Sunday, May 23, 2010

Not a tree hater

As I hope I proved with my little bonsai, I am no tree hater, even though I dislike the things the neighbour’s tree sheds onto my garden.

Another proof is my little Japanese maple tree.

When I took possession of this 4 x 10 metres backyard garden, there was not a tree in sight (nor much else either). It took me about five years to start thinking about planting one. I always thought the garden was too small for a tree – but, after all, there are not-so-big trees to be found, right?

So, my first consideration in choosing a tee was that it had to be a fairly small one. My thought first tuned to conifers – there’s such a variety there! – but I quickly abandoned the idea. Conifers need sunlight and, unless I planted them right in front of my window something which I would not do), the conifers would be in shade or partial shade most of the year. After weeks of research I finally decided to go with a Japanese maple. I first wanted the coral one, which displays beautiful reddish branches when the leaves fall off, but had to give that choice up because it grows too high. So it had to be the Acera kind.

Easily said, but much more difficult to do. For, as I soon discovered, not many nurseries in Johannesburg have maples for sale. I found one in a distant part of the city and planted it in the spot I designated for it, with the clay soil carefully dug out and supplanted and enriched with lighter soil that maples like.

Alas, after the very first year it dawned on me that the spot I selected might not be the perfect spot for my maple tree. True, the tall conifers from the neighbouring garden (since gone – but more about that another time) cast a shadow over almost the whole width of my small garden, but in the height of summer, December through February, the sun shone almost vertically on the maple’s tender leaves. With the sad consequence that many of the leaves dries out and died.

I gave it another year, thinking that perhaps matters would improve as the (religiously watered once a week) tree grew accustomed to its position. It did not.

Against my friend’s advice, who was adamant that moving plants equals killing them, I moved my maple closer to the high wall that divides my garden from the neighbouring property and casts a shadow through much of the day.

They say that the correct procedure for transplanting a tree is to do it over a period of about a month or two. First you dig a trench on one side of the tree, than on another, and only then dig it out. However, after all the digging I did the previous year, I was not prepared to go though that. Besides, I read about the experience of one maple tree-owner who, like me, had planted his tree in a sunny spot and, believing it dead, dug it out with roots and threw it away onto a pile of compost – only to find the tree sprouting leaves in the spring. He replanted it in a shade and, as he says, the tree is doing wonderfully.

Therefore, I took a deep breath, removed all the carefully placed stones around the maple, dug it out and planted it against the wall, into a prepared, well-composted soil.

Well, two years on, my maple, now five years old, is doing well, as can be seen from this photo:

This is the same tree in its old, sun-baked position:

To follow: photos of my maple tree in its autumn splendour.