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Past Articles Library | Trees | Growing and Caring for the Versatile Cedar Part II

One approach to getting a grove of cedar trees is to purchase them from a nursery and plant them in your yard.  But horticulture science has proven that trees do better if they are started in the environment by which they will mature.   To find locally grown cedars, one may decide to dig up “wild” varieties.  While this will work if the tree is small, the negative to this approach is that it depletes the native species in many areas.  A better approach is to planting hyperlocal cedars is to grow your own from seed.

But where do you find cedar seeds?  The answer is simple and that is from a cedar tree.   How can you find these seeds?  To answer this question, we must first look at the lifecycle of a cedar tree.   Cedar trees produce both male and female pinecones.  The pinecones on the top of the tree are typically male cones while the female cones are located farther down on the tree. 

The female cones will remain closed until they are fertilized by the male cones.  It can take the cones after fertilization up to 5 years to ripen.  A good sign that the cone has ripened is if the cone “petals” are open and/or on the ground.

Once you find or pick your fertilized female cones, the next step in the process of growing your own local cedars is to release the seeds.  This can be done by tearing the cone apart or soak the seeds in water.  This later approach is best since it allows you to remove hollowed out seeds that will not germinate.

After you have placed your seeds in a bowl of water and it has sat for a couple of hours, you may notice that seeds and pulp are floating on top of the water.  These floating seeds are the ones that will not germinate.  In doing so, skim off the pulp and floating seeds.   Dispose of in the trash.

To the remaining seeds, remove them from the water and separate from the cone.  Add 8 teaspoons of liquid citric acid or lemon juice to one gallon of water.  Place the seeds in this liquid and soak for 4 days. 

While you are waiting for the seeds to soak, prepare for the next stage of this process.  To begin, fill a jar or sealable bag with moistened peat moss or sand.  Once that is done and the 4 days have passed, place the treated seeds in the moistened planting medium and place in the refrigerator.  Leave in the refrigerator for 3 months making sure to check the planting medium’s moisture every 2 weeks.   This process may seem drawn out but it ii mimics the natural environment where cool temperatures occur naturally.  This mimicking process is called stratification.   

Once 3 months have passed, remove your seeds from the medium and study them.  Separate those whose seed coats have cracked open or have roots growing out the bottom.  The remaining seeds can be exposed to the cold again or just thrown away. 

The seeds are now ready to plant but before moving on to that stage; a few tasks will need to be preformed.  First, the proper container will need to be selected.  You will need one that has a drainage hole in the bottom and that is at least 3 inches in depth.  Once the container(s) has been found, the next step in this process is to clean the container(s).  This is done by placing the pot(s) in a bucket of water with a capful of bleach.  Scrub to remove any soil and debris off the pot and leave soaking for 10 minutes.  After that, rinse the planter in clear water and place outside to dry in the bright sun. 

Once the container is dry, put drainage material in the bottom of the pot making sure to cover the hole(s).  Drainage material can be potshards, small stones or paper coffee filters.   After that is done, fill with potting soil.  Plant one seed to a depth of 1 inch per pot and gently water until you seed moisture coming out from the bottom of the pot.  Next, place container on a sunny windowsill. 

Continue to monitor soil moisture and water when the soil feels dry.  Never let the soil completely dry out. 

Seeds will break ground in 5 to 10 days but can take up to 5 weeks for complete germination.  If nothing has broke ground by the 5 week mark, your seeds are not going to germinate. 

In the spring, when the weather has warmed up and the chance of frost has passed, you may begin to think about planting your cedar outside.  But before you run to the garden shed for the shovel, you will need to introduce your tree to the outside environment.  This process is referred to as hardening off.

To harden off properly takes time so plan to start this process 6 weeks prior to your local frost-free date.  Once you have this date, gradually take out your cedar seedling outside.  Start this process by placing it outside for an hour in the shade and then increase over time until you leave it outside all day. 

Do not plant your cedar in the ground until it has reached 6 or more inches in height.  After the tree has reached that height, prepare the garden space by digging a hole that is twice the width of the container and no deeper than the container.  Next, cut away the pot from the root mass and gently tease the roots so that they are no longer growing in the shape of the pot.  Then, place the tree in the hole and fill in.  Add a layer of well-seasoned compost on top of the freshly planted tree making sure that the compost is 3 inches away from the trunk.  To finish off the planting, add mulch of choice.

What if you do not want to start your cedar tree indoors?  Do not worry; cedars can be started outdoors without much problem.   The process for outdoor production starts off with digging a trench that is 1 inch deep to plant your seeds.   The seeds should be spaced 6 to 8 inches apart.  Once the seeds have been placed in the trench, top the trench with removed soil, water in to remove air bubbles and add additional soil as needed.  To prevent rodents from finding and eating the seeds, cover the area with burlap, straw or mulch.  Monitor the area for growth, which can take up to 2 years.  Once you begin to see cedars popping up through the ground remove the “mulch” layer and care for as you would any other seedling.

Cedars are a very diverse tree that can be grown in many different areas.  They can go beyond a specimen tree and if you are looking for a unique idea for the use of cedar trees, read Growing and Caring for the Versatile Cedar.

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