What products are available to help ensure success this planting season?

Young trees face a tough challenge to get established. Sally Drury looks at some of the best products available to help ensure successful planting projects.

Platipus: anchoring systems provide security and stability for transplanted trees in variety of planting and challenging situations - image: Rigby Taylor
Platipus: anchoring systems provide security and stability for transplanted trees in variety of planting and challenging situations - image: Rigby Taylor

Being a young, newly planted tree is tough. You are snatched from the comfort and care of the nursery and shoved into what is often a hostile soil. You find yourself at the mercy of the elements. Wind and sun result in constant thirst. Drought leaves you gasping for water, or downpours and flooding mean you struggle for air around your roots.

Erosion shifts the soil as you endeavour to gain anchorage and seek out the few nutrients that may give you life. What little food and moisture there may be is quickly grabbed by weeds and grass, leaving you hungry and weak. Rabbits and voles try to strip your bark, deer and livestock nibble your top. Mowers and grass trimmers threaten damage and drifting weedkiller spells potential death.

If you are on a roadside, you get splashed with a dirty mixture of oil, petrol, salts and de-icing solutions.
If you are in an urban area, wind funnels between buildings, tugging at your branches. Or youths twang your stem, endangering your very existence. Nobody comes to release your tie — you feel throttled.

The ground is hard and the pavement weighs heavy. Cars reverse into you or park over your roots and compact the soil further, making it impossible for you to send out new hairs in search of nourishment. People in fluorescent jackets, digging down to maintain utilities, sever your feeding mechanism — and there is the constant worry that you may be struck by pests and disease.

Given such a poor start in their new home, it is not surprising that many newly planted trees fail to establish and reach maturity. But we have the know-how and a wide choice of products to turn the situation around. It starts with sound planning, making sure the species is the best for the site and purpose, checking the stock is healthy, getting the timing right, watching weather forecasts, preparing the ground and organising the delivery of trees and planting products to coincide with available labour and equipment. Then, of course, aftercare is essential.

There is a vast range of sundries available to encourage early and strong establishment, and right now companies such as East Riding Horticulture, English Woodlands and Rigby Taylor are gearing up for the 2018-19 planting season. Last year, Green-tech sold more than eight million tree-protection products and, predicting a bumper season this year, has allocated a new warehouse to hold increased stocks of shelters and spirals.

TerraCottem Arbor: soil conditioner supports trees over first two years after planting - image: Green-tech

Ground preparation

Good ground preparation is the basis on which to build a successful planting scheme. It may mean ameliorating native soils where needed or even replacing with a fresh, manufactured tree-planting medium. Landscape product supplier Green-tech is one company that offers planting soils. Its Green-tree Amenity Tree Soil is a load-bearing, fertile planting medium designed for urban environments. But at the end of last year the firm also announced a sole-distributor agreement to supply soil conditioner TerraCottem Arbor in the UK.

"It’s a fabulous product," says Green-tech chair Richard Kay. "Pre-launch trials have shown the distinct advantages of using this innovative soil conditioner. It has an extremely positive effect on tree growth and survival, especially when the soil conditions are challenging. The use of TerraCottem Arbor can be even more important in areas that are suffering from water deficits. It is particularly suitable
for improving woody plants in urban locations, landscaping, reforestation, motorway planting or environmental restoration projects."

TerraCottem Arbor is specifically formulated to increase survival rates by supporting the tree over the first two years after planting. As well as growth precursors and cross-linked hydroabsorbent polymers, it also
has humic acids to further enhance water retention and tree-specific fertilisers — including a starter fertiliser for rapid plant establishment and a synthetic nitrogen fertiliser that, with the humic acids, improves soil structure and microbiological activity. "The resulting increase in root and plant growth reduces the need for irrigation and also reduces the user’s input costs and need for replacements," adds Kay.

Initially available in 20kg packs, feedback from the industry has led to the introduction of an additional 10kg pack size for landscapers working on smaller tree-planting projects. According Green-tech, the new pack has been well received, with landscapers finding it easy to transport to site and apply. TC Arbor is applied only once, at planting. The prescribed dose is 40g/tree for young seedlings up to 60cm in height and 100-200g/tree for trees of 1-2m high.

There is much talk these days about the benefits of mycorrhizal products when planting trees and shrubs. At English Woodlands, sales director Joanne Carter reports consistent sales growth for mycorrhizal products in both the trade and retail sectors. "Contractors and private customers are reaping the benefits of this biologically active solution," she says.

"Adding the mycorrhizal fungi to the roots at planting time encourages the symbiotic relations between the plant and the fungi. The fungi attach themselves to the plant roots and grow out into the soil in search of nutrients and water to feed their new host, while the plant provides the fungi with carbon and sugars," she explains. "Adding natural ‘friendly fungi’ will help to grow the root system in a few weeks. The plant benefits from becoming established quicker, with increased tolerance to drought and adverse soil conditions."

English Woodlands supplies a wide range of tree-planting accessories, including watering kits and leaky pipe systems to aid watering. Carter reports last year as being the busiest ever for sales of biodegradable and natural products.

English Woodlands: Biomat (toap), hessian tree tie (left) and Rootgrow Professional - image: English Woodlands

Protecting trees

In the street scene, protectors are often used to provide a safe zone for the tree. They can also add to the overall aesthetics of the scheme. New from Green-tech, Dales Collection Laser Cut Tree Guards are stylish and robust, offering a range of shapes and profiles to complement Dales Collection Laser Cut Tree Grilles. Green-tech’s bespoke service will see your design brought to life in mild or stainless steel.

Standard trees are usually staked, with webbing or tree ties securing the tree to the stake. Hessian tree tie strapping is increasingly used by contractors as an economic solution, but it also has other advantages. "Hessian strapping is fully biodegradable as well as functional," Carter points out. "Supplied in 30m rolls, 50mm wide, it can be used for all trees up to 16cm girth. It offers a very low-cost solution and is completely natural. It degrades in one or two planting seasons, dependent on weather and exposure, and is ideal for feathered and standard trees that require securing for a short time."

For the establishment of small trees and shrubs in mass plantings along highways and for woodland and forest creation, tree guards have proved themselves effective for providing protection against browsers and mechanical or spray damage, while shelters bring the added benefits of their microclimate for enhanced growth.

Used extensively around the world for protecting young trees against browsing animals such as rabbits, hares, sheep and deer, Rainbow Spiral Tree Guards are manufactured in the UK and offer a low unit cost while also being quick and simple to install — usually with a low-cost bamboo cane to assist support. "This makes them the most cost-effective way of protecting young trees from both chemical herbicides and browsing wildlife compared to other techniques such as shelters or fencing," says Rainbow Professional sales director Paul Greaves. Another major advantage of using spiral tree guards is their ability to expand as the tree grows, which eliminates the need for planned removal.

Biodegradable Spiral Tree Guard: trialled and launched in time for 2018-19 season - image: Rainbow Professional

Biodegradable guards

Heralding a new age in tree guards, Rainbow Professional has launched the Biodegradable Spiral Tree Guard in time for the 2018-19 planting season. "We fully recognise the growing desire to reduce and even stop the use of standard plastics in the forests and have been instrumental in several field trials across Europe using biodegradable materials for various tree and seedling protection as well as for tree tying applications," says Greaves.

"The development of biodegradable plasticisers and stabilisers suitable for forestry applications has resulted in us pushing ahead within this area of requirement. This has now resulted in biodegradable polymers being suitable at the range of temperature extremes found in forests along with typical levels of UV radiation."

The materials used have passed all required tests from EU guidelines at an independent laboratory in order to be classified as fully compostable and gain DIN CERTO certification. They are classed as fully biodegradable and comprise primarily polylactic acid, a repeating chain of lactic acid that undergoes a two-stage degradation process.

"First, the moisture and heat present in a compost pile, and to a lesser degree in soil, attack the polymer chains and split them into much smaller parts of polymer and eventually pure lactic acid. Finally, micro-organisms found in compost and soil will consume the lactic acid as nutrients as a food source for them. The result is carbon dioxide, water and humus, which is a soil nutrient," Greaves explains.

The guard is initially attacked by ultraviolet degradation to start the break-up process, but biodegradable stabilisers added during manufacture stabilise the spiral sufficiently to withstand ultraviolet to give four years of use on site. The whole process is temperature and humidity dependant, and the polymer, in pieces of less than 2mm thick, will completely break down within six summer months when in contact with soil, so can be left on the forest floor

In addition to being made of certified biodegradable materials, Rainbow Spiral Tree Guards have other benefits. A simple but proven design has helped to keep the cost of protection low, while their compactness makes for low delivery costs and they are quick to install, requiring no ties or fixing.

No maintenance is required because the spiral expands with the tree and the use of transparent material promotes healthy growth of leaf and side stems. Ventilation holes reduce mould and mildew, but a no-hole option is available to protect the tree from weed spray mists.

Locally available through a network of distributors, the guards can be selected in clear, brown, green, white or grey to help blend with the surroundings. They are manufactured in nominal diameters of 38mm, 50mm and 65mm, and in lengths from 15cm up to 1.2m.

Layflat Treeguard: better performance - image: Tubex

Improved microclimate

For more than 40 years, Tubex has been producing tree shelters and planting solutions to help protect and enhance the growth of young plants. It has long been acknowledged that the shelters provide an improved microclimate, assisting with the establishment of stronger roots and so leading to higher survival rates. Now, to improve the brand’s offering, the Tubex team has enhanced the features of the Layflat Treeguard and Ventex products to deliver even better performance.

"Our new and improved Layflat tree mesh can be cut to different sizes and moulded in place, making it suitable for young plants and evergreens," says Tubex UK, Ireland and Scandinavia sales manager Simon Place. "The rigid structure of the mesh provides stability in harsh and windy climates and creates the optimal stiffness. Its light weight allows easy handling and transport."

With ventilation holes making them ideal for warmer climates, Tubex Ventex tree shelters are designed to create the optimum balance between air humidity, carbon dioxide levels and the light transmission that is needed to support plant growth and increase the overall biomass. The product is now available in a modified green colour that helps to enhance light transmission.

Vigorously growing grass and weeds will deprive a newly planted tree or shrub of essential water and nutrients. Such competition should be eliminated in the early stages of establishment. Spraying must be precise. A logical solution is to use a mulch, which can also help to conserve moisture in the soil.

Early mulch mats were synthetic, but increasing environmental concern has led to a demand for biodegradable products such as the PLA Biomat offered by English Woodlands. "PLA" stands for polylactic acid and is manufactured by industrially converting plant starch into dextrose. Micro-organisms convert the sugars into lactic acid during fermentation and the PLA polymer is formed.

English Woodlands’ Carter describes the benefits of the PLA Biomat. "The mats are lightweight, easy to use and come as individual spats or as 100m rolls," she says. "The product is UV stable and lasts three years, biodegrading to compost and adding extra nutrients to the soil. It’s a perfect solution to avoid maintenance costs or the use of synthetic mats and herbicides."

Anchoring trees

Large, high-value trees are often planted in streetscapes, parks and gardens, as well as being used for commemorative purposes. This is where the finances and reputations can take a bite, explains Rigby Taylor marketing director Richard Fry. "Mortality rates for transplanting trees can be both wasteful and very expensive, especially when planting high-value specimens," he says. "This can have a negative effect on the supplying company, which could mean a loss of confidence by the customer and affect a company’s prestige and future contracts."

Rigby Taylor has recently been appointed as exclusive distributor of Platipus anchoring systems
and provides various methods to give security and stability for transplanted trees in a variety of planting and challenging situations. By securing the root ball underground, the systems allow for the roots to better develop and establish, resulting in a low mortality rate.

For autumn planting, the ever popular Platipus root ball fixing with Plati-Mat is a tired and proven method for securing root balled, Air-Pot and containerised semi-mature trees. Along with ease of installation, this not only makes the project look aesthetically pleasing with no unsightly wooden stakes showing but also provides customer confidence for the future of the planting project — a major benefit.

"With an array of tree anchor systems available, including the award-winning DMAN Guying Kits through to Rootball Plati-Mat fixing kits, there is a system to suit most planting situations whatever the size of tree, scheme design, type of planting area, soil and weather conditions," says Fry.

Green-tech reports that its range of tree anchoring equipment has had a successful first year, with positive feedback from the market and a wide range of high-profile installations already under its belt. "The anchoring systems have been well received for their quality of materials used and ease of installation, plus they are supported by our package of customer service, delivery and technical back-up,"
says Kay.

The kits, developed and made in the UK by Anchor Systems (International), are borne of civil engineering and ground reinforcement and utility knowledge and use high-quality SG iron. Anchor Systems operations director Hadley Smith says: "We operate throughout Europe and draw on two decades of experience in geotechnical and structural stabilisation. With our technical support, advice, design specification and site testing services, we have been able to produce a range of high-quality anchoring systems for Green-tech that will meet the needs of landscape architects, contractors, designers and clients."

The range of systems offered by Green-tech means there is something suitable for trees up to 12m in height and includes the gtDrop-Man Kit, gtRootball Wire Fixing Kit, gtRootball Strap Fixing Kit, gtSleeper & Kerbstone Anchoring Kit and gtContainerised Rootball Fixing Kit. Offering above-ground support for trees on exposed sites, Green-tech also supplies the gtGuying Kit. 

Case study: Fortetub Protection

Last November, Tilhill Forestry completed planting 14,000 trees near the A1 in Lincolnshire (pictured right). It took just two weeks and tree protection was provided by Fortetub tree shelters from exclusive UK distributor East Riding Horticulture (ERH).

The twin-walled Fortetubs come in 60cm, 75cm and 1.2m lengths and are supplied bagged for easy carrying. Intended to protect trees in their early years, the tubes provide a microclimate for the plant and incorporate adjustable cable ties, a weak splitting-point down the side and flared rim at the top to protect from damage and windburn. Importantly, the tubes are perforated to provide ventilation.

"We supplied a mixture of 75cm and 1.2m Fortetubs. The air holes make for strong early growth and whips receive more light and wind to set them off growing," says ERH national forestry and landscaping manager Nick Gillett.

Tilhill Forestry senior forest manager Darryl Stubbs says he opted for Fortetub shelters because of the perforations. "I want to see if, due to the increase in airflow and natural light, the trees develop slower and produce thicker stems prior to emerging out the top of the tube," he adds.

"Trees grow quickly and get out of the top of tall tubes then suffer wind damage because they are not strong enough to support themselves. This produces poor form and means the tube is in place longer than required. The aim is to protect the tree from browsing mammals, with the added benefit of increasing growth rates. It shouldn’t have to support the tree."

ERH supplies a comprehensive range of tree planting and forestry sundries including canes, stakes, spiral guards, mesh guards, shrub shelters, belting, ties, mulch matting, root barriers, irrigation pipes, protectors and grilles.

Installation in pictures: RootSpace 400 structural soil cell system from GreenBlue Urban

The value of street trees to human health and the environment, as well as the economic benefits, is at last being recognised. But for the trees, streets can present hostile conditions.

In recent years we have seen the introduction of many products to help ensure successful planting in urban areas — watering kits such as Mona systems from Green-tech, the RZWS root zone watering system from East Riding Horticulture, pipe systems from many suppliers including English Woodlands and the RootRain Urban irrigation system from GreenBlue Urban.

There are ventilation kits such as GreenBlue’s RootRain ArborVent and we can manage roots with various barriers to prevent roads being undermined and utilities disturbed. Now attention is turning to the structure around the roots. Products such as Green-tech’s ArborRaft geocellular units help to create a healthy growing space for roots.

In 2001, GreenBlue produced the world’s first purpose-made commercial structural soil cell for urban tree planting — RootSpace. This summer, the company introduced its latest RootSpace, the 400 system. It is essentially a soil support system designed for maximum soil and rooting volume and to be utility friendly. It is easy to install (pictured below):

1 The pit is excavated, a layer of aggregate is placed in the bottom to form a stable base and a mesh is laid as a liner to spread the load and form a boundary, on top of which the soil cell components are clipped together.
2 The cell lids are added and the mesh secured around the sides, adding stability to the structure. The cells are then filled with soil.
3 A root barrier is placed between the cellular structure and the road (and/or utilities). The pit wall is backfilled with aggregate to hold everything in place.
4 A RootForm director is placed on top to force the roots to seek their way down into the soil cells. Quick-setting cement reinforces the plastic structure.
5 With anchors in place, soil is poured into the RootForm.
6 The tree is lowered into the pit.
7 The root ball is anchored.
8 Irrigation is installed.
9 The pit is topped up with soil.
10 Ventilation grilles are added.
11 The tree grille is lowered into place.
12 Job done.

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