Are There Special Seeds for Bonsai?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Bonsai is the Japanese art of training trees and other plants to grow in miniature. The effect is accomplished by growing the plant in a small container, but otherwise, the plant is normal. Bonsai seeds are no different from the seeds of regular plants; bonsai trees are not genetically dwarfs, but rather trained to grow small as an art form.

Bonsai seeds are the same as other plants, but the plants are trained to grow small.
Bonsai seeds are the same as other plants, but the plants are trained to grow small.

There are two methods for growing a bonsai plant: using cuttings or bonsai seeds. Beginners may wish to forgo either of these methods and start with a stock tree; they will still have control over the eventual shape and design of the tree, and can practice bonsai without having to wait for a plant to grow. However, growing a bonsai tree from scratch gives one the most control and can be very gratifying.

Bonsai seeds are the most challenging approach to bonsai and take a longer time to grow into a plant than cuttings, but they also provide the best control over the entire process. Bonsai seeds can come from trees found in the park or the woods or one's own garden, or they can be obtained through a supplier. If you wish to collect your own seeds, autumn is the best time to do so. Buying bonsai seeds from a supplier, however, has many advantages: the risk of fungal or viral disease is mush lower, you will know exactly what kind of plant you are getting, and you will know that the seeds are suited to bonsai.

Most tree seeds have a tough outer shell and should be soaked in lukewarm water for 24 hours prior to planting. The protective coating must be broken open to allow the seed to germinate, either with pliers or by making an incision. Be careful not to damage the seed when breaking its shell.

Some combination of peat, loam, and sand is best for bonsai seeds, depending upon the specific type of seed. Whatever type of soil is used, make sure that it is moist and free of impurities by passing it through a coarse sieve and disinfecting it with steam or a formalin-based product. Stratification, in which bonsai seeds are layered in a container with moist sand, is necessary for many types of seeds to grow. In order to prevent fungal and viral infections, you may soak the seeds in a disinfectant prior to planting and apply fungicide shortly after germination.

When planting bonsai seeds, cover the bottom of the container with a layer of sand or fine gravel to ensure effective drainage. Plant seeds on top of 3/4 inch (2 cm) of soil, making sure to give them enough room so that they will not crowd each other as they grow. Cover them with another thin layer of soil. The seeds must be able to breathe, so the smaller the seed, the less soil it should be covered with. Immediately after covering the bonsai seeds, lightly tamp down the soil and give them their first gentle watering, using a fine spray.

Bonsai is a delicate process from first planting the seeds. Make sure they are in the shade and safe from frost at 60-70°F (15-20°C). Covering the container with glass, leaving a corner open to allow air circulation, can help maintain the proper temperature and prevent evaporation. Above all, be patient, as bonsai seeds can take up to a year to sprout.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


@rundocuri- If you have the patience and aren't it a hurry to begin your bonsai project, I think you should start by planting the trees you want to bonsai from seeds. However, if you are ready to get started, you should be able to find nice saplings at your local nursery so you can get started right away. You can always trim unruly branches so you can get the shape you prefer on your bonsai tree.


@rundocuri- I really don't see the need to start a bonsai tree from seed, because there really isn't much you can do until the plant reaches a certain size. Unless you want to start your bonsai project from it's beginning as a seed, I think you should simply start with a small, young tree.

The other benefit of beginning your bonsai project with a is that you can choose a young tree that has a good shape to it. When it comes to bonsai, straight stalks and branches are good to start with, because you can shape them as the tree grows. You can't know for sure what your seeds will produce, and you really can't bonsai thin, delicate stems until they have grown several inches.


I use to turn plants into bonsai trees year ago, and would like to get back into this form of natural art. Would it be difficult to turn a young plant from bonsai seeds into a bonsai plant, or would I be better off beginning my bonsai project with starter plant?

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