As the snow finally melts, we are approaching the prime time for planting bare-root trees and shrubs in Indiana. Planting bare-root seedlings is a proven, cost efficient method to establish trees and shrubs on your property for a variety of purposes, as long as some basic steps are followed. Prior to planting, prepare your site by eliminating competing vegetation where the seedlings will be planted. This can be done with tillage or herbicides. Areas with heavy sod or perennial weed growth are very difficult sites for small seedlings to survive and thrive. Clear all the competing vegetation in the planting area, or create circles or bands two to three feet wide where the seedlings can grow. Be sure your site is suited to the species you plan to plant. Soil survey and tree planting information from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is available for every county in the state, either at NRCS offices, or on the Web Soil Survey website: http://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov
When you recieve your seedlings, keep them cool and moist until you can plant them. Plant them as soon as possible since the best place to store a seedling is in the soil! If you can't plant them within a few days of their arrival, you can dig a trench and "heel in" the seedlings, by planting them very close together and covering the roots with soil and/or moist mulch. This is still a short -term storage solution. You want to have your trees planted in their final locations before buds start to open.
When planting, keep seedlings stored in the shade and roots should be kept moist until placed in the ground. A five gallon bucket with wet peat or sphagnum moss will work just fine for transporting seedlings to their planting locations. You can use several tools for planting, including shovels and commercial tree planting bars. The critical factors are planting the seedling at the correct depth and getting the root system in the ground such that is has good contact with the soil and is ready to grow. Seedlings should be planted with the root collar at or slightly below ground line. The root collar is where the stem changes to the root, and is recognized by a color and texture change on the seedling stem. Be sure the soil is firmed around the seedling to close any air pockets that can dry out roots. Get your planting done as early in the spring as you can to take advantage of spring rains and a longer growing season for the seedling.
There are many more considerations for planning and implementing a successful tree planting that you can review in extension publications. Here are some that should be helpful:
Planting Forest Trees and Shrubs in Indiana, and Planting and Care of Fine Hardwood Seedlings series, all available at https://ag.purdue.edu/fnr/Extension/Pages/publications.aspx.
To view large photo used in this posting, How To Plant Seedlings.
Lenny Farlee, Extension Forester, Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center
Forestry & Natural Resources, Purdue University