Plant a tree


Mature trees are really important for attracting wildlife. A research project at Sheffield University found that large trees in a garden were the best predictor of the overall diversity of creatures in the garden.

Why is this? Trees may provide huge amounts of nectar at blossom time, or nuts in the autumn. They also attract mini-beasts who make their homes in the shelter of the bark, and birds come hunting them for food. So a tree can be a web of life on its own. This is more likely to apply if it’s a native species, because other creatures have evolved alongside it, and may not be adapted to make use of non-natives.

How to buy a tree

Resist the temptation to buy a big tree of more than 3m (10ft); a smaller tree of 1–2m (4 - 6ft) will establish more easily, overtaking a larger specimen within a few years. Think hard about what kind of tree you want, how big it will get and where it will go – it’ll be there a long time! You can buy young trees with bare roots (for planting in autumn and winter), or in pots (which can be planted at any time, though hot summer is best avoided). The ideal time is in autumn, when the soil is still warm.

Garden centres have plenty of trees but a specialist nursery will have a better choice. Or you could gather seeds from local wild trees such as hawthorn, rowan or silver birch (though germinating wild tree seeds can take a while).

How to plant a tree

  • If it’s a bare-rooted tree, keep the roots damp and plant it straight away.

  • Mark where your tree will go.

  • Knock in two sticks either side, a known distance from where the tree will be.

  • Dig a hole big enough to accommodate the rootball, plus 20 - 25cm (8 - 10 in) below and round the sides. This will help the new roots to get going.

  • Use a garden fork to make holes and cracks in the wall and base of the hole. This opens up compacted soil, helping the tree establish that bit better.

  • Using the two sticks, pinpoint where the tree should go. Knock in a stake at an angle and facing into the prevailing wind so that it will cross the tree about a third of the way up.

  • Get someone to hold the tree vertical and at the correct depth (check the soil mark on the stem with a straight edge if necessary). Fill in the hole with loose soil. If it’s a bare root tree, shake the rootball gently to settle it in.

  • Fill the hole with soil and firm it down well with your heel. Attach a tree tie to the stake and the stem so that the action of the prevailing wind doesn’t chafe the bark.

  • Water generously, and mulch to keep stop weeds. In the first year, water your tree in dry period.

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