Courtesy of Penn State How to Plant a Seedling where you will also find a video.
Plant seedlings soon after they arrive, preferably within 24 hours and no more than one week. Store them in a cool, damp environment in the original packaging, protected from freezing. Stack bundles loosely to provide ventilation. Keep roots moist by adding small amounts of water to the open end of the bundles, and do not handle seedlings until you are ready to plant.
When transporting, take care to protect seedlings from exposure to wind and direct sunlight. Do not transport seedlings in the bed of a truck unless it is a cool, cloudy day or they are covered with a tarp. Be careful not to damage stems and buds. Buds are the source of new growth, which the tree will need to get established. At the planting site, keep extra seedlings wrapped tightly in their original packaging, covered with a reflective tarp, and stored in the shade. Only remove from storage what can be planted that day.
Seedling roots should be kept moist and cool at all times by carrying them in a bucket of muddy water or planting bag with wet towels, peat moss, or burlap. Roots may also be covered with one of the hydrophilic gels or moisture enhancers. Never carry bundles of seedlings in your hand exposed to the air or completely immersed in a bucket of water for extended periods of time.
Dig a hole with a planting shovel, mattock, or auger. If using a planting bar, work the blade vertically into soil, first pushing the handle away and then pulling it toward you to open a planting hole. It needs to be deep enough to accommodate roots vertically. Set the seedling at the same depth it grew in nursery, only as deep as the root collar. Roots should be straight, not balled or twisted. Long lateral roots can be pruned to aid in planting.
Hold the tree straight while the planting hole is back-filled. If using a planting bar, push the blade into the soil just behind the planting hole; pull the handle toward you to close the bottom of the hole, and push it forward toward the seedling to close the top. Gently pack soil around roots using your hands or the heel of your boot. This will eliminate air pockets, which can desiccate roots. To test whether a seedling is planted properly, give it a firm but gentle tug. It should remain firmly planted.
Even when planned carefully and all necessary precautions are taken, 10-20 percent seedling mortality is not uncommon. Replacement planting in successive years can help recoup losses. A successful planting comes from a combination of good timing, luck, hard work, and knowledge of the planting site and tree species.
Last updated April 21, 2023