Gardening

You’re growing wrong trees

TREESEEDLING

Summary

  • Beautify or ornamental trees should be planted near the homestead, together with trees that can provide shade in the compound.
  • One of the mistakes Dr Kagombe has seen over his 30 years of experience in the tree world is gardeners’ tendency to avoid a soil test.
  • Trees should be planted in the rainy season.

The rains are here, which trees will you grow? We tend to pick what the roadside tree-sellers advise us to buy or the trees that appeal to us without considering if they will do well. Do you have adequate land if the roots extend horizontally?

Since many of the trees we plant tend to live well beyond us, are you growing it for future use; perhaps for timber, or is it purely for shade? Will the trees grow so tall that they block light from entering the house or make the homestead so cold? Will the tree flourish in a dry or wet area?

Tree planting and growing is not a walk in the park and many gardeners get it wrong. BDLife spoke to Dr Joram Kagombe, the deputy-director, Kenya Forest Research Institute (Kefri) on what to do before, during and after planting trees.

“The first thing you have to consider is your reason for planting the trees,” Dr Kagombe says. Is it for timber, shade and shelter, marking boundaries, or just for beauty.

“This will dictates the type of tree to be planted,” he says.

Choose a tree that matches the area in which it is to be planted to ensure that it survives. Trees are grown outside their comfort zone die.

“So, take time to understand the geography of the tree,” he says.

Tree placement

Each tree species is planted in the right place. Beautify or ornamental trees should be planted near the homestead, together with trees that can provide shade in the compound.

Consider the height, spread of the canopy and root system

“Trees that grow very tall or those that have root buttresses should be avoided near homesteads and roadside since they can cause damage,” he explains, adding that those who do not get this right usually have to cut down the trees in the future, which might be “very painful.”

An example of such a tree is the Ficus Benjamina, commonly known as Weeping Fig, whose roots grow wide instead of deep.

Soil tests

One of the mistakes Dr Kagombe has seen over his 30 years of experience in the tree world is gardeners’ tendency to avoid a soil test.

“People think soil tests are a waste of money,” Riziki Mwadalu, a Kefri scientist and PhD student says.

“Soil tests should be done to determine the fertility of the land, just in case there is a need to enhance its fertility.”

Where fertility is minimal, add organic manure and compost for optimal tree growth.

In most high and moderate potential areas, however, trees will do well without manure.

Ms Mwadalu recommends that one determines the status of the planting site in terms of soil depth.

Some trees are usually deep-rooted. Planting them in shallow soils will interfere with their full growth potential.

Planting time

Trees should be planted in the rainy season. This is because trees require water or moisture for them to get established.

“Even with the onset of the rainy season, it’s important to wait until the soil has adequate moisture build-up before planting. Trees like us human beings, need time to adjust to their new environment,” Dr Kagombe says.

Planting them at the onset of the rains give them a head-start, especially the young seedlings since they will be able to recover fast from the shock, he adds.

To ensure they survive, prepare seedlings just before the planting.

The how

Another key factor to consider while planting your garden trees is how you plant them.

“Dig holes between 30cm to 50cm wide and 30 cm to 50 cm deep. Put the topsoil aside and mix with manure in a ratio of 3:1. Once you have set the tree in the hole, put the topsoil manure mixture first. The hole is then filled up with the subsoil and then watered,” Dr Kagombe says.

Areas with more weeds require wider and deeper holes as well as areas with water scarcity.

When proper timing of the rain is done during tree planting, no watering of the seedlings is required. However, when there is no much moisture in the soil, watering or irrigation is important, especially during the first six months.

This should be done early in the morning or late in the evening to minimise evaporation during the sunny day. Mulching could be done to reduce water evaporation in drier areas.

“The trees should be weeded upon to reduce competition of moisture, light, and nutrients,” he adds.

Some of the valuable fruit trees include mangoes, avocados, apples, oranges, pawpaw, coconut, cashew nuts, jack fruit, macadamia, guava, custard apple, mulberry, water berry among others. You can also opt for miniature ones that can be grown in huge pots and will still produce fruit. For example, lemons and oranges.

Ornamental trees include Delonix regia, red acacia, Nandi flame, Umbrella tree, Monkey Puzzle tree, Camel Foot tree, Thika palm, red bottlebrush, Palms of any kind, among others. If you want some for conservation or medicinal purposes, you can opt for any indigenous trees. For example, the Warburgia Ugandensis (Ugandan greenheart).

If planting is done well, your garden will be a bounty of fruit, sights, smells, and touch for years to come.