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In this guide we will show you how you can plant a small tree in your garden.

Autumn is an ideal time to plant a tree in your garden. With cooler wetter weather it is easier for trees to establish themselves without having to water as much as you would during the summer months. Trees can add so much to a garden, including height, structure, colour, texture, flowers, fruit, shade, and they attract wildlife too. However, they can take up a lot of space, so in this article we will be looking at ways of planting trees in your garden no matter what size it is.

  • Depending on the size of tree you decide to grow, planting one can be quite a physical activity, providing aerobic and strengthening exercise
  • Choosing your tree and planning where to plant it can be enjoyable and educational
  • Trees are beneficial for the environment, providing food and shelter for different animals and contributing to the ecosystem of your garden. For instance a mature oak tree supports up to 280 different insect species and also birds and mammals. If this is important to you, consider planting native species. They can also provide oxygen, shade and absorb heat, sound and pollutants.
  • Engage them in choosing a tree and where it can be grown. Visit nurseries to see what is available
  • Go on a tree seedling hunt in your garden or those of friends and family members, if current restrictions allow
  • Use container grown trees to maximise your chances of success
  • Digging a large enough hole to plant a tree may be difficult for some. Get some help to do the digging if the tree is to be planted in the garden itself
  • As an alternative consider growing your tree in a pot or other container
  • Select a young tree which will only need a small hole to plant into. Many supermarkets now offer young smaller trees at competitive prices (e.g. Japanese Maples)
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There are several main choices here including:

  • Specially selected cultivars or varieties that are small or ‘dwarf’ in habit
  • Very slow growing trees
  • Trees with a weeping or twisted habit
  • A conventional tree that is kept small through cultivation techniques, such as training or regular pruning or trimming

Commonly grown smaller trees suitable for gardens include varieties of crab apple, Japanese maples, cherry, rowan and magnolia. There are some great ideas for these and more on this here. Corkscrew hazel and contorted willow are examples of trees with a ‘curly’ growth habit that causes them to grow more slowly.

Fruit trees like the apple tree can be trained as espaliers (flat against a wall), cordons (a thin tree of only one stem) and fans (short trunk) to take up less space. It is also possible to have fruit trees with several varieties grafted onto one tree. These can be bought or you could have a go yourself!

A standard tree is one whose main stem is straight with no side shoots or branches, and the top growth can be pruned and limited to restrict growth. Topiary (shaping trees by regular trimming) enables trees to be kept small and attractively shaped. Popular trees for topiary are yew and box trees.

Another way of introducing trees into the smaller garden is to grow them in containers. This effectively restricts their growth but also means that they will need more care including watering and feeding regularly. More information about growing trees in containers can be found here.

Space – even so called ‘small’ garden trees or slow growers can reach a reasonable size in time so consider how the tree will affect the garden site in 5, 10 and 20 years time. Think about the shade it will cast and how it's roots will spread.

Aspect – how will the rest of the garden affect the establishment and growth of the tree. Is it sheltered or exposed?

Soil – different trees prefer different soils. While it is possible to change soil to suit different trees' needs, this can be a process that will need to be continued throughout the tree's life. It is probably best to grow trees with very different soil requirements in containers.

  • Tree
  • Compost and/or fertiliser if your soil is poor quality
  • Stake and tie
  • Fork and spade
  1. Dig a hole approximately twice as deep and twice the diameter of the pot the tree was grown in. Digging the hole bigger than the size needed will loosen up the soil enabling the trees roots to spread more easily. If the soil is poor quality add some compost to the soil and mix in. Add some slow release phosphorous rich fertiliser to encourage root growth. Water if the soil is very dry.
  2. Place the tree into the prepared hole on top of the compost/soil/fertiliser mix so that the pot's soil level is the same as the surrounding soil. Stand back and check the tree from different viewing points. Adjust if necessary.
  3. Remove the tree from the pot carefully and place.
  4. Backfill around the tree roots, firming as you go, so that the tree is securely planted.
  5. Staking may be beneficial for your tree even if it is in a sheltered position. The tree needs to be secure lower down its trunk but needs to be allowed to be moved by wind higher up the tree as this promotes effective root growth and anchoring. The stake should be set at 45 degrees to the trunk and secured using a tree tie. This will need checking as the tree matures to ensure that it is not too tight.
  6. Water well and consider applying a mulch to conserve moisture and prevent competition from weeds.
  7. For aftercare, water as needed, check on the stake and prune to your preference.

You can change lives with gardening