Before ordering, take time to plan. For assistance contact your DNR District Forester.

  • Select tree and shrub species that will do well on your site and meet your objectives.

  • Determine tree and shrub spacing and the quantity needed.

  • Place your order early to ensure that seedlings are available.

  • Consider existing ground cover and the steps needed to insure your trees will not succumb to weeds. You may need to eliminate or reduce competing vegetation before planting.

  • Consider what you will need to do to prepare the site.

  • Decide if the site should be machine planted or hand planted.

    • Smaller tree seedlings may be better for hand planting projects and those new to planting trees.

    • Larger tree seedlings may be better for more experienced tree planters and for contractors using equipment to help with properly planting the bigger root systems usually associated with these trees.

  • Decide if you can do the work yourself or if you need to hire a contractor.Plant trees as soon as they arrive.


The objective of site preparation is to control competing vegetation and ensure good soil-to-root contact for your newly planted seedlings. An ideal site is well tilled and free of weeds. However, the steepness of slope, rocks and other impediments, and the need to control soil erosion often limit the degree of site preparation that may be considered practical.

Eliminate all vegetation in a strip 3-5’ wide where the trees will be planted by cultivating or using herbicides. If your site needs protection from erosion, do all work on the contour.

The planting seasons in Iowa are generally from November 1 until the ground freezes for fall, and April through May for spring. To get the best survival rate, plant the seedlings as soon as you receive them. If you need to store the seedlings, leave them in the packaging bags and keep them as cool as possible in an environment that does not allow freezing and thawing until you are ready to plant. Seedlings lose their vigor if stored for long periods.


  • An hour before you plant, place trees in a bucket with water covering the roots until they are planted.

  • Keep unplanted and packaged trees out of direct sunlight.

  • Plant seedling root collar slightly below ground. Trees may not survive with exposed roots.

  • Plant seedlings with the main root straight down. Avoid doubled or sharply bent roots. Seedlings planted with "U-shaped" roots grow poorly. It is better to trim extremely long roots.

  • Plant seedlings upright and firmly pack soil around the roots, leaving no air pockets.


           Correct Planting Position      Incorrect Planting Position 


  • Water seedlings with one inch of water a week or more frequently, if dry hot weather persists.

  • Control grass and weeds around seedlings to prevent animal damage.

  • Use tree shelters to reduce animal damage.


Grass and weeds are a problem because they grow faster and are often taller than young seedlings. Grass is a problem because: 1) it competes for water and quickly dries out the soil, 2) it competes for nutrients, 3) it can have allelopathic properties that stunt the growth of seedlings (Reed canary grass and brome are two examples) and 4) it creates cover for wildlife such as rabbits and voles.

The primary reason for failed tree plantings in Iowa is poor control of grass and weed competition. The only way to avoid these problems is to control the grass and weeds that cause them. 

Keep weeds from growing in a 3-5’ zone around your seedlings. Mow the area between rows in the fall to reduce hiding places for rabbits and rodents during the winter. This gives the seedlings space to start growing without competition.


Recommended spacing for trees is 8’ between plants with 8’ between rows or 10’ between plants with 6’ between rows (700 trees per acre). Spacing for shrubs is 4’ between plants with 8’ between rows (1400 shrubs per acre) or 5’ between plants with 10’ between rows (900 shrubs per acre).

For no additional cost, contact your DNR District Forester with additional questions.

For more information about a species, such as its native range, please refer to the USDA Plants Database.


Top pruning: We top prune certain seedlings to maintain a balance between above ground shoots and the available root system. This practice helps the seedlings concentrate energy at the root level which increases the survival rate. It also aids in packaging, allowing the bags to be sealed well so the roots stay moist.

Root pruning: Almost all of our hardwood and evergreen trees are root pruned. This practice helps develop more lateral roots and controls top growth, improving the seedlings’ balance and survival with a larger, more developed root system.