Planting whole pine cones sounds like a simple and effortless way to introduce pine trees to your garden. It sounds simple and reasonable, just collect dry cones, bury them in the ground, and wait for them to grow!
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Sure, having some pine cones could be the first step to owning your first pine trees, but sprouting an entire cone is not a viable way to achieve this goal. We will tell you why this won’t work (and what works).
Why Planting Pine Cones Won’t Grow You A Tree
The cone of a pine tree is not the tree’s seed, and that’s one of the reasons why burying the entire thing in the ground won’t help you multiply your pines. A cone is just a seed pod. Its job is to keep the seeds out of harm including damage by animals and harsh atmospheric conditions.
A pine cone will release the seeds only when they have matured and conditions are right – no cold temperatures, no strong winds, and definitely no animals that may eat this precious cargo. And since different pine species release their seeds from the cone at different times, by the time you decide to collect some cones for your tree garden, the seeds will probably have escaped.
Also, it is important to note that pine seeds need sunlight to germinate effectively. So even if the cones still have some seeds inside, cones planting still won’t work, as it would be too difficult for the seeds to get the much needed sunshine when they are confined in a cone.
Not only that. Since planting an entire cone will have you pushing the seeds too deep into the soil, germination is unlikely to happen because, again, the seeds will not be receiving enough sunlight.
How Pine Trees Propagate Naturally
Pine trees have both the male and female structures (cones) located in the same tree. The female cones grow on the upper branches of the tree while the male ones grow on the lower branches. This arrangement prevents the males from releasing pollen on females of the same tree, which promotes cross pollination (fertilization with the nearby pine trees) and genetic variation among trees.
For a pine cone to make a new tree, three things have to happen. One, pollination must occur in order for the cone to produce a seed. Two, the seed must be transported away from the parent tree. Three, the seed has to land in a place where conditions are right for it to germinate and grow into a healthy tree.
So how do the male cones move their pollen to the female structures of the neighboring pine trees, you may ask? Wind. You see, cones don’t have nice scents or pretty flowers to attract pollination agents like bees or birds. The trees, therefore, rely one hundred percent on wind for fertilization.
Once fertilization has occurred and seeds have developed, the cones become the sole protector of the seeds and as we mentioned earlier, a cone will only drop the seeds when they are fully mature and conditions are suitable for germination.
Depending on the pine variety, it can take a cone between one year and several years to fully mature, ripen, and release the seeds. Usually, a ripe pine cone will be brown and dry. If it has a darker shade of brown, then it is fully ripened and chances are the seeds have already dispersed. At this point, cones planting won’t work for you.
Pine tree seeds are dispersed as far from the parent as possible. The seed casing even has a small wing that enables the seed to float in the air. And the longer the seed stays in the atmosphere, the further it can be transported by the wind. The idea is to help the seed find a spot where it won’t have to compete with the parent for sunlight and the other resources it needs to flourish.
How To Effectively Plant Pine Tree Seeds
So, if simply planting a pine cone won’t give you a tree, how do you go about it?
Well, if you really want to add some pine trees to your property, your best bet would be starting with a small tree or a seedling. You can get these from any nursery or the local tree experts provider near you. However, if you enjoy learning and experimenting stuff, sprouting pine tree seeds would be an interesting project.
Sure, planting pine cones won’t grow a tree, but if you know how to harvest the seeds and conditions are right, you may just end up with a pine tree. Here are steps to effectively plant a pine tree seed:
- Harvest a mature pine cone in fall, put it in a paper sack, and store in a warm room. Shake the bag every couple days, say once a week. When your cone is fully dry, it will release the seeds and you will hear them clatter inside the sack.
- Put the seeds in an airtight container and place them in a freezer for about three months. This mimics the winter season in which the seeds lie buried under plant debris until spring, and helps the tree withstand such weather conditions better when it finally grows.
- Once the ‘fake winter’ has passed, take the seeds out of the freezer, fill a container with a well-drained potting medium and plant your seeds, one in each container. The seeds should be covered with no more than a quarter inch of potting mix. Make sure there is a hole in the bottom of each container for drainage.
- Put the containers in a spot that gets sufficient sunlight and water as needed. Always keep the potting mix slightly moist; don’t water the mix too much, but then don’t allow it to dry out. None of these conditions is good for the seed.
- Once the seeds have germinated and the seedlings are about twenty centimeters tall, it’s time to transplant them outdoors. Continue caring for the plants, watering, and stirring the soil around them regularly.