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The Methodology of Tree Planting

A footnote on the progress of the Southern Beaches Community Garden at Tugun in south east Queensland, Australia.

Just after planting

Our last planting of the food forest was held on the 4th August 2010. Since then we have had a very wet winter and spring this year in the lead up to the wet season in Queensland. So our food forest in now on its own and thriving.

All up, out of the 50 support species and 12 fruit trees we plant, we have had a 99% strike rate for the trees surviving. We lost only one of the support trees and the garden has had 0% vandalism. To give you an idea of the tuff location the garden is in, it lies 150m from the beach, 300m to Coolangatta International airport runway (must say it’s nice to watch the planes come in) and 50m to a skateboard park for which most people thought would be the biggest battle since we elected not to put up a 2m chain wire fence surrounding the garden site and padlock on the gate for which quite a few of the community gardens are doing on the Gold Coast.

I’m putting the success down to the planting methodology shared by a good friend and college of mine, Matt Kilby from Matt has been researching and refining this methodology over many years.

It’s not what you plant but how you plant it. And in my own experience over the years in the Landscape industry, where we must have planted hundreds of thousands of tube stock trees over 12 years, we could only manage an 85% strike rate on mass plant outs.

Support species taken out of the guards and left to grow on their own

The approach that Matt Kilby has been mastering looks at preparation as one of the keys to mastering tree planting and the high survival rates, as well as biological planting methods used.

At the community garden we didn’t have the chance to get much preparation done, like deep ripping on contour with a Yeomans Keyline Plow 12 months before planting. Instead we had to look and really concentrating on the soil (or sand in our case) and what we could do to improve it and what biological methods could we look at.

Below I have listed the steps that Southern Beaches Community Garden adapted from Matt’s methodology to produce these successful results:

Step 1: Compost was sourced from a local permaculturist and added to the tree hole that was dug 3x the size of the tree’s pot that was going in the hole — wide and deep to allow good root penetration and development.

Step 2: We then added Tree Starter. Tree Starter uses a three-pronged support system for soil biology. Firstly, it supplies a wide range of food sources for soil life including humates, kelp (seaweed) and compost. Secondly, it retains moisture and provides a home-base for beneficial organisms through the inclusion of zeolite and rock minerals. Finally, highly paramagnetic materials are included into the formula to stimulate microbial proliferation. In addition to this trio of benefits, the compost component also inoculates a new workforce of beneficial microbes into the soil to get the trees jumping out of the ground.

Step 3: We flood-irrigated the tubes and fruit trees to remove all the hot air from the roots. In the water we added Tree Tonic. During transplanting trees often suffer from transplant shock. This is due to root damage and a change of environment during the transplanting process. Tree Tonic lessens the impact of transplant shock by providing essential nutrients and to reverse the negative effects of transplanting and helps the plant to recover and increase growth rates. One thing I must say is that these plants started their life the conventional chemical way, so this biological treat must have seemed like paradise to them.

Step 4: We added something which I think is very special. Tree specific mycorrhiza fungi. Mycorrhizas are fungi that live in a beneficial relationship with most tree roots. Mycorrhiza increase the tree roots’ access to water and nutrients and therefore increases tree growth, especially in poor soil conditions which are often found in tree planting areas. And that was more the case in our sand pit of a garden.

Showing how much growth has been achieved in the 3 months with the guards

Just as we apply starter fertiliser when young trees are planted we also need to consider inoculating with mycorrhiza to enhance survival rates. Most soils in Australia are becoming more and more devoid of mycorrhiza due to tillage, chemicals, compaction and loss of organic matter, making small trees very susceptible to drought and nutrients shortages. If we can inoculate the tube stock with mycorrhiza we can limit these stresses and survival/growth rates will increase — as demonstrated now in our food forest trees.

Step 5: Back to the hole preparation and the finishing off or landscaping the earth around the tree. A bull horn swale, a technique that Matt always uses, places the tree in a dish below ground level with small swales to focus the water into the tree. This is another of the keys to this methodology, giving the tree every chance it can to thrive rather that just survive.

Step 6: We used recycled paper Eco Mulch Mats, specially designed for this type of work, and the thing for our gardeners was that the Eco Mulch Mats would last for 12 – 18 months and is the equivalent to 100mm of mulch. Also, they are organic certified and contain organic fertiliser. The mats deliver sustained nutrient release including essential trace elements as the mat naturally biodegrades. We also placed 300mm deep of mulch around the outside of the tree guard 1m around the tree.

Step 7: Our Garden members all laughed at me when we got to step seven: pink tree guards. That right folks, pink. Now I have been working and trialing these tree guards for some time now, and I’m a believer. The theory is that visible light can be split into a spectrum of colours. Green leaves absorb light from the red fraction to drive photosynthesis. Research has demonstrated that the colour pink reflects and focuses the red fraction, concentrating this photosynthetic energy to enhance plant growth.

The guards at our community garden location have also provided wind protection against strong salt-laden wind, which can cause severe dehydration of young trees and can result in high losses and salt burn. The Plant Pink Tree Guards have given our food forest ideal protection from strong winds in this early stage of growth and also creating an environment of increased humidity and sun protection.

The guards have also stopped predation from hares, rabbits and wallabies.

Step 8: 10 – 20 liters of water per tree with Tree Tonic.

And then we left it to Gaia to look after….

So, three months on and the tube stock have bounded out of the ground. Some have a vertical growth of more than half a meter with good lateral growth. In the past 12 months I have been planting trees in some extreme climates around Australia and still this method wins hands down.

Matt is an open source and would be more than happy to share this information with you. See his website for more details or print outs of the methodology.

As for the community garden. We are in maintenance mode and have just planted more support species and ground covers like sweet potato and pinto peanut. If you have the chance to test this tree planting methodology, please keep us updated on how it goes.

A sub-tropical apple in full fruit

Further Reading:


  1. That’s tree planting on steroids! Seems like a very successful protocol for tree planting all over the world!

  2. Thats an amazing survival rate! I’ll try it myself. Although I agree with JBOB. It’s better to remove any fruit in the younger years. its like a 12 year old having children, although physically possible but not an ideal outcome.

  3. The method of intensive soil amendment in the planting holes will work fine in sand or loam soil, but beware of doing this on a site with heavy clay or a compacted subsoil. When the planting hole ends up with more pore space than the surrounding soil, this space can fill up with water in wet weather, and only very slowly be absorbed into the surrounding soil. Tree death from waterlogging results.
    In these type of soils it’s becoming consensus wisdom to plant in unamended native soil, and apply any organic matter, manure, compost, etc. as a heavy surface mulch. When I have wanted desperately to bury amendments (such as humanure, dead animals, etc.) I have had success placing these in holes near, but not under, the new plants. Feeder roots can then access the amendments at need, and be sacrificed to waterlogging without killing the plant. In a badly hardpan, perched water-table situation I have also planted trees in shallow mounds of enriched soil. It is easier to supply water than to drain away excess. As the nound settles the tree settles with it, and surface and deeper roots spread out…

  4. I really like those pink tree guards, could have used about 30 or so for our recent plantings.

    Eventually the trees will be a windbreak, but until then, it’s not easy for new plants to survive.

    And it’s nice to SEE the new plantings. I’m having a tough time finding all those little trees and it’s easy to forget to water some of them.

    Looked at Matt’s site and apparently they’re not available in the US. Too bad really, I’d like to order several products. There’s a business opportunity …


  5. Bob: Good advice. Generally deep rip twice, 12 months before planting on contour with a Yeomans. Matt has worked on every soil that Australia has. And while some situations are different, the methodology is the same. Deep ripping with a Yeomans even in Clay (assuming the moisture is right, not to wet for the rip to glaze or to dry for the rip to shatter and turn the soil over)this will encourage root development of grass and or weed to penetrate. The weeds will accumulate minerals from the clay, and then you can slash them down to start the process of soil creation.
    This all comes back to design. (Permaculture design) you can’t just throw trees into a situation that you describe where there is a potential to get water logged. Good design through secession, Weeds, Grass then pioneer trees then your forests trees. Following succession will allow time, roots to de-compact ground, create soil and also for the plants to cycle water and regulate the grounds water holding capacity even in peak rain events.

    I can be contacted at nick at if you have any questions.

  6. Thanks for the Comments Christine,
    See a Post by Eco Films:
    I would be happy to talk with you on Matt’s behalf via Skype about opportunities of the sales, marketing and licensed production of the Guards in the USA. Matt currently sends small batches of guards around the world and we could do the same for you. Last week he sent a pallet to the UK of the biggest guards he makes.
    Matt main focus is getting trees in the ground, having the highest survival rates and sharing his passion for it. And having people around the world using this system would be his dream coming true.
    Matt has been planting trees in some of the most extreme places in Australia with little or no rain fall. See the comments by Geoff Lawton’s on the post above.
    My email is [email protected] Skype nick.huggins

  7. Sad to pluck off your first little fruits, I know, but everything I’ve read says to prevent fruit for the first 2-3 years. Listen to old Leviticus 19:23 himself:

    “And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised: three years shall it be as uncircumcised unto you: it shall not be eaten of.”


  8. A very late comment, but here it goes;

    Ditto what Adam T said. Those trees will be living in the native soil for decades. A bit of compost at planting will encourage the root to stay in the original hole, instead of spreading out in search of nutrients. Nature puts organic matter on the surface, not below the roots. Mulch, mulch, mulch.

    What are you guarding the plants from? I have deer here in the U.S., ready to nibble all of my seedlings. What is the problem in Southern Beaches?

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