I’m a proud grandfather who loves to garden. My grandchildren know this and like to spend time with me and my passion. One day my granddaughter, Natalie, had been hanging out while I was experimenting with various germination techniques for Calycanthus floridus (Eastern sweetshrub/Carolina allspice). A typical 6-year-old, she asked a lot of questions about seeds and how they germinated.

Natalie and trees

Natalie shows off her 5-month-old orange trees, already measuring 6 inches tall!

Photo Credit: © Pennystone Gardens

Seeds in bag

After folding a paper towel and moistening it, the seeds are tucked into the last fold and gently put into a fold-top sandwich bag.

Photo Credit: © Pennystone Gardens

Splitting seed coat

When the seed coat splits (in this case, about two weeks later) and the beginning of the root appears, it’s ready for a small container of ordinary potting soil. The root quickly dives in, and the embryo expands to show the stem and first leaves.

Photo Credit: © Pennystone Gardens


The first leaves, called cotyledons, emerge once the root is established and the seed coat is discarded. The tree is now fully functional and growing.

Photo Credit: © Pennystone Gardens

Young trees

© Pennystone Gardens

Photo Credit: With two young trees growing well, it’s time to move them to larger individual pots with a mix of coarse sand and potting soil.

Garden girl

Kids are natural gardeners and love to help out. Make them a part of your gardening experience, and give them a chore or two that they can handle – and be patient!

Photo Credit: © Pennystone Gardens

Then she came over with some seeds of her own. Here’s the story according to Natalie: I got three seeds from an orange, and I wanted to grow an orange plant. Grandpa had a good idea. We took a damp paper towel and folded it in half. Then we put the seeds in the middle and folded it again. We put the paper towel with the seeds in a sandwich bag and closed it. We put the bag in a warm wet place like Grandpa’s greenhouse. We waited for half a week and checked on them. Two of the seeds sprouted. One did not.

You see, Natalie and I decided to use the same technique I’d used for my sweetshrub. Here’s my detailed version of her story: We folded a full-sized paper towel in half, then in half again, and then in half again. We opened the last fold, slightly moistened the towel and spread the seeds on one side. We folded the paper towel back over and gently slipped it into a non-zip sandwich bag. (Non-zip bags are thinner than zip-tight ones and allow for an exchange of air while retaining moisture.)

It’s a good idea to keep your bag in a place that’s a bit on the warm side, like a windowsill, the top of a refrigerator or in a greenhouse. Orange seeds need a temperature range of about 70-75 degrees F to germinate, and they typically take about two weeks to do so. Natalie’s needed just 10 days.

Here’s some more of Natalie’s account in her words: When the seeds sprouted, we put them in a pot with soil and dirt. I laid them on top and pushed down on them twice gently with two fingers. We put a little dirt on top of the seeds to make sure they were covered. Then we waited some more. The seeds grew stems and roots. The stems pushed up, and the roots pushed down. A half of a week later the leaves sprouted.

Of course, there was a bit more to it. As soon as the seed coat split and the radicle emerged, we gently moved the seeds into a 4-inch pot filled with ordinary potting soil, taking care to get the radicle (which becomes the root) pointed slightly downward. Then we put the pot in a shallow tray of water to absorb moisture. From then on, we gave the little seedlings filtered sunlight and lightly moistened them from a spray bottle. In a few days the seed coat completely split and the cotyledons (the embryonic leaves) unfurled.

According to Natalie, “They grew taller and taller and grew more leaves. We just measured them, and they’re 6 inches tall!”

Once several true leaves appeared, it was time to pot Natalie’s two little plants into individual quart containers, in a mix of potting soil, a little peat moss and about 50 percent coarse sand. Orange trees like very well-drained, slightly acidic soil. We began to water them weekly and feed them with a weak solution of an acidic fertilizer (like Miracid®) once a month. We gave them a sunny spot, and let nature take over from there, still watering them once a week (oranges don’t really like it wet). And of course we brought them inside to a sunny southern window over winter since they can’t be allowed to freeze. And at just 8 months old, the little trees have already reached 13 inches tall.

While Natalie’s pretty excited about the growth of her little orange trees, it’s going to be awhile before she can enjoy the fruits of her labor. With reasonable care, my young granddaughter may get to enjoy her first orange when she’s in high school. Even though that’s a ways away, this budding propagator and I have had a wonderful time with our little experiment – and watching our trees grow together will give us something fun to do in the coming years while we keep ourselves busy in all our other gardening adventures!