The Incredible Seed Company Guide Fall Tree Seeds Part 1

Posted by Hilary & Christopher Mueller on

Part 1: How to plant or store tree seeds

(Check out Part 2 for how to care for your baby trees)

We are so excited to be launching our all new Fall Seed Catalogue in September 2018! Peek on our website and you will find that we have already started to add many new beautiful fruit and nut trees, ornamental shrubs, wonderful shade trees, and more!

If you have never grown trees or shrubs from seed before, we thought you might appreciate a little guidance. Preparing and planting tree seeds is a entirely different process than planting annual or perennial vegetables and flowers.

Growing trees from seed saves you money and makes it possible to grow some really unique and rare varieties! The selection of seeds we offer is much more varied than what you may find at your local nursery or garden centre.

Our collection of tree seeds has been selected for Canada's Northern climate and features cold hardy fruit and nut trees, and ornamentals. And, like all of our seeds, they are only the best natural, non-GMO, open pollinated and untreated seeds.


Planting tree seeds in Fall

If you have your seeds ready in Fall, you may decide to plant them outside. You can go ahead and do that as long as the ground hasn’t yet frozen.

You can plant them directly in the ground, but if you aren’t sure yet where you want your tree or shrub to live permanently, there is a method you can use to overwinter them in pots.

The trick is to dig a trench and place the pot in it, then bury the pot, which will insulate it against freezing temperatures.

Whether you plant your seeds directly in the ground or in buried pots, you should always mulch them well.



Protecting tree seeds from wildlife

If you plant tree seeds outside, they absolutely need some sort of protection from rodents and other wildlife that love to eat and store seeds! This is especially important for the larger seeds, like cherry seeds or nuts.

You can protect the seeds with mesh or hardware cloth over top - a physical barrier that doesn’t seal in moisture or air. Rodents will chew through burlap, so the barrier needs to be metal. The protection should be left on until the seed is officially an established plant.

One Fall, we planted a bunch of acorns, and didn’t protect them properly. Of course, the chipmunks found every single one of them, leaving tiny piles of broken acorn shells where they had been planted!

My very first experince with growing Walnuts was a short lived success. The nuts lived through the Winter in a "dug-in" nursery bed, without hardware cloth overtop. The trees sprouted - how exciting! - AND THEN squirrels dug up and stole the walnuts, baby leaves and all!

Don’t underestimate rodents - they are very thorough and resourceful creatures.



What is stratification?

To properly store tree seeds, you need to understand stratification. Stratification refers to the warm or cold dormant period a seed naturally requires to sprout in Spring.

So you can imagine - a walnut tree, for example, drops its seed in the Fall because that’s the natural time of ripe maturity; it needs that cold winter period before it sprouts in the Spring. Its nature’s way of communicating that winter is happening, and when the cold spell ends, it signifies it is a safe time to sprout. That’s the natural freeze-thaw cycle.

Some seeds have a warm stratification period, such as apricot or plum. In July/August, for example, a plum seed may lay rotting in the hot sun for 30-60 days - this is its natural warm stratification process.

While not all seeds require a stratification period, some will have a minimum specified requirement for a warm period, a cold dormant period, or sometimes both - like American Holly.

If a seed require a warm and/or cold stratification period, we always indicate this in our catalogue descriptions as well as on our seed packets.


When a seed requires cold stratification

If you aren’t prepared to plant seeds immediately, or if you buy them too late in the season to plant outside, you can still prepare for Spring by tricking the seeds with a cold stratification period in the fridge.

Mix your seeds into a moistened, but not wet, medium like peat or vermiculite, to ensure they don’t dry out. Then store them in the fridge for the required cold stratification period. It's that easy!

You may have a slightly lower germination rate this way, but it usually works quite well if done properly!

Cold stratification can be as short as two weeks or as long as three months. The stratification requirements for each seed are the minimum period required. It doesn’t hurt the seed if it stays in the fridge another 30-60 days - it will just think it is experiencing a longer winter. Leave them in the fridge until you are ready to plant indoors or until it is warm enough to plant outdoors.


When a seed requires warm stratification

As long as the weather is mild - over 10 degrees Celcius - for the required warm stratification period, you can plant seeds directly outside and that will be enough. Nature will take care of the rest.

If, however, you order a bit later, you can leave the seeds inside at room temperature in a breathable, well-drained container - like a terracotta pot with peatmoss - for the required warm stratification period. It is important to water these seeds as you would a house plant. If seeds dry out too much they will die. (Remember, you are simulating that late-Summer rot that would occur in Nature.) After the required warm period, you can then refrigerate them for the required cold stratification until you are ready to plant.

The seeds will behave as if they have gone through Fall and Winter and be ready to sprout in Spring!


When a seed requires soaking or scarification

Some seeds, like the Korean Maple or Honey Locust require a soaking period because of their very hard seed coat.

Others require scarification, like the Kentucky Coffee Tree or Golden Chain Tree. This usually involves rubbing the seed coat with sand paper, to create a more porous surface for water to get in.

Both of these processes improve germination rates.


Cold hardy tree seeds just need the right conditions

 Cold hardy tree seeds don’t require the same kind of environment to sprout as seeds like tomatoes and peppers. If you put them in a heated, moist environment - such as moist soil on a heat mat - they will rot.

This is a common mistake, because many of us are used to starting annual seeds this way, with a lot of babying and care.

Hardy tree seeds require certain conditions, but beyond that they don’t need special care. It is important that they aren’t allowed to completely dry out or rot and some require certain minimum periods of warm and cold temperatures.

As long as you provide the right conditions, they will be fine - it is really pretty easy to grow your own trees from seed!


What to expect in Spring

You’ve stored your seeds properly, following the stratification requirements listed on the seed packet, and now temperatures are creeping up and you are thinking of Spring! What’s next?

As long as it has undergone its minimum stratification period(s), the seed can be planted inside at room temperature at any time. You could plant early inside in a pot and plant it outside as a seedling. It will need to be hardened off somewhat and be protected from hard frost, but it will have a bit of a head start. 

Or you could plant the seed directly outside in early Spring once the ground is thawed, mulch it well, and allow it to grow in its natural environment.


Trust nature and all will be well

As with most gardening, growing tree seeds is a practice in trust and faith. It can take a long time for seeds to sprout. During a long winter - like the seeds - we must have faith and trust that Spring will return!

Remember, Nature knows what She’s doing. Your seeds will grow and you don’t need to fiddle with them too much. Have faith in Nature’s process!

If you have questions or concerns about storing and planting your tree seeds, let us know. We are here to support you!

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  • Hi Alice,

    We plant all the larger nuts, like acorns, walnuts, pawpaws, etc., in 6" deep raised beds. Then we attach the hardware cloth along the tops or the boards. You can use a staple hammer/gun or those U-shaped nails used for fencing to attach it.

    Hilary Mueller on
  • How do you hardwire a mesh over your acorns?

    Alice Fontaine on
  • Of your selection of trees and shrubs, what would you recommend for windy, salty conditions? We are on a hill, overlooking the water and perhaps 200 metres back from the shoreline.

    Juliette on
  • thanks for the great information
    lyle mckain on
  • Info on price of (MORUS ALBA) seeds. thank you very much

    jean-guy benoit on

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