Although mine reclamation sites are important targets for ecological restoration, they are generally difficult to regenerate successfully. We evaluated the importance of nursery nutrient loading as a new approach to enhance forest restoration on abandoned mine lands. Northern red oak (Quercus rubra) and White oak (Q. alba) seedlings were nitrogen (N) loaded for 18 weeks at a bareroot nursery in southern Indiana, United States. Fertility treatments followed conventional or modified exponential functions to synchronize N supply with plant demand. Subsequently, nursery-grown seedlings were outplanted the following year onto a mine reclamation site in southwestern Indiana to evaluate effects of nursery N loading on first-year field performance. Nursery N loading promoted total plant dry mass production 25–129% in Red oak and 50–184% in White oak compared to unfertilized plants. Nitrogen loading increased N content 88–145% and potassium (K) content 16–71% for Red oak and N content 124–250% and K content 16–93% for White oak relative to controls. When outplanted, N loading resulted in high seedling survival (>84%) and increased total plant dry mass production 14–30% for Red oak and 23–52% for White oak. Nitrogen loading increased plant N uptake 14–102% in Red oak and 32–105% in White oak under field conditions. Exponential N loading demonstrates potential as a viable technique to improve seedling outplanting performance and reclamation success in Indiana and elsewhere.