Once you have decided what trees to plant and how to gather and prepare tree seeds for planting, you are ready to prepare the site. Choose a place with enough water to start the seeds off well. Be sure that the site is protected from the wind and from strong sun. You can start the seeds in a seedling bed, then later, when your seedling trees are big enough, you can transfer them to the place where they will grow into large trees.

As seedling trees should be planted out at the beginning of the rainy season, you should start planting your seeds far enough ahead that the small trees will be ready for transplanting at the right time.

There are two ways to raise your seedling trees. One way is to prepare a seedling bed as you would for vegetable seedlings. In it you plant your seeds in rows. When trees from them are big enough, you transplant them to their permanent home just as you transplant vegetable seedlings into your garden. When doing it, you should keep the roots undisturbed in the soil that they grew in and transplant roots and soil into the final planting hole.

A second way is to grow each seedling tree separately in its own container of soil. Place all the containers close together in a special area where you can look after them just as you would look after a vegetable seedling bed or plot.

With all the seedlings close together like this, they can easily be shaded from the sun and protected from the wind; also they are conveniently placed for regular watering.

Some people buy plastic or cardboard cups, but you can use old cans or pots. You can even use a banana stem. Cut it into 20 centimetre long sections and pull out the heart, the inside layers of rolled up leaves, so you’ve got little tubes. Then just fold the bottom under and you have a little banana stem pot to grow your tree in.

Making a container from a section of banana stem

You might also use a piece of bamboo to form a little cup. It should be twice the width of your hand or a hand length across the opening. If you make it too small you’ll crowd the roots. Strong root growth is important to tree seedlings.

A coconut shell also works well if it has enough drainage holes in the bottom so that extra water can drain off. Put some pebbles or small stones in the bottom to keep the holes open to let the water out. You could also try using an old milk or juice carton with holes punched in the bottom.

The soil

The soil should be the best you can find and should drain well. You might need to mix a bit of sand with the soil. If you have sandy soil, then mix compost with your soil so your mixture is 1/3 or 1/2 compost. Because the mixture holds nutrients, it holds moisture. It gives your little seedling tree the start it needs.

Trees grow well in forest soil. So, even if you are using compost, it would be a good idea to mix some forest soil and a small proportion of manure in with your soil.

Planting the seed

Measure the width of the seed. Dig a hole that deep. Bury the seed in it. If you have a fairly large seed the size of the end of your small finger, then it should be under about that same amount of soil. If you have a small seed, plant it under soil three to four times the thickness of the seed. Planting a seed too deep will prevent it from growing properly. If you plant it too close to the surface, it may dry out.

Some tree seeds are tiny and they might even need some light in order to grow. You would just leave them lightly on top of the soil and keep them well watered.

One reason for growing seedlings in a nursery is so you can water the trees easily. But, keep in mind that too much water can kill a small tree.

To conserve water and to prevent young seedlings being burned by direct sunlight, shade the nursery area lightly with branches or something else. Coconut limbs are good because you can move them around to adjust the amount of shade. You don’t want the area too shady because then the seeds might not get warm enough to germinate.

Plant a number of seeds in a pot in case only one germinates. If they all germinate, it’s easy to remove the ones you don’t want and keep the best one. Don’t pull out the seedlings you don’t want; that could disturb the roots of the one you do want to grow. Just nip off the smaller ones with your fingers.

When to transplant

How long should you keep the seedlings growing in these pots in the nursery before you transplant them where you’re going to grow them? You should plant them before the roots become too big and begin to grow in circles around the inside of the pot. Then, after you plant the tree in the field, it may never be able to grow a root system big enough to hold it upright.

So, grow your seedling trees in containers that are large enough that the roots won’t get too bound up inside. To find out what the roots are like inside the containers, open one and check. If you prepare your planting site by removing all the grass, then you might plant the seedlings out when they’re 15 centimetres high. If, however, the area you will be planting has a lot of grass or brush, you may want to leave the trees in the nursery until they are perhaps 30 centimetres high.


  • This script was reviewed by Bob Morikawa, Agroforestry Consultant, Toronto, Canada.

Information sources

    • Please see scripts 3, 5, 6, or 7 in package 35 for information sources about trees.
    • Tree planting in Africa south of the Sahara,

David Kamweti, 1982, 75 pages.

  • The Environment Liaison Centre, P.O. Box 72461, Nairobi, Kenya.
  • “Tree nurseries” in Footsteps, No. 5, December 1990. Tear Fund, 100 Church Rd., Teddington, Middlesex, TW11 8QE, U.K.
  • “How to plant and care for trees”, in Kengonews, Vol. IV, No. 3, July 1991, KENGO, Mwanzi Road, Westlands, P.O. Box 48197, Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Trees as a guide to ecology, 1982, 40 pages, United Nations Environment Programme, P.O. Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Trees for Zimbabwe, Beth Conover, 191 pages, ENDA Zimbabwe, P.O. Box 3492, Harare, Zimbabwe.
  • “Agroforestry seeds”, in Sustainable Agriculture Newsletter, Volume 2, Number 3, September 1990. CUSO, 17 Phahonyothin Golf Village, Phahonyothin Road, Bangkhen, Bangkok, 10900, Thailand.
  • “Tips on planting fruit trees”, in Agriculture in Action, July 1990.
  • Barbados Agricultural Society, “The Grotto”, Beckles Road, St. Michael, Barbados, W.I. Forestry Training Manual, 1982, 390 pages, Peace Corps, Information Collection and Exchange, Office of Training and Programme Support, 806 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20526, U.S.A.
  • Especies de árbol de uso multiple en America Central (Species of multi purpose trees in Central America), 1991, 47 pages, CATIE (Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Ensenanza), Turrialba, Costa Rica.
  • En viveros, nadie nace aprendido, (Tree nurseries learning for everyone), Enlace, Number 23, Revista Enlace, Apartado A 136, Managua, Nicaragua.