Planning, Planting and Maintenance

Planting your shelterbelt

Potential equipment needed for planting shelterbelts

  • Planting bags 
    • Used to carry around seedlings – can include shoulder straps, waist straps, etc. 
    • Reflective silvicool liners can also be placed in the planting bags for proper tree care
  • Shovel
    • To make holes in the ground for seedlings – blade type can be specific to planting (D-handle or staff shovel)
  • Plot cord
    • For distancing purposes
  • Proper clothing
  • Miscellaneous items such as duct tape, rope, a knife, first aid kit, etc.
  • Bag such as duffel or backpack to carry your items  



Propagating a seed will make sure that the tree will obtain the identical beneficial attributes as the tree it came from. This can also be beneficial when availability of a certain species in your area is limited. To propagate a tree or shrub, you can either grow it from seed, or begin from softwood or hardwood cuttings. However, one can also purchase a seedling or sapling. This would speed up the shelterbelt process so it could provide its service faster, but one would also have less control over how well the shelterbelt will grow and succeed. Nonetheless, this is not usually a terrible issue.

Propagating a seed will make sure that the tree will grow to be identical as the tree it came from. In other words, you can artificially select the next generation of tree or shrub, which is especially beneficial when there are some very desirable characteristics from the previous generation. Propagating your own seedling instead of buying a partly-grown tree or shrub can also be beneficial when availability of a certain species in your area is limited, and can also save money from not having to buy a seedling. 

  • Also, note that beginning a shelterbelt at this early of a stage means that it will take longer for the shelterbelt to grow and begin fulfilling its purpose.

To propagate a tree or shrub, you can either grow it from seed, or begin from softwood or hardwood cuttings.

  • Propagating from softwood cuttings involves cutting away a tender growth from the plant that has grown this year and does not have hard bark yet. 
  • Propagation from hardwood cuttings involves taking a cutting from last year’s growth which has already developed some bark.  
  • Most shelterbelt trees and shrubs are planted from seedlings. To grow a tree or shrub from seed:
    • The first step is to obtain the seed itself. A seed can be purchased or collected. The most important thing to consider when obtaining a seed is that it is obtained from somewhere with a similar climate and latitude to where the shelterbelt will be planted. If collecting your own seed, choose from plants with the most desirable traits, such as height, leaf volume and disease resistance. There are different ways to collect seed from different species of tree and shrub:
      • Coniferous cones are collected prior to dispersal and are placed in a warm, ventilated area with enough room for the scales to open. From there, the seeds can be collected. Plants with dry fruits such as caragana are also collected in this fashion and given time for their fruit to split and release seeds in similar warm, ventilated areas.
      • Flesh fruits such as Saskatoon berry are simply picked or shaken from the branch, and the fruit is then broken open to obtain the seed.
    • A next step is to prepare a seedbed. A seedbed is where the seed can germinate and develop into a seedling. A seedbed is usually a bed of appropriate soil with proper drainage. Conifers require shading at this stage and for the first growing season. Deciduous species generally do not require shading. A seedbed does not need to be as large as one may think; a few square inches for a single seedling would suffice. The seedbed step is complete when the seed has germinated into a seedling. Germination times can vary depending on environmental factors such as temperature and moisture, as well as the species involved. Seeds should be monitored frequently in order to watch for factors such as if mold is developing, if the sand or soil is adequate for the plant, if the seed is sprouting, and more. 
      • However, note that a seedbed is not always necessary. Seeds can be directly sown into the area of the shelterbelt if both the environment and seed are appropriate and healthy enough to successfully do so.
    • Next, the seedling will need to be sown, or, planted. See “planting trees and shrubs” below for more details. 

Care of seedlings during planting

  • Protect the roots from wind and sun by covering them with moist soil or peat moss to prevent drying. If possible, plant the trees on a cool, cloudy day or in the early morning or evening rather than on hot, windy days.
  • Spring planting on a cold, below -freezing day will not decrease the seedling survival, unless the roots dry out.
  • It is important to always plant seedlings in a cultivated, weed-free site.

Planting trees and shrubs


There is both hand planting and mechanical planting for tree seedlings. Hand planting involves using a handheld tool to dig a hole in the soil, placing the seedling in the hole, and replacing the soil over the roots. Mechanical planting involves planning and staking rows where trees will be planted and then having a tree planter pulled by a tractor open a furrow that a seed will be lowered into. Caring for your trees immediately after planting will increase the chances of shelterbelt success (i.e., watering, fencing, weed control).

There is both hand planting and mechanical planting for tree seedlings. To decide which one is most suitable for your project, ask yourself:

  • Is this a small- or large-scale tree planting project?
    • Hand planting is more suitable for smaller-scale projects
    • Mechanical planting is more suitable for larger-scale projects
  • Are the facilities for mechanical tree planters available in your region?
    • If not, hand planting may be your only option.
  • Are mechanical tree planters available for you personally?
    • Are there specific reasons such as monetary consequences of hiring tree planters that would outweigh the benefits of planting your shelterbelt?
  • Hand planting
    • Consists of using a dibble bar, shovel or spade to hand-dig a wedge-shaped hole in the soil and placing the seedling in there. Study and work with the roots to place them in an appropriately-sized hole. The roots should not be squeezed or packed into the hole, but instead placed comfortably. Then, replace the soil around the roots and pack it down relatively tightly to remove unnecessary air bubbles. 
  • Mechanical planting 
    • Often thought of as the most efficient way to plant many trees
    • Stake the rows before planting to make sure the trees are planted with the proper distances between each. Use a meter stick or measuring tape to do so.
    • A tree planter is then pulled by a tractor, and opens a furrow that a seed will be lowered into. Make sure the hole is once again appropriately-sized for the roots and adjust hole size if necessary. Lower the seedling into the furrow right after the tree planter, at a 45-degree angle towards the packing wheel. 
    • Hold onto the seedling until soil falls around the roots and let go of it when the seedling is held by the soil. The packing wheel will then pull the seedling into a 90-degree or upright angle.
    • Then, have someone follow the tree planter to ensure all of the roots are covered with soil and that the soil is tightly packed, or to uncover a buried seedling. 
    • The speed and rhythm of the planter and tractor determine the spacing of the seedlings. It is important to plant the seedlings with the correct distance between them for your specific project. See “tree spacing recommendations” for more information on proper shelterbelt spacing and placement.

Care of trees after planting 

  • Water your seedlings heavily and immediately after planting, but make sure not to drown them if the soil is poorly drained. Continue to make sure the shelterbelt receives adequate water during the course of its life.
  • Control weeds around your seedlings, especially in the beginning, to reduce competition for moisture, sunlight and nutrients. 
  • Fencing may be appropriate to protect the new seedlings from livestock which can eat or trample them. 
  • Tree guards or repellents may also be used to protect your seedlings from harmful wildlife
  • Fertilizer applied at the surface of the soil is not always recommended for new seedlings, but certain nutrients may be added if necessary. See “HFIT” for more details.
Image 1. Caring for shelterbelts by watering.
Source: Colin Laroque

Evergreen trees need special treatment

  • Evergreen seedlings can be grown in a seedbed in a nursery for two to up to four years before being transplanted to their permanent shelterbelt area. 
  • Evergreens need to be planted in early spring in order to have enough time to reestablish their roots in the soil prior to winter. This improves chances of winter survival.
  • Evergreens must be planted on a cultivated and weed-free site. Their roots can also be soaked with water for two to four hours before planting to improve chances of survival. 
  • Roots must be constantly moist, covered and protected during transition into their permanent area. Potential exposure to the harsh outdoor environment should be avoided. 
  • Once planted, the soil around the roots should be packed firmly to remove unnecessary air pockets.
  • A saucer-shaped depression around the tree can be made in order to hold excessive water away from the seedling.
  • Planted seedlings should be watered regularly until they become established in their new area. For example, once a week for their first season. 
  • Maturing and matured evergreens should be watered every week if not much precipitation falls in your area. The ground should be heavily soaked, since the alternative may promote shallow rooting, which can result in the tree not being able to tolerate drought.