What You Need to Know About Growing Bonsai 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
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.
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.