conifer seedling

CORVALLIS, Ore. - If conifer tree planting is on your late winter or early spring to-do list, there are some things you can do to improve your success.

When it comes to planting conifers, timing is everything, according to John Punches, Oregon State University Extension Service forester and associate professor in the OSU College of Forestry. Punches recommends planting when the upper 10 inches of soil is moist, the soil is not frozen more than a half-inch deep, the snow cover is less than two inches and air temperature is between 30 and 65 degrees.

It also helps if the wind is blowing at less than 20 miles per hour – and the seedlings are fully dormant.

A little extra time spent during planting can yield big dividends in young tree survival, Punches said, so plant your trees correctly for best success.

Among Punches’ other tips:

  • Keep the roots moist and the trees cool. Plant in the rain, if possible. Dried out roots are dead roots, and bare root seedlings are susceptible to drying. Containerized seedlings are more protected but need careful treatment. Carry seedlings in a planting bag or bucket to protect them from sun and wind and remove just one tree at a time for planting. Dig the hole or holes before removing the seedlings. To help prevent damage, keep roots covered and moist from the moment seedlings are removed from their shipping bundles until they are planted.
  • Dig a good hole. Many planting errors can be blamed on holes too small for the roots of the plant going into them. Holes should be deep enough to hold the root system with ease and allow for broken soil all around the root system to promote root growth. If the roots are 9 inches long, dig the hole at least 12 inches deep to provide broken soil under the seedling.
  • Plant at the right depth. Trees should be planted at the same depth they experienced in the nursery or a bit deeper. Planting too shallow leaves upper roots exposed, leading to their death. Planting too deep can be a problem if lower twigs and needles are buried. Spread out the roots in a natural position when you place the seedling in the hole.
  • Firmly press down soil around the plant. While holding the tree in an upright position at the correct depth, fill the hole with the loose, moist soil dug from the planting hole. Do not let dry soil, rocks or surface litter fall in the hole, or roots in these dry spots could be damaged or killed. When the hole is filled in with moist soil, press it down firmly.
  • Manage competition. Planting the tree is only part of the battle. Control competing vegetation for at least the next two years to give the tree time to become fully established.

Extension Service

About the OSU Extension Service: The Oregon State University Extension Service shares research-based knowledge with people and communities in Oregon’s 36 counties. OSU Extension addresses issues that matter to urban and rural Oregonians. OSU Extension’s partnerships and programs contribute to a healthy, prosperous and sustainable future for Oregon.

Story By: 

Kym Pokorny, 541-737-3380, [email protected]


John Punches, 541-602-4689, [email protected]


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