When to Plant Trees – The UK Guide
Although we often associate planting with the spring, autumn and winter can be excellent times to plant trees too, and it is much easier to dig the ground when it is loose and not too dry, but before or after the frost sets in.
Trees and shrubs planted in the cooler months are dormant, and can be left to establish with minimal maintenance, provided the summer doesn’t make an unseasonal comeback.
Knowing when to plant trees also depends on the species and whether you are growing a new orchard, blossom tree or denser shrubbery to form a natural boundary or to act as a privacy shield.
The Best Times of Year to Plant Fruit Trees
Fruit trees such as apple, pear and plum trees vary from other plants because they have different preferences in terms of sunlight, moisture, shade and soil conditions, and all of these factors can make a big difference to the sweetness and volume of fruit you harvest.
The best times to plant fruit trees is normally between December and March, giving your new trees ample time to flourish and grow established roots.
Choosing the right spot is equally important – you should look for the following:
- Apple trees: sunny or partially shaded spots with fertile, well-drained soil.
- Bird cherry trees: full sunlight and well-drained soil.
- Blackthorn: moist, well-drained soil, preferably with full sunlight.
- Crab apple trees: sunshine or partially shaded spots suited to most soil types.
- Wild cherry trees: full sunlight and fertile soil with shelter from strong winds.
Planting also depends on whether your trees are in containers or have bare roots or a burlap sack. Container trees should be removed carefully from their pots, spreading the roots gently before planting.
If your trees have bare roots, you can plant them straight away, but if the roots are wrapped in burlap, be sure to separate the roots and ensure the burlap is completely removed before you plant.
When to Plant Blossom Trees
Blossom trees are a popular addition to ornate gardens and come in a variety of beautiful shapes, sizes and colours, with bright autumn foliage and a radiant bloom in the spring.
Cherry blossoms prefer well-drained, fertile soil that won’t become overly dry or too waterlogged and do well in chalky or alkaline soil types.
They grow best in open areas with plenty of sunshine, although they need protection from strong winds since this can remove much of the blossom.
The best time to plant a blossom tree is between November and March, although you can plant container blossoms at most times of the year when the ground isn’t too frozen.
Adding organic matter such as Compost or manure to the base of the hole is ideal, and you want the top of the roots to be level with the soil surface.
Problems With Planting Trees Too Early
While the British weather is notoriously unreliable, and it may be that autumn sets in early, it is never advisable to rush ahead and plant trees – whether saplings or seedlings – too soon in the year.
Some plants benefit from the warmth and sunshine during the summer, but planting trees in the spring will mean their roots do not become properly established.
Frost is not harmful to newly planted trees because the roots are protected underneath the soil. However, it may cause the earth to lift, so you can ensure your young trees are doing well by re-firming the ground once the temperatures rise above freezing.
Clay soils can be more hazardous for tree planting too early in the season unless you have excellent soil drainage. A warmer winter can result in wet, saturated soil, which causes clay holes to become flooded – this starves the roots of oxygen and means they often rot.
Even Yew trees, which are particularly hardy and almost impossible to get wrong, can die if planted in clay-rich soils before the autumn.
Wind rock is an issue to be mindful of with younger trees, this means that the blustery weather in the winter and late autumn can damage the tree and cause it to dry out if exposed to a north wind before the roots have thoroughly bedded down.
A good compromise is to hold off planting anything small, such as a conifer, until as late in the winter as you can but before the spring because this type of tree is too small to cope with lashings of rain and strong winds for an extended period.
When to Plant Trees in the UK – The Best Months
Generally, trees thrive when they are planted during the autumn and only need a hole around two or three times as wide as the root ball and shallower than you might expect.
Disturbing the soil around the roots will make it easier for the young tree to reach into the ground and extract all the valuable nutrients it needs.
Trees with bare roots cannot usually stand upright without support, so you will need to add a cane or stake to guide the tree upward as it grows and ensure the roots don’t become damaged as they shift.
Fitting Tree Guards around sapling trees is also recommended, which protects young trees from wildlife, and helps plants to become established.
Summer isn’t a great time to plant trees because they need plenty of time to root, and this can be very difficult during hotter months when the soil is too dry, compact and hard for young roots – it is better to wait until the weather cools and the ground is slightly more moist.
Seedlings are also a different planting challenge than young trees because they should only be planted when they are dormant, which means waiting until the late winter / early spring – ideally between December and March, depending on the weather.
Tree seedling roots should be kept moist, and planted in a small hole just wide enough for the roots, backfilled up to the root collar and tamped down to stop air pockets from forming.