Growing trees from seed

We have maple tree seedlings sprouting up wherever the seeds decide to land in our yard. I've never tried to deliberately plant trees from seeds, but it might be fun to try out a new species that way.

Botanist and author John Ambrose says every tree seed requires unique conditions to germinate, so you have to "think like a tree".

"A tree that's producing fruit late in the summer or early fall is going to be disadvantaged if those seeds germinate right away, so they have a dormancy, especially in the northern climates. That may also be true in dry climates where the seeds may be produced at the end of the wet season and if they start to germinate then they're going to die because there's a drought coming," says Ambrose. "So, trees have these various strategies."

This means you have to provide the dormancy period they require before anything will grow. A simple way to do it is by putting the seeds in moist material such as peat moss, vermiculite or sand, and stick them in the fridge. Most tree seeds should be chilled for three-to-four months at 35-to-40-degrees.

Sow the seeds in well-drained material. Maintaining high humidity and warmth is crucial for germination. Some seeds require a flip-flop of this procedure – the warmth first, then cold.

It may take quite a while before you see results.

"In something like a willow or a poplar, they germinate almost immediately within a few days, and you need to get the conditions just right, moisture and exposure to the sun and that sort of thing. But other species – you might plant a seed and nothing will happen for a full year," he says. "Just put them in a pot and if you have a cold frame, wait the year or so and they'll come up."

It takes a very mature tree to produce seeds. Look for trees that are at least 30 years old.