Seedling Care and Planting

This is basic information pertaining to reforestation. Some landowners will encounter problems that are peculiar to their specific lands. If you need advice in this area, contact a Georgia Forestry Commission District or County office A qualified forester will help you.

Winter is the time to plant forest tree seedlings in Georgia. Although the quality of trees has been greatly improved through research in recent years, survivability of seedlings depends largely on care taken in storing, transporting, and planting.

Here are some tips:


  1. At delivery, inspect the packages of seedlings before accepting and make sure your order is correct and check for damages. Then unload immediately.
  2. Minimize storage time, especially early in the season.
  3. Do not wash or shake gel from seedling roots. Gel applied to roots at the nursery prevents drying out during transport and decreases transplanting shock.
  4. Do not prune the roots of packed seedlings. Seedlings need every single tiny root to absorb moisture and nutrients from the ground, so the more root surface the better the growth. If some seedlings have roots that are excessively long, remove them individually, and trim slightly.
  5. Do not allow seedlings to dry out from wind or sun. Ample moisture is the key factor - "if they dry, they die."
  6. Allow air to circulate to prevent heating when in packages. Bags/bales should not be stacked over two deep per layer unless spacers are used to provide air circulation between layers. Spacers should provide 2-4" of air space.
  7. Avoid temperature extremes.  Fluctuations in temperature, especially excessive heat, during storage and transport can result in seedling trauma.
  8. Do not attempt to plant seedlings that have been thoroughly frozen in the pack. Freezing irreversibly damages the root system, leading to seedling death. Slightly frozen seedlings, however, are acceptable and should be thawed naturally. Do not handle seedlings in this state, as it leads to cracking and breaking.


  1. Do not transport seedlings in truck beds containing fertilizer, chemical, or fuel residues.
  2. Protect plants from weather extremes when transporting to planting site. Vehicles used for transporting seedlings should have a light colored tarp to shade and protect seedlings. At least 12" of air space should be left between the protective cover and the top of the bags/bales to avoid heat build up.
  3. Transport seedlings carefully. Rough handling can damage root systems and predispose seedlings to stress.
  4. Avoid extended transport time.


  1. Plant seedlings within a 2-week period after acceptance.
  2. Plant when soil is moist.
  3. Plant bare-root seedlings during cooler temperatures as they are more conducive to seedling survival and healthy growth. (after November 1 if soil moisture is plentiful - preferably after December 1 and before March 1.)
  4. When hand planting, carry plants to site in container with sufficient mud, sawdust, or wet moss to cover and keep seedling roots moist.
  5. Remove only a single seedling at a time from bucket when hand-planting, or enough seedlings from planter tray for immediate use. Do not expose roots to drying wind and sun.
  6. Plant seedlings deeply. The correct planting depth should be at least as deep as the plant grew in the nursery. Greater exposure to the soil and its water content - even one-half inch of added depth of planting - significantly improves survival rates.
  7. Use mechanical planting if possible. Although slightly more expensive, planting mechanically yields better results and is an investment that pays off. Make sure the machine is properly adjusted to get the proper planting depth and to avoid J-rooting.

How Many Trees Should I Plant?

The density of an initial planting of trees depends upon both the species and objectives of the landowner. In general, landowners planting strictly for timber production will plant Loblolly, Slash or Longleaf pines and will tend to plant at higher densities.  Landowners that have other objectives, such as wildlife habitat, may plant pines and other species at a lower density to satisfy their goals. A compromise initial spacing for timber and wildlife is between 500 and 600 seedlings per acre.

View a factsheet to help you determine the number of trees to plant

Check with your forester or wildlife biologist for more information about species selection, planting densities and typical site preparation and care after planting to expect good results. The following table shows the most common tree planting densities.

Typical Spacing (in feet) Trees/Acre
6 x 10 726
6 x 12 605
7 x 10 622
7 x 12 519
8 x 8 680
8 x 10 544
8 x 12 454
9 x 9 538
9 x 10 484
10 x 10 435