Q: Our Norway spruce trees produced a bumper crop of cones this year. How do you go about starting Norway spruce tree seeds?
A: Although Norway spruce (Picea abies) is not native to the United States, it has naturalized and grows well in much of the country. The cones mature from September through November, and seeds are dispersed from September through April. Spruce seeds are found between the scales of the cones. Once the cones have dried thoroughly, they will fall out easily. In nature, the cones fall and release seeds, or they are shaken out by wind, or distributed through bird and animal activity.
Shake the cones and collect the seeds. Store them in an airtight container in your refrigerator (NOT the freezer) until early spring. They will germinate best if you soak them in water for 24 hours prior to planting them.
You can sow seeds into a flat or individual 4-inch pots that have been filled with a soilless seed starting mix. Cover the seed very lightly with the mix; if you bury them too deeply they may not germinate. Keep the soil evenly moist but never sopping wet. You can place the planted containers outdoors in an area protected from rain.
Sources I referred to for this article predict a germination rate of 80 percent. Once the seedlings are up, you should move them to individual pots. If you have an area — perhaps part of a vegetable garden or flower bed — that you can use as a nursery, you could also plant the small seedlings there to grow until they are big enough to be moved to their permanent location(s).