Sunday, July 12, 2009

bonsai from seed

e-mail exchange

Hello Walter,

i have just been viewing a forum on growin a Japanese Acer Platinum Bonsai Maple tree and noticed your picture was used as a discription (really impressive if m may say so). I am a first time grower of ay sort of Bonsai tree and would like to know after my 3 month stratification period, how many seeds should i plant in order to grow a single healthy tree?

Any help would be brilliant.

All the best


I hate to enlighten you. There is no such thing as bonsai seed. Yes, you can start with seed. But you will NEVER get a decent bonsai. Growing from seed has NOTHING to do with bonsai. Like growing lettuce from seed has nothing to do with French coking. Only real experts can turn seedlings into decent bonsai. You haven't a chance. Go get decent material that someone has worked on for a decade or more.



Anonymous said...

Straight forward and good advice!

Houston Sanders said...

Hi Walter,
I am disappointed in your comments on seedlings, and especially in the tone of your comments. In your writing, you have described your own experiences with having to learn by yourself how to collect trees because nobody else was doing it. It therefore surprises me that you would be so dismissive of the attempts of others to try something different.

I understand entirely what you wished to express: growing seedlings is no way to learn bonsai. You do almost nothing to the seedling for years and if it lives, your first efforts at styling and repotting will certainly kill it and you have to start over again. But I respectfully disagree with your conclusion that seedlings can never become decent bonsai except in the hands of a master.

Over the past 15 years, I have grown many seedlings and cuttings into what I consider to be decent bonsai. I have the good fortune to have access to a good bonsai club and many bonsai resources in my area. Yet when I discussed growing seedlings or cuttings with anyone, I received the same sort of discouraging comments that you've given to "xy".

In general, the bonsai community in the US is used to receiving pre-bonsai materials imported from Asia, or professionally collected material, or starting with trees grown for landscape use. At this point, even the most experienced US enthusiasts usually share your attitude toward seedlings. To be blunt: THEY DON'T KNOW HOW to grow a bonsai from seedlings or cuttings! So they assume it takes a master to do it.

You don't need to be a master to grow a seedling or cutting in a pot for a year, then stick it in the ground and let it grow a few years until it is suitable bonsai stock.

A more thoughtful answer to "xy" would have been something like:

"The study of bonsai is a difficult endeavor. It includes both horticulture - growing of trees, and art - wiring and trimming the trees to form a convincing representation of a full sized tree in miniature. There are many techniques for growing, styling and refining your trees that must be learned and perfected through repetition with many trees.

Therefore I suggest that you do not start with a seedling, but rather with inexpensive young trees from your local garden center. Many of your initial attempts will kill trees. After a few years you will learn to keep your trees alive and healthy, and have a beginning in the lifelong study of the artistic techniques required for bonsai.

While you study and learn with other material, perhaps you can start, collect, or buy a few seedlings. These can be planted in the ground and allowed to grow for a few years with little attention. Then these trees may become your future bonsai material. But you learn little or nothing about the artistic aspect of bonsai from the process of growing these seedlings.

For information on the growing of bonsai from seedlings and cuttings, I recommend the many fine articles originating from Japan that are translated and printed in International Bonsai Magazine."


Houston Sanders

Walter Pall said...


thanks for the thoughtful answer.
In Europe we call a spade a spade.
It is more important to convey a clear message than to try to not hurt someone's feelings here. Cultural clash.

And I must disagree, it is just not something that I can recommend. Bonsai from seed is a scam. I have fallen into this trap 27 years ago and purchased a bunch of bonsai seed packages. Someone shold have told me bluntly that this was nonsense.


Stavros said...


I could not agree more with Walter. If you want to enjoy bonsai in this life (!) by having a decent tree or working on decent material, your best chances is to find trees that have been growing for several years, with a decent trunk and all the other important features that make a potted tree called bonsai.
Growing trees from seed is a long, very long process. It takes skill to grow decent bonsai material and years of proper care. It may be rewarding observing the seeds becoming plants but these may never become bonsai or they may become very low quality bonsai, after many, many years from their germination.

Save yourself some time and frustration and buy good quality trees from a specialist and enjoy your time working on them.

Walter's message was very true and very clear and most bonsai enthusiasts who have already tried seeds will agree with him.


Sebastijan Sandev said...

Walter is a good advisor. There is no many better bonsai tutors than Walter in the world. Respectively, he is a very good teacher. But, you have to be able to cope with this sincere advices. If someone wishes you well, he will most likely tell you the truth. I strongly believe that you cannot produce a decent bonsai from seed in a life time, or, before, we maybe have to analyse what is a decent bonsai?
It is not a very good idea to spend 20 years or more to produce bonsai from seed when better result you can accomplish with a low or medium quality collected stock.
So, I believe, Walter is in his good manner just a very sincere teacher. Listen the man and learn a good stuff, not some japanese romantic stories. You will loose whole life to achieve fortunately low to medium japanese export quality, and that's not very much.
That's my opinion, no hard feelings! If you at the end, stick to that idea of growing bonsai from seed, I really admire you, you courage and your will and your patience. I that is what you really want, don't get anyone step in your way.
Go for it!
Sebastijan Sandev

Anonymous said...

The question wasn't whether there was a bonsai seed, but how many seeds should one plant in order to grow a single bonsai tree.

There's no cultural clash, BTW. I'm from Europe and I also find your answer dismissive. One should remember that there's more to bonsai than 20 kilotone monsters. There are also shohin and mame sizes. And they can be grown from seed in well under 10 years, which you quote as a minimum to, for example, create a "decent" bonsai from yamadori material.

Walter Pall said...


maybe you would have treated my answer with more respect had you have to pay for professional advice.
Welcome to globalization.


Stavros said...

If you really insist on growing bonsai from seeds then you should know that the percentage of seeds germinating depends on so many factors some of them out of our control. It is impossible to determine the number of seeds needed to produce a tree.

WHy don't you buy seedlings instead? It will save you some time.

Yet again, i have to agree with Walter on this one.


Sebastijan Sandev said...

It would be very interesting to see one of those masterpieces made from seed in a 10 years time that you talk about. Ok, let it be 20 years time. So please, send a photo or put a link. Thank you!

Sebastijan Sandev

Anonymous said...

Sebastijan: I will. But only after you show me one of your 20 kilotone masterpieces that you produced in two years from yamadori material.

Matt Williams said...

It seems obvious to me that the original correspondent was under the impression that all bonsai were started as seeds and grown from seedlings to become specimen trees. This, I think, and I'm sure Walter will corect me if I'm wrong, was the reason for the tone of the "elightenment".

You can grow bonsai stock from seedlings if you have plenty of space and are both well informed and tallented.

You can transform a good piece of stock into a beautiful tree if you are both well informed and tallented!

What you can't do is grow a seedling, having no specialist knowledge and being a complete novice, into a beautiful bonsai. Any such attempt is courting frustaration and failure; particularly when there are much better routes.

So Walter was blunt? Better blunt than misleading!

amkhalid said...

The only advantage I see to growing bonsai from seed is having complete control over the root (nebari) development from day 1.

If you want a "perfect" nebari, it takes alot of luck to get this with nursery of collected material. But to some people, and many styles of tree, a perfect nebari is not that important.

Nevertheless, growing from seed is quite the commitment. I myself started a few seedlings when I first started bonsai a few years ago. I have since thrown them out since they are a waste of the little space I have.

3 seedlings in pots takes up as much bench space as 1 medium sized tree with actual bonsai potential. Maybe when I have a growing field I will try again...

Anonymous said...

Greetings from Belgium.

I'll keep it short, and hopefully shed some light on the attempts some bonsai enthousiastics are prepared to make, just to enjoy their hobby. I does not alwasy have to be about top-worldclass bonsai. On the other hand, Walter, several of the world's finest (non-yamadori) bonsai must sometime be grown from seed decades or maybe hundreds of years old. I suspect this is at least the case in some of these magnificent bonsai. Moreover, why would a normal (natural-style) looking bonsai be regarded as not as decent as the rough pine or other yamadori that comes from some mountain?

What a really wanted to say, I'm 31, been interested in bonsai since I was about 19. I first did nothing...i watched, learned, read... I still have a quercus rober that i grew from a 1-year old seedling that spruced in the garden of my grandmother. I can assure you Walter, that single one is the bonsai I love most of all... after 11 years, its still in the ground, and I damn well can assure you (not only emotionally) I am planning a good future for it. And its starting to look nice...

thats all i wanted to say.

Love and greetz to all bonsai enthousiastics, professionals...

By the way Walter, you'll be my favorite bonsai artist anyway, no matter your opininon about growing from seed :D

On the other hand, offcourse there is no such thing as special bonsai seed ;)

Anonymous said...

I find that many people are elistist when it comes to bonsai. And denying bonsai from seeds is one of their convictions. I have seen very beautiful bonsai grown from seeds, from shohin, mame and bigger ones. And this in 6-10 years.

The problem is with a myth the general public as. General people think that bonsai is grown from seeds and that if you sow one of those seeds it will grow a real nice bonsai. Some people even think that a bonsai is a specie of tree, and the only one they have seen is in Karate kid movies. you know the famous juniper. As bonsai enthusiast we must be honest with people when it comes to their bonsai misconception, but to close the door to seeds is over the needed correction.

I remember an article in bonsai today 71 about japanese black pine from seeds and they were great trees. This article was reproduce in the pine books masters series.

As said, yamadori also takes the same time, to get something good. However, yes, with yamadori you will probably get something bigger with more character as nature and time as beaten this tree.

However, all cultivars do come from seeds. Cultivar is so important for some bonsai enthusiast and they forget that these cultivars come from a seed ultimatly. An exception to this would be yatsubusa tree.

Seeds is also a cheap way for some person to have different species, not usually available in their region.

Anonymous said...

Here is a good link with some maples grown from seed.