Updated: Jan 7
How To Grow Bonsai From Seed
Its becoming more and more popular in Bonsai that people want to grow their own material from seed. So today we are going to take a quick look at some methods for getting seeds to germinate and why you might consider growing from seed.
I think the most obvious advantage of growing a tree from seed is the fact that you will have had a hand in every part of your trees journey from stratification to refinement, you can control exactly how the tree grows and prevent any faults in the tree in the early stages of growth, however the one major downside to this is the fact that growing from seed will take years and years and....... years. But if you do want to grow from seed here is the steps that need to be taken.
Purchase or collect the seeds of the species you want to grow ( the more the better as germination rate of seeds isn't guaranteed and if you get very little seeds you may have a small chance of success ).
Pre Soak Seeds
Cold Or Warm Stratification
Potting Up After Germination
Now lets have a look at each step in a little more detail.
Purchase Or Collect Seeds - Find a good reputable seed supplier and order the seeds you want, or alternatively if you live in an area that has trees with viable seeds on them you can collect seeds yourself. We have lots of pines here that drop pine cones that are full of seeds which we are able to collect.
Pre Soaking Seeds - When most seeds are collected they are dried to below 10% moisture levels which will make the seeds go dormant and allow them to be stored for longer, Before we stratify some seeds we need to soak them in warm to moderately hot water ( not boiling ) to bring the moisture levels back up to 60% or higher and also this helps soften the outer protective shell of the seed. But for seeds that are dried it is important to soak them as they wont germinate if the moisture levels are not back up to 60% or higher. Some seeds wont require soaking or stratification and can be sown straight away ( a lot of our natives don't require stratification or soaking ).
Cold Stratification - This is the process of simulating the winter period, Once the seeds go through a cold winter period they will begin to germinate. To cold stratify seeds we need to place them in the fridge at a temperature between 1-5c. If you live in an area that gets colds winters with temperatures between 1-5c constantly through out the winter months you can plant your seeds directly in the ground or seed tray as the natural cold winter will do the same job. If your tempretures drop below -6c i would suggest placing the seeds in the fridge for better success. For us here in winter we still have days in excess of 15c so in the fridge they go. After soaking your seeds ( if they require soaking ) you will want to place some soil in a ziplock bag, wet the soil and remove any excess water so that the soil is moist but not soaking wet. Add your seeds to the bag then seal and give the soil a good shake to mix the seeds through the bag. Once you have done this put a few small holes in the top of your bag to allow some airflow. It helps to write on the bag the type of seeds and when they were put in the fridge and when they should be removed. Once you have prepared your bag you can put it in the fridge, avoid putting the bag to the back as it may freeze, this wont kill the seeds but it will slow the process. you will want to check your bags through out this process to make sure they haven't dried out. if more then 20% of the seeds have germinated in the bag you can remove the seeds from the fridge and sow. The time period for cold stratification varies depending on the species, things like maples needs a full 90 days where as some other species need only 15 - 20days. This will be up to you to research the seeds you are working with for stratification times. Another tip for stratification is try to time your stratification so that the seeds come out of the fridge at an optimal growing time, you wouldn't want the seeds coming our of the fridge as you move into winter as they wont grow and probably die, try to time them for early spring for optimal growth, you can get away with other times through out the year with good care but avoid winter at all costs. Warm Stratification - Some seeds require a period of Warm Stratification before the cold stratification process. If your seeds require warm stratification before cold stratification place them in a ziplock back with some moist sphagnum moss and place in a warm area away from direct sunlight, the temperature should be between 20 - 30 degrees c. Once again check your particular seeds from warm and cold stratification times as most species vary in time.
Sowing Seeds - Once you have finished your pre treatment of the seeds you can now sow them in seed trays, get your self some premium seed raising soil and place it in your seed tray, place your seeds well spaced out and keep a note of how many seeds went into the tray so you know roughly how many seedling you are expecting ( they may not all germinate ). once you have covered all your seeds with soil you can give them a good water with a soft watering head to ensure you don't flush the seeds out of the mix. keep the soil moist but not too wet over the next few weeks. Different species will take different amounts of time to sprout so be patient.
Potting Up After Germination - Once your seeds have sprouted and are large enough to handle you can pot them up into individual growing containers and slowly increase the amount of sun they receive each day.
If you have a lot of patience and want to grow an extra special tree i suggest having a go at growing from seed but once again realise you are in this for the long haul. But Bonsai is just as much about the journey as it is the destination, maybe even more so about the journey as we never really reach a destination with Bonsai.
I hope this has helped you understand the process of growing from seeds a little better and has given you some drive to get your self some seeds and give it a go.
Until Next Time, Enjoy Your Bonsai Journey.