Grow Your Own Giant Sequoia Tree





Introduction: Grow Your Own Giant Sequoia Tree

About: Most of the things I build usually relate to either astronomy, physics or woodworking in general.

As far back as I can remember, I've always been impressed by very large trees. As a kid, I considered sequoias as the giant trees from California and I would often recognize them in documentaries. Later, I realized that there actually were some of those trees growing around my place... in France. I started to make an inventory of them and tried to visit the ones publicly accessible. Some of them turned out to have cones on the ground. I decided to harvest them, extract the seeds and plant them.

That's how I realized it wasn't exactly straightforward. After a few methods and weeks of patience, I came to realize that most of the seeds where not viable and that my soil was not appropriate. After a bit of research, I gathered growing tips and devised my own method.

Here's a guide based on my past failures and success.

Step 1: Get Some Giant Sequoia Seeds

The first step as you can guess is to get some seeds. You have 2 choices there: harvest them or order them.

Harvesting seed, while not being the most efficient method is probably the most rewarding since you'll go from picking up a cone on the ground to having your own tree. You might also be able to trace the genealogy of your seedling since you'll already know the parent tree.

If you decide to harvest the seed, try to find a mature sequoias tree and look for green cones on the ground. They are the ones with the highest chance of germination (20 to 40% in their natural habitat). Let them dry inside the house. The cones will slowly open and shed their seeds.

Another solution is to order the seeds. I ordered some from J.L Hudson. 1 ounce costs $36 which is a good deal considering the amount of seeds in the envelope. These seeds come from mature trees and have a high germination rate (> 40%). Look for the latin name Sequoiadendron giganteum.

Step 2: Cold Stratification

Like most coniferous trees, the seeds of giant sequoia trees need to spend a bit of time in the cold to soften their shell and lift the seed dormancy. A period of 4 weeks is a good minimum.

Here's a method I found online: to lift the dormancy, grab a paper towel. Make sure the paper is chemical free. I used a coffee filter to be sure it had no perfume on it. Using gloves or clean hands, take some seeds and place them on the paper. You can now fold the filter in half (I actually use 3 layers under and 1 layer over).

Wet the filter (not too much) and place it in a sandwich bag with a bit of air. Put the bag in the fridge and wait 4 weeks.

When the time is up, place the bag in a dark spot at room temperature. The temperature gradient will make the seeds sprout. After a few days, open the bag and look for sprouted seeds. If you see some, take them out, we will plant them right now. Put the bag back in the shade and check regularly for new seedlings.

Step 3: Prepare the Soil

Now is the time to put the seeds in the soil. Prepare individual pots using standard potting soil. Sequoia seedlings require a wet but well drained soil. Humidity is a key factor to the success of growing your seedlings. If you ever let the soil dry a little too much, the seedlings will almost surely die. However, too much water and the base of the seedling will rot and the plant will fall to the ground.

To prevent moulds and fungal parasites, add some fungicide to the potting mix, stir and fill the pots. make a hole in the center and place the already sprouted seed. Lightly water the soil.

Step 4: Watch for Seedlings

The stem of your seedlings should soon make a red upside down U shape. The seed envelope will slowly rise up and fall when the first cotyledons start growing.

Seedlings can have from 3 to 5 cotyledons (first leaves). After a few days, you will see the first real leaves show up in the centre. If your seedlings made it that far, it usually means they are less likely to die from stem rot.

During this stage of development, the plants should be kept in the shade to prevent any desiccation.

Step 5: Expose Seedlings to More Light

After a few weeks, the plants will start to grow branches. This is an indicator that they are ready for a bit more sunlight. Slowly move your plants in a brighter environment but avoid direct sunlight.

When your plants have been acclimated to the sun, you can move them outside during the day. Be careful to always keep the soil humid.

Step 6: Transplant Your Sequoias Outside

When the plants are about 4 to 6" tall, it is better to take them out of their pot and grow them directly in the ground. This will ensure that they don't dry up and it will give space for the roots to spread.

Once you found a place large enough (a 10m radius is a good start) you can plant your sequoia at its definitive spot. Remember to add some slow release conifer fertilizer to boost the roots production during the following year.

If you have deer in your area, protect your young tree with chicken wire during the first years of growth as deer love to chew on buds and young stems in the spring.

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53 Discussions

I have a sequoia tree I bought as a two inch sprout in a tube when I was in California two years ago. The tree is now about 4 feet tall! I would like to transplant it outside but I am not sure when or how. I live in middle TN and our climate is mild. What advice can you give me on planting it outside?

1 more answer

Hi Carol, has the tree been outside before? If it hasn't, you'll need to take some precautions because it won't be used to direct sunlight and it can burn the leaves. Also, when plants and trees grow inside, they lack the resistance to strong winds so you'll have to attach it to a stake. Summer is usually not a good time to transplant trees because they suffer from dehydration. The best is to plant them in the fall and dig a hole much larger than the pot. Add some conifer fertiliser to the soil, place the plant in the hole, fill the hole with more soil, attach to a stake, and add a lot of water.

Hello Thomas,

I have been growing sequoias for a year and a half now. From 100 seeds, 20 germinated and now I have 8 left. I couldn't save them but still dont know why. I water the plants every day in the evening. I think I made their roots to rot as at some point this year some of them started changing color and then just "dried out". Since I havent changed the daily watering - probably that was too much. For example - the first one that I am sending. You can see the bottom branches dried out while in the pot. I planted it outside (Eastern Europe) where it gets a lot of full sunlight and continued watering. For the moment it seems OK. The drying stopped. But the next one did not have that success. It again started changing color and I planted it outside. However the weather after that was very hot for several days and even though I watered it every day - it started to dry out. The branches are not so green anymore and ... yea... probably its gone.

So it becomes clear I probably caused rotting their roots with the daily watering. I know the Joe's advise when to water but it seems it should not be on a daily basis.

My worst experience was 5 days ago. One of the plants started turning yellow-brawn and I rushed to plant it outside hoping to save its overwatered roots. I planted it in the morning of the what came to be the hottest day in the region for 20 years (42 Celsius). It went brown before sunset the same day. That was heartbreaking. Couldn't even take a picture of it.

So do you have any idea how can I save the plant if the roots already started rotting?

4 replies

The water should not stay in the roots it should go away after the watering

Hi Iuvigi,

Watering is a critical part, especially when the plant is young (a few weeks old). From germination until the stage where it starts forming branches, you want to keep sufficient moisture in the pot. If the pot is small (3 or 4 inches), you may want to water every day. If it's larger, you'll want to water less often because it retains more moisture. Once the plants are planted outside, they will grow longer roots that will reach humidity deeper in the soil.

Root rot occurs when drainage is poor and watering too frequent. A compact soil or a pot with no drainage holes can induce root rot. When it occurs, there's not much you can do to save the plant. You can still try to remove most of the soil around the roots, spray some fungicide and replant in dry soil. Potting soil from your local gardening center is a good option.

Another recommended practice would be to place the young seedlings outside in the sun for a few hours as soon as they have a few branches. It will increase their resistance to direct sunlight and wind, making the stem thicker. It will also dry the soil and make the foliage denser.

If the plants have built that resistance to the sun, you can plant them outside in spring or summer as long as you water well during the first weeks. If they have always been inside, I recommend to plant them outside in the fall, when the sun is less bright and the growth season is over.

Just to sum up my experience:

The young sequoias suffer from 2 things: less water and to much water.

1 - if it is too hot the normal watering may not be enough. If the soil in the pot starts shrinking and collapses around the tree - its a sign of it. The young sequoias dry out like a human. Their branches and stem becomes skinny like around a bone. You could see it if you constantly compare it with a healthy tree. That is your last chance to save it. If you see the branches turning brawn and drying out - its done.

2 - if you water them every day and the water has nowhere to go but remain in the pot, sooner or latter the end of the branches will start turning yellow without drying out. You have a chance - get them outside and stop watering for 2-3 days. I saved one out of 4 like that.

One more tip - the roots of a one year old giant sequoia is not so big - the visible part is like a normal man's fist. So its still possible to replant them.

Hello again.

Well out of 4 trees with rotted roots one is still alive... sort of. I rushed planting it outside between 2 big buildings so it had a lot of shade even in the summer. This is how it looks now - more than a month after the introduction to the outside world. The damages are clearly seen but it is still alive. It keeps growing new green branches directly from its stem. I hope it survives until winter.

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Thank You for the instructions. I now have 8 redwood sprouts from our trip to Redwood Reg Park (Oakland) in September. I harvested the seeds from a few cones. Praying they make it. Thank you again!!

Hello! Do you recommend any additional instructions for growing in climates like Ohio? Perhaps keeping them indoors longer? Thanks!

1 reply

Hi Melissa,

For young seedlings, you could probably keep them in a pot for the first winter in a cool place. But I wouldn't worry too much about the temperature because once they are covered in snow, they have a good protection against the cold. Here are some specimen growing in Ohio:

Sometimes the leaves turn to a reddish brown color when it gets cold but they turn back to green in the spring.

Hi Thomas,

I was wondering if you could offer me any advice. I followed all your steps and had 22 seeds germinate. They started off great, but all slowly started dying off. Some died because it seemed they couldn't shed their envelope. Others had shed it and just curled up and died later. I started watering them less and they are in a shady spot where they get indirect sunlight just about all day. I am now down to 5 seedlings. Three still with their envelops, they are all about a month old, and none of mine have had leafs yet. I just put 200 more seeds in the fridge so hopefully I can have more success with my second batch! Thank you for any help!

5 replies

Hi MitchL7,

I found that I usually have more success when the seed has sprouted not too long ago. That way, when you spot a newly sprouted seed, you can place it in a pot about 1/2" below the surface. If you plant it too shallow, it will grow with the envelope on the cotyledons which will limit the amount of light available to the plant. By planting the seed deeper, the envelope is more likely to stay in the soil. It also helps to keep the seedling at a better moisture level (the surface dries quicker).
Another tip is to place the seed flat or upside down in the pot. It will force the root to bend down and the cotyledons to grow up, away from the envelope.

As for watering, I would suggest to only add water when the surface looks dry. I usually water them once every morning when the weather is hot.

You should also try to move them in a less shady spot once they have the cotyledons spread out. The seeds are small, there's not much energy in it so the seedlings need to get some energy quickly.

Let me know how the second batch goes.

Is it possible to bury the seed too deep? Say 1-2 inches under soil. What would happen if it is too deep?

I believe 1 inch is still reasonable. When you see the size of the seed, you can guess that there's not much reserve for the young seedling to start with. They can't grow a very long stem because that would use too much energy.

I believe that at 2 inches, the cotyledons may be really close to the ground or even underground and that will limit the ability for the plant to receive the sunlight it needs to grow.

Thank you! I definately wasnt planting them deep enough and I'll try the other tips as well and see how it goes!

A good trick if the envelope doesn't come off naturally is to spit on it a few times and then it makes pulling the envelope off easier. Otherwise you will probably uproot it if you pull too hard.

And one more question. I have 3 of my trees in the same long
pot. It was a mistake to put them there together but I know that now.

I want to plant them outside but
its summer now and my latest experience showed how unforgiving could the sun be
to them. At the same time - if I leave them in the pot until October I am
afraid their roots will make a real mess and wont be possible to separate them
without damaging them.

So what do you suggest? To take
them out now and risk them to dry on the sun or to wait until autumn and risk
to damage their roots while uprooting them?

1 reply

This is a long pot so it shouldn't be too much trouble to separate the trees, even if you break a few roots. You should definitely do that in the fall when the growth season is over. That way, it gives the plant the entire winter to recover from the stress. I usually transplant my trees in November.

If you haven't done so yet, I would place the plants outside in a semi-bright spot and increase sunlight everyday until they can handle direct sunlight. Remember that UV radiation is blocked by glass so it will be a big shock for them if you plant them in the middle of summer without having exposed them to the sun before.

One more tip about water: At this stage, only water when the first inch of soil is dry. The rest of the pot still has enough moisture for the plants.

Where could I get seeds from ? what climate do they grow in ? I am in Australia