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Seed Growing Instructions

Well done! You have taken up the challenge of growing bonsai from seed. Its a very rewarding process and although it will require patience for you to realize the trees of your dreams, what you will learn along the journey is most certainly worth the effort and wait.

I would like treat these instructions as a working document, so if you have a tip or some additional information which you're prepared to let others know about please mail it through to me and I will add it (and credit you of course).

Freshness Guarantee

We source our seeds from reputable, local seed banks who make every effort to ensure the seeds are as fresh as possible. This is in part why we only offer indigenous seeds; we have no idea of when imported seeds were originally collected or how they were stored until they were sent to us.


Should you store these seeds for any given length of time it is advisable to do so in the paper packaging in which they were sent and in an environment where they will not be exposed to temperature extremes such as direct sunlight or an air conditioner. They should not allowed to be exposed to rain or other sources of moisture. It is however strongly advised that you sow these seeds as soon as possible, provided the season is appropriate for it.


In general, all seeds must undergo a stratification process. In nature this might involve being eaten by an animal and passing through the digestive system where it is subjected to acids. Stratification can therefore be described as the process of treating stored or collected seed prior to sowing to simulate natural conditions that a seed must endure before it will germinate and begin growing.

When to sow

This applies to South Africa only

The seeds marked "Sow Sp" are summer growing from the summer rainfall area and they usually require a drier resting period in winter. These species are best sown in late spring to midsummer when conditions are warmer.

The plants marked "Sow Au" are from the Mediterranean winter rainfall area of the Cape. They grow in winter & usually need drier conditions in summer. For those of you who live in the higher latitudes (above 40°) the plants marked "Sow Au" should probably be sown in early spring. However, remember that the majority of the species from our Mediterranean area need a marked temperature differentiation between day & night, (day ±25°C, night ±8°C) to trigger germination. Therefore do not try to germinate these seeds in a constant temperature hot or glass house.


Seeds planted in Spring have the best chance of success. Planting seeds at other times of the year will lead to unpredictable results.

Prepare your growing container first. You can use any container provided it drains well. Plastic trays both shallow or deep are ideal and have plenty of drainage holes in the base to allow water to drain and for air to circulate.

Use a seedling mix to sow your seeds into, not regular growing mediums such as potting soil and other similar manure or compost based substrates. There may be fungi in such a medium and this will attack the young seedling just after sprouting. Use something such as our Professional Seedling Mix as it is a sterile mix, is light, and is coarse for improved aeration and drainage.

Podocarpus falcatus - Sow Sp.

The fresh seed can be sown directly into black nursery bags or into deep seed trays. The seed must be pushed and bedded into the seedling mixture and covered with a light layer of the same. The mixture must stay moist at all times. Some of the seed may take up to six months to germinate, so be patient. Seedlings can be pricked out at a height of 50-80 mm and planted into bags or pots.

Celtis Africana - Sow Sp.

Germinates easily when sown in a flat seedling tray. The seeds should be covered with a thin layer of mix and kept moist. The trays should be placed in a warm but shaded area. Germination will take 15 to 30 days with an expected germination of 70%.

Diospyros - Sow Au/Sp

Diospyros seed should first be scratched (scarified) before sowing. Fresh seed germinates readily in four to eight weeks.

Acacia - Sow Sp.

Soak well in hot water overnight (30 deg roughly). Sow the swollen seeds in flat seedling trays. Germination takes place in 3 to 4 weeks. Transplant when they reach two-leaf stage into a nursery black bag or a pot.

Ficus - Sow Sp.

Sow in spring. As the seed is so fine it can be mixed with fine sand which is then sprinkled onto the surface of the seedling mix, then covered with a thin layer of the same. Place the trays in a well-ventilated, warm, well-lit spot and keep moist. Ideally seeds should germinate in 10 to 12 days. Pot them up into small pots about 2 weeks after germination, into a well-drained, hummus-rich soil and place in full sun. Young plants grow rapidly, pot them up into larger pots as and when their roots appear out of the drainage holes.

You can purchase any of these seeds by visiting this page.


The most critical aspects of germination is moisture and warmth. Place your seedling tray in a warm location but out of direct sun. After the seeds have germinated and the seedlings have developed leaves, you can gradually increase the amount of sun exposure however only morning sun is recommended or dappled shade.


Prior to germinating the growing medium must never be allowed to dry out and should be lightly watered as needed with a very fine spray so as not to disturb the seeds, although it must not be constantly soaked. We stock a wonderful, Japanese made, fine spray watering can that is ideal for the task. After germination and as the seeds develop they will require more moisture so be attentive to the young plants needs and adjust your watering accordingly.

Early Training

A few weeks after germination, your seedlings will have developed leaves and will grow strongly in an upright fashion. While the stem is green you can use some soft aluminium wire to gently put some curves in the future trunk. Do not cut the trunk however and allow it to grow freely.


Most trees have a natural tendency to develop a strong taproot. In nature this is important to the trees survival however in a bonsai pot there is no need {or room} for a taproot. We need to encourage horizontal roots which will collect moisture and nutrients for the tree.

Easy Method

In the following {1 seasons growing period} spring, just as new leaves are beginning to show on the tree remove it from the seedling tray and cut the taproot. Do so with a sharp pair of scissors or other implement such as a grafting knife. Cut leaving some roots further up the trunk. Plant into General Bonsai Medium.

More challenging Method

After the seedlings have developed a few true leaves, usually 2 -3 weeks or so you can gently prick them out and trim the still young tap root with a sharp implement, grafting knife or blade. You have essentially made a cutting of the seedling now. Sow into the same medium in the same tray or into individual containers inserting the stem a couple centimeters into the medium.


Just after the seeds have germinated, it is unnecessary to fertilize. However as the little seedlings develop it is advisable to begin feeding lightly. BonsaiBoost is an organic fertilizer which will ensure that the trees develop strong and healthy growth. To use, tear open a sachet of BonsaiBoost and scatter the contents lightly over the surface of the seedling trays. Once the trees have been potted up into individual containers then you can use a full sachet per plant. The larger the tree becomes the more fertilizer is needed. You can also use liquid fertilizers, diluted a little more than the instructions state so that you can safely apply it more frequently, say once every 2 weeks or so. Click to view our range of fertilizers here.

No fertilizer is needed in winter.


Bonsai grown from seed are developed much like any other bonsai; a thick tapering trunk is encouraged over several seasons. Branches are developed and wired during the active growing periods into the style you have chosen. Defoliation combined with pruning is used to encourage ramification and short internodes. You will also need to decide whether you are creating mame, shohin, chuhin or larger sized bonsai as this will determine what techniques are best.

Further Reading

A great book which covers the African bonsai styles including those which are synonymous with Acacia's was written by Charles Ceronio and called "Practical Guide to Bonsai Styles of the World." You can purchase it here if you like.

The best local source of information relating to indigenous plants on the web can be found here (http://pza.sanbi.org/).

These instructions are intended as a guide only, however it is impossible to guarantee success even if you do follow these instructions to the letter as there are many factors which contribute to success or failure.