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How to... create an arboretum

There’s nothing quite like creating your own woodland and watching it grow, says Stuart Holm, the Woodland Creation Adviser for Woodland Trust.

Woodland grows remarkably quickly, within just 12 years land can be transformed into a thriving wooded area that supports a productive landscape and creates tranquil places where you can relax and unwind.


Once you have a site it’s worth thinking about how much open space you want in your wood or arboretum and marking this out. That way you’ll know where to plant individual trees, areas of woodland, rides and glades.

Rides and glades that are well designed and properly managed can significantly increase the wildlife value of new native woodland, particularly for insects, birds and bats. Even relatively small areas of woodland and open space can contribute to the conservation of open habitats in the wider landscape.


If it’s clay, silt or sand based soil, it’s usually a good idea to get a soil test done to determine PH and nutrient contents, as all of these can have a bearing on what trees will grow well. 

Next, determine how compacted the soil is. If it is squashed and pressed down just under the surface it  can have massive effects on the growth rate of trees, as heavily compacted soil acts a bit like ‘pot bound’ plants by restricting root and hence tree growth. If the soil is compacted this needs to be addressed by either running a ‘subsoiler’ through the site on the back of a tractor or by making sure that individual holes for the trees are dug nice and deep.

Tree species can be picked out from a whole list of native trees. What you choose depends on budget and the size of plot, but could include trees such as Oak, Hornbeam, Beech and Aspen, and for a more fruit and nutty approach try Walnut, Crab Apple, Wild Cherry, Wild Pear, Sweet Chestnut and Hazel. Some evergreen can be added by planting Scot’s Pine and Holly to give it a bit of all year round greenery.

It’s also a good idea to include some cultivated trees and some fruit trees such as old apple and pear varieties, gages, plums and damsons, as these all add to the variety of the arboretum. All will be good at providing shelter and sustenance to a wide range of animal life.


Once you’ve got your trees, start marking out the holes, ensuring there’s enough space between them, and dig a pit several centimetres wider and deeper than the size of the tree roots you are planting. Many people like to incorporate a spade or two of very well-rotted manure into the bottom of the hole at this stage as well, to add a little nutrition for the tree.

Place the sapling in the pit and back fill the soil, ensuring all the roots are below ground level. Firm the top layer of soil around your sapling or tree. Push the cane into the ground next to the sapling making sure it is stable and upright. Depending on the size it might be worth considering using a spiral guard placed over the tree and cane.


Maintenance in the first few years is really watering when necessary and keeping the grass and weeds down from around the base of the tree.

Watch your woodland grow and develop, adding in new species over time and places to sit and relax. For help creating your own wood visit www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/plant-trees