I evaluated responses by 16 native woody species to differential soil compaction and density of ground cover. The trees and shrubs studied represent sites in southern Illinois that commonly have restrictions to root growth from soil or drainage conditions. The study site was a restored surface coal mine in southern Illinois with a rooting medium compacted by grading and a dense ground cover of pasture species. Soil compaction was alleviated in half the study area before tree planting by mechanically ripping the soil to a depth of 1.2 m. Roots of half the trees and shrubs were dipped in a Terra® slurry before planting, and the ground cover around all planting spots was afterwards sprayed with herbicide. In year 2 after planting the ground cover in half of the unripped and half of the ripped area was further controlled by repeated application of herbicides. Ripping significantly increased height growth of all trees combined and all species individually in each year of the study. Second-year control of ground cover increased height growth of all trees combined and of seven species individually. Some species were damaged by herbicides. Terra® had little evident effect on species performance. Animal damage reduced early survival and growth, especially of Acer (maple) and Cornus (dogwood) species, and later growth of Quercus rubra (red oak). Removal of ground cover with herbicides tended to increase deer browse. Soil ripping, herbicide application, and choosing tree species unattractive to deer can be recommended to increase success in planting trees for forest restoration.