Human development has resulted in significant loss of forested areas and associated biodiversity. Preserving and restoring woodland habitats is critical for recovering this biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides. While forest restoration projects typically focus on improving degraded woodlands, fewer studies have investigated the conversion of suburban, lawn-dominated landscapes back into healthy forest ecosystems. In this study, we evaluated different strategies for establishing a forest ecosystem on land that for over 20 years had been maintained as turf grass. Five native, herbaceous woodland plants (Arisaema triphyllum, Carex pensylvanica, Diarrhena americana, Geranium maculatum, and Podophyllum peltatum) were planted around five nurse trees (Acer rubrum, Amelanchier arborea, Cercis canadensis, Tsuga canadensis, and Viburnum opulus var. americanum) in four soil treatments: bare soil; 5 cm of leaf mulch; rototilling and 5 cm of leaf mulch; and 10 cm of leaf mulch. We assessed the prevalence of weeds in each soil treatment two years after planting. We also analyzed survivorship and performance data seven years after planting to evaluate how nurse tree species and soil treatment affect herbaceous species. We found that mulching decreased the prevalence of weedy species and did not affect survivorship or performance of herbaceous transplants. Overall survivorship varied significantly, with P. peltatum having the highest survivorship and C. pensylvanica the lowest. Survivorship was influenced by nurse tree species, and was lowest around T. canadensis. Similar restoration projects should consider using species that were successful in this project, avoid planting near T. canadensis, and consider leaf mulch for weed control.