Magnolia trees produce seed cones in the fall which litter yards and sidewalks. The gorgeous red seeds serve as a delicacy for squirrels and migrating birds, and they can also be collected to grow more magnolias!
Growing magnolias from seed is a practice of patience – not only will you need to wait a few months to see signs of sprouting, but the seedlings may take as long as 15 years to bloom! Nevertheless, if you’ve ever seen a Southern magnolia in full blossom, you know it’s worth the wait.
For best results, collect seeds from standard species (like Southern magnolia) rather than hybrids or special cultivars. Hybrids are specially pollinated to mix two varieties together, and their seeds will likely revert back to one of the parent varieties, rather than producing the same type of tree you admired.
How to Collect and Plant Magnolia Seeds
Follow these five simple steps to grow magnolia trees from seeds for your yard.
Step 1: Collect Magnolia Seeds
Look for magnolia cones that are already opening up and releasing the seeds. If you can’t find any, pick up fresh cones and set them aside for a few days until they dry and open. Gently shake the red magnolia seeds out of the cone.
Step 2: Scarify Magnolia Seeds
Scrub magnolia seeds with a paper towel to remove the red pulpy coating. If the seed coat doesn’t come off, try soaking the seeds in water overnight to soften them – throwing away any that float.
Once you’ve removed the seed coat, rough up the surface of the seed a little (called “scarifying”) by lightly scrubbing the seed with a piece of sandpaper, screen wire, or steel wool. This removes protective oils and makes it easier for the seed to break open and sprout.
Step 3: Stratify Magnolia Seeds
Allow the seeds to rest for 3-6 months at around 40° to 45° F, without drying out. There are three ways to do this:
- Refrigerator: The easiest way is to mix the seeds with moist seed-starting mix or peat, place in a plastic bag or container, and stick them in the fridge for the winter.
- Cold Frame: Alternately, you can plant the seeds about 1/2″ deep in a seed tray or small pot, and put it in a cold frame. Be sure to keep the soil moist all winter, and protect it from freezing temperatures.
- Outdoors: If you prefer nature’s approach, you can plant the seeds outdoors, about 1/2″ deep, with a layer of mulch to hold in moisture. If you plant them outdoors, keep in mind that they may not survive if they freeze or dry out, and they’ll be an easy snack for hungry squirrels!
Step 4: Plant Magnolia Seeds
When temperatures reach around 70° F in the spring, plant your magnolia seeds either in the ground or in pots, about 1/2″ deep in a light planting medium. Keep evenly moist until the seeds germinate, which usually takes a few weeks or longer.
Step 5: Grow Magnolia Trees
Transplant seedlings to their permanent homes, or grow them in pots until they’re a little bigger. Keep the seedlings evenly moist and protected from direct sun for the first year.
- How to Grow Magnolias in Your Yard (article)