how to plant bonsai seeds

Starting a Bonsai From Seed

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.

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 …

How to plant bonsai seeds

If you have the time and patience, growing bonsai from seed can be a very rewarding process. While most people prefer to begin with a mature tree, or at least a seedling, some bonsai experts enjoy being a part of the entire cycle – from seed to finished product.

How to Grow Bonsai from Seed

Growing bonsai from seed is not difficult if you follow a few important tips and know what steps to take for ensuring success. Remember, bonsai are just regular trees that are kept small by potting and pruning techniques. So, if you like to grow plants from seeds in your garden, then you will probably enjoy growing bonsai from seeds as well.

Pros and Cons of Growing Bonsai from Seed


Growing bonsai from seed allows you to be involved in every aspect of your tree’s development, so you have the satisfaction of knowing that the work of art is completely your creation.

You can begin shaping and pruning much earlier in the tree’s life. This way, you can train your plant as it grows, rather than having to re-train what is already established. Seeds are less expensive than seedlings or mature plants.


Growing bonsai from seed requires a lot of patience, and extra care must be taken as new sprouts and seedlings are very delicate.

It will be at least three years before you will be able to start shaping or styling your tree. With an established plant, you can begin designing or creating immediately. Some seeds may need to be “stratified” or prepared for planting, which can be a complicated process, especially for beginners.

While growing bonsai from seed can be rewarding, it requires a lot of time and patience. If you are just beginning your journey into the world of bonsai, why not plant a few seeds and purchase an established tree. This way you will still be able to design and create while waiting for your seeds to grow.

By the time your little sprouts are large enough to work on, you will be a true bonsai expert and will really appreciate the satisfaction of being involved in the full cycle of growth.

Choosing and Preparing Seeds

Although there are no specific “bonsai” seeds, those prepared by companies specializing in bonsai supplies have had proven success and may be easier for beginners. If you choose to purchase your seeds, make sure to use a reputable supplier so that you won’t be disappointed with the results.

Of course, the least expensive way to obtain bonsai seeds is to collect them yourself from plants growing in your area or from mature bonsai trees already in your collection. It is best to gather your seeds when they are ripe, typically in late Summer or early Autumn.

Unless you are an experienced bonsai grower, it is recommended that you choose a species that is indigenous to your climate. This will ensure that your seeds will have the right conditions in which to germinate and grow.

If the seeds are fresh and have ripened within the current growing season, they can be planted right away. Otherwise, a process known as cold stratification is sometimes necessary.

Cold Stratification will be used if.

  • you want to plant your seeds out of season
  • the seeds have been stored inside and out of the soil over the winter
  • you are using seeds that will not germinate in your local climate

In nature, a seed will fall to the ground and remain nestled in the cold soil throughout the winter. When Spring arrives, the warming ground becomes very moist, bringing the seed out of dormancy and softening the shell so growth can begin.

If you are using packaged seeds or ones that have been stored indoors for a period of time, stratification is a way of artificially breaking dormancy and preparing the seeds for planting. Basically, by using moisture and temperature, you can re-create the conditions that occur in nature to encourage germination.

Steps for Cold Stratification

  • Soak the seeds in a container of water for 24 hours.
  • Seeds that sink to the bottom are the ripest, whereas floating seeds are usually empty shells that will not germinate.
  • Remove these seeds.
  • Place the good seeds on a damp paper towel.
  • Seal the paper towel and seeds into a clear plastic bag.
  • Place the bag in the refrigerator for 7 days to cold stratify.
  • Remove the seeds from the fridge and plant.

When to Plant Bonsai Seeds

For most species, the best time to plant is in the Autumn. Since seeds typically remain dormant during the Winter and germinate in early Spring, by planting in the Autumn you will be following nature’s timetable.

If you are using fresh, ripe seeds, sowing in the the Fall will also mean that you don’t have to worry about Stratification. And, young seedling will have the entire Summer season to grow and develop in preparation for the cold Winter.

How to Plant Bonsai Seeds

1. Choose a planting container. Some people prefer a pot, while others like to use a seed or starter tray. Keep in mind, however, that if you use a tray, you seedlings will have to be moved to a pot or deeper container once they sprout. Make sure that your container is not too small or you may find that you have to re-pot several times once your seedlings begin growing vigorously. It is also important that the pot have sufficient drainage holes to prevent the roots from rotting.

2. Cover the bottom of your container with fine gravel or sand to allow for good drainage.

3. Fill the starter tray or container with a suitable potting compost or bonsai soil to about 3/4”- 1” below the rim. Be sure to choose a nutrient rich soil, as your seedlings will need plenty of nutrition once they sprout. Pat the soil down lightly to ensure that it is settled, but not compact.

4. Use a chopstick or your finger to make shallow holes in which to place the seeds. Be sure not to sown the seeds too closely together or they will become overcrowded once they germinate.

5. Place a thin layer of bonsai soil over the seeds. This layer should be no more 1/2”-1” thick, depending on the size of the seeds you are planting. Sowing seeds too deeply may prevent them from germinating.

6. Water carefully, making sure that you do not disturb the seeds. Some people prefer to use a spray bottle, rather than pouring water directly onto the soil.

7. Put the container outside so the seeds can germinate naturally, or place it in a well ventilated location with minimal direct sunlight.

8. Keep the soil damp, but not wet. Do not let the soil dry out.

9. If your pot is outside, you can expect the seeds to germinate and sprout in early Spring. However, if you have used cold stratification or are growing your seeds indoors, you will likely begin to see sprouts about 4 weeks after planting.

10. Begin fertilizing about 5-6 weeks after the appearance of sprouts,but use a diluted solution as young root systems will burn easily.

11. After the first year, the seedlings can be separated and moved to their own pots.

While it will be about three years before your little trees are ready for training, growing bonsai from seed can be a rewarding experience. If you have the time and patience, beginning with a seed allows you to be in control throughout the entire artistic process.

Growing bonsai from seed requires time and commitment, but is incredibly rewarding. Our list of pros and cons will help you decide if starting from seed is your best option for growing bonsai.