How to Grow Bonsai from Seed

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The art of Bonsai goes back centuries, and while many people opt to buy small bonsai trees that have already been trained in the Bonsai form, some prefer to begin from the seed and cultivate their Bonsais from the very beginning.

Growing bonsai trees from seed is a slow process that can take an average of 5-10 years or even a lifetime to reach maturity. But it will provide you with immense satisfaction and the possibility to protect your Bonsai from threats of disease and pest infestation from day one.

Several tree species that are slow growers may require a few seasons to even break free of the external coating of the seed. So, consider enjoying this slow process and enjoy your bonsai’s growth from its beginnings.

This article will show you the easy steps to grow a beautiful bonsai tree from seeds. 

Step 1: Get Bonsai Tree Seeds First

The first thing you need to grow your own bonsai is tree seeds. There are no seeds that will specifically indicate they are for bonsai trees.

However, there are companies dedicated to Bonsai cultivation that prepare seeds often in beginner kits. This is a great option if you are new to the art of growing bonsais. 

Where to Buy Bonsai Tree Seeds

When purchasing seeds, do so from a reliable supplier. If you do not have a nursery or garden center in your area that can provide you with tree seeds, bonsai kits, and/or advice, you can always search for your Bonsai seeds online.

The internet offers a significant number of bonsai seed suppliers that will make high-quality tree seeds available for purchase. Search for websites that boast great reputations for reliability and have recommendations and good reviews from Bonsai experts and former clients.

Getting a variety bonsai tree seed pack can also be a great gift.

However, if you want an inexpensive way to acquire seeds, you can collect them.

Where to Collect Bonsai Seeds

Save money on seeds by investing a little of your time collecting seeds from trees growing in your area or by collecting them directly from mature bonsai trees that you already own. You can collect ripe seeds easily in the late summer or the early fall.

Beginners should consider the tree species they want to cultivate. Good species for your first seed-grown bonsai include:

  • Cedar
  • Japanese Cherry
  • Japanese Maple
  • Juniper
  • Pine
  • Weeping Cherry Blossom

Read more about bonsai and Can Any Tree be a Bonsai.

Nonetheless, you should collect seeds from an indigenous species growing in your area that does naturally well in your climate. This will enable your tree to be in the correct environment for growth.

If you collect seeds that are fresh and ripe during the growing season, that allows you to plant them immediately. If this is not the case, you will need to begin the process of stratification. More on that below.

Where Bonsai Seeds Are Found

Bonsai seeds can also be found out in the wild. Chestnuts and acorns can be found in forests or woods.

Conifer seeds will be found inside pine cones. Once you collect the pine cones, place them in a warm location so that seeds are released from between the pine cone scales.

Select cones that are closed. Open cones have most likely released their seeds already. Place dry cones in a shoebox. When they open, they will release the seeds. 

To improve your chances of success of germination, stratify your seeds. 

Step 2: Bonsai Soil Choices and Preparation

Not all of the seeds you have will begin to sprout just because you placed them in a soil bed. Some tree species require seed preparation and some storage before they can germinate.

When selecting seed for purchase or collecting seed, research the species to understand its needs, particularly when preparing a soil bed for your new plant. Many species of trees do just fine in organic potting soil as long as it is well-draining.

Avoid using soil from your outdoor garden or gardening soil in general. This type of soil blend is not the proper mix for either the bonsai plant or its container. Because garden soil will not be sterilized, it can damage your plant eventually, and the tree will not survive.

Select a bonsai pot with several drainage holes and then fill it with proper bonsai soil to ½-inch from the pot’s top edge.

Some soil will fall through the holes, you can block this momentarily with a coffee filter. Proceed to water the soil bed thoroughly and set it aside to drain for at least thirty minutes. Good bonsai soil will offer good water drainage, but also good water retention without leading to waterlogged soil.

Soil blends should have sufficient nutrients and the pH level should measure at approximately 6.5. The most common soil type is a blend of akadama, pumice, lava rock, very fine gravel, and regular potting soil compost. This may vary slightly from region to region.

Step 3: Bonsai Seed Preparation and Germination

Regardless of whether you buy your seeds or collect them, they need proper care to sprout. If you live in a non-tropical region, you will have precisely defined seasons with seeds falling in the autumn months.

A period of dormancy follows through the winter to the spring. To germinate your seeds, you will need to mimic Mother Nature’s seasons as much as possible.

Temperate tree species like maple trees require cold stratification like it happens in nature before the seeds can germinate successfully.

Stratification Process for Bonsai Seeds

Many tree seeds are genetically formulated to survive cold winter climates. Then when spring arrives, they perceive the temperature change and begin sprouting into seedlings or germinating.

Seeds may not germinate if they do not perceive the temperature change. To prepare the seeds for cold and warm temperatures, a stratification process is used.

Cold stratification is used when:

  • Bonsai seeds are planted outside of their season
  • Tree seeds are stored either in or out of the soil during the winter
  • Seeds that do not germinate are exposed to the atmosphere

When a seed falls in nature, it will settle in cold soil during the winter. Once spring arrives, the ground will warm up and contain moisture. This awakens the seed from dormancy and softens its outer shell. Due to this, growth can begin.

If you are using packaged seeds or seeds that you have stored indoors for any length of time, the stratification process will help you prepare them for planting.

Through the use of temperature and moisture, you can recreate what happens spontaneously in nature to encourage germination and growth.

Cold Stratification Method for Bonsai Seeds

  1. Soak tree seeds for at least 24 hours to soften the outer hard shell.
  2. Seeds that sink and sit on the bottom of the bowl are the ripest. Floating shells are empty and will not germinate.
  3. Remove any bad seeds and place the ripe seeds on a dampened paper towel.
  4. Place the damp paper towel with the seed inside a transparent plastic bag.
  5. Now place the bag in your refrigerator for approximately one week for cold stratification.
  6. After a week, remove the seeds from the refrigerator and proceed to plant them.

Scarification Process for Bonsai Seeds

Other species, like the eucalyptus tree, need scarification. These seeds germinate only in specific circumstances. They have very hard outer shells and need to move through an animal’s digestive tract or be exposed to fire to be able to germinate.

Here are the steps for the scarification method for bonsai tree seeds: 

  1. Soak the tree seeds in a bowl of water for 48 hours at room temperature. This will soften the hard outer shell, so the seed can break through it.
  2. Remove any floating seeds because they are empty shells and won’t germinate.
  3. These seeds should be placed in a transparent plastic bag with dampened peat and placed in cold storage for one to six months.
  4. Germinating seeds can be removed and planted immediately.
  5. Scarification can also be achieved by gently filing through the seeds’ hard outer shell until the lighter shell underneath is revealed. This will permit germination.

In non-tropical locations with a temperate climate and the four seasons, the seeds will fall in the cooler months of the fall. They will fall and go dormant until spring. In these areas, you can also bury seeds in a container and leave them outdoors during winter and into spring.

If you live in a warm climate, place seeds in a bag with dampened peat, vermiculite, or coconut coir and place them in the refrigerator until the spring. Remove them with the first signs of germination.

Both scarification and stratification processes simulate Mother Nature’s climatic conditions. Once they germinate, your new little tree is on its way.

Bonsai Tree Seed Guide for Stratification and Scarification

Each species will have specific requirements for scarification and stratification.

Here’s an easy stratification and scarification guide for different bonsai tree species and their germination process. 

Bonsai Tree Seed SpeciesStratificationScarificationPlanting
Japanese MapleWarm for 120 days, followed by cold for 120 daysWithin 48 hours in hot tap waterSow seeds 3/8-inch deep
Japanese LarchCold for 30 daysWarm water for 24 hoursSow seeds 1/8-inch deep
Japanese White BirchCold for 60 daysWarm water for 24 hoursSow seeds ¼-inch deep
Japanese HornbeamWarm for 60 days then cold for 90 daysWarm water for 24 hoursSow seeds 1/8-inch deep
Japanese White PineWarm for 60 days in peat mossWarm water for 24 hoursSow seeds 3/8-inch deep
Japanese HeavenlyUnnecessaryWarm water for 24 hoursSow seeds 1/8-inch deep
Gray Bark ElmCold for 60 daysWarm water for 24 hoursSow seeds ½-inch deep

Step 4: Plant the Bonsai Seeds

Planting bonsai seeds is easy. Follow these steps: 

  1. Select the bonsai pot you wish to cultivate your Bonsai in. You may choose a pot or a seed tray. Should you begin with the starter tray, the seedlings will need to be removed to a deeper pot once they sprout.
  2. Do not select a container that is too small, or you will need to repot numerous times as your bonsai tree grows. Any pot you choose should have sufficient drainage holes.
  3. Once you have selected the pot, place sand or gravel in the bottom for drainage. Proceed to fill the pot with a nutrient-rich bonsai potting mixture to about an inch below the pot’s top edge.
  4. Pat the soil bed to settle the soil, but not so much as to make it compact.
  5. Using your finger, a chopstick, or similar, create shallow holes for the seeds.
  6. Seeds should not be planted too close to one another. Close plantings will lead to overcrowding during germination.
  7. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of bonsai soil mix approximately ½-inch thick.
  8. Do not sow seeds too deep because it will inhibit germination.
  9. Water with care to not disturb the seeds. A spray bottle may work best when watering.
  10. Position the pot and seeds outdoors to encourage natural germination. The location should have minimal sunlight exposure and good ventilation.
  11. The soil must be kept moist, but not excessively wet. The soil should not be allowed to dry out either.
  12. Seeds should begin to germinate and sprout at the beginning of spring. If, however, you cultivate indoors, expect four weeks to pass before sprouts appear.

Step 5: Care for Bonsai Growth

Once the seeds have begun to sprout, you should use a lightly diluted bonsai fertilizer after approximately five to six weeks. At the end of one year, you can begin to separate your seedlings into individual pots.

The precise amount of time that seeds need to become seedlings will heavily depend on the species. Some will sprout in weeks; others will need months. Once they sprout real leaves, they can be placed in better containers, especially when cultivated in trays.

When you move your seedling, do not just pull it out of the soil bed. Use a pencil or chopstick. Place it underneath the seedlings’ roots and push upward. Once you have transplanted the tree into an individual pot, care for it like you would any bonsai tree of its species.

They will require, water, sunlight, and after five to six weeks, fertilization.

Bonsai Care Tips

  • Seedlings should be placed in a semi-sunny area and watered as necessary.
  • Tropical species should be cultivated indoors. Trees that are indigenous to your area can be cultivated outside for the sunlight.
  • Water when the soil gets dry and use room temperature water. Avoid using cold water. If the soil bed is not kept moist, the tree is at risk of dying.
  • Pruning encourages tree strength and growth. Branches, leaves, and buds require trimming. Get a good pair of bonsai scissors.
  • Training with wires will control the shape and design of the tree.

Expect to invest approximately three years before the miniature trees are ready to be trained.

Read more about How to Care for Bonsai Trees and How Long It Takes for Bonsai to Grow.

Bonsai Tree

Is It Hard to Grow a Bonsai from Seed?

No, it is not hard to grow a bonsai from seed and it’s a labor of love that requires patience above all. The concept of cultivating a bonsai is to enjoy every step in its growth, training, and care. And should you fail the first time, try again. Bonsai is an art that needs time.

Tree seeds are genetically engineered by nature to thrive in their native environment and have been so for many generations. This is positive but can present challenges to the bonsai gardener, especially if you are cultivating a tree that is used to winter.

These plants will go dormant and need this period of rest, or else they will fail to sprout. Their natural cold environment must be mimicked, and seeds need to go through a stratification or scarification series of techniques.

Germinating seeds through these preparatory processes of stratification and scarification is vital to success. These methods take their direct cue from Mother Nature’s knowing hand.

Grow Bonsai From Seed Final Thoughts

All in all, growing bonsai trees from seed can be a fun and educational journey for bonsai enthusiasts, but it will also take some time for the seeds to mature into beautiful bonsai trees. 

There are also bonsai tree seed starter kits that are popular and easy to find online: 

For more articles on Bonsai, check these out:

Fast Growing Trees and Plants

Bonsai Boy Plants and Pots

Photo of author

Written by:

Amy Walsh
Amy Walsh is a passionate indoor gardener, deeply engrossed in the world of houseplants and herbs. Her apartment is a lush sanctuary of foliage, reflecting her journey from hobbyist to devoted botanist. She's constantly exploring the latest in smart garden technology, eager to share her insights on nurturing green spaces indoors. Alongside her botanical pursuits, Amy enjoys connecting with nature and friends, continually enriching her lifestyle with greenery and growth.

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