geograph oak sapling 508343 by David Baird

 © Copyright David Baird and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence


So you’d like to plant a tree or two in your garden, maybe for extra privacy, summer shade, fruit in the autumn or just to increase the biodiversity of your surroundings. Great news – but it’s not just about popping to the garden centre and sticking one in the ground. Before you pick up the spade (or even get in the car) you should take a few factors into account.

Site evaluation

You need the right tree in the right place. It goes without saying that you should be aware of the potential mature size of a tree before you plant it but it’s amazing how many houses end up with uncomfortably close, overbearing specimens. Find out about a tree’s characteristics as it matures – will it drop sticky honeydew on your car (limes and sycamores, for example), is it fastigiate (more upright) or will it cast its shade wide? How thirsty is it – willows and oaks are particularly water-greedy. Is your garden north facing?


An understanding of a few key things about your soil is essential for arboricultural success (see . Whatever your soil type, you should consider the depth of top- and sub-soil, its pH value, general drainage, compaction and potential sources of contamination. Particularly for those living in clay areas, steer well clear of any structures (for example, garden walls or a garage) when planting and follow a few simple guidelines:

  • Add good, organic material
  • Make sure the base of the tree pit is well broken up, to avoid waterlogging
  • Mulch the surface (but leave a small gap around the base of the trunk to prevent rot).

Species selection

Whether you prefer evergreen, want a fast-grower or would like to plant one that will last several generations, probably the best advice on what to plant will come from an established nursery with knowledgeable and experienced staff. But a quick vox pop of team JPA came up with these favourites for gardens:

  • Snowy mespil (Amelanchier lamarckii) – member of the pear family, pretty, white-brushed leaves
  • Rowan (Sorbus) – not too big, attractive flowers and great autumn berry hues
  • Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) – elegant shape, medium size, good autumn colour (leaves smell of burnt sugar when turning)
  • Holly – (Ilex Aquifolium) glossy evergreen, something to gather in December, plenty of varieties to choose from.


As pests and diseases affect an increasing number of tree species, small-scale planting requires just as much consideration as managing vast swathes of forestry. Care should be taken with species selection to ensure the nursery has taken all appropriate measures on biosecurity – there should be an auditable trail. A reputable nursery will provide you with the reassurance that their stock is traceable and has gone through the correct procedures right from the start, according to BS 8545: 2014 Trees: from nursery to independence in the landscape – recommendations. They should also know how to handle and store young trees to maintain good health and vigour.

Planting and management

So now you are ready to dig – have you checked for below-ground constraints, for example, drains or other services? Assuming your site is unfettered underground, how deep should you plant and do you need to make any special provision for irrigation (make sure you first water the tree well)? According to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) you should ‘place the tree or shrub in the planting hole and position it so that the first flare of roots are level with the soil surface when planting is complete.’ Planting too deep is a common cause of tree failure. A garden tree planted into lawn or bed areas during the winter months should not need any special irrigation aids (other than you watering it when necessary) but you should still keep a close eye on it.

For slightly bigger specimens, don’t forget above-ground staking. For all trees, make sure you use an adjustable tie that doesn’t damage the trunk. Once the tree is in you need to pay attention to:

  • irrigation
  • formative pruning
  • routine assessment

Again, the RHS website has a wealth of advice to help you with all aspects of aftercare. And as you sit back and start to enjoy your new trees, we can recommend an ideal companion story - Jean Giono’s The Man Who Planted Trees. According to Giono, his goal was to ‘make trees likeable, or more specifically, make planting trees likeable’.

 man who planted trees 001

Nursery tree specs and sizes


  Tree Girth

  Light Standard (LS)


  Standard (S)


  Select Standard (SS)


  Heavy Standard (HS)


  Extra Heavy Standard (EHS) 


  Advanced Heavy Standard (AHS)


  Semi mature



Girth (cm)


Height (metres)