Department of Environmental Conservation

D E C banner

School Seedling Program

Youth organizations, schools, and homeschool groups: Apply now for a package of free seedlings through the 2023 School Seeding Program. Applications are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis until the program closes on March 31 or seedling stock runs out, whichever comes first.

Planting and caring for tree seedlings can help young people learn about ecosystems and the valuable role trees play. Schools and youth organizations are eligible to receive free trees or shrubs by participating in this educational program. Participants receive seedlings from the Colonel William F. Fox Memorial Saratoga Tree Nursery along with guidance on how to plant and care for them.

Meeting Next Generation Science Standards

Two students planting a tree

Provide young people with a hands-on way to understand natural systems, observe their environment, and learn key vocabulary. When students plant tree seedlings they can discover the structure and function of trees while building their awareness about conservation.

As the trees mature, they can serve as an ongoing living laboratory for young people to learn from. The experience can help students make informed decisions about the conservation and use of natural resources.

Eligible Organizations

Organizations that may apply include:

  • All schools located within New York State - public, private, elementary, secondary, vocational, college or university
  • Any youth education-based organization (including scout groups)
  • Homeschool groups, co-op, or other homeschool association, but not individual family homeschools

Limit of one application per school, homeschool group, or youth organization.

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-site so students can be responsible for the care and protection of the seedlings.

How to Apply

Applications must be submitted by March 31st. Please make sure you have permission to plant in your chosen location before applying. You can apply either online or by mail. Limit of one application per school or organization.

  • How to apply online: Fill out and submit the online application (leaves DEC website)
  • How to apply by mail: Print, fill out and submit a paper application (PDF). You may also request a paper application be mailed to you by contacting the nursery at 518-581-1439.
    • Paper applications must be mailed to: DEC Tree Nursery, 2369 Route 50, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

Species available

If you have questions about what species might be right for your site, 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.

  • 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 seedlings will be given to each participating organization. You will need 1,800 square feet of open space for the 50 seedlings. Each needs a growing space about 6 feet in diameter.
  • Red oak (Quercus rubra): Native hardwood. Grows best in well-drained soils and prefers full sun. Also grows well in upland sites and reaches 60-80 feet at maturity. Can be planted statewide. Twenty-five seedlings will be given to each participating organization. You will need 2,500 square feet of open space for the 25 seedlings. Each needs a growing space about 10 feet in diameter.
  • Mixed Shrub: A mix of wildlife habitat shrubs (most likely silky dogwood, black chokeberry, and ninebark) that are attractive to songbirds as well as a variety of other wildlife. Will grow in clay or loamy soils. Thirty seedlings will be given to each participating organization. Plant varieties of the same kind together, in groups, 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 FedEx on May 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 8th, 9th, or 10th only. Select a shipping date at least 3 days prior to the planting date.

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.

Resources for Educators

The School Seedling program can easily be paired with a curriculum of your choice, check out some of our recommended curriculums:

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 on the right. 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
    Send us an email
  • This Page Covers
  • Page applies to all NYS regions