If you are looking for an outdoor activity to enjoy that will get all the family involved, planting a tree together should be right at the top of the list.
The benefits of planting a tree with your family are as numerous as they are varied. For one, it will get everyone away from those device screens for a while, and out in the fresh air. Then of course, there is the special bond that will be formed between you, your children, and the tree itself. As you kids learn to plant and then care for the tree, and watch it grow, they themselves will be growing, but the tree will act as a constant reminder of the precious time you spent together choosing the tree, and then planting it.
There is also the sense of accomplishing something, which all gardeners know too well, when you see something that you planted, fed, and watered, nurtured and transformed into a fully grown living organism, complete with leafy branches and flowers.
It doesn’t really matter what age your children are, from toddlers to teens, they will still get a lot out of the whole process as long as you approach it in the right way, and this article is here to help you with that.
How to plant a tree with the family
As tempting as it may be to give your kids a couple of spades and tell them to get digging, there is more to the whole tree planting process than that and we are here to guide you through it step by step.
First of all, you need to decide on what kind of tree you are going to plant. Now, you might be limited by space and the UK climate, but you still have a good selection to choose from. One of the best ways to decide is to think about what you want the tree for. Is it to provide you with fruit? Maybe you want one that has beautiful flowers come the spring? Some trees are better at enticing certain types of birds and wildlife, so that might be something to consider too.
Different types of tree will get settled and grow better if planted at specific times of the year, so be sure to look into this before you go planting. Generally speaking, you’re probably going to be planting in Autumn through to early Spring.
Once you’ve chosen your tree, your next task is picking out the right spot to plant it in. If you’re planting in your garden at home, which I’m guessing most of you will be, you must find out where the utility cables, pipes, etc. are located so you don’t accidentally cause a power cut, flood your garden, or worse, hurt yourself.
Avoid planting trees on slopes or hills or you could end up with it getting blown over in the future due to roots not being able to get established properly.
With your perfect spot picked out and everything checked to see that it is safe to start digging, you now need to measure the root ball of the tree you are going to plant as this will let you know how deep and wide you’re planting hole needs to be.
The hole should be the same depth as the root ball, but two to three times as wide in order to promote growth.
Once you have these measurements, it’s a good idea to mark out your planting hole on the ground. You can see from this photo where the marks are for this one:
When you dig out the planting hole, it is very important that the bottom of it is raised slightly in the centre. This little bump, or mound, is where the root ball will sit and it will prevent damage to the roots from excess water.
I usually dig down to about half of the planned depth from the centre first, then dig outsides to the same depth. After this it is easy to dig the sides further down and leave the raised centre mound like you can see here:
Once the hole is dug, place the tree inside and pack soil into the hole, making sure that the roots have good contact with the soil and that there are no large air pockets as this can cause problems later. Likewise, you don’t want to pack the soil too densely either.
Once your tree is planted and the hole is filled, you should check that the flare of the tree is not under the soil level, and if it is, you need to make some adjustments.
If planting a larger sapling, especially one that is top heavy, it may require you to also plant a stake to ensure that the roots don’t get rocked or moved around too much.
Make sure the stake is dug in deep enough, and will provide enough support for tree as it grows, and you may even need to have two or even three stakes for some trees like in this photo:
How to get the family interested in the idea of planting a tree
In these days of technology addiction, you might be feeling a little apprehensive about trying to peel your children’s hands and eyes away from their smartphones, tablets, etc. but there’s really no need to. In fact, you can use those devices to help get them interested, but that wasn’t my first step when I decided to plant a tree with my family.
What I did first, was to get the kids in the car and drive to a nearby forest that I knew had some very old, and impressive trees. I took them for a walk amongst them and got them to try and guess how old they were and then surprised them with their actual age, which was much older than they were guessing, as we know trees can be hundreds of years old and live on way beyond us – a family reminder still living and shared 🙂
I’d prepared a nice little picnic lunch, and I set up the blanket amongst the trees, and then when everyone was happily eating and enjoying the natural surroundings, I brought up the idea of planting our own tree. Of course, they were all really excited about it.
Would they have been so receptive if I’d have just brought it up at home? I don’t know, but I definitely think being sat having fun, surrounded by trees helped them warm to the idea.
How to keep the family interested in planting a tree?
So, I’d got them interested in the idea, but I knew I had to keep them engaged in planting a tree plan, or they’d be thinking of something else by the time we got home from the forest.
So, here’s what I did. I got them to use their devices to look into what kind of tree they would like to plant. When they chose one, I’d get them to try to find out how big it would probably grow to, and then to think if it would fit in our average sized garden once fully grown. I also gave some suggestions to have a look at, such as apple trees (an idea they loved) and such, and got them to look up youtube videos on how to plant a tree. We also had a look at the best apple tree to plant as I thought it served a dual purpose. To remind hard work pays off long term!
This filled the full journey home, and kept up the interest and excitement about planting a family tree together. The kids were feeling pretty tired after a long day out and went to bed early.
The next morning, I surprised them by telling them we were going down to the nursery to pick out our family tree, and to get them some of their very own gardening tools from the garden centre. They absolutely loved every minute of it, and couldn’t wait to get back and get planting. Here you can see those tools:
Planting the family tree
As my boys are old enough to do a lot of the work themselves, I just acted in a supervisory role, but made sure that they were included in every step of the decision making. We picked out a suitable spot for our tree, and then I guided them through the process, step by step, but through asking them questions. For example: ‘So, we have our chosen spot. What is our next step?’ ‘how big should the planting hole be?’ Etc.
They surprised me with how much knowledge they had learned online and managed to soak up within a couple of days, and I really didn’t need to help out that much at all. Obviously for younger children, you would have to be a lot more hands on, but you can still keep the kids engaged by asking them questions like I did.
Within a few hours our new family tree was planted, and the kids kept going out to look at it, and asking when they could water it. Then one of them asked if they could do it again. Not wanting to discourage them, I agreed, but then later I was looking online and I saw that the council was asking for volunteers to come and help plant trees in the local area, and I thought this would be a wonderful way for the boys to not only enjoy planting trees, but to do something for the community, and also to see that others are interested in planting trees.
So that’s what we did, and they loved it. It was so nice to see so many families there, all getting back to nature and doing something constructive with their time, and having fun and bonding too.
Without a doubt, planting a family tree together was an amazing experience that none of us will forget, and one we will repeat in the future.