Pocket planting reclamation techniques developed in the 1970s for revegetating blocky quarrying waste have met with very limited success, often because the low water-holding capacity of the waste and limited root development within a small volume of planting pocket material result in severe drought mortality. We tested pocket planting approaches for waste tip reclamation at Europe's largest slate quarry, and compared materials for enhancing the continuity of water- and nutrient-holding down into the interior of the waste tip. When small compost-filled pocket planting bags were placed above slate processing fines (SPF) or water absorbent cross-linked polyacrylamide gel ("hydrogel"), tree growth rates increased in comparison with pocket planting bags alone. The SPF significantly improved tree survival especially during severe drought, but survival was not enhanced by the use of hydrogel. The sorption characteristics of hydrogel indicated that its presence may help to reduce nutrient leaching, but that it may have a negative effect on nitrogen availability. A more likely explanation for the poor performance of pure hydrogel is that it did not maintain sufficient available water, because of discontinuities caused by shrinkage and movement of the hydrogel, and/or degradation of water-holding capacity with environmental exposure. However, the root growth observed in the hydrogel treatments suggests that this technique, if adapted to reduce the effects of hydrogel shrinkage by using finer-grade hydrogel, mixing it with other soil-forming material, and reducing its exposure to extremes of temperature or sunlight, might have the potential to improve the growth and survival of trees planted on sites where delivery of heavy materials such as SPF is impractical. Fine mineral processing waste is freely available at active quarries and should be seen as a key resource for reclamation schemes.