Cattle pastures established in areas previously covered by tropical rainforest can be abandoned in unproductive and degraded conditions. Transplanting native tree species to pastures is one common practice among rainforest restoration techniques, but several environmental barriers compromise transplant success. We assessed whether the presence of isolated trees and the removal of pasture grasses affect survival, growth, and allometry of transplanted saplings of the pioneer tree Trema micrantha (L.) Blume (Ulmaceae) into abandoned pastures in southeast Mexico. An isolated tree was selected in the center of each of four pasture sites of one hectare, and grass treatments were applied under the tree's canopy (0–10 m from the trunk) and in open pasture (15–48 m from the trunk). Grass removal treatments were control (grass present), cut with machete, herbicide application, and total grass removal with a gardening hoe. After 1 year, sapling survival was not different between the canopy and pasture areas (53%). Saplings showed higher survival probability (p < 0.05) in the hoe treatment (63 ± 9%) than in the control treatment (38 ± 9%). Height and crown cover growth rates were faster under the canopy of isolated trees compared with the open pasture. Saplings showed significantly greater crown area/height ratios under the canopy of isolated trees. Stressful environmental conditions restricted sapling growth in the open pasture. We conclude that complete removal of grasses and transplanting T. micrantha saplings in the vicinity of isolated trees can improve transplant success.