Tall STORIES
Woman's Weekly Living Series|October 2021
Trees can bring structure, shade and fabulous colour to a garden, particularly through the autumn
KATHARINA HUTCHINGS

Trees offer a wealth of benefits in the garden: shade, fruit, autumn colour, fragrance, flowers, height and structure. Their value to wildlife and the environment is well documented, but research shows that trees are good for our health and wellbeing too – in fact, studies have found that hospital patients with a view of trees heal more quickly and need less pain relief.

In short, every garden, however small, should have at least one tree. Many people, particularly those with limited outside space, may believe they don’t have room for one, but with so many thousands of garden trees to choose from, in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, there truly is a tree to suit every garden.

Autumn is the ideal time to think about planting trees, and a wonderful time of year to visit gardens to see the foliage taking on its seasonal tints. If you are not sure which trees might work well in your own garden, try visiting a garden with similar conditions to yours to see what grows well there.

The science of autumn colour

The turning of leaf colour in autumn is an event many people around the world look forward to. In the US, it’s big business, with the ‘leafpeeping’ season estimated to be worth around $1 billion dollars to the tourism industry in the state of Wisconsin.

The scientific term for leaves turning and falling in autumn is leaf senescence. As light levels fall from late summer, chlorophyll in leaves is slowly broken down and absorbed by the plant to prepare for regrowth the next spring. The green colour chlorophyll provides is replaced by the orange and yellow pigments of carotenoids and flavonoids – carotenoids also give carrots their colour. In trees that turn red, the colour change is triggered by the increased production of anthocyanin, where sugars have become concentrated in the leaves.

For the most impressive autumnal display, the weather conditions must be just right. A good mix of sun and rain during the growing season followed by a warm, dry autumn with cool but frost-free nights is what’s required, meaning that this year autumn could be memorable for tree colour in some parts of the country.

CHOOSING A TREE

It goes without saying that there are several important things to consider when selecting the right tree for your space, but the fundamental principles are the same as for any garden plant:

Choose a good-quality specimen; plant it correctly; give it the proper care to help it establish.

For trees specifically, it is crucial to choose a species suited to the conditions in your garden, such as soil type and exposure. You should also consider what the expected height and spread will be – take care not to choose a tree that will quickly outgrow the available space.

When buying a tree from a nursery, look for a balanced branch system, a well-healed union if your tree has been grafted (many fruit trees, for example, are grown this way), and an undamaged trunk. Take a look at the root system and avoid any with overgrown, circling roots or where the roots are protruding through the bottom of the container. These may have become too constricted in their pots and may not establish so well in your garden.

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