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DNRC Headquarters
1539 Eleventh Ave. Helena, MT 59601
Phone: (406) 444-2074 | Fax: (406) 444-2684
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Post-Planting Seedling Care



If possible, give each seedling one to two gallons of water immediately after planting. This will settle the soil around the roots and make any air pockets apparent.
Seedlings generally require two to three years to become well established. Regular irrigation during this time can increase survival and greatly increase growth rates. Periodic deep watering is better than frequent light watering. Irrigate each plant with one to two gallons of water every one to two weeks during the summer. Irrigating more than once a week is usually not necessary and can suffocate roots and slow growth, especially on conifers in heavy soils.
Gradually reduce irrigation in late summer to allow the seedlings to harden off for winter. In areas subject to Chinook winds a final irrigation fight before freeze up can help winter survival. Do not water if the ground is frozen! After two to three years the seedlings should not require supplemental watering unless fast growth is desired.


Fertilizer use on first year seedlings is generally not recommended. Slow release fertilizers in teabag type packets are available. These can be places in the bottom of the planting hole, may increase growth slightly, and are some benefit on infertile soils. If teabag fertilizers are used do not place them in direct contact with roots. Do not apply any other type of fertilizer in the first year! Nitrogen fertilizers can cause excessive top growth before the roots are established and kill your seedlings. After the first year small applications of slow release fertilizers with equal parts nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus will aid plant growth. Follow recommended rates carefully.
Using manure or compost as a fertilizer is risky. Never place these materials in the planting hole. Manure is usually far too "hot" for use on seedlings.


Woven weed fabric is the best mulch for seedlings. It controls all weeds, reduces evaporation from the soil around the roots, and allows water and air to pass through. Other good mulch materials are wood chips, bark chips, straw, and composted sawdust. Mulch should be no deeper than three inches. Grass clippings seem to attract rodents and are not recommended.

Wildlife Damage

Restricting access to the seedlings or applying repellents can control deer and elk browse. An eight foot fence will keep them away from your seedlings but is expensive. Rigid net-like tubes are available from many reforestation suppliers. These are effective at discouraging browse of the terminal bud but require annual maintenance. Contact the nursery for sources. Solid tubes can create a greenhouse effect and are not recommended. Stretchable hair-net type netting is not recommended as the terminal leader can become tangled and distorted in this material.
Repellents have given variable and inconsistent results over the years. Many are only effective for short periods of time, if at all, and must be applied frequently. A repellent called Plantskydd has shown positive results. One application in the early spring appears to give decent protection for the season. Contact the nursery for sources.
In areas with high deer populations planting unpalatable species is the best way to limit damage. For example, you can plant spruce and juniper instead of pine.
Rodent damage to stems will increase if weeds are not controlled around the base of seedlings. Shallow, clean cultivation around the seedlings will discourage rodents. Pocket gophers feed on seedling roots and are very difficult to control. Trapping when the populations are low is the best option.

2705 Spurgin Road
Missoula, MT 59804