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How to Plant Trees From Seeds

Have you ever been walking along a sidewalk and noticed a young sapling pushing up through a crack to reach up toward the sunlight? It might seem like the most...

Have you ever been walking along a sidewalk and noticed a young sapling pushing up through a crack to reach up toward the sunlight? It might seem like the most unlikely place for a tree to grow—exhaust fumes, lack of sprinkler systems, minimal space, and an underground battle for resources—but here’s the thing, plants are opportunists. That little tree has found a way to reach a water source, a light source, and an oxygen source. 

In most cases, a tree like that won’t survive for long. It will be removed by the city, trampled repeatedly, strangled by man-made objects, or choked by pollution. In the right conditions, though, trees will grow as much as they can with the resources they are provided. All you need to do is know what they need. 

If you plan on planting a tree from a seed, those needs will evolve greatly. Let’s take a look at what they are.

So what do you need to do to get a tree to grow from seed and make it to maturity?

There’s a lot that goes into planting a tree from a seed and nurturing it on its journey toward maturity. It typically starts with making a plan, choosing a species for your specific location and sourcing the seeds. From there, you are going to need to familiarize yourself with your chosen species’ unique preferences in treatment, which will likely change seasonally and by stage of growth. Trees are not unlike children or pets; they need food, water, and protection. Furthermore, their needs will change as they age and their location will likely dictate specific concerns you will need to familiarize yourself with. Let’s take it from the beginning. 

Should You Plant a Tree from Seed or Purchase a Sapling?

Sure, you can purchase trees as saplings and skip several steps, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There is just something so rewarding about growing them from seeds, though. From noticing that first glimpse of green breaking the surface of the soil, to making it through the hardening process and forming bark and beyond to sitting under the shade of its branches or biting into a piece of its fruit, you’ll take great pride in knowing you took part in promoting life.

The process of planting it from a seed can be challenging, though, with several factors to consider to ensure success. In this article, we'll explore the steps involved in planting trees from seeds and how to get them to survive.

Use this as a guide or a checklist, but definitely research the specifics to your chosen tree.

Planning for Planting a Tree from a Seed

Simply planting a seed might work out for you, but the chances are actually pretty slim that your tree will survive. It's best to follow specific steps. 

Testing your soil

Before you choose a species of tree for your property, it’s always a good idea to test your soil to determine whether or not a particular variety of tree would even be compatible with your soil type. In most cases, the soil can be amended to give the tree what is needed, but without ample testing, it will remain a mystery. 

Your soil could be outside of the optimal pH range, the composition could cause issues like deterring growth or promoting root rot, or it could be lacking in a wide range of nutrients. Once you are delivered the results of your soil test, it’s never a bad idea to discuss them with an arborist to determine what, if anything, will need to be done before choosing and planting your tree. 

Choosing a tree species that will work for  your area

Soil conditions are just one consideration that needs to be taken prior to planting a tree from a seed. There are many other factors that will determine whether or not a tree will be able to survive in your area—climate, available water, topography, and more. 

It's essential to choose a tree species that will thrive in your local climate and soil conditions. Consider the environmental factors, such as the amount of rainfall and temperature fluctuations. If the climate isn’t optimal for tree growth, you might need to forgo planting that tree altogether or you could make do with a back-up plan. 

For instance, some areas might be perfect for growing citrus trees for 10 months out of the year but as temperatures drop freeze damage may occur. While trees can recover from freeze damage, it is not an optimal condition and if it occurs year-after-year, the citrus tree will ultimately die. This doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t plant a citrus tree but it does mean you will need to take extra care to ensure freeze damage doesn’t occur. If the tree is in the ground and the freeze is rare, covering the tree with burlap or a blanket could be an option. Alternatively, you could keep the tree in a large pot and move it indoors seasonally. 

Sourcing seeds for planting a tree

Once you've chosen a species that satisfies your requirements and those of the area in where you plan on planting the tree, the next step is to obtain high-quality seeds from a reputable supplier. Look for seeds that are fresh, healthy, and have a high germination rate. If you are ordering your seeds online, read the reviews thoroughly and research where the given company is sourcing their seeds. 

Determining the best time to plant

In most cases, if you are planting trees from seed directly in the ground, you will want to plant them in the spring when all danger of frost has subsided. Although, this is not always the case; some tree species will need to be planted in the fall or stratified (like tricking the seed into believing it experienced dormancy and winter soil conditions). Learn more about cold stratisfying seeds here As with most of the steps in this article, this one will require a bit of research on your part to determine what your chosen tree variety prefers.

Planting the Seed and Early Stages of Tree Growth

Now that you have determined what kind of tree you will be planting and sourced high-quality seeds from a reputable vendor, it's time for the fun part—planting your tree! You just need to decide whether you want to plant the seed directly into the ground or plant it in a small and wait for it to grow into a seedling or sapling. 

Planting directly in the ground

Before planting, prepare the soil and planting location by removing any weeds or debris, and loosening the soil several inches to a foot deep. You’ll also need to determining how deep to plant the seeds, for most varieties, this will need to be just under the surface but all trees differ, so ensure you have researched the recommended depth for your chosen variety (a good rule of thumb is twice as deep as the seed is wide). If your soil test uncovered any additional needs, now is also the time to tend to those. 

Germinating seeds 

Choosing to germinate the seeds prior to planting into the ground is another option. To germinate the seeds, place them in a container with moist soil, and keep them in a warm, sunny spot. Once the seeds have sprouted, it's time to plant them. Dig a hole that's twice as wide and deep as the root ball, and gently place the seedling in the hole. Fill in the hole with soil, and water the seedling thoroughly.

Alternatively, you could continue to nurture the plant from the pot and grow it into a sapling before planting it outside. 

To ensure the seedling's survival, provide it with adequate water and nutrients. Most seedlings prefer to be watered deeply about once a week, or more often if the soil is dry, but these requirements will vary by species and environment.

Prior to planting the seedling or sapling in the ground, you will need to prepare your soil, just as you would have if planting directly in the ground. This requires weeding and clearing debris, loosening the soil underneath the surface, and enriching as called for by your chosen tree varieties and results of your soil tests.

Mulching and Fertilizing 

Mulching the area around the seedling or sapling can also help retain moisture and provide protection from temperature fluctuations, which is very important for young, delicate seedlings. Continued fertilization may also be required. In many cases scheduled or slow-release fertilizing at the root with a fertilizer high in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, will do the job.

Note: here's a device to help you water and fertilize at the roots.

Monitoring and Maintenance of Young Trees

To ensure the seedling's long-term success, regularly monitor its growth and health. Check the soil moisture and adjust watering as needed. Prune any dead or damaged branches and shape the tree as it grows (but make sure you are doing so only as seasonlaly appropriate). Protect the seedling from pests and diseases as you see fit (we recommend  natural treatments).

Keeping Mature Trees Alive

As the seedling grows into a mature tree, provide it with adequate space and resources. Trees need enough space to spread their roots and grow tall. Ensure that the tree has enough sunlight, water, and nutrients to thrive. Then, sit back and take pride in the good you have done, knowing the positive environmental impact you’ve made by planting and nurturing your tree—sequestering carbon dioxide, encouraging biodiversity and providing habitats for wildlife, and naturally reducing erosion (to start).

In Conclusion

There is no denying that trees are essential to our planet's health and well-being, but they can also contribute to our overall happiness by means of enriching the aesthetics of our property’s landscape, providing shade, and creating habitats for wildlife. Reason for wanting to plant a on your property  aside, we want to commend you for taking the first step in doing so—the research.  

Planting trees from seeds is a rewarding process that can have many environmental benefits. Now that you know the steps, you are ready to get started by carefully selecting the right species, preparing the soil and planting location, and provide the seedling with adequate care and maintenance. By following these steps, you can help create a healthier and more sustainable future for our planet.

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