Only around 8% of the plants found in UK gardens are trees and just 18% are shrubs. But trees and shrubs are vital for our garden ecosystems, through:
Providing food and shelter for a wide range of wildlife in the form of flowers, berries, leaves and woody matter, as well as serving as a structure for nesting.
Mitigating climate change effects by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, reducing air pollution and preserving water sources.
Take a look at some of the common trees that you can plant in your garden to provide food and shelter for wildlife.
Apple trees are great source of food for bees, including the early bumblebee. All varieties of apple tree are good for pollinators, especially crab apples which produce lots of flowers.
Many mammals and birds, such as thrushes, feast on the fruit either directly from the tree or fallen fruit on the ground.
Dense apple trees also provide nesting spots for blackbirds.
Cherry trees are particularly great for bees, butterflies and moths.
The blossom appears in the spring, attracting many pollinators ahead of its summer fruit. The fruits are also consumed by a variety of bird species.
Hawthorn trees support a variety of wildlife.
The blossom is visited by the tawny mining bee and the early bumblebee in late spring. It is a very important wildlife tree, as it is a food plant for a vast number of insects (over 300 species). The fruits are eaten by many migrating birds such as fieldfares and thrushes, as well as small mammals.
The dense thorny foliage also creates fantastic nesting shelter for many bird species.
Holly trees are fantastic for pollinators and birds.
The flowers are an ideal pollen source for pollinators and the leaves provide food for the holly blue butterfly. Berries from female holly plants can also serve as a vital winter food source for birds.
Holly is a slow-growing evergreen tree. It is also a dioecious, which means for most varieties of holly, the male and female flowers occur on different trees. Only female holly plants produce berries, but only in the presence of a male plant.
Plum trees blossom in early spring and are often visited by the tawny mining bee and many species of butterfly. Like many flowering trees, these can be prone to aphids, but this means that they provide a great food source for the two-spot ladybird.
Plum trees usually fruit heavily, with the sugar-rich bounty enjoyed by birds, wasps and late summer butterflies.
For a more extensive list of species and practical considerations of planting them in your garden, see the advice on UK native trees and shrubs from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Buddleia is a great nectar source for a wide variety of pollinators including butterflies and many solitary bees. This shrub is additionally important to bumblebees as a late season source of nectar before hibernation.
It is importat to note that some types of buddleia can spread and compete with natural vegetation for light, space and nutrients. We advise that you don’t plant buddleia where it won’t be managed. You’ll also need to remove the seed heads after flowering and cut it back during the winter.
The flowering currant shrub is popular with lots of pollinators and often visited by many butterfly species and bumblebees, including the early bumblebee.
Gooseberry shrubs are visited regularly by several pollinators including the early bumblebee and tawny mining bee.
Mahonia shrubs are evergreen, with cheerful masses of bee-friendly flowers throughout winter and berries for birds.
Privet shrubs are a great source of berries for various bird species, whilst its flowers are popular with the small tortoiseshell butterfly. Caterpillars of the privet hawk moth also feed on the leaves.
Firethorn shrubs are a fantastic for bees and butterflies with their flowers in the late spring and summer. Their bright berries in the autumn and winter attract blackbirds in particular.
This shrub can be grown free-standing, trained against a wall or fence, or can form part of an evergreen hedge.
The single-flowered forms of the prickly Rosa rugosa species in particular, make an excellent hedge or secure boundary.
Rose shrubs provide flowers which are great for bees, while the hips provide mammals and birds, notably finches, with energy in autumn.
This is a tall and native deciduous shrub that beams with bright red berries, which are great for birds in the autumn.