A guide to planning and planting your trees.

The following guide should help you with some of the basic technical points on planning and planting tree cover and woodland.  Have a good walk around your site and plan your planting carefully, a bit of common sense will go a long way. 

Marking out:

Mark out your site well so you know exactly where you'll be planting and where trees are once they are planted. It is easy to strim or mow young trees by mistake as they can be surprisingly difficult to see in long grass.

Use thin stakes or sticks to mark the rows or areas of trees you plan to plant before you start. You can paint the tops white or in a bright colour or tie tape or ribbon to them to make them easy to see.

Setting back:

Setting back from roads and boundaries is really important. You don't want your trees to become a nuisance as they grow. Setting back will give you extra space around your trees for access and will preserve important features such as old hedges or walls.

  • Keep back 5 metres from power lines and phone cables and do not plant directly beneath them.

  • Check that you won't be planting over any underground drains, cables, gas pipes or other underground works. Keep back at least 10m from these.

  • Keep back 20m from inhabited buildings.

  • Leave a buffer of 20 metres along ponds and rivers. Some trees can be planted at wider spacings within this area as long as there is an even balance of light and shade.

  • Keep back 5 metres from small roads and tracks and 10 meters from main roads.

  • Keep back 2 - 10 metres from fence lines, walls and other boundaries.

  • Keep back 3 - 5 metres from hedges and ditches. If you are planting a new hedge or restoring an existing hedge this does not apply.

Plot sizes:

If you plan to plant any area of trees as one plot of woodland greater than a 1/4 of an acre or 0.1 hectare you must let us know.  There are additional checks and application proceedures that we must carry out to ensure that your planting is appropriate and your trees establish successfully. 

You may plant several scattered plots of a 1/4 acre or less, and low-density amenity or landscape type planting is acceptable, however if you want to put in a larger block of woodland do write this in your application notes on the form or send an email to info@treesontheland.com with details and we will guide you through the process. 

Digging holes:

You do not need to dig big holes for each tree. If you have time to go out and dig each spot in advance it'll certainly make the planting easier but if the ground is reasonably clear you can slot or notch plant them: Open a slot in the ground with your spade deep enough for the roots and gently slide the tree in and tread the slot closed around it.

A professional tree planter will plant about 1,000 trees in a day. We find that most people can plant between 50 and 100 trees easily in a day on unprepared ground.

This simple video from our partners The Woodland Trust is useful if you have never planted a tree before:  https://youtu.be/bWlrHEkV4GE

Tree guards, stakes and fencing:

  • If you are planting trees in a safe place where no farm animals or wild animals are likely to get at them you do not need fencing or tree guards. Mark them out well and let them get on with growing.

  • Tall tube tree guards are occasionally useful but they will not protect trees against cattle, sheep or horses rubbing and pushing them. They must be very well staked not to fall over and take the tree with them and must be removed when the tree starts to grow out of them as they can stifle growth and cause kinks in an otherwise straight tree.

  • Spiral rabbit guards are great if you have short grass and lots of rabbits. Usually one spiral can be cut into two and wrapped around the bottom of the tree without a stake.

  • Staking the trees themselves is not necessary, they are hardy young trees. They should establish a strong root system over the first few years while they are still small and will grow up without the need for support.

  • If you have put in new fencing remember to set back your planting as the trees will eventually ruin your fence or the fence will ruin your trees. Either way you'll have trouble untangling them so best to leave plenty of space.

Pathways and entrances:

  • If you expect to bring a tractor into your woods later on you must leave unplanted rides or paths 10m wide to give reasonable access. Otherwise leave sensible 5m wide paths where you want them and mow occasionally to keep them open.

  • Keep pathways and entrances clear and tidy. You will walk around your woodland more often if you can get into it! Later thinning, coppice and felling work will be much easier if you have plenty of space to get in and out of your wood.

  • Remember to walk around your trees often. Your human smell will put off most wild animals from browsing the trees and you will have a good idea of which trees are doing well or if any are struggling.

Woodland planting:

  • Woodland Packs will contain a mix of oak, birch, hazel, scots pine, alder, rowan and hawthorn.

  • If you have wet or exposed ground or have asked for particular species, this will have been taken into account in your mix.

  • Very roughly 50 trees will cover about 1/20th of an acre of ground set at 2m spacings on rows 2m apart.

  • Remember to observe set back distances.

You do not need to put in formal rows of trees though it is easier to keep track of them if you do. You can vary the following spacings to suit yourself and you can plant in small random groups or groves if you like.  In any woodland habitat it is beneficial to have some open spaces and some variation in planting density.

  • For standard woodland planting put your rows 2m apart.

  • Then space your trees along the rows at between 1.5m and 3.5m depending on your requirements. We recommend 2m spacings for most purposes.

  • At 1.5m spacings your woodland will be denser and your trees will grow straighter and more quickly than at wider spacings. You will need to thin or coppice some trees at between 5 and 15 years to make space and let in light. You should have less weeding to worry about as the trees will shade out the weeds more quickly.

  • At 3.5m spacings you will have more weeding to do initially and your trees will grow more branches and spread out rather than shooting straight up to the light. You will not need to do so much thinning, though you may need to coppice or thin some trees later on.

Coppice planting:

  • Coppice Packs will contain a mix of alder, birch, hazel, oak, hawthorn and rowan .

  • If you have wet or exposed ground or have asked for particular species, this will have been taken into account in your mix.

  • You can plant coppice in much the same way as you would plant a woodland. Please see woodland notes above.

  • Put in rows 2m apart as for a woodland and then set plants between 1.5 and 4 metres apart on the rows.

  • Remember to observe set back distances.

Consider leaving some trees uncoppiced and letting them grow up tall and straight as standard maiden trees. You will then have some taller timber trees growing amongst a productive understorey of coppice.

Hedge planting:

  • Hedge Packs will contain a mix of mostly hawthorn, with blackthorn, hazel, oak and rowan mixed through.

  • If you have wet or exposed ground or have asked for particular species, this will have been taken into account in your mix.

  • To make a simple hedge you can put 2 plants per metre in a line, but you need to plant two rows of trees close together to make a proper stock-proof hedge.

  • For a stock-proof hedge set trees in a double row 12 inches wide with between 2 and 8 plants per metre. We recommend 4-5 plants per metre.

  • Stagger the planting along the rows so that you end up with a zig-zag line.

  • Remember to observe set back distances.

Planting a shelter belt:

  • If you are planting a shelter belt your pack(s) will contain a mix of hedge and woodland trees - alder, birch, hazel, oak, rowan, hawthorn and scots pine.

  • You can plant one row of trees set 2 - 5 metre spacings or you may plant several rows to increase the effectiveness of the shelter.

  • Leave 2m or more between each row and stagger the planting so that each row fills the gaps in the previous row.

  • Remember to observe set back distances.

Farmers only:

  • If you are planning to plant agroforestry - trees on pasture, tillage or horticultural land as silvopasture/silvoarable/silvohorticulture/fodder production etc and intend to continue with productive agricultural use of the ground in addition to adding trees - please let us know by filling out the Agroforestry section in the application form.

  • If you need some pre-application advice do email to imogen@treesontheland.com with details of your project and we can help with planning and advice on species, planting densities, design, tree protection, fencing, possible grant support, farm payments and ongoing management.

  • We can source less common species and a wide variety of fruit and nut trees for agroforestry establishment - please include details of species in your application.

Planting an apple orchard:

  • Apple trees should be spaced between 5 and 10 metres apart depending on the expected size of the mature tree.

  • You do not need to put stakes in for the young trees supplied. They should establish good roots and grow up straight.

  • It is very important that fruit trees don't get rubbed, trampled or eaten by livestock and that they are protected from rabbits.

  • If you have no animals or rabbits you do not need tree guards.

  • If you do have livestock it is worth investing in strong parkland type guards for apple trees. If you use a tube or mesh guard it must be over 1.2m high and properly staked to stand up to animals rubbing against it.

  • You do not need to do major ground preparations for fruit trees. Plant them as you would any tree. If the soil is very poor you can add a spadeful of well rotted compost mixed in the soil when you plant but take care not to overdo it.


Brambles, nettles, thistles and other common weeds all deter grazing animals and others who may trample or eat your trees. They are a cost effective alternative to barbed wire and plastic tree guards and will protect and shelter your trees if you let them.

Weeds and grasses will compete with young trees for nutrients and light and the trees will grow more slowly on account of this. Under the ground however they will be establishing strong roots which will serve them well in future and they will make use of the valuable shelter provided by the weeds. After a few years the trees will be big enough to shade out the weeds and you will find they take off and grow up fast.

If you would like very neat woodland you can mow along your rows and pull weeds from around the trees. You can also spread woodchip, straw, cardboard or compost as mulch around the trees which will keep off the weeds for a year or so. Beware too much woodchip mulch - it takes nutrients out of the soil while it is being broken down and can cause trees to struggle. 

It is easy to spend a lot of money and energy on mulching and weeding – remember that if you can see every tree you have planted then so can rabbits and deer and other troublemakers. Rabbits particularly hate to push through tall wet grass and prefer to graze short lawns, so they will be put off by grass and weeds hiding your trees.

We advise not to use any weedkiller or glyphosate sprays to kill weeds around the trees.  Killing the weeds exposes the soil and the trees to wind, drought and other weather and marks them out for browsing animals to see.  Glypohosate also damages mycorrhizal fungi in soil and deters other important soil organisms which contribute to strong and resiliant tree and woodland establishment.  While the trees may do well after spraying in terms of height growth due to reduced competition for nutrients, they are more vulnerable to young windblow on account of their immature root systems.  Young tree or woodland habitat will likely be colonised by other plants, wildflowers and wildlife - spraying takes away much of the material for this and will slow the overall natural establishment of the area.  

In general we advise a session once or twice a year to push or pull any tall weeds that are falling or hanging over the trees as these can cause trees to lean or fork.   This is also a good opportunity to take a head count and note any failures. 

Collecting and storing your trees:

  • You will receive details of your local collection/distribution point during January 2020 by email.

  • You need to bring some bin bags, carrier bags or feed bags with you to collect your trees. Most of your packs will be made up but those of you taking larger numbers may need extra bags.

  • Please bring a permanent marker pen with you to the collection point so that you can label your tree bags when you take them. It is easy to get confused between species and packs in winter if they are not labelled!

  • The trees are bare-rooted – they travel in bags without soil. They are easy to handle and very tough. Don't let the roots dry out and keep them well wrapped in their bags. If the roots look dry splash a little water in to dampen them and wrap them up well again.

  • The trees are between 10 cm and a metre tall depending on species. You can normally fit several packs of trees into a small car without too much trouble.

  • Don't panic if your planting takes longer than the planned day or if you need to re-schedule your planting. Keep the trees in a cool, dark place away from sun and frost and they will store for a week or two very well.

Looking after your planting team:

  • Make sure everyone is wearing sturdy boots or wellies, warm clothes and gloves.

  • A good supply of hot drinks, cake and sandwiches go a long way to keeping a tree planting team happy.

  • Remember to take a few photos on the day. The best are usually group shots of the planting team with their spades ready for action. Please take pictures of the planted trees when they are done or as they are being planted and send them in to us for our records.

General notes on the trees:

Alder: Alder is fast growing and loves wet ground. It coppices extremely well. It will quite likely outgrow all the other species in the first few years so watch particularly that it isn't shading out oak. If it gets too big coppice it in the winter and the surrounding trees will get plenty of light while it is busy re-growing.

Birch: Birch is a pioneer species. In the wild it colonises fallow or unmanaged ground, often along with willow and thorn and is the first stage of a young woodland establishing. It will grow well in most places, coppices well enough when young but can be sensitive on occasion. Another fast growing tree.

Rowan: Another tough tree which will do well in most places and which coppices well. It produces lovely flowers in spring and lots of red berries in late summer. The berries are great for making jellies and jams and provide food for birds through the autumn.

Scots Pine: A handsome and distinctive native pine tree. Traditionally used to mark out boundaries and byways, it is a useful tree for timber if it grows straight.  Also beloved of red squirrels and worth including in small numbers for diversity of species in most mixed woodland and tree cover. 

Hazel: Famous as a coppice tree hazel will grow well in most places.  It will produce firewood and useful straight poles if it is managed well and will give you nuts if you can get them before the squirrels. Hazel will lay brilliantly into a hedge and will also provide stakes and etherings for fixing a newly laid hedge.

Hawthorn: The best loved hedging plant and a very handsome tree when let grow up tall.  It is a pioneer tree and is extremely useful in starting a new woodland or coppice.  Hawthorn will provide wonderful blossom in May and lots of red berries in the late summer.  Be careful as it is thorny.

Blackthorn: A wonderful hedging plant and tree which produces early spring blossom and sloe berries in autumn. These berries are excellent added to gin to make sloe gin. Beware the thorns, they are poisonous and can leave a nasty puncture wound. Wear gloves when handling any thorn trees.

Crab Apple: Our native wild apple tree. A tough tree which will produce pretty blossom in spring and small apples in autumn. It supports bees and other pollinators and will pollinate most apple trees so it is excellent mixed into orchards and around gardens. Its fruit is great for jellies, jams and chutneys.