How to Grow Conifers From Seed

Learn how to grow conifers from seed, including understanding how nature reproduces conifers, growing tips, stratification, feeding conifer seedlings and transplanting new conifers.

| September/October 1982

Growing conifers from seed

Your chances of success will be much improved if you take the time to understand how Mother Nature goes about reproducing conifers.


Whether you plant a single tree or a mighty forest, you'll find pleasure and satisfaction learning how to grow conifers from seed. 

We've all heard the old saw, "Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow." Well, the sighing, whispering conifer forests that still cover much of North America sprang from humble beginnings, too. In fact, these beautiful and useful trees have a hard time even getting started on their own.

However, that doesn't mean that evergreens are necessarily difficult to grow. With a little patience and a dollop of knowledge, there's no reason that you can't have the pleasure and satisfaction of learning how to grow conifers from seed to trees.

The trick to growing conifers (a group including pine, spruce, fir, and other narrow-leaved evergreens) lies in understanding how to work in harmony with nature . . . first to sprout the seeds and then to protect the delicate young plants from disease. As you likely know, conifer seeds (some of which are as large as a quarter-inch in diameter, while others are minute) are tucked between the scales of cones. The best time to gather the life-carrying nodules is in the fall, when the fibrous "petals" at the base of the woody husks have begun to open, indicating ripeness. Simply pick or clip off some cones and place them in a dish. As they dry, the seeds should loosen and drop out ... though occasionally a stubborn piece of "fruit" will have to be dismantled in order to get at the nuggets within.

At this point, your chances of success will be much improved if you take the time to understand how Mother Nature goes about reproducing conifers. The seeds of evergreens don't sprout as readily as do, say, garden variety marigolds. Nature, you see, must protect her future forests from such catastrophes as fire, drought, and disease . . . and does so by means of stratagems to prevent an entire crop of seeds from coming up (and thus being vulnerable) all at one time. Instead, some of the cone-borne kernels begin to grow immediately, while others may lie dormant for a very long time.

Therefore, if you were to simply stick wild conifer seeds in the ground, it might be years before any of them began to grow! Some wouldn't sprout until bacteria and fungi had eaten away at their coatings. Others would burgeon only following exposure to fire . . . after repeated freezing or thawing . . . or in response to some other natural sequence of events. The key to success, then, is to speed germination in some way that replicates nature's own processes.

10/13/2013 11:04:44 AM

These guidelines are working for me! I happened to pick up a small pine cone in France in the spring, simply for a collage I was going to make from all our travel detritus. After the cone sat on the table for several days, I noticed several black dots had accumulated under it (conifer seeds, but of course!). We dampened them, then chilled them for several weeks, then popped them into a benign (if not completely soil-less) medium. After a week, we had our first sprouts. The plant-lets are delightfully different from the lettuces (etc) we've heretofore grown. Here's hoping!

d. canale
11/8/2008 2:01:12 PM

thanks, very useful info

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