The following are a few tips on planting conifers that may help with successful germination of plugs or bareroot seedlings:

handle plants carefully

Always Handle Plants Carefully

Your plugs and bareroot seedlings are alive and must be handled carefully as they could be damaged if dropped, bent or handled roughly.


Let Your Plugs Thaw Completely

Many growers order plugs from a nursery that will arrive frozen. Always store them in a cool dark place until they are thawed completely and keep them moist until they are planted. If the roots seem dry you can submerge them in water for a few minutes, but not for an extended period of time as trees require oxygen to survive. The seedlings should be planted as soon as possible after they are thawed.

site preparation

Site Preparation

You should have your field prepared before picking up your seedlings with straight rows laid out and planting spots marked. Do not drill holes several hours in advance of planting as the holes will dry out and possibly harm the seedling. A 6’ x5’ grid will enable the planting of approximately 1400 seedlings per acre (6’ between rows and 5’ between trees). Any grass or weeds within a 30 to 45 cm radius of the planting spot should be removed to reduce competition for light and water. Some growers spray roundup around the spot prior to planting to give the seedling a head start on any weeds. Never plant seedlings if the ground is still frozen.

digging the hole

Digging The Hole

For plugs, the hole should be large enough to accommodate the plug preferably with loose soil a few inches around the hole and the plug touching the soil at the bottom of the hole. For bareroot seedlings, the hole must be large enough for roots to be arranged in a natural downward orientation and not curled around the bottom or pointing upward which is referred to as J-root.



Plant one box of seedlings at a time and keep other boxes in the shade. Do not lay numerous seedlings out beside the holes or allow them to dry out in the sunshine before planting. Place the seedling in the hole with the stem standing straight up and the root collar at ground level. Press firmly on the soil around the stem when backfilling and make sure all roots are covered. The bottom branches of the seedling should not be covered with soil and do not basal prune for the initial two or three years.



Water thoroughly after planting but do not drown the seedling. It may be 2 to 3 years before a tree has a sufficiently developed root system to find moisture on its own. Bark mulch placed around the seedling may help retain moisture during periods of drought. The best practice is to follow a wet/dry soil cycle by allowing the soil to dry down before watering again. Conifers will not tolerate soil that is continuously wet.

fertilizer applicaiton

Fertilizer Application

Slow-release tea bag fertilizers, formulated for seedlings can be placed in the ground approximately 1” to 2” from the planted seedling and will promote faster growth. Some tea bag fertilizers also contain a polymer that absorbs water and releases it when the soil is dry to help combat drought. It is not recommended that fertilizers high in nitrogen be applied to new plantings unless you use a slow-release fertilizer ideally with a low salt content. Generally young plants will not tolerate excessive nitrogen or acidity. For future fertilizer applications when seedlings are more mature it is recommended to have your soil tested to ensure you are providing the proper nutrients at the appropriate time.

weed control

Weed Control

Weeds should be controlled around seedlings to ensure they are not competing for water and sunlight. This can be accomplished by hand weeding or by spraying with a glyphosate-based herbicide, taking care not to allow the spray to contact branches, especially when buds are flushing. Generally, a field may require two annual herbicide applications to keep weeds in check.