Bonsai from seed

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Bonsai from seed

Post  Russell Coker on Fri Jun 14, 2013 4:13 pm

It always amazes me when people new to bonsai join this forum announcing the purchase of seeds or a "kit", planning on growing their own "bonsai tree".  Don't get me wrong, I know that it CAN be done.  Before I went to Japan in 1985 I spent a little time with the "old guard" in Los Angeles.  I remember admiring the Japanese black pines at George Yamaguchi's nursery and him saying "Plant seeds now!  These trees... 30 years from seed.  You young, plant seed NOW!".  Well, I WAS young, 18 or 19, and I guess I should have planted seeds then. Thirty years seemed like forever back then, but now it has come!
 
Fact for me is that I have no interest in planting seeds and waiting for something to happen.  Also, I'm not very good at it.  Hell, I'm lucky if I produce a decent looking greenbean much less a 30 year old pine bonsai.  And you can forget cuttings too.  The other day Jim Lewis commented to a new seed planter that we mostly start with something big and work our way down... not that's there's anything wrong with starting little and working up. I thought that was great advice... go on and plant your seeds, but find some real material to work on and learn from in the meantime...  'cause it's gonna be a looooong "meantime".

So I got nothin'...  But show off what you've grown from seed and tell us about it.
 
Anyone?

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Re: Bonsai from seed

Post  Randy_Davis on Fri Jun 14, 2013 5:06 pm

Russell,

Seed is the slowest way to get "finished" bonsai but as a plant nerd from the age of 9 I have grown many, many, many trees from seed.  One could also include cuttings in this category as well since they are about the same size as seedlings.  If you're young, have a green thumb and are persistent and committed to bonsai rather than an asylum it can be a life long passion with much gratification.  I have too many in my collection to show pic's of them all and the stories behind them but here is just one that I have loved since it was a real baby.  It's not that old, about 11 years in the making.  By the way, deciduous trees are far better for seed grown material than conifers like pine which just take for ever and like you say, it's 30+ years to get a good one from seed.

Here is an Acer Palmatum "Akaji Nashiki" - The seed came from a grafted tree of my brothers which were planted in 2001.  The seedlings came up fine in a community pot and grew like normal green Acer palmatum for the first year.  On the second year about 10% of them budded out with the red leaf coloration and were potted up in 2 inch pots and segregated from the rest of the trees which ended up just being normal green Acer palmatum. Here are a few pic's years apart so you can see the progression to last year.  I didn't take a pic of the tree this year for some reason.  I'm in the process of giving the tree a different shape this year so I've let all the new growth grow out which will give me something to work with this fall when I wire the tree up for the winter. 

2003

2005

2009

2012

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Re: Bonsai from seed

Post  Dale Cochoy on Fri Jun 14, 2013 7:23 pm

One of the 15 trees I kept when I sold my collection last fall was a Japanese Hornbeam, root over a rock, that my teacher Keith scott gave me back in about 1986ish. He had grown it from a seed that he brought back from Japan in the late 60's I think. I had always admired it and a different baby blue handmade pot which he repotted it with and gave it to me. I almost killed it once a few years for lack of repoting. I lost a few branches, but it's coming back good. I now repot it every year.

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Re: Bonsai from seed

Post  MikeG on Fri Jun 14, 2013 11:16 pm

As someone quite new to bonsai myself (4 or so years) I agree strongly with the advice to find mature material to work and learn with and don't get all caught up in growing your own from seed or cuttings. I went crazy in the first year germinating all type seeds but have only ended up keeping a very small amount, as with very limited space, I can't afford to use space for material that won't be used in 15+ years. 
  That being said, I am looking forward to the day when I can show a tree to someone and honestly claim I've done all the work. With the few young trees I have the work began in their very first year cutting the tap root and fanning out the future nebari in repots since. It's like how I take way more pride in what I've done with regular nursery stock as opposed to pre bonsai material. I love my trees that have been developed for many years by others and it's a great way to learn about refining a tree, but I don't think even if I had the money, I'd ever buy a 'finished tree'. I might be getting a bit off track with that line of thought, but it comes down to pride of my own work for me. 
  So yes, if interested 'start seeds now', cause it's gonna be a very long time before you have anything that you can really be proud of.

just my two cents, Mike

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Re: Bonsai from seed

Post  Guest on Sat Jun 15, 2013 12:31 am

Growing from seed or small cutting can be slow .. or not.. depending on the eventual size you are aiming for & the species...

Jacaranda mimosifolia from seed 1985, aiming for 4' another 25yrs should see it right...

Salix integra 'Hakuro Nishiki' 2yrs from softwood cutting, taller one is 5", another 2yrs will see them close...

No matter what age you are or eventual size tree you want to grow, something most bonsai growers dont think of is the long long term future, so you may not see it in a pot but future generations will be thankful (hopefully) that you started it...

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Re: Bonsai from seed

Post  Marty Weiser on Sat Jun 15, 2013 2:34 am

I agree seeds/cuttings are a slow process, but it is one of the best ways to get a great root buttress (nebari). I also agree that deciduous trees are faster than conifers. I have some fairly nice maples that are about 15 years old and a Japanese larch that should be showable in about 10 years (with 4 in the ground). It is also a good way to get stock for forest and group plantings (Russell, thanks for the Chinese elm seed - they will become a forest next year). However, I also have pines that are starting to show some character in 10 - 15 years. Fat trunks will take another decade or three. I hope to match my great-grandfather and have another 5 decades.

I heard a story that a visitor came across the founder who was the grandfather of the third generation proprietor of a bonsai nursery in Japan planting seeds in the back rather than  working on the bonsai. His comment was "If I don't start the trees, my great-great-grandchildren will not have good stock to work on". Perhaps an urban legend, perhaps some form of truth, but one of the reasons I start seeds most years and then get some of them into the hands of our newer members after some basic shaping or in a forest/clump workshop. Plus, I just enjoy seeing them develop!

On the other hand, for those just entering the hobby (addiction?), I suggest that they also buy some more mature nursery stock to work on. After a few years, and accidentally killing some of both the seedlings and nursery stock that will have a few that are going to make it and enough knowledge to go out and spend some money on better pre-bonsai stock knowing that they won't kill it immediately (and perhaps not ever). Or they may kill everything and move on to another hobby that suits their horticultural skills and environment better.

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Re: Bonsai from seed

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Sat Jun 15, 2013 1:56 pm

Russell.

chuckle, I love to grow things from seed or tiny cuttings. It's like a thumbnail drawing that becomes an oil painting after all the stages are over.

Sageretia t. from seed and my original stock brought over from China / Italy in 83 or so, does not like to branch but likes to grow a trunk. Found in the yard.



Here is your black pine from seed, not sure how old.  I have only just begun to shift the tree to the angle given by Marcus and others. I have since potted on the tree.



I will drop a few more images later for you.
Later.
Khaimraj

*By the way will you accept tiny cuttings ?

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Re: Bonsai from seed

Post  Russell Coker on Sat Jun 15, 2013 2:53 pm

Thanks y'all, let's keep this to bonsai grown from seeds. 

Marty, how are those Chinese elm seedlings coming?  I have seedlings from that mother tree coming up everywhere, and some of them are looking really good.

Don't get me wrong, I understand all of the advantages of growing stock from seed.  I have a friend here in Mobile who grows beautiful trident maples ALL from seed!  Call me crazy, but I just don't have any interest in creating bonsai this way... but I do love seeing what everyone is working on.

Thanks for sharing!

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Re: Bonsai from seed

Post  Leo Schordje on Sun Jun 16, 2013 7:42 am

Raising plants from seed is not everyone's thing. I'm 10 years older than you Russ, I've puttered with bonsai for 40 years, only really began learning how to really do it in earnest the last 10 years. I think raising from seed should really be viewed as almost a separate aspect of bonsai, or really it is not bonsai, not until the seedlings are old enough be considered pre-bonsai ready to be styled. Until then this is really just a specialized nursery activity. 

I have a couple older yamadori ponderosas, and a few other older trees, these are my bonsai. I also have a bunch of seedlings coming along that I do not consider bonsai. At 58 there is no illusion that I will see these become mature bonsai. I am planting them for others in the future. As a hobby guy, each batch of seedlings I start, I do root work and maybe initial chops and training to try and put interesting structure into the future trunks. Usually after 2 years I gift away or sell the bulk of the seedlings. Then of the remaining I do more root work and main trunk or branch work, in an effort to walk them slowly toward becoming bonsai. (none go into bonsai pots) Then usually once I have 5 or so years on the remainder, I pass a few more along to others until I am down to just one or two plants. This is of course if I don't goof up and kill most of them. Sometimes my compost heap grows in leaps and bounds, I found with a little neglect I can slaughter wholesale quantities of trees.

Here is a bad cell phone shot of one pot of this years newest batch of seedlings. American Persimmon, Diospyros virginianum. I harvested a bunch (actually picked them for eating, yum!)  then planted the seed. I put the pots of seed outside with my hardy trees for the winter. My low this winter was one night of -15 F, our first 'normal' zone 5 winter in 10 years. Lately we have had back to back winters where the temps were more like zone 6. 2012-2013 winter was colder, finally a return to a 'normal' zone 5 winter. The persimmon are just coming up now. That is the great thing about the native persimmon, they tolerate our winters. If I had D. kaki or other species, they would need to be kept above +15 to come through without damage. The D. virginiana don't sprout until summer heat is starting to set in. Looks like the 3 pots full that I set up will give me 50+ seedlings. We'll see what survives  long term. Next year in spring I will separate them to individual pots. 


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Re: Bonsai from seed

Post  pjkatich on Sun Jun 16, 2013 2:50 pm

Hey Russell, here's one for you.

Acer rubrum 'trilobum'

Started from a seed that sprouted in 1994. 

Planted over the rock in 1998.

As it looked in January, without leaves.


As it looked last month, with leaves.


Enjoy,
Paul

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Re: Bonsai from seed

Post  Vance Wood on Sun Jun 16, 2013 4:10 pm

I have nothing against growing things from seed but the funny truth about the process is that a tree is grown up to a point then cut down------just like we do when we buy larger material and cut it down.  If in your cultivation of material you are serious this is what you should  be doing.  You grow out the seedling until it exceeds the size you would like as a bonsai in order to develop a trunk worth dealing with,  Then you cut it down to develop a substantially shorter crown and branching.  What you have done is to develop your own raw material.  

If however; you limit yourself to seed culture only, you will most likely have second rate bonsai because  you are constantly having to learn new techniques to deal with the stages of development your seedlings are currently in.  You never really master anything more sophisticated than watering, repotting and fertilizing.  However if you work on larger material and learn all of the things involved in design and cultural issues you will be better prepared to deal with your up and coming seedlings.

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Re: Bonsai from seed

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Sun Jun 16, 2013 6:18 pm

Actually,
Vance,

isn't it that very few trees will age to the trunk sizes used for what is accepted as -conventional -bonsai.

When I tried checking ratios, the trunk average is way smaller that 1 to 5 or 1 to 6.

An Alternative thought would be trees based more on what is there in reality.
Through a friend, I viewed your beautiful mughos, the trunks were not based on 1 to 5 or 1 to 6 and are still very handsome.
Later.
Khaimraj

* I am growing trees more to what actually exists in reality, and some with fat trunks, both are satisfactory.

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Re: Bonsai from seed

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Sun Jun 16, 2013 6:20 pm

Pikatich [ Paul ],

I like it!!!
Khaimraj

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Re: Bonsai from seed

Post  AnjaM on Sun Jun 16, 2013 8:23 pm

Some of my seedlings for this thread. All quite young, but some allready managed to get into a Bonsai pot. There is allways a pot or two with seeds on my benches and there are quite a few trees waiting for an idea in pots or in the ground.



Punica granatum from 2005, 20cm, smallest of three




Acer platanoides from 2001, 55cm




Crataegus monogyna from 2001


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Re: Bonsai from seed

Post  Vance Wood on Sun Jun 16, 2013 10:02 pm

Khaimraj Seepersad wrote:Actually,
Vance,

isn't it that very few trees will age to the trunk sizes used for what is accepted as -conventional -bonsai.

When I tried checking ratios, the trunk average is way smaller that 1 to 5 or 1 to 6.

An Alternative thought would be trees based more on what is there in reality.
Through a friend, I viewed your beautiful mughos, the trunks were not based on 1 to 5 or 1 to 6 and are still very handsome.
Later.
Khaimraj

* I am growing trees more to what actually exists in reality, and some with fat trunks, both are satisfactory.

To tell you the truth I don't have a clue what the proportions on my Mugos are, I don't think I mentioned  Proportion in this thread as a reference for growing from seed.

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A 12 Year Old Smallish JBP From Seed

Post  mrcasey on Mon Jun 17, 2013 1:28 am

The below tree has a 2" trunk above the root swelling.  The tree is 12" tall and the trunk is essentially finished.  I have the first branch extensions on each outside bend.  This is the first summer that I've candled.  Sorry the sacrifices kind of obscure things.  The nebari looks better than the picture shows.  I plan on putting the tree in a pot next spring.  I realize that the 90 degree bends are tedious and artificial, but it is what it is...
      

        

Casey

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Re: Bonsai from seed

Post  PeacefulAres on Mon Jun 17, 2013 8:51 pm

I think it might depend on what you're growing from seed. Some trees just grow at a supernatural rate, so they would be good candidates for these projects. I'm young, so I'm going to try it. I have a couple dozen small trees that I started from seed. Some are in grow beds and others are planted in the ground. Hopefully in a couple of years I'll have some nice material to start working on.

Cuttings are fun to work with too. I have a few crape myrtle cuttings that I'm letting grow freely, and they're about to flower. The more plants I can enjoy, the better Smile

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Re: Bonsai from seed

Post  Leo Schordje on Wed Jun 19, 2013 12:57 am

AnjaM - those are very nicely done trees, well done from seed. These are becoming very nice bonsai. Well done. I'd love to see these trees with another decade of growing and refinement on them, they will be very nice. 

MrCasey-I like what you have done with the black pine. Once it is thick enough that you remove the escape branches the angle will soften some from the sharp 90 angles you have, and the tree will have a lot of movement. I would not worry about it looking "Formula" at this stage. Time and the occasional accidental branch loss or you deliberately applying technique will take it away from the "formula" pattern. Right now you have a good pre-bonsai, ready for a serious styling session. 

To Vance - I totally agree with your point
Vance Wood wrote:I have nothing against growing things from seed but the funny truth about the process is that a tree is grown up to a point then cut down------just like we do when we buy larger material and cut it down.  If in your cultivation of material you are serious this is what you should  be doing.  You grow out the seedling until it exceeds the size you would like as a bonsai in order to develop a trunk worth dealing with,  Then you cut it down to develop a substantially shorter crown and branching.  What you have done is to develop your own raw material.  

If however; you limit yourself to seed culture only, you will most likely have second rate bonsai because  you are constantly having to learn new techniques to deal with the stages of development your seedlings are currently in.  You never really master anything more sophisticated than watering, repotting and fertilizing.  However if you work on larger material and learn all of the things involved in design and cultural issues you will be better prepared to deal with your up and coming seedlings.

That is why I pointed out that I have a mix of trees. A few old yamadori, a few from nursery stock, these are the trees I consider my bonsai. I really don't consider my raising of seedlings as being 'bonsai' per se. But rather as a nureryman's activity, with the goal of turning them into suitable pre-bonsai stock. I do expect to be able to live long enough to see my yamadori Ponderosa pines in a show or two. I don't expect to live long enough to personally exhibit my seedlings in shows, it will be for others to develop them in the future. 

It really is a good point, if you only work with one type of stock, you will never get to use (and by default not learn) techniques for older, more developed bonsai. One's choice of material to work on does determine what techniques you will be able to practice. And as with all skills requiring dexterity and experience, one needs to practice to get good at it. I take your point to heart. I want to continue to learn.

I just happen to be one of those guys who likes to raise seedlings, and I do recognize that it is taking away from time I have to learn technique for older, more refined trees. I do have some older trees I am working on, but I don't see myself (here I am speaking only for myself) getting rid of my seedlings to to exclusively work on older more developed stock. But I understand your caution to others, especially to those new to the hobby, who don't realize how the choice of stock limits what techniques you can practice.

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Re: Bonsai from seed

Post  Vance Wood on Wed Jun 19, 2013 2:25 am

Leo Schordje wrote:AnjaM - those are very nicely done trees, well done from seed. These are becoming very nice bonsai. Well done. I'd love to see these trees with another decade of growing and refinement on them, they will be very nice. 

MrCasey-I like what you have done with the black pine. Once it is thick enough that you remove the escape branches the angle will soften some from the sharp 90 angles you have, and the tree will have a lot of movement. I would not worry about it looking "Formula" at this stage. Time and the occasional accidental branch loss or you deliberately applying technique will take it away from the "formula" pattern. Right now you have a good pre-bonsai, ready for a serious styling session. 

To Vance - I totally agree with your point
Vance Wood wrote:I have nothing against growing things from seed but the funny truth about the process is that a tree is grown up to a point then cut down------just like we do when we buy larger material and cut it down.  If in your cultivation of material you are serious this is what you should  be doing.  You grow out the seedling until it exceeds the size you would like as a bonsai in order to develop a trunk worth dealing with,  Then you cut it down to develop a substantially shorter crown and branching.  What you have done is to develop your own raw material.  

If however; you limit yourself to seed culture only, you will most likely have second rate bonsai because  you are constantly having to learn new techniques to deal with the stages of development your seedlings are currently in.  You never really master anything more sophisticated than watering, repotting and fertilizing.  However if you work on larger material and learn all of the things involved in design and cultural issues you will be better prepared to deal with your up and coming seedlings.

That is why I pointed out that I have a mix of trees. A few old yamadori, a few from nursery stock, these are the trees I consider my bonsai. I really don't consider my raising of seedlings as being 'bonsai' per se. But rather as a nureryman's activity, with the goal of turning them into suitable pre-bonsai stock. I do expect to be able to live long enough to see my yamadori Ponderosa pines in a show or two. I don't expect to live long enough to personally exhibit my seedlings in shows, it will be for others to develop them in the future. 

It really is a good point, if you only work with one type of stock, you will never get to use (and by default not learn) techniques for older, more developed bonsai. One's choice of material to work on does determine what techniques you will be able to practice. And as with all skills requiring dexterity and experience, one needs to practice to get good at it. I take your point to heart. I want to continue to learn.

I just happen to be one of those guys who likes to raise seedlings, and I do recognize that it is taking away from time I have to learn technique for older, more refined trees. I do have some older trees I am working on, but I don't see myself (here I am speaking only for myself) getting rid of my seedlings to to exclusively work on older more developed stock. But I understand your caution to others, especially to those new to the hobby, who don't realize how the choice of stock limits what techniques you can practice.

VANCE WOOD

As I have said previously I have no problem with growing from seed.  It is actually quite entertaining and profitable.  Seed culture is almost the only way to get certain trees that are unattainable any other way.

Vance Wood
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Re: Bonsai from seed

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