Trees provide many benefits and planting trees can be an important first step in riparian zone recovery.  In our recent post, Get In The Zone With Riparian Bufferswe described exactly what a Riparian Buffer is and why it is so important.  They help control runoff, improve water and air quality, provide shade, and contribute to the beauty of an area.  

Certain techniques, however, are necessary to ensure that well intended plantings don’t wither away and die.  Seedlings offer many advantages, including light weight and low cost compared to ones sold in containers.  When planting seedlings, just a few simple considerations can help improve the chances for success!

Seedlings are a lightweight and low cost alternative to containerized trees

Seedlings are a lightweight and low cost alternative to containerized trees


Successful Planting Tips


Native trees are a great choice when installing a garden, rain garden, or restoring a riparian zone.  Native plants, including trees, are adapted to the climate of an area.  They are better suited to survive the dry periods and the range of temperatures typical to a region.  This also means they don’t require as much maintenance or water as more exotic species after the first two or three years after planting.  Native trees also blend in to the surrounding environment, creating a more natural appearance to your garden or riparian area.  See our list below for a variety of plants and trees that will thrive in our watershed.



Many people start to think about planting once spring arrives and the weather warms up.  It’s sunny and pleasant and we naturally want to be active outdoors.  But it is actually important to plant seedlings in the late fall to early winter because they are dormant, which means they have not yet produced buds and leaves.  While it is important to always handle seedlings carefully, planting while they are dormant helps reduce disturbance to the seedling that can affect its survival.

Volunteers from the Spring International Language Center

Volunteers from the Spring International Language Center



It’s important to plant seedlings properly to promote survival.  There are many guides online that provide extensive instructions on seedling care and planting, such as this one from the Arkansas Forestry Commission, but overall it’s important to keep just a few things in mind:


  • Plant one seedling at a time – It’s important to avoid exposing the roots for a long time.  Bareroot seedlings can dry out in as little as 5 minutes!  Planting one at a time means other seedlings can stay protected until you’re ready to plant.
  • Space seedlings about 8 feet apart – When planting seedlings, it’s important to think about the size of the tree when fully grown.  Spacing seedlings about 8 feet apart helps ensure each tree will have adequate space and sunlight as it matures.
  • Plant seedlings straight – Plant the seedlings so they are upright and their taproot, the primary root, is straight down into the soil.  Avoid “J” or “U” shaped taproots when planting as this can result in poor development.
  • Plant at the right depth – It’s important to make sure the root collar, the area just above where the roots start to spread out, is properly located.  Seedlings should be planted to the area where the roots start to spread out is just below the soil.  Inserting the root system into the hole, then lifting it to the proper level prior to filling helps ensure proper depth and straightens the tap root.
  • Compact the soil – Once a seedling is planted, gently (may want to emphasize “gently”) compact the soil around it with your foot.  Compacting the soil packs it around the root system and removes air space that can lead to root damage.
  • Apply mulch and water – Mulch helps protect root systems from becoming too wet or too dry.  It is important to leave a couple of inches free around the root crown/base of the seedling.  Putting mulch directly against the tree can cause it to rot and die.



This year’s Annual Riparian Project will take place on Saturday, March 8th at different locations in the Illinois River Watershed.  Click here to find a planting location near you.  

Stream clean up is another great way to help out on March 8th

Stream clean up is another great way to help out on March 8th


This is a great opportunity for the entire family to help out and get some experience planting trees.  We will also be providing trees that you can take home and put your tree-planting skills to work in your own yard!   Visit the Illinois River Watershed Partnership website for registration information.


Additional Resources:

IRWP 2014 Riparian Project – Information and Registration

2014 Riparian Project Locations

Native Plants and Trees for Northwest Arkansas

Arkansas Forestry Commission Seedling Planting Guide


Related Posts:

Get In The Zone With Riparian Buffers

Trees Make a Difference

Nature’s Classroom: 3 Cheers for Trees!