Annual event is really growing

Autumn colour.
Autumn colour.

In little over three weeks from now, it’s the annual National Tree Planting event, which has grown so steadily since 1975 that official figures confirm upward of one quarter of a million people are now taking part.

I’m flagging up the event in advance because this activity is something that demands more than a little thought. A tree is for life – or should be!

Gleditsia in autumn.

Gleditsia in autumn.

The word ‘tree’ brings giant oak, ash, elm and lime immediately to mind and no doubt many of those will be planted in large open spaces from the end of November onward, but it also covers smaller, ornamental types that will fit into a moderately-sized garden.

This is not to say that even they are all plain sailing.

Each autumn there are falling leaves to deal with but that can be turned to advantage if they are composted.

If the chosen ornamental tree is prone to suckering, cherry for example, it can cause a headache for you or a neighbour.

Then there is the vexed question of how tall will it grow?

A decent reference book or online research will provide the answer but don’t forget, the spread of a tree canopy is often matched by its roots so the distance from a structure or dwelling is important.

Tree planting distances from the house vary according to the source.

Go online and you’ll find that those who work with and understand trees offer a very practical house-proximity figure, while the insurers’ assessment leaves plenty of room for error.

As an example, the silver birch (Betula pendula) growing seven metres from our patio door, has been there for more than 30 years without mishap.

One source suggests it should really be ten metres away, while another alarmingly states four.

As a general rule-of-thumb, to avoid root damage to house foundations and waste drainage systems, sorbus (rowan) and birch (betula) should be at least seven metres away.

The safe distance for a prunus tree would be five metres, then we come to the big boys; ash, beech, oak and elm.

Opinions do vary, and that’s not surprising when you consider how root development is affected by different soil types.

Brave gardeners will perhaps try planting to the lowest estimate of 12metres distance, and cautious types play safe with a generous 20.

I’d split the difference and go for 16, but you can make your own mind up by Googling ‘safe tree planting distances’.

Apart from anticipating potential damage to your own property, it’s important to see trees and hedges from a neighbour’s point of view.

And should any dispute arise, there are websites that outline basic law, dealing with high hedges, overhanging branches, troublesome roots and preservation orders – is one.

Thankfully, the positives far outweigh negative thoughts in any assessment of trees.

They are important to our wellbeing in so many ways that it behoves us to encourage and protect this potentially infinite resource.

Planting a tree in the right spot is a small but significant statement that carries several benefits for us and other living things.

A favourite rowan, cherry or birch will keep us in touch with the changing seasons, while providing sustenance for invertebrates and birds.

A single plum tree, say Victoria, grafted onto the Pixie rootstock, will do these same things and offer a large, delicious harvest for the next 50 years at least.

Tree Week, which runs from October 23 to November 1, marks the beginning of winter planting.

Every year, Tree Council member organisations; local authorities, voluntary bodies, communities and schools, with the help of 8,000 tree wardens, take part.

If you’re interested in registering an event and would like some tips and a useful poster, go online at