Plant a Bare-Root Tree or Rewild your Garden this Christmas!

Winter provides us with a wonderful opportunity to plant trees.  What could be a better Christmas gift than planting a tree with your family?  I’m a particular fan of planting bare-root trees: trees that are grown in the ground (not containers) and then lifted, dispatched, and planted while they’re dormant.  Bare-root trees are grown in the soil, they’re naturally peat-free, require less watering at the nursery, and can be grown plastic-free – as there’s no need for containers.  As well as being lighter to post and more environmentally friendly, bare-root plants are more economical.  Bare-root plants are lifted & dispatched to customers when the plants are dormant – this depends on the weather but is usually from November until March.

When planting a tree, it’s important to ensure that you match the tree to your garden or planting area. Will you have room to allow your tree to reach its full size? Will your tree be happy to grow in your soil? Is the lighting, exposure, and other conditions suited to this particular tree species. Don’t forget to apply mycorrhizal fungi to your tree’s roots immediately prior to planting.

There are many considerations when planting a tree: aim to match a tree’s preferred soil, aspect, light, and growing conditions with those you can offer.  Assess whether the tree’s eventual height and width will be appropriate for the size of the area, and in the case of fruit trees, choose a rootstock that will flourish in your soil and support the size and shape of the tree you want to grow.  Fruit trees often need compatible trees to be growing nearby to enable successful pollination and fruit production.  To aid pollination, family fruit trees are available with more than one variety grafted onto the same trunk.  Where space is at a premium, I’d recommend planting cordon fruit trees or ballerina types that form very narrow trees.

Many types of fruit trees, including apples and pears can be grown as space saving cordons. Cordons can be trained at a 45 degree angle, as pictured here, or grown vertically. You don’t have to have a walled garden at your disposal, cordon fruit trees can be grown against a fence or using a support frame, or stakes. Choose spur fruiting cultivars if you want to try this method of fruit growing.
Here’s one of my ballerina apple trees, pictured in mid September at my allotment. This picture was taken quite a few years ago, but it shows the naturally compact habit of ballerina trees. There’s another trained fruit tree behind – the ballerina apple tree has very compact, upright growth.
This is the my ballerina apple tree in bud. These pink buds open to reveal gorgeous white blossoms with accessible flowers for bees and pollinating insects.
A closer look at my ballerina apple tree in September (many years ago). I had this apple tree for over 25 years, it produced an abundance of apples – I’d harvest shopping bags full of apples, every autumn. I’ve never sprayed any of the plants I’ve grown in my allotment or my garden (or anyone else’s gardens) with pesticides or insecticides – please don’t ever use these products, as they harm bees and other beneficial insects. Insects are a vital part of the food chain – we need to support and protect them.
This is a magnificent family apple tree with approximately 250 different apple varieties grafted onto one tree! Smaller family apple trees are available that are suited to compact gardens. When you’re buying a fruit tree, check the rootstock is compatible to the size and shape of the tree you want to grow and the rootstock is also suited to your soil type.
Prunus ‘Kiku-shidare-zakura’ (also known as Cheal’s Weeping) features pendant branches that produces double flowers in springtime. This tree offers no value for wildlife. Bees cannot access pollen or nectar from these flowers and I’ve never observed a caterpillar eating this tree’s leaves. Other trees suited to small gardens are available that offer more to our insects and ourselves.

When planting a tree, please prioritise wildlife when making your choice.  Double-flowered cherry trees, like Prunus ‘Kiku-shidare-zakura’ (also known as Cheal’s Weeping) look pretty but offer no value to wildlife.  In contrast, fruit trees have accessible flowers for bees and pollinating insects and produce a harvest.  Why not plant a native tree?  An oak tree supports an amazing 2,300 wildlife species!

Quercus robur and Quercus petraea are native UK oak species. If you’re fortunate enough to own some land, please plant a native oak.
Ilex aquifolium is our native holly; it’s a food plant for the caterpillars of the Holly Blue Butterfly. Ilex aquifolium flowers are popular with bees and birds eat holly berries through the winter months. Holly is evergreen and looks good all through the year. Ilex aquifolium can be grown as a specimen tree, a bush, a hedge, or as a standard tree, planted in a container of peat-free compost.

I’d dearly love to plant an oak tree, but my garden is too small.  Instead, I’m growing a compact, trained form of our our native holly (Ilex aquifolium), various small fruit trees (apples – Malus domestica), and Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’.  If you’ve got a small space, other options include crab apple (Malus sylvestris), Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), Silver Birch (Betula pendula), and Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus).

I took this photograph of Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’ blossom in my garden. Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’ is a small tree with a narrow, upright growing habit. Plants tend to grow up to 2.5m tall but only spread about 1m wide, making them ideal for small gardens like mine.
I took this picture at my allotment, about 12 years ago. This is an apple tree that has been trained to form a double ‘U’ shape, forming an apple tree suitable for a small garden with flowers for bees and pollinating insects and apples in autumn.
I took this picture at my allotment, about 12 years ago. This is an apple tree that I’ve trained to form a double ‘U’ shape – trained fruit trees like this take up very little space. The Alliums at the base are Allium cristophii.

I am a believer in natural regeneration and rewilding: removing invasive plants and allowing native plants to naturally colonise an area.  This might be something you’d like to try in your garden.

Quercus ilex is an evergreen oak from central and southern Europe; these trees produce an abundance of acorns which germinate readily. This oak has become very invasive in the UK. If you live in the UK or outside of this plant’s native range, please do not plant this tree – look for an alternative – ideally a native plant. Quercus robur and Quercus petraea are our native oaks – please plant these trees if you have a suitable site.
The non-native Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris) is now an invasive species in the UK. The Turkey Oak’s whiskery acorns germinate readily and this tree is now spreading prolifically through the countryside.  Turkey Oaks (Quercus cerris) hit our native oaks with a double whammy – its catkins host the Knopper Gall Wasp (Andricus quercuscalicis), a non-native, introduced insect which damages the acorns of Quercus robur (one of our native oaks) restricting our native oak’s ability to reproduce. If you have Turkey Oaks (Quercus cerris) growing on your land, please fell the trees and leave the wood on the site for insects, as you see here in this picture I took at Bookham Common.
Quercus robur is our native UK oak tree. This iconic tree can grow up to 40m (130ft) tall! Few gardeners are lucky enough to be able to plant this tree in their gardens, but if you’re thinking of planting a community garden or memorial garden, consider whether Quercus robur could be included in your planting.

To minimise the risk of importing and spreading tree pests and diseases, every tree sapling that the Woodland Trust sells is grown from seed collected in the UK and Ireland.  The Woodland Trust’s UK-grown plants are coded so they can track each individual tree; all their trees and saplings are grown in peat-free growing media.

The Woodland Trust, Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, and Plantlife have been instrumental in conserving our temperate rainforests.  Why not become a member, purchase a gift membership, or donate funds to support their work?

For more information, tips and advice on tree planting, please click here.

To see my plant pages with UK native plants, please click here.

For gardening advice for January, please click here.

For gardening advice for December, please click here.

To see my calendar of snowdrop garden openings, please click here.

To see my calendar of zoom nature and gardening talks, please click here.

For tips on sustainable gardening, please click here.

For more articles about wildlife gardening, please click here.

To see my list of snowdrop nurseries and suppliers, please click here.

To see my Compost Trials, please click here.

For more information on Trees, please click here to see my plant pages with advice on growing specific trees.

Other articles you might like:

Your email will not be published. Name and Email fields are required