Wood lot- Tree Planting and Care

Bareroot seedling planting

This online planting guide provides information on how to prepare, plant, and care for seedlings, which will help your seedlings survive and grow into a future forest.

Contact Minnesota State Forest Nursery or 218-652-2385 with questions on seedling storage, planting techniques, and follow-up care.

Prepping your site before you seedlings arrive.

Remove any invasive species on your land before planting seedlings.

Contact your local forestry office for more information on prepping your land.


Photo showing trench in a field for tree plantingPlanting seedlings in a black field

Plant seedlings in rows. Then establish a light grass cover between the rows. Three pounds of timothy grass seed per acre works well. The grass will not compete with your trees, but will help prevent soil erosion.

Planting seedlings in an old sod-bound field

  • Remove sod that will compete with seedlings.
    • Photo showing trench in a field for tree plantingMethod 1 - use a tiller or one bottom plow to mechanically remove a 2-foot circle of sod in area where seedling will be planted.
    • Method 2 - chemically treat strips or spots in the fall before spring planting. Or, apply specialty chemicals that kill grass and don't harm seedlings after spring planting.

When seedlings arrive.

tree seedling shipping boxes

  • Plant seedlings as soon as possible after delivery!
  • Seedlings can be stored for a short period of time (1-5 days). They must be kept cool. Put them in a basement or garage away from direct sunlight.
  • Open the box and check seedlings periodically to make sure the roots are still damp. If not, sprinkle roots with a little water. Then fold the bag back up and close the box.
  • Don't soak or leave the roots submerged in water while in storage.

Selecting the best tool for planting your seedlings.

  • planting bars examplesShovels
    • Use to plant all seedlings sold by the nursery. About 300–500 seedlings can be planted per day using a shovel.
  • Planting bars
    • Use to plant conifer seedlings and small hardwoods. About 300–500 seedlings can be planted per day using a planting bar.
  • Planting machines
    • tree planting machineUse to plant conifer seedlings and small hardwoods. Rent planting machines from DNR Forestry offices and some Soil & Water Conservation District offices. About 5,000 seedlings can be planted per day using a three person crew.
  • Augers
    • Use to plant larger seedlings, transplant size stock, or larger hardwoods.

You can contract private individuals to complete large planting projects. Contact your local forestry office or Soil and Water Conservation District for more information.

How to plant your seedlings

Drawing showing the steps of planting a tree seeding

Keep seedlings in a cool place and out of direct sunlight while planting. Carry seedlings in a planting bag or bucket with a small about of water to keep the roots moist (do not submerged roots in water). Handle the seedlings as little as possible.

    • Dig a hole twice as wide as and slightly deeper than root length.
    • If hole cannot be dug deep enough to fit entire root system, trim roots with scissors to same length as seedling's above ground height or 8 inches, whichever is longer.
    • Place roots in hole so top of first root is slightly below surface level.
    • Distribute roots evenly, making sure roots are straight and not doubled over or "J" rooted.
    • Backfill hole to slightly above top of first root.
    • Heel in soil with foot to remove air pockets from the soil.
    • If possible, water entire backfill area and place mulch around seedling, keeping mulch away from trunk.

Step by step how to plant tree seedlings

Planting tree seedlings video

Care after planting information

The Minnesota State Forest Nursery grows bareroot seedlings. These seedlings are grown from seeds collected in Minnesota, so they are hardy to Minnesota. Most people that plant seedlings from the nursery are doing large planting projects and it may be hard to do some of the following recommendations:

  • Water seedlings during dry periods.
  • Remove competing vegetation from around seedlings. One method is to place a bucket over a seedling and spray a weed preventative herbicide around the bucket.

Protecting planted seedlings from damage

  • Bud capping on white pineDeer protection - Deer love to browse on seedlings, and can wipe them all out in the first winter after planting them. There are a few common strategies to reduce deer browse damage:
  • Bud capping - Bud caps keep the deer from eating the new growth, which would stunt the tree and can even kill it. Common species that need to be bud capped are white and jack pine. Relatively inexpensive and not too time consuming to apply. Fold and staple a 4"x 6" piece of paper over the top bud on the seedlings. Apply yearly in the fall until the tree is tall enough so that deer cannot reach the top bud.
  • Fencing - Place around seedling. Remove when tree's top bud is out of reach of the deer.
  • photo showing tree netting around tree seedlingMeadow mice or voles protection - Voles and mice feed on the bark of small trees and shrubs, which can can kill the tree. There are a few common strategies to reduce damage:
  • Create a physical barrier if damage is occurring, which can include hardware cloth, tin foil, tree shelters, or plastic mesh. Place materials around the tree and set into the soil to block the vole and mice from reaching the tree's stem. Using tin foil has been shown to be effective if the foil is double wrapped around the lower 6 inches of the tree.
  • Reduce habitat used by voles and mice to decrease their population levels. photo lookin down into a protecting tree seedling tubeKill and remove vegetation in a 2- to 3-foot diameter circle around each seedling. Add t-poles and owl boxes to increase hawk and owl predation. You still may need to add physical barriers.

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