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bonsai trees from seed

Bonsai trees from seed

If you have the time and patience, growing bonsai from seed can be a very rewarding process. While most people prefer to begin with a mature tree, or at least a seedling, some bonsai experts enjoy being a part of the entire cycle – from seed to finished product.

How to Grow Bonsai from Seed

Growing bonsai from seed is not difficult if you follow a few important tips and know what steps to take for ensuring success. Remember, bonsai are just regular trees that are kept small by potting and pruning techniques. So, if you like to grow plants from seeds in your garden, then you will probably enjoy growing bonsai from seeds as well.

Pros and Cons of Growing Bonsai from Seed

Advantages:

Growing bonsai from seed allows you to be involved in every aspect of your tree’s development, so you have the satisfaction of knowing that the work of art is completely your creation.

You can begin shaping and pruning much earlier in the tree’s life. This way, you can train your plant as it grows, rather than having to re-train what is already established. Seeds are less expensive than seedlings or mature plants.

Disadvantages:

Growing bonsai from seed requires a lot of patience, and extra care must be taken as new sprouts and seedlings are very delicate.

It will be at least three years before you will be able to start shaping or styling your tree. With an established plant, you can begin designing or creating immediately. Some seeds may need to be “stratified” or prepared for planting, which can be a complicated process, especially for beginners.

While growing bonsai from seed can be rewarding, it requires a lot of time and patience. If you are just beginning your journey into the world of bonsai, why not plant a few seeds and purchase an established tree. This way you will still be able to design and create while waiting for your seeds to grow.

By the time your little sprouts are large enough to work on, you will be a true bonsai expert and will really appreciate the satisfaction of being involved in the full cycle of growth.

Choosing and Preparing Seeds

Although there are no specific “bonsai” seeds, those prepared by companies specializing in bonsai supplies have had proven success and may be easier for beginners. If you choose to purchase your seeds, make sure to use a reputable supplier so that you won’t be disappointed with the results.

Of course, the least expensive way to obtain bonsai seeds is to collect them yourself from plants growing in your area or from mature bonsai trees already in your collection. It is best to gather your seeds when they are ripe, typically in late Summer or early Autumn.

Unless you are an experienced bonsai grower, it is recommended that you choose a species that is indigenous to your climate. This will ensure that your seeds will have the right conditions in which to germinate and grow.

If the seeds are fresh and have ripened within the current growing season, they can be planted right away. Otherwise, a process known as cold stratification is sometimes necessary.

Cold Stratification will be used if.

  • you want to plant your seeds out of season
  • the seeds have been stored inside and out of the soil over the winter
  • you are using seeds that will not germinate in your local climate

In nature, a seed will fall to the ground and remain nestled in the cold soil throughout the winter. When Spring arrives, the warming ground becomes very moist, bringing the seed out of dormancy and softening the shell so growth can begin.

If you are using packaged seeds or ones that have been stored indoors for a period of time, stratification is a way of artificially breaking dormancy and preparing the seeds for planting. Basically, by using moisture and temperature, you can re-create the conditions that occur in nature to encourage germination.

Steps for Cold Stratification

  • Soak the seeds in a container of water for 24 hours.
  • Seeds that sink to the bottom are the ripest, whereas floating seeds are usually empty shells that will not germinate.
  • Remove these seeds.
  • Place the good seeds on a damp paper towel.
  • Seal the paper towel and seeds into a clear plastic bag.
  • Place the bag in the refrigerator for 7 days to cold stratify.
  • Remove the seeds from the fridge and plant.

When to Plant Bonsai Seeds

For most species, the best time to plant is in the Autumn. Since seeds typically remain dormant during the Winter and germinate in early Spring, by planting in the Autumn you will be following nature’s timetable.

If you are using fresh, ripe seeds, sowing in the the Fall will also mean that you don’t have to worry about Stratification. And, young seedling will have the entire Summer season to grow and develop in preparation for the cold Winter.

How to Plant Bonsai Seeds

1. Choose a planting container. Some people prefer a pot, while others like to use a seed or starter tray. Keep in mind, however, that if you use a tray, you seedlings will have to be moved to a pot or deeper container once they sprout. Make sure that your container is not too small or you may find that you have to re-pot several times once your seedlings begin growing vigorously. It is also important that the pot have sufficient drainage holes to prevent the roots from rotting.

2. Cover the bottom of your container with fine gravel or sand to allow for good drainage.

3. Fill the starter tray or container with a suitable potting compost or bonsai soil to about 3/4”- 1” below the rim. Be sure to choose a nutrient rich soil, as your seedlings will need plenty of nutrition once they sprout. Pat the soil down lightly to ensure that it is settled, but not compact.

4. Use a chopstick or your finger to make shallow holes in which to place the seeds. Be sure not to sown the seeds too closely together or they will become overcrowded once they germinate.

5. Place a thin layer of bonsai soil over the seeds. This layer should be no more 1/2”-1” thick, depending on the size of the seeds you are planting. Sowing seeds too deeply may prevent them from germinating.

6. Water carefully, making sure that you do not disturb the seeds. Some people prefer to use a spray bottle, rather than pouring water directly onto the soil.

7. Put the container outside so the seeds can germinate naturally, or place it in a well ventilated location with minimal direct sunlight.

8. Keep the soil damp, but not wet. Do not let the soil dry out.

9. If your pot is outside, you can expect the seeds to germinate and sprout in early Spring. However, if you have used cold stratification or are growing your seeds indoors, you will likely begin to see sprouts about 4 weeks after planting.

10. Begin fertilizing about 5-6 weeks after the appearance of sprouts,but use a diluted solution as young root systems will burn easily.

11. After the first year, the seedlings can be separated and moved to their own pots.

While it will be about three years before your little trees are ready for training, growing bonsai from seed can be a rewarding experience. If you have the time and patience, beginning with a seed allows you to be in control throughout the entire artistic process.

Growing bonsai from seed requires time and commitment, but is incredibly rewarding. Our list of pros and cons will help you decide if starting from seed is your best option for growing bonsai.

How to grow a bonsai

The oriental art of Bonsai is very well known in the west. It’s surrounded by mystery and generates curiosity at first sight. Sometimes this interest just goes away with time, but in some cases, people like to dig deeper and get to know more about this beautiful miniature gardening technique.

But to grow a bonsai it’s not only about gardening. It also has a therapeutic value, plus enables patience and fortitude and it’s a great activity for relaxing purposes. A bonsai can be with you until the end of your days. In fact, ancient Chinese believed that those who could take care of a miniature tree for a long time got eternity granted for their soul. For them a tree could be the connection between the holy and the human, between heaven and earth.

The first records of people growing bonsais are located in China. However the Japanese are responsible for developing and improving the art as we know it today. Contrary to what most people believe, bonsais are not genetically dwarfed plants, they are kept small by a series of techniques and steps that, if done properly, would allow the tree to live as long as their original specie. Any tree can be grown as a bonsai. However you have to think about many details before starting.

Before you start

Before asking yourself how to grow a bonsai, you should consider which specie you would like to plant and also the conditions of your home, surrounding environment and climate. There are a few options that could be good for starters, such as the Chinese elm and the Japanese black pine. Keep also in mind that any tree can become a bonsai, but details like leave size should be thought about. A lot of people prefer trees with small leaves, because are easier to model.

There’s also another consideration you should make when planning to grow a bonsai: There are many ways to do it. You could star from zero, which means buying seeds from a shop or picking them up near the trees around your home or in the wild. You could also find or buy a young plant, called a “prebonsai”, which consist of a germinated tree in early stage. That way the whole process becomes faster, even though remember: to grow a bonsai is also an exercise of patience. The last option may be the easiest but also the least educational: that is to buy a full grown bonsai. In that case you would only have to do caring activities. It’s important to know: There are no “bonsai seeds”. If someone offers you such a product he’s either lying or don’t know much about bonsai. The seed which a bonsai comes from is just a regular tree seed, the process of making a bonsai comes later, after it is germinated.

Cascade Style Bonsai

Bonsais are divided by its size: from the smaller ones, called Keshitsubo, to some of the bigger ones called Hachi-uye. There are also different styles of bonsais: formal and informal upright, slant, cascade, shari, forest, raft, and many more.

The cheapest and nicest ways

To grow a bonsai from seed is a slow and hard working process but is also the most rewarding way to do it. It may take years and you may fail at first, but as long as you keep trying and feel passionate about it you’ll be amazed by the results.

If you’re a starter then you’ll probably don’t want to wait that long for results. What most people recommend is to buy a prebonsai, or find one in a forest near your home (remember that a prebonsai is nothing more than a tree in its early stages). In case you decide the second option there are many considerations. You need permission from the landowner to do it. Also you have to be very careful on not damaging the roots when digging. There is also a specific time of the year to do it: the first weeks of spring.

When you grow a bonsai from seed you should do the planting on autumn, so they start germinating in spring. It’s always better to select trees that can adapt easily to the climate of the place you live; that way it’ll work in our favor.

Pruning and wiring

Pruning is one of the ways to create and shape a bonsai. It’s very important not to try to change too much the original silhouette of the tree. Pruning must be constant (it’s necessary not only to shape but as part of the caring process) and you should have regular spots for it on the tree, to achieve a beautiful and nice bonsai with strong and numerous leaves.

On the other hand, wiring has also been a useful option to grow a bonsai. Shaping angles, generating branches, all this can be done by wiring. However it’s very important to do it the right way, because it can be a disaster if not done properly.

There are more techniques that can be applied when you grow a bonsai. You can defoliate the tree to obtain smaller leaves, or to balance it shape. There’s also a well known technique called Jin & Shari which consist in making a bonsai look old and mature by creating areas of deadwood on the tree, just like happens in nature sometimes.

This site has a section dedicated only to bonsai training.

Bonsai caring

Keeping strong and healthy your miniature tree is all about good care. If you decide to grow a bonsai this is the last step of the way and, if you do it right, the most rewarding one. It’s also the longest procedure because it could last most of your life and even after, if you decide to leave it to your descendants. In Japan, families inherit bonsais from one generation to another.

As we said before, there are many types of bonsais as there are trees species, so the way you take care of them may differ from one to another. For the watering process you should constantly check the soil of the bonsai and keep it damp and when it gets slightly dry then water it again. It’s very important not to flood it.

Decorative Homemade Bonsai

Find a nice place for your bonsai. Some miniature trees need at least some direct sunlight on them, others not too much. Check the humidity and temperature of the room where you’re planning to put your bonsai and be aware of the needs of the tree of your choice.

When you grow a bonsai, there’ll be a point when you’ll have to think about taking it from an old pot to a new one, it’s called repot. Different species of trees means different repot periods, from 2 to 5 years.

Fertilization is also a convenient topic to know. There are many bonsai friendly fertilizers but you can use regular ones as well, but be very careful not to use too much though. Most commercial brands have instructions on how to use them.

Remember to always check for uninvited guest on your bonsai. Your miniature tree is no different from the original one when it comes to fungus, pests or diseases.

This site has a section dedicated only to bonsai caring.

Start to grow a bonsai now

We’ve been talking about how to grow a bonsai for a while now. So, if you still here that means you’re interested in knowing more about it. I’m going to recommend you what to do with the information I gave you and how to know more and become a pro.

You cannot start to grow a bonsai only with what’s written on this page. You need to go deeper. You can search on the Internet however this might be a double-edged sword. There’s way too much information around. Some of it may be useful but there’s a lot of BS out there.

If you’re thinking about buying a bonsai, you can visit our store here. We have all types of bonsai, kits for starters and we also recommend the best tree species for begginers. Take a tour on our online store.

After a very long research we also recommend two books on bonsai. Both have plenty of step by step and specific information about how to grow a bonsai. They also have plenty of graphics and were made by experienced miniature gardeners.

The best book we know on bonsai is The Bonsai Book by Dan Barton. This is one of the most famous works on the subject and without a doubt the most complete. Everything you need to know is there, and when we say everything we really mean it. You can read our review about The Bonsai Book by Dan Barton here or buy it directly on Amazon. This is the only book about bonsai on Amazon.com which all reviews give the top qualification of five stars, so our opinion that this is an amazing work is shared by many.

Update: We’ve been informed that The Bonsai Book by Dan Barton is not available on Amazon any more. You can only buy the used version. So, in case you don’t want to buy an old used book we are also recommending The Complete Book of Bonsai by Harry Tomlinson. It is as complete as The Bonsai Book and also very well explained. It has amazing graphic material with plenty of beautiful pictures and images. The Complete Book of Bonsai will provide you with all the info you need to know on bonsai, from its principles, evolution and origins to its styles, techniques and species. Everything you need to know about growing bonsai is there. We’ve been recommending 101 Essential Tips on Bonsai by the same author for a long time. You can read our review on The Complete Book of Bonsai by Harry Tomlinson here or buy it directly on Amazon.

On the right column of this site you can find more reviews on bonsai books and products.

How to grow a bonsai. We tell you everything you need to know to start growing your own bonsai today: techniques, styles, tools, online stores, etc.