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Tree planting tips

Seedling handling

Reforestation surveys indicate that the most common problems facing seedling survival are moisture stress, poor handling and physical damage before planting. From the time seedlings are lifted from the nursery bed to the time they are planted, it is critical to keep the seedlings moist (relative humidity 90-95 percent) and cool (34-36 degrees F). Seedlings must remain in a state of dormancy during this period. As temperatures rise, plants begin to respire and can quickly deplete their energy reserves. Damaging molds can also grow on seedling roots under warm conditions. If seedlings are allowed to dry out, the root hairs become permanently damaged and are unable to absorb adequate water and nutrients. Physical damage from handling can impair root hair, shoot tips and buds, which will slow initial growth of the seedlings.

More information on the proper care and handling of bare root seedlings can be found in Care and Handling of Bare Root Seedlings [PDF].

Learn more by viewing the video Green Side Up: Tree Handling & Storage.

Hand planting

Hand planting is necessary on rough terrain, when the seedlings are too large for machine planting or when planting within an existing forest. The most common hand planting tools include a shovel, planting bar (dibble) or hoedad. Two basic methods of hand planting [PDF] are slit planting and wedge planting. An inexperienced tree planter can hand plant approximately 300-500 seedlings per day. A professional tree planter can often hand plant 1,000 or more seedlings per day.

When planting by hand, remember to keep the seedlings shaded, cool and moist at all times. Do not leave packages of seedlings exposed to sunlight and warm temperatures at the job site. Use a reflective tarp and consider delivering the stock in stages during the workday. Carry seedlings in a planting bag or bucket along with wet burlap to keep the root systems moist. Handle the roots as little as possible and do not carry the seedlings exposed to the air or immersed in water. The roots should hang freely in the planting hole and not be twisted or crooked. The new soil line should be slightly above the seedling’s root collar. The soil should be packed firmly around the seedling to maintain good soil to root contact and eliminate air pockets.

Learn more by viewing the video Green Side Up: Hand Planting.

Machine planting

Machine planting is well suited for large orders, planting on even terrain and planting hardwoods with large root systems. Planting machines generally require a 30-50 horsepower tractor. A crew of three people is recommended: one person to drive the tractor, another to ride the planting machine and a third person to provide seedlings to the planter and check for proper planting technique.

The same stock handling principles listed above apply to machine planting. Do not load too many trees in the machine’s storage bins at one time. Instead, supply stock in small amounts to keep seedlings moist and cool. The average machine planting crew can plant 5,000 trees per day.

Direct seeding

Seed can be sown with a variety of equipment, such as seeding sticks, dribblers, broadcast seeders or seed drills. The most effective means of direct seeding will depend on the species and seed size and the planting site characteristics. Your local DNR forester can provide more information regarding direct seeding methods in your area.

Reforestation aids

There are a wide variety of products available to aid in the survival of a plantation.