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School Seedling Program

Planting and caring for a tree seedling can help young people learn about the natural world and the value of trees within it. DEC's School Seedling Program provides New York State students this experience with free trees from the Colonel William F. Fox Memorial Saratoga Tree Nursery.

Instilling a Care for Conservation in the Next Generation

two students planting a seedling

Most of us recognize the beauty of trees and their many other values. Trees provide food and shelter for wildlife and prevent loss of soil (erosion). They help protect our streams and lakes by stabilizing soil and using nutrients that would otherwise wash into waterways. Trees help moderate temperature and muffle noise. They give off oxygen and help improve air quality by absorbing some airborne compounds that could be harmful to us. Spending time around trees and in nature also reduces stress and makes us healthier.

When students plant tree seedlings, they can see for themselves the structure of trees, learn what trees need, and watch them grow. Teachers can use the planting process to discuss the benefits trees provide while incorporating other subjects that their classes are studying. As seedlings mature, the young trees can be a continuing, personalized way of relating what they've learned in class to visible, living examples.

Students become aware that they can play a role in protecting the environment through personal involvement in establishing a grove of trees. Ultimately, it is hoped that the experience will help them make informed decisions about conservation and use of natural resources.

Eligible Organizations

All schools located within New York State may participate - public, private or parochial; nursery, elementary, secondary, vocational, college or university. Any school-sponsored organization is also eligible. Planting can be related to a wide variety of scholastic programs - it is not confined to any given subject, purpose or age level.

We encourage planting on school property so students can be responsible for the care and protection of the seedlings.

How to Apply

Fill out and submit the School Seedling Brochure and Order Form (PDF) between January 2nd and March 31st. Each school or school-sponsored organization may apply once per year.

Applicants will need to select one option from the species available, listed below. If you have questions about what species might be right for you or questions about this program, contact your Regional DEC Forestry Office. A forester will be available to advise you on the appropriate species of trees to choose and proper planting technique.

Species available

  1. White Spruce (Picea glauca): Native, short-needled evergreen. Grows in clay and/or loamy soils and reaches 70 feet at maturity. Can be planted statewide. Fifty (50) seedlings will be given to each participating school. You will need 1,800 square feet of open space for 50 seedlings. Each needs a growing space about 6 feet in diameter.
  2. White Pine (Pinus strobus): Native long-needled evergreen. Grows best in well-drained soils and reaches 100 feet at maturity. Can be planted statewide. Fifty (50) seedlings will be given to each participating school. You will need 1,800 square feet of open space for 50 seedlings. Each needs a growing space about 6 feet in diameter.
  3. Wildlife Packet (Packet #2): A mix of 30 wildlife habitat shrubs that are attractive to songbirds, as well as a variety of other wildlife. Will grow in clay or loamy soils. Plant varieties of the same kind together to promote pollination and fruiting. Can be planted statewide. These should be planted 6 feet apart and require only 900 square feet of open space.

Seedling Shipment

The seedlings are 2 to 3 years old, about 4"-12" tall, and bare-root. They are light enough for young children to carry and plant. Shipment is by UPS, beginning after April 14 and running through the third week in May. Select a shipping date at least 3 days prior to the planting date. Shipping takes place on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday only. Do not schedule shipment during school vacation.

Planting Instructions

Seedlings are perishable. Keep in a cool, shaded place until planting. Do not let the roots dry out.

TOOLS REQUIRED: Shovel and bucket

  1. Place seedlings in a bucket and fill with water until all roots are covered.
  2. Remove all vegetation for at least one foot around the planting spot for each seedling to reduce competition with other plants.
  3. Dig a hole deep and wide enough to contain the tree's roots.
  4. Place the roots of the seedling in the hole and carefully spread them out. The root collar (where roots join the stem) should be at the ground's surface. The seedling should stand straight.
  5. Fill the hole with soil and gently compact to remove air pockets that could dry out the roots and kill the seedling. Reposition the seedling as necessary to keep it straight and to prevent the root collar from being buried.
  6. Water the seedling slowly and thoroughly after planting to settle the soil. If rainfall is not adequate, water weekly for the first year after planting.
  7. Mark the seedlings with a stake or flagging so they won't be cut off by a mower or stepped on.
  8. Fertilizer is not recommended at planting time. It can be applied two or three years after planting when the root system has developed.
Donate to help plant trees

Support the School Seedling Program

You can support the School Seedling Program through a donation to the Natural Heritage Trust's Tree Fund by clicking the "Donate to Help Plant Trees" button to the right which will go to their website. Just $20 can support 40 bare-root trees and shrubs that will be given to school programs across the state to teach young people about the natural world.

  • Contact for this Page
  • Saratoga Tree Nursery
    2369 Route 50
    Saratoga Springs, NY 12866-4738
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