Most beginning bonsai artists will purchase a tree at some point of development and step by step learn to care for it. The beginner will graduate later on to pruning, trimming, wiring and other more advanced practices. At some point in his or her education, the enticement to undertake the challenge of producing a bonsai from seed will seem irresistible.
Here are some tips on how to grow your first bonsai tree from scratch.
Trees develop from seeds. True, many begin as seedlings, prunings or offshoots of mature trees. But the whole enterprise begins with seeds. In order for those seeds to become trees they pass through a stage called germination.
Sitting in the cold, wet soil of wintertime and springtime slowly dampens the seed’s casing or coat and induces early growth. Soil bacterium aid the process along. Nature provides the clues the bonsai artist should follow in order to give the young plant a proper start.
Planting in the autumn allows for the seeds to undergo this process, slowly and naturally. An artificial, and perfectly valid, method of seed preparation is known as ‘cold stratification’. It consists, essentially, of preparing seeds artificially by placing them in a container in the refrigerator to imitate natural conditions.
Whether preparing the seeds artificially or allowing for nature to do it for you, this discontinues the seed’s dormancy and leads to germination. It often happens that this will take a year or longer, with seeds beginning to germinate in the springtime a year and a half after the autumn sowing.
The length of time will vary by species, climate and even individual seed. Plants, like any other species, is composed of individuals with their own timetable.
You will be able to give your seeds some help by suitable fertilization, but exercise moderation. Once per month in early spring to mid-summer with 10-10-10 NKP (nitrogen (N), phosphates (P) and potassium (K)) is plenty. Fertilization should begin when the soil begins to warm up. If you maintain the pot indoors, this can be controlled artificially with a heat lamp, but this is more effort.
It’s important that the soil be kept moist, but not too wet. Moisture is important, but overly wet soil will kill a developing plant as quickly as soil too dry.
Naturally, finding out the correct balance will require some experimentation. Those experimentations can be sharpened by the usage of a moisture gauge, a thermometer-like device that measures water content in the soil. In point of fact, it’s helpful to have a thermometer, too!
Sow them in a container of beneficial soil, and then monitor occasionally as the year progresses. Seeds should be planted about 1/2 inch to 1/4 inch below the surface in soil with good drainage.
Once you have a little tree thrusting a tiny trunk above the surface you are on your way. But keep in mind that producing a bonsai from seeds takes several years. Brace oneself for a long term project!