How To Grow a Pine Tree From a Pine Cone & How Long (Trick To Speed Up)

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | March 8, 2024

Woman holding a pot with a pine cone in it sprouting seedlings while looking at a pine tree and wondering how to grow a pine tree from a pine cone and how long does it take for pine trees to grow?

Have you ever wondered how to grow a pine tree from a pine cone?

Pine cones contain pine nuts, which are the seeds of many types of pine trees, most notably, the Pinyon Pine tree. But all pine cones have seeds that can be germinated and grown.

Moreover, you can propagate pine trees from seeds or cuttings. It’s just a matter of creating the correct growing conditions.

Learning how to grow a pine tree from a pine cone can help gardeners save money (and reduce carbon emissions) by growing pine tree species that they have nearby. This complete guide outlines how to plant pine trees from pine seeds, how long it takes them to grow, and how to speed up the process.

How To Grow a Pine Tree From a Pine Cone: Can I Plant a Pine Cone?

A pine cone is the tree’s female structure that contains and protects the seeds. You cannot plant and grow cones from a pine tree unless you break inside.

Graphics showing the 7 steps on how to grow a Pine Tree from a Pine cone which includes choosing a pine cone, releasing the seeds, checking seed viability, chilling the seeds, planting seeds in small container, and transplanting to moist ground soil.

The cones stay on the tree (many years) until they mature and fall onto the ground, releasing the contents inside.

However, in order to recreate the natural growing conditions, there are some steps you must follow.

There are more than 50,000 types of trees globally and more than a hundred types of pine trees, particularly in the northern parts of the world. They grow near homes and other buildings to provide shade, protective hedges, and windbreaks, and you want to know how best to plant them.

There are also many varieties that can be used as types of Bonsai trees.

However, despite popular opinion, pine trees cannot grow from cones.The cone is the husk, protecting the seeds inside.

But first, what, exactly, is a pine cone?

Closeup of two pine cones in wooden structure and conic form.

(Image: Robert Zunikoff11)

A pine cone is not the seed; instead, it is a rigid container that holds the pine seed, which bursts out under ideal conditions.

An enclosed seed can’t grow from inside a container.

It needs exposure to moisture and other favorable conditions that support plant growth. Otherwise, planting the entire cone means that the seed is inside a hard shell, and there is no way to grow unless you break them out.

Planting Pine Trees Seeds

If you are sure about planting pine in your home, you can start with seeds or seedlings. The cones may not work, but you can obtain the contents of the shell.

You initially harvest the cones from the trees, shake them in a sack, and you should hear the seeds rattling when the shell dries up.

Stratification is essential during seed preparation, where you place them in the freezer to mimic winter in the wild.2

They should be ready in three months, and you can plant them in a container with proper drainage.

Place the plant in a sunny spot, water the soil whenever it dries, and transplant the seedling when it is about 8 inches high.

Growing Pine Tree From a Seed

Growing pine trees from seed is exciting and rewarding since you see your plant develop from scratch.

The cones enclose the tiny seeds to protect them from the elements to keep them viable for planting, and you can grow them in the simple steps below.

Step 1: Retrieve the Seeds

You can pluck cones from the tree once they are mature enough for harvesting.6 They take some years to get ready, and you will know when they start dropping.

To remove them, you can shake the cone over a bag or container, and you will see them falling.

Step 2: Confirm That They Are Viable

Only some of the seeds you collected in step one will grow, but luckily, you can improve your chances (and speed up the growing process) by testing whether they are viable.

To perform the water test, submerge the pine seeds in water. The healthy seeds will stay submerged while the non-healthy seeds float to the top.

Step 3: Stratification and Planting

You can either plant the seeds immediately after (in the fall) or dry them and store them in the fridge for stratification.

To store the seeds and grow the seedlings in containers, place the dry seeds in a container in the refrigerator for at least 12-15 weeks.

Afterward, moisten the seeds and plant them in a potting tray or individual one inch containers.

Bury them half an inch into the peat mix soil and place the pot in a sunny spot.

Step 4: Caring for the Seedlings

After harvesting and growing pine cones, the last step is to care for them until they are mature enough to live independently.

The seeds germinate best when the ground is wet, but they don’t need frequent watering after germination (you can water them when the soil dries).

For the best results, consider placing them under the sun if growing indoors; otherwise, you can use artificial lighting.

You can transplant them outdoors when the seedling is 6-12 inches tall, and remember to select the best permanent spot for your tree.5

Are Pine Cones Seeds?

Many falsely believe that the pine cones are the seed and will plant them, hoping that seedlings will sprout. On the contrary, biologically, the cone is the tree’s fruit-like structure.

It encloses two seeds between each cone scale and serves as the plant’s female part.

Pines also have male parts responsible for pollen, but they are not as easily detectable as cones. These ‘fruits’ are woody and rigid, specially designed to open and release seeds after maturity.

Different types of pine cones from small to large

(Image: Laura James12)

Each pine species features distinctive cones, in various shapes and sizes, from round and tiny to narrow and prickly.

These shells make it easier to identify and differentiate particular conifer species.

How Long Does It Take for Pine Trees To Grow?

As with any other tree, planting it from seeds can be a long process,9 and you need patience when growing your pine from the cone. The seeds undergo a dormancy period for around three months, after which the tree sprouts after a month.

The time to grow from the seedling to maturity depends on the species you plant. For instance, the Pinyon Pine takes about ten years to mature, and the cones can appear in 2-7 years.

Some also grow a foot or two yearly, with some rapidly growing species reaching more than three feet.

Pine tree growth chart showing a line graph with Pine tree age on the x-axis and Pine tree height on the y-axis.

Most pine trees need less than ten years to reach maturity, but some varieties take longer, almost 30 years.

However, pines are generally fast growers that tower and outgrow other species. Bristle-cone pines can live for thousands of years!

When To Plant Pine Tree for the Best Yield

The best planting time for maximum results depends on your pine’s starting stage.

You are safer planting when the temperatures are around 30-45 degrees (F), (very early spring after the ground is thawed) this way the tree can get accustomed to the cold and build a high tolerance for lower temperatures.3

Growers in regions experiencing punishing winters prefer planting seeds directly in the ground towards the end of fall to facilitate stratification. Another great alternative is to place the seeds in the fridge for three months to recreate winter-like conditions.

On the other hand, when starting with a pine seedling, it is best to plant in the fall when the temperatures are not sweltering or freezing, or it will affect the tree’s growth.

What Are the Growing Zones for Pine Tree? (Where To Grow)

Trees typically have their hardiness zones that offer ideal conditions for growing. The pine’s needle-like leaves and pyramid shape allow them to survive under freezing temperatures, although several varieties can live in warm regions.

The suitable conditions for the pine tree are hardiness zones 2-10, with most thriving under zones 8 or lower. Fewer types live best in zones 9 and 10 since most are comfortable with cold temperatures.

Pine trees naturally grow in the northern parts of the planet, most commonly in the regions of the Tropic of Cancer to the Arctic Circle.

They cover various countries within the geography, although human intervention has led to their increased population in the Southern regions.

Companion Plants for Growing Pine Trees

Finding plants that survive under the massive pine tree canopy can be challenging. Most plants wither and get sick under the soil’s low moisture, sunlight, and nutrient content because the pines can be very competitive.

The plants that survive such conditions include wild ginger, azaleas, astilbe, bleeding hearts, gardenia, hydrangeas, and daylilies. Most other species cannot be companion plants due to the fewer nutrients and dry conditions,8 considering that pines absorb most water from the ground.

Additionally, the cones in fall carpet the ground, preventing weeds and plants from growing unless you keep removing them.

When looking for the ideal companion plants for your pines, consider drought-resistant options that don’t mind the shade and have short roots.

Growing a Pine Tree From a Cutting

Learning how to grow a tree from a branch makes planting pine trees effortless because you only need 4-6 inches of cuttings from the tree, but they should be healthy and disease-free.

The first step is to remove the needles from the cuttings and dip them inside a rooting hormone.

Watering will provide moist conditions but don’t overwater, or the cuttings will rot.

This process requires patience because it can take up to a year, but once the roots are stable, you can transplant them in fertile soil in a pot under partial shade.

Afterward, transfer the seedlings to bright light after the plant has adjusted to the conditions. Your pines should be ready for the ground outdoors when they are large and sturdy enough.

Knowing how to propagate pine trees is the best way to grow healthy trees because otherwise, nothing will happen when you bury the entire cone.

Tips for Growing a Pine Tree From a Seedling

Many prefer propagating pine trees from seeds and later transferring them to containers when the sprouts appear while sheltering them from harsh weather.4

The goal is to provide the seedling with the water it needs to grow, not flood the soil.

Transplanting occurs in December- February.

To transplant, bury the taproot and cover it firmly, laying mulch at the seedling’s base to help the soil maintain its moisture level and to prevent weed growth.

To ensure that the soil stays fertile, you can supplement it with slow-release fertilizer after the first year because the plant uses this time to stretch its roots to find nutrients.

How To Grow a Pine Tree From a Pine Cone in the Best Growing Conditions for Pine Tree

Like any other types of evergreen trees, the pine needs sunlight, CO2, and water for photosynthesis and other physiological processes. Access to these enables the tree to convert the sun’s rays to energy, which helps absorb nutrients from the soil.

The trees also love well-draining soil to avoid complications like root rot caused by water-logging. In addition, the wind is necessary for the pine’s pollination process,7 given how light its pollen is.

It is also best to research which pine grows best in your region and avoid the rare types.

You want a pine that thrives in your soil and climate and loves all the conditions in the region. For instance, you can go for the Eastern White Pine if you live in northern America; otherwise, you should go for other varieties if you live in the south.

What Are the Watering Needs for Pine Tree Plants?

Pines need a lot of water to survive and conduct other biological processes. However, the amount required varies based on the species, the age or form, and the prevailing conditions.

For instance, you will have to water more during sweltering summers because the ground will dry up faster.

Similarly, pines’ need for water changes due to their phase of life. While a mature tree doesn’t need as much moisture to survive, a baby conifer and a newly-planted seedling require more water to facilitate their growth.

The general rule with young pines is to water them when the soil dries but remember not to overdo it, or the flooding water will lead to lethal diseases.

Planting Tips for Pine Tree

Here are tips you can implement to successfully grow a pine tree.

  • Research the pines that thrive in your state or local area to increase the chances of success. You may incline to native plants that prefer the local climate, weather, and soil, or your tree will always struggle to survive.
  • You should pick the ideal planting method, whether you want to plant the trees bare, in pots, or as burlap-balled trees.
  • Pick the best time to plant according to your location, but many prefer fall or the beginning of spring (the dormant season). Winter and summer are not the perfect time to plant because of the extreme temperatures.
  • If you must plant in winter, you can opt for burlaps, which make the trees resilient against stressful conditions.
  • Stratifying the seeds in the fridge for some months helps the plant grow since it will live through winter-like conditions.

How Pine Seeds Ripen and Distribute

The pine seeds are usually logged inside the female cone and will fall off under perfect conditions after maturity.

Larger cones typically have more, and it is common to find a species with hundreds of them.

Growing trees feature several unripe green cones, but they will take 1-7 years to ripen and turn brown, ready to fall off the tree.

The seeds are ready to disperse from the cones at this stage, and you will likely find several at the tree’s foot.

The female cones protect the seeds until they are mature enough to disperse. This process mostly happens in the fall when you spot several cones on the ground because the dry summer and autumn speed up ripening and help the wind disperse the seeds.

How To Grow a Pine Tree From a Pine Cone: Planting Pine Cones in Pots

The first thing is to pick suitable pines to grow in containers. The best options should be slow-growing dwarf Pinus species like the Norfolk Island Pine, Dwarf Blue Scotch, and Mugo Pine, which will stay small and whose roots can grow in restricted spaces.10

The next step is to make your potting mix using compost and pumice to improve the soil’s drainage and water retention until the roots absorb the moisture.

Another critical decision is which pot to use because you need one wide and deep enough to accommodate the tree.1

Clay is not suitable because they are heavier and dry out quicker than plastics, but you can go for glazed ceramics if you want one that the wind cannot knock over.

Lastly, when transplanting the pine from the nursery, be careful when covering it with soil to avoid forming air pockets in the pot.

How Do You Harvest Pine Nuts?

The first step is to select and dry the cones; the Pinyon Pine provides some of the largest nuts for harvest and is a top choice for most.

You want to harvest them before they fall to the ground and become food for wildlife.

Brownish pine nuts in a bowl

(Image: Larisa-K13)

Seeing some open shells on the tree is a clear go-ahead to harvest, but wear protective gloves to avoid getting hurt. You can give the cones about three weeks to dry by storing them in burlap or roasting them in the oven.

When ready, you can shell them slowly while wearing gardening gloves and add them to a water-filled container, disposing of the nuts that float.

You can keep the harvest in the fridge and consume them within the first 30 days.

Common Pests of the Pine Tree

The pine may be one of the easiest plants to care for, but it is also susceptible to pests. The following are the most common ones.

Bark Beetles

They bore tunnels in the tree trunk in various places, some digging downwards and others upwards.

Insecticides hardly work in these cases because the pests live underneath the bark.


They form silk bags using plant foliage and hang from the branches, and heavy infestation means leaf loss and death of the pine.

Arborvitae Leafminer

Appearing as greenish-brown worms, they cause the leaves to fall off prematurely and are lethal to the plant.

Pine Needle Scale

These white insects have mild yellow exuviae at the end and attack pine needles.

White Pine Aphid

The 6mm soft insects suck the White Pine’s twigs and branches.

How To Stop Pine Tree Disease

Controlling the spread of pine diseases is crucial, besides treating an infected tree. Avoid planting near infected trees that quickly spread fungi; remove the affected parts, and burn them to avoid air and wind transfer.

You can also apply fungicide a few times weekly, depending on the extent of the attack. Another way to help is to space the trees properly to maintain proper air circulation.

Lastly, for dire cases where the entire tree is damaged, and there is no way to salvage it, the best way to go is to chop it off.

It helps protect the rest of the trees from infestation; you can bring in experts to help remove it. The simplest way is to confirm how much to cut down a 50 foot pine tree in your area.

Examples of Natural Pest Control for Pine Tree

You can opt for eco-friendlier insecticides to keep pests off your pines. Using vegetable oil, liquid soap, and water, you can create a mixture that is safe to use but repels insects like aphids, mites, and scales.

Farmers also introduce predators in plantations to attack and chase away common pests. They will prey on the insects and reduce their population without harming the trees.

The most crucial thing to remember when planting pines is that the cone is not the seed. You cannot bury the entire cone hoping it will sprout because the seeds are enclosed and shielded from water and sunlight.

You must break the shells and retrieve the seeds, check their viability, stratify them, and prepare them for planting. You can plant dwarf species indoors or go for the giant pines outdoors, but providing the most favorable conditions for optimum growth is essential.

Once you know how to harvest the seeds from the cones, plant them in nurseries, and later transplant them to the final ground, you will be a pro at how to grow a pine tree from a pine cone.

Frequently Asked Questions About How To Grow a Pine Tree From a Pine Cone

How Far Apart To Plant Pine Tree?

Pines can grow tall and wide and need sufficient space for the roots and foliage to spread. Experts recommend a 6-7 foot spacing around the tree to accommodate future growth because otherwise, the trees will be too cramped and keep competing for the available resources.

How Much Sunlight Does Pine Tree Need Each Day?

Like any other tree, the pine needs partial or full sunlight to grow and thrive. For successful growth and cone formation, pines need at least six hours of unobstructed light, mainly when still growing to help in their physiological processes.

How Long Does It Take for a Tree To Grow?

Each tree species grows at its pace but generally reaches maturity in 10-20 years. The time frame can change based on the species, climate, weather, current conditions, and several other factors.

Which Makes Better Wood; Whitewood vs Pine?

Pine is the better option for versatility; you can use it for all your wooden projects, whether furniture making or flooring. The whitewood is softer than pine and cannot handle as many tasks, but it is the cheaper option since it is lower in demand.


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