How Do I Plant Tree Seedlings?

Kristie Lorette

When planting tree seedlings, carefully the nursery's directions, as they are often quite fragile and vulnerable to the elements, rough handling and disease. Tree seedlings are young trees smaller than 3 feet (.91 m) that require careful handling. The best time to plant tree seedlings is as soon as you bring them home from the store or nursery. Fall is the preferred season to plant new trees because the cooler weather gives the seedlings time to establish a strong root system for the following summer. To start the planting process, simply use a shovel to dig a hole that is wide enough and deep enough to accommodate the root system of the seedling.

A plant nursery often includes outdoor space for mature plants as well as sheltered greenhouse areas for seedlings.
A plant nursery often includes outdoor space for mature plants as well as sheltered greenhouse areas for seedlings.

It is imperative to keep the roots of tree seedlings moist at all times, up until the time of planting. When you buy tree seedlings from a nursery or store, you will typically find that the roots of the tree are inside a bag or pot or wrapped in a damp cloth in an attempt to keep the roots moist. Keep the root system of the seedling moist until you put it in the ground.

Tree seedlings should be planted immediately after purchase.
Tree seedlings should be planted immediately after purchase.

If you do not plant the tree seedlings right away, then continue to keep the root system moist by adding water to the plastic bag or cloth wrapped around the root system. Store the tree seedlings in a dark and cool area to help the moisture remain in the roots. If you are planting several tree seedlings at one time, make sure that as you are planting each of the tree seedlings that the other tree seedling roots are kept moist, damp and healthy until you are able to plant these seedlings.

Carefully plan where the tree seedlings will be placed in your yard. Keep in mind how much sun your type of tree will require, the type of soil you have and how much room it has to grow. Be careful not to underestimate how much room a tree may need in five, 10 or 30 years.

Push the root system of the tree seedlings into the hole you have dug. While holding the plant upright with one hand, use your other hand to spread out the roots of the tree seedling in the hole, so that each root has some room to attach itself to the ground without being butted up against the other roots.

After the roots are spread in the hole, start the fill in the hole with the dirt you side aside when shoveling the hole. Push the dirt into the hole with your hand, but up to the collar of the root. The collar of the root is the main root from which the other roots sprout out. In other words, the collar of the root should be in line or level with the ground once you have filled in the hole with dirt.

Compact the dirt with your hands so that the dirt is firmly holding the tree seedling in the upright position. Some trees may need staking to encourage a straight trunk. It is imperative that if the trees are planted during a warm season that they are watered on a regular basis. You can ensure that they are adequately watered by monitoring their leaves — if they appear curled or droopy, be sure to give the roots a good soaking.

Depending on the size of the seedling, they may need to be protected from animals with a wire fence or other protective barrier. Ask the nursery what they recommend for your area.

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