Where and When to Plant Trees

Environment and climate changeTrees and agroforestry


Where should you plant seedling trees? Begin by observing where the trees grow naturally. Plant the seedlings in a place that’s similar to where you got the seeds. Trees found sprouting by the roadside and in fields are best for planting in sunny, open areas. Trees growing in shade on the forest floor should only be planted in other shaded areas.

If those trees were growing on a ridge, then plant them on a similar ridge. If the seeds came from trees in low, wet land, then try to find a similar spot.

Other good places to plant are steep slopes, along the sides of a road or pathway, and perhaps between rows of houses, but not too close to them. If you have a problem with soil erosion, consider planting trees to help check the erosion problem.

If you have only a small piece of land on which to grow crops, you should think about forming a small group and planting trees in an area that isn’t used for crops. You could make a firebreak around it and take care of it together. Co operatives like this are being formed all over the world. Even if your neighbours are not interested in planting trees as a group, you could plant trees all around your field as a windbreak.


If you do not need big trees, you can grow them quite close together, say a bit more than a pace (60 centimetres) apart. Then you can cut them for fuelwood when they’re about as thick as your wrist.

If you are growing trees to control erosion, especially on steep slopes, then the trees should be close together in hedgerows. Close spacing is also a good idea if you are growing trees for livestock fodder: close spacing encourages leafy growth rather than woody growth.

Bigger trees when fully grown should be 2 paces (1 1/2 metres) apart. But you might want to plant them only one pace apart to begin with. Then, when the trees grow big enough so the branches start touching each other, you could cut out every other tree for firewood or other uses on the farm. You could also get firewood just by cutting off a few branches from time to time.

Soil requirements

Now think about the soil where you are planting your trees. Tree roots can easily grow in stony soil; they just grow around the rocks. And, if solid rock below the surface has cracks in it, roots will grow in the cracks. Problems arise when soil is shallow over solid rock. Then tree roots can’t even find a crack to grow down into, so they spread out in the soil above the rock. Because the roots do not go deep into the soil, big trees can blow over in a strong wind. Also shallow soil can dry out faster than deeper soil so your trees may not get enough water.

Larger trees need more soil, so if you’re planting a tree that will grow as tall as 3 people, the soil should be at least 1 metre deep.

If there are few suitable sites, think about using old tin cans. Dig large pits and fill them with cans to just below the top of the pit. Then cover the pit with soil and plant the tree in that soil. Eventually, as the trees grow and the roots grow down into the cans, rain will filter down into the pit and there will be plenty for the trees. This is a good way to get rid of unsightly garbage.

When to plant

If you live in a temperate zone, it is best to plant at the very beginning or the very end of the growing season. If there are rainy seasons where you live, plant at the beginning of a rainy season.


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

Information sources

  • 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 múltiple 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.