We can’t pretend there are never any problems when it comes to planting trees, but most issues are fixed with a few simple solutions. So we wanted to do a bit of tree planting myth-busting. Here are the top ten things we hear people worry about when deciding to plant trees on their site and, most importantly, what to do about them.

  1. Trees are difficult and expensive to maintain

It’s true that trees do need maintaining to ensure they thrive on your site. However, this doesn’t need to be expensive or time consuming. Keeping weeds down and watering are the two key jobs.  

To cut back on weeding and to help keep moisture in the ground we recommend putting down a mulch when the tree is planted and then topping it up every few months. This is a quick job that can be done by volunteers. The mulch itself can even be supplied free by local tree surgeons.  

Watering during very dry spells, particularly in the growing season, is also important, but not expensive. Again, this is a job that can involve volunteers. Even in summer it will only need doing once a week and only if there hasn’t been enough rainfall. You might even consider adding rainwater collection containers nearby to cut costs of watering further.  

Once the tree reaches the 3-5 year mark then most trees will need a little bit of care such as occasional pruning and thinning out. However, most of the time they will need nothing more than a regular check-up to make sure they’re healthy. 

Read our guide to maintenance to find out more. 

  1. Trees cause allergies” 

The ability of different trees to cause an allergic reaction depends on its pollen, including its quantity, the buoyancy of the pollen in the air, and whether it contains something that triggers an allergy.  The OPALS scale indicates species that are likely to trigger allergies, a lower score on the scale may be more suitable for planting near areas with high footfall. Rowans, apples, crab apples, pears, hawthorn, plum have lower OPALS scores and many of these species can be found in our bundles. As you may notice, all these trees are fruit, seed or pod-producing, indicating that they are female trees. Female trees are not pollen-producing, so if there is a tree that has a high scale, (i.e. Yew trees) the female version is at the lowest end of the scale.  

In short, some trees release pollen, especially in the spring months, but this should also be balanced against the undeniable benefits that trees give us. Poor air quality and high temperatures are both things that can significantly contribute to allergies and other severe health conditions. Trees are excellent at improving air quality and also providing a cooling effect.  

Read our blog about the benefits of trees to find out more. 

  1. Trees take up space that could be used to generate income” 

Land planted with trees is sometimes seen as a wasted asset. This is not the case. Forest Research has undertaken extensive studies of the value trees provide including a small pilot study looking at the value of trees on the NHS estate.  

The pilot study, in collaboration with the NHS Forest team at the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, was conducted across four sites – Meanwood in Leeds, Fazakerley in Liverpool, Southmead Hospital in Bristol, and Royal United Hospitals in Bath. It aimed to quantify and assess the ecosystem services provided by trees. 

Key findings revealed that these trees and woodlands offer a range of invaluable benefits, including carbon storage and sequestration, air pollution removal, flood regulation, temperature regulation, and noise mitigation. The total estimated annual value of these services across the four sites was a staggering £82,531. This is an annual figure that will likely increase as trees mature and the effects of climate change start to intensify. 

Read the full report on the Forest Research website

  1. Tree planting schemes don’t work” 

There have been a number of attention-grabbing headlines in the media over the last few years that suggest planting trees is a waste of time. The truth is trees are vital, but unsurpringly the wider situation is not simple. The NHS Forest is not a replacement for other reductions in emissions that need to take place within the NHS and across the rest of the world. Trees offer a number of ecosystem benefits but it takes many years – or even decades – for trees to reach maturity. We need to both care for and protect the trees we have and we need to plant more for future generations.  

The benefits that trees provide do not stop at climate change and carbon sequestration. Trees also provide a cooling effect, improve air quality, prevent flooding, offer privacy, mitigate against noise and crucially in a healthcare setting provide significant benefits for our mental and physical health. Again, these benefits mostly come from mature trees, but if we don’t plant trees now there won’t be enough trees in the future. Tree planting is important, maintaining the trees once they are planted is even more important. 

Read our blog about the benefits of planting trees on healthcare sites to find out more. 

  1. Tree roots damage infrastructure

The extent to which a tree extends out from its trunk varies from tree to tree. It is important to consider the distance from a building and underground infrastructure when you are planting a tree. 

We help sites ensure they have chosen sensible locations for their tree planting to minimise the risk of the trees causing damage to infrastructure. This is one of the reasons we ask for photos and supporting information before you start planting. Photos are not a replacement for being on site so this is why it’s important to involve your Estates team as they should know which areas are safe to plant on. Some species can become a nuisance if planted in the wrong place, but we can supply a special ‘urban bundle’ of trees that contains species that do not grow too large or have overly invasive root systems.

You are unlikely to encounter problems if you are 40m or more away from a built area, but in reality you can usually plant much closer. If you are in any way concerned about how trees might impact on built areas then we suggest you contact an arboriculturist or local authority tree officer.

  1.  “Trees are dangerous

The risk to human safety from trees is very low. Unfortunately, media attention has made the risk seem much higher than it really is. Nevertheless, it’s important to take a sensible approach to risk management. We suggest you undertake regular checks of trees on your site and remove anything that may pose significant risk such as dead branches. 

  1. You can’t plant trees in small areas” 

Trees do need room to grow, but there are many varieties that can thrive in smaller spaces. We offer an urban tree bundle that contains varieties that won’t grow too large. 

Find out more about our different tree bundles. 

  1. Leaf litter causes a hazard” 

We can’t pretend most native species don’t lose their leaves in autumn. In a natural system, leaves that fall to the ground benefit a whole host of invertebrates/ pollinators and is a key part of the decomposition cycle. Unfortunately, leaf litter, especially in an urban setting, is often seen through a critical lens as an untidy nuisance which needs to be cleaned away. The truth is in the right place leaf litter is a fantastic habitat for all kinds of life and is brilliant for promoting biodiversity, but in the wrong place it can cause some problems. This means that there does need to be some work to move leaf litter away from areas of footfall, but if done right the leaf litter can help you out in other ways.

Leaf litter creates a fantastic source of mulch. As you know, mulching the soil around our newly planted trees is our top tip when it comes to maintaining young trees. So why not take advantage of this resource which is already in the local system and ask your Estates team to use leaf litter instead of importing compost. You can also enlist volunteers to help.

By collecting leaves you can use this natural resource to your advantage. Collect your leaves into piles as soon as they fall. Collect these as early as possible as they will retain their high nitrogen and water content. Put them in a compost pile, a wire framed one is preferable as this encourages air flow. Cover with a tarp, turn occasionally and keep hydrated. Depending on how often you turn the leaves they can be ready for use in six months to two years. Once this matter has broken down into light flakey matter you can get on and start mulching around the base of the saplings.

  1. Trees will make my car sticky if I park underneath them” 

A sticky substance called honeydew can fall from trees during the summer months as a by-product of insects called aphids feeding on the trees. It usually only happens for a few weeks over June and July. We don’t recommend using pesticides as they are harmful to biodiversity and humans. Aphid populations will normally be controlled by natural predators such as ladybirds. Some species, notably lime trees, are more prone to this than others so we suggest avoiding them in your planting plans. To deter aphids on trees you might consider adding some plants that act as a repellent, such as marigolds, or creating aphid ‘traps’ by planting sunflowers or nasturtiums. If cars do end up with any sticky residue on them it can usually be washed off with warm soapy water.

  1. Native trees are too slow growing – it will be years before I see any benefit” 

Trees commonly have lifespans measured in decades, if not centuries, and can take 20 – 30 years or more to reach maturity. However, growth rates are dependent on the species planted and the topography and many first-time planters are pleasantly surprised to see just how quickly trees establish with appropriate care and maintenance in the early years. 

The young seedlings that NHS Forest principally supply are well suited to achieving quick results. They are less prone to issues around transplantation and are able to quickly develop the broad root systems that are essential to the trees’ long-term viability. While small trees are vulnerable to weeds and mammal damage initially, they will grow rapidly and develop to a point where they are more ‘self-sufficient’ within just a few growing seasons. Trees planted as woodland or copses should typically see closed canopies within a decade of planting. 

This website uses cookies. You can find out more in our privacy policy.