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Tree Planting Tips For Woodland Owners

Spring is arriving to the northwoods and soon it will be tree planting season. Naturally the best time to plant trees will be as soon as the frost is out of the ground and soils will have ample moisture and hopefully ample rainfall. 

Let’s take a moment to consider steps for successful tree planting.  Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN-DNR) packages its nursery trees in a plastic bag inside a wax-line cardboard box. MN-DNR recommends the following handling procedures: 

1. When you are picking up your trees, make sure you have the trees you ordered. It may sound silly, but  mix-ups can happen, so take a moment to double check your order. Tree seedlings should be dormant and the terminal buds should be firm and not actively growing, and of course they should smell wonderful with no foul odor. 

2. Do not let the roots dry out or freeze. To minimize risk of tree roots drying during shipment, ask nurseries to ship by the swiftest transportation available. If you are bringing the trees home, place the boxes in a cool place like the garage or a shady spot in a yard. Seedlings should not be stored for more than three to five days and then only at temperatures between 35-45 degrees Farenheit.  

3. When transporting your trees to the planting site, be sure to protect them from sun and wind keeping them as cool as possible. Once you open the box, tree seedling should be planted immediately.  Exposing tree roots to sunlight and drying winds can be fatal in 3 to 5 minutes. 

4. If you need to postpone planting for more than three to five days after receiving the trees, you can temporarily ‘heel’ seedlings in a trench. To heel in trees, dig a V-shaped trench in a cool, shady location, deep enough so the earth will cover the entire root system and part of the lower stem. Open the boxes, spread the trees along the sloping side of the trench in two or three layers, pack soil around the roots, and water as necessary to keep the roots moist.  Trees can remain heeled in, as long as they remain dormant.

5. Once the trees are planted, consider marking trees with brightly covered flagging, making them easier to find in the future. If possible, water after planting and during dry periods.

6. Monitor your trees! Planting trees in the ground is only the first step.  Plan on inspecting seedlings for growth and mortality at the end of the first growing season.

Have fun planting your next forest! If you have additional questions you can visit the Itasca County Extension office.  Learn more about growing and tending your forest by visiting the website that provides information and resources for woodland owners at!