Evergreen Seedling Planting Instructions

Below are our evergreen planting instructions and other information helpful for the proper planting and care of evergreen seedlings and transplants. We sell bare root evergreen seedings and bare root evergreen transplants seasonally in Spring and Fall, and evergreen plug seedlings about 8 months of the year.

See also:
Evergreen Seedling Planting Videos
Evergreen Seedling Weed Control
Evergreen Seedling Deer Control
Evergreen Seedling Potting Instructions
Evergreen Seedling Temporary Storage Instructions

Evergreen Windbreaks and Privacy Screens
Trees per acre for an Evergreen tree farm
Evergreen Tree Winterburn
How Trees Sequester Carbon
Starting A Christmas Tree Farm

When Your Trees Arrive

Examine your order immediately to confirm that everything is correct and the trees are in good condition. The moss / shavings around the roots [or the root plugs themselves] should be moist to the touch, and if not, dunk the roots for a few seconds. If you are not able to plant immediately, stand each bundle upright, roll the plastic bags [if bagged] down to expose the needles to fresh air, keep the bags snug around the roots to prevent moisture loss, and place them upright in a cool, shady spot out of direct sunlight. Although the trees should be fine for several days like this, IMMEDIATE planting is ALWAYS best, except in a heat wave. NEVER store your trees in the freezer…typical home or chest freezers are too cold and your trees will suffer from thermal shock, desiccation [freeze drying] or even death-ification

Spring Evergreen Planting Instructions

evergreen planting instructions soil pH graph
Evergreens need soil at appropriate pH levels [5.5 to 6.5] to properly absorb nutrients
Save yourself some time and headaches! With just a bit of practice, you should be able to plant a seedling every 90 seconds. Watch our instructional planting videos on how to properly plant a tree, and do it quickly.

Spring planting is best done just after frost leaves the ground, the weather is still cool, and lots of Spring rain is expected. The best time to plant evergreen seedlings is just after the ground has thawed but before warm weather arrives. Planting during hot, dry weather may cause “transplant shock” [also known as “thermal shock”], so either avoid planting in hot, dry weather or make sure the trees get lots of water. Drip irrigation is optimal but not always feasible. To plant your trees, work a flat spade back and forth at least a foot into the ground to create a trench, scooping out any dirt that falls into the bottom. Hold the tree by the trunk with one hand and gently push the bottoms of the roots into the very bottom of the trench with your other hand, and then pull the tree back up to ground level [if necessary] to prevent the roots from curling upwards and to get the tree at the right planting height. Once in the trench, pour a quart or more of water into the trench, allow the water to drain down a bit, and then push the trench shut with your boot.

evergreen planting instructions watering berm
Create a berm around your tree to keep water flowing down instead of away

Optional: to improve watering and to help control weeds, create a circular berm around the tree and fill it with half an inch of bark or mulch. The berm will concentrate drip irrigation or a bucket of water around the roots, and the mulch will help prevent weeds.

For plug seedlings, most of the work described above is unnecessary. You can easily plant plug seedlings using a cordless drill and any old dull rusty 1 inch drill bit you have lying around, or use an auger which is perfectly sized for planting evergreen plug seedlings stupidly fast. Have a look at our tree seedling planting videos for detailed instructions.

Late Spring Frosts

Evergreen trees are not susceptible to a typical Spring frost like flowers and some ornamental plants. They should be planted just after the ground thaws but before daytime temperatures are consistently in the 70’s and Spring showers come to an end. In the early spring, tree seedlings are still hardened off from the winter and have no tender new growth…therefore frost does no damage. Making the mistake of waiting to plant until after the risk of frost has passed [as you would with flowers] means the best time of year to plant an evergreen seedling has long passed. The only time most tree seedlings can be damaged by frost is if it occurs at a freakishly late time in the Spring, after the trees have broken bud and tender new growth is exposed and pushing upwards.

Evergreen Seedling Growth Rates

plant evergreen trees at proper root depth
When planting, point the green end up!

After a year getting acclimated to it’s new location, healthy evergreen tree seedlings will typically add 8″ to 16″ of new growth per year. The first year’s growth may be less, since bare root trees must first re-establish their root systems before putting on new growth. It is worth noting that when you are buying a tree, you should pay more attention to the root system, not the pretty top growth. Healthy root systems support healthy growth rates, and growers often show photos of their trees’ root systems to show the health and vitality of their nursery stock.

Soil Types And Planting/Hardiness Zones

As a rule of thumb, if a particular species already grows in your area, you should have great success by planting the same species. Take a drive through your neighborhood and see what species of tree seem to be growing well, and ask your neighbors if you can’t identify a particular tree. You can also check out our Evergreen Tree Buyer’s Guide for a guide on what types of evergreens do well in specific zones, soil types and sun/shade environments.

Additional Wisdom

This is an email sent to a customer in winter 2019, containing many nuggets of very useful evergreen tree planting advice

Summer Planting: Ummm, no

We don’t recommend planting any species of tree seedling in the summer, which is why we close for the summer. A box of live seedlings sitting in a UPS truck for two days in July, are you kidding me? Most seedlings and transplants planted at this time of year will die quickly due to thermal shock and lack of adequate water from poorly established roots. However, plug seedlings are shipped with their cigar-shaped ball of soil still intact around the roots. These roots are already established in their own little dirt ecosystem and are ready to grow outwards into new dirt. This helps them avoid some of the problems of late Spring and late Fall planting, but they still need plenty of water throughout the heat of the first growing season.

Fall Evergreen Planting Instructions

When planting evergreen trees in the Fall, the trees experience less stress during the digging and shipping process because they’ve gone dormant in preparation for Winter, and don’t need nearly as much water and sunlight during this dormancy as during the Spring and Summer months. Early Fall planting [Sept/Oct] also gives the trees plenty of time to become acclimated to their new environment and for the dirt to properly settle around the roots. And finally, Fall planting gives the trees a head start because they’re already in the ground in the Spring when the ground begins to thaw. Spring is obviously a fine and popular time to plant, but Fall certainly has its advantages.

Ummm, wading birds hunting around your spruce is a bad sign

Having said that, “heaving out” of Fall planted trees is a concern. Bare open ground can freeze and thaw repeatedly in the Winter during sunny days and freezing nights. This repetitive freeze/thaw cycle over many days can literally squeeze the roots of a Fall-planted seedling right out of the ground because the roots are not yet anchored in the soil. Transplants are virtually immune to heaving out due to their much longer root systems, even if they’re not properly anchored yet. To prevent heaving out of a seedling, throw some mulch or bark around each tree to insulate any bare dirt from wild temperature swings on sunny days and freezing nights. Snow is the perfect ground insulator, and it’s also free!

Desiccation [freeze drying] is also a concern: young evergreens can dry out from low humidity and high winds during the winter. Again, seedlings are more susceptible to desiccation than the bigger transplants. To prevent desiccation, keep the ground damp until frost sets in, and spread mulch or woodchips as an added moisture retainer. Deep snowfall also prevents desiccation, since it covers the young trees in a stabilizing winter blanket.

Additional recommendations from the North Carolina Forestry Library >>

Fertilizing Evergreen Seedlings

Evergreen trees often don’t need much fertilizer, just plenty of sunshine and water. In fact, it is so easy to kill a tree by over-fertilizing that we recommend not fertilizing unless your evergreens seem to be losing their dark green color due to a shortage of nutrients. Half a teaspoon of balanced fertilizer (labeled 12-12-12 or lower) sprinkled on top of the ground around and under each tree is good, but DO NOT put fertilizer directly into the planting hole…this will surely kill the trees in the same way that the way that taking an entire bottle of aspirin can kill you. Let water bring the nutrients to the roots at a slow, natural pace.

We are big fans of gentle over-the-counter products such as Miracle Gro All Purpose Liquid Plant Food [all purpose], Liquid Kelp Extract / Seaweed Extract [excellent root growth stimulant], and slow release granular fertilizer with micronutrients. All of these products can be applied while watering, provide excellent results, and are nearly foolproof methods for the prevention of over-fertilization. I know, because this fool who speaks to you now has killed a lot of trees with granular petroleum-based fertilizers over the years!

Evergreen Seedling Care: Deer, Rodents and Other Pests

Deer and rodents such as mice, moles and voles will eat almost anything when their normal food sources become scarce. Deer will snack on tender new growth, and will eat most of the tree if conditions are worse than normal. Deer are naturally terrified of coyotes, and you can buy spray bottles of synthetic coyote urine or Plantskydd online. We have an entire page about how to protect evergreen seedlings from deer

Moles, voles and mice can do just as much damage, but from underground and right at the surface, eating away the tender roots and girdling the tree by eating all the bark at ground level. In the early spring, your trees will already be turning brown and can be pulled out with just two fingers because there’s no roots left. Regular inspections [pull lightly on a few trees] and poison, traps or “mouse patrol” [cats] are the only realistic solution.

Mouse/mole/vole bait pellets can be inserted into a 12-18″ long length of approx 2 inch diameter PVC pipe, then lay them on the ground around the trees which you are trying to protect. The natural shape of the pipe and the enticing food inside does a very good job. The pipe also protects the poisoned food and makes it last longer, and prevents it from getting rinsed and washed away. A flag or stake marking each trap makes them easier to find in deep snow for inspection and refilling.

Evergreen Seedling Care: Weeds

See our evergreen tree weed control page for information on herbicides and other means of controlling weeds around your evergreen trees.

Evergreen Seedling Care: Planting in Pots

See our how to pot evergreen trees page for helpful [read: urgent] tips and information on how to do it right, and the multiple gotcha’s to look out for.

Evergreen Seedling Seasonal Care

Your trees will finish their growth for the year around mid-July to August. Pines can be pruned after the 4th of July, while Spruce and Fir should not be pruned until Fall. If you notice your trees are not as deep a green as they used to be, sprinkle a tablespoon of 12-12-12 balanced fertilizer on top of the ground around each tree, but let the rain or your sprinkler slowly transfer the nutrients to the roots…fast fertilizing or over-fertilizing is a great way to kill your trees!

Wind Breaks and Privacy Screens

Please see our evergreen windbreaks and privacy screens page for detailed information.

Happy planting! – Rick