What Tree to Plant?

Why plant trees?

Trees are wonderful things – they provide so many benefits and their value can hardly be over-estimated. Trees absorb and store carbon dioxide and are one of the essential elements for addressing climate change. They can lock up carbon for centuries – not just the living wood, but the roots, leaves, deadwood and surrounding soils and associated vegetation. They provide shelter and shade, and increase biodiversity. They slow down the rate at which rainwater hits the ground and bind soils to stabilise embankments, which helps to reduce the likelihood of flash flooding and soil erosion. Trees filter out atmospheric pollutants and they can even assist in the cleaning up of contaminated land. It is well known that trees can improve property values. What is there not to like?

What tree to plant?

Planting the right tree in the right place is essential if we are to ensure that trees can reach their full potential. Below are some examples of native trees that you might consider planting. Both ash and elm are at risk of disease and are not included here.

Alder (Alnus glutinosa/ Common Alder)

Once used for the production of clogs in northern England, this medium sized tree has a conical growth habit and produces yellow catkins in March. Its natural habitat is boggy land and river banks. It’s a tough tree that doesn’t rot when waterlogged. Mature height 15-20+m.

Aspen (Populus tremula)

A beautiful tree with shimmering foliage. Grey catkins appear in early spring and leaves turn yellow in autumn. Medium to large tree with rounded habit (20m).

Beech (Fagus sylvatica/ Common Beech)

One of the most majestic of our native trees, with rich copper autumn foliage, which can grow up to 40m. Dislikes wet ground.

Birch (Betula pubescens/ Common White Birch)

Also known as Downy Birch, it ideally prefers damper soils than Betula pendula. It differs in not having pendulous branches and in having darker bark and downy young shoots. It will grow further north than any other broadleaf species and is good for exposed sites.

Betula pendula/ Silver Birch

Slender and graceful appearance, a medium size tree with a conical semi weeping habit, and a light canopy. Grows well in most soils.

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

Early to blossom and a source of berries (sloes) this is a spiny, shrubby tree and often planted in hedges, especially on heavier soils. (The thorns are poisonous so not good for areas where children play.)

Box (Buxus sempervirens)

Generally densely bushy, ideal for screening and hedging. If left unclipped can reach about 7m. Thrives on most soils and tolerates sun and shade.

Cherry (Prunus padus/ Bird Cherry)

Distinctive flowers, hanging racemes, are produced in May. It is a tough tree and like other cherries does not thrive on waterlogged ground. Large green leaves turn yellow to bronze in autumn – a rounded tree of medium height (15m), good in parks, gardens and woodlands.

Prunus avium/ Wild Cherry)

Good for wildlife, sometimes referred to as ‘gean’. It has beautiful blossom and red fruits, and thrives on most free draining soils. Can grow up to 30m.

Crab Apple, Wild (Malus sylvestris)

Irregular, rounded shape, thrives best in heavy moist, well drained soil. Mature trees grow to around 10m.

Dogwood, Common (Cornus sanguinea)

Broadly bushy. Skewers (‘dogs’) were made from the hard, straight twigs. Thrives in damp woodland edges and in hedgerows.

Hawthorn, Common (Crataegus monogyna)

Also known as Quickthorn, and often seen in hedgerows, it has a dense, thorny habit. The Common Hawthorn and the very similar Midland Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) can support more than 300 insects, and the dense thorny foliage makes shelter for many species of birds. Will grow in most soils.

Hazel, Common (Corylus avellana)

Known for its catkins and nuts, it is often coppiced. It is very abundant, except on poor or water logged soils, as a woodland understorey and in hedges.

Holly, Common (Ilex aquifolium)

A long lived tree it can grow up to 15m. The shape is irregular often with densely cascading lower shoots. Evergreen. There are many common holly cultivars.

Hornbeam, Common (Carpinus betulus)

Hornbeam has the hardest wood of any tree in Europe (and exceptionally calorific firewood). Mature trees can reach 30m and live for more than 300 years. It also ideal for pleaching. It grows well in most soils and useful for poor planting conditions.

Juniper, Common (Juniperus communis)

Rarely planted this evergreen conifer can reach up to 10m.

Lime, Common (Tilia x europaea)

This is a hyrid between the small leaved lime (Tilia cordata) and the large leaved lime (Tilia platyphyllos) and is a very long lived tree, growing more than 20m. It has been widely used for avenue plantings. The large leaved lime does not produce suckers from the base of the trunk, unlike the small leaved lime.

Maple, Field (Acer campestre)

This small to medium tree has a rounded form and good autumn colour. It does best in rich, well drained soils, but will also tolerate drought, soil compaction and air pollution. It can grow up to 20m and is the UK’s only native maple. Beneficial to wildlife.

Oak, English (Quercus robur)

It supports more life than any other native tree species in the UK. Perhaps the most majestic of our native trees. It is very long lived and does best on deep, heavy soils.

Oak, Sessile (Quercus petraea)

This oak has a more upright trunk and straighter branches than the English oak. It will tolerate acid soils. The sessile oak has stalkless acorns. Also good for wildlife.

Pine, Scots (Pinus sylvestris)

A really stunning tree and one of only three native conifers and our only native pine. It can live up to 700 years and can grow up to 35m. It is tolerant of most soils.

Poplar, Black (Populus nigra)

Now rare, the black poplar can grow to 30m and live for up to 200 years. It is most prevalent in Shropshire, Cheshire, Somerset and East Anglia. It grows best in boggy conditions.

Rowan, Common (Sorbus aucuparia)

Also known as Mountain Ash, it has scarlet berries in autumn and is good for wildlife. It can grow up to 15m and live for up to 200 years. It can also grow in high altitude locations. It might be common but is a beautiful tree.

Spindle (Euonymus europaeus)

The straight, hard twigs were used for skewers and spindles. It has good autumn colour, pink and orange fruits. Mature trees grow to 9m.

Whitebeam (Sorbus aria)

This popular ornamental tree can grow to 15m. It has good blossom and autumn colour. The young leaves are silvery and the undersides remain pale and woolly.

Wild Service Tree (Sorbus torminalis)

This medium native tree is columnar when young, but becomes more rounded as it ages. It can reach 20m when mature. It has lovely flowers in late spring and good autumn colour.

Willow, White (Salix alba)

There are many varieties of willow – bay (Salix pentandra), crack (Salix fragilis, also known as pussy willow), goat (Salix capprea) grey and osier (Salix viminalis), as well as white. Generally fast growing and suitable for wet soils. Do not plant near buildings.

Yew (Taxus baccata)

One of our longest lived native species. It is of medium size and with very hard wood. Although often used for hedging it also makes a fine specimen tree. Will grow anywhere so long as there is good drainage.