Tree planting success can be improved if several guidelines are followed. First and foremost, order tree stock from a reputable nursery to ensure that you get quality seedlings of the kind and type desired. When the planting stock is received by you, carefully inspect it for damage. Inspect the root system looking for mold or excessive dryness.
For best results, plant seedlings as soon as possible. The longer the time between shipment and planting, the greater the risk of losses. For short term storage of nursery stock, unheated buildings or cellars can be used. Continue to monitor the stock during this period, and if it is packed in plastic rather than a root media such as peat moss, turn the bag daily to dissipate the moisture in the bag. For storage periods longer than one week, cooler facilities (35-42 F) are necessary. Old refrigerators can be used as long as the seedlings are not exposed to freezing temperatures.
Planting sites should be tilled or have the competing vegetation killed in three foot wide strips with a herbicide such as Roundup. Try to plant when the site is suitable for field work. Do not plant when planting sites are wet because soil structure will be destroyed and seedling root growth will be restricted.
Whether planting by hand or machine, plant seedlings properly. Best planting methods involve digging a hole large enough for the seedling's root system and filling soil back around the root system with sufficient compaction to ensure good root to soil contact. The use of a tree planting bar or a mechanical tree planter are used to increase the planting rate. Be sure the slit around the seedling is closed to minimize drying and potential herbicide damage from pre-emergent herbicides. With all techniques, plant at the same depth the seedling grew in the nursery.
For all plantings, make provisions for adequate weed control for 2-4 years. Several techniques provide acceptable weed control including mechanical or cultivation, mulches such as wood chips or ground corncobs, and herbicides such as simazine, Surflan, or Goal. Always follow label precautions and use accepted sprayer calibration procedures to ensure the effectiveness of the herbicide and to prevent damage from excessive herbicide application. Vegetation control in three foot wide strips, or circles around individual seedlings in sufficient.
Iowa State University Horticulture article: Care of Newly Planted Trees
Iowa Department of Natural Resources pamphlet: Grass and Weed Control for Tree and Shrub Seedlings (pdf)