The activity we'd love everyone to think of doing in their gardens this winter is to plant a tree. It's one of the best things anyone can ever do for nature.

Now I know that some of you will have as many trees as your garden can reasonably support. But if you do have space and your reason not for planting is either to do with the cost or you are worried that it sounds difficult, on both counts I'd love to show you what's possible.

The thing is that, in winter, you have the option of planting trees bare-rooted. The tree nursery digs them up, shakes all the soil off, and pops them in the post in a bag.

This means that they're easy to handle and much, much cheaper than if you bought one in a pot.

And it really is little more than then digging a hole and popping it in.

The reason why bare-root planting is possible is because deciduous trees are inactive at this time of year; the roots are dozing.

Here I am planting an Alder tree on 16 March this year, and very serious I look about it, too. I'm checking that I'm planting it at the same depth as it was growing in the nursery, so that the roots aren't above the ground nor the stem beneath the ground (where it might rot).

At this point, it was 1.56m tall (just over 5 feet).

Here it is yesterday, 8 months later and about 3.2m (over 10 feet) tall.

Now not all trees will put on a growth spurt quite as dramatic as that in year one, but it shows what is possible. And even if your heart says you want to buy a big tree because you want instant effect, I always say 'buy small' because it is so much easier to get established, and pretty soon it will be shooting for the stars.

And there are really only three other key pieces of advice:

  • stake a newly planted so that it doens't fall over - those roots haven't had chance to steady themselves. Stake it about a third of the way up - you do want the upper half of the tree to sway about and thus get some strength in its trunk
  • keep it well watered in year 1, especially in dry spells
  • and don't let those tree roots dry out, even though they're asleep - the tree should be out of the bag and into the ground in a jiffy.

Job done!