How To Plant A Seedling

Basic instructions and diagrams for care, handling, and planting of bareroot tree seedlings.

Keep roots wet prior to planting.
Plant seedling with roots straight down.

Handling the Seedlings

Seedlings are living things and must be handled carefully. For the highest survival rate, handle trees carefully and plant them immediately. If planting must be delayed a few days, keep the plants in a cold, protected place with air circulation between the trees. Keep the trees out of the rain and wind. To check if the trees need water, feel the media at the bottom of the tube. If it isn't damp, water the trees and allow the excess water to drain. In cool, damp weather, the biggest threat to these trees is from mold.

When to Plant

Ideal planting days are cool and cloudy with little or no wind. If possible, avoid planting on warm, windy days. The soil should be moist. Care in planting is more important than speed. Make sure the roots are never allowed to become dry. Bare root seedlings should be carried in a waterproof bag or bucket with plenty of moist material packed around the roots to keep them damp. Ideally, bare root boxes should be kept refrigerated or packed in ice or snow.

Where to Plant

Competition from weeds, grass, brush or other trees is very detrimental to survival and growth of seedlings. Choose areas free from this competition or clear at least a three-foot square bare spot before planting. Seedlings should not be planted under the crown of existing trees, or closer than 6 feet to existing brush.

How To Plant

Brush aside loose organic material such as leaves, grass, etc., from the planting spot to expose mineral soil. If organic matter gets into the planting hole, it can decompose and leave air spaces. Roots will dry out when they grow into these spaces.

Open up the hole, making sure the hole is deep enough for the roots to be fully extended. If roots are curled or bunched up, the tree will not be able to take up water correctly, will often weaken and die, or may blow down later due to poor root structure.

Take a tree out of planting bag or bucket only after a hole is ready. When exposed, the fine roots can dry out in as little as 30 seconds. Remember to remove the container before planting a containerized tree.

Hold the seedling in place in the hole, making sure the roots are straight, fully extended and that the tree is neither too shallow or too deep in the hole.

Fill hole, allowing soil to fall in around the roots. Tamp with hands or with your heel. Fill with more soil, if necessary, and tamp. Tamping is important. If soil is not firmly packed around the roots, there will be air pockets that can dry out the roots, and the seedlings may be weakly anchored. (Addition of fertilizer and plant vitamins at the time of planting is not generally necessary.)

Care in planting is more important than speed. With regard to spacing, it is better to pick a planting spot shaded by a stump, log or rock, than to strictly follow recommended spacing.

Avoid these tree planting errors:

  • Tangled roots
  • Planting too shallow
  • Planting too deep
  • Air pockets
  • Turned up roots
  • Planting over rocks

Insert bar at 45 degree angle. Push forward to upright position.





Insert bar at 45 degree angle. Push forward to upright position.





Remove bar and place seedling at correct depth.





Remove bar and place seedling
at correct depth.







Hold seedling at correct depth, insert bar 3 inches from seedling.





Hold seedling at correct depth,
insert bar 3 inches from seedling.







Pull bar handle toward planter to close hole at bottom of roots.





Pull bar handle toward planter to close hole at bottom of roots.







Push bar handle forward to close hole at top of roots.





Push bar handle forward to
close hole at top of roots.





Stomp with heel to fill in the last hole.





Stomp with heel to fill in the last hole.










Follow-up Tree Care after planting

Check periodically to be sure that brush, grass and other vegetation is kept under control by mowing, mulching, spraying or a combination of these treatments. Always obtain advice from a licensed pest control advisor before using chemicals. Monitoring the appearance of your trees will help you to detect signs of insects, diseases or other problems. Look for foliage turning yellow, new foliage drooping or other signs of poor health. Call your CDF Forest Advisor for assistance in diagnosing the problem. It is easier to take successful corrective action if the problem is detected early.

Over watering is a common problem in irrigated plantations. You probably won't need to water more frequently than every 7-10 days. Give your trees a thorough, deep soak and then let the soil dry out before the next watering. This encourages the roots to grow down in search of water. Frequent, shallow watering encourages root growth near the surface and the trees are more dependent on irrigation and are less windfirm.

Animals can be a major cause of damage to young trees. Porcupines, gophers, rabbits, deer and cattle are the most frequent source of damage. Contact your County Forester or the County Agriculture Commissioner for advise on proper animal control.