Treeplanting 101: Rookie Starter Guide

Think you’re ready to plant? Make sure to read our rookie starter guide and make sure you’ve covered all the angles.

Where do you begin? Every rookie starts off in the pre-season by thinking that he or she will be the best new tree planter that their company has ever hired. They think that by the end of the week, they will be out-pacing other workers with several seasons under their belts.

But then you get to the block for the first day, and you start planting. Within a few hours, you realize that the work is a lot harder than you had expected. Your visions of gracefully dancing across the trenches are quickly destroyed, as you struggle awkwardly to open a hole and plant a tree that will probably be flagged as a quality fault of some sort. Ugh. You think about quitting, and it’s not even lunchtime.

Don’t worry! We’ve all been there. The good news is that a lot of experienced planters have had terrible training. With some dedication and motivation, you can probably get through the learning curve faster than a lot of other planters. After all, you’re reading this. You’re already showing that you’re motivated and eager to learn any tips that can give you an edge.

Starting out: expectations.

First of all, drop any preconceived notions that you’ll be an awesome planter within a few days. You won’t be. Like many other things in life, it takes time to learn to plant well. For the first couple of days, focus on what it takes to make a tree plant of “acceptable quality.” For the first couple of shifts, focus on making sure that all of your trees ARE acceptable quality. Like the old Midas Muffler ads used to say, “First you get good, and then you get fast.” In the first shifts, technique is critical. With the right methods, what you are learning will eventually translate into an ingrained knowledge of the smoothest motions needed to plant a tree efficiently. 

Once that process starts to happen, your trainers will start teaching you tricks to speed up your production. Luckily, they won’t need to show you many tricks. You’ll be getting faster naturally. The only way to get better and faster is to practice. With every day of practice, your numbers will be going up and up. Before long, the idea of planting a couple thousand trees in a day won’t seem so impossible – it’ll seem like you’re having a slow day.

Some of the important things that you can start to learn in the pre-season include things from the following list:

  • Maintaining nutrition and fitness, and avoiding injuries.
  • Use and maintenance of PPE and clothing.
  • Strategies to minimize the risk of illness.
  • Mental health and managing stress.
  • Health & safety related training.
  • Typical hazards and how to manage for them.
  • Limiting risk in and around vehicles.
  • Dealing with wildlife and insects.
  • Weather associated hazards.
  • Basic seedling physiology.
  • Basic soils, and planting mediums.
  • Common commercial tree species.
  • Understanding quality assessment systems.
  • Understanding spacing and density requirements.
  • Recognizing block boundaries.
  • What the “silviculture prescription” means.
  • Handling and storing seedling boxes.
  • Correct handling of seedlings and seedling bundles.
  • Selecting the appropriate shovel for the application.
  • Proper spacing of seedlings from one another and from acceptable naturals.
  • Selecting the best microsite.
  • Microsite preparation.
  • Opening the hole, inserting the seedling, and closing the hole.
  • Handling the seedling from bag to hole.
  • Fertilizing a seedling, if required.
  • Staying organized, efficient work strategies.
  • Staying focused, planning your pieces.
  • Efficient planting techniques.

Phew. That’s quite a lot that you can start to learn before your first day, and that’s just a partial list of topics! Most people incorrectly assume tree planting a very basic form of manual labor, and so anyone should be able to get good at it by the end of a day of practice. This is not true! Let’s try to understand why the learning curve is steep aside from just the physical aspects.

Beyond physicality

Tree planting rewards people who are motivated and focused. The more intelligent your approach, the better you’ll do. Tree planting doesn’t favor the strong laborer who uses his strength to pound a thousand trees into the ground. Planting favors smart and analytical planters.

The pay for tree planting is nearly always based on a simple piece-rate compensation system. The faster and more efficient you become, the more money you make. In economic theory, it’s a positive feedback loop. In layman’s terms, anyone who is smart about trying to figure out the subtle little tricks that make them a faster planter will be financially rewarded for their attention to detail.

Why would you want to plant several thousand trees and only slowly instinctively learn the best ways to move your shovel around? Why not concentrate on that issue for your first few hundred trees, trying different movements and always thinking, “Did that work best?” “What about this way?” “No, let’s try a different grip.” Don’t rely on brute force. Rely on your intelligence. Pay attention to cause and effect.

Getting the most for the least

The best tree planters are usually the “laziest” ones. By that, we don’t mean that they have a weak work ethic. We mean that they are the ones who have figured out how to approach a task and complete it successfully while burning the minimum amount of calories and using the least amount of energy. Let's say that someone said a new car would cost you twenty thousand dollars. You would not say, “Ok, here’s twenty-three thousand dollars.” Why expend more energy than you need to in order to get the job done?

Take the time to do as much research as possible in the pre-season. There is a lot of free information. Unfortunately, a lot of new planters don’t bother looking for it. If you take the time learning and studying before you start your new job as a tree planter, you’ll have a huge advantage over all the other inexperienced planters. Who knows? With that head start, maybe you WILL be the best new planter at your company!

HighBaller TreePlanter
HighBaller TreePlanter


2 Responses

Oliver Rodax
Oliver Rodax

September 17, 2015

When is the best time of season to plant a tree ?


August 27, 2015


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