Trees in school grounds

Information sheet

A tree is a perennial plant with a woody, self-supporting stem or trunk when mature. They are a welcome addition to your garden adding structure, colour and interest throughout the year.

  • School term: All year round
  • Level of experience: No experience needed
  • Subject(s):

Trees to plant

Towards the bottom of the page you will find a list of trees that are suitable to plant in the school grounds. All these trees are native to Great Britain and will provide a good habitat for local wildlife. It is important to choose species suited to local conditions, such as soil type and exposure, and those that will not outgrow the space available. Be warned that some of them such as the oak, beech and ash may get rather large. Those with an asterisk (*) beside them are smaller species that can also be used for hedges.

Planting your trees

Trees less than 1.2m tall, called ‘whips’ or ‘maidens’, are much cheaper and establish more quickly and soon catch up with larger specimens planted at the same time. The ideal season to plant a deciduous tree is from autumn to early winter. Evergreens establish well when planted in autumn or early spring.

  • Make the planting hole at least three times the diameter of the root spread of bare rooted plants or the pot if container grown and a depth of 30cm.
  • Fork over the base and sides of the hole to break through smeared surfaces and aid drainage, but do not dig over the base because the disturbed soil will settle, resulting in the tree being too deep once planted.
  • When planting, the point where the roots flare out from the trunk should be level with the surrounding soil.
  • Do not add organic matter to the planting hole as it decomposes causing the tree to sink.
  • It is vital to stake larger trees and those planted in exposed situations. Staking helps to anchor the roots while allowing the trunk to flex in the wind, which strengthens it.

In some areas it is necessary to protect young trees from damage caused by rabbits or other animals. Damage is often caused in schools when the maintenance team mows around the base of the tree. Mowers or strimmers can cause 'Ring-barking' which can lead to tree death. To help prevent this either surround the tree with a barrier of wire netting secured to stakes, place a tree guard around the tree trunk or if possible leave a circle between 20-50cm from the base of the tree trunk of bare soil or bark chips. 

Grasses and weeds compete with young trees for moisture, nutrients and light in the first five years after planting. If planting in a lawn leave a circle of 90cm diameter free from turf as competing grass can seriously affect establishment and later growth, also prevent damage from mowing. Mulching is a highly effective method of controlling weeds and conserving moisture.

Particularly during the first two seasons water thoroughly in dry spells to ensure that the water reaches the full depth of the root system. There is no need to apply fertiliser in the first growing season.       

Tree History

The forest provided primitive man with food, fuel and building material, affording him also protection against enemies and the elements. Humans have used wood to build houses and make furniture, construct household utensils, tools and vehicles.
Up until the eighteenth century, wood was the best source of heat and energy. Today metals, ceramics and plastics made by chemical processes have replaced wood. Every year the wood from our trees and forests give us millions of tonnes of paper, books and biofuels.

Tree facts

Trees are some of the largest organisms that have ever lived. Some giant redwoods are ten times heavier than a full-grown whale – but they have also dominated the dry land for over 300 million years – far longer than the dinosaurs or mammals.

Trees are also extremely diverse, with many thousands of species living in a wide range of habitats. There are over 80 000 species (from Arctic willows only a few centimetres high to giant redwoods that grow over 100 metres tall). Forests cover over 30% of dry land.

Largest tree
The largest tree in the world (between 2,300 to 2,700 years old, girth 33 metres, height 84 metres and estimated to weigh 2100 tonnes) is a giant sequoia or wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) called ‘General Sherman’ found in Sequoia National Park in California (ref Wiikipedia).

Tallest tree
The tallest tree is a coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) in California. Its height is 115 metres, about the length of an average football pitch. It is 1000 years old (ref Wikipedia).
The tallest tree in Britain is the Stronardron Douglas fir  (Pseudotsuga menziesii) in Argyll, Scotland. It measures over 83 metres tall (ref Wikipedia). The deciduous tree record is a common lime (Tilia europaea) in Yorkshire’s Duncombe Park.

Oldest tree
‘Old Methuselah’, a bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) in the White Mountains of California has been shown to be 4,767 years old. The oldest tree in Britain is a yew (Taxus baccata) in Fortingall, Scotland which it has been reported is between 2,000 to 5,000 years old (ref Wikipedia).

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Curriculum links with trees

English: Storytelling, creative writing, myths and legends surrounding trees, poetry.

Maths: Estimating and measuring the heights/girths of trees, the age of a tree, the number of prickles on a holly leaf/lobes on an oak leaf, the area of a leaf and symmetry of leaves.

Science: Looking at the changing seasons, leaf keys (classification), life cycles, habitats, food chains and webs, photosynthesis, flower structure, reproduction and seed dispersal, biodiversity, acid rain, adaptations and the properties of wood.

Design and Technology:  Making things from wood, the properties of wood and what type of wood is best for what use? Food from trees, making paper and rope, fuels such as charcoal, extraction of rubber and latex, extract from bark (tannin) for tanning leather.

History: Uses of trees and wood in the past, survey the trees and woods in the area, find out their ages, when and who planted them and if they were planted for any particular reasons, investigate folklore surrounding trees.

Geography: Survey work of the trees in the area, producing detailed plans of the trees in the area/school grounds. Environmental issues – deforestation, acid rain and global warming. Where trees originally came from, tree symbols on flags (maple – Canada) National trees (beech – Denmark).

Art and Design: Leaf prints, ephemeral art, bark rubbings, observational art, drawing with charcoal.

British Trees

Alder (Alnus glutinosa)
Beech (Fagus sylvatica)* can get tall as a
tree but is good for hedging
Downy birch (Betula pubescens)
Elder (Sambucus nigra)
Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)
Sessile oak (Quercus petraea)
Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)
Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)
Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)*
Silver birch (Betula pendula)
Hazel (Corylus avellana)*
Field maple (Acer campestre)*
English or Pedunculate oak (Quercus robur)
Holly (Ilex aquifolium)*
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) *

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