you the gardening equivalent of a fast food junkie when it
comes to growing seeds, or are you prepared to wait for your rewards,
and enjoy the pleasures of growing your own shrubs and trees
from seed? If you suspect you are the former, stop
Growing our native wild trees and shrubs by gathering your own
seeds from the countryside is immensely rewarding but does
demand patience and time. If a quick screen or specimen tree
to attract wildlife is your requirement, it is far better to
find a local source of bare-rooted stock that, once planted,
will make an impact within a year. Even if this is the way
you wish to go, it may still be worth gathering some fruits
and seeds this month to germinate and grow on – these can be
used to fill in any gaps that occur in the early years of your
hedge or copse.
the other hand, if you have all the time in the world and the
patience of a saint, collecting a few acorns and growing these
stalwart natives from seed to fledgling tree is, with the
possible exception of growing vegetables, one of the most
satisfying tasks a gardener can undertake. One great
advantage of collecting a few seeds from your own local stock
is that the wildlife in your area, especially insects and
other invertebrates, will be adapted specifically to them.
Collecting and storing tree and shrub seeds How many
of us on an autumn walk have popped the odd hazelnut or acorn
into a coat pocket, simply for the comforting feel of its
smooth surface between finger and thumb? In fact in times
past, hazelnuts in particular were carried in a pocket as a
good luck charm, to protect the carrier from ill health.
These hardy seeds embodied all things optimistic - they were
symbols of the renewal of life in the spring ahead.
Collecting seeds of common species from the wild is legal, but
if you plan to collect seeds from private land you will need
permission from the landowner. Be frugal with your collecting
as these fruits all provide food for wildlife. If you plan to
add an oak tree to your garden, take only five or six acorns
as there is a good chance that every one will germinate. A
handful of hips or haws for a new hedgerow will provide twenty
or thirty seedling hawthorns or wild roses. Choose trees and
shrubs that appear to be growing well and are in good health,
collect no more than you need directly into strong paper bags
and label them immediately. It is surprisingly easy to forget
which species is in each bag!
Pre-treatment of your seeds The treatment of the
seeds once you get them home is crucial. Those that are
fleshy, such as wild cherry, hawthorn or rose hip will need
the fleshy parts removed. This is something that happens
naturally at this time, as the outer parts are eaten and
digested by birds. Indeed this process sometimes hastens
germination, as the digestive acids in the bird’s stomach act
upon the hard seed coat and begin to gently break it down. If
you have collected just a few seeds, this flesh removal is
something that can be done rather messily by hand.
After this, virtually all species will require a period of
cold weather before germination will occur. This means sowing
the seeds soon after collection and leaving them outside to
allow the winter conditions to work on them and bring about
germination in the spring. However, each of our wild trees
and shrubs needs slightly different conditions or treatments
to bring about germination, and this is where a little
knowledge and a lot of patience and perseverance come in.
species require the seeds to be 'scarified' at the pre-sowing
stage. This involves rubbing hard seeds between pieces of
sandpaper to gently break the seed coat, allowing water to
enter and start the germination process. In the wild this
will happen naturally – but will take a very long time! The
sandpaper treatment hastens the process considerably.
Stratification is also a process used. This simply means
subjecting the seeds to cold and sometimes also warm
conditions in order to break dormancy. However this will
occur naturally if you sow in the winter months. Check the
requirements of your particular species if you wish
germination to take place as soon as possible, otherwise, sow
and bide your time. Put your prepared seeds into trays or
pots of free draining peat-free compost. Cover large seeds
well, but smaller seeds such as silver birch need only be
covered very lightly. Leave the trays outside, ensure that
they are kept moist and sit back and wait.
After care Once germination has occurred, your small
shrubs and trees will need potting on and tending well for at
least one growing season. They can then be planted out in the
following autumn with the usual care given to trees and
shrubs, including adequate watering throughout their first
year of growth.
Reaping the rewards The rewards of growing your own
trees and shrubs from seed are many. A young oak from an
acorn from a favourite tree can evoke memories of winter walks
or summer picnics. A new hedgerow grown entirely from
collected seeds could have pride of place in the garden.
Taking time to grow these plants may well slow the pace of
life a little, but in a hectic world, there is a great deal of
satisfaction to be had from growing your own.
top native shrubs
Fruits of hawthorn, blackthorn, wild rose and guelder rose
will require removal of the fleshy parts and should be sown in
autumn. Germination may occur the next or following spring.
Hazelnuts should be sown in their shells in the autumn, but
protected from squirrels if possible.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) A fantastic hedging
shrub or small tree, excellent for wildlife especially birds.
Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) Otherwise known as sloe
or quickthorn This is a good nesting shrub, and its early
white blossom brightens the spring garden.
Dog Rose (Rosa canina) A favourite climber that can
be planted beneath a hedge and allowed to weave its way
through. Pink, insect-attracting flowers in spring followed
by bright red hips in the autumn.
Hazel (Corylus avellana) Spring time catkins
followed by hazelnuts in the autumn. A good shrub for
encouraging small mammals and several species of moth.
Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) Not a rose but a
species of Viburnum, the guelder rose is happiest on a heavy
or damp soil. The flat plates of beautiful white flowers are
followed by red berries which blackbirds relish.
top native trees
seeds of beech, oak and silver birch can be sown immediately
after collection. Crab apples should be cut open and the pips
extracted. Remove the flesh of cherries before sowing.
English Oak (Quercus robur) Plant this species for your
children and grandchildren! English oak will make a sizeable
tree in 10 years, attracting a huge number of native insect
Silver Birch (Betula pendula) The tiny seeds of
silver birch are easy to germinate. They form graceful and
attractive trees quickly on light soils.
Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris) A tree well worth
growing for the fruits alone. Birds and many insects are
attracted to this tree.
Bird Cherry (Prunus padus) Ornamental cherries have
beautiful spring flowers and this native is no exception. The
tassels of white flowers are followed by small cherries
enjoyed by many birds.
Beech (Fagus sylvatica) Beech seeds or ‘mast’ are produced
in great abundance about every seven years (mast years) and
populations of some small birds and mammals are very dependant
upon them as food.