Can I Plant A Pine Cone: Sprouting Pine Cones In Gardens

pinecone sprouting
Image by AndreaKuipers

By Mary H. Dyer, Master Naturalist and Master Gardener

If you’ve thought about growing a pine tree by sprouting a whole pine cone, don’t waste your time and energy because unfortunately, it won’t work. Although planting entire pine cones sounds like a great idea, it isn’t a viable method for growing a pine tree. Read on to learn why.

Can I Plant a Pine Cone?

You can’t plant a pine cone and expect it to grow. There are several reasons why this won’t work.

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The cone serves as a woody container for the seeds, which are released from the cone only when environmental conditions are exactly right. By the time you gather cones that fall from the tree, the seeds have probably already been released from the cone.

Even if the seeds in the cones are at the exact perfect stage of ripeness, sprouting pine cones by planting entire pine cones still won’t work. The seeds need sunlight, which they can’t get when they are enclosed in the cone.

Also, planting entire pine cones would mean the seeds are actually much too deep in the soil. Again, this prevents the seeds from receiving sunlight they need in order to germinate.

Planting Pine Tree Seeds

If you have your heart set on a pine tree in your garden, your best bet is start with a seedling or small tree.

However, if you’re curious and enjoy experimentation, planting pine tree seeds is an interesting project. Although sprouting pine cones won’t work, there’s a way that you can harvest the seeds from the cone, and you may – if conditions are just right – successfully grow a tree. Here’s how to go about it:

  • Harvest a pine cone (or two) from a tree in autumn. Place the cones in a paper sack and put them in a warm, well-ventilated room. Shake the sack every few days. When the cone is dry enough to release the seeds, you’ll hear them rattling around in the bag.
  • Place the pine seeds in a resealable plastic bag and store them in the freezer for three months. Why? This process, called stratification, mimics three months of winter, which many seeds require (Outdoors, the seeds would lie buried under pine needles and other plant debris until spring.).
  • Once three months have passed, plant the seeds in a 4-inch container filled with a well-drained potting medium such as a combination of potting mix, sand, fine pine bark and peat moss. Be sure the container has a drainage hole in the bottom.
  • Plant one pine seed in each container and cover it with no more than ¼-inch of potting mix. Place the containers in a sunny window and water as needed to keep the potting mix slightly moist. Never allow the mix to dry out, but don’t water to the point of sogginess. Both conditions can kill the seed.
  • Once the seedling is at least 8 inches tall, transplant the tree outdoors.

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