Opting for deciduous

Trees, deciduous and evergreen, are disappearing from our urban landscape. We have become scared of trees. Trees get too big, hide views, drop leaves and flowers and their roots disrupt footpaths and foundations. Many new suburbs have restrictive covenants banning any sizable trees which could possibly obstruct views.

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Ginkgo biloba in June – Napier.

However, we need to rethink the value of trees in our environment. Trees are beautiful. Our leafy, inner-city suburbs are prized for their beauty and atmosphere. If Remuera (Auckland) and Fendalton (Christchurch) were treeless they would lose much of their appeal. In the soul-less new suburbs of Auckland two-storied houses occupy most of the land. Apart from small roadside specimens there are no trees!

Nothing is lovelier on a hot summer’s day than the cooling shade of a tree. As our climate becomes warmer, shade will become more valued. In the southern states of the USA, large deciduous trees, which over-top homes, are hugely valued for their free air conditioning affect. Deciduous trees are ideal for positioning on the northern or western side of your home where their leaves provide cooling shade in summer and their bare branches allow maximum light and warmth to penetrate in winter. Views may be partially obscured in summer but open to be re-appreciated in winter.

Deciduous trees celebrate the change of seasons. Many display flowers, foliage and fruit of great beauty. Cherry blossom is a much loved harbinger of spring but many other deciduous trees also have beautiful flowers the large white, pink and burgundy blooms of deciduous magnolias giant, mauve, foxglove flowers of Paulownia tomentosa pink candyfloss of Albizia julibrissin coloured bracts of cornus species, showy white flowers of Catalpa bignonioides cerise or white blossom of cercis sp. white blossom of ornamental pears white and pink upright panicles of the flowering chestnut crinkled pink or red flowers of lagerstroemia species. They all make a wonderful seasonal statement in your garden and many are valuable sources of pollen for bees. The carpet of petals once the flowers fall is also beautiful. 

The foliage of some deciduous trees is especially lovely the luminous, lime-green of unfolding oak leaves in spring pale, yellow-green of Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Sunburst’ ferny foliage of Albizia julibrissin and the lacy leaves of many maples.

Autumn foliage is a special topic on its own. A few tree species which are especially prized for their autumn display are the orange-red liquidambars in northern regions and throughout the country the many varieties of maples and the stunning golden foliage display of ginkgos, poplars and willows. We could celebrate, instead of dread, autumn leaf fall. It marks the change of season. It is a natural ‘mess’ and raking is good exercise. Autumn leaves make wonderful mulch for the garden. Running the lawn mower over a collected pile reduces the size of the problem and speeds their rate of decomposition.

Some species produce a glorious autumn display of berries. Hanging bunches of orange-red berries on the wonder tree, Idesia polycarpa, are an amazing feature in northern gardens (you need a male and female tree to ensure berries). In southern regions the rowan (Sorbus sp.) produces an eye catching display of orange, white or red berries and colourful crab apples can be grown throughout the country.

The beauty of a well-shaped deciduous tree is most clearly seen when it loses its leaves. Most trees require some trimming or shaping as they age, as well as the removal of dead wood. Always cut a branch off as close as possible to the trunk, as a protruding stump will allow disease into the tree. As a large tree matures lower branches should be removed to enhance its shape and allow unobstructed access underneath. Weeping trees should be trimmed so their foliage still weeps, but does not reach to the ground, enabling access to maintain plants underneath. If you are unsure of your tree pruning skills consult a professional arborist.

Beautiful bark is another characteristic which is more appreciated in the winter: the mottled bark of the plane tree the glossy, bronze, peeling bark of the maple species Acer griseum red bark of Acer palmatum ‘Senkaki’ shiny, mahogany bark of birch bark cherry Prunus serrula and the stark, white bark of silver birches, especially Betula utilis ‘Jacquemontii’.

Trees take many years to reach maturity. It is so sad to see large trees chopped down simply because they have been planted in the wrong place.

Research the mature height of a tree before you buy it and position it carefully. Seek advice as to which trees have roots with the potential to cause problems. Avoid planting where you want to enjoy a long term view, however, trees positioned either side of a view will frame and enhance it. Fastigate (upright) varieties of trees  e.g. oak Quercis robur ‘Fastigiata’ and cherry Prunus ‘Amanogawa’ are suitable for narrow spaces. 

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Quercus robur ‘Fastigiata’ – Alnwick Garden, Northumberland, UK.

To ensure your tree is healthy find out if it will cope with your soil type and ensure the ground is well drained. Exposure to wind is a major consideration. It is vital to stake a new young tree (use at least two stakes or three if the area is very windy) but remove them after one year to encourage the growth of stabilising roots. Most species of maple and magnolia need shelter to thrive. Salt laden wind is especially damaging to the new spring leaves of any deciduous tree. Protect young trees with a windbreak of shade cloth or plant them in the shelter of evergreen trees.

Observe which trees are thriving in your neighbourhood. A garden without trees is like a room without walls or ceiling. There is an ideal deciduous tree for every garden situation. Even tiny gardens have space for one small tree.

Trees are a valuable long-term investment in your property. A home surrounded by mature trees always looks beautifully settled in the landscape.

Choose trees wisely and look after them well.