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Which small tree for sandy soil with clay beneath?

BouncingBackBouncingBack Posts: 140
We have a large strip of gravel outside the front of our house, which we can't plant in because next door's cat digs, defecates and urinates all over it when planted (which is why we replaced it with gravel). Was planning a rock garden, but it will destroy that so have settled on planting a single tree. The ground is pretty inhospitable for most plants, as being a new build it has been backfilled with building rubble, large rocks and sand, then the natural earth beneath is thick clay. 

Which small trees would cope in these conditions? The ground isn't severely waterlogged but doesn't drain freely, and the majority of other houses on the estate all have the small palm-looking plants (cordyline?) which seem to thrive in this type of ground, but I'm not a fan at all. Recommendations would be welcome, bonus if they could be planted at this time of year too. Looking for something that is going to stay small, probably no taller than about 4-5ft. Thanks in advance!


  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,358
    I'd spend time amending the site first before thinking about a tree @jenniferavril . It will pay dividends, and this is a good time of year to start, assuming the site isn't frozen, then pick your trees or shrubs in a month or two. It will help with drainage, and then for future drier spells or the opposite, as well as helping anything you plant to establish well. Loads and loads of organic matter into the site - ie rotted manure, leaf mould, compost etc 
    Add a water scarecrow [if you don't get frosts] or a couple of those sonic devices as well. Otherwise you'll go mad trying to keep the r*ddy thing away, and even then, you'll have to be vigilant. I spent half an hour yesterday lifting at least ten piles from the front garden [including the grass] because of the persistent offender here. 

    If you know it's from next door, I'd be inclined to pick it up and return it to them....
    It's a very contentious subject.  :|
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • Silver surferSilver surfer Posts: 4,666
    Looking for something that is going to stay small, probably no taller than about 4-5ft. 
    That is a very small tree.
    Maybe better to widen your search to include shrubs.
    Is it possible to add a pic showing the area you are talking about.
    so that we can see how big the space is in relation to the house, pavement, path, drive etc.

    I agree with Fairygirls comments above.
    I would dig down and remove all the builders rubble and rubbish.
    Perthshire. SCOTLAND .
  • BouncingBackBouncingBack Posts: 140
    Thank you for the advice  :) Problem is that next door are not exactly pleasant people, and I can't prove it's their cat but the problem only started when they decided to get the thing in summer... It's not an area we can put the motion sensor water spray in because it's too far from the tap and will look terrible - and will also soak everyone who lives around us. My children and I have severe sensory issues and the sonic devices cause us a lot of distress, and judging by reports on here they don't have a high success rate. The neighbours would also have issue with it. We have a water spray in the back because the cat destroyed my vegetables in summer by digging and soiling. Seemed to be working until it froze and burst, have just ordered a new one. 

    I think you're spot on with trying to improve the ground. Still don't think it would be a good area for most trees though because the clay beneath is so thick and compacted and I won't be able to remove much. Any ideas on hardy trees that look pleasant would be great  :) I did have some grasses there previously but even those died. It's an area will full sun and no shade at all.
  • BouncingBackBouncingBack Posts: 140
    This is the area - was a patch of dead grass originally that the builders put in. The plants in pots were destroyed by the cat, and the grasses all died. Want to put a small tree where the white pot is. 
  • LoxleyLoxley Posts: 5,565
    I think a tree cotoneaster might work, they will obviously get bigger than 4-5ft but I think the weeping type (Cotoneaster 'Hybridus Pendulus') is relatively small. Tough and tolerant of horrible 'housing estate' soil conditions. Weeping trees tend to get broad though so make sure it doesn't block the path.
  • Silver surferSilver surfer Posts: 4,666
    edited 5 January
    Thank you.
    It looks wonderful...super brickwork.
    But that is a tiny room for a 4-5ft tree or shrub.
    Far to near to your house for a tree.
    Trees are rarely thin...they are spreading and would overhang your drive and paths.

    Suggest you read this for ideas.
    Perthshire. SCOTLAND .
  • BouncingBackBouncingBack Posts: 140
    I did wonder if it was too close for anything other than in a pot because of the roots... Just have no idea what to do with the area that will be cat proof and more interesting than bare gravel.
  • Silver surferSilver surfer Posts: 4,666
    How about Taxus baccata fastigiata..the Irish yew./Pic 2 and 3.
    Or Taxus baccata aureomarginata....Pic 1.
    Can be pruned if it gets to big.
    I would lay holly trimmings under it.
    Cats hate anything prickly.
    Perthshire. SCOTLAND .
  • BouncingBackBouncingBack Posts: 140
    Should add that all my beds in the back are mulched with rough bark (which the cat still dug and soiled) and the veg bed has a significant amount of skewers after I lost the plot a bit and couldn't stand it anymore.

    I also have a currently very brown fern that is supposed to be evergreen, planted in an extremely wet area specifically because they can cope with that. It's unrelated to my original post, but I am a bit baffled by it...
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,358
    edited 5 January
    I know what you mean about the sonic devices. My daughter can hear them, although she only hears it when passing as she doesn't go outside much into the garden.  I can also hear them occasionally, although only if I'm near them. I have a lot of sympathy.
    I also understand about the water scarecrows- I have to stop using them in October, and if I forget, that's more money.... :|

    I'd agree with those cotoneasters that @Loxley mentions - they're quite popular round here and can be pruned [carefully] to keep them neat, but the path is a consideration, and if it's blocked people will tend to walk anywhere as it's all hard standing. Another alternative is just a nice shrub- there are plenty of good ones to choose from, and many are very easy. Viburnums for example, or an Ilex [holly] Exochorda, Deutzia, Osmanthus, Cornus, or even a spring flowering Spirea with spring bulbs underneath. The soil would still need improved first.  :)
    You could look at raised beds- decent sized, purpose built ones. Then it would be easier to protect planting, and you wouldn't need anything too large in it. Some seasonal colour from bulbs in spring, and some long lasting perennials and a few small evergreens. The drawback of that is they need filled with decent soil, so that's an extra expense. 
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
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