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Tree Planting Tips

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Tree Planting Tips

Careful planning along with appropriate stock handling and follow up caring of your newly planted trees will help ensure that they survive and grow. Below are a few planting tips on how to properly care for your trees.

The best time to plant

Plant deciduous trees in the spring, as soon as the frost is out of the ground, or in the fall, from leaf-fall until freeze-up.

Evergreens can be planted early in the spring until four weeks after deciduous trees have opened their leaves or in the fall, from about the first week of August to the end of October.

Handling and storing seedlings

  1. Do not allow the seedlings to dry out. Ample moisture is the key factor in seedling survival. Remember, "if they dry, they die."

  2. Transport seedlings carefully. Rough handling can damage root systems and predispose the seedlings to stress.

  3. Avoid temperature extremes. Fluctuations in temperature -- especially excessive heat -- during storage and transport can result in seedling trauma.

  4. Plant promptly. Once the seedlings are delivered, minimize storage time (especially early in the season).

  5. Don't open the bags until you're ready to plant, and reseal any partially used bags as quickly as possible.

  6. Handle container stock seedlings by the plug, not by the stem.

Preparing the site

Tree seedlings require four basic elements to thrive: water, nutrients, sunlight, and room to grow. Grasses, weeds, and brush growing on the planting site threaten your new seedlings by competing for these basic requirements. Heavy vegetation also provides habitat for mice and other rodents that eat the bark of young seedlings.

Good site preparation helps to reduce competition from unwanted vegetation, and also ensures suitable planting spots for your seedlings. Site preparation can also make tree planting easier. Consult the extension note entitled "Clearing the Way: Preparing the Site for Tree Planting," listed at the bottom of this page for information on different site preparation techniques.

Proper planting technique

Planting can be done with a machine or by hand. No matter what seedling types, planting methods, or tools are used, there are a few things that planters must do to plant a tree properly:

  1. For bare root stock, spread the roots out well and never roll them up in the soil.

  2. Place the seedling as upright as possible. Even on slopes, the tree should be no more than 10 degrees from vertical.

  3. Select the best microsite. Don't plant seedlings near water holes, stumps, or rocks.

  4. Plant the seedlings at the proper depth. For bare root seedlings, the root collars should be at ground level, while for container stock, the top of the soil plug should be 1 to 2 cm below ground level.

  5. Never leave roots exposed to the air, and never bury the branches.

  6. Do not trim or prune seedling roots. Seedlings need every single tiny root to absorb moisture and nutrients from the ground. The more root surface, the better the growth.

  7. Pack the soil well, but don't over pack it or slam the hole shut. Press gently but firmly to prevent shocking the roots. Air pockets can kill roots.

  8. Space the seedlings properly, including natural regeneration found on the site.

The Landowner Resource Centre

The Landowner Resource Centre and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources have teamed up to produce a series of "extension notes" -- short, easy to understand pamphlets on a wide variety of topics of interest to landowners. Several of the extension notes are applicable to tree planters, including:

Planning for Planting
Clearing the Way: Preparing the Site for Tree Planting
Careful Handling and Planting of Nursery Stock
Room to Grow: Controlling Competition

The documents above are in PDF format, so you'll need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view them. There are many more extension notes available through the Landowner Resource Centre.

For more information on tree planting, consult your local Conservation Authority or Stewardship Council.

Trees Ontario gratefully acknowledges the Ferguson Forest Centre of Kemptville, ON, for permission to reproduce this material.