There is one thing that always makes my head nod with approval like this guy…
It’s when I see an older person planting trees that he or she almost certainly won’t live to see mature and produce in their full glory.
For example, they may be planting chestnuts or walnuts and other long-growing trees and knowingly leaving them for future generations.
In my book that’s a sure sign of selflessness and responsibility towards a better future. It definitely reminds me of that Greek proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in”.
Now, although I’m in my late thirties and thus still relatively young, I’m very much aware that there are no guarantees that I’ll live long enough to see any of the trees I planted reach maturity. I do hope to sit under their shade and eat the fruit and nuts they bear – but I don’t take that for granted.
That’s why I don’t see the trees and shrubs I plant just as merely providing for my own or my family’s immediate needs, I also see it as a legacy for my grandchildren and fulfilling my part of making a planet better for generations to come.
Suffice to say the simple act of tree and shrub planting makes me feel really good at the end of the day when I look at what I’ve just set in motion. Half a day of ‘hard work’ for what might be years and years or even a century of benefits for people and animals.
That’s a permaculture principle of ‘make least change for the greatest effect’ in all its glory…
Since I have been planting trees and shrubs just recently all this good feeling is still fresh in my mind, so today I wanted to share how I go about it.
There are certain things that make the methods I use a little different from anything you might have read so far, and that’s why I call it “planting trees and shrubs, the Permaculture Apprentice way”.
Let me outline this method for you:
STEP 1: Prep the trees/shrubs
Remove your plants from the container or, in the case of bare root stock, unwrap the roots and soak in this solution for at least 20 minutes.
This will help reduce transplant stress since kelp and molasses are rich in micro-nutrients and trace elements and fungal hyphae in the surrounding soil are encouraged to rapidly connect to the sugary-sweet roots.
Even better, if you can, soak the roots in a bucket of kelp/molasses solution the night before planting. But make sure not to leave the roots soaking for more than 24 hours.
If your soil seems lifeless and you worry it has no fungal hyphae, don’t fret, we’ll remedy this in the steps to follow…
STEP 2: Dig a proper hole
Now dig a large enough hole, aim for it to be as deep as the root system but at least twice as wide.
The undisturbed soil under the tree/shrub prevents undesired settling and the loose soil zone at the sides helps the plants to start spreading their roots and grow more easily. If you don’t make it easy for them in the beginning to penetrate into the surrounding soil, they may end up circling around.
As you dig check the hole depth and ground level – test it out by putting the plant into the hole. You want to make sure that you keep the graft union of your trees above ground level at 4 inches (10 cm), otherwise the union will establish its own roots if buried, which overrides the desired rootstock effect.
STEP 3: Apply mycorrhizal fungi/indigenous micro-organisms to bare roots
Next, you want to sprinkle mycorrhizal inoculant into the hole!
The fungal allies can increase the effective root zone of a young tree or shrub by hundreds of times in a matter of weeks.
There are commercial fungal inoculates readily available but there is also something much better; soil from a healthy and local forest ecosystem.
Go to your local forest and find a WILD fruit or nut tree, depending on what you’re planting. That tree, or better said the soil surrounding the tree, has mycorrhizal species that are absolutely suited to your bioregion.
Get a small amount of topsoil taken from the root zone. When you’re digging, the closer you can get to the roots the better.
Add this magic stuff to your planting hole!
STEP 4: Add soil amendments and backfill the hole
Unless your soil is really poor, you don’t need to add extra materials to the planting hole, especially if you’re planning on using mulch or cover crops as a soil management technique.
On the other hand, if your soil is poor, and most abused soils are, sprinkling the bottom with a little rock powder – rock phosphate (for early root development) and the same amount of Azomite (for trace nutrients) – will be okay.
Even better sprinkle this stuff on the dug-out pile of soil, then as you backfill it will all get thoroughly mixed out.
Ok, so refill the hole with the soil you took out.
Try to backfill in layers, carefully firming the soil with downward pressure every now and then to make sure you’re filling in all the voids so there are no air pockets, as they can block root growth.
STEP 5: Add thick layers of mulch – cardboard + fungal compost
Finally add a thick layer of mulch to knock back sod intrusion, ideally for several years while simultaneously feeding the tree roots/microorganisms.
For this first use thick layers of newspaper or cardboard (1 m2 minimum) to cut off light to any competing plants that may still be capable of making a comeback in the immediate area around the tree-planting hole.
Then top dress with (~10 l/2 gallons) fungal compost. The imperative is on creating and sustaining fungal conditions for the trees and shrubs.
…but not just any fungal compost, use the rich forest floor fungal compost. We are striving to recreate a local forest soil ecosystem that would help your trees and shrubs grow better.
Go to the forest and try to find piles of decomposing wood, branches, wood chips, leaves…
Grab this fungal duff and spread it around your trees and shrubs.
That’s it. Now grab a drink and reflect on what you just did!
There you have it, planting trees and shrubs, the Permaculture Apprentice way.
If this method piqued your interest and you want to learn more about how to use native fungi to improve your food forest soil quality check out this blog post…
In closing, I hope you’ll use the guide and put it to practical use because more than ever we need trees and shrubs in the ground and some significant regenerative action taking place.
And remember one day your kids, grandkids and whoever comes after them will appreciate your efforts!