Tree and Shrub Planting

Plant Options Planting Methods
Site Preperation for PlantingMaintenance
Caring for SeedlingsSeedling Protection
Planting DatesRecommended Trees and Shrubs

Planting trees and shrubs is an excellent way to provide food and cover for wildlife, control erosion and stabilize streambanks, decrease stream water temperatures, and sequester carbon. The following information will help you better understand site preparation, planting methods, ordering seedlings, and proper maintenance of new plantings.

Plant Options

Bareroot seedlings are trees and shrubs that have been grown from seed in a nursery bed and dug out during the late fall or early winter after one or two growing seasons. When you order bareroot seedlings you are getting a seedling with no soil around the roots. When shipped to you, these seedlings have been wrapped in moist moss or paper to protect the roots from drying out. Also bareroot seedlings have to be shipped during the colder winter months while the plant is dormant to reduce stress on the plant.

Container grown trees and shrubs may be grown in green houses or special outdoor planting beds. These may be 1, 2, or 3 year old seedlings depending species and growth habit. Container grown plants are often larger and more expensive to purchase than bareroot seedlings. Container grown seedlings can have better survival when planted due less stress on the plants and less exposure of roots to air. A new type of container grown seedling is the "super seedling". Super seedlings are grown in special containers. These containers air prune the roots of the seedling as it grows forcing the plant to have more fine roots hairs. When transplanted there is less shock and plants respond more rapidly in sending out new roots.. Super seedlings are often taller and grow much faster when transplanted than bareroot.

Another option for purchasing trees and shrubs is in large pots or balled in burlap. Potted or burlaped trees and shrubs are typically several years old and larger than a typical bareroot or container grown seedling. Unless you are considering planting just a few trees or shrubs, the cost and labor demands associated with potted or balled trees and shrubs far exceeds that of bareroot or container grown seedlings.

The final method for establishment of trees and shrubs is through direct seeding this method can take longer to establish your planting. A few seed suppliers do a number seeds available for a variety of shrubs and trees, but supplies can be limited. Direct seedling can work for planting small areas of shrubs and trees. It is also a potential option if you have the ability to harvest the seeds yourself from local seed source.

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Site Preparation for Planting

Site preparation is an important factor to consider in tree and shrub planting and should be planned well before you intend to plant your seedlings. If you want to have a successful planting you must first control existing vegetation on your planting site. Grasses and weeds at the site will compete for nutrients, moisture, and light reducing the vigor of your seedlings. If the area is in tall fescue the thick sod and growth habit of the fescue will over time choke out any seedlings that you plant reducing the overall survival of your planting. On poor sites, when pine is planted, plant competition is usually not as severe, and the faster growing pines can often overcome competition with a little or no help. As a rule of thumb, hardwoods are generally more sensitive to plant competition than pines, so regardless of site conditions some type of site preparation should be considered when planting hardwoods.

If there is a thick sod cool season grasses such as fescue or orchard grass, the site should be sprayed at least once with 2 quarters/acre of glyphosate. The first treatment should occur in the fall before planting while the cool season grasses are still actively growing. If a second treatment is needed it should occur before planting begins in late winter or early spring when temperatures are above 60 o F for 3 or more days. Whether you are planting by hand or using a tree planter it is not necessary to till the soil if you are plant bareroot, container grown, potted or burlaped tree or shrub on your planting site. Tillage of the soil will only increase the weed competition. If however, you plan to direct seed then tillage will be required.

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Caring for Seedlings

The lack of proper care given to planting stock is a major cause of seedling mortality. You should inspect your seedlings when they arrive. Examine the roots to makes sure they are moist and not dry to the touch or powdery. If they are you should contact the nursery you purchased them from and inquire about replacements. If only moderate drying has occurred and you intend to store your seedlings for several days, adding a little water to the package is recommended. Seedlings should be stored at a temperature of about 40-45o F prior to planting. Temperatures above about 60o F can affect survival and growth. Do not put seedlings in the freezer or anywhere where temperatures will drop below 32o F.

If you need to store seedling for more than 10-14 days, either place them in a cooler or refrigerator at 40-45o F or "heel" them in the ground. To heel in seedlings, dig a trench deep enough for the roots to fit without bending. Gently separate the bundles, place the seedlings in the trench, cover with soil to just slightly above the depth they were planted in the nursery, and firm up the loose soil with your feet. If watered regularly, seedlings can be kept in this manner for up to a year. However, be careful about waiting until seedlings leaf out to plant them. Seedlings should be planted while they are still dormant. Do not keep the seedlings in a bucket of water. This will wash off valuable particles of soil attached to root hairs and may eventually "drown" the seedlings and kill your planting stock.

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Planting Dates

Trees and shrubs should be planted during the dormant season, which occurs after hardwoods have lost their leaves in the fall and before they begin to grow in the spring. The dormant planting season will vary from year to year depending on weather conditions. Spring planting is generally the recommended time to plant tree and shrub seedlings. Typical planting dates are from January through March. In cool wet years it may still be possible to plant in April. Fall planting is acceptable, but there are some disadvantages. Freezing during the winter months may cause a winter kill on some seedlings and frost-heaving (freezing and thawing of the soil that can work seedlings loose) can be a serious problem for seedlings planted on tilled ground or fine-textured soils.

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Planting Methods

Bareroot or small container grown tree and shrub seedlings can be planted by hand or with a planting machine. In either case it is extremely important to make sure that 1) seedlings are planted at the same depth they were planted in the nursery; 2) the soil is firmly packed around the seedlings and there are no air pockets; and 3) seedling roots are pointed straight down, not bent or doubled up (J-rooted). Careless planting methods can result in significant seedling mortality.

If you plan to plant <1000 seedlings hand planting is recommended. If you project is larger, but the, plant site is too rough for a planting machine or seedlings have roots too large for planting machines then hand planting is necessary. Hand planting is done by using a planting bar (dibble bar or planting spade), mattock, shovel, or post-hole digger. When using a mattock, shovel, or post-hole digger the hole needs to be dug deeper than the seedling roots and the seedling is held upright while refilling the hole and packing the loose dirt firm around the seedling. The design of a planting bar makes it much easier to plant seedlings than using other hand tools for seedling planting. Using a planting bar, a slit is made in the ground and the seedling's roots are placed in the slit. The bar is then inserted in the ground directly behind the seedling to push soil against seedling roots.

Tree planting machines offer a fast, effective, and economical method for planting seedlings on large projects (more than 1,000 seedlings). Most planting machines consist of a rolling coulter that cuts the ground surface, followed by a trencher that creates a slit for inserting seedlings, and is followed by packing wheels that firm the soil around the seedling. Depending on the size of the planter a 40 hp. or larger tractor is needed in order to pull the planter. A 2 to 3 man crew is generally needed to man the tractor and planting machine. It is highly recommended that someone walk behind the planter to make sure seedlings are being planted properly. Tree planters are typically available from the State Forestry Department.

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Even the best initial site preparation may give way to aggressive weed competition that can stunt seedling growth or completely smother new seedlings. In order to improve seedling survival it is recommended that you control weed growth around seedlings for at least the first two growing seasons. Efforts should be made to control this competition for the first few growing seasons to ensure your tree and shrub planting efforts will be successful. After the second or third growing season the seedlings usually outgrow the surrounding vegetation, and weed control is no longer necessary. Most tree and shrub plantings are maintained by periodic mowing to keep surrounding vegetation lower than newly planted seedlings.

There are effective herbicides that can be used to maintain new plantings. If you are interested in using herbicides to maintain your tree and shrub planting, you should consult with your local forester or biologist for up to date maintenance information.

Herbicides Weed Suppression in Pines

Active Ingredient

Trade Name

Suggested Rate


clethodim (12.6%)


12 to 32 oz/acre


imazapyr (53.1%)


4 to 10 oz/acre

grass, broadleaf weeds, brambles

sulfometuron methyl (56.25%)


metsulfuron methyl (15%)

Oust Extra

2 2/3 to 4 oz/acre

herbaceous weeds

sulfometuron methyl (75%)

Oust XP

2 to 8 oz/acre for loblolly & Virginia pine

1 to 2 oz/acre shortleaf pine

grasses, broadleaf weeds

clopyralid (40.9%)


1/4 to 1 1/3 pint/acre

broadleaf weeds

Note: Always read herbicide label before applying.

Herbicides Weed Suppression in Hardwoods and Shrubs

Active Ingredient

Trade Name

Suggested Rate


clethodim (12.6%)


12 to 32 oz/acre


Sethoxydim (18.0%)


1 to 2 pints/acre


Pendimethalin (37.4%)

Pendulum 3.3ec


2.4 quarts/acre short term control

4.8 quarts/acre long term control

grasses, broadleaf weeds

sulfometuron methyl (75%)

Oust XP

1 to 4 oz/acre Apply before seedling break dormancy.

grasses, broadleaf weeds

clopyralid (40.9%)


1/4 to 1 1/3 pint/acre

broadleaf weeds

Note: Always check herbicide label to make sure the woody species you are treating are tolerant. If you are unsure contact a Forester for assistance.

Also, keep in mind that for some wildlife plantings, such as shrub rows or cover thickets where the spacing is too close for mowing, unmanaged native plant growth may be a desirable component of your project.

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Seedling Protection

Your planting project should be fenced to protect seedlings from grazing damage if livestock are present. Rabbits, small rodents, and deer may browse or girdle seedlings in some situations. Some wildlife damage problems can be solved using tree shelters or wildlife deterrents. If you notice seedling mortality you should consult with your forester or wildlife biologist to determine the cause and potential remedies.

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Recommended Trees and Shrubs for Wildlife Plantings

Red Oaks

Common Name

Scientific Name

pin oak

Quercus palustris

cherrybark oak

Quercus pagodalia

nuttall oak

Quercus nattallii

water oak

Quercus nigra

willow oak

Quercus phellos

black oak

Quercus veluntina

blackjack oak

Quercus marilandica

scarlet oak

Quercus coccinea

southern red oak

Quercus falcata

northern red oak

Quercus rubra

White Oaks

Common Name

Scientific Name

swamp chestnut oak

Quercus michauxii

swamp white oak

Quercus bicolor

chinkapin oak

Quercus muehlenbergii

overcup oak

Quercus lyrata

white oak

Quercus alba

bur oak

Quercus macrocarpa

post oak

Quercus stellata

chestnut oak

Quercus montana

shingle oak

Quercues imbricaria

Other Hard Mast Trees

Common Name

Scientific Name

shellbark hickory

Carya laciniosa

shagbark hickory

Carya ovata


Carya tomentosa

sweet pecan (native)

Carya illinoensis

black walnut

Juglans nigra

white walnut or butternut

Juglans cinerea


Aesculus glabra

American beech

Fagus grandifolia

hazel nut

Corylus americana


Common Name

Scientific Name

short-leaf pine

Pinus enchinata

loblolly pine

Pinus taeda

white pine

Pinus strobus

pitch pine

Pinus rigida

Virginia pine

Pinus virginiana

Soft Mast Trees

Common Name

Scientific Name


Nyssa sylvatica

flowering dogwood

Coronus florida*


Oxydendrum arboretum

wild plum

Prunus Americana*

red mulberry (native)

Morus rubra


Sassafras albidium

black cherry

Prunus serotina

common persimmon

Diospyros virginiana


Amelanchier arborea

* Can be a small tree or shrub


Common Name

Scientific Name


Sambucus canadensis

silky dogwood

Cornus amomum


Lindera bensoin


Viburnum dentatum

common alder

Alnus serrulata

rough-leaf dogwood

Cornus drummondi

smooth alder

Alnus serrulata

black alder

Alnus glutinosa

American beautyberry

Callicarpa americana

false indigobush

Amorpha fruticosa

New Jersey tea

Ceanothus americanus

eastern wahoo

Euonymus atropurpureus

chickasaw plum

Prunus angustifolia

staghorn sumac

Rhus typhina

smooth sumac

Rhus glabra

fragrant sumac

Rhus aromatica

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  What to do when

Use the planning calendar below for tips on enhancing your land throughout the year. Click any of the selections below for more details.