Letting in the Light14th November 2018 • In The Garden • Stephanie Donaldson
Our magnificent tulip tree Liriodendron tulipifera has just had its five-yearly haircut. As much as we would like to leave it to grow without interference, there comes a point when it overhangs the house to such an extent that intervention is necessary. Also, a large area of the garden becomes increasingly shady from July to November and the plants beneath it get increasingly leggy, or give up entirely.
This year the change was particularly dramatic because the tulip tree still had most of its leaves when it was pruned. I asked the tree surgeons if this was a problem but they said it was fine and that the leaves were actually quite helpful as they act as parachutes, meaning that there were fewer casualties amongst the plants beneath the tree. There are always some losses, however careful they are, but on the whole it was a few squashed foxgloves and flattened hellebores rather than anything really serious.
By the time the tree surgeons left it was nearly dark so it was inevitable that there would be some cleaning up to be done and I have spent the last couple of days tidying the aftermath. There has been a definite win in having the tree pruned with its leaves in place – leaf sweeping will be much reduced this year and as we already have a fairly monumental leaf heap we won’t be missing out on leafmould. Tulip tree leaves are pretty slow to decompose, so I always need to move most of them to allow the spring bulbs and flowers to be seen – left in place everything tends to wear a leafy hat and be somewhat starved of light which is not the effect I am looking for!
Post-pruning, the woodland area beneath the tulip tree had a deep layer of leaves, twigs and small branches that needed removing. Twigs and branches are now in a heap ready for shredding and spreading on the paths, while the vast majority of the leaves are on the leaf heap. I can now get on with planting narcissus and tulips that I am naturalising in the woodland area and once that is done I will spread a thick layer of composted bark. It’s always a bit unnerving seeing our much-loved tree cut back, but experience has taught us that it responds well to this treatment and for the next few years the plants beneath it will enjoy living in the light.