Sowing Mesquite Seeds: How And When To Plant Mesquite Seeds
By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Mesquite plants are considered symbols of the American Southwest. They grow like weeds in their natural region and make excellent native plants in that area’s gardens. Producing a lovely tree with tiny, yellow spring flowers and bean-like pods. This member of the legume family can secure nitrogen in the soil, improving the garden. Growing mesquite from seed found in the wild is a fun way to enjoy these plants for free. Read further for info on how to grow mesquite trees from seed.
How to Grow Mesquite from Seed
Plant propagation by amateur gardeners is an interesting way to develop new plants and enhance your garden expertise. Sowing mesquite seeds for intentional propagation requires some specific steps to enhance germination. In the wild, any animal who eats a bean pod will spread the seed, and the animal’s digestive tract provides the necessary treatment to break embryo dormancy. For the home gardener, additional treatment will be necessary.
Many experts state that growing mesquite from seed is the hardest way to propagate the plant. Air layering or propagation through grafting are common commercial methods. For mesquite seeds, the maximum germination occurs at temperatures of 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 29 C.).
The seed does not need light to germinate but does best under 0.2 inches (0.5 cm.) of soil. Seedlings do need light to grow and soil temperatures of at least 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 C.). Scarification of the seed and a soak in sulfuric acid or horticultural vinegar enhances cotyledon emergence.
Enhancing Mesquite Seed Germination
Seeds need to be scarred with a knife or file to wound the hard exterior. Next, a 15- to 30-minute soak in sulfuric acid or in a strong vinegar solution will help soften the hard seed exterior. Another treatment that may help is stratification.
Wrap seeds in moist sphagnum moss in a plastic bag or container and place them in the refrigerator for 8 weeks. This is a common method of stimulation the emergence of the embryo. While it may not be necessary, it will not hurt the seeds and may encourage seedling emergence. Once all treatments have been completed, it is time for sowing mesquite seeds.
When to Plant Mesquite Seeds
Timing is everything when planting. If you are planting seeds directly outside in containers or a prepared bed, sow seed in spring. Seeds started indoors can be planted at any time but require a warm area to germinate and grow on.
Another trick to ensure germination is to wrap the seeds in moist paper towels for a week. The seeds should send out little sprouts in about that time. Then install the sprouts in a mixture of sand and sphagnum moss that has been lightly moistened.
Depending upon the cultivar, many growers have experienced success just by planting seeds, untreated in potting soil. However, since some cultivar seeds are resistant, following the treatment plan outlined will not harm seeds and will prevent much of the frustration associated with these resistant varieties.
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Here in the Rio Grande Valley, deep down in South Texas, we are blessed to have a natural abundance of mesquite trees—known to the Pima Indians as “The Tree of Life.”
While they are often overlooked (and frequently removed) for their many fine qualities, it should come as no surprise that we here at Cappadona Ranch are quite fond of this spectacular tree. Not only are they durable and able to withstand that our tough Southwestern climate with little to no irrigation, they also provide food and cover for wildlife, attract cute little honey bees and other interesting insects, and provide nesting sites for songbirds as well.
Oh, and did we mention the delectable pods and seeds of the mesquite tree are the main ingredients for our delicious Cappadona Ranch Mesquite Bean Jelly and Mesquite Bean Roasted Coffee?
Now, understandably, if you live in one of Texas’ neighboring states (or further north) you might be a bit envious of the bounty of mesquite we have just growing randomly. But no need to worry. We cherish the mesquite tree so much that we want to spread the love by giving you a few pointer on how to plant your very own mesquite tree.
So listen in and buckle up.
How to Grow a Mesquite Tree
There are three common species of native mesquite trees, so you might want to do a little bit of research to find how which you might prefer to grow in your garden. The species include Screwbean Mesquite, Honey Mesquite, and Velvet Mesquite.
While the mesquite seeds are quite strong and able to remain dormant for decades, growing a tree from the seed can be a bit of a challenge if the right conditions are not met. Dry conditions and temperatures up to 90 degrees are the best environments for growth. Germination takes place at 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit under a light soil.
The following steps will help to ease the process:
- After harvesting the mesquite pods, break them open and reveal the seeds inside.
- Crack the outer surface of the seed or use sandpaper to scratch it. This will help water to penetrate the seed.
- Prepare a single pot per each seed that you want to grow. Make sure there are no drainage holes at the bottom of the pot and add 1 to 2 inches of gravel before pouring in the soil.
- Bury each seed only ¼ inch below the surface and apply water twice a day or as needed to keep the soil moist.
If you can’t get a seed to turn into a sapling, consider soaking the seeds in water for 24 hours.
Or if perhaps you’re just not much of a green thumb, you can always purchase a young sapling from a reputable nursery.
From Sapling to Full Grown Tree
Once you’ve gotten yourself a sapling that’s around 4 to 6 inches tall, you are going to want to transplant it into the ground. Take the following steps:
- Dig a hole that is slightly wider than the size of the pot and as deep as the roots.
- Fill the hole in with water and check to see if it’s draining. You should wait about 30 minutes to see if the water remains in the hole.
- If everything looks good, then make sure to mix in 3 inches of gritty organic material or aged compost to the soil to give the sapling a boost. Aside from this little “snack,” your mesquite sampling shouldn’t need any additional fertilizer—they are tough little fellas.
- Once planted, make sure to keep the tree moist while it establishes its roots.
- Good staking is essential to helping your sapling stay in place, especially in areas with severe summer storms or high winds.
- After about two months, the feeder roots should have spread out and the deeper roots should be diving into the soil. Your mesquite tree should not need any additional water unless a truly severe drought occurs.
Don’t forget to plant your mesquite in an area of your yard or garden where it’s going to be getting a lot of quality sun. Your mesquite tree will also benefit from the occasional pruning, especially in early spring, so that good branch formations can occur.
Some Tips to Protect Against Mistletoe
Mistletoe is naturally occurring in semi-arid and desert-like environments, and while it doesn’t outright kill the tree, it does steal nutrients and water, leaving the tree more susceptible to disease and other stresses that eventually kill it over time.
It may take some time to notice mistletoe, but when you do, your best bet is to remove it from your tree. If the infestation is a small one, you can try pruning the branch that is infected by at least one foot behind where the mistletoe is occurring. The reason you will want to prune is that mistletoe actually infects the interior root system of the tree and not just the outside.
Large infection may require hefty pruning, or you can simply brush off the mistletoe, as it comes off very easily. However, be aware that this does not actually get rid of the infestation and the mistletoe will continue to regrow. Basically, you will have to make removing the mistletoe part of your tree maintenance.
It takes years for a mistletoe infestation to really hurt the tree but you’ll want to prevent it early on as it can spread to neighboring trees (our winged friends sure do love to eat those berries and “spread” them around).
Here in the Rio Grande Valley, deep down in South Texas, we are blessed to have a natural abundance of mesquite trees—known to the Pima Indians as “The Tree of Life.” While they are often overlooked (and frequently removed) for their many fine qualities, it should come as no surprise that we here at Cappadona Ranch are
You need to take the seed out of the pod, then soak the seeds in water overnight, then sow in a bedding mix,, they grow quickly just keep the bedding mix moist for about the first 10 to 12 days
Alternatively, you could find someone who has one and just ask if you can dig out some that have sprouted in the yard. If my mesquite is representative, they germinate like mad by simply letting them fall to the ground and do their thing. Ive got literally hundreds that sprout in my yard each year.
Creeping Screwbean Mesquite Tree (Prosopis strombulifera)
Creeping Screwbean Mesquite seed pods
The creeping mesquite tree has similar coiled seed pods to the screwbean mesquite. Also called the Argentine screwbean, this thorny shrub-like tree has waxy compound leaves, white spines, and tube-like flowers growing as yellow spherical flower heads. After flowering, yellow screw-like pods appear that contain brown, bean-like seeds.
Creeping mesquite trees grow in full sun and reach about 10 ft. (3 m) tall.