7th April 2021

A Guide to Tree Planting

Planting trees is great for the planet but where do you start? This guide will help you decide when, where and how to get stuck in.

Are you preparing to tackle a large scale tree planting project or are you just looking to attract wildlife to your garden? Perhaps you are inspired by the ‘net zero 2050’ project?

Either way, planting trees properly will provide enormous benefits beyond your own project and local neighbourhood.

Why planting trees is important

Most of us will have heard the message that planting trees will help save the planet but how can this be the case?

Trees, when sensibly planted, provide a wealth of benefits which can both heal existing environmental damage and prevent further destruction.

For example, tree roots hold soil together, helping to reduce the risk of landslides and flooding following severe weather. As global warming increases the number and ferocity of extreme weather events, we will need trees to keep us safe.

By providing shade, trees also help to regulate temperature, creating a safe habitat for animals and other plants that may otherwise be harmed by rising temperatures. The resulting biodiversity can also aid environmental recovery as species compete with one another to survive and adapt to new conditions.

And then there is the big one. Trees both absorb and store carbon from the air. As most of us now accept, it is the large amounts of carbon dioxide in the air, created by human activity, that has caused global warming via the ‘greenhouse effect’. 

Every tree we plant helps us in our mission to extract carbon from the air. The UK has committed to ‘net-zero 2050’ whereby the carbon we pump into the air is balanced out by the carbon we take out – largely via trees. 

When, where and how should you start planting?

The good news is that containerised trees can generally be planted at any time of the year (depending on the species). However, to save yourself work in watering, it is best to plant in the autumn or winter. Rootballed and bare-root trees are only available at this time of year so must be planted then, even if only temporarily.

Many people choose to plant during National Tree Week which takes place in November each year.

All trees need air, light, water and nutrients to grow. As long as the soil is not frozen or waterlogged, most trees will take. However, you may need to add extra organic matter to soils which are very heavy or sandy or they won’t thrive.

If your land is very wet, look for tree species that can handle these conditions (hornbeam, willow, alder, etc.) Alternatively, install drainage or aim to plant your tree on a mound of one metre diameter and 10 to 12 inches in height.

Make sure the tree has enough exposure to light but avoid direct sunlight unless the particular species is happy with this (e.g. pine, poplar, cedar, etc.)

You also need to consider how your tree will affect its surroundings once it’s established itself. A well-planted tree can bring enjoyment for many people over generations. On the other hand, placing trees too close to buildings, walls and fences can lead to structural headaches in the future.

Trees can also obstruct views causing issues with the neighbours. They can even create health and safety issues (e.g. if they grow too close to power lines or a road).

When you’ve decided on a spot for your tree, dig a hole that is as deep as its roots and around three times its diameter. Square holes are normally better as the roots find it easier to penetrate in the corners. In the meantime, your tree’s roots should be soaking in water.

Take your tree out of its container or fabric and trim the roots (unless you are planting a species such as eucalyptus or magnolia which doesn’t like root interference). 

Next, break up the soil in the hole so that it doesn’t become compacted. Place the tree in the hole with the top of its root system level with the ground. Gently replace the soil. You don’t need to add organic matter but you can use Rootgrow or similar.

If the tree is top heavy, you can support it with a stake. You might also want to protect it with wire to avoid damage from grazing animals.

Beyond your project: getting involved with planting trees

Planting trees in your garden or on your land is one of many ways you can get involved with the drive to increase tree coverage in the UK and beyond.

The Woodland Trust, for example, draws on the skills of nearly 3,000 volunteers across the UK as they aim to plant 50 million trees by 2050. For a more global impact, consider supporting the work of The Nature Conservancy. They are committed to putting no fewer than a billion trees into the soil.

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