Home Grown

Tips and resources for farmers and gardeners

Arbor Day Tree Planting

Wherever you reside, Arbor Day is not only a day to take note of the beauty and
usefulness of trees, but it's also usually a good day to plant a new tree.

Millions of conservation tree and shrub seedlings are planted each year across the U.S. for windbreaks, wildlife habitat, watershed protection, wood products and other conservation purposes. These seedlings are typically small, bare-root, 1 to 2 years old, and about 12 inches tall.

Spring is the best season to plant conservation trees, from the moment the frost is out of the ground until the weather starts to become hot and dry.

Ideally, seedlings should be planted the same day they are received from the nursery. But if planting must be postponed, choose cool, humid, cloudy days. Early morning or evening generally provides the best conditions for handling seedlings.

As soon as seedlings are received from the nursery the box, bag, or other shipping container should be opened and the
seedlings inspected.

If the seedlings are in good condition, plant them as soon as possible. Always keep the seedlings moist and cool during storage, transport and planting. Never allow the roots to dry or overheat.

Although tree roots need moisture to survive, they also need air. Don't store seedlings in a bucket of water.

If seedlings can't be planted the same day, a cold storage unit or home refrigerator, which maintains a temperature of 34 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, is ideal for maintaining dormancy.

Since most people do not have access to a walk-in cooler or don't want to store tree seedlings next to the leftovers in the home refrigerator, the next best place to temporarily store seedlings is in a cool, shaded location, like a cellar or basement, that doesn't experience temperature extremes.

If seedlings are to be planted in less than seven to 10 days, leave them in the shipping box. Don't allow them to freeze or overheat. Check the seedlings daily and keep the roots moist, but allow for drainage of excess water.

If seedlings must be stored for more than seven to 10- days, and cold storage is not available, the last resort may be to "heel in" seedlings in the ground. Heeling-in involves temporarily planting seedlings in a v-shaped trench in a cool, shaded location until they can be transplanted.

When it is time to plant seedlings, they should be protected from wind and sun during transport and at the planting site. Before planting, make sure the roots and tops are not damaged and keep the roots moist.

During actual planting it is critical to protect the roots from drying. Even less than a minute of exposure can kill fragile roots. During planting it is OK to carry small quantities of seedlings in a bucket of water, but don't keep the roots in water for more than an hour.

Good site/soil preparation should occur well in advance, preferably the fall before planting. Mellow, friable soil is the best condition to plant seedlings into.

Regardless of whether seedlings are hand planted in a planting hole or machine planted in a furrow, the seedlings should be planted at the same depth, or slightly deeper, than they grew in the nursery. Planting too shallow or too deep may drastically affect survival. 

To prevent future problems, the planting hole or furrow should be deep enough to accommodate the root system without J-rooting.

Lastly, firm the soil around the seedling to prevent air pockets. It is always beneficial to water seedlings after planting to settle the soil and create a moist soil environment for the new roots.

Care shouldn't end after the seedlings are planted. Good weed control, pest control and supplemental water may help ensure successful establishment and good growth. Check new tree and shrub plantings regularly to identify any problems or needs.

Source: Dennis Adams, forester, UNL Extension/Nebraska Forest Service, 402-472-5822.

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