10 British trees to grow in your garden
Try planting one (or more!) of the native trees below in your garden. There are all sorts of reasons why… not least, growing any plant helps to absorb carbon from the atmosphere, which is important if we want to reduce global warming.
Why native trees?
‘Native’ means that these trees are ‘at home’ in Britain: they’ve grown here for thousands of years! So if you live in the UK, plant these trees because they help native insects and other animals to survive.
When to plant trees in the UK
The best times to plant trees in the UK is during the autumn and winter months, as they need less watering and are more likely to survive.
10 trees you should plant in your garden
Alder, Alnus glutinosa
- A quick-growing, nitrogen-fixing, insect-harbouring, bird-loving son of a gun
Planting an alder is a great way to invite birds and insects to live in your garden. These trees grow fast and love damp soil. In the winter, male catkins and female cones dangle from the branches. Its timber was used as a lure for woodworm, which would prefer to eat away at a block of alder wood placed in a wooden cupboard than the cupboard itself.
Crab apple, Malus sylvestris
- Year-round interest and tasty fruit to boot!
Looking for spring blossom, autumn colour and pretty fruit that stay on the tree long into the winter? How about a crab apple? Suitable even for small gardens, crab apples like fertile, moist but well-drained soils. The fruit are edible, although only palatable when cooked - try making crab apple jelly! Recommended cultivars: ‘John Downie’ (larger oval yellow-red fruit), ‘Evereste’ (small, round, yellowy-orange fruit), ‘Golden Hornet’ (bright-yellow fruit), ‘Red Sentinel’ (shiny scarlet fruit).
English oak, Quercus robur
- Famous for having strong timber, being a home for insects, and for living to a ripe old age
Oaks grow all over Britain, but why not grow one of these huge, solid beauties in your garden? They’re the best at attracting insects (who’ll help to pollinate other plants in your garden) and can live for over 500 years. In Cornwall, the closely related species Quercus petraea (sessile oak) is the predominant oak species. Sessile oak prefers the boggy, wet uplands of the south west whereas English oak is better suited to the drier conditions further east.
Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna
- Its white flowers are a welcome sign of spring after a long winter
The hawthorn is also known as the May tree, and you’ve probably seen loads of its beautiful white flowers blooming in the month of May. Used in spring ceremonies, this tree also has more practical uses and its berries are thought to benefit the heart and to lower blood pressure.
Hazel, Corylus avellana
- Nuts about nuts? Plant one of these beauties!
If you grow a hazel, you can look forward to harvesting the tasty nuts and perhaps sharing them with garden friends such as squirrels and dormice. The catkins that grow on hazels also look pretty cool – they’re known as ‘lamb’s tails’.
Holly, Ilex aquifolium
- A festive treat to cheer up your winter
You’ll love harvesting holly from your own garden at Christmas, and the birds will love you for providing shelter and a plentiful source of food in the berries. There’s nothing like seeing the red berries and the shiny, spiky leaves of holly to brighten a dark, cold winter’s day.
Rowan, Sorbus aucuparia
- A tough tree that dares to grow where others cannot
This used to be planted outside houses to ward off witches, but you might like to plant one simply because it’s a lovely tree with bright red berries! It can even survive on high and exposed ground.
Silver birch, Betula pendula
- This quicksilver tree grows fast and has amazing shiny bark
If you want to make a quick impression on your garden, try this fast-growing pioneer species with its slightly shiny silvery-white trunk. Its timber is used to smoke haddocks, among other things, and its trunk can be tapped for sap that can be made into wine.
Small-leaved lime, Tilia cordata
- No, not that type of lime!
Although you won’t get green lime fruits from this tree, it is one of our most beautiful native species. You can eat the leaves in salads, and brew a pleasant, uplifting tea from the flowers.
Willow, Salix sp.
- Fast-growing and so many to choose from – weeping, goat, twisted, even cricket bat!
These graceful trees survive in the dampest of places, so will suit a water-logged or riverside garden. They also have their fair share of folklore – the words ‘witch’ and ‘wicked’ come from the same word as ‘willow’. See our coral bark willow plant profile page.
Hawthorn - Andrew Menage; alder - Dean Morley; ash - Jim Champion; hazel - David Bailey; holly - Tambako The Jaguar; rowan - Kevin Walsh; silver birch - Arthur Chapman; small leaved lime - Dinesh Valke; and weeping willow - Jim Barton.