I am noticing many seeds and nuts on trees this year. Can I plant them to start new trees?
Kudos to you for wanting to plant trees! They play an important role in fighting climate change. Yes, all tree seeds can be collected and planted. Keep in mind that each species has different requirements for germination- some are quite arduous and specific. It’s not as easy as planting them in a pot and giving them water.
Most of the seeds/nut/acorns from our native species need to go through vernalization. This process mimics what the seeds would experience if they were left in place outside. That means exposing them to cold temperatures and/or moisture. This can be accomplished by putting the seeds in a refrigerator for a specified period of time (AKA stratification) in a medium of moist sand or peat moss. Once the chilling requirements are met, the seeds will readily germinate.
Collect seeds that appear healthy and are free of defects. For example, check acorns for minute holes. Their presence indicates that an insect, probably an acorn weevil larva, is developing inside. These acorns will not germinate. Acorns from white oaks will germinate if planted immediately, or they can be stored in the refrigerator until spring. Red oaks require a cold period to stimulate germination. They should be placed in a plastic bag with a moist medium for 30 to 90 days. Once a root begins to emerge, they can be planted in pots. After the last spring frost, they can be planted outside.
Maple seeds are known for their helicopter-like samaras. These can be gathered and put in moist, cold storage. Sugar and red maple require 40 to 90 days of stratification. Silver maple seeds mature in early summer and can be planted immediately- they do not require a cold treatment.
Nut seeds like hickory and walnut require a longer period of moist stratification- 90 to 190 days. The outer, fibrous husks should be removed prior to storage. Seeds can be planted in pots and planted in a permanent location in three to five years.
The pods from honey locust trees can be gathered. Open up the pods and collect the hard, black seeds that are inside. These seeds don’t require a cold period, but the hard seeds coat needs to be broken either by soaking the seeds overnight in water, or by nicking the seed with sandpaper or a knife (scarification). Once the seeds are scarified, they germinate quickly.
These are just some of the easier seeds to collect and germinate. As you can see, each species has different needs to stimulate germination. Specific requirements are available online via a Google search. Make sure you obtain information from university sites (.edu) to ensure factual, research-based instructions. Or just contact Sue or Cierra at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County- 315-788-8450. Happy planting!
Last updated September 26, 2023