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Planting Container-Grown Seedlings

Vincent Corrao, Northwest Management, Inc.

Each year millions of trees are planted on private lands. The success or failure of these plantations is dependent on seed source, seedling quality, handling, soil conditions, site preparation and planting technique. Let’s look at some of the most important points that need to be considered when putting in a plantation.

The seed source or where the seeds originate is very important to the success of the new tree stand. Seeds should come from similar elevation and aspect and the trees from which they are collected should exhibit good form and growth characteristics. Proper seed zone is an important issue and each seed zone differs by geographic area. Always inquire from the nursery where the seed came from and does your property fall within this seed zone.

Seedling quality is determined by standards such as the caliper of the stems, root to shoot ratios and color. Most nurseries grow excellent seedlings. In the fall seedlings need to shut down and harden off in preparation for the cold winter months. The process of hardening off and the cold storage in tree boxes during the winter is a very critical period for seedling quality. Seedlings need to be handled as little as possible and proper storage (temperature and humidity) of the trees during the winter has a great impact on the seedling’s ability to perform when planted in the spring. Trees that are poorly stored (i.e. too warm) often perform poorly.

Planting in spring should be done as soon as the soil reaches 40ºF for several days. The spring moisture will be available to the seedling as the days warm up and seedling has the best chance of rooting and supplying the needed moisture to the top of the tree.

The removal of grass, forbs and brush directly around the seedling will improve planting success by reducing the competition for moisture, light and nutrients. Hand scalping away the vegetation can be done in some situations, but several herbicides can now be spot applied reducing the competition for one to two seasons. Generally the better the site preparation, the higher the planting survival and growth of the seedling.

Planting technique differs a little by planting tool used, but the seedling needs to be planted straight up with the top of the plug (root collar) at least 1/2 inch below the soil line. The soil should be packed firmly around the plug with no organic material such as sticks or leaves pushed into the hole. Avoid stomping or packing the soil with your foot or a stick since excessive packing or seedling scaring reduces survival. Following these major points will aid in producing a successful healthy plantation.

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