Few things are as rewarding as growing a bonsai tree. Because this plant needs several weeks and sometimes months to germinate, it feels like a considerable achievement when the plant grows to a full-fledged tree. But for this to happen, you’ll have to know what to focus on.
Here, we want to teach you how to grow a bonsai tree from seed. It is one of the most challenging plants to grow. But its rewards are simply outstanding. The fact that a bonsai tree can last through generations, that’s reason enough to give it a go.
Below, we explain everything you need to know about bonsai trees and how to plant them from seed. Check it out!
Table of Contents
What is a Bonsai Tree?
Believe it or not, a bonsai tree is just a regular tree in a miniature version. For that reason, bonsais are usually not considered real species but human-made plants.
But this goes a bit further. A bonsai tree is not genetically modified like other human-made plants. The process of making a bonsai tree is just about cutting its roots and stems. This should stunt the tree’s growth. As a consequence, it will look like a “dwarf” tree.
This is why bonsai trees are a form of art more than they considered genetically modified plants. If you see a small bush-like plant that looks like a tree – that’s probably a bonsai.
Types of Bonsai Trees
With the idea in mind that bonsai trees are not a type of tree by themselves, you can guess that pretty much any standard tree can become a bonsai. And that wouldn’t be wrong.
But it’s still worth knowing that certain species grow better as bonsais than others. Especially if you’re looking to grow a bonsai for the first time, you’ll appreciate using one of the following:
Capable of withstanding difficult temperatures without any damage from the pruning, these trees make for excellent bonsai subjects. The only problem is that Juniper trees can take several years to grow more than a foot or two.
Another common bonsai choice is Spruce. Due to its straightforward growing process, spruces don’t need much to thrive. However, they may prefer cold environments. Alternatives to spruce include pines and cedars that also require not much effort but still grow lushly.
Along with trees like Elms and Oaks, Maple appreciates a fresh environment and responds well to the consistent cutting and pruning. More importantly, Maple looks incredible as a bonsai. Its alternatives are also sturdy and easy to grow.
For beginners, Birch and Larch are also worth considering. They don’t take much effort to grow and won’t get damaged by the pruning. What sets them apart is their ability to withstand harsh environments without any side effects.
Overall, the best types of bonsais are those that produce cones and similar seeds. This happens because these are some of the few tree species that can handle the bonsai process without stagnating.
Why Grow a Bonsai Tree from Seed?
Now that you’re aware of all the different bonsai tree types available (or at least the most popular), it is time to learn why growing them from seed is the way to go.
When you buy an already grown bonsai, the tree will already have a shape. Remember, bonsais are almost like pieces of art. The owner will shape the tree and let it grow as much or as little as she wants. When you grow from seed, you can have that control. Otherwise, you will have to adapt as needed.
Faster or Slower Growth
As the seeds will be untrained, you can prune and shape the tree as necessary as it grows. You can decide how fast or slow it develops. With a seedling or mature bonsais, you won’t have the chance to determine any of that (or you’ll have to retrain – which can be damaging).
When compared to mature or seedling plants, seed cost little to nothing. If you take the seeds from another tree in the wild, for example, you’ll have to spend nothing. And if you buy the seeds from a great vendor, they will still be more affordable than the grown-up bonsai.
What Does a Bonsai Need to grow?
How can you grow a bonsai tree if you don’t know what its needs are? In this section, we explain the main factors to consider when growing one, so you can have an easier time doing so.
Space & Pot
The name “Bonsai” comes from the Japanese word “tray planting.” You could say that the name itself gives the idea that bonsais need to be planted in pots. And that is obviously the way to go.
If you want to keep the bonsai growing consistently but at the slow pace necessary, you’ll want to look for a small container that limits its roots. Of course, this pot or container needs to be between 5 to 12 inches in diameter for the plant to grow well.
Luckily, space is not that important at first, as bonsais can take months to germinate and grow as seedlings. Either way, the pot should have properly drained holes for the soil to not stay humid for too long.
Soil & Fertilizer
The critical part is the soil, though. If you want the bonsai to grow well, you need to use the ideal soil. This means a well-drained potting soil with the right amount of nutrients. Stay away from garden soil if you can.
We recommend sterilized soil. But at the same time, you should ensure a sufficiently fertilized space. At first, a bit of slow-release fertilizer will be enough. Later on, you can use other types of fertilizer for the plant to stay healthy.
Watering & Humidity
Bonsais appreciate slightly cool places. For that reason, they may also like a bit of humidity. This typically means you need to water their soil consistently.
The perfect soil humidity for bonsais would be 40% to 50% in summer or hot areas. But in cold places, the humidity of about 30% should be more than enough.
Similarly, bonsais love humid areas. They depend on moisture to a point, and humid regions give this humidity with their air. This prevents any moisture loss due to transpiration.
Light & Air
Most bonsai species will need between 5 and 8 hours of daily sunlight. But depending on the tree species you pick, the sunlight needs may be completely different. Some of the least used bonsai trees need indirect sunlight only, for less than 3 hours a day to thrive.
In fact, some bonsais could burn if you change their environment too harshly. For example, taking them from a shaded place to a sun-exposed area could cause unwanted harm.
As for air, they could benefit a lot from it. Leaving bonsais indoors is not generally a bad idea. But outdoors is where they thrive the most, as they will need less water.
Temperature & Environment
Once again, the ideal temperature for a bonsai to thrive will depend on the species you pick. Some prefer below-freezing temperatures so they can enter a dormant state and grow slowly. But others will only work in temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Overall, the environment needs to be ideal for the species you pick. Generally, though, a fresh area with all 5 seasons will be sufficient for most bonsais.
How to Grow a Bonsai Tree from Seed
Now that you have a better idea of what bonsais need to thrive, it’s time to get your hands dirty. Below, you’ll find a few steps to follow for growing bonsais from their seed:
1. Start in the Right Season
First and foremost, start the planting process in the Fall. Because the seeds stay dormant in the Winter, you’ll want to plant them beforehand. This will give the seed enough time to get accustomed to the soil and Spring out of the shell by Spring.
This may also prevent stratification (we’ll explain it below). Because you’re planting the seeds in the Fall, they will go through the Winter and withstand the colds. This cold will soften up the shell and make it easier for the seedling to come out. The seedling should be ready by the next Fall if you start this way.
2. Stratification of the Seeds (Optional)
In case you’re not planting in Fall for one reason or another, then you’ll want to go through a process called stratification. This is all about helping the seed to germinate by simulating a natural environment.
Because most bonsai species are naturally designed for sprouting in the Spring after going dormant in Winter (where they soften up), you’ll need to make them feel like they’re going through this process.
For that, it is typically recommended to leave the seeds in water for a few days. Then store them in the refrigerator for at least 1 month. This should soften up the shell and make the seed more likely to germinate in the Spring.
3. Pick an Ideal Container
Once you’ve stratified the seeds, you can start to pick the pots or containers. Remember, it should be anywhere from 5 to 12 inches in diameter. You can go for larger ones if necessary, but it’s usually not needed within the first 2 years.
If you want to avoid re-potting later on, go for something about 15 to 20 inches in diameter. It will obviously look awkward at first.
The container, either way, should have enough drain holes. If you can add gravel and sand to the pot before planting, that could help with drainage.
4. Fill the Container with Soil
With the container at hand, it’s time to start planting. But first, get the pot filled.
Here, use the sterilized and nutrient-rich soil. Fill up at about two-thirds of the total size. It should be a bit below the top ring/edge of the pot.
Pat the soil a bit, so it settles on the container. Then try adding the gravel or sand as necessary. This could help with drainage later on.
5. Sow the Seeds in the Soil
Planting the seeds is typically easy, but it could take a bit more time and effort than expected. Generally, it is advised to open the planting holes first. These holes should be between 1 to 2 inches in diameter.
Then you can place the seeds in and cover them. It is essential to cover and settle the soil above. The seeds should feel as if they were in a natural place.
If you’re planting several bonsai seeds at once, we recommend leaving at least 2 inches in spacing between them. Otherwise, they may interfere with each other’s growth and not sprout at all.
6. Water the Seeds Consistently
After sowing the seeds, it’s time to water. Remember, bonsais appreciate moist soils, so you’ll be doing a great job by watering them carefully but consistently.
Generally, the soil needs to be moist. Not necessarily wet or damp. But moist, so it looks dark, that should be enough. Try keeping it this way by watering once or twice a day.
7. Let it Grow & Fertilize
You will need to leave the bonsai in a ventilated place. Depending on the species, you should leave it outdoors with mild shade. Some species prefer full sun exposure. Be aware of that first.
Either way, if you started planting in the Fall, the seeds will germinate in early Spring. Otherwise, it may take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks if you used stratification.
Once the sprouts appear, you’ll need to re-fertilize the soil. Use a diluted solution of slow-release fertilizer for the best results.
If you grew several seeds at once, you would need to re-pot them between the first and second year. After three years, they should be ready to become a fully-mature plant.
If you followed this guide on how to grow a bonsai tree from seed, then you’re ready to tackle the process alone.
It shouldn’t be much of a problem if you follow our advice. Of course, it won’t be too easy either. But with the right mindset and focus, you should have no problem.
Growing bonsais trees is a fantastic experience. Once 2 to 3 years have passed after planting, you should be ready to start pruning and cutting to your desires. It will be an unforgettable artistic experience in every way.