Nursery Stock

Planting stock is available in a variety of sizes and ages. Christmas trees are usually planted as a seedling or transplant depending on the species. Seedlings usually are described as a 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0. Transplants are commonly designated as 2-1, 2-2 or as plug-1 or plug-2. The first number refers to the number of years grown in a nursery seedling bed or in a greenhouse (plug) and the second to the number of years in a transplant bed. Typically pines are planted as 2-0 or 3-0. For spruce, fir and Doulas fir transplants are the preferred type of stock to help ensure planting success.

Planting Season

Bare rooted seedlings and transplants must be planted during the dormant season. Weather and soil conditions conducive to planting occur in both early fall and late spring. The spring season is generally considered the best time to plant, especially if planting is to be done on heavy loam or clay soils. Trees planted on heavy soils in the fall are susceptible to frost heaving and winter kill. Spring planting in Michigan usually occurs in April and May when the soils are free from frost and have started to warm up.


Most Christmas tree species are planted 6X6 (1200 trees/acre) but can be adjusted depending on final market size, airflow requirements and machinery size.

Handling planting stock

Improper handling of planting stock can significantly reduce the quality of seedlings and transplants which contributes to poor survival and tree growth. It is best to plant the young trees soon after arriving from the nursery. Keep trees cool and moist in storage and prior to planting in the field. Tarps can be used to cover the containers to provide shade but make sure to allow for adequate air circulation.


Photo by Jill O'donnell

Hand planting

Hand planting is typically done with a shovel, dibble/planting bar or a power auger. The hole should be large enough to accommodate the roots. The roots should fall down in a natural uncrowded or un-twisted position. Soil is then added back around the roots and tamped firmly to exclude air.  

Machine planting

A planting machine is attached to a tractor and creates a slit in the soil where the seedling or transplant is placed. A set of wheels on the back of the planter closes the slit and packs the soil around the roots. Often growers will follow the planter “stepping” in the trees to make sure the soil is firmly placed around the roots. Machine planting reduces both time and labor.


Photo by Jill O'donnell


Photo by Jill O'donnell

Adapted from Tree Planting in Michigan”, MSU Extension Bulletin E-771, Lantagne.D and Koelling.M, June 1997