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How to Grow Tree Seedlings

Tree seedlings are living, breathing organisms that require careful handling at all stages of the reforestation process. Everyone involved in the reforestation process must accept responsibility for proper seedling care, handling, and planting.

Risks for Tree Seedlings

From the time of lifting at the nursery until seedlings are transplanted in the field, there is danger of weakening or killing tree seedlings due to improper handling techniques. This problem is further complicated by the varying environmental conditions that occur during the planting season.

Environmental Factors

There are several environmental factors beyond anyone’s control that can contribute to a tree planting failure. Dry weather and severe freezes are two factors most commonly associated with a planting failure.

Human Error

There are a far greater number of factors totally within human control that contribute to tree planting failure. Timing of planting, storage, handling, seedling quality, and tree planting techniques are the most commonly overlooked aspects that can make or break the success of a tree planting operation.

Seedling Care and Handling Tips

From the time you receive your seedlings until you plant them, proper care is vital to maintaining their healthy condition. Remember, seedlings are perishable, so it’s best to plant them as soon as possible once you have received your order. Here are a few seedling care and handling tips to keep in mind:

  • Minimize exposure to wind and sun during transporting seedlings.
  • Store in refrigerated location, if available.
  • Allow for ventilation around stacked seedling packages.
  • Protect seedlings from freezing temperatures.
  • Mend any accidental tears in the seedling package with tape to reduce moisture loss.
  • Do not water seedlings.  Watering will wash away the protective gel applied to the roots at the nursery.
  • Protect seedlings from direct sunlight and wind before and during planting.

Successful tree planting does not happen by chance – it requires thought, planning, and attention to detail.

Seedling Storage

Store seedlings in a building, shed, or other protective area that will protect seedlings from freezing, heating, direct sunlight, and wind. Follow these storage tips for non-refrigerated seedlings:

  • If the temperature inside the storage area is between 50ºF and 70ºF, seedlings should be planted within three to five days.
  • If the temperature inside the storage area is above 75ºF, do not store seedlings for more than 24 hours.
  • Do not store seedlings in bags/bundles/boxes for more than a few hours at temperatures above 85ºF.
    • Lethal temperature occurs in bag/bundles/boxes at 118ºF, but seedlings can be weakened or damaged if the temperature in bags/bundles/ boxes remains at 85ºF for very long.
  • Do not store seedlings in an area where the temperature is 32ºF or less.
    • Do not allow seedlings to freeze.

When to Plant Seedlings

The key to a seedling’s survival after planting is the ability of the root system to begin taking up water and nutrients quickly. The following chart provides guidelines which will help achieve seedling survival.

DayTempRelative HumidityWind SpeedAvailable Soil Water
Ideal 33°-75°50%Less than 10 mph75% – field capacity
Marginal76°-85°30%-50%10-15 mph50%-75%
Critical32° or less, 85° or greater30% or less15 mphLess than 50%

If you have any questions about seedlings and tree planting, contact your local forester from the Mississippi Forestry Commission.