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last updated Feb 6, 2014
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Avenue of lime trees

Trees can bring so much to a garden, including shade, fruit, autumn colour, fragrance, flowers; and come in all shapes and sizes. After the first year or two, trees need little maintenance or pruning and usually look after themselves with just a little routine care.

Cultivation notes Back to top

Tree planting and establishment

Choosing good quality specimens, planting them correctly and looking after them for the first few years are crucial to successful tree establishment.

Large trees are much harder to establish than small trees. This applies equally to trees that are being transplanted as to newly purchased specimens.

Routine maintenance

Feeding: Trees are not demanding and in most cases annual feeding with 50-100g per sq m (1½-3oz sq yd) of general-purpose fertiliser every late winter will suffice.

Mulching: Trees benefit from mulching to suppress weeds, provide nutrients, improve soil conditions and conserve moisture. Trees are usually mulched in late winter, after any fertiliser application, to conserve winter moisture reserves in the soil before the spring and summer.

Watering: Although newly planted trees initially need careful watering, once established they usually need little water.

Reversion and Sporting:  Remove reverted shoots promptly.

Suckers: Remove any shoots arising from below grafts or from the roots.

For more detailed information on the above jobs, see the following advice profiles.

Pruning and training Back to top

Young trees often benefit from some initial formative pruning:

  1. Remove congested shoots and ones that rub and any weak growth to make a balanced and attractive small tree. Do this in winter.
  2. To make a standard tree (lollipop shaped with a bare trunk) in winter remove sideshoots (laterals) from the lower third of the young tree and also any weak or competing shoots at the top of the tree.
  3. In later years gradually remove the lowest sideshoots from the bottom third of the tree, and shorten by half the remaining ones on the middle third in winter.
  4. Go on developing the clean stem until it is tall enough for your needs and then it is possible to make a tall tree with a centre leading shoot or a spreading tree (called an open-centred tree) by removing the leader by cutting back to a healthy shoot.
  5. After this initial pruning annual pruning is not usually needed, but from time to time remedial action might be taken to remedy storm damage, uneven growth or other problems.

Propagation Back to top

Most garden trees are propagated by grafting or budding (chip budding or T-budding). Many trees can be raised from seed. Others can be raised from softwood, semi-ripe or Hardwood cuttings.

Cultivar Selection Back to top

View a vast array of trees suitable trees for your garden on the RHS Plant Selector. Narrow the search to suit your needs; by size, evergreen or deciduous, season of interest, etc. Trees for small gardens or wet soils are particularly valuable.


RHS Plant finder
AGM plants

Problems Back to top

Trees are large and hard-to-replace features in gardens, and ill health is a worry. Brown leaves on trees can mean a number of problems. Yellow leaves (chlorosis) indicate a nutrient deficiency. Newly planted trees have their own set of problems.

Trees can also suffer attack from pests and diseases such as honey fungus, silver leaf, bacterial canker, phythophthora root rot and verticillium wilt.

Bleeding from pruning cuts may be problematic on a number of tree species, including Acer, walnut and birch.

Quick facts

Group Trees
Planting time October to April
Height and spread Varies
Aspect Sun, part shade and shade
Hardiness Fully hardy to tender
Difficulty Easy to difficult