How to grow a bonsai from seeds? (germination and watering guide)

Being able to grow a Bonsai from seed is the dream for bonsai enthusiasts and experts alike. But as you probably know, there are few that can actually manage to accomplish this feat. In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know in order to successfully grow your dream bonsai tree from seeds.

To grow a bonsai tree from seeds, get the right seeds that will most likely grow in your climate and location. Then, plant them in well-draining soil and guarantee proper stratification in the fridge. Lastly, you’ll need to care for the seedlings as they grow, ensuring that you provide well-balanced care of water, sunlight, pruning and humidity.

Grow Bonsai from Seeds
Credits: Eastern Leaf

How specifically? We’ll cover the details and many more questions you might have right below. Check out our table of contents in case you want to jump into something right away. 

Step by Step How to Germinate Bonsai Seeds

Let’s get right down to business. These are the 11 steps we identified are necessary in order to create the right conditions to plant and successfully grow your bonsai from seed. 

  1. Commit: before you start, be sure you’re up to the long term commitment. 
  2. Seed Choosing: choose the right seed for you to grow, and the right seeds to thrive, remember there are no “bonsai seeds” these are just regular seeds. As a rule of thumb, local trees (trees that grow around your surroundings) will fare well too. Check if they need stratification and act accordingly. 
  3. Soil Preparation – Water Draining Substrate: As with any bonsai potting, add a light layer of water draining substrate (like grit or lava rock) to allow proper water drainage. 
  4. Soil Preparation – Bonsai Soil: then add a layer of any common soil for Bonsais. 
  5. Determine if Stratification or Scarification is Needed: some bonsai seed species like eucalyptus or redbud require some additional incentive in order for them to start growing, determine if yours is one of them. (See more details in section below)
  6. Planting the Seed: place the seeds on top of the bonsai soil, leaving some space between seeds. Add approximately 20 seeds per small pot. 
  7. Cover it up: cover the seeds with common bonsai soil. Aim to achieve 2 centimeter (⅔ inch) depth for your seeds below the soil. 
  8. Compact the Soil: press on the soil with your fingers gently and lightly to slightly compact the soil.
  9. Water the pot thoroughly. Add enough water to let it come out from the drainage holes, and from then on, make sure the soil is constantly moist. 
  10. Light: place it on the same location as you would a normal bonsai tree. Even though sunlight does not affect your seed just yet, it will emulate the same conditions as if it were outdoors. 
  11. Maintenance: treat as you would any bonsai tree in the making. Keep in mind its normal necessities such as watering, lighting, ambient etc, as this will make or break your bonsai tree in the long run. 

This is a broad-strokes guide of the steps you will need to grow your bonsai tree, but we’ll cover the details right away. 

Bonsai Tree Growing Must Knows

When we first started growing our bonsais from seeds, we had a ton of questions in our mind. These are the answers we wished we could’ve found at the time.  

Which Bonsai Can I Grow from Seeds

It’s important to remember that there is no such thing as “bonsai seeds”. People tend to forget that bonsais are normal trees, natural trees that you would find in the wild. What makes it a bonsai tree is what you do to it after it grows, not before. 

So in short, any tree can theoretically be grown from seed and become a bonsai. However, there are some species that are known to fare better than others. These are:

  • Fir Tree
  • Maple Tree
  • Pine Tree
  • Birch Tree
  • Cedar Tree
Top bonsai species to grow from Seeds
Credits: Eastern Leaf

These are all comparatively easy to grow and are sturdy enough to last – let’s call these the beginners trees to grow from seed. 

More elaborate trees (trees which are harder to germinate) include the White Pine, Hornbeam and Needle Juniper. 

How to Select The Bonsai for my Seed

As a rule of thumb, we recommend choosing the seed simply based on the tree you want.

Go online and search for “grown bonsai trees” (or click here to go to the search results right away) and select the one that jumps to your eye. Look at the leaves, trunk, foliage, fruit or flower, and take your pick!

This is a long term commitment, so make sure you keep its image in mind. However, this is not a race, the path is what will make everything worth it. 

How to Get the Seeds for My Bonsai?

The quickest and easiest way to do so is online. There are specialized stores that will sell the prepackaged seeds for you. It can be as simple as picking the bonsai tree you want to have, order it, and you’re ready to go. 

The harder approach is naturally to find the seed out in nature. But if you’re dead set on doing it, then your time is the autumn. During this time of the year, seeds fall down, they dry up a bit, and you can easily spot them on the ground if you try. 

Seeds fall during the autumn since it matches with their inner clock, which tells them when they should germinate. Their nature is to germinate after the cold (winter) in order to have all of spring and summer to flourish and grow strong.

If the time when you want to start growing a bonsai doesn’t add up to spring, then don’t worry, you can always go back to stratification and play with nature’s seasons at home.

How many Bonsai Seeds per Pot?

Plant at least 20 seeds. It’s hard to tell how many will germinate exactly, so this is a good tip to avoid betting everything on just a couple. 

How Long Does it Take to Germinate or Sprout?

On average, you can be waiting on your bonsai tree seeds to germinate for around 1 month until you see your first sprout. But, of course, this all really depends on the species you choose. Most species will do in a matter of weeks, others can take several seasons to do so. 

But in general, the process is the following:

  • From your seed there will germinate two “immature” leaves in a matter of weeks.
  • After that, you should wait for when the next “true” leaves come in. This means, the two following leaves after the “immature leaves”. This will be the right time to cut back on watering a bit. 

If you’re growing it on a seedling tray, this is the time to consider changing it to a larger pot where you can replant it. When doing so, remember to avoid pulling on the stem of your small bonsai, as it can easily break and take you back a couple of weeks. 

Then, you can expect on average a waiting time of about 2-3 years until you have a tree that you can start to manipulate – a tree that is usable to become a bonsai.

You can learn more information about this topic in our growing a bonsai tree guide.

This is the part where most pragmatic people will simply say to purchase a pre-grown bonsai tree, as most are generally 5-7 years old, and in bonsai, much of the excitement is left for later.

If you follow the pre-grown bonsai path, you will guarantee that you can start to manipulate it right away. But if you’re a purist, or want to have a long-term project in mind, keep steady my friend. 

Stratification or Scarification of Bonsai Seeds

Some bonsai trees need a bit of a push in order to allow them to start their growth process, some bonsai trees don’t. Check the bonsai tree species that you have in order to determine if something needs to be done. There are two processes that could be needed: Stratification and Scarification, sometimes at a time. 

Scarification refers to the process of subjecting your seed to some sort of stimulus in order for it to crack and then start to grow. 

Stratification refers to the process of mimicking the winter season in order to spark your bonsai seeds to germinate. 

What is Scarification and How Does it Work?

Scarification is when your bonsai tree seeds need to be soaked in water for a couple of days in order to start its growth process. This is characteristic of some very sturdy seeds that need the extra hours to get the job done. 

These are the Steps to follow in the Scarification Process:

  1. Soak the bonsai seeds from 24 to 48 hours in room temperature water in order to soften the outer shell of the seed. 
  2. Place the seeds in a soft mixture. 
  3. Place the seeds in a resealable plastic bag, any zip-lock will do. Then, water the pat moss so that it stays moist and put it inside the plastic bag. 
  4. Place them in the refrigerator for any length of time ranging from 1 month to 6 months depending on your tree species until they sprout and then re-plant. 

What is Stratification and How Does it Work?

Stratification is when your bonsai tree seed needs to feel like it is sitting in winter in order to start growing the spring. 

These are the Steps to follow in the Scarification Process:

  1. Soak the seed in water to also soften the shell (similar to scarification), but only for a short period of time. 
  2. Plant the seed in a soft bedding. 
  3. Add water and insert it into a plastic bag.
  4. Place the bag into your refrigerator and wait for them to sprout and then plant them in a proper bonsai pot. 

How often to Water Bonsai Seeds?

When it comes to watering, imagine your bonsai tree seeds are exactly the same as if you had a bonsai tree. But, to get into further details, we can boil down the specifics into different stages of your bonsai tree.

  • In the Pre-Germination stage, remember to keep the soil moist, but always far from it being overwatered. 
  • Then, in the Post-Germination stage, keep the watering conditions similar to the Pre-Germination stage until it grows its two “true” leaves. 
  • Once the two “true” leaves have grown, cut back on the water and limit it to watering only when the top third of the soil dries out until you repot your bonsai. 
  • Once you re-pot your tree, then water as you would any normal bonsai tree (according to specifications of your species). 

How much Light do Bonsai Seeds Need?

Avoid having the pot with the seed in a location where it gets direct sunlight. Even though there is no direct impact just yet in terms of light, what sunlight can do, is affect how dry and how quickly your soil becomes dry. The ideal location is, therefore, a window that can have the best of both worlds. 

How long does it take to grow a bonsai tree from seed?

The process of growing a bonsai tree from seed or sapling can take anywhere between 5-10 years.

If you want the tree to grow quickly, it is recommended that you plant a seed in a bonsai pot. This way, your bonsai will be fully mature in just 3-5 years. Whether the tree grows fast or slow, it is important to know that there are plenty of bonsai care tips for beginners like pruning or repotting. It depends on the species of bonsai and how you want it to look when it is fully grown, but expect at least 10 years from seed.

When should I plant my bonsai seeds?

Times to sow your seeds depends on when you want them to grow. In the autumn, young seedlings will have all summer long after germinating in spring and there is no need for stratification. The best time would be in late fall or early winter so that plants can fully develop before taking root during warm months of planting outside again next year!

Is it hard to grow a bonsai tree from seed?

If we are being honest, yes, it is significantly more difficult to grow your bonsai tree from seed than from any other way. It generally is more time-consuming, it’s less motivating (because you lack the visual results any plant-grower craves), and it might not end up in anything fruitful.

But no worries! There’s still hope for you. If you follow a few simple steps, you could be saving yourself quite a bit of time and money in the long run, not to mention, extremely satisfying.

Additional Tips for Germinating a Bonsai Tree Seed

These are some of the very best tips we found in our research from bonsai experts on germinating your bonsai seeds.

  • Label the bags containing your seeds. This will help you keep track of the species, amount and your eventual success after you see how many have grown. 
  • Check your seeds during stratification to avoid keeping them longer than you need. 

Final Thoughts

In this post we’ve covered the basics of how to grow a bonsai from seeds. Hopefully, this has helped you understand what it takes and given some tips for getting started with your own plant project! If you’re not quite sure where to start, and have the time, we recommend starting small by planting one or two seedlings in containers indoors that are large enough to accommodate their growth-rate needs and then transplanting them outside when they get bigger.

With that being said, we hope this post has been informative and that you learned something new about planting bonsai trees from seeds. Also, get out there and start planting some of your own plants to see if the experience is different than what you’re used to. And please share with friends that like plants and gardening because everyone’s got a friend who needs help in their garden or can use some advice when starting up a plant-based lifestyle.

Finally, being able to grow your bonsai tree from the seed you choose is the dream. It’s everything you could want, your baby, right from the start. It can also be an advantage considering some bonsai trees can be pricey. However, as you previously read, this is no easy feat, you’ll need every piece of knowledge you can, and every piece of patience you can muster. We helped with the first part, the latter is up to you. So good luck on this wonderful journey.


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Sebastian Moncada

I’m also a plant enthusiast and researcher. I’ve been privileged to have lived my whole life around the wilderness of Colombia and I’m happy to share everything I learn along the way. “Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience” – Emerson.

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