The performance of woody plants was analyzed in 15 successional seres starting at bare ground in central European manmade habitats. The total cover of woody species after 10 years of succession was significantly related neither to initial soil moisture nor to nitrogen (expressed using Ellenberg indicator values). But the comparison of seres indicates that establishment of woody plants was easier under moderate environmental conditions and retarded in extreme habitats (dry, nutrient-poor, or acid). The arrival of the first woody plants was delayed in dry sites. No significant differences were found between primary and secondary seres, either with respect to the total cover of woody plants reached after 10 years of succession or considering the time of their arrival. In total, 24 woody species (10 shrubs and 14 trees) appeared in the series investigated. Their successional performance (in terms of the number of seres in which the species occurred and maximum cover reached in any sere) was not related to species traits (life strategy, type of mycorrhizae, mode of dispersal, diaspore weight), except for the regeneration strategy, species with seasonal regeneration by seeds were capable of creating higher cover. Betula pendula (European birch) was the most successful species in spontaneous succession, especially on moist sites. Practical suggestions for the management of particular habitats (sites disturbed by mining, sites reclaimed after acid rain deforestation, urban sites, abandoned fields) are provided regarding the establishment of woody plants.