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 song perches, nesting sites, safe retreats, blossom, foliage and highways in the sky. Choose the right ones and they will offer so much food and shelter for wildlife. They will also store carbon, helping in their own way to combat climate change. You might think they must be expensive or difficult to grow - that's not the case. Space doesn’t have to be a barrier either - some dwarf varieties will grow quite happily in pots. We can help you find the right tree for you.

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.

The tree might cast shade in yours and your neighbours' gardens. Think about height, in case that will be a problem for you and your neighbours. 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.


Decide what tree you'd like. There's a wildlife-friendly tree for every size of garden, even for patios and balconies. Here are our top recommendations of what to plant to help wildlife.

Trees for pots:

  • Patio fruit trees
  • Yew (clipped)
  • Holly (clipped)
  • Dwarf fruit tree

Trees for a small garden:

  • Small fruit trees (apples, crab apples, pears and cherries)
  • Hazel
  • Amelanchier (Juneberry/Snowy Mespil)
  • Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
  • Spindle (Euonymus 'Red Cascade')
  • Cornus Sanginea
  • Sorbus vilmorinii (a type of rowan with pink berries)
  • Sorbus Joseph Rock (a type of rowan with yellow berries)
  • Myrtle
  • Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo)
  • Alder buckthorn
  • Purging buckthorn
  • Crataegus Laevigala (Midland Hawthorn)
  • Viburnum Lantana (Wayfaring Tree)
  • Salix Caprea (Pussy willow)

Trees for a large garden:

  • English oak
  • Silver birch
  • Lime
  • Scots pine Spruce
  • Rowan
  • Wild cherry
  • Juniper
  • Sambuscus nigra

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.

  • Transplants are very small trees only a year or so old. Some can be bought for only £1 or so.
  • Young saplings that have reached about 1m tall and only have a single thin stem, called whips. They may cost £5-£10
  • Slightly older saplings that have plenty of side twigs, called feathers. Expect to pay £10-£30
  • Standards are large trees, often 2-4m high. This might cost £30-£40, but buy one even bigger and the price rockets. Our advice is, unless you desperately need instant effect, to buy small: 'whips' and 'feathers' are much easier to plant and get established, and will soon grow.

Planting your tree.

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.

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Backfill your hole.

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Pull your pile of soil back over the roots, firming it in gently but firmly. If your soil is very poor, you can mix in some well-rotted compost, but it isn't usually necessary.

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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.


A little TLC. 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.


What you'll see. 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. Be patient - enjoy the tree through its youth and into adolescence and maturity, knowing that YOU made it happen!

It's your time

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.

Make change happen

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