Abstract Three experiments were conducted to verify if an increase in environmental stress level would affect the interactions between two species of nurse shrubs and seedlings of Aspidosperma quebracho-blanco. This is a mesic species with a generalist distribution over an extensive environments gradient. The relationship between Larrea divaricata and seedlings of A. quebracho-blanco was studied in two contrasting soils, a silty loam soil with higher surface clay content and a sandy loam soil. The effect of seasonal variability of rainfall on the initial establishment of seedlings under the shade of L. divaricata was evaluated in three consecutive years. The effect of nurse plant shade was tested comparing two shrub species with different types of leaf life span (sclerophyllous-evergreen and leguminous-deciduous). The natural establishment of A. quebracho-blanco depended on shaded microsites, but not on the type of shade provided by different nurse shrubs. Emergence and initial establishment depended on interactions of soil type and seasonal rainfall variation with nurse plants. The importance of facilitation increased with clay soil (CS). Sandy soil was ‘less humid’ than CS under shrub shade. However, establishment success depends on opportune even rainfall distribution in interaction with nurse plant presence.