Thursday, July 11, 2013

Soil Conditioning - Vital for Optimal Tree Health

After seeing an interview on permaculture design by Bill Mollison last year (see it HERE), we got to wondering why the same principles of working with nature aren't always applied in the nursery industry.

At TreeCo we are exceedingly conscious of the impact that we have on the environment and indeed the positive improvements that we can potentially make to the environment. This prompted us to re-evaluate the production cycle here at the nursery, as well as what happens to our trees post sale.

Thinking Logically - Nutrients are the Foundation

When we came into this business, a horticulturist friend advised us to think of our trees as we do people. The elements that make people thrive will also make trees thrive. Two of those key elements are water and food.

We know that as people, the quality and complexity of our food and the purity of our water has an impact on our health. Organic, natural foods are better for us than processed foods. The same applies to trees.

Although chemical fertilizers have their place in that they can, like medicine, perhaps treat a specific condition, using them to grow and sustain trees is akin to raising your child on supplements and drugs. A child that does not receive proper nutrition is less resistant to illness.

Similarly, the soil and water that container grown trees receive, should be of a naturally nutrient rich enough quality to enable the tree to grow to its full potential. This increases resiliency to disease and difficult environmental conditions. It's about creating a solid foundation.

Knowing this, we decided to investigate what approach we should take to really get our trees to thrive in a healthier, even more natural way. We looked at organic fertiliser options, compost - and were still drawn to the idea of soil quality as being the place where we should start.

Earthworms - Bringing Life to Damaged Soils

After some intensive research, we came across Wurmbosch - a local manufacturer and supplier of Vermigro Worm Castings.

The natural function of an earthworm is to digest organic matter which in this case, is garden greens. The worms carry with them plant residues to aide consumption. As organic matter passes through the earthworms digestive system, it is enriched with nutrients (N, P, K, Ca) and microorganisms which when excreted (cast) back into the soil, release a rich complex of growth hormones, minerals and trace elements. Vermigro is the resultant natural fertiliser, which is designed to condition soil to bring it back to its natural nutrient rich state.

Key Fact: Low or absent earthworm populations in soil indicate a problem of no or little organic residues in the soil, as well as high soil temperatures and low soil moisture. A lack of earthworms has been proven to inhibit plant nutrient uptake which means that fertilisers will have little or no impact on plant health. For more information on the impact earthworms have on soil read this.

Because Vermicast balances the soil and ensures its proper function, plants are able to not only thrive on the rich complex of nutrients that Vermicast provides, but any additional fertilizers that are fed, actually do the job that they are meant to thanks to the stimulus from microbes in the soil.

The Results - Balanced Growth, Improved Quality

For over a year, we at TreeCo have been conditioning our growing medium with Vermicast and the results have been outstanding.

At first, we started with a sample selection of trees upon which we tested our new, enriched growing medium and noticed within a few short weeks, that the sample trees were doing far better than their counterparts.

Since using conditioned, healthy soil throughout our stock, we have not had to use any pesticides or additional fertilizers, yet we are seeing healthy growth even now in winter.

As for how the trees themselves are growing, we have noticed a more balanced, healthy growth where trunks are thicker than before and in more balanced proportion to the height of the tree.

Although we already have a solid track record of resilient, healthy trees that have always been grown using the least amount of chemical fertiliser and pesticides, we have found that by working with nature and giving our trees what they really need to flourish - our quality has improved even further.

We would encourage our clients to seriously consider using worm castings to balance the soil in their landscapes. There is no question that this will not only result in significant benefits to the environment, but will also ensure the optimal growth of plants - which in turn means a happy customer!

For more information, please contact Rudi on 082 829 5543 or Leske on 072 385 0270, or email
For more information on Wurmbosch and Vermigro, please visit their website HERE.

Important Plant Families in South Africa - Fabaceae

In order to facilitate the identification of our wealth of lovely South African trees, it is helpful to be familiar with the most prominent plant families in an area as well as the characteristics that distinguish each plant family. Every month we will feature one of the most important and well represented plant families, focusing on easily recognisable features to assist identification.

Fabaceae (Pea family)

This family is widespread and well represented in southern Africa where in the region of 80 tree species occur, and is one of the three families characterised by a legume or pod as fruit type, the other two being Caesalpiniaceae and Mimosaceae.

Members of this family are easily recognised by the distinctive butterfly-like flowers that have unequal petals, with the uppermost petal the largest, two stalked side petals that form ‘wings’ and the basal petals joined to form a boat-like structure or keel.

The leaves are mostly imparipinnate or tri-foliolate or occasionally simple with stipules always present. A useful vegetative feature that aids identification is the conspicuous thickening at each petiole and petiolule base.

Many members of this species have root nodules containing nitrogen fixing bacteria, making them invaluable for enriching the nitrogen content of soils.

This species is extremely varied and has numerous members that offer great economic value. Some of these include herbaceous species such as the garden pea (Pisum sativum), the peanut (Arachis hypogea) and various beans such as (Phaseolus). Forage plants such as lucerne (Medicago sativa) also belong to this important family. Amongst the garden ornamentals the coral tree (Erythrina) and Wisteria are widely grown.

Some members of this family include Baphia massaiensis (Sand camwood), Podalyria calyptrata (Water blossom pea), Erythrina caffra (Coast coral tree), Bolusanthus speciosus (Tree wisteria), Calpurnea aurea (Wild laburnum), Virgilia oroboides (Blossom tree) and Indigofera jucunda (River indigo).

Classification Anacardiaceae or Mango family

Spectacular Monthly Tree - July 2013

Podocarpus latifolius reaches massive proportions when growing in evergreen, mountain or coastal forest but will be somewhat smaller when growing on exposed mountainsides or in an urban environment. As the name implies, this species of yellowwood has the broadest leaves of the genus and has longitudinally striated bark. The male trees produce 2,5cm long, pinkish cones while the females produce bright red, fleshy receptacles with 1 or 2 fleshy seeds at the tip. These turn blue or purple as they mature. Podocarpus latifolius is a magnificent, evergreen shade tree that is suitable for medium to large gardens as well as parks, public areas and roadside planting. The trees we have in stock are superb, large, well grown specimens that will add instant impact to your landscaping project.

Botanical Name
Podocarpus latifolius
Common Name
Real yellowwood
Size Available
200 lt
Quantity in Stock
Average Tree Height
4 m
Average Trunk Thickness
7 cm

Should you require any further information, such as pricing details or should you wish to place an order, please contact Rudi on 082 829 5543 or Leske on 072 385 0270. Alternatively you are welcome to email us with your enquiry at

Availability List for July 2013

TreeCo provides our readers with a downloadable, updated Availability List every month.
Please note that should you not find the tree that you are looking for on this list, TreeCo will readily source what you require, on your behalf. Rudi and Leske Neethling personally ensure that all trees supplied by TreeCo, conform to our high quality standards.
Please CLICK HERE to download our latest Availability List.

Ficus sur (Broom cluster fig)

Ficus sur is an imposing, fast growing semi-deciduous to evergreen tree that can reach a height of 20m, and develops a wide, spreading crown, making it a superlative shade tree. Spectacular throughout the year, the Broom cluster fig has been prized by man and beast alike for countless ages. Aside from providing deep, cool shade in summer, parts of these conspicuous trees are used by local peoples for medicine, whereas the fruits are not only enjoyed by people, but also attract a wide array of birds and insects as well as a diversity of other wild life.
Botanical Name
Ficus sur
Common Name
Broom cluster fig
RSA National Tree No’
The majestic Broom cluster fig with its magnificent, dense, spreading crown is unsurpassed as a truly dramatic shade tree in large gardens, estates, golf courses or parks. These superb trees should be planted where they have the space to fully develop so that their beauty can be appreciated for many years. As the root system is extremely strong, care should be taken to plant them at some distance away from buildings, paved areas and drain pipes. As they are fast growing, these splendid giants will quickly impart an ambiance of maturity to the landscape.
Evergreen – semi deciduous
Growth Habit
The beautiful Broom cluster fig grows wild along river banks and in riverine forest but can also be found in drier, temperate woodland areas.
The bark of the Ficus sur tends to be smooth and ranges in colour from whitish to dark grey. Any damaged parts will secrete large amounts of milky latex.
The smooth, broadly oval leaves have pointed tips and may grow up to 15cm in length and 10cm in width. The margins are occasionally smooth but usually wavy or scalloped. New leaf growth is tinged with red.
The masses of tiny male and female flowers are borne inside the fleshy receptacle or ‘fig’.
From September to March the round, 2-3cm figs appear in large, leafless clusters along the trunk and main branches as well as occasionally on the roots. The fruits turn orange red to red when ripe.
The small seeds are dark brown to black.
Growing regions
Ficus sur is widely distributed in woodland and forests from North Africa right down to the Western Cape.
Growing conditions
The Broom cluster fig prefers a moderate, frost free climate and average quantities of water. These trees enjoy a sunny position, but being forest subjects will also perform well in semi shaded areas.
Best season
All year
In general Ficus sur performs best in a warm position with adequate water. These trees will withstand strong winds.
The quickest and easiest method of propagation is by cuttings or truncheons taken in spring. Treat the ends with a rooting compound and plant in damp sand. Ensure that sand is kept moist until roots have formed. Transplant into bags or directly into the ground.
Growth rate
Indigenous peoples have long believed that the Broom cluster fig has magical powers and have used parts of the tree for various ceremonies and rituals. The soft white wood has been used to make mortars and drums as well as brake blocks and boards for the ox wagons of old while the inner bark was used to make rope. The milky latex has been used to treat lung and throat ailments as well as for treating boils.
ficus sur fruitFicus sur foliageFicus sur bark
                  F. sur Fruit                         F. sur Foliage                      F. sur Bark