A Little Help Planting Trees


Q: We have a summer cabin that is in a wooded area. The trees in the woods are getting old, and not too many young trees are growing. We want to plant some of the seeds from the existing trees, but we won’t be able to tend to them very often, as the property is about a six-hour drive from home.
We mainly want them to grow them on one side of the property, where it will be hard to water them. We have tried planting them directly, but none ever seem to come up. There are oaks, walnuts, maples and a few other large trees that we are not sure of. What is the best way to plant some seeds to be sure they grow?
A: All trees produce seeds in one shape or another. Sometimes the seeds are encased in shells that we usually call nuts, and sometimes they are encased in soft tissue that we would tend to call a fruit. The shells and fruity pulp are there to protect the seeds, keep them dormant and aid in their dispersal.
The main thing to think about when trying to grow a wild plant from seed is what conditions the seed goes through from the time it is produced until the time it should sprout. Then all you have to do is give the seeds similar conditions.
If the seeds are produced in the spring, like many maples, then they probably don’t have much of a dormancy period. They sprout soon after falling off the tree. They can be planted soon after you gather them.
If the seeds are produced in the fall, they will most likely have a dormancy period so they can wait until spring to sprout. If the local conditions are cold, then give them cold, or if the winter conditions are hot and dry, then that is what you give the seed.
Rather than planting the seeds in the wooded area where animals can eat them as they sprout, I suggest planting them in a little nursery.
Seeds collected in the spring can be planted in pots of forest soil. The pots can be protected by fencing and kept near the house so they can be watered. They can be grown at your normal residence and transported back when they have grown as big as you want them to. The larger plants will survive better between trips to the cabin and can be protected by individual fencing until they are big enough to not be bothered by the animals.
Seeds collected in the fall can be planted in pots and covered with wire mesh and mulch for the winter. They can also be kept in a bucket outdoors, or they can be kept in a bag in the freezer until spring and then planted. Do not let the seeds dry out in the moisture-robbing atmosphere of the fridge. They can be planted in a warm, sunny location after at least 90 days of cold.
Plant the seeds in the soil about one or two times the diameter of the seed. If there is a husk, like the walnut has, or a fleshy fruit, like a cherry has around a pit, you can take it off before planting. Chemicals in the husk or fruit help prevent the seeds from sprouting too soon. Taking them off will speed up the process.
When you gather the seeds, keep the heavier ones. Lightweight ones may not have enough energy stored to survive the winter or may have been partially eaten by insects. Don’t be too discouraged if not many seeds sprout. Sometimes tree seeds take more than one winter to sprout.
Email questions to Jeff Rugg at To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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