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Top 10 British trees to plant in your garden

Add colour and beauty to your garden this season by planting a native British tree and you'll be creating much needed shelter and food for wildlife too.

The best time to plant trees in your garden is between mid-November to late March, so why not get your spades out and get digging?

Just one native tree can support hundreds of species: birds perch or nest in branches, lichens grow on trunks, blossom brings in nectar-loving insects in spring and fruits and seeds in autumn feeds birds and small mammals. Cracks and fissures on the bark of older trees shelters invertebrates and even bats.

Take a look at our top ten favourite trees to suit every shape, size and style of garden. From a single, specimen tree to your own mini native woodland, there are so many stunning species to choose from.

Trees for sale

Thinking of planting a native tree in your garden? You can buy native British trees of all sizes and to suit any garden from our Native Tree Shop. They're 100% sourced and grown in the UK so we can trace the origin of every single one.

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Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa

Blackthorn
Blackthorn is associated with
witchcraft, wizards and wands.

Blackthorn is traditionally associated with witchcraft, it is said that witches' wands were made using blackthorn wood. This thorny tree is an excellent choice as an informal hedging shrub, providing interest throughout the year. It produces white flowers during early spring and purple-black fruits (sloes) in late summer.

Average height: maximum of 6-7 metres high, and is great as a hedging plant.

Growing conditions: it grows best in moist, well-drained soil and thrives in full sunlight.

Why wildlife loves it: as it flowers early, blackthorn provides a valuable source of nectar and pollen for bees in spring. Its foliage is a food plant for the caterpillars of many moths, including the lackey, magpie, common emerald, swallow-tailed and yellow-tailed. Birds often nest among the dense, thorny thickets.

How it’s used: pick sloes after the first frost in autumn and use them for making wine, preserves and, most famously, sloe gin.

Crab apple, Malus sylvestris

Crab apple
Crab apple is a symbol of
love and marriage.

Crab apple is a wild ancestor of the cultivated apple with sweetly-scented, pink-white blossom in spring. Crab apple wood has long been associated with love and marriage, was burned by the Celts during fertility festivals, and is referenced in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Love's Labour's Lost.

Average height: maximum of 7-9 metres high, but can be kept small with pruning.

Growing conditions: prefers sun or semi-shade, will tolerate most soil types and dryness.

Why wildlife loves it: the flowers are a good source of early pollen and nectar for insects, particularly bees. Birds like the fieldfare, song thrush, blackbird and redwing enjoy the fruits, as do mammals including mice, voles and badgers.

How it’s used: pick the apples in early autumn to make jellies and jams that set naturally due to the high pectin content. Apples can also be roasted and served with meat or added to ales and punches.

Elder, Sambucus nigra

Elder
Elder is the most magically
powerful of all plants.

Elder is a small tree, popular for gardens. Many cultivated varieties exist with different coloured foliage and flowers. It was once thought thought that if you burned elder wood you would see the devil, but if you planted elder by your house it would keep the devil away.

Average height: a small tree that grows to 10 metres and higher, but can be kept down with pruning.

Growing conditions: grows everywhere except on sands and prefers rich fertilised soils.

Why wildlife loves it: the flowers provide nectar for insects and the berries are eaten by birds and mammals. Small mammals such as dormice and bank voles eat both the berries and the flowers. Many moth caterpillars feed on elder foliage, including the white spotted pug, swallowtail, dot moth and buff ermine.

How it’s used: the flowers are often used to make wine, cordial, tea, and fritters. The vitamin C rich berries are used to make preserves and wine, and can be baked in pies with blackberries. Take care though– all parts of the plants are mildly poisonous, so should be cooked before eating.

Goat willow, Salix caprea

Goat willow
Asprin is derived from
willows.

Goat willow's familiar 'pussy willow' is so called because of the silky, grey male catkins that resemble a cat’s paw. It’s a great tree for the garden for its winter shoots and soft catkins in early spring.

Average height: 6-10 metres, but cut often to retain size and shape.
Growing conditions: goat willow will grow well almost anywhere, but thrives well on damper ground.

Growing conditions: goat willow is often found growing in woodland, hedgerows and scrub, and on damper, more open ground such as near lakes, streams and canals.

Why wildlife loves it: the leaves are eaten by caterpillars of several moths including the sallow kitten, sallow clearwing, dusky clearwing and lunar hornet clearwing. It is also the main food plant for the purple emperor butterfly.

How it’s used: the wood is soft and yellow but, unlike most willows, its brittle twigs are not suitable for weaving. Traditionally willows were used to relieve pain, and the painkiller asprin is derived from salicin, a compound found in the bark of all Salix species.

Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna

Hawthorn
Hawthorn is a tree that heralds
the beginning of summer.


Hawthorn is an amazing tree for wildlife gardens and can be planted as a hedge or single tree. It has beautiful pink-white blossom in May and ruby-red berries, called haws, in summer. The appearance of the May blossom was the herald of the end of winter and the beginning of summer.

Average height: if not pruned, single, mature trees can grow up to 15 metres high.

Growing conditions: It will grow in most soils, but flowers and fruits best in full sun.

Why wildlife loves it: this species is fantastic for wildlife and can support more than 300 insects. Its flowers are eaten by dormice and provide nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinating insects. The haws are rich in antioxidants and are eaten by many migrating birds such as redwings.

How it’s used: the haws can be picked to make jellies, wines and ketchups.

Hazel, Corylus avellana

Hazel
Go nuts for hazel.

In spring, hazel is laden with lovely 'lambs tail' catkins and in autumn it produces delicious nuts popular with people and wildlife. This responds well to close pruning. Hazel also has a reputation as a magical tree that provides protection.

Average height: can grow to 10 metres high or more, but its height can be easily controlled from tall tree to smaller shrub by pruning.

Growing conditions: a shade-tolerant tree for non-acid well-drained to moist soils. Can be planted as part of a native hedgerow.

Why wildlife loves it: this tree is associated with the hazel dormouse, which eats the caterpillars it finds on the leaves and the nuts to fatten up for winter. Hazelnuts are also eaten by woodpeckers, nuthatches, jays and native mammals such as red squirrel, wood mouse and bank vole.

How it’s used: the wood has been used to make thatching spars, net stakes, water divining sticks, hurdles, furniture and plant supports. Hazel is also valued for its nuts, or 'cobs', and the tree was grown in the UK for commercial nut production until the early 1900s.

Holly, Ilex aquilinum

Holly
Holly is an evergreen tree that
brightens up the deepest
winter.

Holly is a small, distinctive, easy to grow tree that suits any sized garden. Holly has tough, glossy, dark green, spiny leaves. Female trees have clusters of scarlet red berries that are ripe from October onwards that often stay on the bush throughout the winter.

Average height: grows up to 15m tall, but can be kept smaller with pruning.

Growing conditions: tolerates most soils and situations including deep shade.

Why wildlife loves it: holly provides birds, such as mistle thrush, with food and shelter from winter storms and predators. It is also one of the main food plants for the holly blue butterfly caterpillar. Its deep, dry leaf litter beneath the tree may be used by toads, hedgehogs and small mammals for hibernation.

How it’s used: the branches, with their glossy, evergreen leaves and red berries, have long been used to decorate homes in winter. Today they are used to make wreaths and garlands at Christmas.

Rowan, Sorbus aucuparia

Rowan
Rowan is a tough tree that can
even grow on mountains.

Rowan has silvery-brown bark and fern-like leaves which turn a lovely burnt red in autumn. In spring you’ll find clusters of creamy-white flowers then followed by orange-red berries in autumn. Don’t be fooled by its delicate appearance – rowan can grow at altitude hence its other common name, mountain ash.

Average height: grow to a maximum height of 8-15 metres. Don’t worry if you don’t have a large garden - rowan is very slim and makes a perfect specimen tree. You’ll often see it planted in streets and parks.

Growing conditions: a hardy species and will grow in most soils but prefers light, well-drained soils, humus-rich soil. It’s ideal as a specimen tree.

Why wildlife loves it: the leaves are eaten by caterpillars of moths, including the larger Welsh wave and autumn green carpet. Flowers provide pollen and nectar for bees and other pollinating insects, while the berries are a rich source of autumn food for birds, especially blackbird, thrushes, redstart and redwing.

How it’s used: the bitter, raw berries are rich in Vitamin C and can be cooked to be used to make delicious jellies for meats and cheeses.

Silver birch, Betula pendula

Silver birch
Silver birch symbolised renewal
and purification in Celtic
mythology.

Silver birch is a graceful, attractive tree with light airy foliage and distinctive silvery-white peeling bark. It has triangular-shaped leaves on its elegant, drooping branches. They turn yellow then golden in autumn bringing striking colour to your garden. Look out for the fine display of catkins from spring to autumn.

Average height: grows to around 15-20 metres, though older, mature trees can grow higher.

Growing conditions: silver birch prefers sandy or acidic soils although can grow in most conditions. Silver birch is a great addition to a garden when grown as a specimen tree.

Why wildlife loves it: small birds, such as long-tailed tits, siskin, greenfinches and redpolls, are attracted by the abundant seeds and insects that it hosts.

How it’s used: its wood is tough and heavy, making it suitable for making furniture, handles and toys. It was once used to make hardwearing bobbins, spools and reels for the Lancashire cotton industry.

Wild cherry, Prunus avium

Wild cherry
Wild cherry is possibly the
most attractive of our native
trees.

Wild cherry has beautiful clouds of blossom in spring and its bright summer fruits that brings a splash of vivid colour in summer. Its warm autumn leaves fade to a deep crimson, giving your garden a warm glow.

Average height: 18-25 metres high.

Growing conditions: wild cherry grows best in full sunlight and fertile soil. It won’t tolerate waterlogged soil. Strong winds can quickly destroy showy spring blossom; so consider planting in a sheltered location.

Why wildlife loves it: this species makes a wonderful addition to any wildlife garden. The 'avium' in the Latin name refers to birds which eat the cherries as soon as they are ripe. The spring blossom also provides an early source of nectar and pollen which attracts a whole range of insects.

How it’s used: traditionally cherries were planted for their fruit and wood. These days cherry wood is used to make decorative veneers and furniture.