BLOG: Top 10 Garden Trees

23 November 2020

Our fourth and final week of Greater Manchester Tree Month is all about trees - celebrating what they do for us and how we can give something back. One of the things you can do is plant a tree and we've put together a list of the top 10 trees you can plant in your garden.

Benefits of garden trees

As well as making your garden more visually attractive, trees will provide a huge range of environmental benefits from locking up carbon to improving air quality. They are especially important in urban areas as they not only help connect us to nature but provide both food and habitats for wildlife.

Choosing a suitable location

It is recommended that trees are planted away from fences and built structures to avoid shading of buildings and damage by roots. If you are renting your property, make sure you agree with your landlord on what to plant and where and, where possible, check any below-ground service plans before digging so you don’t disturb any pipes or cables.

Planting

Bare root and root ball trees should ideally be planted between November and early March, while containerised trees can be planted at any time of the year. Your tree should be planted deep enough so that soil will cover just above where the roots begin and with sufficient space around the tree to allow it to grow unhindered. You may also want to use planting accessories, such as stakes and mulch mats, to give your trees some extra Tree-L-C.

Trees for your garden

The following trees are recommended as they have relatively modest dimensions in terms of canopy spread and height, meaning they are a perfect addition to gardens of most sizes.


Elder (Sambucus nigra)

According to folklore, having an elder tree outside your home will keep the devil away!

Height: Up to 10m.

Growing conditions: Tolerant of most soil conditions but prefers rich, well-drained soils. Will grow in either partial shade or full sun.

Maintenance: Little to none. You can mulch in spring and autumn and ensure trees are watered in very dry weather. Prune any dead branches in winter.

Benefits: Elderflowers provide nectar for insects and elderberries are food for birds and mammals. You can also use the flowers and berries of elder at home to make elderflower cordial and elderberry syrup, amongst other recipes.

Ornamental cherry (Prunus umineko)

There are several types of ornamental cherry suitable for gardens but Prunus umineko is good for hard or soft landscapes with restricted space.

Height: 5-10m.

Growing conditions: Tolerant of most soil conditions but requires moist, well-drained soils in full sun.

Maintenance: Little to none. You can mulch in spring and autumn and ensure trees are watered in very dry weather.  Prune in summer if there are signs of silver leaf disease and to remove dead branches.

Benefits: Cherry trees are an excellent resource for pollinators and will produce beautiful white flowers in spring.

Crab apple (Malus sylvestris)

This is our native species of the crab apple genus which is commonly associated with love and marriage.

Height: Up to 12m.

Growing conditions: Tolerant of most soil conditions but requires moist, well-drained soils. Can grow in full sun or partial shade.

Maintenance: Little to none. You can mulch in spring and autumn and ensure trees are watered in very dry weather. Prune any dead branches in winter.

Benefits: The leaves, pollen and fruit support a variety of invertebrates which in turn are food for birds and mammals. Birds and mammals will also feed on the fruits. You can also use crab apples to make crab apple jelly or other recipes.

Magnolia (Magnolia x loebneri ‘Merrill)

The flower cases of this magnolia become visible after Christmas, suggesting spring is just around the corner.

Height: 5-10m.

Growing conditions: Tolerant of most soil conditions except chalky soils. Prefers fertile, moist soils in full sun and in sheltered conditions.

Maintenance: Little to none. You can mulch in spring and autumn and ensure trees are watered in very dry weather. Avoid pruning but if you want to prune dead branches or to reduce size then do this in early to mid-summer. 

Benefits: Beautiful white flowers which are visually attractive and beneficial to pollinators.

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

Hawthorns are a common choice for a hedgerow plant and are not fussy about where they grow.

Height: 5-15m.

Growing conditions: As a pioneer species, the hawthorn is adaptable and will grow in all types of environment. Tolerant of most soil conditions but prefer moist soil in full sun or partial shade.

Maintenance: Little to none. You can mulch in spring and autumn and ensure trees are watered in very dry weather. Prune any dead branches in winter when trees are mature.

Benefits: Hawthorns support hundreds of species of invertebrate which in turn provide food for birds and mammals. Flowers are attractive and are important for pollinators and haws also provide a food source for mammals and birds.

Hazel (Corylus avellana)

Hazels are excellent trees for coppicing, as well as producing hazelnuts in autumn.

Height: 8-12m.

Growing conditions: Tolerant of most soil conditions but prefers moist, well-drained soils not too rich in nutrients. Grows well in full sun but is tolerant of partial shade.

Maintenance: Requires moderate maintenance. If planting whips, the winter after planting prune to around 45cm then prune branches the summer and winter after that. If planting established trees, prune in winter to thin the crown. If you want the tree to produce hazelnuts, it will need to be planted close to another hazel.

Benefits: The leaves are food resources for invertebrates and flowers support pollinators. As well as being delicious to humans, the nuts are consumed by birds and mammals.

Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

A common symbol of winter and Christmas time, Holly trees are green year-round.

Height: 12-15m.

Growing conditions: Tolerant of most soil conditions except very chalky soil. Prefer neutral to acidic, peaty soil in full sun or partial shade.

Maintenance: Little to none. You can mulch in spring and autumn and ensure trees are watered in very dry weather. If you want to prune to remove dead branches or for shape, do this in early spring.

Benefits: Holly trees are evergreen so provide colour to your garden all year. They provide dense habitat for birds and the berries are a good food source for birds and mammals.

Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)

It is believed that planting a rowan near your home offers protection against witches and black magic.

Height: 6-10m.

Growing conditions: Rowan is a pioneer species so can tolerate a wide range of soils and conditions but prefers moist, well-drained soils. Will grow in full sun or partial shade.

Maintenance: Little to none. You can mulch in spring and autumn and ensure trees are watered in very dry weather. Prune any dead branches in winter.

Benefits: Rowans produce a beautiful display of red berries in autumn. These berries are an important food source for birds and mammals and the flowers are valuable to pollinators. 

Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo)

Native to Ireland, the Mediterranean and Western Europe, the Strawberry Tree makes an exciting addition to any garden.

Height: 8-10m.

Growing conditions: Tolerant of most soil conditions, including acid, alkaline and polluted areas. Prefers well-drained, fertile soil in full sun and sheltered locations.

Maintenance: Little to none. Water regularly and increase watering during hot, dry periods. You can mulch in spring and autumn and prune any dead branches in late winter or early spring.

Benefits: Strawberry trees are evergreen and produce white flowers which become bright red berries, meaning they are visually attractive year-round. The flowers and fruits are valuable resources for pollinators, birds and mammals.

Field Maple (Acer campestre)

Field Maple is the UK’s only native maple and is often found in hedgerows and around the edges of woodlands.

Height: Up to 20m.

Growing conditions: Tolerant of most soil conditions but prefers moist, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade.

Maintenance: Little to none. You can mulch in spring and autumn and ensure trees are watered in very dry weather. Prune any dead branches in late autumn to mid-winter.

Benefits: Field Maples are tolerant of atmospheric pollution so grow well in urban areas. A wide range of invertebrates feed on the leaves and this in turn supports birds and mammals. Flowers are resources for pollinators and seeds are consumed by mammals.

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