Tree maintenance and survival

Plant a tree in ’73, bundle of sticks in ’76” is a refrain that is etched upon my mind. A recent query from one of our supporters about survival rates amongst the 6m trees we have planted under our Jubilee Woods project only served to reinforce the point.

I take any tree loss from schemes that we are involved in very personally – I’ve always made a point of revisiting sites that we have planted over the 19 years that I have been with the Trust and thankfully they are all in the main flourishing, and in many cases I am actually surprised by how well they have developed.

What are some of the key issues to think about in order to establish a new woodland successfully? 

  • Are trees actually right for the site or is the site more valuable as the habitat that currently exists there?
  • Understand the site – soil type, depth and condition, water regime, slope, elevation, aspect and exposure will all impact on the species and provenance of tree that  may grow there – good planning is essential to select the right tree for the site. Look around at what trees are already growing on and near the site – they will give good clues as to what will grow there and may also be a vital source of natural regeneration which in most cases will establish much more effectively than a planted tree.
  • Use good quality nursery stock with a good balance between root and crown. A 1 or 2 year old tree will establish much more effectively than a taller, older specimen which will take much longer to adjust to its new site. Handle planting stock carefully on site and particularly don’t let the tree roots dry out on bare root stock
  • Plant correctly in the right season and in the right weather conditions – watch our ultimate down-to-earth ‘How To’ film
  • Maintenance: of all the above this is what probably gets forgotten about the most. Young trees will struggle for moisture in their early years so effective weeding/mulching is of paramount importance. Trees may also need firming in and straightening and ties, supports and protection checking
  • Worry about your trees – if you do this you will visit them regularly and check them – if you forget about them they are far more likely to fail
  • Above all focus on quality of planting rather than quantity.

We annually review all the planting we have carried out on our own estate and take a random sample of a percentage of the planting that we support on other peoples’ land to assess success rates, and what lessons we might need to learn from failures. We also send out an annual newsletter to remind and advise those we have planted with to carry out appropriate maintenance.

Still, there are always lessons to learn so what else might we do?

John Tucker, Director of Woodland Creation

Read more blogs from John

About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
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11 Responses to Tree maintenance and survival

  1. argylesock says:

    Reblogged this on Science on the Land and commented:
    argylesock says… Years ago I helped to run a tree-planting scheme with what was then the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. We had fun at schools, helping kids to plant trees, but I don’t think any tree aftercare was done.

  2. Cliff Dean says:

    What are the disadvantages, apart from slow progress, of allowing woodland to regenerate naturally by simply removing mowing/grazing/ploughing? The initial scrub phase is valuable to wildlife (though has some public-image issues) and the trees that result are bound to be appropriate to soil-type etc.

    • Peter Wilding says:

      Spot on. And often progress by encouraging natural regeneration is just as fast or faster than planting. The Woodland Trust greatly over-emphasises tree planting, as it’s good for publicity, to solicit funding, and as a way to get the public involved. If considered purely as a way to establish a wood, it is often unnecessary. I have worked on various sites on the North Downs and Surrey Hills to remove Tooley tubes from earlier plantings; typically one finds that natural regeneration has over-topped the planted trees and has a much better survival rate. It’s more genetically appropriate too, as the seeds come from local trees.

      The Trust knows this. John Tucker’s post says “Look around at what trees are already growing on and near the site – they will give good clues as to what will grow there and may also be a vital source of natural regeneration which in most cases will establish much more effectively than a planted tree”. It’s just that tree planting schemes are much better for publicity purposes than the alternative of – apparently – doing nothing and waiting for trees to appear from seed.

    • Yes, I agree, Active management is not always the right way. We (people) should not see ourselves as managers but, following the deep ecology principle, simply regard ourselves as another species that has an interest in preserving and allowing regeneration of our woodlands.

  3. John,

    Consider running another Woods on your Doorstep programme – much has been learnt from the programme un by the WT in the 90s and it was very successful.

    Pete

  4. I like to reflect on the longevity that trees are capable of. I regularly visit an almost-forgotten oak, called The Wyre Oak, nearby that must be at least 350 years old, and I’ve been reading Richard Mabey’s account of Gilbert White’s Selborne Yew which was estimated to be 1500 years old but was sadly blown down in 1987.

    You might like to visit The Wyre Oak here: http://poemsandpaths.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/the-wyre-oak.html

  5. Rod Leslie says:

    Certainly, from what I’ve seen establishment (that is, trees surviving their early years) on Woodland Trust new planting sites is pretty impressive – well done John & WT ! With modern techniques properly applied over 90% survival should be possible with the sort of care John advocates – sloppy planting and failure to follow up and look after trees over the next 5 years can result in big losses. One thing John is spot on about is size – the local authority disease of insisting on big trees is disastrous – fine for street trees where bigger trees are less vulnerable to vandalism, but for woodland planting not just a waste of money but a quick way to lots of deaths – the bigger the tree the harder moving it affects it.

  6. Bywater blog says:

    I have planted a few oak trees in recent years, anyone can do it. Just buy one or more than one from a garden centre, or Ebay, and off you go to find a nice big open space.

    • Planting new oaks is great. I just wonder if it might be better to try to grown them from the acorns of local oaks in order to give continuity. Roger Deakin suggests this in his superb book, Wildwood.

      • That’s exactly what I did fifteen years ago, and today I have two young trees that are thriving.

      • Bywater blog says:

        Planting 2 year old oaks gives them a head start, not sure if its the best way to do things. I have sown conkers and apples, but they need to be able to rise above the surrounding grasses in order to survive. Perhaps they manage this ok in the wild, but its only recently that I have started sowing tree seeds and saplings.

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