Grow a tree for wildlife

Close-up of hawthorn flowers
1-2 hours
All Year

Every garden deserves a tree. Trees are one of nature's best inventions, offering nesting sites, safe retreats, blossom, foliage and highways in the sky. Choose the right ones and they will offer food and shelter for wildlife. Trees aren’t expensive or difficult to grow. Space doesn’t have to be a barrier either - some dwarf varieties will grow quite happily in pots. Trees store carbon, so by growing one you will be doing your bit to combat the nature and climate emergency. To find out how you can join our #MyClimateAction movement to demand that decision-makers act for nature, read to the end of this article.

Close-up of hawthorn flowers

Step-by-step guide


Pick your spot carefully

Decide the best place for a new tree in your garden, and then select a tree suited to that spot.

It’s worth considering height, as the tree might cast shade in yours and your neighbours' gardens. Many trees can be pruned to keep them in check, but it is easier to plant a tree that will grow to the right size for your space. Any underground structures such as drainage, wires or footings need to be considered too.


Choose your tree

There's a wildlife-friendly tree for every size of garden, even for patios and balconies. See our top recommendations under "optional extras"


Buying your tree

The cheapest way to buy a deciduous tree (one that loses its leaves in winter) is when they are dormant in winter (November to March) as a bare-rooted plant. They are also much easier for you to lift and carry.

Alternatively, buy them as potted plants but they are much more expensive and heavier to move. These can be planted out at any time of year, as can potted evergreen trees.

Bare-rooted trees are often sold by height (eg 40-60cm, 60-80cm etc), and by how old they are.

If planting a bare-rooted tree, keep its roots wrapped in plastic until the last moment - never let them dry out.


Dig your hole

It should be twice as wide as the splay of the roots. Don't dig too deep - the tree should sit at the same depth in the ground as it was growing previously. Check this by resting a cane or plank across the hole and standing your tree in the hole next to it.

Backfill the hole by pulling your pile of soil back over the roots, firming it in gently but firmly.


Help your tree stay upright

It will take time for the tree to anchor itself, so give it a helping hand with a tree stake. Hammer a pointed wooden stake into the ground at an angle next to the tree, then tie the tree to the stake about a third of the way up the trunk with a rubber tree-tie.

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Water and mulch

Give your new tree a good drink. Then, to stop weeds, either lay a mulch of bark chippings in a circle around the tree, or find a square of old carpet or cardboard, cut a slit into the middle, and lay it on the ground around the tree.

Your new tree will need regular water during the first growing season, especially in dry weather. Also from time to time check the tree-tie is secure but not throttling the tree. You can remove the stake once your tree can support itself, usually after 2-4 years.


Watch it grow

Trees are a 'slow-burn' for wildlife. You may see nothing using it for a few years, but once it starts to flower and fruit, wildlife will grow to love this ever-expanding home.


Make change happen

The nature and climate emergency affects us all. But we have an opportunity to turn things around. Between 31 October and 12 November 2021, world leaders will get together in Glasgow for the 26th UN Climate Change conference, known as COP26.

Together, we can influence leaders at this summit. Find out how taking a #MyClimateAction for nature and the climate, no matter how large or small, can make a difference.

It's your time

What you will need

  • A tree!
  • A spade
  • A stake
  • A hammer (for the stake)
  • A tree tie
  • A pot, if not planting in the ground
  • Compost, if using a pot