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Fall/Winter Planting of Pine Tree Seedlings

Filed Under:
December 7, 2018

Host: Randy Rousseau, Forestry Specialist

Speaker 1: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about fall or winter planting of pine tree seedlings. Hello, I'm Amy Taylor Myers and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with Dr. Randy Rousseau, Mississippi State Extension Forestry Specialist.  Randy, sometimes we plant pine tree seedlings in the fall or winter. Why would we do this?

Randy Rousseau: That's a good question as traditionally we have planted pine or hardwood seedlings during the most dormant portions of the year, such as January, February and early March. The reasons for this was that the seedlings that are grown in the nursery have to go into a complete dormancy before they are lifted to ensure good survival in the seedlings once they are placed into storage. Thus lifting of the seedlings too early before the seedlings actually go into full dormancy, as well as too late in the spring, creates problems that if not handled correctly or stored correctly, could result in fairly substantial mortality.  The reason for fall planting is that it provides the root systems to actually start growing thus minimizing what we call planting shock. Research has shown that in the areas where there is no chance of frost [inaudible 00:01:16] that fall planting produce better growth during the first several years.

Amy Myers: Now you said that problems could show up if you plant too early. Can you explain the difference?

Randy Rousseau: You're correct and where I was referring to that is that when the nurseries lift the seedlings before they have a chance to go into full dormancy, those seedlings should not be stored for over a couple of days. The reasoning that those seedlings will be respired, they will quickly build up heat within the storage bag, which will lead to mold growth as well as the production of toxic gases leaving the seedlings in very poor condition to survive. The very same thing is true if the seedlings are lifted too late into the winter and the soil has begun to warm up and the root systems begin to actively grow, thus again, we need to plant these seedlings within a day or two after lifting or they will suffer the same fate as those seedlings lifted too early in the fall.

Amy Myers: Okay, if the fall planting is so tricky to get right, then should I just wait to plant during the winter?

Randy Rouseau: I would tell a landowner that fall planting of bare root seedlings is ill advised unless everything is ready to go as soon as the seedlings arrive. That means that your site prep is completed, your crew is standing by, and your seedlings arrive on time. However, today you have another option and that is the use of containerized seedlings. Containerized seedlings will double the cost of what you'd pay for bare roots seedlings as well as a little harder to plant, but they provide both advantages and options that bare root seedlings do not. In other words, you can plant as early as October, which allows you time for seedlings to become well established prior to going into full dormancy and provides a quick start the following spring. A containerized seedling also the landowner the ability to store these seedlings longer as the root system is intertwined with moist soil media, which also has a slow release fertilizer placed in the media.  By having the root system intact, this means there's no root injury thus providing the seedling a quick response to acclimation and later growth. However, when planting containerized seedlings, the root plug must be completely covered by the soil or you'll run the risk of the seedling drying out and later dying. This does mean that you should not check your seedlings in storage, it just means that the root systems will not dry out nearly as quickly as the bare root seedlings would. Overall, containerized seedling survival is very high as long as they are handled properly and planted correctly. Thus, no matter whether you bare root or containerized seedlings, a proper site prep is necessary to ensure good survival and growth.

Amy Myers: Okay Randy, and if folks have any questions or anything or if they want to do some more research they can go to and search the links into the forestry page or what else can they do if they have questions?

Randy Rouseau: Well if you have any further questions, if you're on that link you can actually look at some of the publications that we have on both containerized and bare root seedlings. You can always give me a call at my number at 662-325-2777 or email me at

Amy Myers: Thank you so much. Today we've been speaking with Randy Rousseau, Mississippi State University Extension Forestry Specialist. I'm Amy Taylor Myers and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Speaker 1: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

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