The Importance of Planting the Right Tree, in the Right Place at the Right Time.

Sep 7, 2022 |

Over the last decade, tree planting initiatives have taken the stage across Canada and the world. From one million to one trillion trees and beyond, commitments from organizations, governments and companies are expansive. Although planting a tree sounds intriguing and straightforward, building healthy, biodiverse and sustainably managed forests takes extensive planning, with coordination between multiple expert groups and Indigenous Land Knowledge Keepers. Forest landscapes are complex and unique. Before a seedling takes root, forestry experts must analyze the location to understand the historical and predicted climate and evaluate the soil quality and local wildlife. Understanding the natural order of the land and the ecosystem is critical before starting any planting project. With Canada’s Two Billion Trees (2BT) program regularly broadcasted in the news, and companies continuing to make planting commitments across the country, you’ve likely been intrigued about the power of reforestation and its impact on climate change. This article will discuss what foresters and forestation organizations should consider when planting the right tree, in the right place, at the right time for optimized forest health.

Why is it Important to Plant the Right Trees?

Planting suitable trees will ensure they can grow to maturity seamlessly while causing minimal damage to existing ecosystems. Native species are often preferable when planting because they are better acclimated to the weather conditions in the area and require less labour and management than introduced (non-native) species.

Planting suitable trees is critical to ensure the survival and expansion of healthy ecosystems. For example, you should not plant trees in areas where other plants provide much-needed habitats for plants and animals, such as native grassland ecosystems in Alberta; they contain shrubs and grasses that are essential to various animal species.

Why are you planting a tree?

The first step is to define your reasons for planting. Suppose you are planting a tree for landscaping in an urban area, planning backyard or front yard greenery or planning urban parks and public spaces. In that case, you may have different requirements than a person looking to plant many trees in a forest for climate action and carbon capture. An initiative like this might be done to meet your company’s net-zero or ESG targets or might be an investment to celebrate Canada’s National Forest Week. Some might decide to plant trees to increase forest cover or for afforestation endeavours that capture carbon from the atmosphere. No matter your reasons for planting the tree, it is essential to choose the right tree.

Consider The Location of Your Tree

Various soil characteristics affect moisture retention. For instance, sandy soil is grainy and allows water to move through it swiftly. Loamy soils tend to hold loosely when moist, and clay soil forms clumps. Trees often take advantage of these characteristics or suffer at their hand. Shallow soils tend to strip trees of moisture causing drought, and overly saturated soils (less than 30cm above the water table) starve the trees of oxygen. For example, birch trees tolerate heavy moisture, which means they grow well in clay soils, but white spruce trees prefer loam or sand because they require slightly acidic and well-drained soils. Matching the correct species to the right soils and climate is a sure way to ensure good growth and coverage.

Evaluate Your Tree Type and Planting Time

Consider the height and shape of the tree at maturity. Some trees grow into short shrubs, which means they may not be suitable to grow in lines or defined zones, and some trees are tall and narrow, which is ideal for forests.

Deciduous trees, evergreens, and conifers grow in North American climates with harsh winters. Deciduous trees such as maples have noticeable reactions to seasons, such as losing leaves in the fall and gaining them back in the spring. These can be comfortably planted in the fall and watered through the winter. Evergreens such as Black Spruce and Jack Pine need to be planted during seasons without extreme heat, such as early fall or late spring. Conifers need to be planted in spring due to their high susceptibility to cold weather in the winter. This gives them enough time to grow before they must deal with extreme moisture loss in the winter and allows for post-planting activities such as inspection of planting quality (two weeks after planting) and observing how well the seeds have grown and if they have survived (three to six months following the planting).

Planting the tree at the right time is also an important factor. Cone-bearing trees generally ripen in the fall. For example, spruce ripens in late August to early September, and red pine ripens from September to October, which is the prime time to collect their seeds and plan for planting. Failure to account for these processes can lead to several trees failing to grow and an unsuccessful tree planting attempt. 

The Government of Canada has an application that can help you select the right tree, it provides species, maximum height, light and soil requirements, and the proper zones to plant them in.

Tree Planting Organizations in Canada

Consider partnering with companies that help you in the process, like Canada’s Forest Trust. Canada’s Forest Trust is an ESG company that works with all sectors of society to support them throughout every phase of planting, from research to monitoring and maintaining the land. Whether you are an individual, a school, or a company looking to make a positive environmental impact, Canada’s Forest Trust can help.


Landowner Resource Centre, & O. (1995). Planning for Tree Planting (Extension Notes, Rep.).