When is the Best Time to Plant a Tree?

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A guide to tree-planting: how and when to plant trees!

It is very satisfying to plant a tree and watch it grow over many years. You may have decided it’s time to add a tree to your backyard – but when is it best to plant one?

As well as timing, there are a few other things to think about before you plant a tree. How big will the tree get? Where should it go? Read on for our top tree-planting tips.

We’ve got advice on which size tree to buy. Follow our easy steps to plant your tree. You’ll also find seven of the best trees for backyards below.

Best Time to Plant a Tree

The Best Time to Plant a Tree

The timing will depend on your local climate and conditions, but the best time to plant a tree is usually autumn.

Planting in autumn means your new tree will have time to establish its roots over winter. A healthy root system will allow your tree to flourish when spring arrives.

Another reason why autumn is the best time to plant a tree is the soil – it’s still relatively warm and easy to work.

The best time to plant a tree

Planting anytime between October and April is usually seen as ok. That doesn’t mean to say that trees planted at other times will die – but they will have the best chance to thrive if planted in autumn and winter.

Trees: Things to Think about Before you Buy

If you want to plant a tree, the first thing to think about is: what will fit in the space I’ve got?

Check How Big Trees Get

Find out how big trees get. If you have set your heart on a particular type, be realistic. Do you really have space for it?

You should be able to find out from your garden center the ‘ultimate’ height and spread — in other words, the maximum size the tree will reach. Think about the spread of the branches as well.

Best Time to Plant a Tree

Will it Affect the Neighbors?

If you buy a tree that is too big for your yard, you could have issues with your neighbours. A fast-growing tree could soon be overhanging someone else’s yard if you live close to other people.

Choose the Right Location

If you plant too close to your house, a tree can mess with the foundations. A big tree in a small space could block out the sun from the rest of your yard, which won’t help your other plants.

We’ve picked seven of our favorite garden trees at the end of this article. This list might help you to narrow down the options. We chose these trees with small or medium-sized gardens in mind, so they are ideal if you are worried about a tree getting too big for your space.

Best Time to Plant a Tree

Different Tree Sizes: Which are Best?

As well as thinking about the best time to plant a tree, you’ll need to think about what size of tree you buy. You can buy trees in pots, or ‘bare-root’, as whips, maidens or nearly full-grown trees. Read on to find out what it all means.

Bare Root Plants

It is cheaper to buy trees and shrubs ‘bare-root’ rather than in pots. You may see this option when you are looking in garden centers. Bare-root means the trees come without a pot or soil. The roots are wrapped, to protect them. You will see them for sale during the autumn and winter, which is prime tree-planting time.

Whips and Maidens

You may see small trees described as whips. These look like a single skinny branch with no side shoots. Whips may take many years to grow into trees, but they are a great choice if you are planting a hedge.

They grow fast. Maidens are a bit bigger than whips – they have a few side branches already.

Best Time to Plant a Tree

Standards and Semi-Mature Trees

Standards are much taller than whips or maidens. They are still young trees, which have been grown in a nursery for a few years. Standard trees are often the best choice because they will already have a strong trunk and root system in place. They will be less expensive than buying a much larger tree, and they will grow fast.

Semi-mature trees are usually the largest size you can buy, and will be the most expensive and established. If you want to buy at this size, you’ll need to think about how you will lift the tree into place, possibly with machinery.

How to Plant a Tree

Whether you are buying your tree in a pot or bare-root, follow these easy tree-planting steps:

  1. Make sure you soak the roots first. Put the tree in a bucket of water (with the compost as well if it’s coming straight from a pot) and leave it for at least 15 minutes.
  2. Dig a hole about twice as wide as the pot, but the same depth. You don’t want your tree buried too deep. Tease out the roots a little to encourage them to grow into the new soil. Place the tree in the hole.
  3. Make sure the top of the root ball, where the roots join the tree trunk, is level with the ground surface. Use a cane or plank of wood laid across the hole to check that your tree is level with the surrounding ground. Make sure the tree stays upright.
  4. Fill the hole in, making sure that there is soil firmed in around all the roots. Firm the tree into position and add more soil to bring it up to the same level as the ground. Just be careful not to plant the tree too deeply. The whole trunk should be above the soil. Only the roots should be covered.
  5. Water your new tree in well. You can add a 2-inch layer of mulch but keep about 6 inches all around the tree trunk mulch-free – you don’t want to cause rot. If you are in a windy place, you might need to support your tree with a stake, hammered into the ground at 45 degrees and then tied to your tree. 

Seven of the Best Trees for Backyards

Flowering Cherry (Prunus, various)

Best Time to Plant a Tree

There are many different types of Prunus trees; some of the cherries such as Prunus ‘Kojo-no-mai’ or ‘Pink Perfection’ are excellent choices for small gardens.

Ornamental cherry trees have stunning spring blossoms, whichever variety you choose. 15-20ft.

Crabapple (Malus, various)

Best Time to Plant a Tree

Pretty spring blossom, and gorgeous fruits. You can use them to make crabapple jelly.

Fruits will often stay on the tree throughout the winter — the birds love them. A perfect smaller crabapple tree with plenty of fruit for jelly-making is Malus ‘Jelly King’. 20ft.

Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis)

Best Time to Plant a Tree
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Masses of magenta flowers on grey branches in spring, attractive purplish seed pods in summer and beautiful green heart-shaped foliage turning to yellow and red in autumn, the Western redbud is excellent all year round. Perfect for smaller gardens. 15ft.

Magnolia (Magnolia, various)

Best Time to Plant a Tree
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Gorgeous flowers in many shades of white, yellow, pink and purple which usually open before the foliage. They make an impressive statement in any garden. Some magnolias can reach 40ft.

For a small garden have a look at the star magnolias (Magnolia stellata) which reach about 15ft. There are other smaller magnolias to choose from too, such as ‘Ann’ and ‘Susan’.

Dogwood (Cornus, various)

Best Time to Plant a Tree
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Fantastic all year round, some dogwoods can be grown as shrubs or trees. Flowers, fruits and showy stems mean there is always something interesting going on.

Good choices to grow as trees are Cornus florida (flowering dogwood) and Cornus capitata (evergreen dogwood). 30ft.

Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo)

Best Time to Plant a Tree

Sadly, it doesn’t grow strawberries! But the fruits look like them. The strawberry tree has flowers and fruits in the autumn and winter.

It is attractive all year round — even the bark has striking colors. When they get older, strawberry trees have beautiful gnarly, twisted trunks and branches. 15ft.

Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum)

This tree has the wow factor, with its unusual peeling bark that reveals gorgeous red colors underneath a chestnut brown coat. The leaves are attractive too, turning from blue-grey to red-orange, 25ft.

Best Time to Plant a Tree

Can’t find space for a tree? Grow a hedge!

If you don’t have space for a tree, what about a hedge? It’s a great way to get some privacy and should be easy to manage with regular trimming. Choose plants native to your area for the best results, as these are most likely to grow well.

You could also think about growing espalier fruit trees  — this is where you train the branches against a wall or fence. It works well if you don’t have lots of space. You will get lots of fruit. Using the espalier method also makes fruit-picking easy.

Inspired to plant trees? Get more ideas and advice:

Landscaping around trees
How to prune a tree

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