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Name:  Debbie
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I live in an area with many pine trees and pine cones. I would like to start seedlings to replace the older trees as I lose them. How do I do it? I have searched the internet for how but have yet to find an anwser. I've examined the pine cones and am at a loss, where are the seeds? I have soft long needle trees with medium pine cones, I have Hemlock trees with small cones and I have very sharp long needle trees with longer, narrow cones. Do the cones have to have already fallen off the tree before using seeds? Thank you!!

Dear Debbie,

The following may be helpful:


Anthony R. Brach


The seeds must indeed be ripe before they will produce seedlings. You can monitor the appearance of your pine cones over the year. When they are first produced, they are green; as they mature they will turn brown, and the seeds inside will ripen. Note that not all of the seeds will eventually produce seedlings. Some of the seeds are in fact non-viable, so it is important to collect a good sampling of seeds to insure you have a good number of living seeds. As the cones finally ripen, they will open, kind of like a set of venetian blinds. This can be weather influenced, where seeds may be allowed to drop in conditions good for their survival. Some cones are 'programmed' to close and not drop seeds during extremely dry periods where the viable seed might be lost. You can note the dates when the cones first begin to open. You can find the seeds of the trees within the cones sitting on bracts of the cones, usually perpendicular to the axis of the cone. When the cones are open, gravity or wind can carry the winged seeds for some distance, where hopefully they can reach conditions suitable for growth before being found by squirrels, mice, and other animals which may feed upon them.

As far as growing seedlings yourself, i would suggest consulting a good dendrology text at your local or university library. The conditions best-suited for seedling development would be listed there. Note: you must be sure not to over-water the seeds, because there are many fungi which cause rot of developing seedlings. If the adult trees are doing well in the soil where they are growing, you can use a sample of the soil as growth medium. A generic rule would be to provide approximate conditions for growth enjoyed by the adult trees. Note that in some cases, the seedlings have different preferences than the adult trees, with regards to light, shading, and water requirements. The dendrology text should provide the information you seek.

Thanks for using NEWTON!

Richard R. Rupnik

Seeds are deep in the cones, and fall out or are removed by birds and animals soon after the cones spread open. Collect cones just before they open, let them dry out and open in a container, and you should be able to get seeds out, or if you find cones outside just as they open you may be able to beat the critters to some seeds. Seeds of most pines and other conifers are quite small. As for germinating and growing, it isn't that much different than growing other seeds, but for specifics to make it easier I suggest you ask a forest or agricultural extension office, which you should be able to find in your area, or contact a nursery for help. Here in Cook County, Illinois, the forest preserve district has a tree nursery and the foresters there would probably be able to help you.

J. Elliott

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