for a long time you might find that it has excessively bound roots at the bottom of the bag, and if this is the case, it is advisable to loosen these roots before planting.
I then mix approximately one cup (80 grams) of Bone Meal and one cup (80 grams) of Super Phosphate into the bottom of the hole.  Into a third of the soil I have just dug out, I mix another cup of Bone Meal and a cup of Super Phosphate. The tree is then carefully placed in the hole, and the hole is back-filled with this fertilised soil mix, firming it around the root ball as we go.  Finally, fill with the remaining topsoil. The excess is then used to fashion a small dam or water basin around the tree, but be sure to not mound the soil up against the trunk of the tree.
         After the tree has been planted it is good to water it again. Do this in two stages: water the tree thoroughly, but don’t use excessive water pressure, as this will disturb the newly planted tree. Allow the water to collect in the small dam you’ve created, but don’t over-fill. Once the water has soaked in for an hour or two, top it up again to maximise hydration.

Staking your tree

tree-of-life-3         In areas where there is excessive wind, it is important to stake your tree. What this does is keep the root ball firmly in place, allowing the roots to develop and giving support to the tree, until it is able to support itself. Once the tree is self-supporting the tree stakes must be removed, as the tree will become reliant on these stakes and in the long term, this will result in a weaker tree. I have found the most effective way to stake a tree is as follows:
      You will need two wooden stakes. These stakes must be a minimum of 6 centimetres in diameter with sharpened ends. Ensure that these stakes are of sufficient length (a minimum of 2,4 metres) to go into the hard firm ground at the bottom of your tree hole. They should go into the ground for at least 1,4 metres, thus leaving a metre to stick out the top.
        Knock the two wooden stakes into the ground at a distance of approximately 30 centimetres from the trunk, on either side of the tree. You will then also need two cross bars which are usually half round stakes of the same diameter as your vertical stakes (6 centimetres), and at least 80 centimetres in length. These are secured to the two upright stakes – one at about 20 centimetres from the ground level, and one at about 20 centimetres from the top of your upright stakes.
        Using either rope or tree strapping, secure the trunk to the two uprights. This is usually done by forming two hoops, ensuring that there is enough tension on these hoops to securely hold the tree in place. If your hoops are too loose, they will move on the trunk causing chafing.
        You now have a well planted, well staked, new addition to your family.
        Caring for your toddler tree is important, and I will discuss post-tree care in full in a follow-up article. In the meantime, love and care for it as you would any other member of your family.

Happy gardening!