Growing Rowan Trees for Planet and People

Many years ago I spent much time rock-climbing in Snowdonia, especially around Ogwen. It was vital to find good belays and on numerous occasions I used a rowan tree. I wonder whether they would have held me if I fell. Since then the rowan, or mountain ash, has been my favourite tree. here’s one on Arenig Fawr.

There are fairly common in the uplands of England and Wales and some are struggling in a hostile place. In the autumn they are known for their scarlet berries which are devoured by birds. here is a fine example;

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You can find rowans almost anywhere, as in this remote valley in the Forest of Bowland

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They are hardy trees and here is my favourite, also in the Forest of Bowland, of a tree possibly struck by lightning still valiantly braving the elements. Note the lovely creamy-white blossom.

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Hardy though they are, they struggle to survive on higher ground as do these planted rowans on Wild Boar Fell. They grow very little each year.

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Rowans are relatively small trees and usually grow to 25 or 30 feet making them ideal for smaller gardens and amenity areas, which cannot take a mighty oak. Over the last 40 years I have planted them in various gardens and they are now a good size. Those I planted in 2001 are now about 20 ft and covered with blossom then berries.

Here is one in my present garden.

Rowans are beautiful trees but what are their virtues?

Their beauty enhances wherever they grow , in the wild, in a garden or in public spaces. Too many of our towns and estates are being denuded of trees and here is a smallish one which is suitable in most gardens. Not so long ago most estates would have front gardens with shrubs and small trees, but the craze for plastic grass, gravel and hard surfaces has often destroyed that. I wonder how much wildlife is lost through that.

As well as that, they attract insects to their blossom and birds to eat the berries, and probably other insects eating leaves or making their home on a branch. Being native they attract other creatures as well.

At a time when there is so much encouragement to grow trees, rowans are ideal and will absorb a little carbon but not as much as an oak. Not every garden or open space is suitable for an oak! most can take a rowan (or a malus or cherry.)

I started doing this in the Autumn of 2017 and during 2021 I gave away a dozen of so and now some are in my street and others as far away as Cambridge and Shrewsbury.

I don’t claim to be a wonderful gardener but this is what I did.

I began in Year 1 – autumn 2017 and collected berries

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which I planted in a Seed tray with compost ( no peat) about few centimetres apart. They were left outside for the winter and I kept them neither too dry or too wet

Year 2 (2018)

By May most had germinated and so I pricked them out and put them into little pots

and up again if need me

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Year 3 (2019)

The next year i had to keep potting up as needs be and some were growing faster than others. (At times this was due to my negligence.)

Year4 2020

By now some had got to over two feet but with lockdown I simply grew them one and trying to avoid the dangers of too wet and too dry.

Year 5 2021

By now after three and a half years the larger ones ready. Note the variation in size. This photo excludes the larger ones which i’d given away.

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and I gave a dozen to various people.

Here’s one a few doors down from me. Since planting in May it has grown well over a foot in height and is thriving. I doubt that it will have flowers for two more years. It is as big a tree you may dare to plant there. It is great to be able to watch one of my trees grow.

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I hope people will try this and I seuggest reading up about growing trees form seed as I am no expert. The main problem I have had has been losing plants through neglect , wither letting them get too wet or bone dry.

Some may ask “What’s the point? Why not just buy saplings?” If you want immediate results then that is the best course.

Growing from seed is very satisfying as you then totally own the trees. It is fun to do, apart from some disappointments. You are also taking part in actual growing rather than funding it. You learn a lot.

In a small way you are contributing to biodiversity and increasing the number of trees.

There is nothing like seeing a tree you have grown from seed.

One can do this with other plants as I am with Purple Loosestrife. I will have to find forever homes for them next spring.

And finally, some groups want volunteers to nurture plants thus for example “growers” are needed for Silverdale AONB in Lancashire.

If you have enjoyed reading this, why not try it? It is fairly simple provided you can think three years hence!

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