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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 a large number of 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 have published a list of standard costs, that they use for calculating grants. It is available to download here.

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