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 tree babies out of the fridge & watch ‘em grow!
Stratified Tree Seeds - What You Might See
Great! These seeds are finishing up their Winter cycles & getting ready to sprout.
Some Mouldy, Squishy Seeds
Yuck. Remove & compost rotten seeds. Gently wash remaining viable seeds with cold water & return to the fridge in a clean container with new soil / peat moss.
Some Mould But Seeds Are Still Firm
Rinse seeds with cool water. If Mould has fully penetrated some seeds, throw them away & return the remaining seeds to the fridge in a clean container, with new soil / peat moss.
"Now I'm ready to take these seeds out of the fridge. 🥰"
WAIT! Hold everything. For Goodness sake, close the fridge!
You’ve got a few things to think about...
In this article we’ve set out to answer all your Spring tree seed questions, even the ones you didn’t know you had. Starting with…
Q: When is the ideal time to plant your cold stratified tree seeds?
A: Only when you are actually ready! xo
If you’ve been keeping track of your seeds’ stratification requirements, you’ll know when their time is up. It is important to know that, so long as the container they are in is kept moist, cold & mold-free, your seeds can remain in your fridge a little longer than it says on the package. Remember, nature is variable & the length of Winter changes from year to year.
(If you’re here doing your research & don’t actually have your seeds yet; good for you for keeping one step ahead! You’ll love our free, printable stratification charts. Once you get your seeds, these sheets are awesome for keeping track of warm & cold stratification requirements.)
How do I know that I’m ready?
We know from experience that gardeners are really good at buying seeds - so are we! It’s sooo easy, plants are so inspiring & seeds are sooo little…🙄
We also know that coming up with appropriate places for all these amazing plants to live sometimes comes as an afterthought. The biggest thing to consider before ending your tree seeds’ cold stratification period is where you’re going to plant them; in their final home, in a nursery bed or in temporary pots.
Before you bring your seeds out of the fridge, let’s talk about where they're going to live.
Deciding A Tree’s Final Home
Before deciding on a spot on your property, it’s critical to think about the growth habit, as well as the Sun & soil preferences of the species you’re planting. All of this information is available on the individual variety webpages.
- Think about where the leaves are going to fall in Autumn or in the case of Chestnuts, where their spikey seed pods will fall. Think about cleaning your eavestroughs.
- Think about where shade will be cast in your yard or on your home. Will this tree be a functioning part of your house; providing cooling shade to a room in Summer & letting precious daylight in during the Winter? Will a tree eventually cast shade over your prize-winning vegetable garden? Or your neighbour’s pool?
- Are you planting a member of the Walnut family? The roots of Walnuts, Butternuts & (& to a lesser degree Heartnuts, Pecans & Hickory), all produce a protective substance called juglone. While this is good for these trees, it can actually weaken many other plants living within the tree’s root zone. Some plants are more sensitive to juglone than others.
- Are there other well established trees on your property whose large, efficient root systems might already have a monopoly on water & soil nutrients? The root systems of most trees are about three times their canopy & trees of the same lineage work together to ensure they all get enough. If this describes your property, it just means your younger trees will need some extra TLC while getting established themselves.
Now that you’ve got a hold on where to plant your trees, let’s talk about the HOW.
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? In the Spring, you can plant your tree seeds as soon as the soil is workable. All of the perennial varieties we offer are suited for Northern climates & if you’ve chosen plants suited for your hardiness zone your seeds will be fine, even if there are a few more frosts. 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 relative to its size. Plant a Butternut 1½ - 2 inches deep. Plant a Plum seed ½ an inch.… *A handful of the varieties we carry require light for germination. See package or variety’s webpage for details.
Mulch: Tree seeds germinate best when exposed to consistent moisture & 2 inches mulching can help with this. We recommend using Ramial Mulch which will nourish the soil as it rots, instead of locking up nutrients. We recommend sprinkling crushed roasted eggshells or diatomaceous earth on top of the mulch to deter slugs. As your tree grows, move the mulch away from the trunk to preserve health.
*Learn more on Ramial Mulch in our article Cold Hardy Perennials For Zone 4.
Rodents: It is imperative to protect your planted tree seed (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 cover the mulch over each seed with at least 1sqft of ½ inch hardware cloth. Secure the hardware cloth to the ground with either a frame or a stone border.
*It is important to remove the hardware cloth as the tree grows or it will girdle the stem; killing the tree. Trim wires around the plant in Autumn after leaves have fallen & gently lift the mesh up & over the plant.
When will you see leaves? As many of you know, there is a certain degree of trust involved when it comes to planting seeds. 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 your trees. This can be concerning! Rest assured that there is lots of action happening underground. Most deciduous tree species develop a taproot before a stem. It can be normal for leaves to show up a few months after planting.
Direct Seeding In A Nursery Bed
A nursery bed is a densely planted, in-the-ground space for you to house your perennials if you aren’t yet ready to plant them in their final locations. If you haven’t settled on a spot, 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.
Everything discussed above applies to growing trees & shrubs in a nursery bed, but there are a few slight variations:
Spacing: Nursery beds don’t have to be big, even if the trees will be large when fully grown. 6 inches between plants will ensure enough water & nutrient uptake.
Rodents: We recommend covering the entire bed with ½ hardware cloth or chicken wire for larger seeds.
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. Gently dig up & separate your plants & place them roots down in a bucket of water. Dig your holes according to the root span of each plant. Deeply water the empty hole & plant your trees. When backfilling, take care to not bury the stem as the bark has not developed to be underground. This could cause disease & rot.
Mulch: Mulch around your trees as directed above, using ramial mulch & taking care to not bury the stem.
Planting Your Tree Seeds In Pots
Planting your tree seeds in pots can be a great option if you haven’t yet prepared an outdoor space. It can also 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 & because their growth is naturally slow, they won’t get leggy & outgrow their pots before Spring. Just as with direct seeding there are some important things to consider before planting.
Appropriate Pot Size: Small seed = small pot. Larger nut tree seeds do best in 1L pots or larger. Fill your pots up all the way & plant near the surface 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 Are You Keeping These Potted Trees? Potted trees can take up space & it’s important to think about where you’re going to keep them before they are planted outside. Setting discussions with family members & roommates aside(😘), one thing to know is that 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 up in the understory, so indirect Sunlight or dappled shade is just fine.
Caring for Trees in Pots:
- Keep the soil moist but not sopping. There should be no algae growth on soil.
- Heat mats are not required & can actually hinder germination. The exception to this rule is that Pawpaw seed germination improves with bottom heat.
- Harden off potted trees in Spring after all risk of frost has passed. These plants have been growing in a very constant, sheltered environment & need time to adjust to the elements. We recommend dappled shade for potted trees for the duration of Summer.
Transplanting: Follow the above guidelines when it comes to deciding where to plant your trees & how to transplant them. If Autumn rolls around & you aren’t ready to plant your trees in their permanent location, bury the entire pot & 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, we’ve got an entire online library dedicated to tree seed growing tips. Also, don’t hesitate to reach out to contact us! xox
A Few Comments About Extreme Weather
A few years ago in Nova Scotia we had a devastating late frost, IN JUNE! This was devastating for the fruit industry & backyard gardeners alike. We’ve also had Summers of extreme heat & torrential downpours in mid-Winter. So far we are seeing that climate change is bringing big temperature swings & this can be stressful for perennial plants.
Here are some things that we’ve done to take the edge off for our young trees:
Unexpected Hard Frosts
Cover seedlings with a few layers of cotton bedsheets or row cover, construct a mini-polytunnel & if seedlings are still really small create mini green houses using plastic clamshell salad packaging or 2L pop bottles with the bottoms cut off. If you have potted trees, bring them inside. Anything to create a buffer of warmer air.
Extreme Summer Heat
It goes without saying that keeping the soil moist will keep your trees hydrated, but mulch, mulch, mulch! We can’t stress this enough. Water at night, under the mulch, around the stem / trunk so that the soil becomes saturated & not just the mulch. Mulch conserves soil moisture, but it also keeps soil temperatures down. Hot roots are not good for trees!
Frequent Freeze / Thaw Patterns In Winter
The wild winter temperature swings aren’t great for plants that need Winter dormancy periods. We haven’t come up with a solution for this one yet… If you have any ideas, let us know! xo