If you live in an area where pine trees are prominent, you’re probably used to seeing hundreds of pine cones scattered on the ground in the fall. But despite seeing them each year, many people don’t know much about them or how they grow. In this article, we’ll take you through the process of growing a pine tree – all the way from the pine cone to a mature tree.
What You'll Learn Today
- How Tall Can a Pine Tree Grow?
- When To Plant a Pine Tree?
- How To Plant Pine Tree Seeds?
- How Long Does it Take to Grow a Pine Tree From a Pine Cone?
- What Happens When You Put a Pine Cone in Water?
How Tall Can a Pine Tree Grow?
Like with many types of plants and animals, the size of a fully grown pine tree largely depends on the species. Here are some common types of pine trees along with their average size:
- Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa): 60 to 100 feet tall
- Black Pine (Pinus nigra): 60 feet tall
- Chir Pine (Pinus roxburghii): 180 feet tall
- Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana): 130 to 195 feet tall
- Virginia Pine (Pinus virginiana): 15 to 40 feet tall
- Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris): 55 to 80 feet tall
- Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata): 50 to 100 feet tall
- Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus): Up to 150 feet tall
- Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris): Up to 130 feet
- Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo): Dwarf variety: 3 to 5 feet, original: up to 20 feet
- Red Pine (Pinus resinosa): 50 to 80 feet tall
- Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda): 60 to 90 feet tall
- Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicaulis): 65 feet tall
- Gray Pine (Pinus sabiniana): 60 to 70 feet tall
When To Plant a Pine Tree?
The ideal time to plant a pine tree depends on the stage it’s in when you acquire it, and your location. You should plant seedlings in the ground, for example, once you’re confident that the temperatures will be between about 32-46 degrees Fahrenheit to build up some cold tolerance.
If you’re growing a pine tree from seed and live in an area with cold winters, you should plant it in late fall for cold stratification. Alternatively, you can place the seeds in a bag in the fridge for a few months to mimic those conditions.
When starting with a pine sapling, it’s best to plant in the fall as long as the temperature in your climate is not too hot, and not too cold at that time.
How To Plant Pine Tree Seeds?
Pine trees produce seeds through pine cones. While each pine cone contains many seeds, you can’t simply place the whole cone in the ground and expect something to grow.
Pine cones are the seed pods which protect the seeds from strong winds and harsh temperatures. This enclosed structure prevents the seeds from getting the elements they need to grow.
Here’s how to harvest and plant pine seeds:
Step 1: Remove the Seeds
Pine cones take a few years to mature on the tree. The ones that are on the tree are not ready to harvest, so look for the pine cones that have fallen to the ground.
To collect the seeds, turn the cone upside down and lightly shake it over a container until the seeds fall out.
Step 2: Check Seed Viability (Optional)
Since many of the seeds you collect may not end up growing, you can increase your chances of planting success by testing the viability of the seeds first. To do this, fill a container with water, put the seeds in, and note which seeds sink or float. The seeds that float to the surface are less likely to grow.
Step 3: Plant or Store
At this point, you can plant the viable seeds in the ground or store them in the fridge for cold stratification. If you’ll be storing the seeds, let them sit out and dry before you place them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Outdoors, pick a sunny spot and plant the seeds ½ inch below the surface of the soil about one inch apart. Alternatively, you can start the seeds inside, in a pot with a well-draining soil mix.
Step 4: Care For Your Seedlings
The seeds need to be kept moist until they germinate (when sprouts emerge). After that, you can let the soil dry out in between waterings.
If you’re not able to put the seeds in direct sunlight indoors, consider putting them under a grow light. Once they grow at least two sets of needles, you can transplant them into the ground outside.
For more information on proper growing practices for pine tree seeds, check out this YouTube video:
How Long Does it Take to Grow a Pine Tree From a Pine Cone?
As with most trees started from seed, growing a pine tree is a slow process. Before the seeds germinate, they should experience a period of dormancy for about three months.
Once they come out of dormancy, pine tree sprouts take up to a month to appear. Then, depending on the species, you can expect your pine tree to grow anywhere from one to two feet per year.
Pine trees (again, depending on the species) take a minimum of nine years to mature, but could take up to 28 years.
What Happens When You Put a Pine Cone in Water?
Pine cones keep seeds safe by providing a protective environment to house them. Not only does the structure itself shield them from harsh conditions, but the cones can open and close depending on the elements.
When the climate is favorable, pine cones scales remain open so that seeds can blow away and establish themselves elsewhere. When it’s too cold or wet, pine cones will remain closed to keep the seeds inside.
You can test this out by putting a pinecone in a bowl of cool water. After soaking in the water, the pine cone should protect its seeds by closing its scales. This is an especially great experiment for children!
Starting a pine tree from seed requires patience and some TLC. But if you have the time, it’s fun to experience the process of watching a tiny seed become a mature tree (although there are always some issues during the process).
And since conifers like pine trees can help to conserve energy and clean the air, it’s a worthwhile project.