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GARDENING: Terrific trees

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Plant them for Arbor Week in the first seven days of September so future generations may enjoy their beauty and benefit from their shade, flowers, fruit and medicine

Will you plant a tree this Arbor Week? Arbor Day was first recognised in 1983 to raise awareness of the beauty and value of trees as sources of building material, food and medicine, and the role they play in the health and wellbeing of our communities.

In 1999, Arbor Day was extended to National Arbor Week, celebrated from Spring Day (September 1) for seven days.

Trees for 2019

Each year the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Daff) promotes two indigenous trees as the Trees of the Year during Arbor Week.

The apple-leaf tree (Philenoptera violacea), the Rare Tree of the Year, is a protected frost-sensitive, drought-resistant, medium to large, deciduous to semi-deciduous tree up to 15m tall, with a wide-spreading, dense and rounded crown.

Sprays of sweetly scented white to bluish-pink, mauve to deep violet flowers appear from September to December, followed by flat pods. The large leaves and pods are eaten by giraffe. The wood is used in carvings and in traditional remedies.

The Common Tree of the Year, marula (Sclerocarya birrea) is widespread in Africa, from Ethiopia to KwaZulu-Natal. It is a medium to large deciduous tree for frost-free areas, with an erect trunk and rounded crown. Insects pollinate the flowers, and elephant, antelope, giraffe and zebra browse the leaves.

The fruit is edible, eaten fresh or made into jelly. A marula liqueur is available commercially.

Environmental value of trees

Urban forest gardens were trendy at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show. Pictured, Family Monsters garden. Picture: Tim Sandall

Apart from a tree’s natural beauty, there are a multitude of reasons why we should plant them. We create links with the past when we preserve trees in forests, parks, streets and urban gardens, and links for future generations when we plant more trees.

What is a tree’s environmental value?

Trees can serve as a windbreak, provide shade and cool the earth.

Trees improve our quality of life by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releasing oxygen.

Trees provide shelter for humans and protection and habitats for wildlife.

Trees provide fuel, building material, fruit and nuts for humans and wildlife, and pollen and nectar for pollinating insects.

Tree roots slow down and absorb rain run-off, reducing soil loss and stabilising the soil against wind and water erosion.

Some trees have medicinal properties.

City branches

Trees reduce the heat-island effect in built-up areas.

Trees help cool buildings, reducing the need for air-conditioning.

Many cities are expanding their green spaces and planting urban forests to reduce air pollution, and as protection from global warming.

It is imperative that tree roots are given room to breathe.

In a home garden

Even in the smallest garden, height in the form of a tree is desirable, anchoring the house to the property and providing a link with the larger landscape beyond its borders.

A neighbourhood planted with trees is visually more appealing and can increase property values.

Birds find shelter among tree branches.

A deciduous tree offers seasonal change and autumn colouring. Their strong form is valuable in the winter landscape and allows the winter sun through to warm the soil.

Encourage children to have a healthier lifestyle by growing trees for climbing or for picking edible fruit.

Selecting a sapling

The bark of the lavender tree (Heteropyxis natalensis) is grey-white and often flakes
on older stems. A useful tree for small gardens. Picture: Lukas Otto

Consider the overall shape of the tree and its branch pattern and whether it is erect or spreading.

Check the root system to avoid planting too near foundations and driveways.

Allow sufficient space for a tree to grow to its ultimate size.

In townhouse communities, where properties border each other, take care not to block your neighbour’s winter sun.

September bells (Rothmannia globosa) has creamy-white, bell-shaped flowers that fill the garden with their sweet scent.

The lavender tree (Heteropyxis natalensis) is a graceful small tree with a slender, upright growth habit and foliage that ,when crushed, emits a sweet lavender scent.

The white karee (Searsia pendulina), fast-growing, evergreen and hardy, will provide shade and can be grown in lawn.

White ironwood (Vepris lanceolata) is an evergreen tree with bright glossy green leaves that attracts fruit-eating birds in winter.

Leaves of the white karee (Searsia pendulina) are lance-shaped, with small green flowers
produced in spring and summer. Picture: Luas Otto

View for the future

There is a serious threat to trees in your garden. The polyphagous shot hole borer (PSHB) is a tiny invasive black beetle from Asia that tunnels into trees, both exotic and indigenous.

It carries with it a fungus, Fusarium euwallaceae, which larva and adult beetles feed on. The fungus kills the water-conducting tissues, which leads to branch dieback, even tree death. Don’t store diseased or dead wood from these trees.

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