Bonsai Tree Seedling Care And Maintenance

One of the most rewarding parts of having small trees and plants is growing them from seed. There’s actually a Japanese term for this, called Misho. While it’s a wonderful experience doing so, the actual bonsai tree seedling care and maintenance needed will take years before you see a beautiful design before you. 

The best part of growing bonsai from seedlings is that there’s no end to the possibilities and numbers you can cultivate. What’s more is that you can easily get seeds in nature or buy them online.

In this guide, we’ll show you how to take care of bonsai tree seedlings, which propagation methods work best, and how to maintain them once they are strong enough. We’ll also introduce you to kits and equipment that will help you along the way.

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Bonsai Tree Seedling Care

What is a bonsai tree seedling?

A bonsai seedling is a stage in the life cycle just after sprouting from seed. Basically,  you had the seed that germinates into a sprout. Then, the cotyledons and first leaves form. When this happens, you have a proper bonsai seedling that you will need to care for

What is the difference between a seedling and a sapling?

The main difference between a seedling and sapling is the stage in the lifecycle of the bonsai tree. The seedling forms just after sprouting, with a soft trunk less than an inch in diameter and only a few months old. After this, when the trunk is between 1 and 6 inches and less than a year old, it becomes a sapling. Bonsai tree seedling care and maintenance during this time is vital for long-term survival.

Bonsai Tree Seedling Care

How to grow a bonsai from seedlings?

While you can easily buy a bonsai that’s already a seedling, you may receive more joy from growing the seeds yourself. If you just want to start with a healthy seedling from the beginning and skip the germination process, you can acquire one from a store. There are so many approaches you can take, which is the purpose of this section.

See how to care for a 2-week seedling here!

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Is bonsai tree seedling care the same for all species?

The first lesson we need to share is that not all species need the same bonsai seedling care and maintenance. There’s a reason that bonsai stores provide small pamphlets with their small trees. Some want more sun, such as citrus trees, while others prefer to live in the shadows until a certain age. Some love to have roots drenched in water like a swamp, while others prefer desert-like environments with dry soil.

How will I know how to plant a bonsai seedling?

If you buy your seedling from the right stores, they’ll provide the relevant bonsai tree seedling care information. Should you be in a situation where you’re doing you’re bonsai growing from seed, it’s best to check sites like Bonsai Alchemist for maintenance tips specifically related to that species. We have some bonsai species care sheets on our website that you can check out. In essence, you need to research as much as possible from top experts, even when growing bonsai from seedlings.

When should I sow bonsai seedlings?

Knowing when to sow is best for optimal bonsai tree from seedling care. For the most part, we recommend sowing or planting it in a bonsai pot and soil mixture during early spring, which is usually when more trees start showing growth. However, the type of species comes into play again, as some actually grow better in autumn. Make sure to do your homework!

Learn about all the different types of bonsai trees here!

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How long to grow bonsai from seed into a seedling?

Once again, this depends on the species. Some bonsai seeds will germinate and become a seedling within a matter of weeks, while others will stratify over the winter and only show roots by spring or summer. From there, it will be a seedling for a few months before becoming a strong sapling. That’s why some people prefer to buy bonsai seedlings with roots and leaves already formed, skipping the germination stage.

From there, your sapling will take about three years before they are old enough to start shaping properly. Also, you may see the first signs of flowers, or you’ll need to wait until the bonsai tree is five to ten years old. It takes patience, meditation, and constant care to see your bonsai seedling thrive!

Bonsai Tree Seedling Care

When is the right time to transplant my bonsai seedling?

So you have a strong bonsai tree seedling you’ve cared for, but you’re wondering if it’s time to move it to a bigger pot. Alternatively, you’ve germinated the seed and want to move it to an official starter tray as a seedling. When is the right time to move your seedling?

You’ll want to wait until the warmer seasons, such as spring or summer. The former is usually preferred, as that’s when roots and stems swell and form new growth. If you do it in winter, there’s a chance the bonsai seedling will die due to frost or the cold. Another option is surrounding your seedling starter trays with warm heating lamps.

BeGrit Seed Starter Trays 5-Pack


In Summary: How to Grow a Bonsai Tree From a Seedling in a Few Easy Steps

With the proper knowledge in hand, you’re ready for growing a bonsai from seedling with only a few easy steps:

  1. Research different bonsai species
  2. Choose a healthy bonsai tree seedling that is easy to care for
  3. Make sure the seedling has enough water, sunlight, and humidity based on your research
  4. Check the soil to make sure it’s healthy and strong enough to support your bonsai seedling
  5. Constantly check for any signs of pests or diseases infecting the leaves or roots of your bonsai seedling
Bonsai Tree Seedling Care

How to take care of bonsai seedlings?

Now that you have your bonsai tree seedling, it’s time to care for it. You’ve already done your research, which means it’s time to apply that knowledge. Remember, the next few months are the most vital, as it means survival or death of your baby bonsai. For example, the Japanese Maple requires extensive care if you don’t want the leaves to fall or the roots to rot.

Learn how to take care of a Japanese Maple plant here!

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What do bonsai seedlings need to live?

Luckily, most plants and trees need the same elements in nature. The only difference across the species is how much of them they need for proper bonsai tree seedling care. The tops elements they need are:

  • Sturdy bonsai pot or nursery bag
  • Stong soil with sufficient drainage
  • Water, sunlight, and humidity (in the right quantities)
  • Fertilizer at the right age (not too early!)
  • Prevention of pests and diseases
  • A stake or some form of upright support for weak stems

800 Pcs Non-Woven Plant Nursery Bags

Brand: Eaasty

Bonsai Tree Seedling Care

What equipment do I need to take care of bonsai seedlings?

It should be easy to see from our explanation above what equipment you’ll need for your bonsai seedling care. For example, you’ll need the substrate (soil, perlite, stones, etc), pot or nursery bag, organic insecticide, watering sprinkler, humidity tray, and possibly a grow light in low-light conditions. Also, depending on where you grow it, you may need a mesh or some form of weather protection.

It also helps to keep track of your bonsai tree seedling’s growth with labels or a mobile app.

Fortunately, some stores sell bonsai seedling equipment kits with the plant to cater to all its needs.

FULAIERGD 100 Pcs Thicken PE Seedling Bag Fruit Tree Seedling Cup Bonsai Planting Bag with 30 Pcs Plant Labels and 2 Pcs Mini Hand Portable Watering Sprinkler



How often do you water a bonsai seedling?

The basic principle for watering bonsai seedlings is letting the tree tell you when it needs water. No, we don’t mean whispering to your tree. All you need to do is place your finger in the soil and feel if it’s dry. It can be a bit damp, which is ok. Depending on the species, it will either drink quickly or slowly.

For example, the Swamp Cypress or Syzygium love watery conditions and may require liquid daily. Any ficus or the bougainvillea doesn’t mind dry conditions, so you have the option to soak the pot and soil once a week or watering every second day

Learn more about the Bougainvillea bonsai’s needs here!

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What is the best soil for bonsai seedlings?

The best bonsai seedling soil is one that can retain moisture while also draining excess liquid. You’ll also find a mixture of peat moss, composted bark, and other organic materials in proper soil for bonsai seedlings. Make sure you check the components of the soil and that the pH level isn’t too high or low for the tree species.

When should I feed my bonsai seedling?

In the early stages of bonsai tree seedling development, it’s best not to feed it any fertilizer. The new soil you placed it in should already have the nutrients it needs. However, you can start lightly feeding it after five weeks once several leaves have formed. As it develops into a larger sapling, you’ll start feeding it more in quantity and frequency.

Bonsai Tree Seedling Care

What is the best fertilizer for bonsai seedlings?

You can opt for liquid or solid bonsai seedling fertilizer. No matter which one you choose, make sure they are organic. When it comes to liquid fertilizers, you need to make sure you dilute them enough so they aren’t too strong for your bonsai tree seedling. If you’re going for the solid option, you only need to scatter a few pellets on the soil’s surface. This choice is safer.

How much light does my bonsai seedling need?

Warmth and light are equally important for optimal bonsai tree seedling care. However, you don’t want too much direct sunlight, which may damage or burn the young, tender leaves. Depending on the species, start with low-light conditions and move it more toward the full morning sun as the tree becomes stronger and taller.

In Summary: How to care for your bonsai seedlings in a few easy steps

Now that you have some idea of how to care for your bonsai tree seedling, we have a summary of the steps needed to keep at hand on your phone or a note somewhere:

  1. Research the bonsai tree species’ specific requirements
  2. Purchase the right equipment to care for your bonsai seedling
  3. Place it in the right location for light and warmth
  4. Provide sufficient water and food for the seedling’s age
  5. Watch for any developmental problems along the way

Bonsai Tree Seedling Care

Maintenance of a bonsai tree seedling

So far, you’ve learned how to grow and then provide the necessary bonsai tree seedling care. Now, it’s time to see how to maintain it toward becoming a beautiful, strong sapling. You can also start training it, but not too much at this stage. So if you want to one day have a stunning Japanese Maple bonsai as an example, here’s what you need to do in the early stages.

Learn about the maintenance of a Japanese maple plant here!

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How to train a bonsai seedling?

There are two main ways to train a bonsai seedling

The first involves different forms of pruning, namely, design and structural pruning. For the former, you merely check that the leaves don’t grow too large or remove any bad ones. For structural, you’ll work more on the design.

The second way to perform bonsai seedling training is by placing a stake or some other item to hold your bonsai seedling in place. We’ll cover shaping and styling later, but this method is essential since it leads to the eventual final design you want. We recommend steering clear of wiring at this early stage, as it may cause the soft stems to snap. 

How do I know if my bonsai seedling needs a bigger pot?

While you’ll move your seedling to a new pot when it becomes a sapling, you may need to make a plan potting bonsai seedlings sooner than that. If you want to know when to move them to bigger bonsai seedling pots, check the soil. If you see roots everywhere or growing through the drainage hole at the bottom, you’ll need to move it sooner than planned.

Bonsiac Mini Bonsai Japanese Style Bowl Planters with Seeping Plate


How do I know what size pot for a bonsai seedling?

When you’re moving your bonsai seedling to a new pot, make sure that you don’t go too big. The problem with getting a container that’s too large is that it may not get all the water and food it needs with its small roots. Try to keep it only big enough to cover the roots and give it some room to grow over the next year.

Bonsai Tree Seedling Care

Should I prune my bonsai seedling’s roots?

Even if the roots have taken over the soil, we don’t recommend pruning your bonsai seedling’s roots at this stage. As a matter of fact, it’s better if you don’t disturb the roots as much as possible. You can move it over into a new pot with new soil but try to keep about 70% of the old soil. The roots should be left intact. We suggest only pruning the roots at three years of age.

How do you save a dying bonsai seedling?

We have an extensive article on how to revive a dying bonsai, which you can also apply to a seedling. For the most part, you need to check all the elements you provided while caring for your bonsai seedling and see if there is anything you’ve provided too much or too little of and make small changes.

Learn how to revive a dying bonsai!

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Usually, the
bonsai tree seedling will show you what’s wrong if you know what to look for. For example, yellow leaves mean there’s not enough sunlight, while brown or burnt leaves mean there’s too much. A bad smell on the soil or visible mold means you’re overwatering, while thinning stems or branches mean there’s not enough liquid.

Also, make sure to check for small pests sucking the sap from the seedling. At this early stage, they are incredibly vulnerable to tiny spiders or mites looking to feed on these minute trees.

Bonsai Tree Seedling Care

When should I start shaping bonsai seedlings?

Based on personal experience, we recommend not doing extensive shaping until later stages in the tree’s life. You can let it grow for a few years before working on the actual shape. However, during the final stages of the seedling’s life before becoming a sapling, you can carefully start laying down the foundation of the future bonsai style. 

For example, when you transplant the sapling after a year in the pot, you can place the roots over a rock if you fancy a root-ver-rock style.

Become a bonsai expert in the root-over-rock style!

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How do you shape a bonsai seedling?

As mentioned, it’s best only to start shaping when a bonsai tree seedling becomes a sapling. Yet, you can start before then if you wish. As the tree develops more branches and leaves, you can remove the lower ones along the trunk. Also, look for some inspiration online with the same species to see which bonsai styles work best. In this way, you can prepare the seedling for the future. 

Another good example of this is placing the pot on its side if you want a slanting style.

In Summary: How to maintain your bonsai tree seedling

Care for your bonsai tree seedling isn’t rocket science, but you still need to ensure you do it properly. Here’s a quick overview of what you should focus on during the early stages leading to a sapling:

  1. Start training your bonsai seedling with light pruning
  2. Don’t prune or disturb the roots too much
  3. Check if the roots need a bigger pot
  4. Plan your future bonsai style and design
  5. Transplant when your seedling becomes a sapling

Bonsai Tree Seedling Care

Where can you buy bonsai tree seeds or seedlings?

There is no lack of bonsai trees or seedlings in the world. Many bonsai enthusiasts either collect their own seeds to grow or buy seedlings from the store, as they are relatively cheaper than more mature trees. You have the option of checking your local bonsai nursery or gardening store or purchasing kits online with all the required equipment.

Meekear Bonsai Tree Kit with Complete Plant Growing Tools

Meekear Store

Expert Bonsai Tree Seedling Care at Your Fingertips!

With the bonsai market looking to expand over the next few years massively, it’s the best time to start planning what bonsai tree seedlings you want to grow and care for in the long run. It can also become a means of making a second income, paying a low amount for seedlings and then selling them a few years later for much more. The only real concern is if you have the patience and time to wait that long.

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Shaun has two passions in life that combine into an extravagant show on Bonsai Alchemist. The one is for writing and the second bonsais. He’s been writing fantasy and horror novels since 2000, while also creating online content since 2015. He’s involved with writing for films and games. Finally, he’s also the owner of a book publishing company.

He received his first bonsai as a gift in 2009 and has been growing several species in his quiet home in South Africa. He prefers propagating new life instead of buying bonsais at the store. His son and daughter share his love for nature, while his wife stares on at her introverted hermit husband.


Shaun M Jooste


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