Context: Seeding is common practice for ecological restoration, but establishment rates can be low. For seeds to successfully establish they must transition through early life stages of germination, emergence, and (initial) survival. Examining these demographic processes for seeds sown under a range of abiotic conditions can identify failure points and inform techniques to improve seed use. Aims: Here we quantified seed and seedling life-stage transitions in five reconstructed soils across four varying levels of simulated rainfall using five species (Acacia hilliana, Acacia inaequilatera, Indigofera monophylla, Triodia pungens, and Triodia wiseana) commonly seeded for mined land restoration of the Pilbara bioregion in north-west Western Australia. Methods: Germination, emergence, and survival were measured over a 6 week period and transition probabilities between each life-stage transition were modelled for each treatment combination. Key results: For four species, both rainfall amount and/or soil substrate significantly influenced germination probability. Rainfall was the more significant determinant, with germination greatest under the higher rainfall regimes of 120-280 mm, irrespective of soil type. Following germination, emergence of both Acacia spp. was positively influenced by soils containing topsoil, suggesting the microenvironment of soils containing topsoil was most favourable during this emergence phase. The effect of substrate was less clearcut for I. monophylla and Triodia spp, where emergence was most limited in substrates comprised solely of overburden waste material and the lowest rainfall regime exacerbated emergence failure, relative to germination success. When compared to the well-watered, 100% topsoil substrate, seedling survival of all species was most constrained in the 100% overburden waste, demonstrating these reconstructed mining substrates compromise seedling recruitment. Conclusions: This study underscores that successful seedling recruitment in this ecosystem is dependent on frequent, and repeated, rainfall events above a certain threshold (≥120 mm) and highlights the beneficial effects of sowing seeds in a substrate containing topsoil. Implications: Future seeding technologies should focus on improving the moisture relations of the microsite to offset the recruitment challenges experienced by seeds sown in hostile growing environments such as the overburden wastes tested here. © 2023 Journal of Primary Health Care. All rights reserved.