Growing pine trees from seeds requires a lot of patience, determination and nurturing, but it is well worth the reward at the end. Follow this advice to make sure your time isn’t wasted on incorrect methods.
Step 1 - Collect and Test the Seeds
Female cones are larger than their male counterparts and produce around two seeds or pine nuts beneath each scale. A fallen cone that has opened completely and dried out will generally have no seeds remaining inside, so you’ll want to aim for cones that have not yet opened. Collect these between about September to November and store them in a paper bag in a warm room. Once you can hear rattling when you shake the bag, the seeds will have fallen out of the cones. Some may still be lodged inside, so inspect the cones closely and use tweezers to remove them if you have to.
To test the viability of seeds, place them in a container of water, keeping the ones that float, as they are most likely to germinate. Discard the ones that sink. Once you have enough viable seeds, dry them and place them in a plastic bag or plant them immediately, depending on when they were harvested.
The best times to plant the seeds are late December or early January, expecting germination to occur by March or April, so if they are harvested early, you will need to store them. Do so by keeping them in a plastic bag in the freezer for up to 90 days.
Step 2 - Stratify the Seeds
Many varieties of pine seeds need to be treated to prepare them for germination, in a process called stratification. If you previously stored your seeds in the freezer, you will first have to warm them up before you can begin. Soak the seeds in a bowl of lukewarm water to soak for 24-48 hours. Then, drain this water and place the seeds in another plastic bag to begin stratifying them in the fridge for another 60 to 90 days.
Step 3 – Plant Your Stratified Seeds
Get some small pots, about four inches, and fill them with potting soil mix comprised of three parts potting soil, one part peat moss, one part pine bark, and one part garden sand. Place a seed about an inch beneath the surface and then put another quarter of an inch worth of soil mix over the top. Make sure these pots are placed near a sunny window and watered regularly. Be very patient, as it could take a few months to notice any change.
Keep turning the pots around to ensure the pine tree seedlings grow vertically, since they will lean towards the window for sun.
Step 4 - Transplant the Seedlings Outdoors
Once the seedlings have grown between eight inches to a foot tall, they can be transplanted outdoors in one-gallon size pots, preferably made of peat if you don’t intend to move it later. They will likely outgrow these pots after the first two years, so should be then relocated to their permanent location in the ground if you plan to change it.
Be sure that whatever the pot is made from has holes to promote drainage, as a pine tree can easily drown in too much water.
Step 5 - Protect from Dehydration
Baby pine trees are susceptible to dehydration and sunburn, so make a screen from plywood board and shade your tree from the afternoon sun on the west side. Also make sure there are no overstory trees around which shade your pine tree too much. Do not forget to water your pine tree frequently.
Step 6 - Cap Buds and Mulch
You need to make sure a radius of about three feet around the pine tree is kept free from weeds and grasses, so mulch regularly.
To keep deer away from your tree, staple a paper around the bud, protecting the terminal bud yet allowing growth through the paper. The best time to do this process of bud capping is in the fall, before the ground is covered with snow.
Step 7 - Prune
Occasional pruning is necessary to remove damage from blister rust and help the tree grow straighter. However, you should leave 2/3 of the tree height and branches, since removal of too many needles and branches will slow the growth considerably.