Encroachment of trees into low-productivity grasslands is a serious threat to grassland biodiversity throughout Europe. Although the rate of encroachment of trees into grassland is variable and poorly understood, it is thought to result from variation in tree seedling recruitment, which is limited mainly by the availability of safe sites and the dispersal distances of propagules. In this study, we established spatially explicit models of seedling recruitment for two major sub-Mediterranean trees: Quercus pubescens Willd. and Fagus sylvatica L. We quantified the spatial distribution of Q. pubescens and F. sylvatica seedlings up to 20 years old at three grassland sites. We also quantified the spatial distribution and size of mature trees and of the two dominant species of shrubs, Buxus sempervirens L. and Juniperus communis L., at each of the three sites. Ninety-eight percent of the regeneration took place under shrub canopy. Quercus pubescens seedlings showed higher seedling production per unit of canopy area and longer mean effective dispersal distances than did F. sylvatica seedlings. Quercus pubescens seedlings also had a large advantage over F. sylvatica seedlings for establishment in open areas. Juniperus shrubs were better safe sites for the establishment of Q. pubescens and F. sylvatica seedlings than were Buxus shrubs. We calculated indices of seedling dispersal limitation and safe site availability for recruitment for four dates. In the dolomitic Causse grasslands examined in this study, the availability of safe sites for germination and survival was far more important than seedling dispersal limitation for recruitment of both tree species.