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Conservation Seedling Program – Planting Instructions & Guidelines

There are a number of methods and tools used to plant seedlings. Your method of planting is for you to decide but be sure to gently remove seedlings from containers before planting. The following are some planting guidelines:

Bare Root Stock – Handling

Bare root seedlings are seedlings grown in an open field nursery. They are lifted in the late winter while still in dormancy. The soil is removed from the root system – hence the term “bare root seedling.” The seedlings are then bundled in lots of 25, wrapped in a water retentive medium and stored in coolers at temperatures between 34 degrees F and 38 degrees (F). Storing the seedlings keeps them from breaking dormancy before planting. After shipment of the seedlings is made to the customer it is important to plant the seedlings immediately. If it becomes necessary to store the seedlings, place them in a cooler that will maintain a minimum temperature of 34 degrees (F) and a maximum temperature of 44 degrees (F). Do not leave them in the cooler more than 72 hours after receiving them. When you are ready to plant them place them in a bucket of water and plant them straight out of the bucket. Do not leave the roots of the seedlings exposed to the sunlight. If the roots dry out the seedling will die.

Soil preparation

The soil you are using should be moist. The root system of containerized and bare root seedlings need contact with moist soil to promote quick adaptation to the planting site.

Plant at the correct depth

When planting containerized seedlings you must first dig a hole as deep as the container holding the root system. Then take the seedling out of the tube. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU PLANT THE SEEDLING WITH THE SEEDLING STILL IN THE CONTAINER/TUBE. Knead the seedling and gently tug the seedling out of the tube. If the seedling doesn’t want to come out, turn the container upside down and gently tap it against a solid object. When you have removed the seedling, plant it in the hole only as deep as the container. Bareroot seedling should be planted up to the top of the root collar.

Tamp the soil around each plant

Bring loose, moist soil in around the root system while holding the seedling upright at the correct depth. When the hole is filled, press firmly to pack the soil. Do not over pack the soil. Water, and place a layer of loose soil or mulch material around the seedling to conserve moisture. Using wood chips or bark as mulch will retain moisture and greatly minimize weeds growing in and around the seedling.


The right spacing is important. Seedlings are small so there is a tendency to plant them too close together. Shrubs can be planted 3 – 6 feet apart in windbreaks, small trees at 5 – 8 feet, and large trees 8 to 18 feet. Spacing between windbreak rows is typically 12 to 20 feet but should be spaced for mowing and cultivation equipment width plus 4 feet. Christmas trees are normally planted on 5 x 5 ft. spacing. See Guidelines for Windbreaks in New Mexico, our Reforestation Guidelines pamphlet, or our Growing and Marketing Christmas Trees in New Mexico pamphlet.

Download Seedling Planting Instructions Here



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Care After Planting

Weed and moisture management

The first 3 to 4 years after planting are very important. The number one cause in loss of growth and mortality is poor weed control. Mulch should be used to retain moisture and minimize competition from weeds. Utilizing fabric mulches or organic mulches (bark, old straw, or hay) will greatly increase the seedlings’ ability to survive by retaining moisture and inhibiting weed growth. Organic mulches should be placed around the seedling at 4″ to 6″ depths and within a 4′ diameter circle around the seedling.


Water or irrigate in the early morning, late afternoon, or early evening every 3 to 5 days depending on the type of soils you have. A good guideline is to thoroughly soak the soil and allow it to partially dry before irrigating again.

First-year seedlings require 1 to 2 gallons of water per week, second-year growth about 2 – 3 gallons per week, third – year about 3 to 4 gallons/week.

Irrigating before freeze-up is helpful for all seedlings, especially evergreens. Also, seedlings often need watering during extended winter dry periods.

Protection from Wind and Sun

Most evergreen seedlings need protection from drying winds and scorching sun. Pine and juniper are generally more tolerant to sun than spruce or fir. Shade can be provided by using existing vegetation, rocks or logs and are the easiest and most economical to use. However, there are some commercially manufactured that may be used as well.

Animal Protection

Deer, elk, and rodents can destroy plantings in a short amount of time. Fencing is the most effective means of minimizing damage. Using individual plastic seedling protectors such as “tree shelters” may also minimize animal damage. Some consist of plastic nets which are effective for 2 -3 growing seasons. Others are corrugated plastic tubes which completely enclose the seedling. Many commercial repellents can also be used to protect plantings from animal damage.

Container Storage

The best approach to short term storage is to be ready to plant when you receive the seedlings. Having the site prepared and equipment ready to go upon arrival of the stock from the nursery is important. If conditions will not allow planting, look for areas that will protect seedlings from the elements of direct sun and drying winds. A cool, shady spot such as on the north side of your house or garage, under a mature tree, or a similar spot is sufficient to hold containerized seedlings for as long as the planting season. Tear the box down the four corners to the top of the seedling container and fold down. This allows your seedlings important air circulation. The seedlings can be watered right in the box. Water every 3 to 5 days depending on the weather. Trees will use less water on cool days. Provide enough water to completely water the soil plug in the container. WATER ONLY IN THE MORNING! This allows the foliage of the seedling to dry out and reduces the chance of disease.


Replace windbreak trees that die in the first 3 years. Usually, very few plants are lost after 3 years.

Need More Help?

If you need further information concerning where, when, and how to plant your seedlings, contact Conservation Seedling Program Manager Carol Bada at or your local Forestry Division Office listed below.

District 1 - Chama
District 3 - Socorro

HC 32, Box 2 1701 Enterprise
Socorro, NM 87801

District 5 - Capitan
District 2 - Cimarron

P.O. Box 5
Ute Park, NM 87749

District 4 - Las Vegas

HC 33, Box 109 #4
Las Vegas, NM 87701

District 6 - Bernalillo

5105 Santa Fe Hills Blvd NE
Rio Rancho, NM 87144              505-205-0343