Transplanting Trees Successfully

Proper care of planting stock often contributes to the survival and growth of the trees. 

  • Never store in direct sunlight. Keep trees cool and out of the wind.
  • Keep one side of each container exposed to the air.
  • Spray containers with water if temperatures rise above 40 degrees.
  • If unable to plant all seedlings, heel your trees in. Find a place in the shade, protected from the wind, dig a trench, and place roots in the trench, covering them with soil.

During Planting

  • Avoid planting when the ground is hard, frozen, or dry, or
  • when excessively wet and sticky.
  • Allow frozen seedlings to thaw naturally in bundles before attempting to separate.
  • Bring only the number of trees necessary for the day of planting to the site.
  • Moisten the planting stock containers before they are removed from storage.
  • Shield containers from the sun/wind. Seedlings should be carried in protective containers or bags to protect roots from exposure to sun and air. Remove only one seedling at a time from protective container and plant immediately. Do not place seedlings in a bucket of water. This will remove soil particles from the seedlings which will speed up the drying out of the roots.

The planting of trees means improved water quality, resulting in less runoff and erosion. This allows more recharging of the ground water supply. Wooded areas help prevent the transport of sediment and chemicals into streams.

-USDA Forest Service


Spacing and planting guidelines

Following rates and spacing will allow trees enough growing room.

Solid Plantings

 Species In Row Between Row Needed Per Acre Rate Per Acre
Spruce 6' 9' 725 600-800
Pine 7' 8' 900 800-1000
Hardwood Trees 10' 10' 435 400-500
Black Walnut 10' 12' 350 300-400
Shrubs 4' 6' 1800 1500-2000


 Species In Rows Between
Spruce 7' 9'
Pine 8' 9'
Hardwood Trees 10' 12'
Black Walnut 10' 10'
Shrubs 5' 7'

What does 2-0, 2-2, or 2-4 mean?

First number indicates number of years in nursery, second is number of years transplanted into nature.

How to Plant a Bare-Root Transplant Tree

It is best to plant bare-root trees immediately, in order to keep the fragile roots from drying out. If you can't plant because of weather or soil conditions, store the trees in a cool place and keep the roots moist.

  1. Make sure the roots are moist before planting. Do not plant with packing materials attached to roots, and do not allow roots to dry out. Ecto Root Dip mixed with water, turns into a gel form and sticks to the roots and helps to keep them moist. (You will find Ecto Root Dip in the tree order form.)
  2. Plant the tree at the same depth it stood in nursery, without crowding the roots. Partially fill the hole firming the soil around the lower roots. Do not add soil amendments
  3. Dig a hole, wider than seems necessary, so the roots can spread without crowding. Remove any grass within a three-foot circular area. To aid root growth, turn soil in an area up to 3 feet in diameter.
  4. Shovel in the remaining soil. It should be firmly, but not tightly packed with your heel. Construct a water holding holding basin around the tree. Give the tree plenty of water.
  5. After the water has soaked in, place some mulch around the base of the tree. This helps to keep the M moisture in the dirt around the roots.
  6. Water the tree generously every week or 10 days during the first year.

Planting Transplants Correctly

Preparing the Site – The planting site must be clean and free of weeds, brush, and other trees. This can be done in one of the following methods:

  • Scalping – remove the sod in an area 2 feet square for each tree.
  • Work up the entire windbreak strip in the fall prior to planting.
  • Use chemicals to kill the sod. See Extension Bulletin 771, “Tree Planting in Michigan”.

When improving an existing windbreak, all trees and brush in and overtopping the planting spot should be removed before planting; or the new trees should be planted as a new row 10 to 12 feet away.


  • Keep trees in a cool place and keep the roots moist until they are planted. When planting, do not permit the roots to dry out from exposure to the sun or wind.
  • Prune excessively long roots back to 8 inches.
  • Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the tree roots when spread out in a natural position. Do not crowd roots.
  • If possible, pour a pail of water in the hole before planting. Let the water soak in.
  • Set the tree in the hole to a depth of 1 inch deeper than the root collar (the ground line at the nursery). Hand tamp soil around the roots. Tamp soil firmly to eliminate air pockets.
  • Shape ground surface to form a bowl around the tree that will hold water. Do not crown the ground so that water runs away from the tree.
  • If 2’x2’ black plastic sheets are used for weed control, these should be also be shaped to funnel water to the tree.
  • Machine planting is not recommended for transplants because of large size.

Weed Control - Competing weeds, brush, grass, and trees must be mechanically or chemically controlled for 2 to 3 years. After this, mow the grass around the trees once a year for another 2 to 3 years.

Download a copy of our Tree Planting Guide