How to Plant Trees to Reforest in the Shade


Shade cover makes it considerably easier to establish reforestation with many different species of tree seedlings. Shade helps hold moisture and prevents fragile seedlings from drying out or being scalded by the sun. Following the natural principles of forest succession, many hardwoods take root and grow taller, faster and stronger in the environment of competition generated by light shade. White pines also benefit from shade cover, as they may split their leaders and develop into "cabbage pines" if started in full sun, but grow straight and tall when started in shade.

Step 1

Clear brush from planting area with loppers or brush scythe. Prune overhead branches to create light, dappled shade, if the canopy cover is dense. Use long-handled pruners and a pole saw to clear selective branches relatively low to the ground. Remove large limbs or thin existing tree stands using a chain saw if necessary.

Step 2

Tie the end of a ball of string to a wooden stake. Insert the stake firmly in the ground, tamping it with the flat of the shovel. Run the string to the far end of the area intended for replanting, and tie it to another stake inserted into the ground so that the string is stretched firmly in a straight line about 8 inches off the ground.

Step 3

Measure off 8-foot lengths along the string if planting white pines, and 12-foot lengths along the string if planting maples or other hardwoods. Mark these intervals with additional wooden stakes.

Step 4

Dig a small hole with the flat-bladed shovel or tree-planting shovel adjacent to each marking stake in the early spring. Place two handfuls of well-aged compost in the bottom of each hole. Mix the compost with soil and shape it into a small cone at the bottom of the hole.

Step 5

Gently array the roots of the tree seedling over the cone of compost and soil, holding the seedling so that the base of the stem is even with the level of grade--the natural surrounding ground level of the soil. Refill the hole with the soil dug from the hole, tamping it down firmly. Water the seedling with about one quart of water.

Step 6

Repeat the planting process adjacent to each measured stake. Measure out additional stakes at even, 8-foot or 12-foot intervals from the original line of string. Spread a 6-inch layer of straw mulch around the seedlings after finishing planting.

Step 7

Water seedlings daily for one week, then weekly for three months. Monitor the seedlings, and replace any that have failed the following spring. After five years, thin every other plant to leave remaining trees at a spacing of 16 feet or 24 feet.

Things You'll Need

  • Flat bladed shovel, or tree-planting shovel
  • Compost
  • Water source
  • Long-handled pruners
  • Pole saw (optional)
  • Chain saw (optional)
  • Loppers or brush scythe
  • Tree seedlings for shade planting, such as maple or white pine
  • String
  • Wooden stakes
  • Tape measure
  • Straw mulch


  • Colorado State U. Extension: The Ten Commandments of Tree Planting
  • Oregon State University: The Care and Planting of Tree Seedlings on Your Woodlot PDF
  • University of Wisconsin: How to Manage White Pines PDF

Who Can Help

  • "The Succession of Forest Trees;" Henry David Thoreau; 1860
Keywords: reforestation plantings, shade trees, shade planting

About this Author

Cindy Hill has practiced law since 1987 and maintained a career in freelance writing since 1978. Hill has won numerous fiction and poetry awards and has published widely in the field of law and politics. She is an adjunct instructor of ethics and communications.