How to grow shrubs and trees from seed

Scots Pine from Thompson & Morgan

Even the mighty Scots Pine can be grown from a tiny seed
Image: Scots Pine from Thompson & Morgan

Sowing your own shrubs from seed is fun and rewarding. Not only do you save money on the more expensive container grown shrubs, you can also reduce your environmental impact and ensure that your seedlings are acclimatised to your specific growing conditions. Here are some of the best shrubs and trees to raise from seed.

The best shrubs to grow from seed

Tree Peony 'Rockii Mixed' from T&M

Rarely offered from seed, 'Rockii Mixed' reaches a height and spread of 150cm
Copyright: RHS Images Collection

If you’re looking for a cost-effective way to fill your garden with an interesting array of shrubs, there are plenty of seeds from which to choose. Here are some of the easiest shrubs to try:

  • Lavender - try Lavender spicata ‘Rosea’ for unusual pale pink blooms, or French lavender for a really showy plant. The dwarf variety Lavender angustifolia ‘Lady’ flowers in the first year after sowing.
  • Buddleja - entirely unfussy and versatile, Buddleja davidii has long plumes of colourful, fragrant flowers that attract pollinators, and especially butterflies, to the garden.
  • Tree peony - a much sought-after seed, tree peony ‘Rockii Mixed’ can take a few years to flower but will reward your patience with a lifetime of exquisite, tissue paper blooms splashed with deep burgundy at the base. There are very few plants that can compete with the beauty of a tree peony in full bloom.

The best trees to grow from seed

Paulownia tomentosa from T&M

Paulownia tomentosa is often called the Foxglove tree
Copyright: Garden World Images

Trees can take a little longer to raise from seed, but the satisfaction of starting one from scratch easily outweighs the inconvenience of having to wait. Here are some of the best trees to grow from seed: 

  • Scots pine - a native tree, Pinus sylvestris makes a shapely addition to a rockery while still young and later a majestic statement in the garden as it approaches full height.
  • Empress tree - Also known as the Foxglove Tree, Paulownia tomentosa features large clusters of fragrant violet flowers and exotic leaves. Awarded a RHS Award of Garden Merit, this tree grows fast, with single shoots growing up to 8ft in a season. 

How to sow tree and shrub seed 

Getting your trees and shrubs off to the best start is easy. All you need is:

  • A packet of seeds.
  • A seed tray or a few small pots.
  • Good quality seed compost.
  • A warm spot indoors.

Soak your seeds, especially larger seeds, in water for a few hours prior to sowing. Follow these four steps when you’re ready to get them into pots:

  1. Fill your pots. Make sure you fill your tray or pots with compost up to a couple of centimetres below the rim. Water the compost well and add more if the level sinks too much.
  2. Sow your seed. Place your seeds onto the soil surface, spacing them out or sowing one per pot/module.
  3. Move to a warm space. Cover the seeds with a layer of compost and move them into a sunny spot. Make sure they have a stable temperature of 18 - 21℃ for germination.
  4. Water. Water well but carefully using a rosette fitting on your watering can to avoid disturbing the seeds. Keep the pots moist. 

Label your pots and trays with the variety and the date, it can be easy to get mixed up. Expect to see germination within 3 months of sowing, although this can vary between varieties so patience is key!

Growing your own trees and shrubs from seed is highly rewarding. For more advice, take a look at our shrubs hub page where you'll find growing guides, top tips and inspiration. Share your own experience with us via our Instagram or Twitter. We love to hear from you!


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