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1043876.012big.jpgWhether you are planting a new woodland, replanting a felled area, or expanding an existing woodland there are a number of decisions to be made. We have produced some brief guidance on planning woodland planting, and some information on the practicalities of planting –

A lot of material has been written on this subject, much of which is online. There is a selection of downloads (in no particular order) below.

Planning what to plant

Species choice

Species Choice can seem to be a complicated process, but with the right information the decision is often simpler than you might expect. Often, when inappropriate species have been eliminated from the list, the options become rather more limited. For example, if you want to manage a woodland as a conventional coppice, you have effectively removed all of the coniferous species from the list of options as they don’t regenerate from the stump.

One simple option is simply to allow the existing trees on site to regenerate or to replant similar species. This may not always be an effective option as you may have had a crop on the site which did poorly, or you may wish to return a plantation on an ancient woodland site (PAWS) back to a mixture of native species. Another option would be to look at neighbouring woodland to see which trees seem to grow well in your particular climate and soil type etc. and to copy this mixture into your own woodland.

Forest Research publishes a considerable amount of guidance on choosing tree species, and on deciding on provenance (where the seed was obtained). This is all freely available from Forest Research here and here.

Pure stands and mixtures

Woodlands composed of a single species (pure) have been popular in the past as they allow for easier management decisions and growth prediction. The logic being that when you have found a species that grows well on a site, maximising the proportion of the woodland composed of that species will also maximise yield. Recently, however, this approach has come in for criticism. Natural woodland is never composed of single species blocks, and this approach can have a negative effect of the biodiversity of a site. Single species, single aged stands can also increase a woodland’s vulnerability to pests and diseases, climatic changes and natural hazards such as wind damage. Ultimately, choice of species composition rests with the woodland manager, but you can get support and advice on the decision from these organisations.

Types of plant

The methodology for planting a tree will depend largely on the size of the plants that you purchase. Trees are available at a range of different ages either container grown or as bare rooted stock. The most common type used for planting areas of woodland is either bare rooted ‘whips’ or plug grown stock, usually planted out at around eighteen months old. This is in sharp contrast to the sort of planting schemes that may be appropriate in a garden or public park. Trees are very sensitive to being moved, and moving larger more well established trees is often a mistake, as the resultant loss in growth while they recover from being moved can lead to a smaller, less healthy trees than other options. Depending on species, bare rooted 18-inch whips can often catch, and overtake, 6-foot standards within 5 years.

The notable exception to this treatment is willow, which is almost always grown from cuttings. Willow roots extremely prolifically, and is often propagated by pushing a short cutting (usually around 6 to 10 inches) directly into the ground. These cuttings will often grow extremely quickly and grow by well over a metre in the first growing season.

Forest Research has many publications on site preparation, establishment and maintenance and planting.

Direct seeding

Direct Seeding is an alternative to planting. Trees are sown directly on the site where they will grow for the duration of their lives. There are some cost savings to this method as tree seeds are cheaper than plants. It can, however, lead to patchy woodland creation, where areas fail to establish, and may need to be replanted after sowing. Forest Research has material available on direct seeding.


The costs associated with planting and after-care will vary depending on the site and species. The Forestry Commission has published a list of standard costs, that they use for calculating grants. It is available to download here.

Planting and aftercare

Site preparation

The amount of site preparation necessary will depend on the previous site use. This will also heavily influence the methods needed.

On former agricultural land, you may only need to carry out relatively basic preparation, such a spot spraying to remove weed competition, while on sites that have been clear felled, more significant work may be necessary. The Forestry Commission has produced an information note on Forest Ground Preparation (Information Note ODW 10.01) with examples of best practice and indicative costs (though it was written in 2002 and the relative costs will have changed since then).

When to plant

Planting should be carried out when the tree is dormant. This means that there are no fixed dates that define exactly when it is appropriate to plant, the “Planting Season” usually lasts from around mid-November to early March, but this will depend entirely on the site and weather conditions. Most native broadleaf species are entirely dormant after they have shed their leaves until spring, while conifer species are usually dormant if the average day temperature is lower than about 5 degrees.

Tree handling

All trees are vulnerable to root damage while they are being planted, but bare rooted tree stock is particularly susceptible. The critical factors are dryness, and frost damage. Don’t plant in snowy or hard frost conditions and make sure that all trees have the roots covered at all times by a plastic bag to prevent drying.

Depth and soil

You should be planting trees at the same depth that they were growing at in the nursery. The easiest way to do this is to make sure that the “collar”, where the roots meet the main stem, is at ground level. If you are planting into clay soil, make sure that the spade has not left a smooth unbroken face on the side of the hole as this will restrict root development. Once the tree is in the ground make sure that the soil is properly pressed in around the root system, to prevent air pockets. There is a more detailed set of notes available from the Forestry Commission:(Tree Planting Information Note ODW 10.02).


There are a number of different things you can do to help newly planted trees to establish well and grow quickly. These measures are largely to decrease competition from other plant species, and deterrence of pest species.

  • Spiral guards are an effective deterrent to rodents and small mammals such as rabbits
  • Tube shelters can also prevent grazing by small mammals, and provide some protection against weed competition. They also increase the temperature of the microclimate, leading to faster growth. They are nominally photo-degradable, meaning that they shouldn’t need removing when the tree gets too big (there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that this is far from trouble free, and they may need removing when the trees out-grow them.)
  • Stock fencing prevents grazing by domestic livestock, and can be upgraded to prevent deer grazing on the young trees. A layer of small diameter mesh at the base makes the fence effective against rabbits.
  • Spot spraying of is an effective way of removing competing weed species and allowing the trees to capture the site.
  • Stakes are usually unnecessary on small whips or plug grown trees, but may be useful for stabilising standards. Make sure that you fasten the stake no higher than a third of the height of the tree as to allow the crown to move in the wind. This stimulates root development and will lead to a healthier tree.
  • Mulch mats are an alternative to spraying on smaller sites, they are also helpful on sites where poor moisture retention is an issue.

Support for woodland management

There are a number of organisations that can give advice and support for woodland management

Forestry Commission

The Forestry Commission has a national network of woodland officers to process forestry grants and felling licence applications. They work on a county basis, managed from a series of regional offices. For details of your nearest regional office look here.

Other Professional Support

There are many professional consultants who will be able to take on some or all of your woodland management as well as groups that you can join to get advice on other aspects of woodland management. There is a list on the Forestry Commission Website here

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