Planting Stratified Tree Seeds In Spring

Posted by Hilary & Christopher Mueller on

Revised October 2022

Spring has Sprung & you’ve made it through another Winter! 

You’ve been so patient; your precious tree seeds have been sleeping in the fridge for months.

Your FAMILY has been so patient with your precious tree seeds sleeping in the fridge for months…😉

Now, the seasons are changing & it’s time to take those seeds out of the fridge & watch ‘em grow! 

 

STRATIFIED TREE SEEDS - WHAT YOU MIGHT SEE

Sprouted Seeds. Yay, your tree seeds are awake! Be very gentle with rootlets when handling them. If you notice roots or sprouts & you aren’t yet ready to plant, you can leave them in the fridge for a few more weeks MAX. 

Seeds That Haven't Sprouted. Great! These seeds are finishing up their Winter cycles & getting ready to sprout.

Squishy Rotten Seeds. Yuck. Remove & compost the rotten seeds. Gently wash the remaining viable seeds with cold water.

Surface Mold But The Seeds Are Still Firm. Rinse the seeds with cool water. If Mold has fully penetrated some seeds, throw those seeds away.

 Cold Stratified Tree Seeds

 

 Now you’re ready to plant! 

 

 

Direct Seeding In A Permanent Location

Planting a tree in its final, forever home is hands down, the best way to do it. It requires less work from you & allows the tree’s root system to develop without interruption or injury.

When? If you’ve chosen plants suited to your hardiness zone, you can plant your seeds as soon as the soil is workable. Mulching will insulate the soil & protect your seeds from late, heavy frosts. 

How many seeds? We recommend planting 3+ seeds in the same location & then thinning to the strongest sapling in the Spring of the second year.

How deep? A good rule of thumb for planting tree seeds is that the seed should be planted at a depth equal to its size. Plant a Butternut 1½ - 2 inches deep. Plant a Plum seed ½ an inch, etc. A handful of the varieties we carry require light for germination. See individual packages or variety webpages for details.

Mulch: Tree seeds germinate best when exposed to consistent moisture. Two inches of  mulch can help with this. We recommend using Ramial Mulch (new growth from hardwood trees) which nourishes the soil as it rots, instead of locking up nutrients. Sprinkling crushed, roasted eggshells or diatomaceous earth on top of the mulch will deter slugs. As your tree grows, move the mulch 3-4 inches away from the trunk to promote healthy bark.

Rodents: It is imperative to protect your planted tree seeds (even after they’ve sprouted) from squirrels & chipmunks. They bury & dig up nuts & seeds for a living! We’ve seen them carry off three inch tall hazelnut plants. Heartbreaking! The best way to deter rodents from stealing your buried treasure is to secure framed, 1/2 hardware cloth over the planted area.

Protecting Tree Seeds

*It is important to remove the hardware cloth as the tree grows or it will girdle the stem; killing the tree.  

When will you see leaves? If you are used to planting vegetable & flower seeds, you may be surprised when you don’t see any primary leaves within the first few weeks of planting. Rest assured that there is lots of action happening underground. Most deciduous tree species develop a taproot before a stem. Depending on temperatures & other variables, shoots & leaves may take a few months to appear.

 

 

Direct Seeding In A Nursery Bed

If you haven’t settled on a permanent location, are growing plants for another property or are developing your foodscape with larger amounts of seedlings, using a nursery bed is the way to go. A nursery bed is a densely planted, temporary in-the-ground space for you to house your perennials.

Planting Trees In A Nursery Bed

Everything discussed above applies to planting seeds in a nursery bed, with a few variations:

How many seeds? In a nursery bed, we recommend planting 1-3 seeds in the same hole, depending on expected germination rates. 

Spacing: 6 inches between plants will ensure enough water & nutrient uptake.

Mulch: Mulch the entire bed as directed above, using ramial mulch.

Rodents: Cover the entire bed with framed, ½ hardware cloth.

 

 

Planting Your Tree Seeds In Pots

Planting your tree seeds in pots is a great option if you haven’t yet prepared an outdoor space or if your seeds have begun sprouting early. It can be very therapeutic to have baby trees growing in your home during late Winter. So long as their cold stratification period has ended, you can plant your tree seeds in pots. As with direct seeding there are some important things to consider before planting.

Planting Tree Seeds In Pots

The Appropriate Pot Size. Small seed = small pot. Larger nut tree seeds do best in 1L pots or larger. Fill your pots all the way to allow lots of space for root development. Plant seeds to a depth equal to their size. Example: Hazelnuts are planted at ½ an inch.

Where To Keep The Pots. If planting in Spring, keep the potted tree seeds outside. If it’s still Winter, keep them inside & harden off in the Spring. 

Heatmats. Heat mats are not required & in many instances will hinder germination.

Sunlight. Baby trees don’t need direct Sunlight in the same way annual vegetable & flower seedlings do. Although they do require some light, they are built to grow in the understory, so indirect Sunlight or dappled shade is just fine. 

Rodents. Potted tree seeds still need protection! Securing ½ hardware cloth over your potted seeds will prevent them from being stolen & eaten.

 

 

Transplanting

The ideal time to transplant your seedlings into their permanent locations is in Autumn, just after the leaves have fallen. This is when the plant is entering its Winter dormancy & is a time of root growth. 

For nursery beds, gently dig up & separate your plants, placing them root down in a bucket of water. For potted trees, remove the pot & gently loosen any pot bound roots.

Dig your holes according to the root span of each plant. Water the empty hole, plant your trees and deeply water. 

If Autumn rolls around & you aren’t ready to plant your trees in their permanent location, bury the entire pot & then actually plant them in the Spring of the following year.

 

There you have it! We hope this article has offered food for thought. If you still have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out! xox

Tree Seed Catalogue

 


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