Bonsai Seed Care

I know what you are thinking. A page dedicated to seeds? I thought you just opened the packet and stuck them in dirt. Well you are right, and you are wrong. I had good success for a long time doing just that. Or so I thought.

I was getting about an 80% germination rate, and grew many good plants with this method. Then, with a little knowledge, and courage. I found out how to germinate up to a week faster, and have hardier, stronger plants.

What’s the secret? It’s easy! Think Tree.

You should try to understand the life cycle of your chosen tree. This is good knowledge for you and will help you take better care of your bonsai.

Germination

Other than sticking them in dirt, there are two methods that I found to be useful. Stratification and Scarification.

Stratification – the process of freezing and thawing your seed in order to germinate them.

Scarification – using an emory board, or sandpaper to scratch the hard coat of some seeds in order to make germinating them easier.

* Many hard-coated seeds, such as hawthorn, hornbeam, pine and maples, actually need a period of cold before they can germinate. Some even need to be frozen for several weeks. This process of freezing and thawing is called stratification and is a natural mechanism designed to prevent early-shed seeds from germinating in autumn, only to be killed off during the following winter.

* Seeds of some species, especially hawthorn (crataegus spp.) and hornbeam (carpinus betulus) may take two years or more to germinate. The shells of these seeds are exceptionally hard and durable, and need this time to degrade sufficiently for the root and cotyledons to be able to burst through. Scarification of these seeds is essential if you don’t want to wait 2 years.

* Collect seeds of field maple (Acer campestre) or Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) in autumn and keep them in a paper bag until the middle of January. Then put them in a polythene bag with a handful of dry sand, seal the bag and pop it in the fridge. Within a few weeks most of the seeds will germinate and they can then be potted up and gradually hardened off ready to be put outside in spring. This way your seedlings will get off to a good start in their first crucial year.

*Sow acorns and other large fleshy seeds as soon as they are ripe. Such seeds are designed to be distributed by birds and animals who bury them in soil or leaf litter and then forget where they put them ­ which explains how species with heavy seeds, such as oaks and chestnuts, appear spontaneously great distances from the parent trees. Allowing fleshy seeds to dry out before sowing will render them unviable.

Storage

Storing seeds is really a simple subject. But I never can get over how many people ruin good seeds. So here are my thoughts on storing seed.

Seeds must be stored in a cool, dark, dry place. The perfect example of such a place is your sock drawer. Think of it. The drawer is usually closed, so it’s dark. This also keeps it cool, and since no-one likes putting on soggy socks, it is usually dry too. There you have it. If you can store socks there, you can store seeds.

What this means is…don’t store your seeds in the garage. Or the utility room. Or the shed. Inside your house there is less humidity. There is also less temperature fluctuation. Any drawer is a safe bet. Just avoid storing seeds under sink cabinets because moisture can collect there. Especially in older homes.

About Thomas J.

I started doing bonsai in 1991 after buying my first Chine Elm from Dallas Bonsai, who at the time was selling trees and supplies at a local mall.

At the time I was mostly interested in deciduous trees but after a few years moved up to working on junipers. My last holdout was the Japanese Black Pine which I began to work with in 2007 after acquiring a specimen from a friend.

I've had a few of my trees published in the "Gold Awarded Penjing of the World". Some call bonsai an art and some call it a craft, but for me it's a little of both with some high anxiety thrown in, at others times a world of peace and beauty right outside my backdoor.

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