Tree-planting season is upon us, and projects like ‘Trini-trees’ offer a model way to get growing

Game Changers: Take wild-seeded trees from places where they’re not wanted and let them grow where they are needed - it’s a no-brainer

Willow is a champion propagator and it's also very fond of wet conditions, such as at river banks. Photograph: Andrea Kennard Photography

It is peak tree-planting season these days, and we are busy tipping muddy bunches of trees out of nursery bags, opening up the soil and slotting their roots into place with hundreds of people in schools, sports and residential communities.

Four years into Pocket Forests, I’m able to identify a leafless stick according to its shape and roots. It’s a thrill to see the buds already swelling, dormant young trees bursting to be back in leaf again as the days lengthen and the air warms. Nurseries are playing catch-up with the demand for native trees and shrubs. This rising demand is great news, but there are concerns that it will mean the importing of trees, which could bring diseases that could threaten the health of our hedgerows and forests in the future.

Catherine Cleary and her family are planting trees along with forester Bernard Kiernan on farmland they bought in south Co Roscommon.

Dutch campaigners More Trees Now has one solution – take wild-seeded trees from places where they’re not wanted and let them grow where they are needed. Trinity College Dublin recently saved birch seedlings from the mower, potted them up for winter, and last month gave them away to tree fans. I’m calling this the Trini-trees project, and it shows just how trees know best what to do and how to do it.

Catherine Cleary: How to grow your own forest

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The More Trees Now folk also love to show people how to propagate trees from cuttings. They visited Ireland in November, guests of Orla Farrell of Easy Treesie. Together with Baldoyle Wild Towns and young people from a local school, they harvested willow and elder rods to grow them into new free trees, helped into life by enthusiastic young tree fans from local plants that are adapted to local conditions.


Willow and elder are champion propagators. Cleanly cut a branch from a willow tree, stick it in nice loose soil, and it will grow roots and become a new tree. It’s how willows spread along river banks: a branch falls in the water, gets lodged in the river bank downstream, and voila: a new willow tree which supports the strength of the river bank, filters pollution before it gets to the water, and generally makes itself useful.

Catherine Cleary: ‘I stood in this dripping wet mossy forest and something just shifted in me’Opens in new window ]

The elder is a tree known by some unkind folk as a “weed tree”. These vigorous thrivers would, as someone recently put it, “grow in your hand”. So let’s let them. If you have the space, now is the time to start propagating your own wild tree collection. Grow them in pots to give away as gifts or start a propagation patch in a raised bed. This year we’ll be experimenting with dog rose cuttings, alongside some gorgeous willow stems. Currant bushes also propagate beautifully. Nature is always finding ways to make more healthy abundance. Let’s take a leaf from her book.

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests