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Past Articles Library | Trees | How to Grow a Pine Tree from a Pine Cone


Have you ever dreamed of sneaking over to your neighbor’s yard and “borrowing” their beautiful pine tree?  Or have you ever wanted to share that special Christmas tree that you planted in your yard years ago?  Well, if the answer is yes to either or both of these questions, then I have a solution for you.  The solution I mention is propagating your own pine tree through its pine cone.

There are a couple of reasons to go with this approach when it comes to propagating pine trees.  One, it is cheaper to do this compared to purchasing one from the nursery.  Second, you may not know where your tree has come from, which can affect the success of that tree.  It is well known in the industry that locally grown plant material does better than shipped in horticulture products.  The reason for this is the fact that the local plant material has developed strategies to deal with local weather and growing conditions.  Shipped in products do not have this local knowledge nor will it develop.  Lastly, while the germination rate is typically low for trees started with seeds, it is well worth the effort.

To begin the process of starting a pine tree from a pine cone, you will need to find a pine tree that you would like to have in your yard.  Keep in mind that a tree’s beauty comes from its parents and in doing so a beautiful parent will produce good-looking offspring while less desirable trees will produce less attractive offspring. 

Once you have selected your tree, keep an eye on it until fall.  At this point, you will need to select your pine cones.  Do not pick up ones that have fallen on the ground open.  These pine cones have already dropped their seeds.  Instead, select closed cones on the tree.  Removing them can be tricky but simply grasp the cone and twist.  Once you have collected your cones, place in a paper bag and store in a warm room.

Check the bag periodically by shaking it.  Once you hear rattling in the bag, this is an indication that the seeds have fallen out of the cones and you are ready for the next step. 

Remove the seeds from the bag and place in a zip up style plastic bag that has been labeled with species and date.  Place in freezer for 90 days. 

After the 90 days have passed, remove the seeds from the freezer and allow to warm up naturally.  Next, fill a bowl of lukewarm water and place the seeds in the bowl.  Allow the seeds to set in this water for 24 to 48 hours.  Once that time period has passed, drain away the water and place seeds in a sealable type plastic bag and store in the refrigerator for 90 days.


While you are waiting for that time period to pass, go ahead and mix up the potting medium.  To create this, you will need 3 parts potting soil, 1 part each of peat moss, pine bark, and garden sand.  Do not use bleached sand for this planting medium.  The bleach itself has salt in it which will affect the seeds. 

Once the 90 day period has passed, the next step is to plant the seed.  To make this job easier and prevent from damaging the roots, one will need to fill 4-inch peat pots with the planting medium described previously. 

Next, place a seed in each container and top with ¼ inch of the potting medium.  Water in and place on a sunny windowsill.  If you choose to put your seeds outside, make sure that they not only receive a lot of sunny light but also protect from the wind.

Keep an eye on the soil’s moisture.  Allowing the soil to dry out can cause the seed/seedling to die. 

Water the seeds daily as soon as you see growth appearing through the soil.

Once the seedling is 8 to 12 inches in height, it is time to transplant them.

Transplanting can occur in a container or planted in the ground.  If you choose the container option, keep in mind that the pot will need to be brought in to keep the roots from freezing.  Bringing in can mean into the home or into an unheated garage.  If you do not want to have to relocate your container planted pine, consider planting it in the landscape after the season. 

To plant your pine seedling in a container is easy but you will need a 6-inch pot with a drainage hole.  Pines can quickly drown in a too wet soil.  Planting in a container with a drainage hole will prevent this from happening. 

Once you have your container, place drainage material in the bottom and fill ¼ of the way up with the potting medium created earlier.  Next, place your seedling in the container and fill around the seedling with soil.  There is no reason to remove the seedling from the peat pot since it is organic.  After that is done, gently push down on the soil and water in.  Continue to water until you see moisture coming out the bottom.  Add additional soil as need to make sure the soil level is equal to the level the seedling was planted in originally.

If you choose to plant your pine seedling in the ground, you will have a little homework to do first.  To begin this process, one will need to remove any vegetation in the area.  While you can apply an herbicide, I would suggest that you smother out the vegetation with a sheet of cardboard.  Blocking out the sunlight for a couple of months will kill the plant material.

Once the area is cleared of plant life, loosen the soil with a spade.  After that is done, test the percolation rate of the soil by digging a foot deep hole and fill up with water.  If after 12 hours the hole has drained, then you can proceed.  On the other hand, if the hole still has water in it you will need to select another site. 

Now that your site has been selected, you will need to dig a hole that is twice the width of the peat pot and the same depth.  Once that is done, rake the side of the hole with a rake to prevent soil glazing and place potted seedling in the hole.  Fill in with soil, water in and fill again as needed. 

Next, add mulch to the newly planted area.  Since the tree is young, you will need to provide some type of shade, especially between the hours of 2 to 4 o’clock p.m.  If you have not planted your tree near larger trees, do not fret.  You can create your seedling’s own shade by taking a 2 by 3 foot piece of plywood, painting it and securing it on the west side of the tree.  This simple step will create the needed shade.

To protect your tree from deer and rodents, encircle the seedling with chicken wire or plastic tubes designed for this purpose. 

Once the tree is in the ground, continue to monitor the soil moisture and water as needed.



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