Trees can be very sturdy plants that can last for a long period of time. In their early stages, however, these plants need help surviving the harsh competition of weeds and grass, which will try to grow anywhere, including around the seedlings. These competing plants create an all around bad environment for the developing tree.
Grass and weeds can be especially problematic for newly planted trees because they grow faster than the seedlings. These weeds block the sunlight the plants need and they also take up all the nutrients and water, starving the tree seedling before it can even get started, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Since weeds and grass will inevitably grow without human control, measures must be taken to protect the tree seedling.
Some animals, such as rabbits, are attracted to patches of grass and weeds. Rabbits like to feed on tree seedlings. To keep the seedlings safe, create a zone around the seedlings that is 3 to 5 inches. Outside this area, use a lawn mower to trim the grass so fewer rabbits will come and chew on the seedlings. The area where you will grow the seedlings should be stripped of all vegetation, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. If perennials are nearby that might move offspring close to the seedlings, be sure to remove those perennials as well to eliminate them as a potential threat. Remove vegetation with hoes and hand cultivators, according to North Dakota State University.
Seedlings can also be protected from weeds and grass by using herbicides, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. These herbicides should be sprayed in the fall before the tree seedlings are planted. The Kansas Forest Service recommends Roundup, Poast, Fusilade and Stinger for killing weeds and grass close to the seedling.
You can protect the seedlings by creating barriers, such as with weed barrier fabric, according to the Kansas Forest Service. This fabric protects the tree from weed competition for up to five years, though this material tends to break down in the sunlight, so the material might need to be replaced more frequently in sunny areas until the tree is big enough to provide shade for the fabric.
To maximize the chances that the seedlings will survive, the seedlings should be protected for the first three to five years to maximize their chance for survival, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Afterward, anti-weed efforts can be relaxed because the tree will be larger and will be able to crowd out the weeds and grass.