Have you ever wanted to grow your own Christmas trees? Douglas firs are popular evergreens grown as Christmas trees, and they are fairly easy to grow as long as you follow the appropriate steps. In this article, we’ll talk about when to plant Douglas fir seedlings, as well as how to start your own from seed and how long the trees typically take to grow.
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How to Grow Douglas Fir Trees from Seed?
Buying 1 to 2 year old Douglas fir seedlings will save you time and effort, but if you already have these trees growing in your area and can easily gather some seeds, you might want to try growing your own seedlings.
Not only will starting your own trees from seed save you money, but you will also feel a sense of pride and accomplishment once your trees are established.
To grow Douglas fir trees from seed, follow the steps below:
Step 1: Prepare the Seeds
After gathering your seeds from pine cones, you will need to remove the papery material around each seed. You can do this by carefully cutting it away or gently rubbing the seed between your thumb and finger until the husk falls away.
Next, place the seeds in a bowl of water. Allow them to soak for about 24 hours, then remove them from the water, place them in a single layer on sheets of paper towel, and allow them to dry.
Step 2: Stratify the Seeds
Once the seeds are dry, place them in a resealable bag, press all the air out, and seal the bag. Place the seeds in your refrigerator and leave them there for at least 4 weeks.
This process is known as stratification, and it mimics the conditions seeds would face in the wild while lying dormant through the winter. Stratifying your seeds can improve the germination rate.
Step 3: Plant the Seeds in Containers
Plant one to two seeds in each container. You can use any size container, but be aware that if you use smaller planters, you will have to transplant the seedlings at least once as they grow over the next year.
The containers should be filled with potting mix and a no-nitrogen fertilizer. Water the soil until it is moist but not soggy.
Press the seeds about a fourth of an inch into the soil, making sure the pointed tip faces downward. Cover with a bit of additional soil if necessary.
This step should be completed sometime between late February and early March. This is the time when the seeds would most likely begin germinating in the wild.
Step 4: Care for the Seedlings
Keep the planters in a sunny location that is at least 70 degrees during daylight hours. Water regularly so the soil doesn’t dry out, but again, be careful of overwatering–you don’t want the soil to be soggy.
Keep them in this warm, sunny environment for about six weeks.
The trees should germinate after several days. Once they grow to about 3 inches, if you have multiple seedlings in one planter, thin them down to one per container.
For the next six weeks or so, keep them in full sun to partial shade. Allow the soil to drain and partially dry between waterings.
You will keep the seedlings in their pots throughout the summer months. You can keep the pots outside as long as they receive enough water, have partial shade during the hotter hours of the day, and are not exposed to weather extremes such as high winds or storms.
Apply a no-nitrogen fertilizer once sometime during midsummer.
As the weather cools throughout the fall and winter, allow your seedlings to gradually get used to the cold. Bring them into a sheltered place such as a mud room or garage if the weather is going to be especially cold or stormy, but place them back outside on milder days.
Again, they will need plenty of sunlight and moisture especially during the winter.
Step 5: Plant the Seedlings Outside
You can plant the seedlings in their permanent homes the following late winter or early spring. Plant them in the soil as soon as the ground has thawed enough to allow you to work it.
You can use a shovel to dig a hole, or you can use a dibble bar to create an opening just large enough for the root system.
Remove the seedlings from their planters by gently loosening the dirt around their roots. Carefully pull the little trees from the dirt, allowing their roots to hang down.
Place the roots into the hole you created and press the soil around them. Water the seedling in, especially if the soil is drier than usual.
Place a cage around each tree if desired to protect it from wildlife. Seedlings should be planted in a location where they receive partial sunlight each day.
Water the seedlings once a week to once a month, depending on how much rain your area receives. The soil should be allowed to drain and partially dry out between waterings.
When to Plant Douglas Fir Seedlings?
Even after reading the step-by-step process above, you may still be wondering when, exactly, to plant your young seedlings outside. This is a good question, because if you plant them too early or late, they could easily die.
You want to wait until the seedlings have grown enough to establish their root systems. If they are too young, they may quickly succumb to environmental factors or pests.
If you plant your seeds in February or March, as described above, you should plant your seedlings outside about 10 to 13 months later. The best time to plant Douglas fir seedlings is between December and April depending on where you live.
If you live in a warmer, more coastal environment, you can plant your seedlings earlier. If you live in a colder environment, you may have to wait until March or even April before the ground has thawed enough.
Regardless of where you live, allow your seedlings to grow in their containers for several months to a year; then, plant them outside as soon as you are able to dig the soil.
Ever wonder how large fields of trees are planted on tree farms? Check out this video:
How Long Does a Douglas Fir Take to Grow?
Douglas firs are considered relatively fast-growing trees, especially among evergreens. That said, just how long it takes them to grow depends largely on their growing conditions.
Even in the wild, coastal Douglas firs grow more quickly and reach greater heights than Rocky Mountain Douglas firs, which must adapt to harsher growing conditions.
The same is true of any Douglas firs you grow from seed. If the seedlings are planted in full to partial sun, moist and well-draining soil, and in an ideal environment, they will grow more quickly than if the growing conditions are not as optimal.
On average, Douglas firs add about 24 inches of new growth each year. Most mature trees are 40 feet tall or more.
So, a tree growing at 24 inches a year should reach this mature height in about 20 years. Again, though, not all Douglas firs have this same growth rate, and the growth rate itself may fluctuate from year to year based on changing environmental conditions.
Douglas fir seedlings should be planted in the late winter to early spring, as soon as you can work the soil. You can buy Douglas fir seedlings online or from your local nursery, but if you’re feeling adventurous, then you can start them from seed by following the steps outlined in this article.