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Garden Help Desk: Saving seeds and protecting trees

By USU Extension - | Sep 25, 2021

Trees in overwatered landscapes can't develop the robust root system they need to handle the force of strong windstorms. (Courtesy Meredith Seaver)

I bought more seed packages than I ended up using this spring. Will they stay good and store better in airtight food sealer bags? How long can I keep them in the bags?

Your seeds should probably be fine in a food sealer bag but that’s probably not necessary unless you’re planning to store them for a long time in a freezer.

Proper storage is important if you want to store your surplus seeds and still get good germination. Four conditions can affect the quality of seeds in storage — light, moisture, large swings in temperature, and time. For some plant species all four conditions matter and for other species, it may be only one. Luckily, it’s easy to protect your leftover seeds from all four potential problems.

Tucking your seed packets into an old canning jar with a fresh lid, or any other moisture-proof or airtight container will protect your seeds from moisture. Keeping the jar in a back corner of a refrigerator shelf will take care of the wide swings in temperature and give the seeds a mostly dark location.

The fourth potential problem, time, is completely in your control. If your seed packets don’t have “packaged for” date on them, label them yourself before you put them in storage. Learn the maximum number of years each type of seed should be viable, use the oldest viable seeds first, and discard seeds that are too old for good germination.

Anything that compromises the root system of a tree can make it more prone to failing in the wind. This tree was overwatered, tipped in the wind, causing extensive damage to the root system, and then staked back in place. Several years later the tree was tipped in the wind again and had to be removed. (Courtesy Meredith Seaver)

If you want to hold your seeds for multiple years, then something like a food sealer bag will be convenient for storage and the freezer will be a good place.

Before you put your seeds into a plastic bag or any other airtight container, make sure they are dry. If you’ve had the packets in a humid location and then you seal them in an airtight container, the seeds could mold during storage. Move your seed packets in a dry, room-temperature location for a week or so and they should be ready for airtight storage.

I have some big spruce trees; some are nearly 30 feet tall. A few have fallen over in windstorms in the last few years and I’m wondering if I should stake the others so that I don’t lose any more? What’s the best approach for my trees?

Staking is an option for some newly transplanted conifers while they establish their root systems during their first year or so of growth, but it’s not really an option for your spruces. They’re much too large to be successfully staked. Sometimes a microburst comes along and brings down a seemingly healthy, well-established tree, but if you’re losing a tree every couple of years, there are other issues to look at. Improper pruning or being planted too deeply can make a tree more susceptible to wind damage, but another common reason for tree failure in the wind is problems with the root system.

Poor rooting can affect tree stability and overwatering is the most common cause of root problems for trees. If your trees were being watered more than once a week during the summer, they were being overwatered. Chronic overwatering affects the health and vigor of root systems.

If you don't see a 'packed for' date on your seed packets, label them yourself before you put them in storage. (Courtesy Meredith Seaver)

Plants need oxygen for their roots, and they get it when air moves into the soil. If you water frequently, the tiny air pores in the soil stay filled with water and there isn’t room for air. As a result, plants often can’t develop the robust root system they need to thrive. Roots can suffocate or may develop root rot.

Restricting the area where trees can spread their roots is another common cause of tree failure in the wind. Trees in parking strips and street planters frequently fail in windstorms.

There isn’t much you can do now if your trees are growing in a location where their root zone is restricted, but if they’ve had plenty of room to root out and grow, then a change in your watering habits may improve the outlook for the rest of your trees.

The best seed storage protects leftover seeds from moisture and humidity in a cool or cold place. A cool, dark basement room or back corner in a refrigerator will do. (Courtesy photo)

Seeds can be stored in any clean container that will protect them from humidity and moisture. (Courtesy photo)

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