21st March was the official first day of spring – and right on schedule in the Hanwell and Norwood Green orchard trail there are fresh signs of life!
Since we planted the trees in early February there have been few signs of activity. But below the surface the trees have been developing new fine roots and reaching out into the surrounding soil to find water and nutrients.
Now that spring is here it’s time for the trees to start producing new leaves. The first ones to have done so are the crab apples – which grow by the railway cutting halfway along the field closest to Three Bridges (Blackberry Corner). These have each got several small leaves that are starting to unfurl from their tiny buds. We can expect the other species to quickly follow them and within a few weeks all should be in full leaf.
It’s exciting to see the trees coming into life. But it’s also reminder that we need to get ready to look after them in their vulnerable first year. Leaves allow the trees to photosynthesize and so grow – but the leaves also are a route through which the trees lose water by evaporation. While they are still developing a good root system it’s easy for the water loss to exceed the take-up by the roots and the tree becomes thirsty and may suffer or even die.
We are planning to help the trees in two ways. Firstly we have plans to cover the soil around them with a thick later of wood-chip mulch that should help retain moisture in the soil and also suppress weeds that will compete with the trees for water. Secondly we are planning to regularly water the trees during dry weather – by as much as a gallon a week per tree. The watering tubes we put in will help by making sure that the water goes where it is needed but it’s still going to be quite a large task!
It’s not rained significantly for several weeks and the soil on the Hanwell Meadows has already dried out significantly. Now the presence of leaves tells us that we are soon going to enter the watering season. Get your watering cans ready and watch this space for announcements and for calls for help. The trees are going to need your help!
(from our guest editor James)