Tips on Planting Trees

The best time to plant

The best time to plant any tree or shrub is first thing in the spring shortly after frost has left the ground and while the plants are still dormant. This cuts down on the transplanting shock the plant must face and provide lots of time for the plants to get new root establishment before the next freeze up.

If you plan to plant in the fall deciduous trees should be planted after leaf drop and they have gone dormant to minimize the stresses on the trees. For conifers fall planting should be done in late summer or early fall to allow the trees time for new root establishment to avoid frost heaving.

If you are planting potted or larger trees they can be planted from early spring to late fall but the timing will determine how much after plant care will be required (for summer planting you will have to be able to water on a more regular basis). Ensure that your potted plant has a well established root system in the pot and is not a freshly potted bareroot plant.

Remember that bigger is not always better, because the bigger the tree is at the time of planting the greater the after plant care it will need.

Handling and storing seedlings

  1. Do not allow the seedlings to dry out. Ample moisture is the key factor in seedling survival. Remember, "if they dry, they die".
  2. Transport seedlings carefully. Rough handling can damage root systems and predispose the seedlings to stress.
  3. Avoid temperature extremes. Fluctuations in temperature -- especially excessive heat -- during storage and transport can result in seedling trauma.
  4. Plant promptly. Once the seedlings are delivered, minimize storage time (especially early in the season).
  5. Don't open the bags until you're ready to plant, and reseal any partially used bags as quickly as possible.
  6. Handle container stock seedlings by the plug, not by the stem.

Preparing the site

Tree seedlings require four basic elements to thrive: water, nutrients, sunlight, and room to grow. Grasses, weeds, and brush growing on the planting site threaten your new seedlings by competing for these basic requirements. Heavy vegetation also provides habitat for mice and other rodents that eat the bark of young seedlings.

Good site preparation helps to reduce competition from unwanted vegetation, and also ensures suitable planting spots for your seedlings. Site preparation can also make tree planting easier. Consult the extension note entitled "Clearing the Way: Preparing the Site for Tree Planting", available on the product page (under extension notes) of 'The Landowner Resource Centres' website,

Proper planting technique

Planting can be done with a machine or by hand. No matter what seedling types, planting methods, or tools are used, there are a few things that planters must do to plant a tree properly:

  1. For bare root stock, spread the roots out well and never roll them up in the soil.
  2. Place the seedling as upright as possible. Even on slopes, the tree should be no more than 10 degrees from vertical.
  3. Select the best microsite. Don't plant seedlings near water holes, stumps, or rocks.
  4. Plant the seedlings at the proper depth. For bare root seedlings, the root collars should be at ground level, while for container stock, the top of the soil plug should be 1 to 2 cm below ground level.
  5. Never leave roots exposed to the air, and never bury the branches.
  6. Do not trim or prune seedling roots. Seedlings need every single tiny root to absorb moisture and nutrients from the ground. The more root surface, the better the growth.
  7. Pack the soil well, but don't over pack it or slam the hole shut. Press gently but firmly to prevent shocking the roots. Air pockets can kill roots.
  8. Space the seedlings properly, including natural regeneration found on the site.

For more information on tree planting, consult your local Conservation Authority or Stewardship Council, or contact the nursery office.