Tree Planting – why is it so difficult?

Tree Planting – common problems:

Successful tree planting is easy but it relies on a few simple things being done properly. In the UK there has been a superb tradition of planting from the impressive remnants of the Victorian era that dominate our towns and cities to the large scale forestry of the 1950’s.

This makes it all the more puzzling to see so much poor quality planting across the country especially on new development sites. You don’t have to travel very far to see young trees struggling to survive due to poor species selection, poor nursery stock, bad planting technique and a lack of aftercare and maintenance.

Many tree planting contracts fail to enforce the aftercare that is vital to the trees surviving. In addition to this trees are so often planted into poor soil and badly designed pits. This terrible state of affairs is not restricted to any particular sector. Local Authority planting schemes appear as likely to see heavy losses as private sector schemes.

Private developers regularly need to remove trees in order to provide an appropriate layout design and Local Planning Authorities need to balance tree preservation with the need to find housing or employment land. Tree planting is a vital part of the development process both to mitigate for the loss of trees and to provide new trees that will mature along with the development. Trees are a key part of sustainable development.

The private sector often fails to design the tree planting into the scheme with trees stuffed in as an after thought, often into poor quality soil and a very restricted volume of soil. Then to compound the problem Local Planning Authorities fail to enforce the relevant planning conditions and maintenance and aftercare become forgotten. The result is so often a struggling stock of trees ill equipped to survive the harsh conditions that they have been planted into.

The blame for this lies across the industries. The private sector fails to get the advice it needs, LPA fail to impose their powers and the Arboricultural industry fails to make its voice heard.

There also appears to be a lack of good knowledge amongst professionals. Landscape Architects frequently seem to get planting wrong and this normally relates to the provision of ample soil or correct tree pits. This is a failure of the Arboricultural Industry to educate allied professionals.

Tree Planting Solutions:

There is now so much research available to tell us which methods of tree planting are the most successful. Technology has provided a wide range of materials and off the shelf systems to provide good planting conditions in a wide range of locations. The availability of mature planting stock and a wide range of tree species mean that there is no excuse to get planting wrong.

Ideally trees are planted into a larger area of open ground with minimal weed competition and a maximum volume of soil. Larger planting areas can only be designed into a scheme from the very beginning and not designated as an after thought or to use up left over pieces of ground.

Obviously the constraints of the real world mean that space is at a premium on any site. Numerous products and techniques are available to allow tree planting to share space with other uses. In mainland Europe it is common to plant trees into structural soil and/or Amsterdam soil. These are soils that are compacted and can bear the load of paving and/or parking. This means that larger planting pits can be provided to sustain trees into maturity. In addition to this numerous products can direct root growth away from infrastructure reducing damage to paving and utilities. Once again these solutions need careful planning and must be designed into any scheme from an early stage.

One of the basic requirements for trees is the soil that they grow in. This may seem obvious but this is so often over looked or ignored, leading to poor growth and high plant failure rates. An old saying goes “plant a £100 tree into a £200 hole not a £200 tree into a £100 hole”. This highlights the need to get the planting medium right. The larger volume of soil available to the tree the more likely it will survive and the better it will flourish.

This also highlights the need to protect the soil that will be the planting area – there is no point in damaging a soil by compacting or contaminating it and then expect to get trees to grow well in it.

It is vital that all the organisations involved work together to make sure trees become established to ensure that money is well spent and that our towns and cities get sustainable planting solutions. This needn’t be expensive or difficult – it is just about good communication and getting the right advice at the right time.

Arboriculturists need to engage with their clients so that developers and organisations are fully aware of the benefits of planting and of having mature trees in our landscape. People involved in the tree industry have a duty to educate our clients to achieve an aim that is beneficial to us all. But they cannot work in isolation and LPA have a duty (literally) to apply the appropriate focus on not just tree planting but aftercare and maintenance.