Growing Bonsai From Seed

It may seem amazing, but the fact remains that the easiest as well as most natural way of developing a bonsai is from plants propagated from their seeds. However, this does not denote that it is also the most reliable method of growing bonsai trees. Growing bonsai from seeds also need lots of patience on the part of the grower, especially when they are dealing with trees that grow very sluggishly. Precisely speaking, it may take as long as five years for a plant propagated from seed to obtain the form of a true bonsai.

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Growing bonsai trees from seed entails several aspects, such as obtaining the right seeds, preparing the seeds, using the correct soil and container, employing the appropriate sowing techniques, and proper after care. All these issues are discussed briefly below.

How to obtain seeds

If you wish to grow a bonsai tree from seed, autumn is the best time to search for wild seeds. Using a little proficiency, you will be able to find various seeds lying around. However, you may be faced with two major problems - determining which tree the seed belongs to and what type of seed it is. As far as chestnuts and acorns are concerned, this is not a problem. However, the problem may become complicated in places where many different types of conifers grow close to one another.

It is important to emphasize here that the possibilities of the seeds found in wild germinating successfully are not very satisfactory. A number of seeds may be victims of parasite attacks and this may reduce the chances of these seeds germinating successfully or even the plant's proper growth. Similarly, some wild seeds may even be affected by fungal or viral diseases.

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Hence, it is important that you are aware of such risks as well as limitations of growing bonsai from seeds found in nature. However, there is one dependable solution. You may purchase select commercial seeds from nurseries or stores selling bonsai items. As far as successful germination is concerned, using such select seeds offer you an elevated success rate. Moreover, as these seeds are being sold commercially, it means that they do not carry any parasite or disease. You should know that most of the seeds sold commercially, especially for the purpose of developing bonsai trees, come from the Far East. Moreover, these seeds are better suited for growing bonsai trees employing this method. However, you ought to always remember that irrespective of the origin of the seeds, none of them can develop into good bonsai trees even after germination if you do not provide them with the requisite special care and attention.

The technique for growing bonsai trees involves that the trees are not subjected to any genetic modification. Hence, bonsai seeds will generate regular sized offsprings, if they are not treated to develop as bonsai trees - in the same way as seeds that are meant for growing normal trees can also form bonsai trees. Before we conclude discussion on this topic, it is important to say a few words regarding the wonderful trees that can often be seen on the seed packets. These magnificent trees are very good examples of what a bonsai grower can actually achieve, but certainly not the type of result if they depend only on the seeds purchased in these packets.

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Preparing the seeds

You can directly sow the smaller seeds in spring or autumn, but this cannot be done with larger seeds, especially if they have a hard covering resembling a shell. This holds true for nearly all tree seeds. The larger seeds with a hard coating ought to be soaked in lukewarm water for no less than 24 hours. In case the shielding coating of the seed is hard or substantial, you may even be required to make an incision. However, while making the incision, you should ensure that you do not harm the seed in any manner. On the other hand, if the seed has a protective outer shell, you need to break open the shell carefully using pliers. Be careful not to crush the seed in any way.

There may be occasions when a seed with a hard protective coating will not sprout unless you provide it with special treatment, which is a process called stratification. This technique involves preparing alternating layers of moist sand and seeds. This process helps to make the seeds soft and facilitate their germination, thereby increasing their chances of being successful considerably. Growers using this process should be ready to wait for the seeds to germinate, as it may take many months of even a year for the seeds prepared in this formation to germinate. However, the time taken by the seeds to germinate entirely depends on the species.

Ahead of sowing the seeds, it would be worthwhile to soak the seeds with a view to disinfect them to reduce the risks of developing fungal diseases, especially at the time when the seeds start sprouting (for instance, damping off ailments of seedlings). You should be aware of the fact that damping off is among the most possible cause of bonsai seedlings failing to survive or grow well. In such cases, you should be ready to spray the seedlings or dust them with an appropriate fungicide just within some days after the seeds germinate.

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Where to sow

Soil

For nearly all types of bonsai trees, the perfect compost used for sowing seeds comprises a mixture of equal proportions of loam, peat and sand. You can, however, adjust this standard composition to make it suitable for the unusual demands of specific species. While it has been found that a mixture containing equal parts of the substances mentioned above is suitable for nearly all types of plants, it can never be employed for growing healthy land shrubs, as they require a highly acidic soil.

The best medium for growing bonsai seedling is either pure peat or peat mixed with sand. You should take especial care to make sure that the potting compost remains moist all the times. In addition, you should get rid of all larger impurities as well as pebbles that may be present in it. This is necessary to ensure that the development of the young roots of the bonsai is not obstructed. At the same time, it will be useful to pass the compost mixture through a rough garden sieve. On the other hand, the soil that you use to cover the seeds of bonsai ought to be sieved using a fine mesh.

In order to protect the bonsai seedling from being affected by diseases, you need to disinfect the soil with steam or any product that is based on formalin. It would be ideal to collect soil from nature after passing it carefully through a sieve. This would yield excellent results. At the same time, you should take care to get rid of all undesirable seeds as well as root fragments with a view to put off the seedlings from growing simultaneously with the bonsai seeds you have sown in the compost. It is difficult to remove these types of weeds at a later stage, as undertaking this task afterward may cause harm to the bonsai seedlings.

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Containers

After the germination of the bonsai seedling and its first pair of leaves has emerged, you should pot the plant several times. Exercise great care to ensure that you do not damage any part of the bonsai seedling, especially its roots.

When the first pair of leaves of the bonsai seedling has sprouted, the plant needs to be potted on many times. While repotting the bonsai seedling, you need to exercise great care to ensure that the roots of the seedling or the seedling itself are not damaged. You ought to remember that the bonsai roots are extremely delicate and, hence, they should never be pruned at this tender stage. Hence, you should consider the container that you are using for repotting as a temporary one and not as essential as the tray wherein you will plant the bonsai later.

There may be some growers who would like to sow the bonsai seeds in bowls or trays. However, it is always advisable that you sow the seeds in small pots, particularly when you are dealing with larger seeds. In fact, using a peat pot offers some added advantages - it helps the seedlings to avoid the transplantation shock. However, you need to monitor the peat continuously to ensure that the peat does not become dry. On the other hand, using clay pots helps to retain the moisture in the compost excellently.

Sowing technique

Irrespective of the container you may be using to sow bonsai seeds, it is important that you cover the base of the container with a layer of delicate sand or gravel to make sure that the drainage is proper after watering. Thus, you should ensure that the bonsai container has a drainage hole, to ensure that all surplus water is drained out.

Once you have prepared or obtained the appropriate compost, use it to fill the container up to roughly 2 cm (3/4 inch) of its rim. Press the soil lightly using a small wooden presser. You need to sow the bonsai seeds sparsely so that the seedlings are not jammed after germination. In the case of large seeds, you can sow them individually. On the other hand, the smaller seeds can be sown using a seeder. In the absence of a seeder, you may use a firm cardboard, fold it into two, put the seeds in the fold and tap the cardboard gently to place the seeds in the soil.

After sowing the seeds, cover them with a light layer of compost that has been passed through a fine garden sieve. However, the depth of the compost covering on the bonsai seeds will differ, subject to the seeds' size. The largest seed would need a covering of about anything between 1 cm and 2 cm (3/8 inch to 3/4 inch) compost layer. On the other hand, a mere dusting will be sufficient for the smaller seeds. In the case of the tiniest seeds, it is better not to cover them with compost layer, because covering them may prevent these small seeds from germination.

Having sowed the seeds, use a wooden presser or tamp to firm the surface of the compost gently. However, never firm the compost excessively, because you need to allow the seeds some space to breathe. Soon after sowing the seeds, you should give them their first watering, but be careful while watering the seeds. Ideally, you need to give the seeds a fine spray to ensure that the surface layer is not bothered. You need to know that the seed size as well as the thickness of the surface layer will have a direct effect on the watering technique. You can water the large seeds that are properly covered using a can fixed with a fine rose, while small seeds that are covered with a slender compost layer need to be watered with a delicate mist using a hand sprayer. On the other hand, tiny seeds that have not been covered with compost ought to be watered from underneath by placing the container in a tray filled with water. The watering should be continued till the compost in the pot becomes soaking wet. Nevertheless, you need to be careful to ensure that the water that goes up by means of capillary action does not in any way disperse the seeds when it reaches the compost surface.

In fact, a propagator is a perfect container for growing bonsai from seeds. Always place the pots in a shaded location where the temperature is between 15°C and 20°C (60°F and 70°F). Use a glass sheet to cover the trays and bowls, leaving a small space in one corner to allow air circulation with a view to restrict evaporation and maintain the ideal temperature at the soil surface. If a glass sheet is not available, place the containers in a frame. On the other hand, if you think that the temperature may be above 10°C (50°F) and there are no risks of frost during the night, you can just place the container in your balcony. In places lying in the temperate zone, generally there is a risk of frost at night from late autumn onwards. Therefore, you need to take the trays or bowls in which you have sown the seeds indoors and place them close to a sunlit window. In case the room temperature is quite warm and the environment is arid, you need to ensure that the seeds receive frequent watering. However, when the seeds have germinated and the first leaves have emerged, it is essential to place the bonsai pot in water on a regular basis.

After sowing the bonsai seeds, you require to show lots of patience, as most bonsai usually take many months to sprout. In fact, some of these seeds may not even germinate till the next year.

Initial care

Soon after the seeds germinate, the young bonsai develops rapidly. While the seedling drops its seed leaves producing true leaves and, at the same time, developing roots quickly. Nevertheless, the bonsai seedling continues to be fragile and, hence, you need to monitor its development closely. Ensure that the soil's moisture level is appropriate for maintaining the proper growth of the bonsai. It should never be excess so that it promotes fungal diseases like damping off. In order to prevent the seedlings from suffering severe dehydration, you should provide them with adequate shelter and never allow them to be in direct contact with sunlight. At the same time, you need to initiate measures so that the young plant gradually gets accustomed to heat as well as cold conditions. Provided the natural conditions of the season are favourable for the seedling, you can pot it a few months later. However, you need to use a common clay pot at this stage, because you cannot consider the young plant to be a bonsai yet. At this stage, the grower can begin to feed the new plant with suitable fertilizers with a view to encourage its growth and development. If the weather is favourable, you can even place the bonsai outdoors for some time every day.

In case you have your own garden, you may possibly plant the bonsai seedlings in a bed during the first year of their growth. Nevertheless, you will be required to monitor the development of the seedlings very carefully with a view to ensure that they do not develop very quickly and become appropriate for bonsai training afterward. Occasionally, the roots of bonsai seedlings attain amazing proportions, so much so that they have a stunning effect. This type of bonsai plants can be an impressive addition to any room's décor.

Ideally, bonsai treatment should commence at the beginning of the second year after the seeds have germinated. However, the bonsai should only be potted in a bonsai tray only in the third year after the seeds germinate. Irrespective of whether you pot the seedlings in a container or plant them in beds outdoors, all through this period you need to ensure that weeds do not develop in the vicinity, as they are harmful for the bonsai seedlings.

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