Starting a Bonsai From Seed
Introduction: Starting a Bonsai From Seed
Most Bonsai take years to train before you can call them finished so this is not the hobby for an impatient person. The only good part is other than watering you only touch them about once every couple months so they can recover from pruning. Trees and shrubs that need to winter can go for four to six months when you winter them. This gives you time for other things in your life.
Larger Bonsai can be trained from nursery stalk, but smaller Bonsai one hand or less can be easier to train from seedlings and seed stalk.
I had 10 one handed Bonsai, (5 to 8 inches tall) at one time. Most were North American trees that I started as seeds or seedlings. My oldest Bonsai was a Japanese White Pine I had been training for 10 years.
I went through a great deal of work getting an Oak, a Maple, and a Willow, started when I lost all my Bonsai. Our goat got into where I was wintering my Bonsai and ate all of them to the point every tree died. So keep your pets and other animals away from your Bonsai, or kiss your Bonsai good bye. For this reason I grow my Bonsai indoors.
Step 1: Tree Selection
Although I have raised broad leaved Bonsai, pine trees, juniper, and other conifers, with small foliage make great Bonsai that remain green year round. For this Instructable I am going to raise a White Spruce pine Bonsai from seed. Its small needles and cones make it ideal for a midsize or larger Bonsai, (10 inches and up). I am going to try to keep it less than 10 inches.
This 2 year old 2 inch tall seedling shows the beginning of a White Spruce’s development. The first year’s growth is a single stem, and at the end of the first years growth sprouts the second years growth usually 3 stems.
Since Bonsai take years I will show pruning a four year old Cedar in the last step.
Step 2: Seed Collection
Find a tree you like, look for a tree that has the traits you want in your Bonsai, and gather mature cones from the tree, they should be brown but not fully open. Green cones are immature and the seeds may not be fully developed, and open cones can lose their seeds to falling out and birds.
Other than rain forests, many conifers have a symbiotic relationship with fire and the white Spruce is no different. Spruce trees like many other pine trees, needs a forest fire to spread their seeds most of the time.
They start to produce cones when they are quite tall, 15 to 20 feet tall, the cone starts off small and green in the spring and grow during the summer turning brown in the fall. The mature cones look much like the skin of an Armadillo. The cones protect the seeds from birds and stay on the tree for a couple years until they open and fall off the tree or a forest fire opens them.
In a forest fire the heat from the fire causes the cone to open and after the fire passes the seeds fall to the ground replanting the forest to grow until the next forest fire. I am going to use the same process to harvest my seeds.
Place the cones in a dish and bake them in the oven at 350⁰, this will open the cones so you can just tap the cones hard to make the seeds fall out.
Step 3: Separating the Seeds
Since the spruce cones are only the size of a peanut, instead of tapping them on a hard surface I placed a hand full of open cones in a jar, and shook the jar until I could see the seeds collecting on the bottom of the jar.
Then I dumped the contents of the jar in a bowl and separated the cones from the seeds.
I repeated this process until I had all the seeds from the cones, don’t worry if you have what might appear to be too many seeds. Not all the seeds will germinate when you plant them and some of the seedlings will just plane fail. You can clean off the chaff and drop the seeds in water then plant only the seeds that sink, but unless you want to improve your chances of cluster seedlings it is not necessary. (Cluster Seedlings are seedlings growing close together.)
Step 4: Nursery Planting
In a nursery they place the seeds in starter trays, once the trees sprout they are transplanted to a growing field, and once they are ready for market they are transplanted to pots for sale.
When planted this way the taproot grows down and the secondary roots grow out from the taproot supplying the tree with nourishment. In a young tree the taproot can be as long as the tree is tall. This makes working with wild or nursery stalk challenging because to make these trees into a Bonsai you need to cut back the taproot.
Cutting back the taproot takes time, if you take too much of the taproot you kill the tree because you won’t have enough secondary roots supplying the tree with nourishment.
Start by cutting no more than a third of the taproot and pruning back a third to half of the foliage, with less foliage the roots don’t need to supply as much nourishment, and let the tree grow and recover from pruning.
Repeat this process as many times as necessary until your root bundle is the size you need for your finish pot, then train the top of your tree if need be.
Step 5: Shallow Planting the Seeds
I start with a shallow tray and place the seeds on the bottom of the tray, and then I put an inch of topsoil on top of the seeds and water. This causes the taproot to grow horizontally and the stalk or trunk of the seedling to grow upwards.
This type of planting is training your Bonsai from germination and you don’t have to cut back the taproot as drastically. Almost the entire root cutting is the ends of the secondary root tips and you are able to plant the tree in a shallow dish right from the start of training. You are able to train the trees top in its first year if you want, and you can make the smallest of Bonsai, Poppy-Seed Bonsai. (Bonsai 1 to 3 inches tall.)
Step 6: Pruning a Three Year Old Cedar
I started these cedars four years ago, the two of them were close enough they looked like one tree. I am going to lock them together so that in time they will grow into one tree giving me a tree trunk that looks twisted.
The tools I will be using are grooming tools, a pair of side cutting nail trimers, a long tweezers, and a pair of nail scissors.
After removing the unwanted foliage you can clearly see the two trunks and the horizontal taproots.
Last using the remaining foliage I locked the two trunks together so that in time they would become one.
Starting a Bonsai From Seed: Most Bonsai take years to train before you can call them finished so this is not the hobby for an impatient person. The only good part is other than watering you only touch them about once every couple months so they can recover from pruning. Trees …
Growing Bonsai from seed
The Japanese term, “Misho,” refers to the practice of growing Bonsai from tree seeds. It can be a very rewarding process that allows you to grow a plant as a Bonsai tree from the very beginning, although it does demand a great amount of patience. It takes a minimum of three years before seedlings mature enough to start shaping, but it’s advantageous, as you have full control over your Bonsai tree from the beginning. Misho is the only real way to grow a Bonsai right from the start!
To get started, you need to get your hands on some tree seeds. You can collect seeds from trees in your surroundings or you can choose to buy them at an online shop. Keep in mind that Bonsai are created from normal trees, so there is no such thing as special “Bonsai tree seeds”.
Creating your Bonsai from seeds collected in your local area ensures that they will be in their ideal climate and are more likely to thrive. Locally sourced seeds should be planted during Autumn for the best results. However, if you want to plant local seeds out of season, purchase seeds online, or plant foreign seeds that come from a different climate, it may be necessary to use stratification techniques.
Stratification is the process of treating seeds to simulate the natural growing conditions that they need to germinate. Seeds of many tree-species are genetically programmed to survive through winter and germinate in early spring. This helps them maximize the duration of their first growing season. Most of these seeds can grow only after a cold period.
So, when you’re planting seeds for Bonsai that are from different climates, or you’re planting out of season, it may be necessary to simulate a cold season to increase the germination rate. Most tree-species will require you to soak their seeds in water before storing them in your refrigerator for one or two months. The exact amount of time and optimal temperature depends on the tree-species. A quick online search will provide you with an exact answer.
For beginners, this process may be too advanced, so we advise you to collect seeds from tree species in your area, keep the seeds outside and plant them in early spring, just like Mother Nature does!
Video: Growing trees from ‘Bonsai tree seeds’
Where do I find seeds?
As previously mentioned, you can collect seeds during autumn from local trees growing in your area. Chestnuts and acorns are easy seeds to find in the forest. Conifers seeds are found inside pine-cones. When you’ve collected the pine-cones, store them somewhere warm so they release their seeds from in between their scales. Seeds of various tree species are also easily available for purchase in online Bonsai shops.
When should I sow my seeds?
The best time to sow your seeds is in the autumn to align with nature’s schedule. This gives young seedling the full summer to grow after germinating in spring, and it means you don’t have to worry about stratification.
From seedling to Bonsai
Before we start propagating seed, it’s important to know the seedlings stages of development first. Growing Bonsai from seeds will be a test of your patience, but it’s a great way to style Bonsai trees without the need to prune thick branches, as you would when styling Yamadori or nursery stock. Read the “Bonsai styling” section for more detailed information on wiring and pruning techniques.
To give you a quick visual journey of a tree’s growth, here are six images of a Criptomeria tree that was grown from seed into Bonsai over the course of 15 years. Many thanks to Jose Ontañón for sharing these inspiring images.
Growing Bonsai from tree seeds can be very rewarding and gives you full control from the earliest stage possible. Although it takes a long time (at least three years) before