Returning Forests to Your Property

How to Reforest

Bare-Rooted Seedlings Work Best

When planting a large number of trees over a large area, bare-rooted seedlings work better than larger trees.

Reasons why:

Bare rooted seedlings have an intact root system which helps them establish faster and avoid transplant shock. Transplant shock is a period of slowed growth and reduced vitality that can last for years.

This tree is suffering from an extreme case of transplant shock.

Seedlings with intact roots adapt to any condition they find themselves in, so you do not need to amend the soil. This makes them perfect for lots with poor soil, such as newly developed lots and steep rocky slopes.

Larger transplanted trees suffer more than seedlings during times of drought. Even in dry weather, seedlings do not need to be watered. If it doesn’t rain, larger trees need to be thoroughly watered at least once a week. If the weather is very hot, they may need to be watered more often.

Seedlings are much less expensive and more likely to thrive.

Where to Find Bare-Rooted Seedlings

Backyard Buffers Program, Maryland Forest Service and the Potomac Watershed Partnership

This program provides free bare-rooted native trees and shrubs to help homeowners create waterside buffers if they have a waterway on or adjacent to their property. Reservations are typically taken during the month of March, with “buffer bags” available for pickup at a designated local site in time for the spring planting season.
To learn more about the Backyards Buffers Program, visit:

John S. Ayton State Forest Tree Nursery, Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Most of the Lake Linganore reforestation projects have used seedlings purchased from the state nursery. This tree nursery is operated by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in Preston, Maryland. It sells Maryland native tree and shrub seedlings for as little as $1 each for conservation, lumber, and commercial cut Christmas tree purposes.

The nursery sells a wide variety of native species in increments of 25. Think about coordinating with neighbors or others from the Friends of the Lake Facebook page to purchase a variety of shrub and tree species. Healthy forests have an understory layer of shrubs and a canopy layer of larger trees, so it’s a good idea to plant a mixture of the two.

The nursery takes orders in mid-October and ships them to you in time for spring planting.

To learn more about the John S. Ayton State Forest Tree Nursery, visit their web site at:

For more information about trees that are appropriate for planting in Maryland:

Tree Shelters and Other Supplies

Besides trees, other supplies that you might need include:

  • Tree shelters
  • Stakes
  • Weed mats and landscape pins
  • Top netting
  • Dibble bar

Learn more about each of these items:

Tree and Shrub Shelters
Seedlings need to be protected from hungry deer, people, and lawn mowers during their first vulnerable years.

Shelters come in a variety of styles:

  • Solid plastic tree and shrub tubes
  • Vented plastic tree tubes
  • Mesh shelters

You can also make your own tubes with chicken fencing or some other type of stiff plastic mesh.

mesh do it yourself tube
Homemade Mesh Tube

In Lake Linganore, most of our reforestation projects have used solid plastic tree and shrub tubes. They are very sturdy and effective for preventing damage from deer and people. However, depending on the weather and other conditions, the solid tubes might trap too much moisture. Also, if small mammals or birds get trapped inside, they often can’t get out.

Vented plastic tree tubes are sturdy while allowing more air flow. If animals and birds get caught inside, they can use the vents to climb out.

vented tree tube
Vented Tree Tube

Tree tubes are quicker to use when you have lots of trees to plant.

Mesh shelters are not that sturdy, but they still deter deer from eating them. They allow plenty of air and won’t trap critters. They do take longer to install that tree tubes.

The seedlings are so small, they do not need to be staked, however, the tree shelters do. Tubes can usually be staked with one stake and zip ties. If you make your own shelters out of plastic netting, you might need two per tree.

Weed Mats
Weed mats can help reduce competition from tall grass and weeds that might otherwise choke out the seedlings.

Weeds mats also help protect seedlings from rodents. Small rodents can enter tree tubes and gnaw through the bark and girdle the base of the tree, which causes the seedling to die. The weed mats help because mice and voles do not like scurrying across bare ground, exposing themselves to predators.

Top Netting
Top netting should be used with solid plastic tubes. Birds and small mammals are attracted to the shelter provided by tubes. However, once they get in there, they are often trapped and can’t escape. The top netting fits over the top of the tubes and helps deter wildlife.

Dibble Bar
A dibble bar is a specialized tool that looks like a long thin shovel. Lake Linganore reforesting homeowners say it makes the job of planting lots of seedlings go much faster.

dibble bar
Dibble Bar


Lake Linganore reforesting homeowners have experience with two suppliers that worked well for them.

Tree Protection Supply:

Conservation Services, Inc.:

Planting Day

Trees are best planted in the fall or spring. If you order seedlings from the Maryland state nursery, they will arrive in the spring. Your job will go much easier if you plant on a day when the ground is wet and soft.

If the area is grassy or weedy, cut the vegetation with a mower or weed whacker before planting day.

Some reforestation projects have nice even rows, others are scattered randomly. Pick whichever style suits you. The even rows will work best if you plan to maintain the area with a lawn mower.

When deciding how far to space the seedlings, consider the following:

  • For large specimen trees, select species that will grow into large shade trees. These seedlings need room to grow in every direction, so you’ll want to plant them 20’x20’.
  • For a more forested look, closer planting is ideal. Choose a mixture of species that are shrubs and medium and large trees. Closer planting allows for a quicker closing of the canopy and shading out the grass. In this case, the trees can be planted as close as 8’ x8’.
  • Some of the seedlings will probably not survive, so by overplanting, you are ensuring you end up with enough trees. If you end up with too many, it is easier to thin than to replant.

To prepare the seedlings for planting, soak the roots in water for 2 to 4 hours before putting them in the ground. But, do not store them in water longer than that.

Using the dibble bar:

  • Stick it in the ground and open up the ground.
  • Place the roots into the hole.
  • Push the shovel in the ground next to the opening and push the hole closed.

If using weed mats, pull the seedling through a hole in the middle of the mat. Stake the mats in place around the seedling using landscape pins.

Set the tree tube in place and stake it into the ground.

Fit top netting on top of tube.


Tubes will fall over and top netting will find its way onto the ground. So, you should expect to restake trees and replace top netting on an ongoing basis.
If you maintain your area with a lawn mower, Frederick County recommends three mowings per year. Once in spring, once is early summer, and once in late fall.
You will need to manage weeds around the seedlings to make sure they do not get choked out.

Removing Tubes

The optimal time for removing tubes is still under debate. Some experts recommend removing them after 2 years. Others advocate for 3 to 5 years. There are pros and cons to each approach.
If tubes are removed after 2 seasons, you should be aware of two issues:

      1. Proper stem support – The tree will need to be staked for support. However, the support stake and ties should allow for stem movement. Stem movement triggers growth responses that thicken the stem and add taper to the trunk.
      2. The danger of buck rub – Keeping a stake, especially a metal stake, close to the tree has been shown to discourage buck rub. Use of a scent-based deer repellent can also help.

If tubes are kept on for 3 to 5 growing seasons:

      1. Keep the weed mats in place or use some other method of keeping vegetation away from the seedling to provide ongoing protection from mice and voles.
      2. Watch the growth of the tree and remove the tube when the base of the tree reaches 3 to 3.5 inches in diameter.

Stop Mowing

If you elect to maintain your reforestation area by mowing, stop all mowing after 5 years. Doing so will help the area regenerate a healthy forest, from the ground up.

Video – From Turf to Trees: Converting Lawn to Forest

This video from the University of Maryland Extension Service covers details such as spacing, seedling and site preparation, how to use a dibble bar, and maintenance.
Disclaimer: This video advocates the use of herbicides, which the Friends of the Lake is not supportive of, since weed killer adversely affects water quality.

Reading List

Lake Linganore homeowners who are reforesting their land recommend the following reads:

Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Doug Tallamy

The American Woodland Garden: Capturing the Sprint of the Deciduous Forests by Rick Darke