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My girlfriend received a silver birch sappling as a present at Christmas as a memorial for a dead relative. A month ago we repotted it into a large pot. We placed broken tiles in the base for drainage and filled it with general compost and a small amount of cremated ashes. We have kept it inside until the weather gets warmer and it is currently placed in an east facing window (Nowhere in our house gets consistent sunlight throughout the day).

The sappling has looked like it was struggling - leaves wilting and the leaves turning yellow along the edges. We have done two things to "help":

  • We made a sugar solution on the recommendation of a Tree Surgeon friend and watered the sappling with this.
  • One morning my girlfriend "deadheaded" the sappling - basically taking all the worst looking leaves off (I thought that this was only done for dead flowers) - the sappling now only has a single leaf.

Any advice would be appreciated. Should we move the sappling outside? (Current temperatures are in the range 17-22 celsius). Is there anything else we can do to help the sappling?

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It needs to be outside, preferably in the ground, though if you are in the UK, the ground is probably really dry right now, not ideal for planting. However, as it's been indoors, you will need to harden it off first by leaving outside (not in full sun) in the middle of the day for a few hours and bringing it back inside, extending the time it's left outdoors over a week or so till it's out all night.

I note you say you put some cremated ashes into the pot; I'm sorry to say this was not a good idea, especially if the ashes were from human remains, because they can be quite toxic. Ashes distributed over rose beds, soil or lawns are usually thinly and widely spread out to avoid killing plant growth, or buried in a container near a rose or some memorial planting.

If the tree lives and you have room outdoors, wait till we've had some rain to plant it in the ground. In the meantime, while you're hardening off the sapling, dig over a larger area than you need to plant it, preferably adding some good garden compost or composted manure if you have some (f not and you can't get any right now, don't worry, you can mulch it later on instead), let the soil settle for a few days, then dig a hole in the centre and plant the tree, watering in well. You will need to keep it very well watered right up till late autumn, and again during spring and summer next year during dry spells.

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