Frequently Asked Questions

Thanks so much for volunteering to grow seedlings with TreeProject. We’ve put together a list of Frequently Asked Questions for Volunteer Growers.

Don’t see an answer to your question? Please be in touch with your coordinator. We grow to order, so your kit and the results are very important as this is what the landholder has ordered and paid for.

Let’s get growing!

 


Volunteer Grower  Commitment

What am I committing to?

Growing seedlings is a big commitment but extremely rewarding. TreeProject staff, fellow volunteer growers, and your volunteer coordinator will help you through the process.

As a grower your responsibilities are:

  • growing healthy seedlings as per instructions
  • contacting your area coordinator with any difficulties
  • responding to your coordinator for seedling updates
  • completing the online monthly Seedling Growth Spreadsheet
  • organising final collection/delivery of seedlings with your coordinator

Time commitments include:

Nov/Dec-Jan/Feb

  • Collecting seeds and kit from Kensington/other locations as specified
  • Sowing seed (approximately 1-1.5 hours per box)
  • Selecting a suitable site at your home
  • Setting boxes up on a raised surface/bench with access to shade or a shade cloth
  • Watering daily* for at least one to two months or setting up a watering system. (*In extremely hot weather this may be two to three times a day.)
  • Removing tubes and rinsing out boxes once a month
  • Checking every few days for pests, diseases, weeds or damage
  • Updating a spreadsheet monthly with numbers of seedlings

Cooler months when seedlings are bigger:

  • Watering every two to three days depending on rainfall
  • Possibly thinning/transplanting seedlings (several hours)
  • Removing tubes and rinsing out boxes once a month
  • Updating a spreadsheet monthly with numbers of seedlings

Can I plant my seedlings on the landholders’ land at the end of the growing season?

Yes! Many growers find it extremely rewarding to plant out the seedlings they have grown, but this is optional. You’ll receive an email a few months before planting time to elect to be involved.

What are the workshops for?

The session will:

  • take you through the program
  • provide tips and suggestions
  • give hands-on training in pricking out and transplanting
  • answer questions

Workshops take between 60 to 90 minutes and previous growers have found them very useful. It is important for new growers to attend a session before sowing seeds! You will be emailed a number of sessions and locations to choose from.

How many months from start to finish is the growing season?

If you collect a kit in late spring, your commitment starts with sowing seeds from November/December for delivery in July/August.

Please note this includes the Christmas period so you will need to make plans to water your seeds daily (even three times daily if it’s extremely hot) if you are away on holidays.

What if I go away on holidays?

Your seedlings will need regular watering and monitoring.

You have a few options:

  1. Ask your growing group if someone can water and check in your absence – maybe you can return the favour down the track.
  2. Set up an irrigation system. Make sure to check it thoroughly before you leave! Check here for videos to help.
  3. Brief a trusted person to visit but ensure they have exact instructions. Some growers have returned to dead seedlings as their caretaker wasn’t properly briefed!

What is the average time commitment on a daily basis?

Prior to germination (seedlings emerging) and when the seedlings are small, they will need to be kept moist at all times. This could be up to three months or until cooler weather arrives. So on hot days (anything over approximately 27°C), you may need to water them up to three times a day. Capillary watering may help – see here).

I am not sure if my property is sunny enough – how much sun do I need?

Many species require only morning sun prior to germination, then full sun once they have germinated (i.e. seedlings emerged). This means they must have access to sun for at least six hours a day. This includes in winter.

How do I get my seeds and kit?

You will be notified when kits are ready, and provided several dates and locations for pickup.  We provide everything required: tubes, polystyrene boxes containing soil, fertiliser, gravel, seeds, and any treatments if required e.g. smoke treatment.

Will the growing kit fit in a small car?

The kit should fit into most cars, especially if you have a hatchback or large boot.

What’s in the kit?

Your tree-growing kit contains:

  1. Grower Report printout: includes landowner details, names of your species, your area coordinator’s contact details, and details of fellow growers in your group.
  2. Grower Manual (GM)
  3. 7 packets of seeds (1 packet per box) with species name, sowing date (date you should sow seed) and other instructions
  4. 7 labels (1 per box) and waterproof pencil
  5. 7 boxes of potting mix and fertiliser
  6. A bag of 336 forestry tubes (small black pots) (48 tubes per box)
  7. Gravel: enough for a thin layer across each tube
  8. Smoke treatment (if required)

Something is missing from my kit. Who do I contact?

If anything is not quite right or missing, please email or call TreeProject.

What do I need to succeed?

  • Correct bench setup with shade cloth
  • Awareness of extreme weather conditions: heat, heavy rain, hail, severe heat etc. (see p. 8)
  • Well-filled tubes
  • Correct pre-treatment and timely sowing
  • Correct watering
  • Careful observation and prompt problem-solving

 


Setting up

A word of encouragement for all new growers: do not be disheartened if you only have a very basic setup. You don’t need anything elaborate to successfully grow your seedlings. Over time you will find things that make it easier, but a simple bench (or even a plank of wood on a couple of bricks) will do the job, as long as you provide watering, shelter from wind, and shade from hot sun. Remember the most important thing to gain from the experience is enjoyment!

How much space do I need to grow my seeds?

All seven boxes take up the equivalent space as an average size outdoor table.

How do I choose my site?

Your site will need:

  • Ease of access/visibility
  • Protection from weather/water runoff
  • Sufficient sun exposure (including in winter)
  • Availability of shade or shade cloth

See p. 8.

See video here.

Site reference here.

Why must boxes be elevated? How do l keep them off the ground?

Boxes must be kept off the ground at all times to avoid potential pests and diseases getting into the potting mix.

Boxes must also be elevated during growing for many reasons:

  • Air circulation
  • Avoid cold ground temperatures
  • Discourage pest/weeds/pets etc.
  • Grower safety

See p. 9.

I only have a table. Can I put my boxes on this?

Yes. A table is fine, but seedlings must have good airflow underneath. Raise the box off the table with sticks, timber or pieces of bamboo.

See Grower Manual p. 9: A raised bench.

Can I use my glasshouse/greenhouse?

No. A glasshouse, poly-tube or enclosed shade house is too hot and humid for native species, making seedlings weak and prone to fungal infections.

Seedlings must grow in a natural environment so they are tough enough for the harsh rural environment once planted.

 


Sowing seed

When do I plant my seeds?

Check the date on the seed packets. Make sure you sow on these dates so your seeds are ready at the same time as other growers’ seeds. Plan ahead as pre-treatment may be required, which may take more time e.g. soaking overnight.

See p. 12.

What is pre-treatment for seeds?

Some species require pre-treatment, e.g. smoke treatment, without which they will not germinate. Your kit will contain pre-treatment if required.

See p. 12.

Do l need to refrigerate my seeds?

Some species require refrigeration prior to sowing, and if this is the case you will be asked to bring an eskie when you pick up your kit. Your sowing instructions on your seed packet will provide further instructions about refrigeration.

Even if refrigeration is not required, keep seeds in a cool, dry, and dark place until sowing day.

See p. 6.

Why is handwashing during sowing and other hygiene measures so important?

Good hygiene protects seeds against soil-borne pathogens, diseases, weeds, or other plant matter. This also protects grower health and safety.

See p. 9-11.

Why is newspaper at the bottom of the box?

The newspaper simply keeps soil in the box during transit. Discard it before sowing.

There are lots of seeds here! Do l plant them all?

Yes. Some seed viability is as low as 20 percent meaning that not all seeds will germinate successfully. So you must sow all the contents of your seed packet, even if you think there is too much!

Why is there chaff in with the seeds and do I remove it?

Some seed packets, especially eucalyptus species, contain chaff as well as seed. This chaff helps the seed germinate so do not separate it out. Mix it with seed before dividing up between tubes.

What does ‘smoke treatment’ mean? 

If your species require smoke treatment, your kit will include a small bag containing a brown powder. This should be sprinkled on top of the seeds, before gravel is added.

Research has shown that smoke is a critical factor for promoting germination of seeds in areas subject to bushfires (ref., anpsa.org.au/seed). 

What does ‘surface sow’ mean? What’s the alternative?

Surface sowing means that seeds are sprinkled on the surface of the soil, without more soil being placed on top. Gravel is then added directly on the seeds.

If the seed does not require surface sowing (i.e. it is not written on the seed packet), you must cover the seeds with a thin layer of potting mix. Your seed packet will specify the required depth of potting mix for your species.

Many of the Acacias seed needs to be pushed under the soil, if left on top of the soil they will dry out and not germinate. You can check this information on the seed packet. Your seed packet will specify the required depth of potting mix for your species.   

See p.

If it doesn’t specify – it is surface sow with gravel over the top. If unsure check with your co-ordintor.  

How do I soak my seeds in hot water?

Place seed into an appropriate container and pour in freshly boiled water (e.g. from a kettle or pan). Soak for the required amount of time shown on your seed packet. Seeds should be swollen by the end of soaking.

Re-treat any seeds not swollen, discarding seeds that float or do not swell after two treatments.

Note that seeds must be sown immediately after removing from water while still swollen or they will not germinate.

See p.

Reference link here.

Can l sow seed on a really hot day (i.e. over 30°C)?

Avoid sowing seed on hot days if possible. If unavoidable, sow early in the day when it’s cooler. Keep tubes moist and in the shade or covered with a shade cloth.

How do I fill the tubes?

It is critical that all tubes are filled correctly with potting mix for healthy root systems. We cannot overemphasise the importance of this step!

Take the time to read p. 12 of the Growers Handbook to ensure seedling growth and survival.

See p. 12

Reference link here.

How do I sow the seeds?

Pages 12-13 cover instructions for sowing seed. Read these carefully to ensure the best chance of success. Failure to sow seeds properly may mean a species does not germinate at all.

See pp. 12-13.

Reference link here.

What is the gravel for?

A thin layer of gravel holds seeds in place, prevents seeds being washed away, and acts as mulch.

Once seeds have germinated the gravel is no longer required, so it doesn’t matter if this is displaced by watering etc.

See p. 13.

I’ve run out of potting mix. Can l use soil from my garden?

No. Garden soil may contain pathogens, diseases, and pests. You should have received enough potting mix for your tubes (with some extra). If for some reason you run out, please contact your coordinator.

What do l write on the label?

Record the date of sowing, species name, your name and the landholder’s name on the label using the waterproof pencil.

See video here.

I missed my sowing date. What do I do?

A few days or weeks may not matter depending on the species. Please check with your coordinator ASAP for advice and plant as soon as possible.

See p. 9.

 


Germination

What is germination?

Germination is when your seedling finally emerges as a tiny seedling. It can be a very exciting day!

How much sun do my seedlings need?

Most seedlings need only morning sun or cover under shade cloth until germination.

If your seed packet specifies “Full sun”, this means that the seeds must be in full sun from the day of sowing. Seeds of some species, especially eucalypts, require hot temperatures to germinate.

Regardless of species, once your seedlings are established (i.e. seedlings are 3cm or taller), move them to a position of full sun (six hours per day) to become hardy enough for their new environment.

Check in cooler months that your seedlings are still receiving six hours of full sun per day.

See p. 8.

When will my seeds germinate? 

Species have different germination rates, from two weeks to two months.

Check the Seedling Database or GM App 1 for expected time of germination.

See p. 16.

Why aren’t my seeds germinating?

There are many reasons why seeds might not germinate, or it might be too early.

See pp. 22-23 for possible causes, and check with your coordinator for more advice.

 


Watering

How often do l need to water?

Watering is vital but is easy to master.

Watering must be done correctly to:

  • keep potting mix moist but not waterlogged
  • prevent mould developing
  • ensure seeds are not washed away
  • keep larger plants well hydrated

Read GM p. 14 carefully to find out how and when to water, especially during hot weather and when seedlings are very small to ensure survival.

See video here.

What is capillary watering? When is it used?

Capillary watering uses water absorption from the bottom of tubes to keep them moist. By placing tubes in containers and filling them with water with correct drainage holes, tubes are kept constantly moist.

This is useful when:

  • seeds have not germinated (to prevent seeds washing away during top watering)
  • you are away for short periods
  • during extremely hot weather

It must be done correctly so plants don’t drown or rot.

See video here

When is capillary watering not used?

Do not use capillary watering in colder months when seedlings are bigger. Your plants need to prepare for their new (harsher) environment with reduced access to water.

See p. 15.

Do l still need to water from the top when capillary watering?

You can, just a very fine mist to keep the top moist, if it looks as though it’s drying out.

What time of day should I water?

Watering in the morning is best. In hot weather, evening watering is also necessary to keep seeds or seedlings moist.

In cooler weather when seedlings are bigger, water only in the morning every second day to prevent mould from forming.

Is it possible to over-water?

Yes. Overwatering will cause collar rot and drown seedlings.

See p. 15.

It’s forecast to rain heavily. What do l do?

If you have seeds or small seedlings, protect them with a shade cloth or by moving under cover. Heavy rain and hail will displace seeds or small seedlings.

Do I water more when the weather is really hot (over 32°C)?

Yes. Seeds and small seedlings must be kept moist at all times. This may mean watering for five minutes twice a day in hot weather, and possibly a third water in the middle of the day.

See p. 14.

Can l use a watering system?

Yes. A reliable sprinkler or watering system can be great for maintaining good plant health. Ensure it is set up correctly and waters all plants evenly. Test it thoroughly (especially before going on holidays!) and continue monitoring weather conditions to avoid overwatering.

See Appendix 3.

See video here.

Do I need to keep watering every day?

No. In fact, as your seedlings get bigger it’s important to reduce watering in cooler months to prepare them for their new environment. Reduce watering to a good soak every two to three days.

However, as the seedlings become larger and the root system denser you may need to submerge large seedlings in a bucket of water to ensure that they are thoroughly watered, check with your coordinator if you think that you need to do this.  

See video here. 

 


Maintenance

Will frost damage my seedlings?

Yes. If your boxes are on a raised surface, however, frost should not affect seedlings. The only way to prevent frost damage is to cover your seedlings. Frosts will happen on clear winter nights. Frost does affect uncovered seedlings even if they are raised. 

Should l use fertiliser at all?

No. The slow release fertiliser mixed with potting mix at sowing will provide for the entire growing season.

What about Seasol* or other seaweed-based soil conditioners?

These are good after transplanting seedlings to other tubes to reduce transplant shock and help seedlings stabilise. Read the instructions on the packet carefully and apply as directed.

Adding this again a month before delivery also helps plant survival.

*Seasol is not a fertiliser, as it is a soil conditioner.

Some of my seedlings are much bigger than others. Why? Is this a problem? How do I fix it?

Seedlings of the same species grow at different paces for several reasons:

  • fertiliser was unevenly mixed at sowing
  • different access to sun
  • uneven watering

Solutions include an application of Seasol or seaweed-based soil conditioner, rotating boxes regularly to even up sun exposure, and ensuring even watering. Check with your coordinator.

See pp. 26-27.

My trees are growing horizontally. What do I do?

Your trees are reaching for light which is affecting their shape. Rotate your boxes frequently (every couple of days) to even up sun exposure. Some species eg. Allocasuarina, grow somewhat horizontally until a certain height and then as if by magic they straighten.

My seedlings are getting too big. What do l do?

Seedlings (usually trees) that are too big are generally over 35cm in height.

Check with your coordinator as you may need to slow growth by reducing watering and moving trees into shade. They may become leggy (i.e. long gaps between leaves as they search for light) but this is preferable to plants that are too big to survive once planted out.

My plants are too small and delivery is coming up. What do l do?

Even if your seedlings are quite small, if roots are showing at the bottom of the tubes, your plants should be ready for planting out. Check with your coordinator well before delivery date if you think your seedlings are too small.

Can I leave the plants in the boxes?

Yes. Boxes provide insulation and a stable area for tubes. It’s best to remove tubes about once a month to spray boxes with a hose to clean and check for pests, then packing them back in again. Trim or rub off roots protruding from the tubes at this stage also.

 


Transplanting/thinning

What is pricking out?

Pricking out is moving seedlings to other tubes when seedlings are less than 5cm tall. You may need to prick out if you have some tubes with no seedlings (i.e. seeds/seedlings have died) but other tubes have more than one seedling.

Always check with your coordinator before pricking out.

Note that you are not required to grow more than 48 tubes of one species but in some circumstances this may be helpful if you have the time and resources.

See p. 31.

What is transplanting?

Transplanting means moving seedlings to other tubes when the seedlings are taller than 5cm. It is riskier to the seedling than pricking out and must be done according to the instructions.

Always check with your coordinator before transplanting.

See the video to learn how to transplant.

See p. 29.

What is thinning?

Thinning removes excess seedlings so the strongest seedling thrives.

Check with your coordinator before thinning. Excess seedlings may still be required, once pricked out or transplanted to another tube.

Do grasses/sedges need thinning out? (e.g. Poa, Lomandra, Carex, Themeda species)

Grasses do not need thinning, as they grow in clumps. You might prick out two or three seedlings if you have some empty tubes where seeds have died. Check with your coordinator first.

What if l have too many seedlings (i.e. more than one seedling in each tube)?

Check with your coordinator to see if the excess seedlings are required elsewhere.

You are not required to grow more than 48 tubes of one species but this may be helpful if you have the time and resources.

When do l start thinning/transplanting/pricking out?

Check with your coordinator before transplanting, thinning or pricking out. The seedlings must be the right height, and any excess seedlings may be required.

See video here.

How do I transplant seedlings?

Transplanting means moving seedlings to other tubes when the seedlings are taller than 5cm. It is riskier to the seedling than pricking out and must be done according to the instructions.

Always check with your coordinator before transplanting. You are not required to grow more than 48 tubes of one species but this may be helpful if you have the time and resources.

See the video.

See p. 29.

What is “transplant shock”?

This occurs when the plant does not recover from the impact of transplanting and growth is stunted or slowed. In some cases the plant can die. This is why seedlings are best pricked out when they are less than 5cm, as larger seedlings are more prone to transplant shock.

If you have excess seedlings and tubes (and time) when transplanting or pricking out, you might want to transplant a few seedlings to extra tubes in case a few seedlings die. Please note that we allow for losses per box so a few losses are expected and accounted for.

Do I transplant or thin so that the seedling is in the middle of the tube?

For best root formation the seedling should be in the centre of the tube but this is tricky when so many seeds are sown.

Answer 1 on WhatsApp: No. If you have several seedlings and a smaller central seedlings looks healthy – even if it isn’t the biggest – cull the larger ones and keep the central seedling to avoid the risk of transplant shock.

Answer 2 on WhatsApp: Yes. The roots will continue to grow as a sheath or wall of roots and become ineffective in strong winds once planted out. The seedling will well and truly survive transplant shock and a strong secure root system will be the result.

What if I don’t have enough successful seedlings (i.e. less than 48 tubes)?

Check with your coordinator. You might receive more seeds or the seedlings provided by another grower at the end of the growing season.

We allow for a percentage of losses per box so a shortfall of a few tubes does not matter.

What if the roots start growing through the bottom of the tube?

Keep trimming or rubbing off roots at the bottom of the tube throughout the growing season. They also need to be trimmed before delivery to landholders. We don’t want plants dependant on roots that will be removed or damaged during planting.

Can I give plants to another grower to make up shortfalls?

Yes. You must coordinate this via your coordinator. Do not use the WhatsApp group to arrange directly with another grower.

It’s important that the plants for the landowners come from the correct location (called “provenance”). Landholders require different genetically-based trees in their orders, otherwise issues can occur. For example, trees from one area can interbreed with local trees and have a negative effect in subsequent natural seedlings.

 


Pests and diseases

How do I prevent: birds/possums/snails/slugs/vermin/aphids/caterpillars/other insects?

See pp. 24-25 for common pests (and beneficial bugs!) and what to do.

See p. 26 for a homemade garlic spray for most pests.

My seedlings have some kind of disease. How do l find out what to do?

Some diseases can be caused by overwatering.

See pp. 23-24 for possible causes and treatment. If in doubt, act early and contact your coordinator to avoid losing the whole box of seedling to disease.

 


Preparation for delivery

When are the plants due for delivery/planting?

Summer-sown plants are due to landholders between June and August. You will receive an invitation to planting days, which you are welcome to attend. Your coordinator will be in touch to help organise delivery if you are not attending. (Available to all growers regardless of landholder?)

Ready for planting

How big should my seedlings be for delivery?

If trees, your seedlings could be 15-30cm but this will depend on the species. The best indicator of whether your seedlings are ready for planting is if they have a root structure that can hold the potting mix together when the seedling is removed from the tube. If they are smaller but roots are showing at the bottom of the tubes, your trees should still survive planting out. Grasses, groundcovers and shrubs will be smaller than trees.

How do I prepare plants for delivery?

Ensure all boxes have a label with species, sowing date, your name and the landholder name. You may also want to write this on the box as well.

Plants must be:

  • Healthy
  • Clearly labelled
  • Weed/pest-free
  • Excess roots trimmed
  • No empty tubes/dead plants
  • Well-watered

See p. 18 for the checklist.

Who delivers the plants?

Collection of seedlings is the landholder’s responsibility for the ReTree landholders. If you are growing for the Ribbons of Green landholders in the Yarra Valley you will have been requested to deliver the seedlings to those landholders. TreeProject facilitates delivery where possible. Your coordinator may organise a central location for landholders to collect seedlings.

Can I help planting at the landholders’ property?

You may be able to deliver them to the landholder if you wish, or attend a planting day (if available) to help plant out. Contact your coordinator and watch for emails inviting you to planting days.

What do I do with any extra plants?

You should be in touch with your coordinator about surplus plants. If they are required, your coordinator will allocate them to another grower and organise delivery. (Please do not organise directly with other growers. See Provenance (link) here.)

If not required, you might like to donate them to a local nursery, Ribbons of Green, local school etc.

What do I do with any empty tubes/potting mix?

Old potting mix can be thrown in a garden or compost.

Ideally we would like empty tubes returned for reuse. If you can, deliver to the Kensington depot – by arrangement or when you pick your kit up for the next growing cycle. Or join a working bee for tube washing!

 


Admin

Who is my coordinator?

You will be notified of your coordinator via your sowing instructions received on pickup or soon after via email.

How do l update the Seedling Growth Spreadsheet and how often?

The spreadsheet helps TreeProject plan around shortfalls or excesses of seedlings, and also identifies any issues with seed batches.

By the end of the first month of growing, you will receive a link via email with instructions on how to update the spreadsheet via Google sheets. You will be reminded at the end of each month via email.

What is the WhatsApp group for?

Your first point of contact should be your coordinator. The WhatsApp group is for support and asking questions that cannot be answered by your coordinator and are not covered by the GM or website.

Please do not use the group to organise swaps and transfers as these should be arranged via your coordinator.

Finally, thank you for your contribution! We hope you enjoy your growing experience.