8 British Trees & Shrubs to Plant in Your Garden ideas

Native trees and shrubs provide food and shelter for local wildlife and give your garden seasonal interest throughout the year. From cascades of blossom in spring to a blaze of autumn leaf colour.

If you’re considering planting trees in your garden, here’s our list of top native trees to explore.

8 British Trees & Shrubs to Plant in Your Garden ideas

1. Alder (Alnus glutinosa)

Alder has clusters of cone-like fruits that hang like baubles on bare winter trees. In spring, yellow catkins appear alongside glossy, rounded leaves.

Height: 18-25m. Good for smaller gardens.

Estimated growth rate: 60cm or more per year.

Soil and conditions: can grow in most conditions and soils, especially damp areas and along the banks of rivers. On drier soils it grows as a bush.

Why wildlife loves it: alder catkins provide an early source of nectar and pollen for bees, and the seeds are eaten by the siskin, redpoll and goldfinch.

Alder is very good for urban plantings as it thrives in all soils and can tolerate air pollution.

 

2. Silver birch (Betula pendula)

Silver birch is a graceful, slender tree with light airy foliage and distinctive white peeling bark. Its triangular-shaped leaves turn a dazzling golden yellow in autumn, bringing striking colour to your garden.

Height: grows to around 15-20 metres, though older, mature trees can grow higher.

Estimated growth rate: 40cm per year.

Soil and conditions: silver birch prefers sandy or acidic soils although can grow in most conditions. Silver birch is a great addition to a garden when grown as a specimen tree.

Why wildlife loves it: small birds, such as long-tailed tits, siskin, greenfinches and redpolls, are attracted by the abundant seeds and insects that it hosts.

You don’t have to confine your green-fingered efforts to the back garden. Invest in some window boxes and plant colourful flowers which will brighten up your exteriors. Outside the kitchen window is an ideal place to plant your own herb garden, so you have fresh herbs to hand whenever you need them.

Shop from our range of native trees

3. Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

Blackthorn is a very thorny tree and a good choice as an informal, impenetrable hedging shrub, giving you interest throughout the year.

It produces white flowers in early spring and purple-black fruits (sloes) in late summer. Pick sloes after the first frost in autumn and use them to make your own sloe gin.

Height: maximum of 6-7 metres high, and is great as a hedging plant.

Estimated growth rate: 40-60cm per year.

Soil and conditions: it grows best in moist, well-drained soil and thrives in full sunlight.

Why wildlife loves it: its flowers are a valuable source of nectar and pollen for bees in early spring. Its foliage is a food plant for the caterpillars of many moths, including the lackey, magpie, common emerald, swallow-tailed and yellow-tailed. Birds often nest among the dense, thorny thickets.

Blackthorn is traditionally associated with witchcraft… it is said that witches’ wands were made using blackthorn wood.

Make Your Own Sloe Gin

Check out our garden recipe blogs that will inspire you to use your garden produce

4. Bird cherry (Prunus padus)

As well as its glorious flowering spikes, bird cherry is beautiful for its yellow and red autumn leaves and pretty bark.

It’s a neat tree and doesn’t produce lots of new shoots at the base. A great garden tree, but take care as this species, unchecked, can grow tall.

Height: 7-25m. Good for smaller gardens.

Estimated growth rate: 20-40cm per year.

Soil and conditions: prefers limestone soils but will grow on poor soils. Needs full sun to flower.

Why wildlife loves it: its bitter red-black cherries are eaten by blackbirds, song thrushes, foraging badgers and mice.

Bird cherry is a tough tree that’s at home among the rigors of an urban environment.

 

The Latin name ‘avium’ refers to birds that eat the cherries as soon as they are ripe (the cherries are very bitter so not edible to us).

 

5. Wild cherry (Prunus avium)

Height: 18-25 meters high.

Estimated growth rate: 20-40cm per year.

Soil and conditions: wild cherry grows best in full sunlight and fertile soil. It won’t tolerate waterlogged soil. Strong winds can quickly destroy showy spring blossom, so consider planting in a sheltered location.

Why wildlife loves it: this species makes a wonderful addition to any wildlife garden. The spring blossom also provides an early source of nectar and pollen which attracts a whole range of insects.

6. Crab apple (Malus sylvestris)

The crab apple is a wild ancestor of the cultivated apple with sweetly-scented, pink-white blossom in spring.

Use the fruits to make a rich amber-coloured crab apple jelly.

Height: maximum of 7-9 metres high, but can be kept small with pruning. Good for smaller gardens.

Estimated growth rate: 30cm per year.

Soil and conditions: prefers sun or semi-shade, will tolerate most soil types and dryness.

Why wildlife loves it: the flowers are a good source of early pollen and nectar for insects, particularly bees. Birds like fieldfare, song thrush, blackbird and redwing enjoy the fruits, as do mammals including mice, voles and badgers.

Crab apple wood has long been associated with love and marriage, was burned by the Celts during fertility festivals, and is referenced in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Love’s Labour’s Lost.

 

7. Dog rose (Rosa canina)

One of the best small, native shrubs. Dog rose’s scented flowers appear in May and June and range in colour from pale pink (almost white) to deep pink.

They are followed by orange-red hips which hang on its arching, thorny branches into winter. Plant it alongside other shrubs or as part of a hedge.

Height: 1-5 meters high. Good for smaller gardens.

Estimated growth rate: 40-60cm per year.

Soil and conditions: grow in full sun with moderately fertile, moist but well-drained soil. For best flowering apply a balanced fertiliser and mulch in late winter or early spring. It can tolerate poor soil.

Why wildlife loves it: dog rose flowers are an important nectar source for insects and its fruits are eaten by birds such as blackbirds, redwings, and waxwings.

 

Archaeological finds have confirmed that, along with blackberries, rose hips were eaten as early as 2,000 BC 

 

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8. Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea)

Grow this plant for its shimmering crimson and orange winter stems. In spring it has creamy, white flowers and in autumn its leaves turn red.

Dogwood generally grows well (and looks great) in front of an evergreen hedge where nutrients, water and sunlight are in short supply for other species.

Height: mature trees can grow to 10 metres high but can be pruned to retain shape and size. Good for smaller gardens.

Estimated growth rate: 3-60cm per year.

Soil and conditions: very hardy and grows well in sun or partial shade in a range of soils.

Why wildlife loves it: its leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of some moths, including the case-bearer moth. The flowers are visited by insects and the berries are eaten by many mammals and birds.

Grow for its eye-catching red stems that dazzle in late autumn and winter.

 

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