How to plant a tree

plant tree

Planting a tree helps wildlife

Every mature tree has a legacy to be proud of, supporting thousands of lives. By planting a tree, you'll help many future generations of wildlife and give lots of enjoyment to lots of people.

It’s easy to do and if you don’t have a garden, you can plant one in a container. Always choose a native species such as silver birch, hawthorn, blackthorn or holly.

How to plant and maintain trees and hedges

  • Native trees are best for wildlife. That’s because indigenous species support a very wide variety of insects, which provide year-round food for mammals and birds.
  • Trees don’t have to be huge. If you have a small garden, plant a crab apple, pussy willow or hazel.
  • Some trees can also be planted as hedges. It’s a good way to introduce plenty of native species without casting an enormous shadow over your garden. Hawthorn, blackthorn and holly are good for keeping out intruders because of their prickles. Find out more about how to plant for butterflies.
  • The autumn is the best time of year to plant a tree. The soil is warm after the summer and damp from autumnal rain, giving a young tree a good chance to root well.
  • If you’re pruning a tree, do it in the autumn when there aren’t any birds nesting. Deciduous trees should be pruned in late autumn once their leaves have fallen and they’re dormant for the winter.

Attracting insects

Certain trees attract certain insects, which in turn attract particular predators. So if you want to enjoy watching bats flit through your garden in the summer, make sure you choose the right tree to start with.

  • Willow, birch and beech are favoured by many native insects. Ermine moth larvae feed on the leaves of the bird cherry.
  • If you find mysterious galls on the branches of your tree, they may contain the larvae of the gall wasp. They’ll eventually break out once they’re adults.
  • In the autumn, don’t sweep up all the leaves that fall. Insects such as ground beetles like to have a pile of leaves to live in. And the more insects, the better for the birds.
  • If you have to cut old branches off, leave some in a corner for the insects that hibernate and breed in dead wood. Check out our page on how to make a woodpile for top tips.

Attracting birds and mammals

  • Any tree will attract some birds but the more variety the better. Some trees and hedges make good nesting sites. Yew and holly have dense foliage and branches and are particularly good for greenfinches. Treecreepers often nest behind the loose bark of larger, mature trees.
  • By having a few trees in your garden, you’ll imitate the environment of the edge of a woodland. This kind of landscape is used by many mammals. There may well be wood mice hiding somewhere if you plant a tree or two.
  • Bats feed on caterpillars that live on willow trees. A staggering amount of moth species feed on willows – 90 in total! So planting a willow is the perfect way to attract bats and enjoy watching their nighttime acrobatics.
  • Trees make good roosting places for bats and you might even attract a maternity colony in the summer. Bechstein’s bat is local to southern England and hunts among trees rather than in open spaces.
  • Hollow tree branches and holes in trunks provide good nesting places for birds. Tawny owls use hollow branches. As long as a hollow branch isn’t threatening to fall off, try to leave it in place.

Related downloads

Download PdfDownload the "Hug a Tree" Pocket Guide - 287KB

Download PdfDownload the "Tree Bingo" Activity Sheet - 180KB

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