Are supersized nursery trees environmentally beneficial?

Over recent decades, there has been a great emphasis on a ‘day one’ instant impact look with the size of tree grown and dispatched going off the charts. Some trees are so big that only one or two fit on a 40-foot articulated lorry that travels thousands of miles from continental Europe to reach their new homes. There is little or no environmental gain in these.

The trouble is that this obsession for size has been transposed across all genera. It’s fair enough to buy a tree at semi mature sizes if they go on to live for at least two centuries but what’s the point of buying semi mature Malus (Apple) or Prunus (Cherry) as these only live for about 70 years in the first place. In environmental terms it is like starting to invest in a new Olympic athlete when they turn 40. What is more, a short lived tree planted at a huge size has lost its juvenile vigour and reacts very poorly to this process giving the end user a miserable result rather than the utopian day one orchard they had been promised and imagined.

A tree supplied at an age too old and too large to make an environmental contribution does not make sense. We do not see the point in planting a short lived tree, that has a life expectancy of under 100 years, at much over 16-18cm girth, our ‘large’ size. By then it is only about 10 years old, so you still have 90 years’ worth of environmental contribution to gain. Better still, buy these from a nursery who has grown them from scratch rather than an imported tree with a hefty carbon footprint already attached.
For longer lived trees, there is a good case for planting at semi mature girth, our ‘instant’ size, but surely in the times we face with our environment at such a knife edge, not at the super-sized girths of 35cm and 40cm+ girth that need large carbon guzzling machinery to transport and plant them, negating their environmental worth from the start.

We have followed the trend of producing bigger and bigger trees but when you see one specimen tree being loaded by a three tonne diesel belching telehandler, with the tree taking up all the room on the 40 foot articulated lorry, it just doesn’t make sense! Trees should be contributing to the environment, not working against it.

With this in mind we are phasing out our production of our larger sized trees. No trees will be potted into our 750lt, 1000lt, 1750lt and 3000lt pots this potting season for future availability. We are going to limit our sizing to 25-30cm girth for ‘A’ rated eco trees that have a lifespan of centuries and 16-18cm for shorter lived ‘C’ rated trees. Our maximum pot size will reduce to 500litre, with the majority of our stock being in 35litre to 100litre sizes. On the other end of the scale we are also introducing a new range of 3,000 UK providence trees in 20litre that will be 2.25-2.75m tall by September.

We have modelled our trees not only to measure their carbon storage potential but also their breakeven point of when they start to positively contribute to the environment, after our production and delivery processes have been accounted for. This has given us renewed focus to produce and sell a diverse range of trees that offer the greatest environmental benefit.

Written by Mike Glover, Managing Director.

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How much carbon is stored in trees?

Well, pretty soon Barcham will let you know how much carbon each of our tree varieties will store in their lifetimes. We are giving our trees an A to E environmental rating and installing a carbon calculator within this site so you can work out how much carbon you consume versus how many trees you need to offset.

Take the much maligned Sycamore for example. Regarded by many as a weed, it is one of the best trees for carbon capture and ranks as an ‘A rater’ in our table. We have modelled data in partnership with Treeconomics in Exeter and have used measurements from thousands of trees using a tool called ‘I Tree’.

Fuller explanation will come shortly in subsequent blogs but in the meantime please see an example of one of our product tags below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, not all of us have the room to plant a sycamore in our gardens but every tree is a contributor for storing carbon so it’s important to focus on putting the right tree in the right place so it can be left to fulfil its potential.

It is estimated that a mature tree like this will have stored up to 20 tonnes of dry weight carbon within its lifetime:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s so important to protect our trees as felling them for development releases their stored carbon back into the atmosphere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More to follow over the coming weeks!

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Barcham Trees awarded ‘Plant Healthy’ certification!

At last biosecurity is beginning to gain traction and industry practices are gradually changing. Take Olive for example, such a glorious tree, unrivalled in what it does aesthetically and so beautiful in structure. However, with the arrival of the plant disease Xylella Fastidiosa into Southern Italy in 2013, the Olive population in this part of Europe was decimated and the production of Olive Oil supporting thousands of families was lost. A lot of tree diseases are genus specific like Ash Die back, but the thing about Xylella is that it also wipes out numerous other genera and particularly favours Laurus nobilis (Bay), Prunus dulcis (Almond), Quercus suber (Cork Oak), as well as the mainstream shrubs Lavender and Rosemary. We took the decision to stop growing and selling these varieties in 2015, not wanting to risk the UK treescape and our own production for short term commercial gain.

Xylella Fastidiosa has now been spread to Germany, France, Portugal and Spain but thankfully there has been no recorded case in the UK,….yet.

There are still many plant brokers importing Olives into the UK, at great risk to our environment, driven on by demand from specifiers and individuals who have no idea of the catastrophe that could so easily result. I am pleased to say that DEFRA is getting a grip on this and making it a lot harder for Olives to come into the country but we will rest easier when they are prohibited for good, along with the other host plants that Xylella fastidiosa favours.

The need for strict biosecurity is so important for the health of our nation’s trees. This is why the new kite mark scheme ‘Plant Healthy’ has been launched in the UK, auditing nurseries to make sure they have strict biosecurity procedures in place. We were certified onto this scheme in November 2020. Unfortunately this doesn’t stop poorly judged imports via ‘white van man’ into town markets every week up and down the UK but DEFRA has these traders on its radar and will hopefully put in legislation to get all to comply with stricter biosecurity standards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Barcham, we do not trade any plants for immediate resale. All of our saleable stock is vitality checked and passed as healthy by DEFRA before they are released onto the market each September, having been grown here at Barcham. Many of our trees are started from UK provenance seedlings and raised in our triple span polytunnel before being planted out in our field unit to grow on to harvest size. They are then lifted and containerized into our patented Light Pots to ready them for sale.

With the threat of multiple pest and diseases being imported into the UK by traded trees, it becomes more important to devise planting plans that offer a defense against host specific problems. Oak Processionary Moth, Ash Die Back and Dutch Elm Disease are good examples of how a single variety can all get wiped out by one event. Genus diversity is the key to future proofing your planting. If one genus accounts for only 10% of your arrangement you are limiting your exposure to total losses further on down the line.

Ironically, the need for greater genus diversity puts pressure on demand and triggers more imports but if you go with a nursery with certified ‘Plant Healthy’ status you will be on the right side of things. The incidence of importing a problem goes away if you buy from UK nurseries who have grown their plants rather than brokered them. Always good to ask!

For more information on the ‘Plant Healthy’ scheme, please visit their website – https://planthealthy.org.uk/

 

 

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How to prune screening trees

 

One of the most common reasons people need to plant trees in their gardens is screening.
This can be screening from neighbours, or screening from a nearby eyesore or generally just because people fancy bringing a little privacy into their garden world.

There are many ways to achieve this screening, with some people opting for a mix of complementary trees and others going for more strategic evergreen or semi evergreen plantings.
One of the most popular options is Privet, either the green Ligustrum japonicum, or the variegated Ligustrum lucidum Variegata. Privet is a tough plant, which will tolerate a range of conditions and locations, making it versatile and desirable for the screening job. It can be planted as an individual tree and allowed to become a big mop head, or can be maintained and pruned as a “hedge on stilts”, either way offering useful screening.
The only limitation that should be considered with Privet is that they are technically semi evergreen and can therefore come out of the winter period looking a little sparse and “woody”, as can many evergreen types.

Other popular trees for this type of planting are Photinia Red Robin, Portuguese Laurel and Cherry Laurel, all of which will look a little depleted coming out of the winter time.

In order to bring these trees back to looking tip top and full, the best course of action is to give them a good prune each year. This will remove the “woody” look and encourage the tree to flush through with some lovely new growth. It may feel a bit strange to be doing this for a tree that is needed to screen, however it really is the best option to keep them looking their best in the long run and therefore offering the most pruning.

So how and when is it best to do this?
The best time to prune Privet, Photinia, Laurel and Portuguese Laurel is in the spring, after the last frost. You do not want to go too early as pruning encourages and facilitates new growth, which could be damaged by the cold should there be a late frost. This usually puts you into a window of from May onwards and should be completed by the end of July. Ideally sooner rather than later, as it is best to give the trees the best of the summer time to put on their new growth.
Pruning can be done by hand with shears or secateurs, or just simply using a hedge trimmer. The hedge trimmer is most effective on those plants with the smaller leaves, as you do run the risk of being left with some partially/half cut leaves when pruning larger leaves this way. Be brave with your pruning! It really is amazing what these trees can bounce back from and they are usually better for it.
In the weeks after pruning you may consider giving them a little helping hand with a liquid feed, to ensure that the new growth you have is as thick and full as possible.

In general we recommend that you start you pruning regime once the trees have had a full growing season to establish their root systems, therefore we would not recommend this the first summer after planting.

If you have any questions or queries on this, please do not hesitate in contacting our team who can offer you more specific advice where required.

Photinia pruned:

 

 

 

 

 

Photinia flushed:

 

 

 

 

 

Photinia unpruned:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why are my Pine’s needles going yellow and dropping?

 

Pines drop needles every year, foliage set in previous seasons. It can be quite alarming at first glance with the middle of the plant going yellow to brown before the needles are jettisoned altogether. The sole purpose for a leaf is to harvest sunlight to convert it to food through a process called photosynthesis. Trees grow from the tips so in the case of a Pine, the new foliage created in May through to July shades out the foliage made two seasons prior, rendering this old foliage inefficient and redundant. Once the new season’s foliage is fully functional the tree will discard its older leaves as there is no benefit to put in the resource to maintain them. This transition often happens from September through to December.

You will notice a bed of old needles in a Pine plantation and this is a good example of how this process runs. You don’t notice this transition in older trees so much but in younger trees it can look quite stark. However, nothing to worry about, all part of the tree’s natural process of renewal.

You can read a Pine like a book as it only grows one whorl of growth every year. That’s why it is always the inner part of the plant that is jettisoned. If a Pine goes yellow or starts to die back from its growing tips this is an entirely different and sinister scenario.

 

 

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Buying Olive trees is no longer acceptable

Olive planted in the UK before the arrival of Xylella Fastidiosa into Europe, with a trailing rose growing through it:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2020 seems to be the year that many of the things we have grown up with are no longer morally acceptable. Take Olive for example, such a glorious tree, unrivalled in what it does aesthetically and so beautiful in structure. However, with the arrival of the plant disease Xylella Fastidiosa into Southern Italy in 2013, the Olive population in this part of Europe was decimated and the production of Olive Oil supporting thousands of families was lost. A lot of tree diseases are genus specific like Ash Die back, but the thing about Xylella is that it also wipes out numerous other genus and particularly favours Laurus nobilis (Bay), Prunus dulcis (Almond), Quercus suber (Cork Oak), as well as the mainstream shrubs Lavender and Rosemary. We took the decision to stop growing and selling these varieties in 2015, not wanting the risk the UK treescape and our own production for short term commercial gain.

Xylella Fastidiosa has now been spread to Germany, France, Portugal and Spain but thankfully there has been no recorded case in the UK,….yet.

There are still many plant brokers importing Olives into the UK, at great risk to our environment, driven on by demand from specifiers and individuals who have no idea of the catastrophe that could so easily result. I am pleased to say that DEFRA is getting a grip on this and making it a lot harder for Olives to come into the country but I will rest easier when they are prohibited for good, along with the other host plants it favours.

But there is another side to this. The beauty of Olive was in its size. A gnarled old specimen was a very attractive addition to a south facing garden. With climate change so obviously upon us, the question we now have to ask ourselves about the trees we buy is how much environmental gain are they going to achieve. The thought of buying a 100 year old Olive that has been transported all the way from Italy or Spain with a huge carbon footprint attached is not going to be a contributor.

Over recent decades there has been a great emphasis on a ‘day one’ instant impact look with the sizes of tree grown and despatched going off the charts. Some trees are so big that only one or two fit on a 40 foot articulated lorry that travels thousands of miles to reach their new homes. There is no environmental gain in these also. The trouble is that this obsession for size has been transposed across all genus. It’s fair enough to buy a tree at semi mature sizes if they go on to live for at least two centuries but what’s the point of buying semi mature Malus (Apple) or Prunus (Cherry) as these only live for about 70 years in the first place. In environmental terms its like starting to invest in a new Olympic athlete when they just turn 40. What is more, a short lived tree planted at huge sizes has lost its juvenile vigour and reacts very poorly to this process giving the end user a miserable result rather than the utopian day one orchard they had been promised and imagined.

Personally I don’t see the point in planting a tree that has a life expectancy of under 100 years at much over 16-18cm girth. By then it is about 10 years old so it still has 90 years’ worth of environmental contribution to go. Better still buy these from a nursery who has grown them from scratch rather than an imported tree with a hefty carbon footprint already attached. For longer lived trees there is a good case for planting at semi mature sizes but surely in this day and age when our environment is at such a knife edge, not at the super-sized girths of 40cm plus that need large machinery to transport and plant them, negating all their environmental worth from the start.

 

 

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What is the best way to water trees? Urban myths and natural processes explained!

I see a lot of different methods and ideas for watering trees and many times these are over thought. For all the right reasons we want the best for establishing our trees in the first couple of years after planting to give them the very best of starts. However we can over complicate things and end up veering away from the optimum levels of best practice that we are trying to achieve.

Taking it back to basics, trees have evolved to take rainfall as their source of water. Generally this is very slow in terms of output, it rained on and off all of Saturday night until Sunday afternoon last weekend and all that came down was 10mm. But we all agree that the trees look better for it. Rain is slow release water. The rate it is delivered gives vital time for the soil to grip it as gravity takes it down its profile. The canopies of trees have time to channel the flow down and in the process slows it down still further to where its roots system can access it later on. The woodland floor mulch slows it down yet again and keeps it from evaporating as soon as the sun comes out. It also prevents the soil from capping after the relentless pounding of the rain to make the soil more receptive to its flow.

So what do we do?! We pour on buckets of the stuff all at once and walk away thinking good job done! Think of a hanging basket. You water it with a litre of water from a jug and two thirds falls from the basket onto the ground below. That water is now useless to the plants inside the hanging basket. If that litre of water was applied as a block of ice and left to melt over the next few hours, not one drop would fall through the basket as the soil has had the time to grip it. The plants can access this full one litre of water as it is within their root zone. Now, I’m not suggesting you put ice all over the place but it’s a good way to make the point that slow release water is what’s needed. (Having said this I have used ice now and again to water trees and it works very well!!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, how to slow water down so that the soil can grip it for the roots to access it? People think water pipes are a great idea, single use plastic protruding out of the soil line after the tree is planted so water can be applied ‘down to the roots’. But the roots are most active and effective on the surface. Using a hosepipe to feed a tube is just going to get the water to sprint through the soil profile with very little being delivered to the right place. Fast release of water can also make a horrible mess of the soil structure below ground. Roots need oxygen and water blended in measure and too much water too fast squeezes out the oxygen from the soil, rendering it useless for tree roots to colonise it.

What about using water retaining gels that the roots can access later? The first thing I think of when I hear about these sort of products is how many water absorbing gels occur in the soil in nature and have trees evolved happily with this type of stuff in place? When push comes to shove and it gets really dry, what’s going to want to hold the water, a root system or a water absorbing gel? I don’t think I’m a technology luddite but you can see the point that veering away from how trees have evolved will probably give rise to negative consequences.

You can’t get away from it, the best way to slow water down is to do your best to mimic rainfall. In my garden I water using a watering can with rose attachment to sprinkle water to the mulch and down through the surface of the soil. A six litre watering can applied every three days is much more effective than lashing huge volumes on at a quicker pace. I can do this as social distancing and self-isolation during this pandemic is giving me a lot of time to use up. So, when time is more pressing, I can mechanise by using a garden sprinkler that I can walk away from and this slows the water rate up even further, more akin to a heavy rain shower so I’m now really getting to where I want to be. About 20 minutes per tree via a garden sprinkler is a great way to water garden trees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But you can’t set off a garden sprinkler in a town or city street or where you haven’t got a hose point to feed it. This is where Tree Hydration Bags work well. These sit on top of the root system, hugging the stem like a waistcoat. Once filled they expand with 70 litres of water that is then dripped out the base over the next three to five hours. Incidentally they also act as a rabbit protector, weed suppresser and mulch mat. Practically they have to be filled by a bowser or hosepipe to make them preferable to hand watering but they are another great way of slowing up the flow of water for the soil to have time to grip it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you mimic the flow rate of rainfall you are on the right side of watering effectively. From the top of the mulch downwards.

 

 

 

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Why is growth so slow and erratic this season?

It has been a formidable start to the growing season with the weather lurching from one extreme to another. We started off with an incredibly wet winter, then we had a dry warm March and April to get growth going before its time, followed by a sharp frost in mid-May during a prolonged period of drought which was then topped off by unseasonal heavy gale force winds that are usually confined to the winter. Climate change is happening right in front of our eyes……

Out of all these events, the late frost was the most significant. You can compensate with hand watering in periods of drought but there isn’t a lot you can do when you get a late and widespread frost. We have had reports from customers in Yorkshire saying their Hosta’s were burnt right back to nothing, from Oxfordshire reporting -4c which fried off all the new foliage of trees newly planted and established, from Rutland where Ash and Walnut were severely set back and of course at Barcham where we suffered tip burn off on our young field crops. Genus particularly prone to frost damage include Ash, Oak, Walnut, Sweet Chestnut, Mulberry, and Pyrus to name but a few. Ornamental genus like Paulownia, Catalpa, Cercidyphllum, Magnolia, Pterocarya and Davidia also take a blasting.

However, this is all part of nature’s cycle. About 10 years ago we had -6c in May that even turned the wheat black in the neighboring fields. But don’t despair! Although the season’s growth is never as good after a late frost the trees do recover by mid-summer to look decent again. New leaders are grown and new flushes of growth overtake the blackened legacy of May. To compound the damage we only had 4mm of rainfall in May instead of our average 50mm and this trend traversed a lot of the country. Without supplementing the lack of rainfall at this critical time for growth, new leaves are often small and new flushes are slow to come.

The gale force winds last week damaged new flushed leaves with genus like Carpinus (Hornbeam) particularly affected. We have just had some very welcome rain and we are now all looking forward to three months of stability so the trees can finally get growing without interruption!

Common Walnut burnt by frost:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Walnut re-shooting after late frost:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Chestnut leader lost by late frost:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How do I plant screening trees for privacy in containers?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a question asked of us frequently but generally a tree confined to a life in a pot doesn’t work out well. Trees are big and complex organisms and their root systems need a lot of soil volume to colonize to maintain a mature canopy. It is estimated that a big tree such as an Oak or Hornbeam needs a minimum of 30m3 of soil for the roots to fulfil the tree’s potential. Even the smallest of trees such as a Crab Apple or Japanese Cherry would need 10m3.

And that’s a big pot if you want trees where there is no soil to plant them!

Once a tree is confined within a container too small for it to grow, the roots circle within the confines to become a block of wood and good for nothing. The top of the tree lingers and slowly declines, looking ugly and not fulfilling your original objective. The root system also runs out of nutrient and because the majority of the soil volume is taken up by root it is a devil to get the container to hold water so the tree suffers with drought. To cap it all, in very cold winters the soil in the container freezes solid as it is above ground and not insulated like soil under an expansive ground level. This leads to a condition where the tree ‘freezes dry’ in that the plant cannot take up water as it is all in the form of ice.

So, with all that in mind we don’t advise keeping trees confined in containers. It’s like keeping a tiger in a small cage and they are too precious a resource to mitigate against climate change to waste in this way. In our opinion!

But it’s not all doom and gloom, there is an answer!

I was faced with very poor privacy from our gravel driveway to our garden. There was a strip in front of the cars that I converted to the biggest raise planting bed I could fit in using old oak sleepers and in the end I managed to create an environment that held about 4m3 of our Barcham Blend compost. I was fortunate that the planter went on top of free draining gavel as this wouldn’t work on tarmac or concrete. Eventually, in wet winters the planter would fill up with water if there was nowhere for it to go and the plants within it would drown. The soil / compost you fill the planter with has to be coarse to avoid compaction. A fine compost / loam will gently settle over the years of watering to squeeze the oxygen out. Roots need water and oxygen blended in measure to thrive.

I filled my raised planter with our medium sized Phyllostachys aurea, Golden bamboo. This plant is very invasive, suckering up all over the place so it is perfect for the confines of a raised planter. It gave me day one screening and a year down the line it has made a tremendous difference to the privacy in our garden. The beauty of bamboo is that you can coppice it down to ground level in early April and it will regrow to over two metres again in a matter of months. When it gets too raggedy I will do this, probably when my family aren’t looking. If you do this on a three to five year cycle it retains a lush and great evergreen screen. And, importantly, sustainable for growing in the confines of a container or raised planter that holds a minimum of 3m3. The bigger your container is, the more soil volume it holds and the better your result.

PS There are plenty of options for buying containers of planters bespoke to fit your area. Just google the term ‘raised planter’ and this will get you started.

 

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