How to plant trees – and help save the planet

Alys Fowler

My friend Ming is a friend of oaks. Whenever she sees a sapling that’s doomed to be mown or trampled, or has appeared in the middle of a vegetable bed, she is there to rehome it. Now, when I see an oak sapling in the wrong spot, I think of her and move it. To love trees is to invest hope in the future. To have faith in times to come is not easy right now, but there is scientific evidence that mass tree planting may be one of the simplest and cheapest ways to reduce our impact on our ecosystem.

We will need a lot of trees, however – more than a trillion, and they will have to span the globe. They will not negate climate change on their own, but they will store carbon, help clean the air, filter and slow down rainwater to help prevent flooding and, if a diverse bunch is planted, help increase biodiversity. A target of a trillion trees needs worldwide backing from every country and every government. It’s easy to feel pessimistic about the likelihood of that.

But on 30 November the Woodland Trust is leading the Big Climate Fightback as part of national tree week, where you can either plant a tree or make a donation and it will plant one for you. Research suggests that every tree matters, even if it’s just a few more on grazing land, or on your street. We don’t need to create dense forests, but we do need to start fitting them in everywhere: that means at home, at work and all the bits in between. Does your office block have a car park that could be home to some trees? Is there a local playground begging for some shade? Or is there a strip of grass by the side of a road crying out for a tree?

Autumn is the best time to plant a tree. Photograph: Alamy

There will be hurdles – you will need permission on land you don’t own – and much concrete to crack, but there’s no time to be lost. Autumn is the best time to plant a tree. It’s a good time for seed-sowing, too. There is an abundance of free seeds scattered below many trees to harvest; a few recycled yoghurt pots and compost and you’ve got the beginnings of a nursery.

Related: How to grow fuchsia | Alys Fowler

If you’re looking for the perfect tree for your garden, Martin Crawford’s Trees For Gardens, Orchards And Permaculture is the bible for productive nut, fruit and medicinal trees that store carbon and provide something for the larder. If you don’t have space at home, consider supporting charities such as Trees For Cities, which has been improving lives by creating urban forests for more than 20 years. Or get in touch with the Incredible Edible Network and the Orchard Project, both of which are planting fruit trees that will be rewarding communities and the environment for years to come.