Is it possible to propagate pine trees from seed?
Yes — trees can be propagated from seed and cuttings, or by grafting, budding or layering. Fruit and nut trees are usually grafted or budded, which assures high-quality fruit, helps trees mature faster, and allows the rootstock to control tree size and add disease resistance. According to horticulturist Alan Toogood in the American Horticultural Society’s book Plant Propagation, many named ornamental varieties are grown from cuttings because they rarely come in true to type if grown from seed. But for certain tree species, starting from seed allows you to produce lots of trees very economically.
To start growing pine trees from seed, gather large brown (or slightly green) cones in fall. The cones should be closed; if open, they probably have already released their seeds. Toogood says trees that have a lot of cones are more likely to have viable seeds. Lay the cones in an open box at room temperature. When dry, the cones will open and release their seeds. If they don’t open, place the box in a hot spot (104 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit) until they do. Use tweezers to remove any remaining seeds inside the cones.
To improve odds of germination, stratify the seeds: Mix them with moist peat or sand, place them in a clear plastic bag, and refrigerate them for three to seven weeks. (If the seeds germinate in the refrigerator, sow them immediately.) Sow the seeds in 3-inch pots, and provide bottom heat of about 60 degrees. Seedlings can be transplanted outdoors into larger pots in spring, when they’re about 2 inches tall (six to eight weeks after they germinate).
Photo By Fotolia/Gabriele Maltinti: Gather closed, large brown (or slightly green) cones in fall to gather viable seeds.
Vicki Mattern is a contributing editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, book editor and freelance magazine writer. She has edited or co-authored seven books on gardening, and lives and works from her home in northwestern Montana. You can find Vicki on Google+.