How to Plant and Take Care of your Tree


There are six different small trees being planted as part of Camden Forest:

  • Blackthorn (sloe gin)
  • Dogwood
  • Dog rose
  • Hawthorn
  • Rowan
  • Willow

All the trees have all been chosen because they provide food and habitats for wildlife and improve biodiversity in our borough.

When trees are only two or three years old they are called ‘whips’. Yours will be 40-60cm high when you get it, and will look just like a twig with roots at one end. Make sure you keep the roots damp until you are able to plant it and keep the whip outside – it won’t mind the cold but central heating will not be good for it.

Whether you decide to plant your tree in the ground or in a pot please let us know how it is growing via the Contact Us form.

Whips can be planted between October and March when they are ‘dormant’ – when the plant has no leaves and isn’t growing – but should never be planted in frozen ground.

Please don’t plant your whip on land that isn’t yours as it may be pulled up, trodden on, sprayed with weedkiller or even chopped down! If there is an empty tree pit in a street near you please tell the people at the Camden Tree Department,, and they will plant a larger tree with a stake and water bag and take care of it properly.

Planting your Tree in the Ground

If you are lucky enough to have a garden you can plant your tree there, but make sure that it is at least two metres away from buildings and other trees. Your tree needs light and air to grow. If you are planting in the ground you don’t need to dig a big hole: simply push a spade into the ground as far as possible and then wiggle it backwards and forwards to make a slit in the earth. Push you whip roots gently into the earth then tread down the soil all around the tree and water it. Even if the soil is wet or it is actually raining, watering will close up any air spaces and make sure the roots are in contact with the earth.

Taking care of your Tree in the Ground

You will need to water your plant regularly especially in hot or windy weather when it may dry out. Weed the ground around the base of your tree so that grass and other plants don’t take all the moisture and nutrition. There are various online resources with advice on planting and maintaining a tree.

Planting a tree:

Tree maintenance:

Planting Your Tree in a Pot or other Container

The Camden Forest trees have been chosen because they are suitable for growing in a pot or container in a very small garden or on a balcony. They can bring height, fruit, colourful bark and autumn leaves into these small spaces, and are a valuable source of food for wildlife in our city.

You will need a container, such as a pot, and some compost – garden soil may not have enough nutrients for a tree growing in a container.
Start by choosing a container that is deep enough for the roots of your tree. Make sure that it has plenty of drainage holes so the tree’s roots aren’t sitting in water. Do not put a small tree in a very large container to begin with – instead pot up the plant in stages as it grows and the roots need more room.

For the first year or two your tree will be happy in a container with a diameter of 20 cms and the deeper the better. Lighter-weight plastic is a good choice if you need to move plants around and they are good at retaining moisture. Plastic pots are cheap, the pots that roses are often sold in are nice and deep, and are often given away free at Camden Garden Centre and other plant nurseries. Frost-proof terracotta pots are beautiful and heavy, providing extra stability to prevent trees blowing over in windy weather. However, the compost dries out quickly in these pots, the weight makes them difficult to move around and they can be expensive. Metal, wood and stone pots are also available. Eventually your tree will need a pot that is at least 50cm in diameter (18in).

You will need some compost to plant your tree – a 50 litre bag of peat-free compost is about £6 in Homebase. Before planting, add some pieces of broken terracotta pot or polystyrene foam at the bottom of the pot to prevent the compost from washing out of the holes and to allow water to drain, and raise up the pot up on feet to prevent waterlogging under the container. Then add a few handfuls of compost to cover the bottom of the pot by 10cms or so. Now hold your tree whip in the centre of the pot with the roots spread out and not squashed up, add more compost all around it up to the top of the pot, then press down firmly so the whip doesn’t wobble and water to help close up any air gaps.

Taking Care of Your Tree in a Pot

A tree in a container will dry out far more quickly than one in the ground so it will need regular watering. Overhanging balconies or foliage from other plants might shield your pot from the rain, so don’t assume that you don’t need to water your tree just because it’s been raining. Keep the compost moist, but not wet, at all times, even during winter when compost can dry out quickly in wind. Rain water is best for watering plants if you can collect it, if not use tap water. A good layer of mulch – a few centimetres of bark, leaves or gravel on top of the compost -will also help retain moisture.

Trees growing in pots need food as well as water, so give them a boost, by refreshing the top layer of compost every year in spring. Carefully scrape away about 5cm (2in) of compost from the surface and replace with fresh compost – mix in some controlled release fertiliser granules or use a liquid feed at regular intervals.

Plants in containers will need protecting during very cold winters as roots growing near the edges of a pot are vulnerable to frost. To protect them wrap the container with bubble wrap, newspaper or hessian, held securely in place with string. Don’t bring your tree inside – it won’t be happy!

Huge thanks to the Conservation Volunteers for providing the trees: