Planting a tree is one of the easiest ways to make a positive impact on the environment.

We have a lot of reasons to be thankful for trees: they give us oxygen, store carbon, help to stabilise soil and provide a home for the world’s wildlife (in fact, here’s seven very good reasons why they’re so important). But we don’t have anywhere near enough of them – just 13% of the UK’s total land area has tree cover, compared to the EU average of 35%.

There are lots of organisations working to remedy this, but if you have a garden you can take action yourself by planting your own trees. It’s much more straightforward than you might think, and the pay-off – shade in summer, shelter in winter, a home for wildlife and the joy of watching a living thing grow tall and strong – makes it more than worth the hour or so of effort involved. Here’s what to do.

Before you start

When grown, trees are pretty hardy things, but getting them to that stage can be a struggle if you don’t pick the right type. Choose a native species that does well in the British climate, such as a silver birch, crab apple or hazel – the Woodland Trust has lots of inspiration and guidance on which trees will be right for you.

Secondly, make sure you have enough space. Trees need to be planted around two metres apart, and you’ll need to take into account how tall they may eventually become – be mindful of their branches and roots’ proximity to buildings and pathways.

What you’ll need

  • A young tree in a container
  • A bucket
  • Watering can
  • Spade and fork
  • Stake and tie
  • A tree guard

Step 1

Soak the tree’s root ball (that is, the clump of soil that contains all of its roots) in water before planting – standing the tree in a bucket is a convenient way of doing this.

Step 2

Once you’ve decided on a planting spot, dig a hole three times as wide, and the same depth, as the tree’s root ball. The soil around the hole shouldn’t be tightly compacted – loosen it with a fork if necessary.

Step 3

Gently loosen the root ball so the roots are encouraged to grow outwards into the surrounding soil.

Step 4

Pop the tree into the hole, making sure that the top of the root ball (or very bottom of the tree’s trunk) is level with the surrounding soil - a piece of wood can be handy for checking the level.

Step 5

Refill the hole, making sure there are no air pockets around the roots. Pat down the soil so it’s firm, and the tree is standing upright. If you’re planting in a lawn, keep a grass-free circle around the base of the tree extending 50cm from the trunk – this is because grass removes nutrients from the soil that the tree needs for growth.

Step 6

Top heavy trees, or those placed in windier areas, will probably need the support of a stake. The stake should be around a third of the height of the tree, hammered into the ground next to the tree at a 45° angle. Attach the trunk to the stake using an adjustable tree tie, so it’s taut and secure.

Step 7

If your garden is routinely visited by wildlife that might fancy a nibble on the bark, or you have a dog that might decide to use the tree as their new toilet hotspot, you’ll need to give it some extra protection. Tree guards come in a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on what you’re guarding the tree from – these ones are biodegradable, or opt for metal versions that can be reused.

Step 8

Your tree is planted! All you need do now is water it thoroughly, and ensure it’s kept watered during dry spells for at least the first year.

The bottom line

Planting your own tree is extremely rewarding – not just for you as a gardener or homeowner, but for the climate overall. It’s a beginner-friendly job that doesn’t take much time or effort, and the pay-off will last forever.

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