Use a seed tray with a clear lid to germinate empress tree seedlings.

How to Sow Paulownia Empress Seeds

by Brian Barth

If you want to plant a fast-growing tree that will make shade before your kids are in high school, empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa) is the hands-down winner as the world's fastest growing shade tree for temperate climates. The lovely empress tree can grow 40 feet tall and wide in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8. Empress tree produces long stalks of purple flowers on bare branches in spring and is easily propagated from seed.

Fill a seed tray with sphagnum moss and water the moss until it is thoroughly moist.

Mix empress tree seeds with sand in a small bucket. They are tiny and mixing them with sand helps you spread them evenly in the seed tray. Use about 1/2 cup of sand for 2 ounces of seed. This mixture is enough to fill one seed tray.

Sprinkle the sand mixture evenly over the surface of the tray. Do not cover the seeds -- they need light to germinate.

Place the seed tray in a warm spot where it will receive direct sun for at least six hours each day. For best germination rates, the temperature should remain between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, day and night.

Mist the surface of the sphagnum moss every day.

Items you will need

  • Seed trays
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Sand
  • Small bucket
  • Spray bottle


  • Transplant the seedlings to individual pots once they emerge. Germination is usually with three weeks.
  • Empress tree seeds are so tiny that you can grow dozens of seedlings in a single tray. If you need only one or a few trees, it is still advisable to grow a large selection and then pick out the most vigorous seedlings. It's also good to have back-ups in case some of the seedlings don't make it.
  • Many garden centers sell seed trays with clear plastic lids that help maintain the warm temperature and high humidity necessary for germinating empress tree seeds. Take the lid off once all the seeds have germinated.


  • Empress tree is considered a highly invasive plant in some areas. Check before you decide to grow these plants.

About the Author

Brian Barth works in the fields of landscape architecture and urban planning and is co-founder of Urban Agriculture, Inc., an Atlanta-based design firm where he is head environmental consultant. He holds a Master's Degree in Environmental Planning and Design from the University of Georgia. His blog, Food for Thought, explores the themes of land use, urban agriculture, and environmental literacy.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images