Friday, 29 October 2021

How to get rid of Ants in the Lawn

Is it just me, or are there more ants around than there used to be?

I frequently get questions from anxious garden-owners, fretting about the large bumps ruining their lawns: and certainly I would say that over the last few years, I have seen more and more of them myself.

So what's going on?  What are they doing? Well, they are building homes for themselves by creating a complicated system of galleries, which are tunnels and chambers, underneath the ground. To do this, they excavate the earth and take it up to the surface. As the surface rises, the bare ground is able to absorb heat from the sun, and the whole thing becomes a sort of organic storage heater. Inside the heap, the worker ants move the  eggs, larvae and pupae around as the sun moves, in order to keep them in the warmest part.

Unfortunately, in doing so, they ruin our lawns.

So what can we do about them? To encourage them to go and nest elsewhere, keep the grass cut short, and keep running about on it: the galleries are fragile in the early days, and a lack of disturbance is vital - the mounds cannot form in frequently mown areas. They are also vulnerable to damage by erosion and compaction by trampling, so get out there and dance under the moonlight!

If you prefer chemical warfare, get out the ant powder and dust the tops of the hills lightly whenever you find them. I also put a light dusting of ant powder all the way around the heap, to catch any stragglers who might be going out exploring.

If you don't notice the anthills until they are quite big, then use a hand tool to fluff up the soil on the top, and if you find ants, dust them. If not, spread out the loose soil and dust it anyway, then work it down to ground level by gently brushing the grass to and fro. The idea is not to smother the ants, but to produce a well-dusted zone that they can't avoid walking through. Each ant picks up a light coating of the ant powder, then walks it back inside the nest - ants never wipe their feet.

If it's wet, so you can't easily move aside the loose soil, use a trowel to make two slits about 4" long at right angles to each other, then lever up this "flap" to reveal the horrors below. If it's teeming with ants, apply powder, put the flap down and stomp it flat. That'll teach them!

If you have really, really big anthills, then stomping them flat will leave you with big brown pancakes all over your lawn, so with those, it's better to wear gloves, and to scoop off the entire above-lawn part. Put it into a bucket, and sprinkle ant powder on it. Don't immediately tip it out somewhere else, as you would merely be re-locating the ants - make sure they get a good dusting of ant powder, and check the bucket a couple of times before tipping the soil out elsewhere in the garden: stir the soil, and if there are still signs of life, sprinkle more ant powder on them. Repeat until they are all dead.

The moral of this story is, the longer you leave them, the worse they will get so it's worth dusting and flattening them as soon as you spot them. 

The more activity you have on the lawn, the less chance the lumps will have to grow out of control: firstly because you will spot them and powder them, and secondly because you will be physically flattening them.

So, make stomping round your lawn part of your daily routine!


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Wednesday, 27 October 2021

How to: cut down Japanese anemones

Japanese Anemones: time for autumn slaughter!

Yes, it's time to chop down the lovely Windflowers: they've been wonderful this year, but now the flowers are over, and the foliage is going brown, so it's time to get out there and deal with them. It's a simple job, and here is my easy four-step plan.

1) firstly cut off the flowering tops, as they contain the seeds - and we don't want them in the compost heaps! I generally cut them down just below the first branching point, to make sure I get all of the seed heads, but (looks furtively over shoulder in case anyone is listening) if I am in a hurry, I just gather up a handful of stems and cut them at about knee height. This part of the plant should go in the green waste bin, or on the bonfire heap.

Here's a photo - left - which shows a clump that I have just started - if you look closely, you can see some cut stems just at the height of the tops of the leaves.

2) the second job is to cut the remainder of the plant right down, to just a couple of inches above ground level, and all of it can go in the compost. Go on, I know it looks harsh, but honestly, these plants benefit from it.

 This photo - right - shows a clump, reduced very nearly to nothing. 

Just look at all those nasty dead, black bits! Those are the leaves and stems which have died, at various times through the late summer. 

Having said that, some of them may well be the dead stems left over from last year, ones which were cut down to ankle height at this time of year.

So the next jobs is - all together now:

3) Yes, out with the Daisy Grubber, and rake through those clumps, to pull out all the dead leaves, and the decaying stems. You can use whatever hand tool you prefer, or  you can use a gloved hand: just rake through, and pull out anything which is dead.

Here is the same clump after this raking. Can you see the difference? 

It's good practice to scrape out all the dead bits, because they are a haven for slugs and snails, and there is also a risk that they will harbour disease over the winter: often, you will find that the old dead material has already started to go mouldy.

4) finally, add mulch. Home-made compost is fine, mixed with some leaf mould if you have any left: just fling it around all over the clumps, and let the worms pull it down into the soil over the winter.

There you go! Easy, wasn't it? 

Chopping the old stems and leaves right off has another advantage - if you leave them six or eight inches high, as a lot of people do, then they will catch all the autumn leaves which will be tumbling any day now. This just creates nice cosy habitats for slugs and other pests, not to mention being unsightly. It also makes it a lot easier to carry out stage four, the mulching: you can just ladle the mulch straight in place, without it forming great mounds and hummocks! 


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Monday, 25 October 2021

Housework in the garden

I'm often asked this question - do I not think of regular gardening, such as weeding, as a sort of outdoor housework? 

And the answer, of course, is no, I don't! 

Housework - dusting, polishing, hoovering - is dull, boring, endless, and thankless. You do it, and yes, the place looks lovely for five minutes, but no-one except you really notices, and then next week, you have to do it all over again.

Weeds, on the other hand, grow differently every time: even the perennial nuisances like bindweed and ground elder have the decency to pop up in different places, or grow unexpectedly tall, or short. And once you've had a good go at them, you are often free of them for months at a time. 

The act of doing the weeding is not dull - I'm experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of the great outdoors, there is often a chirpy Robin or Blackbird coming to see what I'm turning up for them: and I'm getting lots of exercise. (And being paid, of course!) 

I find that people are always commenting on how nice the garden looks: but I have yet to have a visitor at home say “ooh, aren't your mirrors clean!” or “wow, your shelves are really lovely.” 

Am I alone in this? 

Or do you think that gardening is like housework?!



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Saturday, 23 October 2021

How to get the best display from Iris unguicularis

Colour-wise, there's often not a lot going on in winter, but the Winter-flowering Iris, or Algerian Iris, is something to lift the spirits in areas of the garden which might not otherwise produce much in the way of gardening joy.

Iris unguicularis is their proper name - pronounced Un-gwick-you-la-riss, in case you've never tried to say it out loud - and they are always found to be flourishing in the driest, dustiest, poorest soil imaginable. Their typical, and favourite, location is the base of a south-facing wall, with the worst soil to be found, and preferably with an under-layer of builders' rubble. An area that never gets any compost or manure, and very little water, is just about perfect for these tough little plants.

Why? Well, they come from the Mediterranean regions, and they like it hard. Unfortunately, they also like it hot, in the summer when they are dormant, so after a poor summer, we can't expect too much from them: but normally, they will please us with a succession of lilac-blue flowers all through the winter.

They manage this by cunningly producing buds which are resistant to frost, so even if the weather turns bad, the unopened flowers will survive perfectly well until the next milder snap, at which point they will burst into sudden life.

The down-side of these otherwise valuable winter flowers is the foliage: by the time they flower, they foliage is longer than the flowering stems, so you can barely see them: and the foliage itself is looking really tatty, with dead old leaves in amongst the drooping, barely-alive ones, and all looking really rather sad and unpromising.

The trick is to get out there now, in early/mid October, and chop them down ruthlessly. 

And when I say ruthlessly, I mean like this:

Here - left - I've chopped down the front of each clump, leaving the back as a demonstration to show you how big they were before I started.

Don't leave them like this: cut down all the foliage, ruthlessly.

(Aside: I often wish I'd been christened Ruth, rather than Rachel, because then I could be Ruth The Ruthless Gardener....)

Here's another clump, in the same garden, with one annoying flower , which I tried to cut carefully around.

(When I say "annoying", it was a "lovely!" flower, it was just a bit annoying to have to cut round it!)

Most people can't bear to be this harsh with their plants -  you know how it is: no-one likes to hack back foliage that it still quite green, and invariably this job gets put off and put off, until the new leaves are showing above the old ones, and it's too late to cut them back.

However, if you get out and check now, there is still time!  

Being truly ruthless leaves you with a brutal skinhead of foliage, more brown than green. Rake through the clumps with gloved hands (I use my faithful Daisy Grubber) and pull out all the dead leaves, debris, any weeds etc, leaving nowhere for the slugs to hide.

Once this is done, the clumps will be more green than brown, and ready for the winter. In no time, the sharply pointed buds will be appearing, and passers-by will once more say “Coo! What lovely flowers!”.

The work above was done on the 5th October last year, and here - left - is the same area (note the black downpipe) on the 23rd November.

As you can see, most plants have died back for the winter - just look at that bare Hibiscus! - leaving mostly the roses and the evergreen Hebes.

But our Iris unguicularis is now flowering, and we can see the flowers, because they have not yet been overtopped by the re-growing foliage.

I say "not yet".... 

... and here we are - right - on the first of March this year.

As you can see, the leaves are now overtopping the flowers!

But at least we were able to see the flowers all through the winter, and they are still providing a little bit of colour, swamped though they are.

One last point, don't worry if your clumps start to look really congested: Iris unguicularis are one of those funny plants, like Agapanthus and Nerine bowdenii, who actually flower better when they are crammed together!


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Thursday, 21 October 2021

How to do the Autumn Tidy-up: clearing leaves from the borders

Oh dear, more “housework” in the garden - now it's properly autumn, and the leaves are falling, not just on the lawn, but all over the flower beds as well! Time to get out the horticultural equivalent of the hoover - the rake.

Why do we rake them up? Some people argue that leaving leaves where they fall is a great way to create natural mulch, and there is something to be said for that.

However, it takes a long time for leaves to rot down to nothing, and in the short term they need to “rob” nitrogen from the soil in order to do so. Over time, the nitrogen is returned, but in the short term they deplete the soil, which is never a good thing.

In the meantime, they are acting as slug hotels, creating dark damp places for slugs and snails to lurk: and I don't know about you, but I have quite enough of them in my garden already, without inviting more in! 

In addition, a heavy layer of leaves can actually kill plants, by smothering them: the light can't get through, so foliage becomes pale and then dies, and if this happens too much, a whole plant can die. 


This means that it's time to get out the spring rake which - brace yourself for a gardeners' joke - we mostly use in autumn. 

A spring rake is so called because the tines are thin, springy and well spaced. They can be made of metal, of plastic, or of bamboo: and the tines are slim enough, and flexible enough, to slide around and between the plants, without damaging them, so you can “tease” out the leaves.

You'd never be able to do this with a normal, soil, rake: it would ruin the beds, ripping small plants out of the soil and damaging the foliage of larger ones.

Personally, I always use a folding metal spring rake: it allows me to adjust the tines to suit the conditions. Small leaves need the tines to be more closely spaced, but for big leaves, it's quick and efficient to have the rake fully opened.

Then, once I have corralled the leaves in one area, I can close up the tines to turn the rake into a giant hand, to make it easier to scoop them up and into the wheelbarrow. 


Finally, when the barrow is full, the rake goes on top - fully opened again - to help to hold them inside, instead of blowing all over the place.

And of course the bad thing about all this is that you spend a couple of weeks, at this time of year, re-raking the same areas every few days, as the leaves gradually fall. 

Yes, it's tempting to wait until they are all down, then do one mighty session of raking, but I find it's better to do little and often: not only does the “mighty session” become very hard work and tiring, not to mention rather boring, but it might be a month before they finish falling, during which time your plants are being smothered.

So, little and often is the thing! 



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Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Strimmers: tools of the Devil!

Well, ok, maybe not the actual Devil... but they are mean machines, and do need to be used with care.

Here's why: it's a small Ash tree, surrounded by overlong grass, which has been strimmed several times in the past couple of years.

Strimmed, "a bit carelessly", I should say...

That's pretty horrendous, isn't it?

That left-hand stem is probably going to die shortly, as the damage to the bark goes a lot more than half-way round the stem.

Trees can survive for a surprisingly long time with damaged bark, as long as the damage does not go all the way around the stem - when that happens, it's known as ring-barking, which will a kill a tree for sure.

This sort of damage is still a death sentence, though: that left-hand stem will not last much longer.

But at least we have the other stem, don't we? It has a couple of scabby damaged areas, but it appears to be mostly ok, don't you think?

Well, let's scoot round to the other side of it, shall we?

Oh dear.

This stem has also been savaged by the strimmer.

Again, trees are remarkably resilient, and at present this particular little fellow is still producing good healthy leaves all over, but just look at that damage!


Between the two lots of damage to the two stems, I made the decision that there was no point wasting time trying to nurture this small tree, as it would inevitably die from all this damage.  

And it was a self-set one, rather than something which had been carefully planted... but with all the Ash dieback disease, I am always rather keen to hang on to small Ash trees if I possibly can. But not in this case.

So, alas, out it came.

In it's place, I'm planting something a little more decorative, and this time, I am putting a couple of canes and a tree protector around the base, so that the heavy-handed strimmer bloke can see and avoid it.

Incidentally, this is a perfectly valid demonstration of why, when I plant small trees, I insist on making a cleared area around them: a small bed, if you like. Many small trees find it hard to compete with grass, when they are small, so it's a kindness to the tree to remove the grass around the base. It allows you to water the new tree more easily, and all the water goes to the tree and not the grass: and it prevents exactly this sort of accident.


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Sunday, 17 October 2021

How to remove Ivy from mature trees - and why!

I work as a volunteer on my local canal - the Wilts & Berks Canal, which now runs mostly through Oxfordshire, due to some changes with county boundaries, but let's not get started on that - and we are often faced with this issue.

Ivy grows up the trees.

Massive, massive amounts of it.

We have to cut it down.

And inevitably, one lone passer-by gets all upset, and starts berating us for removing the wildlife habitat/disturbing the nesting birds/bats/whatever.  

Tact and diplomacy are the name of the game, when you work as a volunteer on an amenity with public access, so we never actually slap them around the head with a frond of ivy, tempting though it is. 

Instead, we explain carefully and politely that there are several very good reasons for removing ivy from deciduous trees: I've written several articles on the subject of ivy removal and why it is often necessary, just type the word "ivy" into the Search box, top left of the page, and see for yourself.

For the canal, though, the main reason is safety. Ivy hides a multitude of sins, and the trees which grow along the canal - and by this, I don't mean the proper mixed hedging that you get on the outside boundaries, I mean the ones growing between the towpath and the canal bed - are sinful indeed.

They are mostly Ash and Willow: they are ALL self-set, which a polite term for "weeds". And they are all going to have to be cut down once the canal is back in water, because the whole point of a canal is to have a towpath next to the water, so that horse-drawn boats can be pulled along it. Not possible with trees on the bank!

And don't shout "Horse drawn boats? Are you bonkers?!" like that, there is quite a revival of horse-drawn boats, actually. It's a lovely thing to see, and far more fun than a smelly, chugging diesel engine. And who knows, with rising fuel prices, fuel scarcity, a return to old technology etc, we may yet find that horse-drawn vehicles become de rigueur once more. 

As a volunteer, we do try not to cut down any of these trees just yet, unless we really have to: all mature trees are things of beauty:

...and even though they are weeds, even though they are in the wrong place, even though they are only common old Ash and Willow... they are still lovely.

 Here's part of our stretch of canal, between Stockham Park and East Challow - left - and it's pretty lush, isn't it?

However, even though the canal might appear to be an untended wild area, it actually takes a lot of unkeep, and constant monitoring and maintenance, otherwise it quickly degenerates.

Here's an example of a neglected canal: murky green water, fallen trees, impassable towpath: not very nice.

People often say "Ah, but it's a wildlife paradise!" 

Well, not really: not even the wildlife likes a stagnant canal. And if the tree fell because of disease, it could well be infecting other trees.

In this photo, the dead tree fell over the canal, luckily: if it had fallen the other way, over the towpath, it could have been very serious.

So we need to spot these dead trees before they become unstable, and squash an innocent passer-by.

Part of being able to spot trees which are in trouble, is simply being able to see them, to assess their health, and this requires the removal of the ivy.

Our normal method is simply to cut through the ivy stems, at a convenient height. We pull out as much of the upper ivy as we can, and we keep an eye on re-growth.

Here - left - is how to do it properly.

Take a sharp pruning saw (that orange thing), and carefully sever the stems, cutting out a section a couple of inches long.

Pull or push out the short cut section, which makes it easier to do all the other stems, because now you can see where you are, you can see the bark of the tree, and you don't get your knuckles bashed.

Here - right - is how to do it wrongly.

 Whoever did this one, cut far too deeply, and has cut right into the bark of the tree.

No! No!

This is bad.

You can see that they also failed to take out the cut sections, which is just laziness.


And this is why it is so important for us to carry out this ivy removal.

The tree on the left here: can you see that large vertical fissure?

It's rot.

The wood is completely rotted away, to a depth of several inches into the trunk - it's like sponge, you can poke it out with your fingers.

This tree is going to be felled with some urgency, along with a few others which we found to be also in a very poor state, with large areas of rot. 

So next time you are walking along the canal, and you see trees which have had their enshrouding ivy stems cut through, don't wail about the loss of the ivy, be grateful that someone is striving to keep your towpath safe, for you to walk along it, and enjoy the trees!

Oh, and ps, if you want to know more about the Wilts & Berks Canal, here's their website.



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Sunday, 3 October 2021

How to: disguise an intrusive telegraph pole

 This was an interesting question: one of my Clients has a telegraph pole, right slap bang in the middle of part of their garden. 

To be fair, they knew it was there when they bought the house, but they were given to understand that it would be possible to either move the pole to elsewhere in the garden, or to have the cables routed underground, which would allow the removal of the pole altogether.

Alas, neither of these options were viable (or, to be accurate, anything is possible if you are willing to spend huge amounts of money...), so we were left with Option 3, as it were: disguise the thing.

I did a little internet research.

"Grow something up it."

Not possible, the pole has to be kept clear and accessible, for maintenance.

"Plant some conifers in front of it."

Well, that's an option: but did we really want a block of conifers in the middle of the garden?  I can see the idea - plant something around it, and if the planting is intended as screening, then it makes sense for it to be evergreen.

But we didn't really fancy it.

Then I came upon this suggestion:

"Plant just two deciduous trees to make a grove, so it looks like three trunks"

Well, that idea was well received, so Mr Client bought two Weeping Willows, good big ones, with long clear stems. 


1) We had previously had a discussion about where to put them, and had marked out the places where they were to be planted.

2) When the trees arrived, they were watered extravagantly, because nurseries often let plants dry out a bit, before they transport them, to make them easier - ie lighter - to handle. So it's important to give them a good soaking as soon as they are delivered.

3) We checked that there were no underground pipes, cables, irrigation pipes or robo-mower wires in the chosen area.

4) We cut the grass, to make it easier to lift the turf: annoyingly,  the robo-mower had actually died that week, so the grass was a bit longer than usual. Don't try to lift turf through very long grass, it's ludicrously difficult - use shears, if you have to, to shorten the grass.

5) We made sure we had some good strong tree stakes.

6) We checked that we had some sturdy tree ties.

Right! Let's get on with it! First job: lift the turf in a rough circle, quite a bit bigger than you think you are going to need. This will be our planting hole for the tree, and a clear zone around the base of it, to avoid competition from the grass.

You can either use this lifted turf to sort out bare patches elsewhere in the garden, or you can make it into a loam stack.

Then start digging the hole. Put this soil to one side, as you will need some of it for backfilling.

Logically, "one" would think that if we dig a hole that is the same size as the thing we are planting, then "one" would have exactly that much soil left over, but this is, surprisingly often, not the case. 

Soil that has been undisturbed for a long time - and soil under grass is the very definition of "undisturbed for a long time" - is very compacted, so when we dig it out, we aerate it. This fluffs it up, and increased the bulk. Anyone who has ever dug a pond will know what I mean - you end up with a massive pile of earth, far bigger than the size of the hole from which you have just extracted it!

Anyway, on with the plot: dig out the central hole for the tree, reserving the top several inches of soil.

Once you get down beyond the depth of your spade/fork, you are getting into subsoil. This is still soil, but it's not "good" like the topsoil, it's usually anaerobic, very compressed, poor quality, and generally not very nice stuff. So don't put that on top of the nice topsoil which you have already dug out:  put it aside separately.

Here you can see that I have a wheelbarrow half full of good topsoil, and I am starting to hit subsoil, so that is going onto the sheet, beside the hole.

In the background, you can see that I have already planted the first tree, and you can see by the size of the black pot, just how big it was.

It's always easier to dig the second hole, by the way, because you can use the first one's empty pot as a guide, as to how big the hole needs to be. For the first one, you have to occasionally check by measuring: I use my spade, or my hand trowel, to get a rough idea of how deep and how much across the hole needs to be.

Always dig the hole quite a bit wider than the pot, but not much deeper. With big, heavy plants such as these trees, you need a solid bottom to the planting hole, otherwise they will "sink" under their own weight: normally, I insist on loosening the soil at the bottom of planting holes, in order to encourage the plants to get their roots down - but with very heavy trees such as these (it took two of us to lift each tree, and it was still a struggle), it is better to have them sitting firmly.

Why do I say "dig the hole wider than the pot," ? It's really not good enough to chip out a hole the exact same size as the pot, for several reasons.

Firstly, you need some room around the rootball, in order to get your hands down the sides, all the way round, to ensure they are firmly planted with no air gaps. Air gaps kill roots!

Secondly, if you just chip out a hole, that implies that your soil is very firm and solid, and is probably therefore clay, in which case you are digging a sump, which will fill with water next time it rains. This is not good for a newly planted tree.

Thirdly, if you just chip out a hole, your new tree will try to put out roots, will meet the solid barrier of your horrible soil, and will instead retreat into the nice soft compost of its rootball. Instead of rooting properly, the new roots will go round and round inside the soft compost, almost as though it were still in the plastic pot, and it will take a lot longer to get itself rooted.

For all these reasons, dig your hole a bit bigger than the pot!

If you look at the photo again, you can see that my planting hole is in the middle of a bigger circle of bare earth: as I said at the beginning, you lift an area of turf that is somewhat larger than actually required. Why? You are going to need to ram in some stakes for support, once the planting is done, and we don't want to ram those stakes clean through our tree's rootball, do we? Once the stakes are in place, you won't be able to mow around them, so it's better to have a clear area around the tree trunk and the stakes. This makes it easy to mow, and easier to keep the planting holes clear of weeds.

It also, as a side benefit, allows you to dig the central hole without getting mud and earth all over the grass: and if you suddenly realise that you need it a bit bigger, you have space in which to expand the hole, without having to stop, and lift another few inches of turf.

Ten minutes later, the hole is big enough to take the empty pot with a hands' width of space all the way round: the bottom is firm, you have the soil ready to backfill: if you have some good organic matter to hand, you might like to mix a bucketful of that in with the reserved topsoil, to enrich it.

Bring the tree over to the hole, and remove the pot. This can be tricky with a big, heavy tree, and is a lot easier to do with two of you. Normally, we would lift the whole plant off the ground, and bang the rim of the pot with the heel of our hand, to loosen it: this is simply not possible with big trees, so you have to carefully and gently lay them down, and roll the pot slowly, pressing down on the sides, to loosen the rootball within.

Then try to wiggle it down, a small amount at a time. Don't just grab the trunk and pull - damp soil has an amazing amount of friction/suction grip inside a plastic pot. Take your time, don't be rushed, keep wiggling it down, and be careful not to damage the upper part of the tree: again, this is where having a second person is extremely helpful, as they can support the upper part of the tree, and make sure it is not in danger of being damaged.

Eventually, the pot will come loose, and the rootball will emerge.

Put the pot into your hole, just to check that the hole is big enough and deep enough (bearing in mind that the surface of the rootball is usually an inch or more below the rim of the pot), and adjust it if necessary. Generally speaking, we don't like leaving the rootball exposed, as we don't want the roots to dry out, but a couple of minutes won't hurt it. 

Remove the pot from the hole......*laughs*

Tip the tree into the hole - again, much easier with two of you - and wiggle it more or less into the centre, bearing in mind that the trunk of the tree may not be in the exact centre of the rootball. Don't worry too much about getting it central - you can always re-cut the grassy edges later.

Check the level - lay the handle of your spade across the hole, to check that the top of the rootball is level with the top of the earth, ie a little bit lower than the grass height. If necessary, add or remove soil to the base of your hole, to get the tree in the right position. 

Once the tree is in, and upright, kneel down and pack several handful of the "good" soil around the very base of the rootball. It can be handy to have the other person hold it upright at this point. If you are working alone, pack down enough to hold it in place, then step back a few paces, and check it from all sides to ensure it is more or less upright. Adjust as necessary, by leaning it, and packing more soil around the base.

All trees will re-orient themselves once they get growing, but it's good to start with them as close to upright, as you can...

When you are happy with the verticality (is there such a word? Well, the spell-checker didn't helpfully underline it in red, so I assume that word exists), kneel down again and pack more of the good soil round it, firming down each layer as you go, to ensure there are no air gaps. Don't ram it down - use your hands, but push firmly.

Normally,when teaching students and Trainees how to plant, I say "think about tucking in a small child" ie firmly enough to keep their arms inside the covers, but not so firmly that they can't breathe. With a big tree, you can be a little bit firmer - but roots need to breathe, too, so don't use bits of wood to ram it down, just use your fingers.

Continue adding soil until you are up to the top of the rootball, which should be perfectly in line with the soil level. If it isn't... oh dear, you know what I am going to say, don't you? Well, if it's "nearly but not quite", then you are probably ok, but if the tree is a couple of inches too low, or a couple of inches too high...well, you'll have to carefully loosen all your carefully packed soil, and do it again, paying more attention to getting it at the right height in the hole, before you start backfilling.

When this is done, you can hammer in your stakes, apply the tree ties, water them well (the trees, not the tree ties), add a mulch of chipped bark if you wish, then make a note to give them at least a watering-can full of water ("all together now!") once a day for a week, then once or twice a week for a month, regardless of how much it rains. 

And if you are doing this in the early part of the year, then continue watering it once a week all through the first season. 

Here is our finished "grove":  it doesn't look much now, but in a year or two, hopefully that wretched telegraph pole will be a lot less noticeable!

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