DIY Guide to Seeding and Planting

With the weather warming up, your attention may be going more and more towards outdoor pursuits. With that in mind, here are some suggestions on seeding.

This material comes from the National Park Service:


Make sure, whether planting seeds or plants, to know the time of the year most appropriate to do so for the particular species and type of material being used. For example, if the seeds require cold winter weather before they are able to germinate, and artificial exposure to those types of conditions will not occur before planting, they should be planted in the fall.

Or, in temperate areas, rooted plants are typically planted in the spring, after the harsher weather of winter has finished. This gives them a whole growing season to establish themselves before winter sets in again.

The following sections detail some of the things that should be considered when seeding or planting.


Since seeds require moisture to germinate, seeding usually should take place at the time of year when a lot of moisture is available. For many areas, this is fall or spring. Summer plantings are possible if irrigation is available for that season. This will vary from region to region; different regions appear to have better results with certain seasons.

Seed germination requirements should also influence the timing of the seeding. Different species may need to be planted during different seasons in order to maximize germination. If the seeds require stratification before germination, they should be seeded at a time when they will receive that stratification.

For example, many seeds in temperate climates require a cold, moist stratification. These seeds could be planted in the fall so that they are stratified during the winter and then will germinate in the spring.

However, this method exposes the seeds to possible predation and other stresses for a longer period of time, so some recommend artificially stratifying the seed and then planting when it is ready to germinate.

Seasonal differences in the seed germination rates should also be considered. Not all species germinate at the same time. If the project has seeds that have different optimal seasons for germination, perhaps the seeds should be divided up into different mixes, such as a spring mix and a fall mix. Availability of seed species will limit the mix as well.


Adding weed-free mulch after seeding offers many benefits for successful seed germination:

Provides physical substrate for the seeds so they are not blown or washed off site.

Provides physical protection for the seeds from extremes in temperature, light, and moisture.

Provides additional source of local native seed if local native hay is used.

Retains moisture, which is important for successful germination.

Reduces soil erosion.

Mulch can take many forms (organic and inorganic), and all have advantages and disadvantages. Some examples of mulch materials are: bark, wood chips, weed-free straw, leaves, weed-free local native hay, crushed stone, black plastic, newspaper, and erosion control fiber mat materials.

The mulch should be applied in such a way as to not suppress seed growth when the seeds start to germinate. In other words, it should be applied in a thin enough layer so that the seeds (especially small ones) would not be buried too deeply.

Planting Young Plants

Careful and correct planting techniques are critical to the survivability of young transplants. The following general guidelines should help ensure success.

Choose a day with moderate weather conditions. Try not to plant on days with extreme heat, cold, moisture or wind. Minimize root exposure before planting. Do everything possible to prepare for planting before removing the plant from its container or other root protection.

Collect all necessary tools, distribute plants around the site to their expected locations, prepare the water supply, dig the holes, and any other arrangements necessary.

Make each planting hole twice the diameter and just slightly deeper than the height of the container or rootball. Planting holes for bare-root plants need to be large enough so the roots are not crowded together in the hole. The cross-section of the planting hole should be bowl or lens shaped instead of cylindrical because the roots need to spread horizontally to the surface to take advantage of available oxygen. The larger and wider the planting hole, the better.

Roughen the sides and bottom of the planting hole with the sharp edge of a shovel or other implement. One of the greatest difficulties for transplant roots to overcome is to breach the planting hole/new soil interface.

Roughening the surfaces of the planting hole provides easier access for the developing root to enter the new soil. When working in an arid climate, watering the planting hole thoroughly prior to planting will assure the availability of soil moisture to plant roots as they grow down into the native soil.

Place some of the backfill soil into the bottom of the hole in a mound and firm it down. Remove the plant from its container, wrapping, burlap, wire basket or other covering. Once the plant is removed from the container, it should be planted immediately to prevent death of roots.

Prune off any broken, twisted, dead, circling or diseased roots. Loosen and brush off soil around the periphery of the root ball. For container-grown plants, "butterfly" the bottom half of the root ball by spreading the roots apart. Lay the root ball on its side and slice with a sharp implement two-thirds of the way up the root ball starting from the bottom. Fan the two cut halves out to the sides. This is recommended to help plant establishment and reduce the chance of root girdling.

Place the plant in the hole so that the roots are spread out over the mounded soil and the base of the stem is slightly above the soil line. If necessary, hold the plant suspended in the hole to keep it upright while backfilling with the other hand. Backfill soil around the roots firming it using hands or feet after every few inches.

Take care not to damage the roots and be sure the roots are still spread out. Do not bury the stem of the plant, make sure it is still at or above the soil surface. The soil surface in relation to the stem of the plant should be at the same level as it was in the container.

Continue until the hole is filled with firm soil, gently pulling up and settling down the plant to eliminate air pockets. Create a berm around the perimeter of the planting hole that will hold water.

Water the plant, wetting the entire planting hole basin. Be sure to let water flow downward and soak into the soil, then water again. The first watering flushes air from the soil pores; it is the second watering that will provide water available for the plant's use.

If possible, mulch around the base of each plant. This will reduce weed competition, mediate soil temperature extremes, and reduce moisture loss from the soil. Mulch should not be allowed to touch the trunk or crown of plants and should be placed at least 1" away.

Measures may need to be taken to help new transplants survive. Staking plants, especially in windy areas, may be necessary. Protective tubing, netting or screening may be utilized to protect young plants from herbivory, harsh sun, wind, cold, or machine or foot traffic.

There are a wide variety of products for these purposes available from nursery supply catalogs. It is important to remove any protective devices when they are no longer needed so they do not impede the growth of plants.