Planting checklist

This checklist is intended to provide for the basics in routine planting schemes. For more specialist situations, such as trees in hard landscape (paved areas), please refer to the Urban tree planting guidance.

The responsibility is on applicants to ensure that landscape specifications comply with this checklist.

Note regarding existing trees. In the context of our climate change emergency declaration, more mature trees are valued in terms of carbon storage in addition to public amenity and biodiversity.

In comparison to a mature tree, a new tree offers little visually or environmentally for at least 20 to 30 years after planting. Mature trees are irreplaceable. Priority shall be given to retaining existing established trees in a sustainable manner.


Successful planting schemes are a fundamental element in good place making. They are important for physical and mental wellbeing. They are important for biodiversity and climate change resilience.

This checklist is intended to assist in ensuring that the best possible standards are applied in new schemes.

The Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) Section 131 states:

  • trees make an important contribution to the character and quality of urban environments and can also help mitigate and adapt to climate change
  • planning policies and decisions should ensure that new streets are tree lined
  • that appropriate measures are in place to secure the long-term maintenance of newly planted trees, and that existing trees are retained wherever possible
  • to ensure that the right trees are planted in the right places, and solutions are found that are compatible with highways standards and the needs of different users

Please ensure compliance with the following:

1. Drainage strategy/utilities

Display utilities on landscape plans

To reduce the uncoordinated spatial chaos of individual trenches, the National Joint Utilities Group (NJUG) recommends the use of “shared trenches”. 

Drainage strategy and utility routes must be factored in and displayed on the landscape proposals. 

Easements and underground tanks are likely to conflict with the landscape proposals. Such features can sterilise significant areas of land for planting/other uses. 

2. Residential rear gardens

Provide tree planting in rear gardens as well as front

Trees shall be included in rear gardens especially those adjoining the highway for double benefits (public amenity). 

Front & rear garden views can be enhanced by tree planting which will project above the sometimes monotonous mass of timber fencing (in rear gardens) thereby adding some visual relief. 

3. Structural planting

Protection of the ground Protect soil from construction damage (in accordance with BS5837)

Tree protection measures must include the protection of areas designated for structural planting as per BS5837 trees in relation to design, demolition, and construction. 

This will better ensure successful planting as the soil structure will be protected from damage including compaction. This must form part of the Arboricultural Plans for tree protection- a pre commencement requirement. 

4. Large canopy trees

Provide the largest canopy trees possible in spaces available

It is the policy of LCC to achieve the largest canopy trees possible in any given situation as they provide the best value in respect of LCC policies for amenity, biodiversity, air quality and climate change etc. 

Columnar/fastigiated type trees are therefore unacceptable unless there is some overriding justification- space must be provided to accommodate spreading canopy type trees. 

Also consider species diversity. The more diverse a tree population is, the more resilient it will be in resisting the impact of pest and/or diseases. 

5. Spacing of trees/avenues

Provide closer spacing for quicker effects within acceptable timescales

TIf planting spacing was based on the ultimate canopy spread of the trees, it would take a hundred years plus to achieve a linking canopy effect. On the other hand, closer planting spacing can achieve the desired results quicker within more acceptable timescales. 

  • Large trees- optimum 8m spacing (e.g. Limes/ London Planes)
  • Medium trees- optimum 5m spacing (e.g. Whitebeam)
  • Small trees/columnar/fastigiatedoptimum spacing 3-5m

A staggered grid avenue can achieve a denser appearance. Closer planting combined with a programmed management for thinning out can enable even faster results. 

6. Tree specification

The default size of a tree in a public area is Extra Heavy Standard (14 to 16cm girth) for resilience (in accordance with BS 8545 2014). 

In private areas, or where trees are embedded in a shrub bed or where a naturalist planting belt is planned, then a lower specification (e.g. a standard size tree (8-10cm girth) may be acceptable subject to approval. 

In accordance with BS 8545 2014 Trees from Nursery to Independence, the tree pit for standard tree size specification (and above) must include an irrigation tube with a cap (unless it forms part of a naturalistic woodland type scheme). 

3 low stakes (H800mm) with flexible ties are also required per tree for support (underground guying for semi–mature trees). All standard type tree planting in grass areas must include a spiral guard/mower guard to protect against mower damage/strimmer damage (as well as 1.5 m dia bark mulch circle). 

Alternative double staking method – cross bar pinned to twin stakes approximately 300mm from tree and 400mm above ground level. Must include a hessian spacer/tie knotted (as a buffer) between tree and cross bar. The tie stakes and ties must be designed to have a useful life of only 2 to 3 years after which they are to be removed. All tree ties used must allow the tree to increase in diameter without getting “strangled”. 

Below-ground root ball anchoring systems - below-ground ties or cables that ratchet the root ball firmly into the ground and are completely invisible (tidy aesthetic effect). Skilled installation required and can only be used with a healthy root ball that is more than 150L. Once installed, this system does not need to be removed. 

Note - single stake use is not supported. 

7. Set back (for example from kerbs)

Offset planting to protect infrastructure

In soft landscape areas, trees must be set back from the side of the highway/footway by a min of 1.5m (medium trees) and min 2m plus (larger trees) but every situation is different and this needs to be checked. 

If necessary, protection technology, such as copper lined root barriers, can be considered to provide additional protection to flexible surfaces etc. 

Note - tree planting bed within parking / road verges may be considered special circumstances. Also refer to the tree planting Table A.1 in BS5837 - distances to structures. 

8. Street trees - road verge

3m default minimum width - provide soil volume free of utilities to support sustainable trees

3m is the optimum width that provides sufficient soil volumes of sustainable trees and protects the highway/footway infrastructure from pressure damage. This width also negates the need for supplementary street lighting to the footway behind. 

NOTE: Early liaison with the Highways Adoptions team is advised on all landscape proposals associated with any highways to avoid conflicts. In particular, tree positions must be compatible with street lighting /lighting columns. Evidence will be required to demonstrate that agreements have been reached prior to final landscape approvals (commuted sums may apply). Refer also to Transport SPD 2023 Transport Supplementary Planning Document - Appendix A.5 paras 989- 993. 

Copper lined root barriers can be installed for additional protection. Verges must include understory planting to provide an air quality buffer and to encourage active travel (subject to highway safety permitting). Liaise in advance with the Highway Adoption team. 

There is some flexibility on soil provision. Narrower soil beds combined with load bearing root cells can be considered in certain situations. 

9. Street trees - offset to building facade

Justify distance that is based on: ultimate spread radius plus 2m gap for maintenance/light penetration. 

The standoff from the tree stem/trunk position to a building facade shall be based on ultimate spread radius plus 2m gap for maintenance/light penetration. For maximum benefits, the ultimate tree canopy spread size must be factored. Canopy spreads for urban trees can be found on LCC guidance- guideline distances to trees. and-heritage/landscape-planning-anddevelopment 

Common standoff distances (from trunk to building façade) range from 5- 9m. Sufficient soil provision must be included in the design. Liaise in advance with the Highway Adoption team. 

10. Rotavation within root protection areas (RPAs)

Display the full tree survey information (including RPAs) on landscape plans with bold warning

All landscape plan drawings must display the full tree survey information on retained trees including, critically the RPAs. 

There shall be no mechanical cultivation (rotavation) within the RPAs of retained trees. This is stipulated in BS5837. This mechanical approach will damage tree roots – low impact hand working methods must be specified. A bold warning to this effect must be clearly displayed on all landscape drawings and specifications. 

11. Shrubs - use correct densities

  • specify size of plants to be planted, root package (normally container grown)
  • specify density of plants to be planted – how many plants per m2 of planted area, in the case of plants other than trees. Bark mulch required

Guideline densities: dwarf shrubs 4-8/m2; vigorous groundcover 4-5/m2; small shrubs/ medium grasses 3-4/m2; medium shrubs/tall grasses 2-3/m2; tall shrubs 1.5/m2. 

12. Hedging - include shelters and mulch/staggered row

Hedging must include bio-degradable tree tubes in public areas. The default for hedging is a double staggered row 450mm spacing. All proposed hedges must include 75mm deep bark mulch/mulch matting system. 

13. Native woodland/buffer/hedging or scrub

This type of planting will require bio-degradable tree shelters required along with a mulching system. The mulch can be bark mulch or bio-degradable mulch matts (such as sheep’s wool, cardboard and fabric mulches like hemp). 

Please refer to the guidance on buffer planting for more information. 

Planting centres must not exceed 2m for buffer planting and must include a specification size mix from transplants/ feathers up to standards. 

Protective fencing may be a consideration in some circumstances. Management arrangements need to be addressed as part of any proposals. 

14. Tree root packaging

Bare Root (BR) trees are not accepted for standard tree sizes and above.  

“Standard trees” and above must have their root packaging specified. Only container grown (CG), air pot and root balled (RB)trees are accepted. 

Plastic free options preferred- see below on use of plastics. 

Bare Root (BR) trees are not accepted. Lower cost Bare Root trees are a false economy due to frequently high failure rates and replanting requirements. 

15. Topsoil/Subsoil (exclusive of trees in Soil Cells)

Compaction is one of the main issues that leads to planting failures. Good soil management can avoid this. 

If areas are being made up from scratch, then engineering information is required on the soil build up for the area. This must conform to: BS8601 2013 Subsoil & BS 3882 2015 specification Topsoil. Please refer to LCC guidelines on the Council’s website under “Landscape Planning and Development”. 

Preparation of the receiving area and spreading of soils

The depth of topsoil spread should not normally exceed 300mm. Suitable (loosened) subsoil should provide the remainder of the minimum rooting depth. The minimum rooting depth should be normally: 

  • 450mm for grass
  • 600mm for shrubs
  • 900mm for trees

(Subsoil in accordance with BS8601: 2013 specification subsoil) 

Prior to spreading topsoil, the receiving area should be de-compacted to increase permeability. 

NOTE 1: The functioning of topsoil within a landscape depends not only on the quality of the topsoil but also on the care given to the preparation of the receiving area, which will often have been compacted by the passage of vehicles or storage of materials. 

NOTE 2: It is particularly important that the topsoil is not over-compacted during spreading. Over compaction prevents plant root growth and function, and reduces water attenuation and the ability of excess water to drain away. It is one of the most common reasons for plant failures in landscape schemes. 

In areas of tree planting in soft landscape settings, 900mm deep soil is required throughout to allow for the ultimate extent of rooting area. This must be applied to the full volume/extent of individual beds and not confined to any “tree pits.” This is an engineering issue and must be provided within the Engineer’s Ground Works specification. 

16. Bark mulch to trees

Ensure 1.5 m diameter bark mulch circle to trees in grassed areas. Ensure bark mulch is incorporated on all planting types including shrubs and hedging. 

17. Use bio-degradable and plastic alternatives on all products

Approx 4-8% of annual global oil consumption is associated with plastics. 

The Plastic production lifecycle is greenhouse -gas intensive (from extraction to refining and disposal). Microplastics are harmful to human and animal life. 

In line with Defra and council policy to reduce emissions and the use of plastic, all planting paraphernalia should be from sustainable sources, plastic free and with a low carbon footprint e.g., Green–tech Natural tree tie is made entirely of natural fibres and is fully biodegradable. Further examples from Green–tech: 

  • Bio-Earth Biodegradable Plastic-free tree shelter guard: https://www.greentech. tree-planting-protection-packages/ earthboard-biodegradable-plastic-free-treeshelter- guard-and-stake-package
  • Rainbow Treebio – biodegradable Spiral Guard
  • Gt Greenguard – tree tube made from Kraft paper
  • Tubex Nature Shelter – 100% bio-based tree shelter
  • The Rainbow Treebio weed mats – made of 100% plant material
  • Ecomatt Bio- biodegradable weed mats
  • NATURETIE - eco-friendly biodegradable tree tie naturetie/

Note – tree stakes and ties are only usually required for the initial 2-3 years (depending on establishment) after which they must be removed to avoid constriction damage. It is possible for trees to die from ‘tie-wire strangulation.’ Thorough management cannot be relied upon. Using biodegradable products can negate the need for many expensive management tasks and can avoid costly tree/planting losses. 

18. Garden fencing

Access for wildlife and include gaps in rear garden fencing for small mammals

Gardens can provide very good habitat for hedgehogs and other small mammals, but modern fencing often excludes them. Details should provide for accessible gaps under rear garden fences (but discourage access onto roads or built up “dead ends”). 

19. Wildflower and species rich grasslands

Provide evidence up front on all aspects including soils (consider other alternatives)

If such grasslands are being proposed outside the Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) process, then the following requirements should be considered very carefully. 

Although swathes of wildflowers might look good on plans this is not necessarily an easy option. Wildflower meadows require specialist treatments including special soils and mowing regimes using special machinery. 

Success heavily depends on nonstandard management resources. Therefore, to be taken seriously, wildflower proposals must be evidenced up front on all aspects from the type of soils to the management provider’s details. 

A more realistic consideration might be to simply vary the mowing regimes of an area (via a landscape management plan). The existing sward could be worked into rather than being ploughed up with the inherent high failure risk (and high costs). 

20. Peat free compost

Prohibition on peat through full production cycle must be demonstrated

Peat based compost must be ruled out of the planting process starting with nursery production through to compost backfill products used on site. This prohibition on peat must be clearly stated in all the specifications and schedules. If not, then the submission is likely to be rejected/ subject to delays. 

Peat bogs are a carbon sink - meaning they soak up carbon dioxide emissions that exacerbate global warming. This is a climate change issue. 

21. Green Space provision

Areas must be multi-functional for all ages and abilities

GOV.UK National Design Guide 2019 states: “N1 Provide a network of high quality, green open spaces with a variety of landscapes and activities, including play.” Green Space must be multi- functional and provide for all ages/ abilities (DDA compliant). A variety of planting incorporating biodiversity and seasonal interest is required whist maintaining natural surveillance. These requirements apply equally to shared private amenity space (communal). Planting should form part of the boundary treatments/enclosure to define limits and safety from traffic etc. For play provision requirements – refer to Fields in Trust guidance. 

22. Plant substitutes and variations

Once approved any changes are notifiable

Once the landscape proposals are approved, any changes thereafter to species/specification for example, must be approved informally or via a non-material amendment depending on the significance of the changes. This is necessary to avoid a breach of conditions situation and subsequent compliance action by the LPA. 

23. Landscape Management Plan

This must conform to the landscape planning and development guidance

A standard “off the shelf “ nonspecific document will not be accepted - it must be wholly site specific. If there are areas of woodland type/buffer planting, then the management plan must include details of periodic thinning and “beating up” and be in accordance with “Guidance Note No.3 Planting and Managing Amenity Woodlands (D.R. Helliwell – Arb Assoc 2006)”. 

24. Specification terms

NOTE: Terms such as “or Similar (Equal) approved” will not be accepted in any specifications intended for Planning Application purposes. Nor will terms such as “should” or “could.” Instead, terms such as “shall” must be used. It is not acceptable to using an “example” when specifying a product. 

The use of such terms will result in the submission being rejected and subject to delays. All specifications must be final and not left unresolved, vague, open ended or with loopholes. The approved specifications will be consequently monitored for full compliance. 

25. British Standards

They should not be quoted as if they were a specification

This British Standards take the form of guidance and recommendations. They should not be quoted as if they were a specification. References to any BS must be accompanied with the actual specific details that accord. 

You can request a PDF copy of the planting checklist by emailing