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Tag Archives: root system

Trees as long-range weather forecasters?

DSCN0367-2000At this time of year we are busy lifting trees and despatching them to their purchasers, and so we regularly inspect the roots of hundreds of two to three-year old trees. From the appearance of the roots, we can judge the period of dormancy of the trees, and so, on the website, this season we recommend planting from December to April.

This is later than normal. In fact, the usual dormancy period is from November to March. But the winter of 2013-2014 wasn’t particularly cold, neither were spring and summer 2014. So why is the dormancy period later this year, and how can we tell?

I should start with a bit of background information on how the roots work. The feeding roots – tiny and delicate capillary roots invisible to the naked eye – operate from April to September. Then they begin to shut down, and the tree stores resources in the trunk and main root stems. At a certain stage, usually in mid January, white roots begin to emerge from the main root stems. These are not functional as roots, but just serve to establish the initial structure from which the feeding roots will develop. This year, today, 2 February 2015, not one of the trees has begun to develop these white roots. What is the reason for this?

It’s as if the trees know that there is no point in developing their root system yet, because the weather is going to be colder than usual over the next couple of months. How do the trees know this? Perhaps they have a sensitivity to certain meteorological parameters that enable them to time the moment at they begin preparing for the end of dormancy.

And so, on the basis of my observations, I would venture to say that it will be a long, cold winter, or at least longer and colder than usual. And whatever happens, whether right or wrong, I am convinced that the world of plants still holds a lot of mysteries that still awaits scientific explanation.

(In the photo below, we partially lifted a young tree to show the brown roots. We couldn’t find any white roots at all!)


Dormant period this year

Suffolk Pink

Suffolk Pink

This is a good time of year to plan the position of new fruit trees, and order trees. Stocks are often limited at nurseries, and they have to be prepared so that they are ready for delivery in their dormant period, generally from late November or early December to late March/early April.

A tree is different from a conventional product that you can buy say at a supermarket because it follows the rhythms of nature. From late October a tree begins to prepare for the winter shut-down. Carbohydrate reserves built up in the leaves are sent down to the root system for storage. The tree then sends all the substances it wants to get rid of to the leaves (contributing to their autumn colours) so that leaf drop is like a purification process. By late November or early December, metabolism has reached its minimum throughout the tree. As the spring approaches, the root system uses some of its reserves to rejuvenate its micro-feeding roots, tiny, microscopic rootlets invisible to the naked eye, the structures that do the job of absorbing water and nutrients from the soil. And so by the start of April the tree is ready to start its new season.

This is why we recommend planting from late November to late March. It is a mistake to think that when the trees are put in the soil they start to grow from that moment. Trees need time to adjust and closely associate with the soil, in order to rebuild the micro-feeding roots. This process can take as much as from 3 weeks to a month, depending on soil temperature.

What happens if you plant a tree at other times of year? However gently you transplant, the micro-feeding rootlets are all destroyed. For about a month, the trees are totally dependent on the reserves stored in the thicker roots and in the woody parts of the tree above ground. Once those reserved are used up, the tree starves, and will look miserable for the rest of the season.

More information on tree planting here.