Ripe berries of the Rowan tree

Grow a tree for wildlife

Activity time:
Less than 2 hours
Difficulty level:
Suitable for:
Balcony/roof, Small garden, Large garden, Medium garden
To help:
Hedgehogs, Bees, Creepy crawlies, Bats, Butterflies & moths, Birds

Every garden deserves a tree - or several!

Trees are one of nature's best 'inventions', offering song perches, nesting sites, safe retreats, blossom, foliage and highways in the sky.


They are simply brilliant for wildlife!


Choose the right ones (and there are trees for every size of garden, including balconies), and they will offer so much food and shelter for wildlife.


Plus they will store carbon, helping in their own way to combat climate change. And planting a tree is a great way to mark a special occasion!


Dont' be put off thinking they must be expensive or difficult to grow - that's not the case. We can help you find the right tree for you.

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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)


  1. Pick your spot carefully. Decide the best place for a new tree in your garden, or indeed for several!

    Imagine how the tree will eventually look and the shade it will cast, 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.

  2. 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)

    Trees for a small garden:

    •Small fruit trees (apples, crab apples, pears and cherries)
    •Amelanchier (Juneberry/Snowy Mespil)
    •Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
    •Spindle (Euonymus 'Red Cascade')
    •Cornus kousa
    •Sorbus vilmorinii (a type of rowan with pink berries)
    •Sorbus Joseph Rock (a type of rowan with yellow berries)
    •Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo)
    •Alder buckthorn
    •Purging buckthorn

    Trees for a large garden:

    •English oak
    •Silver birch
    •Scots pine
    •Wild cherry
  3. 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.

  4. Planting your tree

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

  5. 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.

  6. Backfill your hole

    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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

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