Seedling Planting and Care

Tree Planting

Tips on Seedling Care

During transportation

  • If available, haul in a refrigerated truck.
  • Cover bundles with a tarpaulin to avoid any exposure to sun and wind.
  • Be sure seedling bundles are stacked properly with adequate ventilation to prevent overheating.
  • The transit period should be kept as short as possible unless refrigeration is available.
  • Unload seedlings immediately upon arrival at destination and store properly.

During storage

  • If possible, place seedlings in cold storage (33 to 40 degrees F); otherwise, place in a cool, shaded place. Protect seedlings from freezing.
  • Tape up holes torn in packaging to prevent drying of roots.
  • Pour cold water into the open end of the bundles often enough to keep seedling roots moist, but not wet.
  • Stack bundles loosely and use spacers between bundles to permit adequate ventilation.
  • Stack bundles with one end higher than the other to permit drainage.
  • If seedlings must be stored more than two weeks, "heel-in" seedlings in a trench located in a shaded, protected area.

Hand Planting Basics

  • Plant your trees as soon as possible after receiving them.
  • Always carry seedlings in a bucket half-full of water or wet packing material such as moss.
  • Don't allow seedling roots to dry out.
  • Do not store trees with their roots in water.
  • Dig holes as deep as the root systems.
  • Plant the seedlings at the same depth they grew at the nursery or slightly deeper.
  • Make sure the roots are spread out and are not bent or crowded.
  • Pack the soil firmly around the roots to close air pockets.

Machine Planting

  • Use a three- or four-person crew. One person follows the tree-planting machine to straighten and pack seedlings. Another keeps seedlings protected, separated and ready to load into planting machine trays.
  • Trees in planting trays should be kept covered at all times with wet moss. If roots are exposed to the sun and wind, the trees may be dead before they are planted.
  • Run the machine deep enough to allow the roots to hang down straight in the planting trench, typically 8 to 10 inches. If the soil is too rocky or hard to permit machine planting, plant by hand.
  • Set seedlings at the same depth or slightly deeper than they grew in the seedbed.

Illustration of hand-planting trees

Illustration of planting bar specifications

During Planting

  • Avoid planting when the ground is frozen or extremely dry, or when excessively wet and sticky.
  • Never leave open bundles of seedlings exposed to the sun and wind. During planting, take only a few bundles at a time. Cover the others and keep cool and moist.
  • Seedlings should be carried in buckets or bags and covered with wet moss to protect roots from exposure to sun and air.
  • Remove only one seedling at a time from the bucket and plant immediately.
  • Check spacing periodically to ensure proper number of seedlings per acre.
  • When machine planting, be sure tractor speed is matched to the capabilities of the person planting.
  • Check furrow depth when machine planting or depth of the planting hole when hand planting to provide for the full length of the roots when they are straightened.
  • To check firmness of soil packing, grasp the top of the seedling and pull gently upward; if the tree pulls out of the ground easily, it was not firmly packed.

Care After Planting

  • After establishing a new plantation, it is necessary to take several precautions to protect your investment of time, money and effort.
  • Besides killing trees outright, fires can leave scars and invite decay. Plow or disk a fire break around your plantation and maintain it during fire season.
  • Livestock grazing probably destroys more trees in Missouri than fire. Livestock will eat young seedlings and trample the protective soil and leaf cover, encouraging soil erosion. Fence livestock from your woods and tree plantations.
  • Animals such as rabbits, mice and deer can damage young trees. Keep the grass and weeds mowed short to permit easier hunting of rodents by hawks, owls and foxes. If deer damage is a problem, consider opening the area to hunting. Specially designed electric fences are effective, but can be expensive.
  • Prevent growth of weeds and grasses around new trees by cultivating, using herbicides, disking or hoeing as often as necessary during the first three to five years. Weed competition inhibits tree growth.
  • Inspect plantations regularly for evidence of insect or disease damage. If excessive damage is found, contact your local MDC forester for help in diagnosing the problem and recommending controls.
  • Mulching around trees in smaller plantings can help conserve soil moisture and control weed growth.
  • Spread wood chips, rotted sawdust or straw at a depth of 3 inches and 2 feet diameter around but not directly on the seedling.

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