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Mr. Smarty Plants - Growing native trees from seeds

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Friday - March 25, 2011

From: The Woodlands, TX
Region: Select Region
Topic: Propagation
Title: Growing native trees from seeds
Answered by: Guy Thompson

QUESTION:

I'm trying to let large empty sections of my property revert back to woods by means of natural seeding. I have existing White Oaks, Water Oaks, Yaupon Hollies, Sweet Gums, Loblolly Pines, American Elms, Southern Magnolias, and other trees on my property and in the nearby area that drop plenty of seeds. What's the best way to help this happen quickly? I read somewhere that seeds need to be in contact with mineral soil in order to sprout, so letting them accumulate amidst fallen leaves apparently doesn't sound ideal. But I don't want to rake up the leaves because I understand they're good for moisture retention, improvement of the soil, suppression of turf grass and weeds, and helping the insect population for the food chain. Should I bury the seeds in the ground? And, if so, how and when?

ANSWER:

This can be a very rewarding activity if you have patience.  To begin, collect acorns and seeds as they fall and mature seeds from dry pods.  Some seeds, such as White Oak, can be planted immediately.  Others, e.g., Water (red) Oak, require time and low temperature to germinate.  The Internet has sites, such as the attached, describing procedures for planting seeds of Southern trees.  The simplest approach is to store the seeds until fall, plant them and let nature perform its miracle.  Otherwise, the seeds can be washed and stored in the refrigerator at 40 degrees F. for several weeks.

I assume that you want to germinate and grow the seeds on site and without the help of a greenhouse or coldframe start which would let you keep track of the seedlings until they are big enough to transplant.  To plant them where they fall, so to speak, it is indeed necessary that they be in good contact with the mineral soil.  For fastest growth, choose a spot for each planting that will give the seedling direct sunlight (unless it is an understory species such as redbud or dogwood).  Mr. Smarty Plants suggests that you take the time to clear a patch about a foot in diameter for each seed and plant the seed three seed lengths below the ground with a trowel.  Mark the spot with a flag.  A light covering of leaves should not prevent germination and might help retain moisture.  It is crucial that the soil not become completely dry during the germination process.  Commonly, tree seeds are planted in the fall when continuous soil moisture is more likely.  Depending upon when you plant the seeds, several months may transpire before the seedlings appear.

If you have herbivores such as deer, rabbits, and even squirrels, you may wish to obtain tree sleeves (from a plant nursery) to protect the young seedlings.  In many Texas regions the survival of native forests is in grave danger because almost all young trees are lost to deer herbivory.

Good luck in your venture!

 

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