Which species to plant
Different trees have different purposes and needs. Choose your species according to the land you have and what you want from your trees.
Trees bring so much to a garden. They can create drama and structure. They give us a secluded spot to unwind and enjoy the beauty of the changing seasons. Many native trees offer beautiful flowers and colourful fruits. And they’re vital havens for wildlife.
Plant trees and enjoy them for years to come. The good news is, you don’t have to wait an eternity! With our recommendations for fast growing native species, you’ll soon be reaping the rewards.
Before you pick a tree for your garden, think about the following factors.
Will the tree bump into anything when full-grown, like telephone or power lines? How wide will the canopy spread? Will it spill over into neighbouring gardens or onto a road? Will it cast a lot of shade and will that be an advantage or a problem?
Think about where you’re planting in relation to your house. Your tree might be tiny today but some roots and branches may spread beyond the boundaries of your property. Could limbs fall onto buildings or cars? Could roots damage walls or patios? Will fallen leaves clog up a nearby pond?
Will your selected tree thrive in your garden’s conditions? Check preferred soil type, sunlight needs and distance from other established trees. If you’re unsure, take a look around your neighbourhood and see which species are thriving. The growth rates given below are for trees growing in conditions that suit them well.
What do you want from your trees? Year round colour? A wild fruity harvest? Do you want to create a hub for wildlife? Or maybe you just need a tree for coppicing?
Planting native trees benefits your local ecosystem, helping insects and other animals to survive. Trees provide protection and shelter for many birds and mammals. Their nuts, seeds, and fruits are essential food sources for British wildlife.
Once established, native trees require little maintenance or special treatment. They’ll thrive naturally if planted in favourable conditions. As they’re adapted to our weather conditions they require far less water.
Planting native trees helps to combat climate change. Long-living trees like oaks and maples are effective at storing carbon dioxide.
Trees protect soil from erosion, reduce surface run off and slow large floods.
Credit: Jose Okolo / Alamy Stock Photo
Alder grows in a pyramid shape with dark green, glossy, rounded leaves. In early spring it produces yellow catkins. These are followed by clusters of woody fruits that look a bit like pinecone baubles on the bare branches over winter.
Alder improves the fertility of the soil where it grows, so it’s great for your garden.
Value to wildlife: It’s the only food plant for the caterpillars of several moths, including the alder kitten and blue bordered carpet moth. Catkins provide an early source of nectar and pollen for bees, and the seeds are eaten by the siskin, redpoll and goldfinch.
Preferred conditions: Excels in damp areas, tolerates most conditions and soils. On dry soils it grows as a bush.
Height: 20 metres, grows about 60cm each year.
Credit: Colin Legg / WTML
Rowan has silvery-brown bark and leaves which turn a lovely burnt red in autumn. In spring you’ll find clusters of creamy-white flowers followed by orange-red berries in autumn. You can even use the fruit to make rowan jelly. It’s slim so makes a perfect garden specimen tree.
Value to wildlife: The leaves are eaten by caterpillars of moths, including the larger Welsh wave and autumn green carpet. Its flowers provide pollen and nectar for bees and other pollinating insects. The berries are a rich source of autumn food for birds, especially blackbird, thrush, redstart and redwing.
Preferred conditions: A hardy species that will grow in most soils but prefers light, well-drained, humus-rich soil.
Height: 8-15 metres, grows about 20-40cm each year.
Credit: Richard Gibbs / WTML
A smaller tree makes a great choice if you have height restrictions. Growing hazel also means you can look forward to the tasty nuts, sharing them with squirrels and dormice. Try our hazelnut butter recipe! In spring, hazel is laden with pretty 'lambs’ tail' catkins.
Value to wildlife: Hazel dormice eat the nuts and caterpillars they find on the leaves. Hazelnuts are also eaten by woodpeckers, nuthatches, jays, red squirrels, wood mice and bank voles.
Preferred conditions: A shade-tolerant tree for non-acid, well-drained to moist soils. Plant as part of a native hedgerow if you are willing to prune.
Height: 10 metres or more. You can control the height by pruning or coppicing. Hazel grows 40-60cm each year.
Credit: Floralimages / Alamy Stock Photo
The wavy-edged leaves of beech turn a coppery-bronze in autumn. The crisp leaves stay on the tree throughout winter until they are pushed off by new leaf growth the following spring. Beech is a good alternative to an evergreen hedge.
Value to wildlife: The leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of the barred hook-tip, clay triple-lines and olive crescent moths. The seeds are eaten by mice, voles, squirrels and birds.
Preferred conditions: Grows well in sun or partial shade on almost any well-drained soil. Not suitable for waterlogged sites.
Height: 40 metres, unless controlled by pruning. Common beech trees grow an estimated 30-60cm each year.
Credit: Laurie Campbell / WTML
Silver birch stands out with its distinctive silvery-white peeling bark. It has triangular-shaped leaves on elegant sweeping branches. They turn yellow then golden in autumn, bringing striking colour to your garden. Look out for the catkins from spring to autumn.
Value to wildlife: Small birds like long-tailed tits and siskins are attracted by the abundant seeds and insects that it hosts.
Preferred conditions: Prefers sandy or acidic soils although can grow in most conditions.
Estimate full grown height: 15 - 20 metres, growing 40cm each year.
Credit: Nick Upton / naturepl.com
A species of native willow, osier is bushy, making it ideal for beds and borders. It reaches its full height in just a couple of years. The flowers are green and yellow catkins appear in late winter to early spring, giving your garden some early colour. Also known as the basket willow, it has been used for weaving throughout Europe for generations.
Value to wildlife: Many moth caterpillars feed on the leaves, including the lackey, herald and red-tipped clearwing. The catkins provide an important source of early nectar and pollen for bees and other insects. Being bushy, the branches make good nesting sites for birds.
Preferred conditions: Often found in wet situations such as riversides. Osier doesn’t grow well in alkaline soils and prefers full sunlight.
Full grown height: 7 metres, growing about 100cm each year.
Trees woods and wildlife
Our A-Z guide to British trees from native species to naturalised and widely planted non-natives.
If you’re looking to plant lots of trees, we have the trees, grants and funding schemes to help.
Follow our guide to three of the most successful ways to plant.
Once your trees are in the ground it’s important to care for them, especially in the first few years.