European larch (Larix decidua) is a tall-growing conifer that is only suitable for large gardens and woodland planting. The larch is one of a very few types of deciduous conifer, which makes it look particularly handsome in spring when the new needles are bright green, and again in autumn when turning bright gold before falling. Many small cones are produced and often remain on the tree for a long period – the cones open to reveal seeds which are a popular food source for wildlife.
Larix decidua is native to the mountains of Central Europe and was introduced to Britain in the early 17th Century. Its moderately fast growth has made it popular for forestry use with the resinous timber used to make fences, gates, garden furniture, sheds, and garden buildings. However, because larches are affected by the disease Phytopthora ramorum, which affects a wide range of trees and shrubs, larch plantations have been cleared in the worst affected areas of the UK, notably western regions.
How to grow larch
Plant larch tree in a wild or woodland garden where there is plenty of room for it to grow. Ideally plant in autumn and water during long dry spells for the first two years.
Identifying European larch
Slender needle-like leaves 2-4cm long are clustered along the branches and are bright green when newly emerged in spring, maturing to mid-green, then eventually turning gold before falling in autumn. Many small cones are green, pink and white when young, flat-topped and 3-4cm long, borne in profusion and mature to brown as the year advances, often remaining on the tree for months. Thick brownish-pink bark becomes deeply fissured as the tree matures.
Size, height and spread
Larch is moderately fast growing and can easily reach 30m in height with a spread of 5-8 metres.
Value to wildlife
Larch is a valuable tree for a range of wildlife. Cones provide food for seed-eating birds as well as mammals, particularly squirrels and mice. The deeply fissured bark provides shelter for many insects. Caterpillars of many moths feed on the foliage.
Where to plant larch
Plant larch where there is plenty of space for it to develop into a large tree. Larch grows on a wide range of soils so long as the drainage is good. Avoid sites with soil prone to waterlogging and hot, dry situations.
How to plant larch
Ideally, buy and plant larch during the dormant season from November to March, because plants establish better when not in active growth and also as bare rooted (field grown) plants are available. These are cheaper than pot grown plants and, without plastic pots, are better for the environment. If planting larger trees in windy sites, support with a short stake angled at 45º. Mulch above the roots with chipped bark and water during dry periods of weather for the first year.
How to prune larch
Larch naturally develops a tree form and does not need pruning.
Pests and diseases
Several pests and diseases affect larches including larch canker and larch bark beetle. The disease Phytopthora ramorum is most serious as it also spreads to infect other tree species, notably oak. Symptoms include shedding of the needles, so the tree becomes sparse and looks unhealthy, and bleeding cankers that often develop on the main trunk. Affected trees should be destroyed.
Advice on buying larch
- Larch is available from online nurseries and hedging specialists
- Buying bare rooted larches from November to March is the easiest way to buy online, as plants are relatively light, easy to package, and transport easily
- Pot grown larch is more costly
Where to buy larch