Multi-stem deciduous birch tree (Betula albosinensis) in shady shaded garden border

How to plant trees

Trees make gorgeous garden additions, and even the smallest garden can make room for one. We show to how to plant them.

Do it:

Sep, Oct, Nov

Takes just:

45 minutes

Autumn is a great time to plant trees, giving them ample time to establish a good root system for strong branches and lush foliage in the following growing season.

To encourage roots to grow out in search of water and nutrients, prepare the soil thoroughly over a much larger area than just the planting hole – break up compaction at the base of the planting hole to allow deep rooting. 

Not sure which tree size to buy? Discover your options with Alan Titchmarsh's guide to tree sizes

Find out how to plant trees in just four simple steps, below.

You will need

  • Spade
  • Fork
  • Wooden stake (in exposed sites)

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Stand the tree in water to ensure its roots are damp. Then dig a square hole that’s slightly wider than the pot your tree is in, but no deeper. Square holes help the roots to spread via the corners. Lightly fork the base and sides of the hole to ensure the soil isn’t compacted. Plant at the correct depth; with the top of the rootball at soil level. Planting too deeply may kill the tree.
Remove the pot from container-grown trees and any wrapping from bare-root ones. Tease out and unwind any circling roots and cut off any damaged ones. This will encourage the roots to venture out into the soil. Stand the tree in the planting hole, then lay a cane across the hole to check that the top of the rootball – or the dark soil mark on bare-root trees – is level with the soil surface.
Backfill around the rootball with the excavated soil, shaking the tree a little to help the soil settle around the roots. Then use your heel to firm gently all around the rootball and ensure there is good contact between the roots and the soil. This is important as roots will die if left sitting in air pockets. You may need to top up the soil again to ground level, then firm it down once more.
If planting in an exposed site, stake the tree to prevent windrock, which can tear the roots.
If planting in an exposed site, stake the tree to prevent windrock, which can tear the roots and create a gap around the base of the trunk that can fill with water and encourage rot. The stake should be about a third of the height of the tree, hammered in at a 45° angle. Attach the trunk to the stake using an adjustable tree tie. Water the tree thoroughly, then keep it watered during dry spells for at least the first year.

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Planting trees in lawns

If planting in a lawn, maintain a grass-free circle around the base of the tree extending 50cm from the trunk. If the site is exposed, stake the tree and remove it after one year.

Best tree sizes to buy

  • Bare-root or field-grown: cheaper than pot-grown, many bare-root deciduous trees to choose from
  • Very small plants: cheap to buy, best grown on for a year in pots or planted in a sheltered nursery bed
  • Large, mature specimens: lots available but are more costly, excellent for instant impact, require extra watering for good root establishment
  • Fast-growing trees and shrubs such as buddleia, eucalyptus, lavatera and tamarisk establish best when planted small (3-litre pot size)

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