Whether you are thinking of planting a home garden, an orchard, food forest, hedgerows, shelter belt, or a firewood or fodder/forage woodlot, planning for your Autumn and Winter planting is a must. (As my Husband always says… ‘Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance, the five P’s’ but I think I might change it to Planning Planting Prevents Poor Performance…). Planting at this time of the year allows for the plants to develop a good root structure prior to spring growth. Also bare rooted plants are available over the winter months and this makes the larger deciduous trees more affordable, especially if buying through mail order. As long as the roots are kept moist at all times this method of buying trees and shrubs is very convenient and easier than lugging around heavy planter bags.
So where do we start…
Evaluating your site’s conditions is the first step. Sun direction, wind direction, wet or dry, soil type and temperature all influence what you can plant and where. A useful tool for this is a site map or plan, if you do not have one already a simple method is to use Google Earth Pro to print an image of your property or area you wish to plant. You can then either draw directly onto the image or use translucent paper to trace the key objects like fences, buildings, existing trees etc.
Next, finding your focus for your property will help decide what you wish to plant. Are you looking for low maintenance, but attractive? Functional? Self-sufficiency? The time you have to spend on creating and maintaining the planting will greatly influence the style of planting too.
Also spend some time investigating garden/landscaping philosophies. There are many different methods and ideals, finding one that resonates with you can inspire ideas you may never have considered otherwise. These can range from ‘conventional’, to relaxed go with the flow, or to Permaculture, Regenerative or Biodynamic.
We are Homesteaders so this means our focus is on creating a functional property which supplies most of our food, home and medical needs, it also needs to provide us with an income. Our philosophy is to do all this as naturally as possible, but we are also realistic and if a ‘conventional’ approach is needed we will resort to that. We do not follow any one established philosophy but take many great ideas from across the board and adapt them to suit our family and property.
When choosing plants for your site make sure you consider its full growth potential and the possible impacts this may have on other plantings or structures etc. This could include shading, root invasion (especially for willows in water pipes), crowding out, incompatibility, etc.
However you choose to manage your property there are some pretty consistent processes when it comes to planting.
- Clear the area to be planted. There are two main reasons to do this, firstly it removes competition for nutrients and water allowing the new plant to establish well. The other reason is allelopathy, this is when a plant releases a growth inhibitor toxic to prevent plants growing around it. A good example of this is walnut trees which release a compound juglone into the soil surrounding them which is toxic to many other plant species, this often results in bare patches under the trees. This can also occur with many conifer species and also Gums which suck the ground dry. Some grasses have a similar action, rye grass, which is very common in most New Zealand pastures, is being studied for its effectiveness as an herbicide. 1
(note; this doesn’t apply if simply inserting a plant/tree into an existing garden with compatible or support plants)
- If using a loose mulch this can be applied to the area some weeks or months prior to planting along with manure to create a ‘bed’ into which planting can be done. This method has the benefit of improving the soil prior to planting and reduces the work at planting time. Another method is to cover the area temporally with a plastic sheeting, cardboard or another solid material to ‘smother’ the existing plantings at least a couple of months before planting.
- Ensure the area to be planted is moist and if the plant is bagged it is also moist. Dig a hole wide and deep enough for the plant’s roots to spread out. If the plant is bare rooted create a small mound in center of hole for the roots to spread over. Ensure the plant will sit at the same ground level height it was in the bag or ground and carefully full back in around the roots firming as you go. If planting into clay soils or other poorly draining soils plant into mounds to allow for better drainage. If it is a grafted tree site the graft so it is facing south. Consider the shape of the plant when placing it, they tend to grow more on the sunny side so place it to achieve balance or if in a windy site consider placing any lean towards the wind. For fire wood trees consider where it will eventually be dropped and place any lean or weight in that direction.
- Stake if necessary, this is often needed for bare rooted fruit trees as their roots have been trimmed or larger trees to give support until established.
- Water well and mulch around plant, this could include spreading out wet newspapers, cardboard, old carpet (wool) etc. and covering with wet straw, bark chips or old sawdust (untreated) or compost to 90 -120 mm depth. This will protect the roots, keep moisture in and control or suppress weeds. But keep mulch away from the stems of the plants.
- If planting where there is livestock ensure plantings are protected from their reach.
Many properties or paddocks I see are devoid of trees, some believe that the trees and shrubs take up valuable space or grazing. But what they do is change the space to create vertical productive space, micro climates to support other plant species, they can provide food for you and your livestock, bring in the bees and other insects for better pollination. They can actually help protect the area from drying winds and excessive sun, or absorb wetness and redirect surface water; it is all about choosing plants which will suit your property and needs. So plan, plant and enjoy…