Stumped on how to maintain trees in a small space? There’s a simple solution

You’d never know it from the way our street trees are vandalised by the contractors employed to cut them clear of electricity wires, but there are a number of aesthetically pleasing, tree-loving ways to keep a tree to the size you need.

The most obvious – and lowest-maintenance – is to choose a tree that only grows as big as the space you have. In a small space that’s a small list, but the options can be greatly increased with some clever pruning. Think of the way that an ancient maple is in perfect proportion to the tea house in a Japanese garden, despite being a century or more old. Pruning is the answer, in this case, the regular pruning of the largest branches in the canopy to keep the tree to the desired size.

The pollarded lindens at Retford Park, in full leaf in summer.Credit:National Trust of Australia

Pollarding is a pruning technique that requires less finesse. This is the annual trimming of a tree back to a small cluster of short stubs atop a single trunk. In winter the effect is of a knobbly, arthritic hand stretched to the sky. In spring, shoots burst from the stubs, grow fast and by summer form a neat canopy.

This is the way ginkgos in Tokyo, lindens in Amsterdam and plane trees throughout France are kept street-sized. Pollarding is best done from a young age. It’s a technique seen more often in large parks than private gardens, but there is a very good local example in the lime walk at Retford Park, the National Trust property in Bowral.

More useful in the garden is the technique of coppicing. This requires cutting the tree back almost to ground level. Coppicing is an ancient technique: the world’s oldest known road was built in southern England around 4500 BC using coppiced stems. More recently coppicing provided feed for stock in winter and stems for weaving and building. Hazel, willow, oak and ash were all coppiced and forests were managed so that different blocks were coppiced at different times, say 5, 10 or 15 years, to provide material for different uses.

Enclosure laws and industrialisation put an end to such intensive forest management and these days coppicing is mostly seen in the ornamental garden, where it is used to keep trees low or to show off handsome juvenile foliage. Smoke bush, Cotinus coggygria, for instance, has gorgeous translucent burgundy leaves but as it ages the leaves darken and dull. Coppiced, it makes a brilliant backdrop to a border, of about two metres in height. (There is a downside – cutting back the stems means cutting off the flowers that give it its common name.)

The pollarded lindens in winter.Credit:National Trust of Australia

Having evolved to survive the severe cutback of bushfires, eucalypts respond well to coppicing. The Woody Meadow Project used this adaptation to develop plantings that require no maintenance beyond a single hard cutback every few years. Check the project website for plant lists. The silver gum you find in florists, Eucalyptus pulverulenta, the silver-leafed mountain gum, also responds well to pruning, as flower farmers know to their profit. Cut it to wherever suits, and it will shoot horizontally from the stems as well as from the base.

It’s National Tree Day on Sunday, the perfect time to work out where and how to fit another tree into the garden.

Make the most of your health, relationships, fitness and nutrition with our Live Well newsletter. Get it in your inbox every Monday.

Most Viewed in Lifestyle

Source: Read Full Article