Nucleation is a successional process in which extant vegetation facilitates seed dispersal and recruitment of other individuals and species around focal points in the landscape, leading to ecosystem recovery. This is an important process in disturbed sites where regeneration is limited by abiotic conditions or restrictive seed dispersal. We investigated forest recovery in a large burned area of evergreen temperate rainforest in southern Chile subjected to seasonal soil waterlogging, and assessed the relevance of nucleation processes in overcoming biotic and physical barriers for tree species regeneration. We measured richness and abundance of woody species in relation to patch size, as well as abiotic factors such as light and soil moisture within and outside patches. We found higher tree regeneration in existing patches than in open areas. We recorded an increase of patch size over time, associated with the increase in number of individuals and tree species. Soils in open areas were waterlogged, especially in winter, while patches were not. Trees in patches also acted as perches, enhancing bird-mediated seed rain. Seeds of fleshy-fruited tree species arrived first at patches and seedlings were more frequent in smaller, younger patches, while the number of seedlings of trees with wind-dispersed seeds increased in larger, older patches. Our study shows that woody species seem incapable of recruiting in open and waterlogged soils and depend strongly on extant vegetation patches to establish. In this fire-disturbed evergreen temperate forest regeneration occurs via nucleation, where new individuals contribute to a centrifugal kind of patch growth. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.