Although it often feels as though we never really had a summer this year, it is starting to draw to a close over the next couple of months. Possibly the only difference we will notice is slightly colder rain!
Our deciduous trees at the latter end of the summer start to prepare themselves for winter, drawing down their energy reserves into the root system. The chlorophyll which enables the leaves to turn sunlight into food is reabsorbed by the tree, and as the green fades from the leaves, the trees display a riot of colours, as other pigments within the leaves reflect the light. The leaves start to drop, a process known as abscission. This is part of the tree’s preparation for winter, shedding parts which are no longer efficient. Losing its leaves also reduces a tree’s resistance to wind, and lessens the effect of snow and ice. Should a branch be snapped off in a winter storm, the tree should recover to a large extent and continue growing in the spring. While trees are dormant, there is a far lesser risk of shock to them. This is why trees should be transplanted over the winter months, and why hedgelaying is a winter job.
We all look forward to the crisp, frosty autumn mornings with trees in full splendour, kicking our way through piles of dry leaves, and munching autumn fruits (and maybe a spot of cider making thrown in). We have all pricked our fingers trying to get at conkers, then burnt them trying to roast chestnuts. Most of us have trodden on pieces of nutshell at Christmas, and I’m sure I’m not the only impatient person to have spat out an unripe apple in disgust!
But while we do battle in our own little ways with these things, they represent far more than a minor discomfort or a part of Christmas. A part of the tree’s annual cycle is the production of future generations. More meaningful to most of us as nuts, berries and so on, it is the culmination of the summer’s work for the tree. It produces offspring (or fruit) just before the winter to ensure the survival of the species in the event of the tree dying over the winter months.
So what can we do to help our trees over the next few months? There is no simple answer to this. While trees can manage very well left to their own devices, with various defences should they become damaged, they are invariably in the wrong place for this to be a safe option. Where tree failure could present a hazard to people or property, a quick visual inspection may highlight potential problems. Following a well established framework for a Visual Tree Assessment, various issues can be addressed with remedial action undertaken if necessary. It is far easier to remove a hazardous branch from above a conservatory roof than from the conservatory roof after it has failed! Ivy can hide a multitude of weak points within a tree, and can itself cause a problem due to its sail effect against the wind.
Any major works to trees, such as pollards, or reductions which due to other circumstances are more severe than might be recommended, should be considered at this time of year, giving plenty of time to allow works to be agreed and then completed while the tree is at its least vulnerable.
Or, what about adding some autumn colour to your garden ready for next year? Here are a few ideas of trees to plant this winter for really good Autumn colour next year:
Liquid Ambar, Red Oak, Most varieties of Maple (Acers), Tulip Tree