5 trees you can plant to help protect the planet
A Forestry Commission expert selects his top trees for a changing climate.
Climate action is finally beginning to take centre stage and we’re all being encouraged to grow more trees.
World leaders have pledged to protect more land from deforestation, but what can you, your community group or your neighbours do to make a difference?
The environmental benefits of trees range from locking in carbon and attracting wildlife, to reducing flood risk and allowing the planet to breathe.
David White, the Forestry Commission’s woodland and climate change adaption adviser, says: “We need to build on the tree planting progress we have made this year and at Cop26, and National Tree Week (November 27 – December 5) is the perfect time for people to get involved by joining a planting event in their community or buying a tree for your garden. But it’s also important to choose the right tree for the right place, and for the right reasons.”
“Whatever tree you choose, make sure to source it from a nursery with clear Plant Health Management Standards, like those with Plant Healthy certification,” adds White. “Doing so helps protect gardens, forests and ecosystems against destructive plant pests and diseases.”
These are White’s five favourite trees for tackling and adapting to climate change…
Hornbeam – a renewable alternative to fossil fuels
A beautiful native tree, the Romans used hornbeam to make their chariots because of the strength of its wood. It also provides shelter, roosting, nesting and foraging opportunities for birds and small mammals, boosting biodiversity, and produces a high-quality fuel for fires – as a replacement for fossil fuels.
Tree care: Hornbeam can be coppiced or pollarded, meaning it’s a good choice for gardens. If you chose to grow it in a hedge, it keeps its leaves all year round so will give you privacy. In autumn it will bring a riot of colour to your garden.
Eucalyptus – for sequestering carbon
“It’s a very fast-growing tree, which locks up carbon all year round and the large leaves act as a natural air conditioning unit,” says White. “There are hundreds of different types of eucalyptus trees – all require full sun, however, some species will tolerate areas with semi-shade. They also adapt well to a wide range of soils, from hot, dry sites to slightly wet, as long as the area is well-draining.”
Tree care: Prune annually to control growth. They can be cut back quite ruthlessly, so if you’re tight on space, they lend themselves to being in a container on a patio. Their lovely silvery foliage looks good all year round.
Small-leaved lime tree – for enriching soil and biodiversity
“As they fall and start to decompose, the golden leaves from this handsome tree are brilliant for improving the health of the surrounding soil, supporting other plants to flourish around it,” explains White. “They are also host to an abundance of insect life, in turn attracting birds and other animals in the food chain, while the flowers have a rich, heavy scent that is especially alluring for bees.”
Tree care: This large deciduous tree can grow to over 20 metres, so think carefully about where you plant it. Native to Europe and Britain, it grows best on moist but well-drained, nutrient-rich soils. It needs plenty of sunshine, excellent drainage and improved soil, and shouldn’t be exposed to standing water.
Serbian spruce – for resistance to pollution in urban areas
“The sweeping branches of this evergreen conifer are designed to shed snow in colder environments, so they can survive in the harshest of landscapes and extreme, cold conditions. They’ve also shown resistance to air pollution, so can grow in areas with poor air quality,” White observes.
“With Christmas not far off, why not think about investing in an evergreen conifer? The Serbian spruce is a graceful, slender tree with dark foliage, with an unusual look that comes from its dark glossy green needles on the upper side of the branch and cream colour strips on the bottom.”
Tree care: This tree can do well even in harder soil, but it’s still a good idea to break up the soil and mulch prior to planting. It grows straight and relatively narrow for a forest tree – spreading manure isn’t necessary, and pruning is also not normally a priority.
Holm oak – will survive storm-lashed coastal areas and polluted cities
“[Holm oak] is resistant to salt spray from the sea, so is often planted as a windbreak in coastal areas, which are facing tougher weather conditions because of climate change,” says White. “It is also tolerant of many growing conditions, including polluted air, so it is versatile and suitable for urban areas too, acting as hedging, windbreaks or topiary for gardens in the city.
“Left to grow on its own in a field or forest, it will become a large, structural tree with a rounded crown.”
Tree care: Holm oak don’t like freezing conditions and during severe winters they are prone to dying or losing their leaves, so may do better in the south of the UK.
For more information visit the Forestry Commission’s database to help you decide on the right tree for the right place.
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