19 May 2022

Gardening with Jo: Why pick rootballed trees?

With Jo McGarry of Caragh Nurseries

Gardening with Jo: Why pick rootballed trees?

Rootballed trees

It's hard to believe the year is flying by so quickly. After a super busy season on the nursery, even after the start of the year that we’ve had, the months have flown by.

Now we are into October and that to us means tree month. We have 45 acres of field grown trees and hedging here at Caragh Nurseries, along with a two acre mature tree display park, where our specimen and mayor trees are displayed, mainly in airpots (which I will be doing a feature on in the coming weeks) .

Rob Fordyce, our field production manager, has been hard at work, grading and monitoring our trees that are ready to lift this year for rootballed and bare-root tree sales for the end of this month.

The semi-mature trees that we have planted in our own fields are allowed to grow in open ground and so they are healthy and with great root structures. As more mature trees, they have been allowed to grow over a good number of years with the right amount of pruning and special care for their root structure. If the roots are allowed to grow too extensively, it will not only make the tree too hard to move it, will also mean the root structure is not as strong - although this and some careful pruning does mean the head is not as big as if it was left to its own devices. This is to the benefit of the tree long term. All of our work does make it an awful lot easier to move the trees to their new homes too.

We are the premier supplier in Ireland of rootballed and mature trees to the general public, and so I wanted to talk to Rob to get a feel for the process and also to get his view on his favourite trees for different spaces. Being around the trees full-time all day, if he doesn’t know a thing or two about them, then nobody does.

Rob is South African and has spent all his adult life working on nurseries. From his horticulture and business degree in SA, (something we don’t have here in Ireland and would be a real winner) to running his own nursery, he has 26 years of hands on experience. This is what he had to say.

“Once a tree reaches a certain size it requires the stability of a rootball to ensure it has the best possible start, that is usually 14-16cm in deciduous trees and dependent on size but is usually the case for most evergreen trees. These trees are specially selected and then lifted from the field and these trees have their root system carefully enclosed and held in place with hessian, which ensures the soil remains in contact with the roots throughout lifting, transportation and planting operations.

“Our rootball trees have been prepared by being ‘undercut’, ie root pruned or transplanted several times (every three years for deciduous and four years for evergreen) to encourage the development of a fibrous root system.

“The hessian and wire are biodegradable and therefore there is no packaging waste to dispose of

“The cost of a rootballed tree can be less than a containerised tree and they’re easy to handle when planting. They also have a good establishment rate as they’re planted in the dormant winter months.

“Do not remove the hessian or wire. The hessian will naturally rot down allowing the root system to develop. The wire will break down soon after planting, leaving the hessian in place helps to maintain the completeness of the root system.”

I asked Rob about his favourite trees: “I adore all trees but I do have some favourites. I really love large leaved trees like the morus or mulberry trees, the leaves are huge and a vibrant lime colouring. I also love the catalpa tree group. The Indian bean tree has a similar look and the rounded shape to the head makes it great for the modern looking garden.

“My absolute favourite tree, though, is the London plane tree - also called platanus acerfolia. It, to me, is the perfect tree - a tall statuesque tree with a dapped silver grey trunk. The crown is rounded and the leaf is large. The tree is scented and the fruit is like little baubles in the early part of the year.

“The tree is a large one and the best thing about London planes is they are the ideal tree for urban locations, It is tolerant of pollution, soil compaction, drought and heavy pruning.”

Thanks to Rob for all the advice and information in this week's column. Elsewhere on the nursery, Ron and his team out in the field are gearing up for the season and have just put together the stock list and prices.

Now its down to Emily and I to add them to the stock online and have them labelled up ready for sales as soon as they’re lifted.

Next week I am talking to more of the team, Ian and Kathryn are looking forward to sharing some of their design tips with you and Kathryn is putting together her guide to gardening trends for 2022.

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