Division of Spill Prevention and Response


Tactic TR-9: Transplanting Vegetation

Use transplanting to introduce indigenous plants to a site where vegetation has been severely damaged by a spill. Harvest and transplant appropriate plants adapted to the growing conditions at the site. For aquatic tundra or for areas that are expected to become aquatic due to subsidence, planting sprigs of pendant grass (Arctophila fulva) is appropriate (Figs. 96–98). In moist–wet tundra, transplant sections of tundra sod (tundra plugs) harvested from nearby undisturbed areas (Figs. 99–101). On gravelly areas such as river bars, plant cuttings of willows (Salix spp.) (Fig. 102). On sandy areas such as beaches and dunes, transplant sprigs of dunegrass (Leymus) (Fig. 103). The above-ground portion of the plant may die back after transplanting, but these plants are adapted to disturbance and should regenerate from below-ground rhizomes and buds.


Figure 96. Harvesting pendant grass


Figure 97. Transplanting pendant grass sprigs


Figure 98. Transplanted pendant grass


Figure 99. Transplanted tundra plugs


Figure 100. Tundra plugs


Figure 101. Harvesting tundra plugs


Figure 102. Transplanted willow


Figure 103. Transplanting dunegrass


Figure 104. Dunegrass sprigs

  • Harvest pendant grass in aquatic tundra using a shovel with a long blade, such as a drain spade or clam shovel.
  • Separate roots from soil and divide clumps into smaller sections or single sprigs for planting (Fig. 104). Keep plants floating in water while this is done, to protect the roots and prevent desiccation.
  • Store the plants in large plastic bags or coolers if they will not be transplanted immediately (i.e., within approximately 2 hours).
  • To plant sprigs (singly or in small clumps), one worker uses the shovel to pry open a hole, while the other worker inserts a fertilizer tablet and the sprig(s) into the hole (Figs. 97 and 103). The soil all around the sprig(s) should be firmly pressed into place (using the feet) to ensure good contact between roots and soil.
  • Harvest tundra plugs using the same type of shovel, or a post-hole digger (Fig. 101), to extract a section of sod approximately 8 inches in diameter and extending well into the rooting zone.
  • Keep plugs moist if they will not be transplanted immediately (Fig. 100).
  • To transplant plugs, dig holes slightly larger and deeper than the plugs, usually 20–40 inches apart depending on site conditions and rehabilitation objectives (Fig. 99).
  • Place 2 fertilizer tablets in each hole, then place each plug with its soil surface slightly below surrounding surface. Replace soil as needed to fill in holes and press plugs into place as for grass sprigs.
  • Willow cuttings can be harvested from natural stands before the plants break dormancy in the spring.
  • If necessary, cuttings can be stored frozen until the soil is thawed enough for planting.
  • Cuttings should be approximately 15–20 inches long and 0.25–0.5 inch in diameter.
  • Cuttings can be planted using a long-bladed shovel (as described above for grass sprigs) or a specialized planting tool (dibble), depending on soil conditions.
  • Place 1 or 2 fertilizer tablets in each planting hole.
  • To reduce moisture loss, plant cuttings with only 2–4 inches above ground.

Considerations and Limitations

  • A land use permit from Alaska Department of Natural Resources Division of DNR Division of Mining, Land & Water is required for collecting plants on State of Alaska lands.
  • Refer to Streambank Revegetation and Protection (Muhlberg and Moore 1998) for additional details for transplanting vegetation.
  • If the site is near the coast or saline substances were spilled, test the soil salt level (Tactic AM-5) to help determine which species, if any, are appropriate to transplant.
  • Not all species can tolerate transplanting. For example, a species with a single tap root (an underground structure which cannot be divided without killing the plant) is less likely to survive transplanting than is a species with a fibrous root system (Table 4).
  • The advantages of transplanting over seeding are that transplants are usually readily available and transplanting can produce plant cover more quickly than seeding; however, transplanting over large areas is more labor-intensive.
  • At some sites, tundra sodding (Tactic TR-10) may be more appropriate than transplanting sprigs or tundra plugs.

Table 4. Examples of plants suitable for transplanting on the North Slope

Tundra Type

Common Name

Scientific Name


Aquatic and Wet

Pendant grass

Arctophila fulva

Salt tolerant

Wet and Moist

Tall cottongrass

Eriophorum angustifolium

Somewhat salt tolerant

Water sedge

Carex aquatilis

Tundra grass

Dupontia fisheri

Salt tolerant

Moist and Dry

American dunegrass

Leymus mollis

Salt tolerant, adapted to sandy soils

Feltleaf willow

Salix alaxensis

Richardson’s willow

Salix lanata

Generally lower survival than S. alaxensis

Equipment, Materials, and Personnel

  • Large plastic bags, coolers, or 5-gallon buckets – to carry and store collected plants and soil.
  • Drain spade or similar (1 operator, 1 planter) – to open holes in the ground to place sprigs or cuttings.
  • Drain spade or post-hole digger (1 worker per tool) – to collect tundra plugs.
  • Drain spade or similar (1 worker per tool) to dig planting holes for tundra plugs.
  • Long knives and/or scissors - for cutting grass clumps into smaller sections.
  • 21-gram landscaping fertilizer tablets (1 per sprig, 2 per tundra plug, 1–2 per willow cutting).

Updated: 12/20/2010