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Daily Maintenance

In addition to daily watering seedlings need daily maintenance to ensure even growth, prevent seedlings getting too big, remove weeds, check for pests and disease, prune roots and thinning out extra seedlings so that one healthy seedling is in each tube.

Seedling growing towards the sun

Getting even growth

Seedlings will grow reaching toward the sun. As your seedlings grow, sort them out by height. Put the smaller ones at one end of the box and turn that end of the box to the direct sun so the tall ones don’t shade the small ones.

Seedlings with full sunlight will always grow faster than those that are in part or full shade. Rotate your seedlings to make sure they all get the same amount of sunlight. You may need to move you boxes as the season changes and the sun moves.

Box of seedlings

The seedlings in the centre of the box are being shaded by the ones on either end. You can see the box was rotated but the seedlings in the middle should have been brought to the outside to get even access to sun.

Never leave your seedlings in full shade, unless they are getting too big and you want to slow down seedling growth. Back off watering as well so that the seedlings do not get leggy and weak.

Too little sun and too much water will cause you seedlings to be leggy and weak (below left). Uneven growth at front of box due to shading by larger plants (below right).

The right balance of sun and water will produce robust seedlings – remember that after your seedlings are 3cm tall they get 1 good watering ONCE a day in FULL sun.

Pests and Diseases on seedling boxes

Rotating seedlings and moving boxes also give you a chance to check for pests and disease. Rotate boxes frequently to prevent all sorts of crawlies can find habitat between nice moist cool spaces between your boxes.

When Seedlings are getting too big

If your seedlings are 20-25 cm tall with a strong root structure they ready to be planted out on the land. However, if the winter rains have not come they cannot be planted out. You will need to slow your seedlings growth down. The leaf structure above the tube cannot be allowed to grow so large that the root inside the tube will not support it without daily watering.

To slow the seedling growth down put the seedling in semi shade and back off the amount of water it is getting. Depending upon weather conditions water every day and a half or every other day. The months that you will be doing this are after March and the weather will have cooled a lot. Do not let the seedling wilt – it will slowly harden up and rely on less water.

The seedlings on the left are the right size for the root structure in the tube. The seedlings on the right will struggle to survive without its daily watering. The root system is not large enough to sustain the head of the seedling after planting – they will have to sustain themselves in a harsh environment after planting out.


WeedsImportant to pick out weeds early so they don’t get the opportunity to establish themselves. Weeds will compete for nutrients and water depriving your seedlings of the elements they need for maximum growth and strength.

This particular species in the picture comes from a bulb which can be difficult to remove without disturbing the seedlings root structure. You will need to tap the seedling out of the tube and ensure you get every bulb. This weed is real problem if planted out with the seedling.

TreeProject does not want to be responsible for the distribution of any non-native or pest species in Australia; they are doing that quite well by themselves.

Checking for Pests and Disease

Whilst watering check for pests and disease. Any eaten leaves or stems cut off is a sure sign that there is something eating your seedlings. Check between tubes and the bottom of tubes for slugs, snails and other creatures that like cool dam places to live. Search and find the culprit! A great deal of damage can be done in 24 hours.

Curled leaves is a sign of larva within the curl.

Discoloured, potted or excessively wrinkled leaves is a sign of disease.


Eventually the seedlings will need to be planted out. Roots growing through the bottom of the tube will be damaged at planting time. It is a severe shock for plants to lose large amounts of root growth. Trim back regularly as they grow. This can be achieved by firmly rubbing a hand across the bottom of the tube.

Check the roots at least once a month.

It is also a good chance to have an individual look at each plant.

Aerial pruning

To prevent seedlings from growing excess roots out of the tube base, aerial pruning may be used. The tubes are suspended with their bottoms exposed to the air or placed in commercial seedling trays - this does increase the risk of the tubes drying out so where this method is used monitor progress closely.


Excess seedlings should be removed by cutting them off right at the very base of the stem with a sharp pair of scissors. Follow hygiene requirements and clean scissors prior to use. Leave 2 seedlings in the tube. Cull the weaker of the two in a month. Cutting off the seedlings means that the roots of the surviving seedlings will not be disturbed.

Once plants have reached a juvenile stage then they must be thinned to one plant per tube.

If multiple seedlings are left in a tube, they will compete with each other for space, water and light. The result will be weak and unhealthy seedlings prone to disease, particularly fungal infections.

Before thinning check with the co-ordinator to make sure there are no other growers for that landowner who might need extra seedlings.

If you have empty tubes from other species that you have not been able to fill the extra seedlings can fill these empty tubes. Tubes with multiple seedlings are useless for the landholder and will be rejected at the planting out stage and thrown out! Remember, our objective is ONE HEALTHY plant per tube.