How to grow a Douglas Fir from seed

Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)


Douglas Fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii, is from the family Pinaceae it is an evergreen conifer also called the Oregon Pine because it is native to the northwestern United States can be found all around that region and Canada. It can grow to 70-240 feet tall; it is the second tallest growing conifer after the coast redwood. Douglas firs can live for hundreds of years this is due to its thick tough bark that can protect it against some forest fires. It is monoecious which means that both female and male flowers on the same tree, the female flower once pollenated by the wind develops into the cone that produces the seed. Grows best in USDA hardiness zones 4-6 and is shade tolerant when young but requires more sunlight as it gets older. Douglas firs need well-aerated, deep soils with a pH range from 5 to 6; it does not do well in poorly drained or compacted soils.


Douglas firs being grown on a Christmas Tree Farm

Douglas firs being grown on a Christmas Tree Farm

Most commonly grown for Timber, but is also used for telephone poles, and Christmas trees. The Douglas fir has been used as a Christmas tree in the Pacific Northwest since the 1920s, because it was one of the most commonly found in the area. Douglas firs grown for Christmas trees take 7-10 years to grow to the right size depending on the growing conditions, the trees are sheared once every summer so they grow in uniformly in shape and size. In the wild its winged seeds are eaten by a variety of different of rodents, and deer, mule, and sheep eat it’s leaves and twigs, and it’s staminate cones and needles are eaten by the blue grouse pheasant over the winter. Its needles can also be used to make a tea that is high in vitamin C and was drunk by Native Americans for medicinal reasons.


a mature cone hanging from a branch

a mature cone hanging from a branch

Propagation methods

Douglas firs are normally propagated by seed this is because it is the easiest and cheapest method also it can be difficult to get cuttings to root. Tissue culture can also be used to propagate Douglas firs but the tissue taken must be from younger trees or seedlings. Growing a Douglas fir from seed is the easiest method but special steps are required if you intend to do it with seeds from a cone you find in the woods. Seeds from cones found in nature must first be harvested then over come dormancy before you plant them. This is done by cold moist stratification; this process can be done in a cold frame or in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer.

Douglas fir tip cuttings

Douglas fir tip cuttings


Grafting is an option but only as a way of insuring a desired trait from a stock plant is carried on to a seedling. It is important to note that Douglas firs cuttings can have period of plagiotropic growth, this is more likely the older tree is. This means that a cutting taken from a lateral branch can continue to grow laterally, so for best results cuttings must be taken from seedlings or trees in the juvenile stage of development that are sheared once a year.


Step by step guide

Step 1

First collect cones, you can find the cones on or around Douglas firs in the fall. You want to make sure that the cones you collect have already begun to open; this is to ensure that the seed inside is mature.

Step 2

Remove seeds, this can be done easily after letting the cones dry out for a few hours in direct sunlight then hitting them on a hard surface, or putting then on a baking sheet in the oven at no more than 120°F until they fully open. Once you have your seed rub them between your hands to remove the wings.

Step 3

Stratify the seeds, soak your seeds in water for a day then dry then for another day. You can put them in a plastic sandwich bag making sure there’s plenty of air in the bag, then place the bag in your refrigerator’s vegetable crisper drawer for at least four weeks. Or you can then plant them in pots and then place them in a cold frame over winter.

Step 4

Plant in pots no smaller than 6 inches deep, make sure that your potting soil is has good drainage so that it will hold moisture without getting soggy. Plant seeds about 2 inches deep, then cover with soil. Keep in partial shade for the first year; older seedlings will require full sunlight.

Step 5

Care for your seedlings by keeping them inside for the first 4-6 weeks then hardening them off before you plant outdoors. If you have a greenhouse you can grow them indoors for the first year before hardening them in the following spring, this will make them hardier. Keep in mind its potential height when choosing where to plant the seedling. Water the seedling 1-4 times a month, you can fertilize it once a month but be sure to dilute it with water to avoid damage to the roots.


Doulgas fir seedlings

Doulgas fir seedlings


Grafting is possible but you first need to make sure the rootstock is compatible with your scion, and the scion is taken from a younger tree in its juvenile stage. Harvesting the seeds from a cone is the best way to propagate the Douglas fir because it’s the easiest and cheapest method. So the next time you’re walking through a forest take a look around you may find a cone you can use to grow your very own Douglas fir. Imagine decorating a Christmas tree you grew yourself, or you could plant them as a living fence lining your property all you need is the seed, the time, and some patience.


Work Cited

Hartmann, Hudson T. Plant Propagation: Principles and Practices. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2002. 787. Print.

“Douglas Fir.” USDA. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <>.

Tompkins, Dennis. “Douglas Fir.” National Christmas Tree Association. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <>.

Hermann, Richard K., and Denis P. Lavender. “Pseudotsuga Menziesii (Mirb.) Franco Douglas-Fir.” USDA Forest Service. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <>.

Johnson, Kimberly. “How to Plant Douglas Fir Seeds.” EHow. Demand Media, 1 Apr. 2010. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <>.

Schmidt, Richard. “How to Grow Conifers From Seed.” Mother Earth News. 1 Sept. 1982. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <>.

Leave a Reply