Upon finding a pine cone on the sidewalk with several of its seeds spilled out around it, I felt an old desire to grow a pine tree from seed return to me after years of dormancy, begging to be fulfilled. So I’m going to give it a try and bring you, my gentle readers, along with me. Let’s see, what comes first ...?
Find a pine tree. In order to harvest some seeds from a pine cone, we will first need to find a pine tree, since that’s where the cones come from. (This careful deduction process is known by the technical name of Gardening Logic.) You will want to find your donor pine tree here in the Valley since, if it’s growing here, it is more likely to be adapted to our hot desert climate.
Pine trees aren’t as common in the Valley of the Sun as they are in ... well, wherever you are originally from, dear reader. If my readers have trouble finding them in their neighborhoods, they are invited to please come to my house. My condo is located on a street in an old section of Sun City, graced by many mature pine trees, so I have access to dozens of pine cones at any given moment. We’ll have tea in the garden when you arrive, then gather up some pine cones for you to take home.
Pine cones contain the pine seeds within them, but not all pine cones are willing to give up their seeds to you. Look for dark brown or even black cones. The darker, older, weathered cones have loosened up their grip on the seeds and release them readily, whereas fresher cones still hold onto the seeds tightly. This weathering process, as one might expect, has been carefully designed to allow the seeds to mature for a time within the protection of the cone. Once planted, the matured seeds will germinate and grow more readily.
To remove the seeds from the cone, hold the dry pine cone above a paper towel spread on a table. With the pointed end downward, tap the cone lightly on the table. This should knock the seeds loose from the cone. Each little black seed comes out carefully wrapped in a paper-like case which protects it and at the same time allows it to float away on a trickle of water or be carried away on the wind before germinating — a designer feature that provides optimum opportunity to spread one tree’s seeds out into a great forest.
Gather a small harvest of your pine seeds — a handful or two — and sprinkle them into a clear bowl of water, swirling them around to wet them well. Some of the wet seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl after a few minutes. Isn’t it interesting that these are the ones that are most likely to grow! You can skim off the rest and toss or compost them.
Planting the seeds is the next step. Small planting trays can be used, or regular pots. I used a regular pot for my pine seed, holding the seed vertically and pushing the pointed end into the soil. The pot can be set inside in a sunny window if the weather is still cold. Mine is out in the garden where it will catch an abundance of the afternoon sun.
The next step is to keep it watered and warm. If need be, my seed pot will come back in the house at the first sign of colder weather.
That’s it for Part 1 of Growing a Pine Seed. Now we wait. It could be three months before we see any growth. But that’s OK. We gardeners are accustomed to the “wait” setting on our plants; it’s all part of the art. Are you going to try this with me? Here we go! I’ll check back in a later column. May your garden be your joy, gentle reader.