Northwest Illinois Forestry AssociationWoodland owners sharing ideas on forest productivity

Seedling Planting Tips

The following tips have been extracted from the Central Hardwood Notes and Walnut Notes (USDA Forest Service), University Extension and DNR Publications from Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin, as well as various handouts from seminars and conferences.

Obviously, before planting seedlings, the landowner will have inspected the planting site, planned their planting, selected the appropriate species, determined spacing and patterns for planting, and prepared the site. After that is all done, the real fun begins:

General Tips

- plant the trees as soon as possible after their arrival from the nursery

- upon seedling arrival, open the containers and re-moisten the root systems

- plant early in the spring, rather than late - do not plant if snow is present (frost-heave threat) or if ground is too wet

- plant between April 1st and May 15th

If Planting Must Be Delayed

- store the trees in a cool, damp, dark place

- keep the root systems moist

If Planting Is Delayed More Than One Week

- keep the trees in cold storage (35º - 40º F)

- keep the root systems moist

- stack the bundles to allow air movement and retard trapping of heat

Stock Selection

- seedlings with the best root systems will outgrow the others

- stockier seedlings (at ground line) survive better than others

- large heavy buds are an indication of first year growth

Root Pruning, if necessary

- recommended top (shoot) length to root length ration is between 1:1 and 1:1.5

- for upland oaks, prune 8" above and below root collar

- on taproot species (walnut, hickory, oak), leave at least 8" of taproot

- leave at least 4" length on all lateral roots

Moving the Seedlings to the Planting Area

- keep the roots moist and avoid drying conditions

- soak the roots in water for two hours

- carry trees in buckets with roots covered with muddy water

- leave buckets in shade until ready to plant

- dipping roots in commercial anti-desiccant improves survivability

- dipping roots in commercial anti-desiccant increases cost and time

Planting the Seedlings

- if possible, choose a cool, cloudy day

- plant trees one inch deeper than they grew in the nursery (look for color change on root collar)

- make sure hole is large enough for root system

- roots should NOT be bent, bunched, doubled, or twisted (no roots, all roots should point downward)

- plant shoot stem straight (vertical, not slanting)

- firm the soil around the roots leaving no air pockets


- consider your maintenance plan for vegetation control, wildlife protection, etc.

Enjoy yourself, you're doing something good for your land!

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