How To Plant Western Hemlock {A Simple Guide}

Western hemlock is a beautiful evergreen native to the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. But did you know that many people enjoy growing these trees in their own backyard? Keep reading: in this article, we’ll tell you all you need to know about how to plant western hemlock.

How to Grow a Western Hemlock Tree from Seed?

How to Grow a Western Hemlock Tree from Seed

If you live near hemlock trees, then starting your own from seed is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get started. Growing hemlocks from seed can be challenging, but as long as you follow the steps below and exercise a little patience, you should have success.

Step 1: Collect Pine Cones

Find a mature hemlock tree. Hemlocks may begin producing pine cones around 8 to 12 years old, but they don’t produce viable seeds until between 20 and 40 years old. 

Of course, you won’t be able to tell the tree’s exact age, but you’ll likely have better success looking for a large tree with many pine cones on its branches. Western hemlocks produce very small cones, and many cones are a sign that the tree is healthy.

Hemlocks produce both male and female cones on a single tree. Look for the larger cones on the tree, as these will be the female cones with the fertilized seeds.

Collect your cones in late summer or early fall as they are just beginning to fall from the tree. Look for cones that are just beginning to open but are still attached to the tree.

Check out this video to learn more about western hemlocks and their pine cones.

Step 2: Stratify the Seeds

In the wild, western hemlock seeds fall to the forest floor in late fall and lay dormant through the winter, eventually sprouting in early spring. This period of dormancy is crucial as it is directly connected to how well the seeds sprout.

When growing western hemlocks yourself, you can mimic these conditions by stratifying the seeds.

Remove the seeds from the pine cones, place them in a plastic bag with some moist sand, seal the bag, and place it in your refrigerator for about 3 to 4 months through the winter. Check the bag often to make sure the sand isn’t drying out; moisten it by spritzing with a spray bottle as needed.

Remove the seeds from the sand in late winter to early spring. They are now ready to be planted.

Step 3: Plant the Seeds

You can plant your seeds directly in a prepared area of your yard or in a planter in your house. If planting outside, wait until the danger of frost has passed, or use a cold frame to protect them.

Choose an area where they will receive full sun to partial shade and be protected from harsh winds.

Hemlock trees need loose, loamy soil full of organic material. If you are planting them inside, mix potting soil with peat moss; if planting outside, remove any weeds from the area and mix in some sand and compost to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.

Place the seeds on the surface of the prepared area; you may cover them with up to half an inch of soil to protect them, but this is not necessary as they are well adapted to sprouting from the surface.

If planting multiple seeds, place them at least 8 inches apart. This will give them room to spread their roots and will allow them to grow into healthy trees without having to fight for space.

Step 4: Water and Mulch

Western hemlocks need soil that is constantly damp but not soggy. Give the seeds a small amount of water several times each week; do not allow the soil to dry out.  

You may also want to use a layer of mulch to reduce the amount of watering you have to do. Mulch will help to hold in the moisture and will also insulate the soil and seeds from extreme hot and cold temperatures.

Wood chips make an excellent mulch for western hemlock trees. Not only do they insulate, retain moisture, and guard against weeds, they also make the soil underneath more acidic, which hemlock trees love.

If mulching, be sure not to apply the mulch directly over your seeds. Once the seeds have sprouted, you can tuck the mulch around the sapling like a blanket to protect it as it grows.

If your seeds don’t sprout as quickly as you thought they would, don’t give up. It may take up to 60 days of consistent care and watering before they begin to sprout.

Step 5: Consider Using a Tree Stake or Cage

Once your seedlings have sprouted, you’ll still need to provide a lot of care and protection while they establish themselves. 

Consider placing a chicken wire cage around your saplings to keep animals from getting close to them.

If you have a lot of wind in your area, you might want to secure your little tree to a tree stake. Western hemlocks are surface growers, which means that their shallow root systems make them prone to toppling in the wind, especially when they are young.

Your saplings will grow slowly at first, but with the proper care and continued watering, they will eventually become strong, healthy, beautiful trees.

How to Plant a Western Hemlock Sapling?

How to Plant a Western Hemlock Sapling

Perhaps you don’t want to go to the trouble of starting a tree from seed. You may be able to find an already-established young hemlock sapling online or from your local nursery. 

Follow these steps to plant the sapling outside:

Step 1: Dig a Hole

Again, it’s important to choose a location that is protected from the wind if possible. Full sun is okay, but western hemlocks also do well in the shade.

Western hemlocks should be planted in early spring or in the fall. If you plant them during the summer, they will likely die from the hot, dry conditions.

Prepare the soil by digging a wide, shallow area. The area should be about five times the width of the sapling’s root ball.

You can loosen the dirt up to a foot down, but do not remove it. Mix in some sand and compost to create a loose, rich soil.

Step 2: Plant the Sapling

Remove the hemlock’s root ball from the planter or plastic casing. Move aside the freshly-prepared soil and place the root ball in the hole.

Do not plant too deeply; replace the soil just above the root ball, but do not bury more than an inch or two of the tree’s slender trunk. Remember, western hemlocks prefer to grow near the surface.

Step 3: Water, Mulch, and Take Care

Give the sapling about 1 to 2 inches of water a week, and make sure the soil doesn’t dry out. Apply a layer of mulch to help insulate and hold in the water, and add more mulch as needed throughout the year.

Apply a cage or tree stake if needed, as described above. 

How Fast Does Western Hemlock Grow?

Young western hemlocks grow pretty slowly; it takes them a long time to establish themselves.

As mentioned above, it can take up to 60 days just for the seeds to begin to sprout. The trees may only grow a couple of inches for each of the first few years of their lives.

Once their roots are well established, they will begin to grow more quickly. Trees that are several years old may add up to 24 inches of growth per year.

What Type of Plant Will Grow Under a Western Hemlock?

Mature hemlock trees produce ample shade; so much so that very few plants can thrive beneath them. For this reason, the ground around your hemlock tree may become quite bare. 

With this in mind, there are some shade-loving plants you can grow under hemlocks to keep the area looking beautiful. Some of these plants include:

  • Hostas: These decorative green flowering plants come in many varieties and grow well in shady conditions.
  • Devil’s club: This plant is a member of the ginger family and produces large, unique leaves.
  • Currant: this small shade-loving shrub produces flowers and small, tart, edible berries.
  • Epimedium: This groundcover produces flowers in the spring and beautiful leaves in the summer.


Western hemlock trees can be grown from seed provided you follow a number of steps to help the seeds sprout and the fragile young saplings to grow. By following the steps in this article, you’ll soon have your own beautiful evergreens growing in your yard.

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