Pine cones on trees

Grow a Pine Tree From a Pine Cone

Nature has an organic way of reproducing and transporting the seeds of pine trees is no exception to this rule. Pines give way to pine cones, which resemble the pine tree itself and contain seeds for growing mature trees.

To grow a conifer tree from a pine cone, you will simply cultivate the pine cone as if it were a bulb or large seed. Bury it in the soil, water it, make sure the soil stays warm, and wait for germination. Some gardeners may think it necessary to fertilize at the pre-germination stage, but in general, as long as the soil is comfortable it isn’t required.

Once the seeds within the pine cone germinate, you can either transplant your infant tree or you can start caring for it. It’s time to give it a permanent home when you start seeing whorls of pine needles start growing in bundles. This tells you that the pine needles are ready to photosynthesize. If you like the spot in which you buried your pine cone, it may be necessary to build a sun shelter for your little conifer in order to protect it from sunburn. Even though pine trees like full sun when they’re older, they are highly susceptible to the harmful rays of the sun and can dehydrate and die from the sheer heat.

How to Grow Pine Trees From Pine Cones

winter pine cone image by Mary Lane from

Collecting pine cones is the first step in growing a new pine tree from seed. No, the actual pine cone is not the seed, but the seed container. When you pick up a pine cone, it is actually the female cone of the pine tree. The male cones are very small and only last for a couple of weeks on the tree. They release pollen that falls between the wooden petals of the female cone, which in turn produces seeds.

Find some 2-year-old pine cones that have recently fallen to the ground. Pine cones don’t reach maturity until after two years, since the first year is spent developing the seed within the cone. Look between the bracts to make sure that there are a few seeds visible in your cones. They can be identified by their thin wings, or you can break open the cone.

Dry the seeds by placing them in a paper bag in a dry storage area, where they won’t be bothered by pests, until winter arrives. You can throw the whole pine cone in the bag if you want to wait until the seeds are ready to fall out.

Place the whole seeds in a damp paper towel and place them in a plastic bag. You will want to mimic the climate of your area or at least the area where you picked the pine cone. If you have cold winters that last for three months, place your seeds in the refrigerator for that length of time

Remove the seeds from the refrigerator after winter has passed and plant them in the same soil as their parent tree grew in. If you did not collect any of the original soil, you can use potting soil that is high in peat moss. Bury the seed about 1 inch deep and water well.

Place the planted pine seeds in a sunny window and watch for signs of growth. They should sprout within five to 30 days if they were viable seeds. Keep the soil moist and warm.

Transplant the seedling outside when all danger of frost has passed and protect from hungry wildlife for the first couple of years.

Growing Pine Trees From Seed

Is it possible to propagate pine trees from seed?

Yes — trees can be propagated from seed and cuttings, or by grafting, budding or layering. Fruit and nut trees are usually grafted or budded, which assures high-quality fruit, helps trees mature faster, and allows the rootstock to control tree size and add disease resistance. According to horticulturist Alan Toogood in the American Horticultural Society’s book Plant Propagation, many named ornamental varieties are grown from cuttings because they rarely come in true to type if grown from seed. But for certain tree species, starting from seed allows you to produce lots of trees very economically.

To start growing pine trees from seed, gather large brown (or slightly green) cones in fall. The cones should be closed; if open, they probably have already released their seeds. Toogood says trees that have a lot of cones are more likely to have viable seeds. Lay the cones in an open box at room temperature. When dry, the cones will open and release their seeds. If they don’t open, place the box in a hot spot (104 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit) until they do. Use tweezers to remove any remaining seeds inside the cones.

To improve odds of germination, stratify the seeds: Mix them with moist peat or sand, place them in a clear plastic bag, and refrigerate them for three to seven weeks. (If the seeds germinate in the refrigerator, sow them immediately.) Sow the seeds in 3-inch pots, and provide bottom heat of about 60 degrees. Seedlings can be transplanted outdoors into larger pots in spring, when they’re about 2 inches tall (six to eight weeks after they germinate).

Photo By Fotolia/Gabriele Maltinti: Gather closed, large brown (or slightly green) cones in fall to gather viable seeds.


Vicki Mattern is a contributing editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, book editor and freelance magazine writer. She has edited or co-authored seven books on gardening, and lives and works from her home in northwestern Montana. You can find Vicki on Google+.

If you live in an area with pine trees, you probably have an abundance of pine cones at your fingertips. At first thought you might be annoyed by this, but the truth is pine cones can actually be quite beneficial! So don’t toss those pine cones out just yet. Check out these 6 Ways to Use Pine Cones in Your Garden, and see how awesome having these little guys around can be!

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Pine cones may mainly fall during the fall season, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find them (and use them) earlier in the year! If you haven’t gathered up all the pinecones in your yard, you probably have plenty still available. And even if you don’t have any around your home, local parks and walking paths are likely to still have plenty under the trees.

While I love to use pine cones in crafts, what’s great about using them in your garden is you don’t have to clean them before you use them, since they’ll be staying outside!

6 Ways to Use Pine Cones in Your Garden

1. Add them to your compost pile.

As pine cones break down, they release nutrients that can be beneficial to your plants. As you collect pine cones, you can always add them to your compost bin. This way when they break down, they will release all of those nutrients into the mixture and help create power packed food! Of course, pine cones are pretty dense, so it’ll take them a while to break down on their own. To speed them up, break them up before putting them in your compost. You can run over them with your lawn mower, or smash them with a shovel first.

2. Use them as mulch.

Smaller pine cones can be placed in bulk around trees and plants in order to act as mulch. They will do a great job at keeping the plant roots protected while helping hold in moisture. They work just as well as store-bought mulch, but the nice thing is you can get your hands on them for free! But do be aware- pine cones are very flammable because they contain pine resin. So don’t use them as mulch near the area where your grill or fire pit is, for example. You wouldn’t want any loose sparks landing in them and starting a fire!

3. Add them as decorative borders.

A fun way to use pine cones in your garden is as decoration! Pine cones have a lovely aesthetic to them. Try placing pine cones inside of flower pots and planting boxes as a decorative touch. You can line them up like natural borders, or just use them as natural ground cover. While being used for decorative purposes, they will still help keep soil moist and protected.

4. Provide a home for ladybugs.

Ladybugs are always in search of little crawl spaces. Keep a few pine cones under tall and shady plants so the bugs can find refuge in them. Ladybugs also eat pests like aphids, so it’s a great idea to make them feel welcome in your garden. So go ahead and set out some pine cones out for them. They will no doubt appreciate the hospitality!

Want to take this idea one step further? David Domoney has a great article on how to make a ladybug hotel out of pine cones!

5. Make a bird feeder.

Make birds feel welcome in your garden when you craft your own pine cone bird feeder! Simply spread peanut butter on the pine cone and roll it in bird seed. Allow the seed to dry in place, then add some string for hanging. Birds will love pecking away at this nutritious treat, and you will love how cheap these are to craft.

Related: 10 Homemade Birdseed Feeders

6. Use them as container fillers.

Do you have a large planter to fill? Filling it entirely with dirt can make it heavy and expensive. Instead, fill it halfway full with pine cones. This will not only help improve drainage of the pot, but will fill in a lot of space so you don’t have to use as much dirt. This saves you time, money, and can even help your plant drain and absorb nutrients better.

As you can see, there are all sorts of ways to use pine cones in your garden. Whether you want to enrich the soil, protect your plants, or just provide some hospitality for bugs and birds, all of these ideas are easy ways to put those pine cones to use.

So start saving pine cones as you see them! A simple collection basket is perfect for doing exactly this. When storing pine cones, just keep them in a cool and dry place out of your main living area, like a garage or shed. They should be fine until you are ready to use them. All types of pine cones will do. It doesn’t matter what type of tree they fell from, as they will all do the same job.

Are you ready to get started? Head to the yard and start hunting those pine cones now!

Do you have any fun ways that you use pine cones, either as indoor DIYs or garden projects?

You might also be interested in: 12 Fun Pinecone Crafts

5 Things to Do with… Pine Cones


This time of year, if you take a walk through an area with pine trees, you’ll find pine cones nearly blanketing the ground. You can easily collect a full bag before long, especially with a couple of kids in tow. Like sea shells, pine cones are all slightly different in shape and size—and it’s hard to stop picking them up once you’ve started. Whether put to practical or decorative use, here are five things you can do with pine cones.



A simple, inexpensive, and attractive solution to mulching around trees and over garden beds is pine cones. Natural mulch makes planting areas less attractive to animals that want to dig, while also providing some acidity to the planting beds in areas with more alkaline soil.



You may remember making a pine cone bird feeder as a kid; it’s a popular and simple craft for all ages. Just spread some peanut butter or suet on a pine cone and roll it in bird seed, oats, or sunflower seeds. Hang the feeder in your garden, and you’ll soon have wildlife to watch during the winter months.



With some paraffin wax, a double boiler, and your pine cone stash, you can create fire starters to help get the hearth flames burning come wintertime. Add a crayon and crushed herbs for color and fragrance, if that’s your thing. Pine cone fire starters make for a great hostess gift or a lovely decorative mantle display.



Even before Halloween is over, you can find bags of cinnamon-scented pine cones in the stores—a sure sign that the holidays are just around the corner. But you don’t need to buy them; you can make your own. Cinnamon sticks and scented oil are all you need to add to your pine cone collection for a house full of a robust, spicy aroma.


Photo: thenewhomeec

You can bring the outdoors in to your holiday table with simple yet elegant pine cone place card holders. Just slip a handwritten place card into each cone’s scales, or follow the example above and ornament your table settings with a wintery woodland touch.

For more on holiday decor, consider:

Holiday Lights 101
The Christmas Flower
Real and Fake: A Christmas Tree Timeline

While out walking the dog in the woods I often see Conifer cones all over the floor, just about everywhere. But the other day I saw someone collecting them (hundreds of them) and wondered what on earth they could make or indeed do with all that make pine cones. Well, it seems there are quite a lot of options, but I thought I would bring you just 10…

Pine Cones Turned into Christmas decorations

10 – Original Source Used:

This idea to use pine cones with coloured tips as a Christmas tree decoration is one great idea and a great way to start this top 10 off. Fun to make and great to look at, they are sure to make a great talking point for anyone who sees them.

Pinecone Monsters

9 – Original Source Used:

Why not make some of these fun pinecone monsters with the kids and hang them up all around the garden! They are more than enough to scare the bird away.

Pine Cones Turned into Turkeys

8 – Original Source Used:

While it might be better to make these around Christmas time, the general idea of turning a pine cone into a turkey is a fun thing to do at any time of the year! Please do check out the link to see the other pine cone ideas the page offers as their all good.

Pine Cones Turned into Owl

7 – Original Source Used:

What is not to like about making a lovable baby own from a pine cone? It just doesn’t matter how old you are, this would be a fun thing to make, I will definitely be trying to make one of these myself.

Paint dipped pine cones

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Nothing is more simple than dipping the pine cones into some coloured paint and placing them in a glass display vase. It looks great, simple to do and can bring a nice touch of colour to any home. Well, worth a go I think!

Pine Cones Turned into Bird Feeder

5 – Original Source Used:

The perfect way to put a pine cone back into nature is to change it into a rather cool bird feeder! I won’t go into details on how to make one here, but there is a full making guide to be found in the link. I rather like this idea.

Pine Cones Turned into wedding toppers

4 – Original Source Used:

These pine cone wedding toppers are the perfect way to make a wedding day and indeed wedding cake stands out from the crowd. Cheap, beautiful and strangely awesome as well! Please do visit the like to see the others photos from this wedding as they are well worth seeing.

Pine Cones Turned into basket for bicycle

3 – Original Source Used:

While it would be hard to make one ourselves, this bicycle baskets made of pine cones it rather amazing and really creative. If I had made this basket I would ride around collecting berries and wildflowers. (Translated means: A loaf of bread from the local shop)

Pine Cone Spider for Halloween

2 – Original Source Used:

This pine cone spider is simple to make and is a great idea for a Halloween decoration. Best of all is that if the day is even slightly dry the pine cone will open up and look even scarier! Might well have to make some of these I think, they look fun.

Pine Cones Turned into Mulch

1 – Original Source Used:

Why would you use Pinus coulteri cones as garden mulch? Well it stops local cats and other animals (including all slugs) from digging and indeed pooping on the garden, it will eventually break down into plant food, it looks amazing and the very best thing is that it offers spiders an ideal home and if done close to the house can prevent up to 80% of all spiders going into the house, because they will happily make a nest in the pine cones!

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

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.

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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