Going Bare for the Environment

I’m daring you to go bare for the environment. I know, it is a bit cold for that sort of thing but the time is just right to order some bare-root trees, shrubs or bushes and get them into the ground in your garden or into a pot on your patio/balcony. This will attract birds and beneficial insects to your garden. You will also get a lovely display of blossom and fruit and reduce your carbon-footprint a little.

Now we all know that planting trees to reduce your carbon footprint is often derided in environmental circles as giving yourself permission to carry on with your fossil-fuel driven lifestyle. So how about getting some trees and shrubs planted whilst also reducing your driving, flying and meat consumption too — that should fox your critics.

In our previous property, we had a large garden and plenty of space to grow a mini-orchard. This was when we first discovered bare-root fruit trees. It turns out most trees become dormant during the winter months. At this time, it is obvious that they lose their leaves but, less visibly, they slow down their metabolic processes and stop growing so that nutrients are conserved. While buds might appear in early winter, giving the impression of new growth, they are often covered in scales that protect them from the colder weather.

During this dormant period, trees can be disturbed and carefully transplanted. I discovered this while ordering my cherry, apple, plum, hazel, filbert and apricot trees for the orchard. The company accepted my order in late October but did not deliver the trees until February. They then arrived with no pots of soil, looking just like a stick with roots, ready to be put straight into the ground.

We soon discovered the advantages of bare-rooting: the trees were cheaper, lighter and easier to plant than those we had bought in containers in the past. In addition, by planting them out in February we felt that they got plenty of rain so didn’t feel the need to be constantly watering them in. It wasn’t long before the blossom and fruit that we wanted for the wildlife in the garden appeared.

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Three views of our former mini-orchard with apple and cherry blossom in full vigour and apricot, plum, filbert and cobnut on their way.

If you’ve read my articles before you will know that my wife and I moved into a smaller place, leaving our lovely orchard behind. Our garden is much smaller and we weren’t sure of the wisdom of planting trees, although we were determined to do so. First off, as I recounted in a previous article, we planted a little native hedgerow, with bare root plants.

Secondly, we decided on a new mini-orchard but in containers. This meant we could move the trees about in different parts of the garden and, over the course of the year, we’ve settled on a place to plant them into the ground. Come February, we ’ll be digging them up and popping them safely into their new home — excellent! From March onwards they’ll restart their growing activities for which they will need to absorb carbon dioxide from the air, using the famous process of photosynthesis and our carbon footprint will be offset just a little bit more every day!

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From left: bare root raspberry canes in a raised bed; part of our new mini-orchard ready to transplant in February; the fig ‘tree’ in a lovely south-facing spot.

So what could you plant and where would you plant it? Fruit and/or nut trees are brilliant as they provide both blossom — hence nectar for bees – and fruit that will bring wildlife to your garden. Native trees are often preferred as they will suit native insects and birds. Try choosing trees that have single, rather than double flowers as these are easier for pollinators to access. Consider growing trees with edible fruit as decorative types can’t always feed birds and insects. We’ve gone for plum, cherry, apple, pear, hazel and a fig (so exotic!) Our old mini orchard was planted in a small section of our lawn — no need to dig out the turf. Instead, let the grass grow a bit longer than usual to provide shelter for some beneficial insects. Our new one is about to be planted either side of a pathway between raised beds in our developing ‘kitchen garden’. Failing this, you could hedge your bets (pun intended) and plant out in containers which can be moved around; just be ready to keep up with the watering needed in dry periods. If you feel you don’t have space for trees, why not plant out a little thicket or shrubbery? In my next article I’ll suggest how you might go about this. There are also other options available in bare-root — we have ordered roses, perennial poppies and irises and just taken delivery of raspberry canes.

Finally, a word on planting out — my favourite thing with bare root plants. All you have to do is make a slot in the soil, using a spade, shove the roots in and close the slot around them — easy as can be. Mulch around the base of the tree to reduce the chances of drying out and to provide a gradual feed. You could use organic feed but please refrain from using any pesticides to kill off aphids etc. as they’ll only come back twice as badly later. Give the trees a bit of time and natural predators will help keep down the numbers of unwanted pests.