How to Plant Trees for a Reforestation Project

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There are numerous ways to plant a tree, depending on the species, climate, soil and the purpose of your tree planting project. Planting a decorative tree in your yard or garden is different than an orchardist planting acres of fruit trees or a Christmas tree farmer planting in straight rows with a tree planting machine. Planting trees where a forest has burned or been logged, or to convert a pasture or meadow to forest is another type of planting with it's own set of instructions. These tips are for hand planting seedlings for a Pacific Northwest forest.

Dress for the terrain and the season. Douglas fir seedlings are planted in late winter or early spring. Dress with an eye toward wet weather and damp ground cover. Many reforestation sites are on steep slopes in rugged, mountainous country. Sturdy boots are a must.

Learn how to wear the planting bag and harness. You may well have a long day of walking and planting, so adjust the straps so you are comfortable.

Check your planting tools, which will likely be a wide planting spade, but could be a hoedad, which looks like a bent, narrow shovel. Wider spades are more popular now, but some planters may stick to the hoedad.

Fill your planting bag with seedlings. They will be in large, insulated paper bags, usually, often kept under a tarp to ensure they remain cool and damp. Be sure you re-close the paper bag so the seedlings don't dry out.

Determine how far apart the seedlings will be planted. If this is your own land, you can consult with a forestry expert. Much will depend on the purpose of the reforestation and specific details of the site. If you are part of a crew, be sure you understand the requirements.

Push your planting tool into the soil. Unlike planting in your yard, you won't need to dig a large hole for each seedling. Shove the spade or chop the hoedad into the soil, pull back to create a space and slip your seedling into it. Be sure the hole is deep enough the roots have room at the bottom. If the roots curl up due to lack of space, you have a condition called "J-root" and it does not bode well for the tree. Pull out your spade, press the soil down around the base of the seedling and move on to the next space. With a bit pf practice you will develop a rhythm and a feel for when the seedling is planted correctly.

If you are in deer country, you may need to protect each seedling from deer browse damage. If that's the case, you will then take a thin wooden stake and mesh tube, weave the stake through the mesh, and pull the tube down over your seedling, pushing the end of the stake into the ground. This will inhibit the deer from eating the tree until it's big enough to survive.


Be prepared for difficult terrain. It may take extra effort to plant in rocky soil or to cut through the sod of a meadow or pasture. Be prepared for glitches in the plan. It might be ideal to plant every few feet, but the terrain, rocks, logs and other natural obstacles may prohibit that. Be creative and do your best.


It's rewarding, but hard work to reforest a large area. Bring plenty of water and wear gloves and other protective gear. Remember that shovels and hoedads are sharp. Keep the seedlings cool and damp.


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