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Plant and Maintain New Trees

How do I plant trees?


Planting trees, whether one or one thousand, is one tool to mold your forest into what you want it to be. Whether it is planting one large yard tree or thousands of small trees, the same techniques are needed for the planting to be successful.
Any kind of tree planting activity can be boiled down to these essential steps:

  1. Identify why you want to plant trees
  2. Choose the right trees for the soil you are planting into
  3. Plan which trees will go where
  4. Prepare the site for planting
  5. Plant using proper techniques
  6. Care for your planted trees

Common goals of planting trees:

  • Improve the aesthetic appeal of the land by creating visual diversity in the size, ages, and species of trees
  • Create food sources and cover for wildlife
  • Produce timber for income or for their own use
  • Control erosion by stabilizing soil with deep-rooted trees
  • Create windbreaks to protect structures and provide sanctuaries for wildlife
  • Create the right mixture of tree species to fit their needs

Learn more about choosing the right trees for attracting wildlife in:
So What Should I Plant?
Woody Cover for Wildlife
Landscape Plants that Attract Birds
Learn more about wind breaks in Windbreaks that Work
Choosing the right trees to meet your needs and match the soil you have is a critical part of any tree planting activity. A forester can help you pick the right trees for your site and goals, or you can discover that for yourself. Contact your local county land conservation office or NRCS office for help determining what kind of soil you have and which trees might be best to plant there. You can also utilize the online web soil survey to find your soil type.
Deciding on which trees to plant where an in what arrangement is the next part of this process. If you want to maximize tree growth and make your maintenance easy, then planting the trees in rows will probably be best. If you are looking to create wildlife habitat, then creating clumps of trees for shelter is a good idea. If you want to minimize the visual impact of rows of trees, then alternate rows of conifers and hardwood trees and plant at an angle to any roads and leave gaps in the rows for openings and viewing corridors. It is a good idea to leave space around the planting and roads within the planting so that you can easily get around in a vehicle. Doing this will also create firebreaks around and within your planting which will slow or stop wildfires from burning your trees.

The basic steps for planting trees are:

  1. Create a planting hole large enough for the seedling’s root system.
  2. For bare root seedlings, place the roots in the hole so that they are hanging freely. For seedlings that come in a container with soil, place the roots and soil in the hole so that they are pointing down and not jammed into the hole.
  3. Ensure the seedling is at the right depth. That means the root collar (a slight swelling on the seedling where the stem meets the roots) should be at ground level.
  4. Pack the soil firmly around the seedling.

Learn more about the care and planting of seedlings in Care and Handling of Bare Root Seedlings

Long-term care of planted trees

Letting your planted trees fend for themselves is not the way to ensure you have a successful planting. Instead you must protect the seedlings from competition and predators. That means mowing around your seedlings or using an herbicide to reduce the competition for light, water, and soil nutrients. Deer, mice/voles, and rabbits can munch through your planted trees quickly so you need to either deter them from eating or create barriers around your seedlings.
Learn how to prevent deer damaging your seedlings in Controlling Deer Damage in Wisconsin
Learn how to prevent mice/voles from damaging your seedlings in Meadow Mouse Control
Learn how to prevent rabbits damaging your seedlings Rabbit Ecology and Damage Management
Learn more about the whole tree planting process in Creating a Forest: A Step by Step Guide to Planting and Maintaining Trees

Self-paced “Plant Trees” Lesson

This session will cover techniques for having a successful tree planting activity. Included will be discussions on choosing the right trees, preparing the site for planting, caring for trees before planting, planting techniques, and caring for trees after planting.
After this lesson, you will:

  1. Know how to plan for tree planting
  2. Know the proper tree planting techniques
  3. Know how to maintain a planting

Additional resources:Web Soil Survey (website)
If you have questions after this lesson, please email us.
See the main page for more self-paced lessons and non-Flash versions.

Related Blog Posts

Building a forest one tree at a time
Selecting trees for planting
Protect and maintain your planted trees

Related Publications

Tree planting and establishment section of the publications

Related Websites

DNR Tree Planting Planner
Herbicides for forest management
DNR Tree species info
DNR planting plan & design
Web soil survey
DNR tree planting videos

Hear From a Woodland Owner

Zdanovec discussing matching trees to the site

Thompson and promoting natural regeneration

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