Site Prep and Planning


Prepare for success

Whether you're planting conservation seedlings ordered from the George O. White State Forest Nursery (available Sept. 3 through April 15 annually) or from a commercial source, you should plan your tree-planting project carefully. Browse tips on planning, site preparation, seedling selection, spacing, and quantity needed per acre.


Planning for tree planting on your property should start well before you order seedlings. Know why you want them and where they should be placed. A successful planting job requires the following:

  • Properly prepared site
  • Good planting stock
  • Tree species matched to the site and soils
  • Proper planting methods
  • Adequate protection and care after planting.

This guide will help you create a good planting plan. If you need further assistance or need help in planning a large plantation, contact your local MDC Forester.

Prepare your site

Site preparation is an extremely important step in a successful tree-planting project. Controlling competing vegetation is usually necessary so the newly planted trees have a better chance of survival. You wouldn't think of planting your garden without tilling and preparing the soil. The same applies to planting trees. You should remove any competing weeds which will rob the new seedlings of moisture and nutrients.

There are two methods of site preparation: mechanical and chemical. Mechanical site preparation involves physically removing the competing vegetation from the planting site. For small plantings, scalp the sod and weeds from a spot 2 feet in diameter where each tree is to be planted. For larger plantings, plow or disk 2- to 3-foot wide strips where the tree rows will be planted. Leaving vegetation between the tree rows will help prevent soil erosion.

Chemical site preparation consists of using herbicides to control competing vegetation. Usually the herbicide is sprayed in a spot treatment around each individual seedling or in strips where the tree rows will be planted. There are many different herbicides with many different characteristics. Contact your local MDC Forester or University of Missouri Extension Center for the latest recommendations and always follow label directions.

Choose seedlings that are right for your growing conditions

Selecting the proper species for your site is one of the most important planting decisions you can make. Because a seedling obtains moisture and nutrients from the soil, matching the species to the type of soil on your property is necessary. Some species such as bald cypress and cottonwood prefer wet soils, while shortleaf pine grows best on drier soils. Most trees have a tolerance for a range of soils, but they will make their best growth on the soil types indicated in the guide. The tables below will help match your soil conditions with the species that best meet your needs.

Consider the amount of sunlight your growing site receives. Most trees prefer full sunlight, and for planting old fields, this is an ideal situation. However, other species, such as flowering dogwood and downy serviceberry, need shade. They will likely die if planted in full sunlight.

Plan for adequate spacing

When planting seedlings, consider the height and spread to which they will eventually grow and the primary use of the planting. As a general rule, seedlings should be spaced as shown in the following table. For specific recommendations on spacing for your purpose and species selection, contact your local MDC Forester.

Spacing guide

PurposeSpacing (feet)
Erosion Control3-6
Wildlife Shrubs3-6

Quantity needed per acre

Spacing (feet)Seedlings per acre
3 x 34,840
4 x 42,722
5 x 51,742
6 x 61,210
7 x 7889
8 x 8681
9 x 9538
l0 x 10436
12 x 12302
15 x 15194
Additional Resources