How to Grow Bonsai Trees From Scratch


"Bonsai" actually refers to a combination of techniques to create and care for a miniature reflection of nature. A bonsai tree is not a special breed or a dwarf tree. Some plants are better suited to the beginner: Japanese Red Maple, the semi-tropical Sea Grape, the Chinese Elm, and the Himalayan Cedar. These are all versatile, hardy and affordable. Decide whether you want to start from seeds or a plant and what training style you want to use.

Step 1

Mix the first layer of potting mix with ½ fine gravel and ½ akadama. Mix enough for about ¼ of the pot.

Step 2

Mix the second layer using ½ akadama, ¼ fine gravel and ¼ potting compost. Mix enough to fill the rest of the pot. Fill to about 1 inch below the rim, reserving the rest.

Step 3

Put the seeds on top of the second layer, spacing them 1 to 2 inches apart. Cover with the rest of the soil mixture.

Step 4

Thoroughly dampen the seedbed using a fine, gentle nozzle so as not to disturb the soil. Put in a sunny location outdoors at the beginning of autumn. Keep soil damp, but not wet. Seeds will germinate in the spring. Fertilize in the summer. After one year the seedlings can be put in their bonsai pots. Training will begin when the seedlings are 3 years old.

Step 5

Trim the branches in keeping with the style; do not make radical changes to the tree's natural shape. Trim top and outer portions of the tree to prevent "apical dominance" (the natural growth mechanism of trees that focuses growth on the top and outer portions, allowing lower branches to die off).

Step 6

Fertilize tree to help it recover.

Step 7

Perform "maintenance pruning" throughout the growing season by cutting shoots through the stems just above the leaf. (If planting pine trees or conifers, pinch off shoots instead of cutting, as cutting leads to dead foliage).

Step 8

Wrap copper wire around branches to maintain the desired shape. When wrapping large branches, wrap them in raffia first to protect them against damage. Branches take about two to three months to adapt to their new shape. After that point, remove the wires so as not to scar the tree.

Things You'll Need

  • Starter pot (about 6 inches deep with a drainage hole)
  • Fine gravel
  • Akadama
  • Potting compost
  • Seeds (or plant)
  • Bonsai watering can with a fine nozzle
  • Water soluble fertilizer
  • Bonsai pot
  • Bonsai tool kit
  • Raffia
  • Copper wire


  • The Bonsai Gardener
  • Bonsai Empire
Keywords: bonsai tree, growing bonsai, bonsai seeds

About this Author

Lisa Dorward was a business executive for over 15 years before becoming a full-time writer in 2000. She has a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from West Virginia University and has received multiple academic as well as literary awards for her writing and photography.

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