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Height development of Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) transplants was studied on 22 sites prepared by disc trenching or mounding. At the age of 4–9 years the plantations were surveyed using a multistage sampling design. For every planted spruce on a plot, the past annual height increments were measured as far into the past as possible. Multilevel mixed linear modelling was used to analyse the variation in growth at different levels (year, stand, cluster, plot, tree) and the effects of climatic and site characteristics on height growth. The within-plantation variation in height growth was higher on mounded sites than on disc-trenched sites. The mean temperature and the precipitation sum of the summer months affected height growth positively. Soil characteristics measured from undisturbed soil did not explain the height growth of seedlings on mounded sites, whereas on disc-trenched sites, the depth of the organic layer and the soil temperature had a positive effect and the depth of the eluvial horizon a negative effect. The modelling approach used proved to be a useful method for examining the sources of variation in development of young plantations.