Growing Dawn Redwood from seed

Dawn Redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) have an interesting history – until 1941 they were thought to be extinct, existing only though fossilised records. But then, a university professor by the name of Kan Duo discovered a living Dawn Redwood growing in China. The first Dawn Redwood to be grown in the UK was planted at Cambridge University Botanical Gardens in the late 1940s.

Unlike the Coastal Redwood or Giant Sequoia, Dawn Redwoods are deciduous and drop their leaves in the winter – but like Coastal Redwoods, they’re relatively easy to grow without significant need for cold stratification, making them an easy pick for tree growers.

Getting your Dawn Redwood seeds

Buying seeds

If you live in the UK, you can buy your Dawn Redwood seeds directly from us! Not only is our seed good quality and competitively priced, it also helps to support the production of these free growing guides. You can find our Dawn Redwood seeds here. If you live outside of the UK, search for local seed sellers in your region. 

Collecting seeds

Self-collected Dawn Redwood seeds sometimes have good germination rates, even from younger trees outside of their natural habitat. If you have a Dawn Redwood nearby you may wish to consider the option of collecting your own seeds – just check if you need permission to collect the seeds before doing so.

Preparing the seeds

Preparing Dawn Redwood seeds is a relatively straightforward process, as they can germinate well without any stratification. This is because the natural habitat of the species experiences mild winters that rarely drop below 4-5 degrees celsius as a nighttime low.

Dawn Redwood seedlings

Whether you’re stratifying your seeds or not – the best place to start is with an overnight soak in water to kick start the process.

Often your best option will likely be to then move forward to sowing as soon as you are able to, as the seeds have a relatively short shelf-life – especially when stored at room temperature or higher.

If you do decide to stratify your seeds, the best approach would be to keep the seeds moist but not totally wet (optionally with a medium such as vermiculite or sand that can help maintain and regulate moisture levels across the seeds) and place them in a semi-sealed container in the refrigerator for 3-6 weeks – ensuring they don’t dry out during this time.

Sowing Dawn Redwood seeds

As with most seeds, our preferred method is to sow outside of compost and wait for germinations before planting germinated seeds in seed tray pods. This approach takes away a lot of the guesswork and is generally more efficient as you’re not wasting space on seeds that won’t germinate.

The method involves sowing the seeds on a damp tissue paper inside a sealed container that maintains a relatively high humidity. The trick here is to get the level of moisture right. Too much and you are at high risk of fungal growth that can damage the seeds. Too little and it will be difficult for them to germinate. My usual method involves first inserting the kitchen roll, then giving it a few sprays with water from a spray bottle so that it is slightly damp. I then place the seeds onto the roll before spraying another few sprays. If you’re worried you made things too wet, you can leave the lid off for a few minutes to let them dry out. These germination containers should be sealed and placed in a shaded area (away from any direct sunlight) and kept at a comfortable room temperature (around 20 degrees celsius). You will need to check on the seeds daily for germinations.

After germination

When you spot a germinating seed, it’s time to plant it in compost. I use a coir compost for this stage as it is light and airy – allowing the roots to grow easily and without becoming too saturated in water. A key risk in the first few weeks of life is death from “damping off” – essentially fungus that kills the seedling – in my experience using coir compost helps to reduce a large part of this risk as long as you’re not overwatering. Germinated seeds should be planted around 0.5-1cm below the surface.