Restoration of riparian plant communities on bare soil requires germination of seeds and establishment of seedlings. However, species that are present in the soil seed bank do not always establish in the vegetation. Temperature, moisture conditions and soil type could play a major role in the establishment of riparian plant communities, through impacting seedling emergence. We studied the effects of temperature, combinations of temperature and moisture conditions, and soil type on seedling emergence and mortality of perennial reeds (Typha latifolia and Phragmites australis) and annual or biannual pioneer species (Senecio congestus, Rumex maritimus and Chenopodium rubrum). The responses to the environmental conditions were species-specific and resulted in context-dependent differences in proportions of species emerging from the soil seed bank. Typha latifolia and S. congestus preferred wet or very wet conditions, C. rubrum and R. maritimus preferred dry to very dry conditions. Phragmites australis was able to establish under all conditions. Both cold and very dry conditions resulted in low emergence and survival, which was not fully compensated for when conditions became favorable again. Senecio congestus, R. maritimus and C. rubrum benefitted from secondary seedling emergence when, after a very dry period, the weather became very wet again, while T. latifolia and P. australis remained absent. When the conditions remained wet, more seedlings emerged from sand than from clay. However, when the soil was drying out, fewer seedlings emerged from sand than from clay. We propose that using information on plant species-specific responses to abiotic environmental conditions during germination, emergence and establishment can help to restore different target riparian plant communities.