How to Plant a Seedling Tree

1. Pre-Planting Handling of Seedlings

  • Never allow roots to dry out; exposure to the air for even a few minutes can kill seedlings.
  • Plant immediately on arrival from the nursery to optimize seedling survival.
  • If immediate planting is not possible: Bundles can be stored for several days in a cool, dark place. Do not unpack the bundles. Water the bundles periodically to ensure that the roots are well moistened.
  • Seedlings have been dipped in a moisture-retainer mix, which also includes a root stimulant.
  • Trees that are not planted within several days of delivery should be heeled in. (Heeling in is the temporary planting of seedlings by covering the roots and lower portions of the stems with moist soil.)

2. Planting Location of Seedlings

  • Verify that the hardiness zone, sunlight, soil type, drainage, and terrain of the planting location match the needs of the tree selected. These factors play a major role in tree survival.
  • Choose a planting site large enough to accommodate the mature height and width of the tree species.

3. Planting Seedlings

  • Dig a hole at least twice as wide and only as deep as the root system.
  • Prune off dead or extra-long root tips, using clean, sharp pruning shears.
  • Form a mound of soil in the hole to support the roots. Evenly spread the roots in the planting hole.
  • Do not bend roots to force them into a too-small planting hole.
  • The upper roots should be just under the surface of the soil. Do not plant too deep.
  • Place the soil back in the hole and gently tamp to remove any air spaces. Roots should not be exposed aboveground.

4. Watering Seedlings

  • Provide a deep, soaking watering for each seedling at the time of planting and once a week for the first two growing seasons.
  • Lack of water is the top killer of newly planted trees.

5. Pruning Seedlings

  • Only dead, damaged or diseased branches should be removed at the time of planting. Seedlings do not need any other pruning then.
  • Do not shape the tree or attempt to balance the branches to the size of the root system. Reducing the leaf area will only further stress the tree and reduce its capacity for growth.

6. Fertilizing Seedlings

  • After the seedling is planted and the soil has been backfilled, place the slow-release fertilizer packet 1 to 2 inches from the seedling root, roughly 2-inches deep.
  • Use only 1 packet per seedling.

7. Weed Mat and Tree Protector Installation for Seedlings

  • The weed mat and tree protector give the seedling the best opportunity for survival.
  • Carefully lower the weed mat over the seedling, sliding the top of the tree through the X cut in the weed mat. Bring the weed mat to the ground.
  • Fold the corners of the mat to double the thickness for the staples to go through.
  • Insert the staples through the mat corners firmly into the ground, angling them slightly away from the tree to keep the mat taut.
  • Pound the tree protector stake into the ground on the prevailing-wind side of the tree, about 2.5 inches away from the tree base.
  • Slide the protector down over the seedling, making sure to keep the branches upright in the tube.
  • Use the ties to attach the tube to the stake.