NEVER was the importance of trees in our gardens and parks more realised than during the recent warm spell of weather, when they provided shade and shelter from the sun.
That does not often happen during an Irish summer - usually they provide shelter from a shower of rain! - and maybe this is a sign of summers to come.
Trees store carbon, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, binding it up in a sugar and releasing oxygen. The sugars created in this process, photosynthesis, are used to create branches, roots and wood.
In this way, trees are capable of storing carbon. They help to cool the planet, stabilize the soil, conserve water, and prevent excessive run-off into waterways, they support biodiversity, insects, birds and mammals, and they are so important for our wellbeing too.
Trees mark the passing of the seasons, with the leaves of deciduous trees colouring up in autumn and unfurling in the springtime and giving shade and shelter in the summer.
Increasingly, their importance in urban landscapes to relieve hard landscaping and provide a cooling effect is being realised, with the choice of tree an important factor to ensure successful establishment in these hostile growing environments.
Root development zones can be restricted, air pollution can be high, and overall it can be a stressful environment to become established in.
Some of the best trees recommended for urban and confined spaces include, birch, field maple, rowan, fastigiate beech, fastigiate hornbeam and fastigiate oak.
Fastigiate growth habits are more upright, with the branches growing parallel to the main trunk of the tree.
The growth habit of trees, particularly in more confined spaces, is important as pruning will be necessary to restrict the spread, and the less maintenance necessary, the better - and the more likely they are to grow successfully.
It certainly is a case of right plant, right place, and observations about the specific site for a tree - noting soil type and depth, aspect, shelter, prevailing wind direction and drainage - will inform the selection of the most suitable tree to ensure success.
There is most certainly a tree suitable for every location, no matter how big or small.
Japanese maples are one of the most compact and provide beautiful autumn and spring leaf colour.
Acer palmatum ‘Beni hime’ is one of the most compact red-leafed maples, getting to about 1.5 metres high with a similar spread at maturity.
There are some very neat trees suitable for urban settings which do not get too tall or wide - hawthorn, rowan and crab apples are among some of the best as they are native also and will support wildlife in the garden.
The Phantom Tree Planter is a unique project which began in Belfast and has spread throughout the country.
This anonymous ‘environmental super-hero’ has been planting trees throughout Ireland over the last few years, and he can just turn up randomly at any location and get planting.
Their goal is to spread a positive message and get trees planted and growing everywhere.
The Phantom recently visited Blarney Castle and Gardens and planted five trees throughout the estate, a contorted hazel and birch tree near the castle and a rowan, wild service tree and oak trees around the perimeter of the lake.
It’s a very interesting and worthwhile project, check out the page on Facebook, ‘The Phantom Planter’, for more details about how you can get involved in your area.
We need more phantom planters everywhere - that is for sure.
Ash dieback has become a serious problem among our native ash trees throughout Ireland, and it is looking likely that ash may follow a similar path that elms did in the 1960s and ’70s, when Dutch elm disease decimated the established populations of these trees throughout Ireland.
Ash dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) is an airborne fungal infection and so impossible to contain.
Symptoms include leaf loss, crown dieback and blackening of the bark on young branches.
The disease was first detected here in 2012 on imported plants from Europe and it is now prevalent throughout the whole island.
The loss of the ash population is going to leave a huge hole in the Irish landscape and it is important that we get planting when there are gaps created.
Keep an eye on any ash growing near you, and if signs of the disease are in evidence, report it to the relevant local authority.
Unfortunately, the loss of these native trees is going to become a more widespread problem in the coming years.
Plant of the Week
This week, it has to be a tree, and the chosen tree is Caucasian wingnut or Pterocarya fraxinifolia, a deciduous tree native to Eastern Turkey and a member of the walnut family.
This is a vigorous tree with a spreading habit which gets to more than 15 metres in height and 10 metres spread when fully grown, so it does need considerable space.
It has dark green pinnate leaves similar to ash and hence the species name.
The flowers appear in summer and are attractive racemes, which hang gracefully from the branches and ripen to become winged fruit.
This tree will do best in a moisture retentive but free-draining soil in full sun.
Ensure that the chosen spot will meet the needs well into the future, to avoid having to move or cut down established specimens just as they are getting their roots established.
This wingnut often develops branches low down on the trunk or can sucker, so keep this in mind when choosing the right spot.