Tree Planting Guide

A detailed guide to planting trees and hedgerows using cell grown whips.

Many tree offers, such as the Woodland Trust’s More Trees and More Hedges offers, supply bare root trees. For a guide to planting bare root trees visit The Tree Council or Woodland Trust websites.

This guide sets out the main points that you will need to consider, whether you are carrying out the planting yourself or taking the lead in community tree planting. It gives tips on choosing and assessing planting site(s), as well as best planting and aftercare practice.

Right Tree Right Place

Selecting the correct planting sites and the right trees is critical, as mistakes can be long lasting, difficult and costly to rectify. An important factor to consider is what the area may look like in 20, 50 and 100 years. A single well-placed large tree can grow to be seen above the rooftops and may give more visual benefit than several scattered small ones. The ideal is a tree able to grow to full maturity with little or no tree surgery. Mature trees do not necessarily take up large amounts of space if the right shape and size is chosen.

Places to plant trees

Please check whether the trees planted in previous years have survived and if required replace these first before planting further trees.

The young trees can be planted in any suitable place including but not limited to:

  • front & back gardens
  • community owned land
  • land owned by the parish council
  • recreation grounds, parks & public open spaces
  • alongside public footpaths & grass verges
  • school and college grounds
  • nature conservation areas, local nature reserves (without disturbing the ecological balance)
  • golf courses
  • commercial & industrial estates
  • farmland

Assessing the site

Here are some important points to consider about a site.

  1. Ownership of the land
  2. Trees may only be planted with the landowner’s permission
  3. Will the owner carry out the planting & maintenance?
  4. If not, will permission be given for planting & maintenance?
  5. Can planting be planned to meet the owner’s objectives and also benefit the community?
  6. What is the foreseeable future of the site (and therefore the trees)? Seek assurance from the owner.
Proximity to buildings and other structures

Many recent buildings will have adequate foundations to enable selected trees to be planted nearby. However, special attention needs to be paid to annexes and conservatories which may not have the necessary foundations.

Tree-related subsidence usually occurs only on shrinkable clay soils where foundation damage may result from roots extracting water.

Ultimate size of the proposed tree

Trees grow in height and spread over a life of 100 years or more, and might eventually cause problems in terms of shade, light and building foundations.

What will be the ultimate spread and height of the tree? Consider this in relation to nearby roads, junctions, street lights, buildings and overhead lines.

How far will the roots spread? They may extend as much as twice the ultimate height of the tree.

Information on the site requirements for the species supplied, including their mature height can be found here:

Safety concerns

There are some sites where planting trees could be hazardous.

Before carrying out any work, it is vital to check whether any services are likely to be running underground. Seek advice from the local authority about this.

Trees will require constant pruning in order to maintain statutory clearance if planted under overhead services (such as electricity cables and phone wires).

Trees should not be planted where they could obscure road sight lines, road signs or street & security lighting.

The local ecology and archaeology

Ecological and historical features may mean that it is best not to plant trees at all.

Is natural regeneration already taking place? If so, this may be preferable for wildlife and provide more genetic variation.

Is the site already a valuable tree habitat, like thickets and old orchards, which should normally be retained?

Will trees shade out old grassland, streams or ponds, or damage heath, peat or very damp ground such as bogs (which should be left unplanted)? In particular, historical unimproved grassland is rare in East Anglia and very species rich and should not be planted.

Are there good reasons for the site being treeless, e.g. it is heavily grazed, too exposed, has thin or polluted or waterlogged soil?

It is important that all significant heritage features, and not just designated ones, are protected and that consideration is given to the preservation and enhancement of cultural and historic landscapes. Good management, as outlined in the UK Forestry Standard Guidelines, is needed to ensure that these features are preserved for the future. Examples of historic environment features found in woodland in the UK include, ditches, trenches, ponds, earth banks, raised mounds, ridge & farrow, trackways (e.g. Roman roads, hollow ways), veteran trees, etc. More details can be found here.

Organising the planting

Whether you are carrying out the planting yourself or taking the lead in community tree planting, you need to ensure that you comply with the Health and Safety Guidance for Tree Wardens, including the need for social distancing.

Further guidance on health and safety

Training should be given in best planting practice when needed.

A member of the planting team needs to be responsible for organising aftercare and maintenance.

When your trees arrive

If you are not planting your cell grown saplings within the next day or so, it is possible to keep them until you are ready to plant them out.

  • Keep the trees together in their bundles and leave them in a sheltered spot and out of the wind. The various species will be identified with labels.
  • If you have a crate like a supermarket shopping delivery crate with drainage holes in the bottom, or a large planting trough with drainage holes or something similar, that would be a good way to store them.
  • They should be left in a location where they are kept moist by rain, but out of the wind and frost free if possible.
  • Do not keep the saplings inside, as they have been kept outside at the nursery in the Scottish Borders area, so they are used to this.
  • If you move them inside there is a small chance that they either dry out or start budding.
  • Please make sure that the saplings are protected from deer, rabbits, hares, or domesticated animals that might fancy a juicy sapling.

Planting times

The best time for planting is during the winter months between November and early March. Do not plant during freezing weather or if the ground is waterlogged.

Planting cell grown trees

The uniform, compact size of cell grown plants makes the planting considerably easier than the planting of bare-root stock where long straggling root systems all too often become the victim of a spade.

The type of planting tool to be used for any type of stock is influenced by local planting conditions and personal preference of the planter. Whilst a traditional planting spade is quite adequate for planting cell grown plants, a purpose designed tool, the Planting Spear, has been found to be the most versatile. It is the easiest tool to use in ground which is stony and on restock sites penetrated by roots or covered with brash.

In heavy clay soil, twisting the spear will “tear” the side of the hole rather than leaving a “smeared” side which might impede root penetration.

How to plant with a planting spear
  1. Remove (Screef) the grass away from the planting area with your spade, by slicing off a square of turf.
  2. Insert the spear vertically, push back and forward slightly and then twist through 180 degrees. In heavy clay it may be necessary to insert again at 90 degrees to the first cut and twist again. Remember to avoid making a ‘smeared’ round hole.
  3. Place plant at correct depth – top of plug half an inch BELOW the level of surrounding ground.
  4. Insert spear into the ground about 5cm nearer to yourself and pull handle towards you to firm soil at bottom of plug and close any air pockets.
  5. Push handle away to firm soil at top of plug.
  6. Close ground with your foot – taking care not to scuff the plant.
  7. When planted make sure the top of the plug is at least 2 to 4cm below the surrounding soil surface and covered by soil. This will prevent drying of the root plug.
  8. Bang stake into the ground approximately 4 to 6cm away from the planted tree on the south-west side.
  9. Feed the bottom tree guard tie over the stake and feed the tree into the tree guard making sure the top tree guard tie is also over the stake.
  10. Make sure the tree guard is pressed down to the ground.
  11. Tighten the two tree guard ties.
  12. Add a bright tree marker tag so that people can see where the tree has been planted.
  13. You could add some straw or local composted woodchip to mulch the tree. Do not import mulch to site.

Planting bare root trees

Techniques for planting bare root trees are a little different. Please refer to the Woodland Trust website.

Hedgerow planting

You will be supplied with mixed hedgerow trees and shrubs for a double staggered row planted 50cm apart with 40cm between the rows (approx. 5 plants to the metre). In addition, 1 Oak or Hornbeam will be supplied for every 10 metres. Spirals, canes, guards and stakes are supplied for the hedgerow shrubs and trees.

The tree planting principles given above apply also to hedgerow planting.


It is extremely important that adequate aftercare is carried out on your newly planted trees. This should include:

  • watering during dry periods especially in the first year
  • regular weeding, especially invasive grasses, bramble and nettles
  • inspecting for dead and/or damaged trees
  • checking tree guards and spirals for damage, weeds and ants
  • removing tree guards/stakes and spirals/canes after a couple of years and recycle appropriately.

For more details see: Managing and Caring for Trees on The Tree Council website.


Please take photographs before, during and after planting and submit them to STWN with the feedback form you will have been sent. Please see Health & Safety guidance.

We will contact you during the six months following planting to see how you have got on.

Happy tree planting!