Tree planting



Similar names: reforestation, afforestation, planting saplings, planting seedlings, Muvuca

Tree planting is a technique whereby tree seedlings are transplanted over a variety of different purposes (such as forestry, land reclamation or landscape restoration). One can refer to the tree planting technique with the name of afforestation or reforestation. Afforestation indicates that the area being planted has not been recently forested. Reforestation indicates the area being planted was forested in the recent past. In the field of landscape restoration, tree planting is a means to tackle soil erosion thereby reducing the risk of floods and landslides. Tree leaves provide protection against rainfall; by intercepting rain drops, tree leaves slow down their fall and reduce their erosion power. Tree roots, on the other hand, serve as an anchor for soil, especially on sloping terrains. Planting trees also contributes to the prevention of soil erosion by improving water infiltration in the ground, so that water runoff will be reduced. Lastly, trees play an important role in restoring degraded lands, because they prepare the soil for future crops by providing it with organic matter through dead leaves and by creating good conditions through the roots.

NOTE: If the main desired outcome is  to restore a forest, tree planting should only be implemented where the adoption of cheaper and more time efficient interventions such as assisted natural regeneration (ANR) or farmed managed natural regeneration (FMNR) are not possible.

  • Increase vegetation
  • Improve soil health
  • Erosion prevention

  • Important: in very dry areas, trees can compete with crops for water availability.
  • Maintenance: trees require maintenance especially during the first years
  • Site conditions are important in determining which maintenance practices need to be implemented for successful tree growth.
  • Species: different species require different conditions for growth. Therefore, knowing the species characteristics and its needs will increase the chances of a tree’s survival.

Materials required:

  • Shovel, planting tube, or something to dig a hole in which to plant the seedlings
  • Manure or good soil
  • Mulching material
  • Seedlings, tree cuttings or seeds according to the chosen method

Trees can be planted in different and diverse climatic circumstances, as long as all the conditions which allow tree growth (such as deep enough soils and right hydrological conditions) are present. A good rule of thumb is that if there are trees naturally growing in the same area, or if trees would naturally grow there if disturbances, (such as grazing) were absent, it is very likely to be suited for growth of local tree species.

Steps of Implementation:

Before planting, it is crucial to choose the tree species that most suits the environmental conditions of the area where tree planting is meant to occur. Indigenous species are usually the most resistant and should therefore be prioritized. Moreover, to increase trees survival, it fundamental to know well the tree species and the conditions in which it thrives.

There are different ways of planting trees, here are some examples:

Growing trees from direct seeding:

This technique is primarily used to improve landscape restoration efforts, when a large area needs to be reforested and the resources are limited. The advantage lies in its low cost and versatile nature. It works especially well if the environmental conditions are well suited for tree growth and there is enough moisture in the soil. This technique is also called “Muvuca” in some parts of  South America, here is an example of this method.

Growing trees from stem-cuttings:

This method allows for the growing of trees from cuttings of existing healthy trees, with the advantage of evading the costs associated with need to use seed nurseries.  These strong stem-cuttings are usually less affected by pests or grazing (as a young seedling would be). However, this technique requires watering as well as some technical skills in the start-up phases. Click here to read more about it and here if you need a clear step-by-step overview.

Transplanting potted seedlings from nurseries or seed orchards:
Nurseries are very important as they provide the ideal conditions for seedlings to grow, highly increasing their survival rate. Click here for guidelines on how to establish a nursery.

Seedlings from a nursery are usually grown in plant pots and when they are tall enough, they are transported to the desired location and transplanted into the ground. However, there are some important factors to consider when transplanting seedlings that will determine the success of the practice. These factors include the time of the year, the quality of seedling, the site conditions in which the seedlings are transplanted, and possible external disturbances (such as grazing animals).

Transplanting seedlings can be quite a stressful process for the young trees and there are some good practices that can increase the survival rates of transplanted seedlings:

  • Leaving the tree in the pot that is moved to the area where it will eventually be transplanted for a predetermined amount of time before transplanting it. This will give the young trees time to adapt to the environmental conditions without also having to deal with adapting the root system to the new soil.
  • Watering trees: this can be done only once during the planting, or it can be done more often during the early stages following the planting. It should be done according to the needs of the tree
  • Fencing: fencing might be needed to prevent animals from grazing on the young trees.
  • Weed control: it is important to prevent weeds from suffocating the young seedlings.
  • Adding mulch and manure (or good quality soil) can help to encourage growth

Planting of trees should be tailored to the climatic conditions and the chosen tree species. Here are some examples of how to adapt the planting according to wet or dry conditions:

In dry areas:

  • One of the most successful ways to grow trees in dry areas is to use the Planting pits Demi-lunes, Eyebrow terraces (on slopes), and Negarims are also very efficient, depending on  the situation.
  • Another practice used in very dry areas is to trim some branches, leaving only the top 2 or 3, to avoid unnecessary loss of water through evapotranspiration. More details about this method can be found here.
  • Awareness of forest fires and forest fire prevention, as well as how to adopt forest management measures that prevent wildfire outbreaks is essential.

In wet areas:

  • Make sure that the soil has good drainage
  • In extreme conditions, the trees can be planted on a raised planting area to ensure better drainage.
  • Leave enough spacing between the trees to allow for air to circulate and the water to evaporate.

Pruning and thinning: In order to keep the trees at the desired height, it is important to prune the branches, making sure to always leave the tree alive and in good condition. There are different ways and timings to practice this, according to the region you live in. If in doubt, you can ask an extension officer or someone who has experience with thinning trees. The biomass that results from these procedures can be very profitable as it can used as fodder, burning wood or for other uses.

This intervention contributes to:

Estimation of costs & benefits of intervention: 

Establishment cost* NZD $22,314/ha for 4,444 seedlings/ha (including transportation, planting, and soil preparation costs)
Labor time Between 247 and 304 hours/ha
Maintenance cost Between NZD $200-575/ha/year

Source: case study based in New Zealand, 2021

*The establishment costs greatly vary according to different factors such as: country, location of the plot, transportation costs, nursery availability, and distance of the nursery to the planting area.

A good example of  how trees, in this particular case fruit trees, can  contribute to improved livelihoods and provide a good  source of income can be found here.

In these examples, 1.5 million fruit trees have been planted to improve communities livelihoods and fight climate change.

Here is a good example of a project that restored native birch woodlands to increase the resilience of the land to volcanic eruptions and other natural disasters while improving livelihoods and resilience of local communities. Another example can be found here.

Planting trees can effectively stabilize soils while providing timber and fodder material. A good example from Tajikistan can be found here.

  • Here are some good guidelines about how to establish a nursery.
  • If you want to know more about the costs of direct seeding, here is a good example.

Additional information



Land use

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