Small Trees For The Home

Publication 418 - Also available in PDF form at
Clifford W. Collier, Jr., Extension Specialist, Landscape Architecture
Revised by John Jett, Extension Specialist, Horticulture

Very few events are more exciting or satisfying as watching a seed that you have planted grow into an attractive plant. There are many seeds (such as lemons, oranges, apples and pears) found around the average home, that grow into very attractive plants that may be used in the home or on a garden terrace.

Cleaning the Seed

The seed from fleshy fruit, such as apples, should be cleaned or disinfected by washing them in a sink filled with water to which a teaspoon of liquid bleach has been added. Do not soak the seed but wash them quickly and rinse them thoroughly in clear water.

Soil Sterilization

Fill a shallow pan with soil and cover with foil, place the pan in an oven preheated to 180, leaving it about 30 minutes. A meat or candy thermometer should be placed through the foil into the center of the soil. As soon as it registers 180 begin timing. Do not leave the soil in the oven over 30 minutes as beneficial micro-organisms may also be killed. You may choose to use a commercial potting mix rather than sterilized garden soil.

Cleaning the Pots

Old pots should be cleaned with a 10 percent commercial bleach solution and then rinsed thoroughly in clean water. New clay pots should be soaked overnight in clean water.

Plastic pots are available in many shapes and sizes, and peat pots may be used if they are available. They both have the advantage in that no advance preparation is required and as the plants grow, they may be transplanted into larger containers without disturbing the root system.

Planting the Seed

One to three seeds should be planted in each 3" clay pot. Place the pot in a convenient, dimly lit location and keep the seed moist but not wet. As soon as the seed germinates and the first leaves appear, they may be brought into a lighted room.

Another method of propagation is to place the seed between two clean sponges. Keep the sponges damp but not wet and place them in a shaded location. After the seeds have germinated, plant the seedlings in sterile soil in a 3" clay or peat pot.

A third method of germinating seed, such as the avocado, is in the same manner as sweet potatoes are rooted. Submerge to of the seed in a cup of water, securing the seed in place with toothpicks. After the roots are formed, transplant the seedlings into sterile soil. A 4" or 5" container will be required, depending on the size of the seed. Caution should be exercised not to damage the root system when transplanting the seedlings.

Cool Region Plants

Seeds which require a ripening period under low temperature (stratification), may be planted outdoors in the fall or kept in a refrigerator at about 40 for a period of about three months. Seeds planted outdoors will germinate naturally in the spring. The seedlings may then be potted at a later date.

Seeds which are refrigerated should be placed in a plastic bag which contains moist peat moss, vermiculite or perlite to prevent the seed from drying. In the spring, the seed may be placed in pots and allowed to germinate.

If seeds are to be planted directly into the garden, a certain area or section should be marked off in order not to confuse them with weeds in the spring. A grape crate which has had the bottom removed may be placed in the ground as a good marker, or the seed may be planted in pots and buried in the ground to the depth of the container.

Hard Shell Seed

Hard shell seed, such as pecans or walnuts, should be filed or cracked (scarified) to hasten germination. These seeds may be treated in the same manner as cool region seeds. If they are planted directly into the garden, the natural process of freezing and thawing will crack the seed and they should germinate in the spring.

Below are a few seeds which are relatively easy to propagate. The grower should be aware that many plants do not come true from seed.

Seed Requiring Refrigeration Seed Requiring Filing Seed requiring no special preparation
Apple Peach Orange
Peach Pecan Lime
Quince Cherry Grapefruit
Pear Plum Lemon
Plum Apricots Tangerine
Persimmon Nectarines Avocado

Seed from other trees and shrubs may also be propagated to obtain small trees for use in the home. Some are relatively easy to propagate while others are difficult to handle or require several years to germinate.

For those who wish to obtain a variety of plants or wish to experiment, below are a few seeds you may want to try.*

Acorns Maples Nandina Dogwood Redbud
Locust Magnolia Cotoneaster Holly Pines
Fir Grapes Pecans Golden Rain Tree  

*These seeds should be stratified over winter.