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How to Plant Ironwood Seeds

arizona desert image by John Keith from

The ironwood tree (Olneya tesota) is also known as desert ironwood, palo fierro and tesota. It is a medium-sized, deciduous tree seen growing throughout areas in Arizona, Baja California and the Sonora Desert in California. According to Pima County, Arizona, the ironwood tree is one of the longest-living and largest of all the plant life found in the Sonoran desert.

Germinating Ironwood Seeds

File off a small section on each of the ironwood seeds using a nail file, emery board or a piece of sand paper, as recommended by Robert Becker of the National Seed Laboratory. Nicking off a section of the seed-coat of ironwood seeds can help hasten the rate of germination.

Set the ironwood seeds into a glass or bowl of water to soak for 24 hours.

Fill up a planting flat with a good quality seed raising mix. Pack the seed raising mix down in the planting flat using the bottom of a 3 or 4-inch plastic pot, a small block of wood or the bottom of a cup.

Create shallow, 1/4-inch deep rows in the planting flat using the long side of a 12-inch ruler. Make each row approximately 1 to 1 1/2 inches apart.

Plant the ironwood seeds in the rows so they are spaced 1 seed to every 1 to 1 1/2 inches. Push the ironwood seed firmly into the soil. Cover up each of the ironwood seeds with approximately 1/4 of an inch of fine sand.

Mist the surface of the soil in the planting flat to thoroughly dampen the germinating media.

Transfer the planting flat to a warm, brightly lit area in your home. Put the tray near a south or southwest facing window, out of direct sunshine. Provide a temperature range between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Mist the soil in the tray as often as needed to keep the soil evenly moist, but never so much that it is wet to the touch. The ironwood seeds should begin sprouting in approximately six to seven days.

Transplant the ironwood seedlings into 1-gallon pots between the months of May through September.

Transplanting Ironwood Seedlings

Fill up each of the 1-gallon pots with a good quality potting mix until each is full to within approximately 1/2 inch from the top of the rim.

Pack the soil down firmly in each of the 1-gallon pots. Scoop out a ironwood seedling using a metal spoon.

Dig holes in the center of each 1-gallon pot that are the approximate width and depth of the root system of the ironwood seedling.

Plant 1 ironwood seedling into a 1-gallon planting pot. Scoop in a little potting mix around the ironwood seedling to set it in place.

Pack down the soil around the ironwood seedling to eliminate any air pockets. Scoop in more potting mix to fill the hole full with soil.

Water each of the ironwood seedlings using a 12-17-17 starter solution fertilizer. Read the instructions the manufacturer has provided so you will know how much to use per size ironwood seedling.


Plan on planting the ironwood seeds in early spring--later February through mid-March.

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