How to plant a tree

How to plant a tree

You might be surprised about how even the smallest of gardens can accommodate a tree!

Planting trees is a great way to attract wildlife to your garden, as well as being a great way to enhance your garden - giving you shade, a natural windbreak, and a little more privacy. Trees provide a huge amount of nectar during blossom times and nuts during the autumn, making them an important food source for many animals, as well as giving them space to breed, shelter and hibernate.

They also have a vital role to play in storing carbon - about 6 native trees will absorb a tonne of carbon dioxide over their lifetimes. Planting trees also helps guard soil against erosion, reduces the effect of flooding and absorbs air pollution.  

 Plant a tree, not just for yourself but for future generations


Choosing your tree

So you've decided to plant a tree? Great! The next step is to consider carefully what kind of tree is best for your situation, and what kind.

What kind of tree?
Native trees (trees originally from this country) are best placed to help native insects and animals to thrive. Ideally, as well as making sure that your chosen tree is native, a tree that has been grown from local stock is best – see if your local nurseries do this. Ultimately, local trees will be best adapted to your local conditions!

Oak seedling

©Alan Price/Gatehouse Studio

Here are some species you could try:

  • Alder
  • Silver birch
  • English oak
  • Rowan
  • Crabapple
  • Hazel
  • Blackthorn
  • Goat willow
  • Field maple
  • Hawthorn
  • Holly
  • Wild cherry
  • Rowan
  • Elder
  • Wayfaring tree
  • Beech

    Trees get big 
    Some trees are small enough to be grown in containers, others not so small. Make sure you know exactly how big to expect your tree to grow, and how far the canopy will spread so that you can pick the right one for your space. You should really only grow big trees like English oak, beech, and alder if you have a very big garden. 

    Where should I plant it?
    Take care when planting near a house or other structures. As a general rule, you should plant the tree at least its mature height away from the nearest building. Be careful with this as the root systems of some larger trees, like oak, can cause subsidence and damage drains as they grow, so make sure to think ahead! If your tree causes damage to someone else’s property, you will be liable for damages! If you're planting a tree in a corner, 

    The best time of year to plant a tree is when the roots are dormant as they're less easily disturbed by the moving process: typically from mid-November to late March. Buy a seedling between 60-90cm tall (a 'whip') for the quickest growth rates. Once you have your seedling, you're ready to get started!

    Step by step: 

    Step 1
    Make sure the roots are submerged in a bucket of water for 2 hours before planting. Exposed roots don’t do well – the root hairs dry easily and quickly die.

    Step 2
    Dig a hole. It should be at least double the width of the root ball, and the topsoil kept in a separate pile if you can, and mix it with some compost. Break up the soil in the bottom of the hole. Trees over 1.5 m tall (or spindly or exposed trees) will need a little support – pop a metre long stake firmly in the ground next to where you're planting the tree on the side that will be facing the wind.

    Step 3
    Place your tree in the centre of the hole and spread the roots, making sure that it's deep enough so that the soil lines up with the soil mark on the stem (this line shows where the stem ends and the roots begin).

    Step 4
    Spread the soil mix carefully around the roots, gently shaking the tree to make sure that the soil is in contact with the roots, before compacting the soil around the tree and gently tugging it to make sure it's secure. Water generously to settle the soil around the roots, and tether the tree to the stake if you're using one.

    Step 5
    ....Don't forget about your tree! The first weeks and couple of years after planting are especially important. Water daily for the first two weeks, and the weekly for the first year while the tree is active (has its leaves). Regularly check the soil is firm around the tree and tear off any suckers (growths rising from the roots). Remember to loosen tethers as your tree grows, readjusting as necessary to stop ties from biting into the stem. The stake can be removed after 3 years.

    Find out more about trees