Mulch Mulch Mulch

To understand the importance of mulch one should talk a walk in a woodland.  Whilst trees look wonderful when looking up, for this purpose you should look down.

Trees have the original closed loop recycling going on.  The leaves fall and compost down adding nutrients to the soil.  Adding to this are twigs, branches and fallen trees all add to the composted nutrients. 

This layer of composting material is inches deep and slowly turns to organic rich soil.

Now think of trees planted in streets, parks and gardens, often they have bare soil, sometimes grass and occasionally shrubs. Some are even planted in containers.  Rarely do they have mulch.  

Composting mulch fuels the soil.

Trees should be mulched, in addition to the above, this will retain moisture in the soil, reduce competition from weeds and deters strimmers and mowers (which can damage the bark).

Ideally the mulch should be the by product of processing trees. Bark mulch is not desirable as it takes longer to break down. It is has leaves in it, it is ok, although these will take a bit of nitrogen from the soil as it composts.  The mulch should be composted.  The optimal mulch is ones that have been  processed through a mulcher with hammers. This is quicker to breakdown.

Mulch will increase Mycorrhizal activity by upto x15 that of grass (see previous blogs about this vital (for the majority of trees).  

This should be applied 3" deep as wide as possible.  The area immediately around the trunk should be kept clear.  It is not configured to be below ground. The addition of mulch up the trunk will create the same effect as raising the soil and will rot the trunk.

Mulch will compost down, so it should be replenished every 1-2 years.


Trees acting as though it was autumn in summer

A reaction of deciduous trees to stress (lack of water / too much water, too hot / exposed..) is to send a signal to their leaves that they are to be jettisoned. They are removing leaves, that transpire moisture (a cost) so that they can concentrate on their roots (this is simplified).

Prior to their departure from the canopy, these leaves adopt the autumn colours. This is a clear signal that is shown and indicates that an investigation into what is the issue and remedial action could be required.

If the leaves die and are retained on the tree, this is a sign that the stress is so severe that the message to drop has no got through.

Evergreen trees lose their leaves naturally from the inside of their canopy as they are shaded.  It is when this is magnified of the loss is from the entire canopy.


The damp and cool weather - why we are not disappointed

The damper and cooler weather is great for trees. The worst kind of weather dry/drought  especially when combined with high temperatures. 

When moisture is scarce trees can get stressed. When the temperatures are hot, trees transpire more in an attempt to cool down, losing more moisture.

The current weather provides plenty of moisture with mild temperatures, it is great for trees!


How to get a guideline cost for Screening Trees

We are happy to provide budget costs for potential clients. We would love to speak to you about your requirements and explain how we can assist you.

Whether you call us on 01277 849990, visit us at Great Warley or send an email to we will need the following information:

Approximate height of screen (no need to be accurate at this stage, if you have difficulty estimating often just the detail of what we are screening (i.e. 1st floor window) or if you have a fence or wall, visualise putting the fence ontop of the existing fence (i.e. a 6ft fence ontop of itself will be a 12ft screen)).

Approximate length of screen ( again no need to be accurate, we can also translate "the length of a bus",  and " six fence panels").

Your location

Access to the planting location (through house (if this is it a straight line), side gate....)

An image would help of the area needing screening.

If you email, please provide us with your telephone number

Any preferences you have for particular trees or styles of tree.

We would love to provide you with the solution to your screening problem. Normally we can not only create a functional screen to provide you with privacy, that will also enhance your garden. 

It is a delight to see how clients appreciate our screening!  


The different canopy shapes of trees

At maturity trees can have a wide range of canopy forms, created naturally as opposed to created by training/pruning.

Canopies can range from upright, almost columnar (fastigiate), flame shaped, oval (upright), rounded,  domed, bell shaped and irregular.  They can occur from the ground or well clear stem themselves as they mature. 

With regard to the variety of clipped/trained canopies, this is making my head spin at present. Will attempt to outline these later.

Forms (shapes) of Trees available for planting

I will explain the forms of canopies in the next blog, this one is concerned with which you can purchase trees.

1) Standard Trees, these have a clear stem of around 1.8-2.2 metres with a canopy above. From this a half standard (1 metre clear stem) and three quarter stem (rarer but 1.75m) are derived.

2) Feathered Trees, these have branches from near the base, so that there is no area of clear stem.

3) Multi-stemmed Trees, these trees have typically between 3-5 trunks.

4) Pleached trees, are trees usually with a clear stem and then a pleached panel (with branches trained laterally). These can also be pleached to the ground (panels). Pleaching is the same as espalier but the latter is for fruit trees.

5) Roof trees, these have a clear stem and then a square flat (horizontal pleached panel) a top.

6) Cubed trees, a standard stem with a hedged cube atop.  

7) Topiary trees, these are trees with clipped canopies (in all kinds of forms) or trained trunks.

8) Hedged - these are feathered trees that have been clipped to form a denser canopy.

Have you planted or transplanted a tree in the past 5 years?

If you have done the above (and are in the northern hemisphere), your tree is still in a period of establishing.  When a tree is established it has the roots system of a 'natural' tree and can look after itself.  

This period of establishment can last for upto 5 years (and where there is competition from adjacent mature trees or the planting location is poor i.e. lack of rooting space, hard landscaping around the tree, surrounding poor soil, the trees could require assistance for longer).

This length of aftercare is recognised by BS8545:2004. It is appalling that no planning authorities are enforcing this (a far as I am aware).

The assistance required is primarily watering to compensate for the reduced root system, but also includes removal of epicormic/basal growth and should include mulching (see previous blogs).

Transplanted and planted trees must have this assistance whilst establishing,  after the investment in trans/planting, this will almost guarantee the success of your trees.  

Compacted Soils & James Bond

If you can recall the scene in Gold Finger where the girl is painted in gold and dies, the cause of her death is the same as what compacted soils do to trees.  Let me explain:

She died because her skin could not breathe.

Roots need to undertake gaseous exchange. When the soil is compacted this is reduced  or stopped.  The result, a decline/death of a tree is a result.

Compaction can be caused just by foot traffic, but more commonly it is the storage of materials or the traversing of vehicles /plant.  When the ground is damp it's effect is worse.

Air spades can relieve decompaction, but prevention is better than cure. Unfortunately compaction is usually caused when there is a lack of understanding/care about trees, soil and roots.

Rootballed/Bareroot/Container Grown Trees

We can:

Supply and Plant

Supply only

Plant trees you have sourced

There are however options for the trees at various times of the year.

Container Grown trees are available all year round and are available in a variety of types of containers.  Air Pot trees are undoubtedly the highest quality, but they are available in black pots, white bags and other containers. There are a limited number of species of trees that are only recommended as container grown trees i.e. Monkey Puzzles.

Rootballed  and  Bareroot trees are available only during autumn and winter.  They stop being sold as spring starts and start when  autumn takes full effect.  Neither are dates in the diary, it is when nature tells us.

Bareroot trees are offered only  for very small trees and some varieties are not suited to being offered bareroot at all but the very smallest trees. Bareroot trees need careful handling in accordance with simple guidelines designed to stop the roots becoming dried out.

Rootballed trees offer the widest possible range of trees as there are many more growers of this form of trees.     




Pleached Trees

Pleached trees are specimens whose canopies have been trained laterally.  When fruit trees are trained like this it is called espalier.  Usually these are standard trees (with a single trunk around 1.8-2.1 metres in height)  They can also be trees with branches from the base (feathered trees) that have been trained laterally.

Historically pleached trees  we planted in avenues to form pleached walks, with a clear stem of around 2.2 metres to allow them to be walked under.  Pleached trees used to be Lime and Hornbeam species only. These were selected because they naturally produce branches in pairs, making them a neater pleach.  The pleached walks were /are as stunning in winter as the bare branches eventually join and five or so continual  lines of branches run down the walk.

Pleached trees are now predominantly used as screening, as their narrow form consumes a tiny proportion of the garden.   Hornbeam and Lime trees are deciduous and the bare branches provide little in the way of screening.  

We therefore offer trees that either hold their leaves longer than other deciduous trees or are evergreen / holdtheir leaves all year when clipped.  

These are offered with trunk heights to suit your requirements, i.e. to commence the pleach at the height of your wall or fence.

We also offer taller than normal pleached trees. 


Can a tree/hedge/shrub be transplanted?

The answer is invariably yes.  

Here are some of the reasons why it does not take place:

1) Whilst mechanical Tree Moving (with Tree Spades) can be very cost effective with suitably sized trees. When we have to rootball the tree/shrub, when there is no access for a Tree Spade or the specimen is oversized for a Tree Spade (we have the largest in the UK) and a much bigger rootball is required, the budget required can be very large Any size of tree can be transplanted, the budget needed can be large and the timescale needed to root prepare cannot be suitable.  

2) Species of tree, there are few that we do not move, Eucalypts and Monkey Puzzles.

3) Lack of time, with some specimens especially large ones, we recommend root pruning  prior to transplanting.  Sometimes this timescale is not available.  Please contact us early in any prospective project!

4)  Wrong time of year.  We prefer not to transplant during Spring and Summer, when trees are transpiring at their most.   We can translocate move during these times but a much higher level of care has to be taken.

5) Local Authority does not permit.  On occasion if the tree is subject to TPO /Conservation Area status, the application/notification is refused.  This is usually because the Local Authority does not believe our methodology will be successful. Thankfully this is very rare, especially when meaningful root  pruning and aftercare are specified.

6) Unhelpful soil, when the topsoil is very thin the roots will have travelled significantly further to gain nutrients and moisture. In these situations, we need to take a larger rootball or root prune prior to moving.   

Why plant native trees?

1) As native trees have been present from just after the last ice age, they are a essential part of our ecological make up.  They will support many more fauna  (and fungi) than non native. This is then magnified by the fauna that live off the directly related fauna, the fauna that live off of  the indirectly related fauna etc etc   

2) Native trees are optimised to our climate/conditions.  This is also a weakness, if climate changes i.e. it gets hotter/drier  potentially our native trees cannot cope. In this case non-native trees suited to the new climate will cope better.

3) This may just be an Arborist's point of view. Native trees sit better in our landscape.  They do not disrupt the landscape.  Think of a normally magnificent mature Purple Beech central to your favourite bit of woodland. OK the contrast will be stunning, but doesn't it look out of place?

4) There are varieties of native trees  that have different canopy shapes (usually more upright), more flowers, less fruit etc. These will have the same benefits as native trees but may suit the planting location better.  

This is not an exhaustive list!  

The true cost of planting a tree

Once the right variety of tree has been selected for the planting location:

The size/age of tree will influence the cost, there is always a size of tree to suit all but the smallest (<£1) budget.  The price increases exponentially with size. At the larger sizes it is very close to the vertical part of the curve, upto the largest trees commercially grown.

Then you have the delivery/planting cost which again is a function of the size of tree, your location and planting location.

Once planted, please sit back and admire your investment.

Then the cost of aftercare, primarily watering, whilst the tree establishes (gets to the point where  the root system has extended to that of a 'normal' tree and can look after itself).  This period of time can last upto 5 years after planting.   

It is a very false economy to invest all your funds in just the tree and planting. It will need assistance after planting.

The cost of aftercare can be reduced by (cool/damp springs and summers) automated watering systems or drip irrigation that you can  plug your hose into. Mulching will assist

Please allow time (and therefore money) to care for the tree you plant.




Tree Time

I am a small leafed Lime (Tilia cordata) on Twitter @yourtalkingtree

I (as this tree) could live for 700 years, that is 28 human generations or until 2695.

This puts a new angle on long term.  If  humans lived this long,  maybe better long term decisions will be made, those in power would not just be making decisions that affect their children but there children's, children's,children's, children's, children's, children's,children's, children's,children's, children's,children's, children's,children's, children's,children's, children's,children's, children's,children's, children's,children's, children's,children's, children's,children's, whilst they are still alive.


In the most of the UK winter has been notable only by it's absence.

Yes, days are shorter, the sun is weaker and lower in the sky but the average temperatures have been much much higher. In December the South East averaged 8 degrees and London 10 degrees.    The change from the average (so Radio 4 told me) is like Usain Bolt knocking a second off his 100m world record+. Apparently the North Pole is  30 degrees above average!

Trees need the regular rhythm of the seasons. If not the raised the temperatures (of air and soil) can trigger early spring responses (swelling of buds etc).  If we then get frosts and colder weather these new growths can get hit very hard. The trees have to then spend energy repairing and rebudding/leafing.  Losing precious energy.  There are many other impacts of seasons not being seasonal.  

In addition bugs that do not usually overwinter will not be killed off or decimated by the cold weather. They will be available in multiples of their former numbers to attack trees.

We need days of below freezing weather. To kill bugs and remind trees it is not spring. Please 



Deciduous Trees are boring in winter? Not!

Firstly deciduous trees are the ones that lose their leaves in winter, apart from the conifers that are deciduous, the one that doesn't when clipped, those that hold their leaves into winter and any that are marcescent (hold onto their withered leaves through winter, such as the odd Oak tree).

I will only deal with deciduous trees, that are deciduous in the normal way.

These trees can be surprisingly attractive when naked, without leaves.

My personal favourite is Beech, Fagus sylvatica  or the purple version purpurea, when as an individual specimen, viewed against a sky. The way the branches continue to divide until at the edges of the canopy;  they almost disappear into the sky, I find bewitching and beguiling.

I appreciate if you are looking for  specimen to plant in a garden, a mature Beech tree will be too large (for most gardens) and you will have to plant it for your grand children to fully enjoy.

Trees which are more accessible are:

Winter flowering Cherries (pink and white flowers), on a winters day, this tree will be the only one in flower, it flowers intermittently (half heartedly) from November. Although it's flowers are nothing compared to other cherries in spring, their scarcity in winter is welcome.

There is a group of trees with interesting barks:

Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica) - this has mottled bark (like a London Plane, but smaller platelets) with tan, cream and grey bark. Also has great autumn colours and interesting flowers.

Tibetan Cherry (Prunus serrula) - a mahogany shiny brown bark, but underwhelming flowers, it seems to have placed all its energy in it's stunning bark.

Prunus maackii Amber Beauty - with amber coloured glossy bark, better white flowers than the Tibetan Cherry and better leaves on a conical canopy.

Birches - There are many that have white bark( Silver Birch / Betula pendula, Himalayan Birch / Betula utilis var Jacquemontii (very white bark, for the sake of brevity this ignores the varieties bred for an even whiter bark),  Chinese Birch/Betula albonsensis ' Fascination' ( white with a hint of salmon pink bark), Paper Birch ( Betula  papyrifera, peeling white bark). Erman's Birch (Betula Ermanii - yellowish white, turning brownish yellow after peeling)

Snakebark Maples (Acer capillipes, Acer davidii, Acer pensylvanicum, Acer refinerve, a group of trees with vertical stripes in their trunks.

I will ignore Eucalypts, as mature specimens their stability in the UK is not good, they grow too fast in the UK, often needing regular management to control size. They can however make excellent small coppiced / trimmed specimens.

One tree often overlooked is the Cork Oak, Quercus suber.

Beech & Hornbeam (Fagus & Carpinus) have smooth grey bark.

Apologies to any trees I have omitted (the above are trees suited to the UK only), if you are offended / want to correct me please send a direct message to @yourtalkingtree and your message will be responded to with arboreal love.

When choosing trees for their bark, see if you can get them as multistemmed specimens (more trunks), if you can plant them in odd numbered groups to accentuate their trunk colour. With lighter coloured trunks, plant them to draw the eye to accentuate distance.  

In addition to bark, there are fruits (catkins, seed pods...)  that can also provide interest.



Rock salt / salt and Trees

Tis the season (in temperate climates in the Northern Hemisphere) for slippery paths and roads.

In our risk adverse world, ice or even the threat of ice triggers an over reaction. Instead of clearing snow and ice or walking more carefully; rock salt and salt are spread to reduce the risk of slips/falls/claims (real or imaginary) for slips and falls.

This is multiplied by people not understanding the difference between an air frost and a ground frost. An air frost (the type that places ice on your windscreen), will not cause ice on the ground. Yet when a zero or sub zero temperature is reported, it can be a the start of an application of rock salt/ ice, when it is not needed.

Why  am I an Arborist writing about this?  It is because salt kills trees.  Please be aware of this and try not to place salt around trees.   


The importance of Mulching

To understand this, we think it is best to go for a walk in the woods. What is underfoot? A covering of composting vegetation, scrape this and the most wonderful organic compost/soil exists. Even the least green fingered person appreciates the majesty of this soil. 

Now walk down a street, what is around the trees in the pavement, tarmac, slabs, resin bonded gravel, bonded gravel, in grass verges, perhaps a tiny bit of soil, rarely a very small  area of mulch?

Mulch, preferable with  leaves, but woodchips are usually more appropriate, this increases Mycorrhizal activity ( ).  Mulch increases Mycorrhizal activity by upto 15 times over grass. Mulch as it composts adds organic matter to the soil, improving it's health. 

If you are  wymiscally minded, when you go on holiday or if you move abroad, you bring items home, from images to trinklets, to remind you  of home.  That is what trees feel with mulch, it reminds them  of home! The woodland floor  or the time before humans started removing leaves.  

Mulch is incredibly beneficial to the roots and quality of the soil around trees. It should be installed 3" deep and it is vital to keep the immediate area around the trunk clear (it is meant to be above ground and raising mulch up the  trunk is as bad as heaping soil up the trunk). How far should it be spread? As far as the roots spread! 

It is not a one off application, to maintain benefits it should be regularly topped up.  In addition to deterring weeds and grass maintenance machinery (strimmers damaging bark kills many trees), it adds organic material to the soil (soil is a living organism and needs to be fed, the soil feeds the roots (it's not quite as simple as that, but it essentially this) and it retains moisture in the soil. Most importantly it helps Mycorrhizal fungi.               

Leave Leaves Please

In the northern hemisphere in it is Autumn/Fall.

Just think of woodlands and before humans had lawns, pavements etc that needed to be kept clear of leaves.

Perhaps the original closed loop recycling, is the recycling of the valuable nutrients in leaves, by the tree that shed them.  

It is now becoming recognised that the removal of these nutrients (and the grass cuttings from lawns) removes this link and removes nutrients from the tree (lawn).

Also think about when wild flower meadows are created, advice is to remove the nutrients to make the soil poor which encourages (what are viewed as) wild flowers, you are advised to remove the cut grass.

In Hyde Park they recognise that the removal of leaves are inducing a deficiency in nutrients for mature trees and are now feeding trees to replace these lost nutrients (hopefully they will have found a way to use the leaves every year.

At Kew they used to have hundreds of volunteers to clear up leaves. Now they are mulched with mulching mowers where they fall and Tony Kirkham, swears the resulting small sections of leaves are consumed by worms overnight.    

The leaves shed by your trees, should be given back  to the trees.  If you can leave the in situ to compost down, fabulous. If on lawns a mulching mower (one that cuts up grass cuttings so that they are returned to the lawn) will cut the leaves up so small, that the worms will make short work of them and start the recycling.

If these two options are not available, you could compost the leaves down, then in spring gift them back to the tree as a mulch.

Close that loop please!