Where to plant trees in your garden (according to experts)
So, you’re thinking of planting trees in your garden? Make sure you read our horticulturalists’ expert advice! While selecting the right tree is important, it’s also important to consider the location. Choosing as large a tree as your limited space allows might not be the best idea. The best varieties are selected for overall compatibility with the gardens or front yards they are destined for.
In this article, our horticulturalists will help you decide on the best location for trees, whether you are choosing deciduous trees for autumn colour, smaller trees, or unusual trees with an awkward or pyramidal shape. If you’re concerned about exposed areas and selecting good trees for your climate, you can find our recommendations for beautiful UK native trees below!
When you find the right location for your tree, it will thrive and produce year-round interest for you to enjoy.
Best advice from horticulturalists
While there are some unifying factors for all tree varieties, the best location will depend on the exact variety. Nonetheless, when shopping for trees for front yards, look for:
- Varieties that won’t get out of control (don’t encroach on your neighbour’s property),
- Varieties that provide winter interest, whether they retain dark green leaves or reveal elegant branches, as you’ll be seeing them every single day,
- Varieties that have a contained root network, as even in larger spaces some roots can damage underground infrastructure and building foundations.
The best location for most is far away from structures. Roots underground can damage house foundations and patio or decking areas. The tree canopy will also impact your garden – fallen leaves can stain stone and concrete patio tiles, and a very large canopy can block enough sun to kill your lawn and flower beds. You also need to be mindful of overhead structures, like telegraph wires.
The size of your garden will greatly impact where the tree can be planted and the type of tree you choose – from an upright tree to a multi-stemmed tree, you can find our recommendations for the best species below.
Another factor to consider when planning to grow trees in your garden is the soil type and nearby plants sharing that soil. Well-drained soil is best, with some varieties prefer slightly alkaline or acidic soil. However, if there is a hedge or tree nearby, even the best soil won’t prevent the two plants from competing. Whichever plant can grow taller and access full sun will block out the other with partial shade. Correct spacing is integral.
Ultimately, choose a tree that will grow to a maximum height and spread that can comfortably fit in your garden. If that maximum height or spread will extend past structures or other nearby plants, then think about either a different location or a different tree.
Once you’ve found the correct location in your garden (typically the point that’s furthest away from any structures, particularly for small gardens), you can start to think about whether you want an evergreen or deciduous variety. Whether you want green all year round rather than just in early summer, or brilliant fall colour as the leaves drop, there are a few unique aspects that can impact where you plant your tree in your garden.
Planting an evergreen tree
Evergreen trees retain their leaves all year round. While many people instantly imagine pines and conifers with needles rather than green leaves, there are a wide variety of evergreens with ‘summer foliage’ that lasts all year round.
Furthermore, not all evergreens grow to be towering first either. You can find small varieties that are the best trees for front yards. Evergreens can also blossom with autumn or spring flowers. The strawberry tree, for example, blooms with white flowers in September.
One thing that all evergreens have in common, however, is that they are shade trees. Retaining their foliage all year round, they provide full or partial shade from the summer heat… but they also block out the winter sun. If you need a versatile tree that provides shade in the summer but allows light to filter through in the winter, you are better off with a deciduous tree (see below).
Besides offering shade from the full sun (and perhaps some pretty pink or yellow flowers if you select a flowering variety), evergreens are the best tree for screening. Their year-round greenery provides a good screen to block out noise, light and nosey neighbours. Popular places to plant an evergreen include on the border of a garden, to create screening like a hedge but taller.
Planting a deciduous tree
The key distinction between an evergreen and a deciduous tree is the foliage, but there are some other factors to consider. The first is that a deciduous is more likely to be a fast-growing tree, growing tremendously in the spring and summer months before slowing down in the winter. These tend to be more showy in the warmer months too. A deciduous can bring spring blossom to your garden, purple fruits in the summer, and all manner of orange shades in the autumn.
Just like evergreens, there are both big and small trees that are deciduous. So, whatever size your garden is, you likely have space for a deciduous.
Our horticulturalists recommend thinking carefully about maintenance when planting a deciduous tree. For example, while some bloom with gorgeous flowers (like the Golden Rain Tree with goblet-shaped flowers that turn golden yellow in spring) they will also shed yellow leaves, ripe fruits, and maybe even peeling bark too. So, don’t plant a deciduous somewhere inaccessible, as you may want to sweep up the fruits and leaves throughout the year or prune it back annually.
This also means that you shouldn’t plant a deciduous where the canopy falls over a garden fence, driveway, or patio area where the debris could become a hazard. This is especially important if it’s public land on the other side of your fence!
Ultimately, a deciduous variety will be the right tree if you want dappled shade and visual interest, but don’t want your front yard blocking out too much light in the winter. Even the best trees, whether they are deciduous or evergreen, require space from other plants and shrubs, plus well-drained soil. Take care of your deciduous and it will reward you with a show each year!
Don’t wait until early spring
When you’ve got your heart set on the perfect tree, it can be tempting to purchase it and start planting in your front garden as soon as possible. However, just as there is an optimum place to plant a tree, there is also an optimum time. Whether you have a small tree or a large tree, variegated foliage or spring blooms, the best time to plant your tree is in autumn or just before spring.
October and late February are the best months for planting. At these times of year, front yards are typically bare and the weather is mild – not too hot, and not too cold. Planting in late spring, when the delicate white flowers and blossom is emerging, is too late in the year. Your planted tree won’t have enough time to establish itself and grow well.
Likewise, planting in late summer when the soil is very dry and the sun is harsh will make it very tough for your tree to establish well. Of course, planting in the dead of winter is also unadvisable – the frozen earth will make it especially tricky to get your tree in the ground!
The best trees for front yards will grow healthily when planted in autumn or very early spring – regardless of whether they are evergreen or deciduous. Planting at this time of year also ensures that the foliage, blossom and fruits (if applicable) of deciduous varieties will be growing strong and providing light shade by the time summer comes around.
The best trees for UK gardens
So far, you might be assuming that only front yard areas with plenty of space are suitable for planting tree varieties. But that’s not the case. Our recommended trees below are the best trees for front yards regardless of their size.
Whether you are craving green leaves for the summer or foliage that lasts for more than one season, start with our selection of tree varieties below.
For small gardens, patios and balconies
So long as your small garden receives full sun for part or most of the day, you can grow a tree. You can even grow beautiful trees on a patio or balcony, so long as they can hold the weight of the heavy plant pot. The best trees for front yards that are paved or very small are potted varieties.
Some of our favourite potted varieties for front yards and patios in the UK are:
Olive trees – growing natively in the Mediterranean, it’s surprising to discover that olive trees do particularly well in the UK. We nurture our olive trees outdoors in the UK to build up hardiness for our customers.
Lollipop ball trees – these small trees grow with a round bush of foliage atop a single slender stem. These are excellent for adding flowering interest to patios as well as lining driveways. You have a wide range of lollipop ball tree varieties to choose from.
Palm trees – certain varieties of palm trees are dwarf varieties. With their slender trunks and relatively narrow head of foliage, they are a good option for gardens that only have vertical space available! A good example is the African Hair Palm.
If you have some lawn space, then you might not be limited to potted plants either. Some tree families have variants that are both small and large, like the Crape Myrtle (see below). Others are available as dwarf and semi-dwarfed cultivars to save space.
For medium gardens
Medium gardens that may be able to hold a couple of small-sized varieties or just one large statement tree in the centre have so many more options available. The best trees for front yards and back gardens of this size are so varied. Some of our best-sellers for medium-sized gardens include:
Japanese maples – Acer, the Japanese maple, is a low-maintenance deciduous that has some of the most beautiful foliage colours in autumn. We recommend Japanese maples for city gardens and oriental gardens in particular.
Crab apple tree – one of our favourite ornamental fruit varieties, the crab apple tree can be as small as just 2 metres depending on the variety. You also have a wide choice of blossom colours from white to pink to crimson.
Ornamental pear – another ornamental fruit tree, the ornamental pear can reach a height of 5 metres and spread of 3 metres, enabling it to fit into medium-sized gardens with ease. Best of all, these species are fully hardy and can cope with all the quirks of British weather.
Strawberry tree – as mentioned earlier, the strawberry tree is a medium-sized evergreen that’s deceptively exotic looking! Named due to the strawberry-coloured fruits, it is a good statement tree for a medium-sized garden.
Many fruiting varieties, from flowering dogwood to plum trees, come in medium sizes. Furthermore, some flowering types also come in various sizes. If you love magnolias but don’t have the space to spare, take a look at the Soulangeana Saucer Magnolia next.
For large gardens
Finally, large gardens. If you are blessed with a large front yard or extensive back garden, you can choose any of our best trees for front yards at Gardeners Dream. From the extravagant Magnolia Grandiflora to the elegant Crape Myrtle to the white bark of a Birch, with so much space you can plant multiple specimens so long as the spacing allows plenty of root and canopy space for each.
Large gardens also give you the chance to plant an orchard of fruit trees. Our horticulturalists recommend that any fruit tree you plant receives eight hours of sunlight per day to produce a bountiful harvest. Just keep in mind that non-hardy varieties may need some sheltering from the elements, which is the only disadvantage of a large and open garden!
How do you position trees in a garden?
Whether it’s your front yard or backyard, position specimens away from other plants so they aren’t competing for soil. You should also place them away from above or underground structures, somewhere they can receive direct sunlight.
Where are the best locations to plant trees?
The best trees for front yard and back yard areas should be planted in direct sun, away from structures. This also includes shrub-like tree varieties, like the Crape Myrtle.
Can I plant a tree anywhere in my garden?
You can, but it’s not advisable. Even the best trees for front yard spaces, such as the strawberry tree, need distance from nearby buildings where they aren’t competing for space and light. Well-draining soil is also important.
How close to a house should a tree be planted?
Look at the total spread of the canopy when the tree is mature – you want at least this distance between the tree and the house. Add a couple of extra metres, even for the best trees for front yard spaces, just to be safe!
What tree should I plant in my front garden?
Any tree that’s appropriate for the size of your front yard will suffice. We recommend a magnolia tree as they have a wonderful floral display, are suited to the British climate, and are available in different sizes.
Can I plant a tree in my front garden UK?
Yes, you can plant a tree in your British front yard so long as it doesn’t encroach on public property or create a hazard.