NCX Guide to Tree Planting Programs
Max Nova
Max Nova
26 February, 2024 min read

Landowners today have access to a wide variety of both old and new tree planting programs. How should you evaluate different programs to find the right one for you and your land?

A good place to start is understanding the program partner and their motivations. Why do they want to plant trees on your land?  Common reasons are:

  • Environmental benefits – Planting trees can create wildlife habitat and improve soil health and water quality. Typically, programs focused on environmental benefits are run by the government or nonprofit conservation groups.
  • Carbon credits – As trees grow, they pull carbon dioxide out of the air and store carbon as wood. This carbon storage can be measured and certified as a “carbon credit.” Corporations can buy these credits to demonstrate their commitment to climate action. A variety of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations run these carbon-focused tree planting programs.
  • Timber harvest – Our houses, furniture, paper, packaging, and much more are made from trees. The timber and wood fiber markets are well established and harvesting trees is one of the traditional ways of monetizing forested land. These timber-oriented programs tend to be run by traditional forest industry organizations or investment firms.

Equipped with this context about the “who” and the “why” of each program, you can now dig into the “what”, “where”, “when”, and “how.”

What kind of trees are being planted?

Choosing a tree species to plant is an important decision. The trees you put in the ground today will alter your land for decades to come.  Environmentally-focused programs tend to favor native species that will improve ecosystem health. Timber and carbon programs tend to favor fast-growing commercial species like loblolly pine. 

There are even some new approaches that use genetically-modified or specially treated seedlings that aim to increase growth rates even further.

Where are they being planted?

Just as important as what you plant is where you plant it. Different tree species are suitable for planting in different regions of America, and different programs have different eligibility criteria for plantable acres. Some require tree planting in erosion-prone areas like riverbanks and hillsides. Others are only applicable in areas where there has been a recent timber harvest. Some programs are geared towards converting marginal cropland into forests. Other “agroforestry” or “silvopasture” programs are targeted at a hybrid trees + agriculture approach on farms and ranches.  

Using digital mapping technology, NCX can help you understand which parts of your property are eligible for which programs.

When are they being planted?

The typical planting windows in the US are in the spring and in the fall.  Keep an eye on the enrollment deadlines for the projects you’re considering. If you miss out, you may have to wait a year before your next chance to participate.

How are they being planted?

Planting trees is a lot of work! A typical tree planting project requires site preparation, seedling purchase and transport, putting the trees in the ground, and doing a final inspection. These costs can run into hundreds of dollars per acre and the logistics and contracting are non-trivial. Some programs handle the whole process and pay the full cost, some do a cost-share, and others require the landowner to pay and manage the whole process.  

For each program, NCX breaks down the schedule of out-of-pocket costs so you can understand the impact this has on your bottom line.

NCX strongly recommends that you work with a forester to oversee any tree planting project. If you don’t already work with a forester, NCX can help you find one in your area.

Risks, Rewards, and Restrictions

Not every tree that you plant will survive. Of the trees that do survive, not all will grow equally well. That’s just the reality of working in nature. Make sure that you know who bears the risk for failed planting and lower-than-expected growth. In many programs, it’s the landowner… that’s you.

If your planting is successful, who reaps the rewards? Typically, the revenue streams from tree planting come in the following forms:

  • “Rental” payments – Fixed annual payments are most common in government programs like CRP.  You’ll receive these annual payments over the full term of the contract as long as your trees survive.
  • Carbon credits – For programs that generate carbon credits, landowners can sometimes choose to receive payment in carbon credits, a revenue-share from the sale of carbon credits, or fixed cash payments. Each of these options has risks which we’ll cover in a future article.
  • Timber harvest – Selling timber is a major driver of value for landowners. Before you enroll in any program, make sure you know who has the rights to harvest your timber. Note that many carbon programs often place significant restrictions on your ability to conduct a timber harvest.

Don’t forget about price fluctuations either. The price for carbon or timber can go up or down. Even if you lock in a price now, remember that inflation can erode your earnings significantly, especially for long-term contracts.

Finally, make sure you understand any restrictions you’re agreeing to. Are you allowed to harvest any of the timber? Do you have to grant access to your land? Can you still hunt? Do you have to put any easements on the property? How long do these restrictions last?

Finding the right tree planting program for you

NCX makes it easy to compare the various tree planting programs. Create a free account at to get started today.

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about the author

Max Nova

Max Nova

Co-Founder and COO
Max Nova co-founded NCX over a decade ago. He built many of the Natural Capital Exchange's core technical systems that power the largest forest carbon projects in the US. Now Max serves as the COO of NCX and helps connect American forest owners with net-zero pioneers like Microsoft. Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Max earned a degree in computer science from Yale.