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Designer trees for small spaces

Designer trees for small spaces

Our choice of seven local trees to enhance small gardens.

Even in a small garden there is space for at least one small tree. Like climbers, trees help to give your garden a very necessary dimension of height. But beware: an ill-chosen 'woody perennial' could gobble up your small yard and perhaps later force you to live in a tree house, so you need to consider certain factors carefully before you rush out and buy the first tree that takes your fancy. The two primary considerations are size and type of root system: ideally, you should select a small tree, and – most important – it should not have an invasive root system. Wherever you plant a tree in a small garden, it is likely to be near built structures such as walls, paving or swimming pools, and the last thing you want is to discover later that its roots have quietly reduced your foundations to rubble! Another factor to consider is form. Generally, the smaller the garden the higher the need for form plants, and this is particularly the case when it comes to small trees. Because you will very likely only have space for one or two, they will inevitably become focal points. Slender forms are also better as you do not want too much bulk in a small garden. Last, we recommend you consider the pleasures of wildlife gardening when you make your selection, choosing trees that provide birds and insects with food and shelter. This is why we present this 'proudly South African' selection of indigenous trees.

 
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How to take care of your young tree

Choose a nursery specimen with a strong, straight main stem, even if you see lots of low side growth. Plant it in a 50cm x 50cm x 50cm hole, adding one bag of compost mixed with the excavated soil and a handful of bone meal. Always stake the tree to support it against wind while it is young. Mulch the tree with a thick layer of organic compost in early spring, and again in midsummer and water it deeply once a week.

After planting and staking it firmly, take the time to study your tree, visually dividing it into three sections. Remove all the side growth completely from the bottom third of the tree. Cut back the middle third of side stems to one or two buds – this will encourage lots of fresh top growth that will start forming a little 'crown', helping the plant to develop a strong root system and thickening main stem. Leave the top third to grow upwards. If you continue pruning a young tree in this way as it grows, you will end up with a well-formed specimen with a strong trunk and a high, well-branched crown.

Sources: Creative Gardening with South African Plants, by Pitta Joffe, Briza, 2003.

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