Have you ever wondered how to grow a bonsai tree from seeds? While you may believe it is an impossible feat to achieve, it can be much easier than you think. Bonsai is a Japanese art form of restricting and moulding the shape and size of trees. Similar practices exist in other cultures such as the Chinese practice of Penzai. In English, bonsai is used as an umbrella term covering all aspects of miniature trees that are grown in pots, thus making it a universally known term.
Unlike other plant cultivation practices, bonsai is not created for the purpose of food or medicine. Its main focus is on long-term cultivation and the shaping of one or more small trees. The end result is specimen dependent, and the variations are limitless. The art form of bonsai has been around for many centuries and can be traced back to 6th century Japan. Japan’s Zen Buddhism played a pivotal role in shaping the reputation and aesthetics of bonsai and helped make it what it is today.
Growing a bonsai tree from seed can be massively rewarding. Sure, it may take some time, care, and attention to detail, but the end result is well worth it and can provide you with a perfect specimen. The other benefit of growing a bonsai from seed is the amount of money that you can save, or potentially earn. A ready grown and fully matured bonsai can be worth upwards of 5000 USD, with the most expensive bonsai tree ever to be sold selling for 1.3 million dollars.
So how do you grow a bonsai from seed? What materials are you going to need? And what can you expect as an end result? Read on to discover how to grow your very own bonsai tree from seed and start to fall in love with this ancient art form.
How to find the right seed?
Finding the right seed for your requirements is possibly the most important part of the whole process. While in theory any tree can be turned into a bonsai, certain specimens will produce a more aesthetically pleasing tree that conforms to bonsai growing standards.
Buying from a reputable site that specialises in bonsai seeds will guarantee that you will receive what you are buying. Avoid sites such as eBay as many of the bonsai seeds sold there are in fact not bonsai specimens at all. Ideally, you want seeds that are fresh and prepared ready for germination. There is no point in buying old seeds as the chance of germination is slim and you will just be wasting your money. Some good tips to use when buying bonsai seeds is to check customer feedback.
When buying seeds, consider the type of tree that you would like to grow. There are a plethora of species that you can buy, including Japanese maple, wisteria, magnolia, Chinese Elm, and dwarf pomegranate. Of course, there are many more varieties available depending on your personal preferences.
When is the best time to sow bonsai seeds?
Theoretically, you can grow bonsai seeds all year round if growing indoors, however, the best time to start germination is in the autumn. By sowing seeds in the autumn you are following nature’s own natural time schedule and the seedling can take advantage of a full summer to grow in after germination in early spring. By sowing the seeds in the autumn it also means you have no need to worry about the stratification process and allows for fast germination.
1. The first thing you want to do is sterilise the pot or container you intend on growing the seeds in. By sterilising the container, you are removing any potential bacterial or fungal infections of the young seedling. Once you have successfully sterilised your pot, you want to apply a layer of coarse, easily draining substrate, such as lava rock, grit, or crumbled brick at the base of your pot. This will prevent any standing water from rotting your seeds.
2. Next, you want to add a layer of standard bonsai soil. You want to avoid using organic bonsai soil or normal garden soil as both of these easily harden when dry and can prevent the growth of your bonsai. In fact, it can be very harmful to the tree and even result in its death. You want a substrate that has good water retention, good drainage, and good aeration that will allow your bonsai plants roots to spread easily while getting enough oxygen without being sat in water.
3. Check whether your seeds need scarification or stratification, which will depend on the species you intend to grow. Many seeds now come pre-stratified and are ready to grow on receipt of them. When you have your seeds, gently place them on the top of the soil leaving adequate space between them (roughly one or two centimetres apart).
4. Gently pat the seeds into the surface of the soil before adding a top layer of standard bonsai soil. You should have about one inch of top soil covering the seeds. Any more than this and you can prevent the seedling from emerging. Once you have placed the top layer of soil on the seeds you need to gently use your fingers to compact the soil.
5. The last step when planting your seeds is to water them thoroughly until you see water emerging at the base of the pot. You do not want the seeds to dry out, so make sure that you water regularly and that the seed bed is always slightly moist.
How long for the bonsai seeds to germinate?
The amount of time it takes for a bonsai seed to germinate will depend upon the species being grown. Some will emerge in as little as a few weeks while others can take several seasons before beginning to grow. When your bonsai breaks through the soil and develops its first two true leaves (the leaves that appear after the first two immature leaves) you want to cut back on watering and only provide water when the top third of the soil dries out.
When & how should I pot on my seedling?
As a general rule, seedlings should be fine in the pot for the first three to four months of growth. After this time you may notice overcrowding and this is when you want to re-pot. The best way to remove the seedling from the soil is to use a pencil placed beneath the seedlings roots. Gently push the bottom of the pencil in an upwards motion to remove the roots from the soil. You should never pull a seedling by its delicate stem as this can lead to irreparable damage and ultimately to the death of your seedling.
When replanting your seedling into a new pot, use the same pencil to create a well in the soil roughly to the depth of the length of the roots. Gently place the roots of the seedling into the well and cover with soil and finish with a generous watering. You can now place the pot in direct sunlight and water it regularly. When the tree has matured to be around 5 to six weeks old, you can begin fertilising it. It is also at this time may start to care for it as you would for any other bonsai tree. As a general rule, you want to keep the plant indoors until around 3 or 4 months old. After this time, you can begin to harden off the plant if you intend to grow it outdoors. To harden off the plant, take it out every morning and place it in a warm and sunny area. You should bring the tree back indoors of an evening time and continue the process for around two weeks. For the first year or two, it is a good idea to place the young trees inside of a greenhouse or nursery over the cold winter months to prevent any Frost damage.
Pruning your bonsai tree enables you to keep it to the size and shape that you want and prevents it from growing too large. It is no secret that a successful bonsai is the direct result of careful care and shaping that requires a great deal of attention the trees natural shape and similarities to its full-sized counterpart.
There are two main elements for controlling the size of the limbs of the trees, these are wiring and pruning. Wiring will help you achieve the desired shape and form of the branches of the trees, while pruning can help you to manipulate the limbs and further refine the form and shape of branches and leaves. It is important to understand which branches the tree requires to survive so that you do not mistakenly prune the wrong branch which can lead to the death of the tree.
Growing bonsai seeds can be a time consuming yet highly rewarding practice. Not only do you get to understand the way in which trees work, you also receive a feeling of pride when you see your mature bonsai that you have grown from seed. The entire process of growing bonsai from seed to a mature tree is a long-term one which you can enjoy for many years to come. Buying a ready grown tree is a great way to bypass the waiting that is involved in growing a bonsai from seed, but you will be lacking the feeling of satisfaction and achievement that you get from successfully growing a bonsai tree yourself.
While it may seem like a complicated process, in reality, it is no different than growing a normal sized tree. The only difference is you are controlling the size and shape of the tree as it matures. If you are looking at growing your own bonsai tree then growing from seed is the way to go.