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Bonsai for Free
(Get seeds from local trees and plant them)


The title of this article is "Bonsai for Free" and well that might bring to you the thought that you will be able to have a bonsai tree shipped to you in the mail. Well, that isn't exactly what I mean by this article. Let me Explain.


bonsai tree


You can absolutely have, grow, and care for bonsai at a cost of absolutely zero cost. Not a penny - really. And to explain exactly what I mean let me first tell you a little bit about what bonsai really is.

Often times people think of bonsai as a very specific type of tree. "That's a bonsai tree!" They might say upon seeing one. But bonsai isn't a particular kind of tree. It is the art of caring for a tree so it grown to stay small and attractive. Can you see the ramifications of this? It is an art that can be applied to just about any kind of tree (or even a shrub).

So, you can pick any kind of tree like apple, maple, cherry, oak, birch or anything else and apply the concepts of bonsai to it.

And now to the point of this whole big essay:

You can simply go outside and harvest seeds from local trees then bonsai them! Yes, and this will cost you nothing!

SO, this article explains to you how to harvest local seeds to make your own bonsai.

Bonsai for free - harvesting and growing local seeds

Hopefully you live in a place where you have access to trees. Unless you live right in the middle of a very big urban center you should have access to lots of local tree. And this means you have the ability to harvest seeds so you can plant them and create your own bonsai. Here is what you should do.

The most important thing to think about is that you have to follow the environment that the tree has grown up in and harvest your seeds and care for your tree the same way.

If you live in a temperate zone with very little seasonal change it means that you have to be aware of when the local trees fruit or seed and harvest at that time of year. And when it comes to growing the bonsai you have to keep this same environment which could mean keeping them outdoors or in a greenhouse. They might not do well if you try to keep them in an air conditioned house.

  • Observe how the trees in your environment grow and simulate this. If the trees seed and the seedlings grow year round then you can harvest your seeds and plant them right away!

If you live in a zone with seasonal changes you also have to maintain that same environment for the bonsai and you have to use this schedule for your harvesting of seeds.

A tree seed

I live in New England where there are four very distinct seasons and the trees seed or fruit in the autumn. So I go out and harvest my seeds late in autumn when the trees are dropping their seeds. This is a really good time to harvest. You want to ideally harvest seeds from the ground because this means they have completed their cycle and the seeds are mature. You just have to get them before the squirrels do!

What to look for when harvesting your seeds for Bonsai

A healthy mid life tree

Bring some plastic bags with you and keep put each type of seed in a different bag. There are a few things to look for when harvesting seeds. First off you should look for interesting types of trees Something appealing and even exotic is ok.

Any kind of tree will probably be perfectly ok but there are a few rules of thumb you should adhere to.

You should harvest seeds from trees in their middle years of their life. This will give you the healthiest seeds with the highest germination riates. Young trees and old trees will have seeds that are not as hardy.

And, examine the tree for shape. This tree in the picture shown on the left has a wonderful shape with very wonderful branch shape.

Finally, if possible, you should lean toward trees with small leaves! Yes, this will make a difference in how your bonsai eventually looks but it is worth it. Small leaved trees make for excellen bonsai. They maintain the illusion of a big tree that is actually miniature.

Now, this small leaf recommendation isn't mandatory but it is recommended. There are techniques you can use to keep the leaves of your bonsai small.

Caring for and germinating the seeds

seeds in plastic bags

So you have gathered up your seeds. What do you do now?

If you live in a climate where the seasons change you have to realize that the trees are acclimated to this and the seeds will have to be wintered. You do this by first laying them out on paper towels for a few days to dry them out. Don't expose them to sun or to soil. Just let them dry out. Then you can place them in plastic bags and put them either in the refrigerator for the winter or put them in a place like the cellar or a shed where they will be exposed to colder temperatures. Keep them there for the winter and sow them in the spring.

Don't let them freeze or get frost though. This can kill them or damage their ability to germinate. You can put some strips of paper towels in the bag to absorb any moisture and stave off frost. Keep the refrigerator temperature between 34 and 46 F.


My Recomendation for sowing seeds

There are two different methods of germination and I suggest you follow both!

Split them into two equal batches and sow one batch in soil immediately. Take the other half of the batch and put it in plastic bags and store in the refrigerator for the winter -minimum of 90 days.

Tip on determining which seeds are the best

Put the seeds in a glass of water and let them soak. Generally the most viable seeds will sink .Use these and discard the ones that float.

Some Tips for germinating specific tree seeds:

Oak (Acorns) - This type of seed shouldn't be allowed to dry out. If this happens they become unviable. You can plant acorns right away without worries of overwintering.. You can also store them in the refrigerator for the winter. I would do some of both. If you do store them in the refrigerator it has to be in a plastic bag so there is some transfer of gases, keep the temperature above 34 and store them for no longer than 4 - 6 months.

Maple - You can plant the seeds immediately in the fall or in the spring if this is when you harvest them. Maple seeds can be a bit difficult and sometimes they take two years to grow so just be patient with them. Sow about 1/2 inch deep.

Pine Trees - Pine are a particular case in that there are female and male trees. You have to harvest the pine cones from a grove of trees where there is the chance that the female pine cones have been fertilized. Female pine cones are larger than the male ones so only harvest the largest pine cones. If they are not opened you can lay them out on paper towels for a couple of days to let them dry out and open then you can pick the seeds out.

Here is the video tutorial for this project



Bonsai book


Windowbox Juniper

Zen Reflections Juniper Bonsai

  • This juniper bonsai will create the illusion of an aged miniature tree in nature
  • Makes a unique gift
  • Delivered in an 8" glazed clay pot, with Japanese suiseki balance stones and a miniature fisherman
  • We have chosen a hardy 3 year old juniper with trailing branches that are easy to train