How to Grow Bonsai from Seed

Jonas Dupuich explains how you could grow a Bonsai from seed, with all the steps shown and explained. Growing a tree from seed, and styling it into a Bonsai, takes several years but is great fun!


How do you grow a bonsai from seed well the very first step of growing a bonsai from seed is you need to germinate the seed and that’ll give you a plant that you can start working with and developing over time [Music] uh today i’ll be talking about how to or what the process looks like for japanese black pine as that’s a species i’ve been growing from seed for the last 25 years i begin the process in late winter by pouring hot water over the seeds i want to germinate and letting them soak overnight the next day i plant the seeds that have sunk to the bottom of the glass it turns out that the seeds that float after 24 hours are very unlikely to germinate and so i discard those and then just plant the ones that i want to work with the medium you use to plant doesn’t matter a whole lot the main thing is that you keep these seeds moist for the two to three weeks it takes for the plants to germinate if a couple weeks have passed and you don’t see anything it could be that giving the trees some more or the seeds some more warmth will help and i’ll often do that by moving the flat from a shady spot to a spot that gets a little more sunshine it’s important however that the seeds don’t dry out at this time as any point at which the seeds get too dry could be the end of it for those seeds so make sure they have a little bit of moisture and after a couple weeks you’ll start seeing little seedlings after about one year depending on what time of year you start your seeds you might end up with a little plant that looks like this this was planted earlier this spring and i haven’t had to do much with it to get it to this point other than make sure it receives some sunlight and adequate water and fertilizer that’s really your first job for the first 12 months with any species that you grow it doesn’t matter a whole lot about the soil or the techniques there’s definitely no pruning and in all likelihood no wiring in these early stages now that you have a one-year-old plant you have 12 months to figure out what to do with a two-year-old plant and so here’s a pine that is two years old and so you can get this much growth out of one year if you fertilize like crazy and have perfect conditions if it’s a little cooler where you live then this might be acceptable for two or even three years of growth when you have a seedling that’s about this big particularly for pine that is a good time to put on the first wire and this is where it’s time to start thinking about what you want the trunk of the tree to look like that you’re trying to build the most important thing to figure out is are you trying to build a small tree a medium-sized tree or a large tree and here’s why this matters right up front your job after growing this tree for two years is to put on one wire and the tightness of the curves you put in the trunk will have an effect on what the shape of that tree will be later on and so in general if i’m making a smaller tree i aim to create tighter curves if i want to create a larger tree i will create more gentle curves and so here is what that might look like after wiring notice a few things about the way this has happened is that i have made sure that the very base of the trunk comes out at an angle unless you’re growing a formal upright you don’t want the trunk straight up starting at any other angle would be preferable i’ve also ensured that on this lower part of the trunk that none of it is straight it’s curving all the way up and around and then i just kind of point to the top upward and i’ll say more about that in just a moment so this would be an appropriate way to wire a two-year-old pine at that point you’ve got another 12 months to figure out what to do with the tree that’s one year older and in reality you pretty much just need to monitor when the wire starts cutting in so that you can cut it off after it’s cut in a little bit you don’t need to take it off before it cuts in or the curve will disappear but you don’t want the wire to become completely embedded so after i let that grow for one or two years you might have a tree that looks a little bit like this and let’s see this tree is one two three four four to five years old and what i’ve done is let the main leader of this tree grow for several years and i don’t really care how big it gets because this is what we call a sacrifice branch this will be removed at a later stage in development the future tree is going to be created based on the branches that i have down here now the bigger you want the trunk to be the longer you want to let this branch get and the bigger the tree you want to create the more of these branches you can use to create your bonsai if i want to make a small tree i could simply cut this off right now and start styling the bonsai based on the branches that i currently have if i want to make the tree taller i could actually cut this branch off select one of these lower branches and then let this grow for the next two three four or five years and that will create a little bit of taper and a little bit of movement as the tree grows and so there’s a lot of variability at this stage based on again the size and the style of the tree you want to create now once you have the trunk as thick as you want to get it that’s when you can remove the sacrifice branches and you’ll have a tree that looks a little more like this now you’ll notice that there are a whole lot of small branches around the base of this and i can say that there’s really nothing specifically that i did to foster these branches they tend to automatically grow based on what’s going on on other parts of the tree so a little more about that when you are letting the sacrifice branches grow it’s important to keep the needles that are growing around the base of the tree in place because when you keep those needles you can stimulate what are known as needle buds and those are buds that’ll start growing from between each pair of needles and all of the buds you see down low are actually the result of needle buds which have developed over the last number of years and this is the stage at which i can start selecting branches the primary branches for the bonsai and begin thinking about styling so once you get the trunk to the size you want it to become you can really start focusing on creating what we think of as the style of the tree setting the primary and secondary branches and improving branch density and so again when we’ve got a tree where the trunk has reached the size we want for it the next step is to begin refinement and this is where instead of going to larger and larger containers we might want to go to smaller and smaller containers as we have here with this young tree and the idea at this stage is that we’re trying to improve the density and as you can see between these two trees there is a big difference in terms of the branch density and for pines we do this through de-candling for other species we do this through techniques like partial defoliation and or cutback is simple pruning and so at this stage of the game the idea is that i want to make as many branches as possible on the tree to keep the inner nodes short that is the space between the branches the more compact i can get those inner nodes the more compact tree i can make and from this stage it’s only a hop skip and a jump away from something that might be a far more mature looking pine like the one we have right here which is now 16 years old from seed the goal at this point is to continue refining the branches and we can do that by de-candling thinning needles and fall and selective pruning to make sure the tree has the shape we want and it’s at this point that we’re doing what really feels like bonsai work instead of basic development work and that work will continue throughout the life of the pine this is more of a maintenance or you know later stages of refinement that happens and for an example of what that same kind of work might yield you know another 10 years later that would be like this tree right here which is now 26 years old from seed and the tree is continuing to be candle it’s about time to thin out the needles on it and uh it needs wiring again and so that’s the next step of development for uh this kind of tree at that phase but as you can see you can get fantastic results i believe this tree is only about six or seven years old and so really it’s just the refinement that takes place between six seven eight years old and fifteen years old and it’s really subtle refinement that then happens kind of 15 years and beyond that kind of covers the overview of what it looks like to go from a young tree to a slightly older tree to something that starts looking like a bonsai but i want to make two additional notes on that topic the one is that bonsai don’t have to look like the trees in the examples where most of them were small in formal upright bonsai like the one we’re looking at right here if you would like to make a tree that looks a little different at earlier stages of development you can simply choose to wire the tree in a different direction for example if you want an unusual style tree you simply put in some interesting bends at a younger stage but you’ll notice like one of the first pines we looked at there were some branches in close that will form the future tree and then a large sacrifice branch which will come off later and feel free to give the trees whatever shape you like at this stage before doing the bulk of the thickening on the trunk another alternative might be to make a cascade tree and for example this tree instead of being wired up was wired down and that’s how we end up getting the cascade form on this it helps to use a slightly taller pot or putting it up on a shelf just so it doesn’t hit the bench below it but the basic process for creating the trees just like the one that we’ve outlined the difference being that instead of the trunk rising upward it comes down finally a final note to make on developing bonsai from seed is that if you think about the process in three general phases it might help clear up a lot of questions that tend to come up number one is your main job is creating a tree that has really good roots it’s hard to make improvements to the roots later and so if you can create really attractive roots up front then you’ll be way better off so your goal after sprouting a seed is to spend several years making sure you have good roots that emerge on all sides of the trunk and that you’re not going to do the next enter the next phase of development until you are happy with the roots you have if you don’t like the roots you have when it’s time to make the trunk thicker and encourage really rapid growth it’s really hard to expect the roots to magically get better on their own while the tree’s growing so quickly so once you’ve got the tree you want and you’ve got the roots you want the next stage is really focusing on the trunk and here’s where we do things very different than we do for mature bonsai we are fertilizing a lot more we’re encouraging rapid growth and we’re not as concerned about inner node growth or inner node size for the most part at this stage we want to put on as much wood as possible to get the tree up to a good shape and our primary tool for doing that is the sacrifice branch and then finally when the trunk reaches the desired size our focus turns to branch ramification and that’s where we rely as mentioned earlier on techniques like de-candling and defoliation and general pruning and cutback in that those are the refinement techniques that get us that last mile of the branch density that really gives the shape and form that is so pleasing for us in more refined bonsai so to recap that last little bit we want to make sure that we have good roots before thickening the trunk when we thicken the trunk we don’t worry as much about the branches and then when the trunk reaches the right size that’s when we can focus on the branch work

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