I collected some redbud seeds from a tree in a neighbor's yard. I'd like to try to grow one. Is there anything special I need to do?

— Gene

Actually, getting redbud to germinate isn't all that hard. There are often some sprouts around existing trees.

However, you'll get faster, more consistent germination if you use a little trick. The seeds of redbud have an internal dormancy that requires exposure to cold temperatures to break. The seed also has a hard seed coat that should be weakened for consistent germination.

Providing the cold requirement is called "stratification." The seeds of lots of cold hardy plants require stratification before they will germinate.

They need three things for stratification to occur: proper temperature, moisture and oxygen.

The seed needs exposure to temperatures below 45–55 degrees for anywhere from one to three months, depending on the plant. Redbud needs cold treatment for about three months.

During this time, the seed needs exposure to water and oxygen. The seed is undergoing physiological changes that require both water and oxygen.

These two requirements can be conflicting sometimes. If the seed is in a bucket of water, there's little oxygen for the seed. If it is too dry, there's lots of oxygen, but not enough moisture.

There are two ways to fulfill these stratification requirements.

The first is to simply sow the seed outdoors in the fall and let nature provide what the seed needs. You'll have to monitor water throughout the winter and provide some if necessary. Unfortunately, this time of year, that's not an option.

The second way is to artificially provide the necessary environment. You can do this by mixing some moist (not wet) peat moss with the seed and putting it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator or even the freezer. Leave it there for three months.

Don't seal the bag. Loosely close it so oxygen can get in and out. Check how moist the peat moss is occasionally as it will dry out over time and you will need to add a little water to keep it moist.

The second problem you face is the hard seed coat. If you don't do anything about it the seed will germinate, but it may take several months (even years) for it to happen, plus the seed will germinate very sporadically. A seed will germinate every week or two or six!

Weakening the seed coat is called "scarification." There are several ways to do it: a physical abrasion of the seed coat, exposure to hot water or exposure to an acid solution. Commercially, an acid soak is usually employed to scarify the seed.

What I'd recommend for you to do is to soak the seed in 190-degree water for 6–12 hours, then mix it with the peat moss and stratify it as I outlined above.

I have a blue spruce tree that is about 4½ feet tall. My big forsythia bush is spreading out and crowding it. Can I transplant it to another spot in my yard?

When would be a good time to do this, if it's possible?

— Janet

The best time to transplant a woody plant such as your spruce is mid- to late March.

Whenever I talk about transplanting, I'm talking about odds. Doing everything right at just the right time doesn't guarantee success, it just gives you the best chance of success.

Conversely, you can do everything wrong and be successful, it's just that your chances of success are less than if you had done it right.

Here is how I would recommend doing it:

The first thing you want to do is to dig the hole in your yard where the tree is going to go. Have the hole ready so the plant is out of the ground as little time as possible.

Next, dig as large of a soil ball around the plant as you can handle — remember you'll have to pick up that bad boy and carry it over to the new hole! I would guess that for the tree you have, you will need a rootball that is 18–20 inches in diameter.

That's going to be pretty heavy, but remember that the bigger the rootball, the better your chances of success will be.

It's important to keep the rootball intact, don't let it crack or break apart. It is helpful to wrap the soil ball with burlap or an old sheet to help support it. You might even want to further support it by wrapping some chicken wire or wire fencing around the ball to help hold it together. Just be sure to take it off before you backfill.

Get it planted in the new hole and water it well. After that initial watering has soaked in, give it a second soaking with a solution of Fertilome Root Stimulator, which has a rooting hormone in it that helps to stimulate the formation of new roots.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506, or email info@bookcliffgardens.com.

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