NH State Forest Nursery

Seedling Survival Tips

Helpful Tips for Seedling Survival

Seedlings are lifted from our seedbeds as early in the spring as we can work the soil. This requires that the soil in and around seedlings and roots is completely frost free, which is usually in early April. Once lifted, seedlings are graded, moistened, packaged, and placed in our cold storage room (kept at about 35 degrees F). See Spring Lifting and Shipping for more details.

nursery worker testing plants for frost

Testing for frost

nursery equipment lifting plants from soil


truck transporting plants to storage barn


Early spring is the best time of year to plant seedlings in New Hampshire. Spring planting provides seedlings with a full growing season to get re-established before going into winter. Here are some tips to maximize seedling survival after you receive them from the Nursery.

  • Protect seedlings from direct sunlight during transport and storage until planted. Heat can be magnified inside the Kraft paper bags.
  • Keep seedlings as cool (above freezing) as possible. Cool temperatures help keep the seedlings dormant until they can be planted.
  • Keep roots moist until planted. It takes only minutes of exposure on a warm dry day to kill roots by drying.
  • Plant your seedlings as soon as possible. Conifer roots will begin growth as the soil warms. If seedlings cannot be refrigerated, heel in your seedlings (see instructions in Planting and Care of Seedlings) if planting will be delayed more than 2 days.
  • Do not fertilize the first year of planting. Fertilizer can burn roots that are essential for the seedlings to re-establish in their new home.
  • Do not store seedlings in water for longer than a few hours. Roots need oxygen too.
  • Plant seedlings as deep as they were in the seedbed (to the root collar). This coincides with a color line a little above the roots.
  • Don't worry about watering in a "normal" cool, wet spring. During extended dry spells, a good soil soaking once a week is usually sufficient.
  • Press the soil down firmly around seedling when planting to squeeze out air pockets. Seedling roots must be in contact with mineral soil to absorb water and nutrients needed for growth.
  • Control grass and weeds around small seedlings. Grass and weeds compete for water, nutrients and sunlight. This can be done by hand-weeding, mowing, mulching or using herbicides.
nursery worker grading plants


nursery worker bagging plants


nursery plants in cold storage

Cold Storage

The following publications are recommended for further reading.


Portable Document Format Symbol Portable Document Format (.pdf). Visit nh.gov for a list of free .pdf readers for a variety of operating systems.

NH State Forest Nursery | Division of Forests and Lands
Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
172 Pembroke Road, Concord, NH 03301
(603) 796-2323  |  fax: (603) 271-6488