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May 01, 2005

Growing giant sequoias in pots

The most common query I receive from visitors to this site is: how can I grow giant sequoias from seed?  There seems to be lots of interest in growing these beautiful trees, which is wonderful.  This post is a simple how-to guide.

Growing sequoias from seed turns out to be easy, if you know what to expect.  Unfortunately, depending on your climate, keeping the trees alive can be difficult.

First, procure a decent number of seeds (perhaps 50) from a reputable dealer.  I use J. L. Hudson.  You need more than a few seeds because only 30% germinate, and in difficult climates up to 75% of seedlings will succumb to disease in the first year alone.

I recommend the "baggie method" for both optional stratification (cold incubation) and for germination.  Germinating the seeds in a bag allows you to plant only those seeds that will germinate, and not the 70% that won't.  Soak the seeds overnight in a cup of water.  The next day, spread the seeds onto one quarter of a circular, unbleached, wet coffee filter.  Fold the filter in half, then in half again, so that the seeds have three layers of filter on one side and one layer on the other.  Place the filter and seeds into a zip-lock bag.  Blow into the bag gently while closing it, so that the bag is slightly inflated and the seeds have access to air.

One month of stratification will boost your germination rate somewhat.  To stratify, place the zip-lock bag into the refrigerator (4C).  Open the bag weekly to mist if necessary to keep the filter moist.  Blow gently while closing so that the seeds have access to air.

After stratification, or immediately if you've decided not to stratify, place the bag in a dark spot at a constant temperature of around 70F.  Check the bag weekly.  Hold the bag up to the light and check whether any seeds have started to grow a white root (the tree's first root, or radicle).  If some seeds have germinated, prepare a small plastic pot or cel-pack by filling with wet seed starter mix.  Note that it can be difficult to wet seed starter after it has dried completely, so don't be bashful with the water.  The seed starter mix must be wet.  Make a hole about as deep as the radicle is long by poking a chopstick into the seed starter.  Gently plant the germinated seed into the hole, radicle first, holding only the seed itself and not the root.  Cover the seed with a very small amount of seed starter (about 1/16").

While removing germinated seeds from the filter, be careful not to let the filter dry out, as this will prevent germination of other seeds.  Fold the filter again, put into the ziplock bag, and continue to incubate in the dark at 70F.  Seeds will continue to gradually germinate over the course of about two months.

After transferring germinated seeds to a cel-pack, place the cel-pack into a simple greenhouse that is shaded all day, but that receives indirect light.  Any corner of a well-lit room will do, so long as it does not recieve direct sun.  For a greenhouse, I use a chicken wire "cage" covered by an enclosed, transparent plastic bag, but any makeshift arrangement will do, as long as it retains moisture and transmits light.

Mist the cel-pack weekly until the seeds have lifted themselves out of the soil.  Soon afterward, you can remove the seedlings from the greenhouse.  Keep the seedlings moist with a mister until the seed leaves have emerged.  Giant sequoias have four seed-leaves, which form a beautiful green "cage" that is topped by the seed coat, which will gradually be pushed off the top of the seedling.

The seedlings can remain in the shade, with indirect light, until true leaves have started to grow from the center of the four seed-leaves.  At this point, you can start to gradually expose the seedlings to some direct light, starting with only a short period each day.  You may consider feedling the seedlings once weekly with 1/4- or 1/2-strength Miracle Grow, as the seed starter contains very little nutrition.

There is no single correct time to transplant the seedlings into pots.  I usually transplant the seedlings after they have two sets of true leaves.  By this time, the radicle has reached the bottom of the small amount of soil in the cel-pack, and the seed starter is usually cohesive enough for transplant.

Sequoia seedlings require good drainage.  With wet feet, they become susceptible to disease.  Therefore, to avoid heartbreak, use only clay pots, not plastic, and well-drained soil.  I use an 8:1:1 mixture of potting soil, sand, and gravel.  Fill the bottom 1/2" of the pot with large gravel, then add a layer of your potting mixture.  Place the individual sequoia seedling in its pot (cut from the cel-pack with a razor blade, if need be) on top of the potting mixture, then fill in around the sides with more mix.  Soak the mixture with water, and then add more potting mix so that the seqouia in its pot is effectively "planted" in its new home.  Then remove the seedling and pot.  I use a razor blade to cut away one wall of the pot, then tip the soil and seedling out onto my hand.  You should see the white radicle emerging from the bottom of the seed starter plug.  Transfer the whole plug to the site you prepared, then water well.

After transplant, expose the seedling to sun gradually over the course of a month.  Water the seedling only weekly, to avoid disease.

Raising the seedling into a tree from this point can be tricky or remarkably easy, depending primarily on your climate and the prevalence of various diseases.  Young trees are susceptible to botrytis and cercospora infections.  An overly hot, humid climate makes this problem worse, particularly on the East Coast.  In addition, the trees probably require zone 6b or higher to survive the winter.  Greyneedle has compiled a remarkable collection of information about growing sequoias on the East Coast, including a helpful map showing where you are most likely to be successful.

I've posted pictures of my seedlings, and will continue to post new pictures as they grow.

Growing these trees is lots of fun, and I highly recommend it to everyone.  In my opinion, giant sequoia seedlings are almost as cute as a human baby, and they grow faster, so they are more rewarding in that sense.  They talk less, though.

May 1, 2005 in Growing from Seed | Permalink

Comments

i am looking to buy a seedling sequoia tree do you know where i can get them?

Posted by: jim | Apr 15, 2006 2:03:59 PM

I've bought seedlings from Welkers Grove Nursery at www.giant-sequoia.com for very good prices and quality.

Posted by: Mike | Apr 16, 2006 1:03:05 PM

You might also try Jonsteen Trees at www.jonsteen.com to by seedlings.

Posted by: Mike | Apr 16, 2006 1:56:16 PM

Hi...I want to move a giant sequoia tree about 80 feet on my property. It's about 40 feet tall. Do you know if this is possible? What are the chances of success? Should I use rooting hormone? How do I dig it out? Etc...
Any help would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

Posted by: Steve Casas | Apr 21, 2006 9:06:44 AM

I'm not in the tree moving business but I will give you my opinion on the sequoia tree. Sequoias roots spread out much farther than the length of the tree. They have tiny white feeder roots which tend to stay near the surface rarely going beyond 4 feet in depth to give the tree most of its water and nutrients. If you move the tree most of the root system is going to be cut. I believe your tree its a goner if you try to move it.

Posted by: Mike | Apr 21, 2006 4:24:23 PM

Thqanks!

I brought home a sprouted seed in a tube from Yosemite Nat'l Park. Now I know the next step in letting it grow.
The seedling sprout thanks you too.

Posted by: roncie | Jun 12, 2006 6:03:53 PM

Thanks!

I just collected some seeds and by now understand the best practices to get them to a tree.
Will keep you posted on germination results!

Eric

Posted by: Eric | Sep 22, 2006 6:17:27 AM

Nice.
I now have a handful of small seedlings.

It'll be fun to see how they'll do here in Norway, I've about 240ha of forrest - so I'll find some suitable spots for them eventually :-)

Posted by: ratatask | Sep 27, 2006 11:28:22 PM

"A handful"?!

You are going to need a lot more than a handful for your 240 hectares! Are they all yours? God, I wish I had that much space.

Don't let your new babies get too wet.

Much love,

Buena

Posted by: BuenaV | Sep 28, 2006 7:21:42 AM

Most of those 240ha is already tree covered :)

Posted by: ratatask | Sep 30, 2006 5:58:15 AM

What is the best time of year to plant a sequoia tree outside.

Posted by: coryb | Nov 10, 2006 4:45:27 PM

Hi ratatask,
where in Norway are you?

Posted by: Emile van Gelderen | Dec 19, 2006 12:27:18 PM

I'm certainly greatful that you all have such an interest in these magnificent trees. Our recent US future climate predictions can well justify the perliferation of this and other species.

The lower branches on one of my trees are dying yet the crown is doing well with new growth. Any ideas?

Posted by: Todd | Feb 3, 2007 5:34:38 PM

Hi Todd,

Lower branches on giant sequoias typically die from shading by upper branches. This is normal!

Shoot

Posted by: Shoot | Feb 3, 2007 9:25:48 PM

last year I potted some sequoia seedlings. They did great but the winter was cold with some freezing. Spring is here and the seedlings look grey green with some brown lower branches. What can I do to get them going again. The main stem is still green with a scratch test. They are about 18" tall and 12" wide. Thanks

Posted by: susan e. watts | Apr 5, 2007 10:18:17 AM

Susan, I think with good watering practices and nice weather your sequoias will snap out of it.

I have 4 potted ones one my deck and 3 out of 4 are displaying the "grey green" look.
However one has beautiful bright green new growth tips.

Posted by: Matt | Apr 8, 2007 12:44:47 AM

I just had my first sequoia sprout (I'm so happy! Hope I can keep it alive...). Long after planting them (ungermianted) in pots, I had given them up as being all duds, and so planted some other plants in the pot (two squash plants), which had taken off. As things stand, my plan is to transplant the squash out of the (large -- 20 gallon) pot so that the sequoia has all the room to itself. I've already put barriers between the plants to keep the roots from entangling.

However, I'm concerned about what to do once the sequoia is big enough to be put into the ground. I know they have delicate roots, and I'm concerned that they'd be damaged if I just tried to lift the tree out of the pot as-is. I was thinking that perhaps I should temporarily remove the seedling from the pot, empty the soil, put in a burlap sack as a liner, and then put the soil and seedling back in (this would also let me center it in the pot). Does this sound like a wise idea or no? And if so, any clue where I could get such a planting bag? Would any burlap do?

Another issue: The tree is to be a gift for my father, to be planted on his land in western Indiana (5b). I've read of sequoias growing well in colder climates than that, so I figure it's worth a shot. However, I am in 4b/5a. I tend to overwinter things in my heated greenhouse. However, I read elsewhere that keeping a sequoia "indoors" for the winter is bad for them because the cold is part of their natural cycle. I was thinking about perhaps keeping it in the greenhouse from November to early/mid February, then moving it outside for the tail end of winter. Does that sound wise, or do you think I should just keep it in the greenhouse all winter? Is the key just that the soil shouldn't be allowed to freeze?

Posted by: Karen Pease | May 11, 2007 11:48:51 AM

i am trying to buy seeds but have had no return emails from the seed companies... any advice... email me please... also i live in north queensland australia....

Posted by: brett krause | May 15, 2007 10:34:42 PM

f.w schumacher co.,inc. ph 508 888 0659 fax 508 833 0322 will ship any where they are honest and filled my order prompley . sequia tree seeds.

Posted by: gene | Jun 29, 2007 8:23:07 AM

sequoia

Posted by: gene | Jun 29, 2007 8:26:38 AM

hi,its been great reading your conmments about growing sequoias.I live in croydon,outside london,england and have been fortunate enough to grow my sequoia from seed relatively easily.I bought the seed from kew gardens in london,planted about 25 seeds or so in a seed tray in the autumn of 2006 and about 15 sprouted several weeks later.I could not believe my luck.The weather here is always mild if wet and the trees are thriving in my garden,the only problem is that there are now too many trees to grow on in my garden and am thinking of contacting my local parks service to see if i might be able to plant them on parkland near my house,so i can keep an eye on my babies.thanks alot for the info.bye.declan

Posted by: declan o'gorman | Jul 19, 2007 4:13:20 AM

How long does it take between the apperane of the 4 seed leaves and the first true leaves?

Posted by: jose | Aug 16, 2007 8:19:01 AM

I tried planting 70 Sequoia seeds after a month of stratification (a method that came with the seeds rather than this) and only one has sprouted. It had looked a little drab and was losing the vibrant color it had when it sprouted and the 4 needles it sprouted with were limp and near lifeless. When transferring it to a different pot today, I noticed the root was ridiculously thin right on the edge of where the stem and main root meet. What's happening? Is there any chance for it?

Posted by: Abe | Aug 25, 2007 11:56:42 AM

Is Georgia a goodd place for sequoias? Thanks ya'll!

Posted by: turtlegirl933 | Oct 6, 2007 10:16:20 AM

Is it better to plant seeds in fall or spring? Do the trees survive in places such as Somers CT, Enfield CT, etc?

Posted by: Dave | Nov 18, 2007 9:12:05 AM

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