Small Tree Care

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Growing small trees in pots

Planting and growing small trees in pots is a rewarding way to add colour and structure to your outdoor space, especially if you don’t have the room to grow trees anywhere else. But there are a few essential steps to follow to get it right.

The first is selecting the right pot for your tree. As trees grow in pots long term, the container should be large enough to accommodate the mature size of the tree’s root system. Opt for a pot made of durable material with plenty of drainage holes to prevent waterlogging.

This pot will need to be filled with an airy potting mix to provide the ideal foundation for growth. Use a well-draining, high-quality potting mix amended with slow-release fertiliser and palm peat for added moisture retention. When planting your tree, keep the soil level a few centimetres below the rim to stop any excess from spilling out when watering.

Watering is critical for potted trees as they dry out quicker than trees planted in the ground. Monitor the soil moisture closely and make watering part of your regular care routine. Don’t water if the top layer of soil is still moist to prevent rotting and promote airflow through the soil.

Finally, keep an eye out for pests and diseases. Potted trees can be more susceptible to certain issues due to their confined environment. Inspect your tree regularly and treat any problems promptly to keep it alive. Providing the right conditions and keeping your tree happy will help prevent problems.

Planting small trees

If you’re planting in the ground rather than in a container, the process is slightly different. Start by considering the mature size of the tree, its sun and shade requirements, and its proximity to structures, underground utilities, or other plants to find the perfect location. Remove any weeds, grass, or debris from the area to start with a clean slate.

Next, dig the hole you’re going to plant in. It should be twice the width of the tree’s root system to allow the roots to spread out. Improve the soil by mixing in plenty of compost to the soil you’ve removed. Remove the tree from its pot and gently loosen the roots to stop them from wrapping around each other.

Lower the tree into the hole, keeping the root ball level with the surrounding soil. Partially fill the hole with amended soil, pressing down gently to make sure there are no air pockets. Once it’s full, gently press down around the base and water thoroughly. If the tree needs support or is in a windy area, stake it for the first year to help it establish a strong root system.

READ MORE: Check out our list of small trees that are perfect for small spaces.

Tips for small tree pruning

  • Prune during the right season. For most trees, the best time to prune is in late winter before new growth begins. Some trees that bloom in spring, such as magnolia, should be pruned after they finish flowering to avoid cutting off next year’s flower buds.
  • Use the proper tools. Sharp, clean secateurs or a pruning saw are essential to make clean, precise cuts. Disinfect your tools between trees to prevent the spread of diseases.
  • Remove dead, damaged, or diseased branches. Remove problematic branches as soon as they are noticed to maintain the health of the tree and prevent further decay or the spread of disease.
  • Prune for structure. Remove any branches that are crossing, rubbing against each other, or growing at an awkward angle. This promotes better air circulation and reduces the chance of diseases and pests.
  • Thin out crowded branches. Remove some of the smaller branches to open up the tree’s canopy and allow more sunlight and air circulation.
  • Make proper cuts. When pruning, make clean, angled cuts just above a bud or lateral branch. This encourages healthy new growth and reduces the risk of disease or rot.
  • Avoid overpruning. Remove no more than 25% of the tree’s canopy in a single pruning session, as overpruning can weaken the tree and make it more susceptible to problems.
  • Monitor the tree’s health. Regularly check your tree for signs of disease or pest infestations and address any issues immediately. A well-maintained tree will require less drastic pruning and will have fewer problems.
The Gardener