Propagating Your Own Bonsai


Growing bonsai from seeds is a slow process, unless you intend to grow plants whose maximum height will be 6 inches. A more nearly perfect tree can be grown from seed because the trunk can be shaped from the beginning to suit the grower.

To develop the trunk rapidly, plant seedlings in the ground outdoors; seedlings are kept outside from 2 to 5 years, depending on the type of material planted and its rate of growth.

Each spring, dig up the plant and prune its roots just as if it were in a pot.

When you choose a seedling, select one that has small leaves to begin with. For example, silk oak and cherimoya seedlings have been successfully grown indoors.


Starting bonsai from cuttings is faster than starting them from seed.

Make cuttings in the late spring and early summer, just before the buds open or after the new growth has hardened.

Plants that propagate easily from cuttings are olive, willow, cotoneaster, firethorn, azaleas, and boxwood.


This is a simple and convenient method of rooting branches in the soil while they are still attached to the parent plant. The branches immediately have a well-established form and branch structure. Layering often results in good, balanced root systems.

Mid-spring is the best time to do soil layering. Choose a branch that has good form. Make sure the branch is low enough to reach the ground. Mark a point about one foot from the end of the branch and dig a hole in the ground 4 inches deep. In the soil, mix equal parts of sand and peat moss made from ground bark.

Make a slanting cut on the underside of the branch. Insert a pebble in this cut. Bend the branch back in the hole, taking care not to crack the branch. Anchor the bent branch in a vertical position. Then cover it with prepared soil, and water it.

In 9 months to a year the branch (layer) should have rooted. When this occurs, it is ready for transfer to a bonsai pot. (Remember to cut the stem just below the original cut when removing it for transfer.)

Softwood plants that are layered will root in 6 to 8 weeks. When they have rooted, be sure to cut them form the parent plant and pot them. Pinch off new buds until the layered stem develops a mature root system. Remember to keep the layered area moist so that the root systems will develop quickly.

Plants that propagate well by the layering method are: rhododendrons, maples, pomegranate, cryptomeria, and many others.


Grafting is complex and requires patience and practice, especially by the novice bonsai grower. It is not as successful as the other methods of propagation. One of the drawbacks for bonsai is that even after a graft has taken, an ugly scar remains. The "side" or "notch" grafting methods have the advantage of hiding the scar.

Grafting is usually done in the winter or early spring when the buds are dormant. There are numerous methods of grafting, but the most popular among bonsai enthusiasts are "cleft" and "whip" grafting.
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