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.
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.
How To Grow Bonsai Trees From Seed
It is good to know that you can actually grow bonsai trees from seeds. Although they grow very slowly from it, growing bonsai trees from seed can be beneficial because you may want to start from scratch, see the beauty of your bonsai tree while it grows, and ensure it is free from disease and pests.
You may need to wait several months for your seed to germinate depending on the species, and some finicky and slow-growing tree species may also need several seasons just to break their seed coats.
Although it may require so much time, the fruit of your hard work will be greatly rewarded. A bonsai tree that is grown from a seed and properly cared for over the years can be beautifully shaped, uniquely styled, and passed down from one generation to another.
In this tutorial, allow us to share with you comprehensive information about growing bonsai trees from seed. Here are the topics we will cover:
- How to Obtain Seeds
- Types of Seeds for Bonsai
- Preparation and Choosing the Best Soil
- Scarification and Stratification of Bonsai Seeds
- Post-Germination Care
1) How to Obtain Seeds
The first thing you need to think of if you are planning to grow bonsai from seed is how to obtain the seeds you’ll need. Tree seeds can be collected in your surroundings. You can also choose to purchase them in an actual gardening shop or online store. Remember that there’s no such thing as a special “bonsai tree seed” because a bonsai tree is created from a normal tree.
If you’ll collect tree seeds from local trees in your area, you can plant the tree seeds during autumn. However, if ever you want to plant tree seeds during springtime or any time out of the season, or if you are planning to grow seedlings from trees that are not growing based on your local climate, it may be necessary to do “stratification”.
Stratification refers to the process of treating tree seeds to mimic the natural winter conditions, endured by seeds prior to germination. For first-timers, this process might be quite complicated, so it’s advisable to choose a tree species that are suitable according to your climate, so you can simply plant it during autumn, like what the natural environment does!
Where to Obtain Tree Seeds
As previously mentioned, you can gather tree seeds from trees that are growing in your local area by autumn. Tree seeds such as acorns and chestnuts can be easily found in the forest. Tree seeds coming from conifers are found inside the pine cones. After collecting the pine cones, you need to store them in a warm place so they’ll release their seeds from and in between the scales. Seeds of different tree species are available in online bonsai stores.
Tips When Buying Tree Seeds Online
If there are no arborists’ brick and mortar shops available in your local area, you can go online. There are many tree seed dealers available online, and you may obtain a good price for high-quality seed. Don’t forget to do some research before buying. Choose sites with trusted and reliable sources that come with foolproof recommendations from online bonsai community forums or other bonsai experts in the field.
Whether you are buying from a brick and mortar store or online shop, it is important to only deal with a seller offering certified disease-free seeds. These tree seeds have been bred and specially treated to resist the common diseases by most bonsai species. This is highly beneficial when it comes to growing bonsai trees from seeds. Wild or untreated tree seeds succumb to damping off and are more susceptible to diseases just prior the seedlings are able to reach their first year.
When buying online, also bear in mind that there’s no such thing as bonsai seeds. Many misinformed and disreputable vendors will sell tree seeds that are labeled as “bonsai” for marketing purposes. It is best to avoid these seeds. Vendors who do not know enough information about the tree seeds they tend to defraud their customers just for a markup.
Where to Get Pine Seeds to Grow Bonsai Pine Trees
To start growing a bonsai pine tree from seed, you need to collect large slightly green or brown cones during fall. Choose cones that are closed because open cones mean that seeds were probably been released. Pine trees that have plenty of cones tend to have more viable seeds. Just lay the pine cones in a room temperature in open box. When they are dry, the pine cones will open and then will be releasing their seeds. You can place the box somewhere hot (between 104 and 113 degrees Fahrenheit) if they don’t open until they eventually do. You can use tweezers for removing any remaining seeds inside the pine cones.
To improve the odds of germination, you can stratify the seeds. To do this, you can mix them with a sand or moist peat, then put them in a clear plastic bag. Refrigerate for 3 to 7 weeks. If the tree seeds germinate while kept in the refrigerator, immediately sow them. Sow the tree seeds in 3-inch containers or pots, providing a bottom heat of around 60 degrees. You can transplant the seedlings outdoors into larger containers or pots during spring, 6 to 8 weeks after they germinate and when they are about 2 inches tall.
Tree seeds can be found in your local area. They are obtained in the fruits of trees, and tree parts like the pine cones.
2) Types of Seeds for Bonsai
When it comes to the bonsai species you are planning to grow, it’s entirely up to you. There are basic guidelines you can follow when choosing a bonsai seed. For you to obtain the best results, it is important to buy your bonsai seed from a trusted and reputable tree dealer or nursery. There are many tree species of beautiful bonsai. Fir, pine, maple, cedar, and birch are the most common tree species used for bonsai. Most of these tree species belonging in these genera are easy to cultivate.
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The easiest tree species to grow from tree seeds are maple, scots pine, black pine, larch, and beech, which are great tree species for first-timers. If you’re a first-time horticulturist, you need to stay away from tree species such as needle juniper, white pine, or hornbeam because they’re more difficult to germinate.
Once you have decided on the best tree species you want to use for your bonsai, you can shop around and find suitable vendors. The ideal choice is dealing with an arborist with brick and mortar store with friendly and knowledgeable staff. While you’re shopping, you can easily get your questions answered by the experts.
The Two Most Popular Tree Species for Bonsai
Deciduous Tree Species for Bonsai
Japanese Maple Bonsai
Trident Maple Bonsai
- Chinese elm Bonsai or Ulmus Parviflora
- Japanese elm
- Zelkova Bonsai (Japanese Elm)
- Hornbeam and Beech (Carpinus and Fagus)
- Wisteria Bonsai
- Magnolia Stellata Bonsai
- Crabapple Bonsai (Malus)
- Oak Bonsai (Quercus)
- Celtis Bonsai (Hackberry)
- Jacaranda Bonsai or Jacaranda mimosifolia
- Chinese pepper Bonsai or Zanthoxylum
- Ginkgo Bonsai or Ginkgo biloba
- Adenium Bonsai or Desert rose
- Japanese winterberry Bonsai or Ilex serrata
- Privet Bonsai (Ligustrum)
- Snow rose Bonsai or Serissa foetida
- Boxwood Bonsai or Buxus sempervirens
- Olive Bonsai or Olea europaea
- Fuchsia Bonsai
- Ficus Bonsai
- Jade Bonsai (Crassula)
- Fukien tea Bonsai or Carmona retusa
- Fig tree or Ficus Bonsai
- Azalea Bonsai (Rhododendron)
- Bird plum Bonsai or Sageretia theezans
- Bougainvillea Bonsai
- Cotoneaster Bonsai
- Money tree Bonsai or Pachira aquatica
- Gardenia Bonsai or Gardenia jasminoides
- Crepe Myrtle Bonsai or Lagerstroemia indica
- Brush Cherry Bonsai or Eugenia myrtifolia
- Hawaiian Umbrella Bonsai or Schefflera
- Brazilian rain tree or Pithecellobium
- Japanese holly Bonsai or Ilex crenata
- Citrus Bonsai (lemon or orange)
- Premna Bonsai
Conifers and Pines
- Juniper Bonsai or Juniperus
- Spruce Bonsai or Picea
- Yew Bonsai or Taxus
- Buddhist Pine Bonsai or Podocarpus macrophyllus
- Cedar Bonsai or Cedrus
- Pine Bonsai or Pinus
- Larch Bonsai or Larix
- Coast/Dawn Redwood Bonsai or Sequoia
- Bald Cypress Bonsai or Taxodium distichum
When choosing tree species to create a bonsai, it is important to consider several factors such as climate, outdoor or indoor bonsai growing skills, and your personal preference. It is best to choose a tree that can easily adapt to the type of environmental condition in your area.
3) Preparation and Choosing the Best Soil
Not all tree seeds are almost ready to sprout when they are placed into the soil. Many tree seeds species should be prepared carefully and stored before they’re ready to germinate or sprout. Before planting or even purchasing a tree seed, you need to do some research to familiarize yourself with its particular needs.
Basic Concepts of Stratification and Scarification
For instance, tree seed temperate species such as maples that need to undergo the process of cold stratification prior to germination. Cold stratification involves a cold state and moist period for tree species most especially during winter months. These tree seeds species fall off from the mother plant during fall. They tend to spend the freezing winter season on the ground.
A warmer weather during spring follows the cold winter period, triggering them to sprout or germinate. For germinating bonsai seeds that need cold stratification, you need to place the tree seed in a plastic bag that is filled with a potting soil which is kept moist. Place it in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator for several months so that the seed species will germinate. During spring, you can pot out the germinated seeds.
Other tree species such as eucalyptus can be scarified. The eucalyptus seeds are specifically and naturally designed to sprout or germinate only given under certain conditions. They have hard shells that should travel first travel through an animal’s digestive tract or should be subjected to fire prior to germination.
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When you’re growing bonsai trees from seeds at home, bypassing these extreme measures is possible using simple scarification. This is done by simply filing gently through the seed’s hard coat until lighter coat is revealed underneath and germinate during spring.
Choosing the Best Soil
Most tree species such as maple and pine do very well in well-draining and organic commercial potting soil. Don’t ever use garden soil for your bonsai tree. Garden soil is too heavy for a bonsai pot and it is generally not sterilized. Your tree seed for making your bonsai may not be able to survive it.
Fill a bonsai pot with several drainage holes within 1/2-inch from its lip. You can place coffee filters too over the drainage holes if ever the soil crumbles out of them. Next, water the soil thoroughly and then allowing it to drain the excess water for 30 minutes.
4) Scarification and Stratification of Bonsai Seeds
Stratification refers to the process of subjecting tree seeds to cold temperature, thus snapping them from the dormancy state. This is a process done in preparation to germinating a seed to create a bonsai tree.
There are many tree seeds that are genetically programmed in order to survive the cold winter months, and then when spring arrives they suddenly sense the change, thus starting to sprout into seedlings. Some tree seeds will never sprout until they are able to sense that cold and warm cycle. We can mimic that cycle artificially through stratification to break their dormancy. We will show you how successfully sprout your tree seeds through stratification.
Challenges Bonsai Cultivators Face on Tree Seeds
One fact about tree seeds is that they’re perfectly tuned to their environment where they were grown for many generations. It is a good thing and also a bad thing! If you’re going to grow trees living in a climate in winter, the tree seeds are also programmed to live through this very cold period, so they become dormant. They need to undergo the dormancy, otherwise, they won’t sprout. It only means that you need to mimic the cold season for the tree seed through stratification. The process may vary from one seed to another.
Step-by-Step Guide of a Typical Stratification Process
Step #1: The first step is soaking the tree seed in water in order to soften up the hard outer shell surrounding it.
Step #2: The next step is planting the tree seed in a soft bedding such as a peat moss.
Step #3: Adding water and placing the seeds in sealed and clean plastic bag come next.
Step #4: You can now place the bag in the refrigerator for a period of time. This is done to simulate the cold winter season.
Step #5: When the seeds have sprouted, remove them from the refrigerator, and plant them in the soil. Doing this will simulate the springtime.
Scarification refers to the soaking of the tree seeds in a room temperature water for a certain period of time. This is performed usually within 24 to 48 hours. Some tree seeds have very hard coatings or shells. You can actually file or scratch the hard shell with a pin or needle to further help in breaking the outer covering until the white layer is revealed.
Step-by-step Guide in the Process of Scarification
Step #1: Scarification – Soak the tree seeds in the water at room temperature within 48 hours at the maximum. This will soften up the outer shell of the tree seed in order to break through. Be sure to remove any tree seeds that float because they’re probably just empty shells, which means that there are not viable for sprouting or germination.
Step #2: Place it in a soft mixture. Remove and dispose of any floating seeds.
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Step #3: Bag the seeds in a resealable bag. Next, water the peat moss so it remains moist but not too wet. Then place it in a resealable plastic bag.
Step #4: Place them in the refrigerator to mimic the cold season. The length of time required may vary from 1 to 6 months. Check on your seeds regularly. If any of the seeds have sprouted, you can simply take them out and then plant them immediately!
Step #5: It is time to show them in the soil.
Tips in Germinating a Tree Seed
Tip #1: Labeling your resealable plastic bags containing your seeds is with all the pertinent information is very important, most especially if you are germinating a lot of tree seeds. Make sure to label them at every step of the process. You can write how many seeds are planted in every little bag. If they’re going to be inside the refrigerator for a month or so, of course, you do not want to forget the day they went in ad their tree types. That is why you need to label the plastic bags with the entry date and tree species.
Tip #2: Plant plenty of tree seeds. This is done because you will never know how many seeds will actually germinate. Planting lots of them will help ensure you have germinated seeds. If ever you end up having too many seedlings, you can just always cull the weaker ones away.
Tip #3: Checking your specific tree seed species and following the recommendations will help.
Tip #4: Be sure to check your seeds regularly, most especially while they are in the refrigerator. If some seeds have already sprouted, you take them out and immediately plant them.
Tip #5: Take note that once the tree seeds have germinated or sprouted, it means that they are good ones, and you can immediately sow them in the soil.
Stratification and Scarification Tree Seed Guide Chart
|Type of Tree Seed||Stratification||Scarification||Planting|
|Japanese White Pine||warm stratification in moist peat moss within 60 days||warm water within 24 hours||Sow seeds in the soil ⅜ inch deep|
|Gray Bark Elm||cold stratification within 60 days||warm water within 24 hours||Sow seeds in the soil ? inch deep|
|Japanese Firethorn||cold stratification within 30 days||warm water within 24 hours||Sow seeds in the soil ⅛ inch deep|
|Japanese White Birch||cold stratification within 60 days||warm water within 24 hours||Sow seeds on the soils surface|
|Trident Maple||cold stratification within 90 days||warm water within 24 hours||Sow tree seeds 1/4 inch deep|
|Japanese Maple||warm stratification within 120 days then cold stratification for another 120 days||Hot tap water within 48 hours||Sow tree seeds 3/8 inch deep|
|Nomura Red Maple||warm stratification within 60 days then cold stratification for another 60 days||Hot tap water within 48 hours||Sow tree seeds 1/8 inch deep|
|Japanese Larch||cold stratification within 30 days||warm water within 24 hours||Sow tree seeds 1/16 inch deep|
|Japanese Hornbeam||warm stratification within 60 days then cold stratification for another 90 days||warm water within 24 hours||Sow tree seeds 1/8 inch deep|
|Japanese Heavenly||not needed||warm water within 24 hours||Sow tree seeds 1/8 inch deep|
Germinating tree seeds is very important and the methods used are stratification and scarification. These methods simulate the natural environment and climatic conditions needed to germinate tree seeds. Once you see the seeds sprout, it means that they are viable to create beautiful bonsai trees!
5) Post-Germination Care
The amount of your precious time you invest in your bonsai seedlings take to emerge from their tree seeds, depending on the species. While some tree seeds will germinate in only a few weeks, others will take months or several seasons. But once your bonsai seedlings successfully break from their seeds and develop two true leaves, then the leaves that will sprout after the first two immature leaves. You can reduce watering whenever the soil’s top third in the pot dries out.
Once the bonsai trees outgrow the seedling trays, you can pot them up into a larger container. Insert a pencil beneath the roots of your seedlings, pushing them up to be removed from the soil. Don’t pull them by their delicate stems.
Once the bonsai tree seedlings are planted in larger pots, you may start caring for them as you would normally do in any other bonsai tree. Move them to direct sunlight and make sure to water them regularly. Once your bonsai trees are 5 to 6 weeks, you may start a fertilization regimen.
Now, you have just gained the right knowledge on growing a bonsai tree from seeds. We hope that you enjoyed this tutorial. If you do, please share it with your family and friends. You can also comment below and share your insights, suggestions, and your experiences in growing tree seeds and creating them as beautiful bonsai trees. Happy tree seed germinating and bonsai tree growing!How To Grow Bonsai Trees From Seed It is good to know that you can actually grow bonsai trees from seeds. Although they grow very slowly from it, growing bonsai trees from seed can be beneficial ]]>