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.
Third Prize in the
Indoor Gardening Contest 2015
Participated in the
Before and After Contest 2016
Participated in the
Full Spectrum Laser Contest 2016
Question 1 year ago on Step 5
What is a poppy seed bonsai?
Reply 1 year ago
It is a decorative flowering tree made into a bonsai, preferably its flower looks like a poppy.
Watch out for fakes sold on the net.
1 year ago
Do you have any advice on using seedlings that started in the ground?
I have access to a few seedlings of unknown age but prob under 5 years - is there a specific height I should look for, or is it species-dependent?
My options are linden/lime, plum, sycamore, and maybe rose, and apple. Some are still just straight sticks, but a few have side branches.
Any advice would be most appreciated!
Reply 1 year ago
Are you in London Ontario Canada or London England?
London Ontario is colder in the winter than London England and ground frost can be a pain during the winter.
London Ontario is hotter in the summer than London England.
Most trees and shrubs prefer to be transplanted while they are dormant, late fall to early spring. Most fruit trees prefer transplanting while they are dormant.
However some do well if you take plenty of soil around the roots when you transplant during the summer.
Very hot weather can kill transplants.
Question 5 years ago on Introduction
Where is the best place to place my planted seeds once I have covered them with the aerated clear plastic bag and before I place them into the fridge for the stratification period? The instructions that came with my kit says a cool light area of about 55-61 degrees Farenheit, out of direct sunlight for 2-3 weeks. I live in southern Louisiana, so finding a place with that constant temperature range is going to be difficult. I am keeping them indoors right now. Should I place them on a shelf where they get no direct sunlight or in a window where they do? The reading I have reviewed on several different sites is conflicting. I have 3 species planted; the Red Maple, the Silver Birch and the Mountain Pine. Plants seem to like me and everyone jokes how I can make anything grow, so my best friend bought me this kit and I would hate to disappoint her by not being successful at growing these bonsai. I need help! LOL
Answer 5 years ago
I was able to place them in my mother-in-law suit in the back yard, on a shelf and I set the thermostat to 60. They are getting light through a semi thick, off white curtain so that they are receiving sunlight but not directly. I appreciate your quick response and I thank you for clearing up my confusion. I think I may on my way to Bonsai ownership. Fingers crossed. Lol
Answer 5 years ago
Yea you are a little bit warm there.
Do you have a basement with a window for a little light?
Depending on where you live and the time of the year unheated basements stay very stable temperature above freezing. In warm climates most basements are about 50 to 60 degrees, in colder climates about 10 degrees less.
6 years ago
starting to grow the bonsai tree
trying without germination(placing in soil with water), and regular germination (Ziploc bag method) any recommendations for growing?
using Pinus taeda seed, fresh from the cone
Reply 6 years ago
Fast growing at a foot a year.
You can slow it down in bright sun and little food and water.