Cherry trees throw out lovely white or pink flowers in spring, covering the sky with their petals. It’s no wonder that they’re so sought after in bonsai! There are many different species of cherry trees which can be used for bonsai. However, the most common one is Prunus incisa. Many different cultivars can be used, with Kojo-no-mai being the staple cultivar. Growing cherry bonsai from seed is quite straightforward, and I’ll tell you how to do it!
Growing cherry bonsai from seed is a very rewarding process, and within a few years you’ll be rewarded with beautiful blossoms.
If you’re desperate to add a cherry bonsai to your collection, look no further than propagating one yourself. They can be grown from seed, cuttings, air-layering or grafting.
When growing cherry bonsai from seed, beware that they may not stay true to the parent tree from which you have collected them. If this doesn’t bother you, then let’s get collecting!
It’s recommended that you either collect cherries from local trees or purchase them from farmers markets, as stores usually refrigerate them in a way which makes the germination process unreliable.
Once you have your cherries, get eating! Of course, you don’t have to strip away all of the fruit with something such as a knife to get to the pit, so why not have a taste? When you have collected your cherry pits (the seeds), let them soak in lukewarm water for a few minutes, then clean away any loose fruit left.
When this is done, you can lay them on a paper towel for around five days to let them dry. After this, you can transfer them to a container and leave them in the fridge for approximately two months. This is called stratification, exposing the seeds to a cold period that will speed up germination.
Growing from Pits
After two months, you can begin to plant the cherry pits. First, you need to prepare your soil mix. I typically use a combination of compost, perlite and sharp sand.
When your soil mix is ready, you can plant the pits into the mix. Make sure to give them a good amount of space between each pit, this will ensure that the roots don’t become too tangled if you leave the seedlings in for too long.
Keep the soil medium moist and give the container you are planting the seeds in a reasonable amount of light. However, it shouldn’t be direct sunlight or for too long until the seedlings mature more.
Within a few weeks, your pits should have sprouted into seedlings. When this is done, you should prick them out when they reach around 5cm tall. Pricking them out prevents them from being interfered with by any other seedlings and ensures they have enough space to grow and develop.
Tease the seedling out gently, trying not to disturb the roots as much as possible. You can then plant it in its own pot, allowing it to get a bit more sunlight while ensuring the soil mix stays moist.
When I transplant seedlings, I make sure to water them thoroughly. This helps prevent shock, and newly transplanted trees or seedlings may require more water initially.
Now that you’ve got your seedling, you can begin thinking about how to develop it and ensure it thrives. You might have a lovely bonsai in around 10-15 years! You can speed this up by using techniques such as planting it in the ground. However, you’ll still have to develop the branches and ramification.
Cherry trees like a lot of sun, so if you give them this, ensure that you address their watering needs. Trees in direct sun getting many hours of sunlight per day will dry out quicker than other trees. With seedlings, they can die very quickly from underwatering or overwatering. It’s essential always to make sure their soil medium is moist. You can do this by poking your finger an inch deep into the soil to test the moisture.
In the spring and summer growing seasons, your cherry tree seedlings will likely require a lot more water as they will be pushing out more growth.
Like any other tree seedling, I don’t fertilize cherry bonsai seedlings for a few months. Applying high concentrations of fertilizer or too much can burn the roots of a seedling very quickly, killing them just as quickly as overwatering or underwatering. They won’t be able to take up water, effectively killing them if you don’t know how to treat overfertilization.
If you think you have overfertilized your tree, the best thing to do is to thoroughly water the tree to try and drain out as much fertilizer as possible. You can try and tease it out of its pot without disturbing the roots and submerge it underwater.
The compost I use for seedlings is usually specialized, providing them with enough nutrients for a while before I begin fertilizing. You can usually find these for the same price as regular compost in any garden center.
It should be noted that when growing cherry bonsai from seed, you should try and give them a slightly acidic soil, around pH 6.5. When they get older, you can start to use ericaceous compost or acidic substrates such as kanuma.
In about a year or two, you’ll find that your cherry tree seedling may have outgrown its pot. You can usually tell by roots coming out of the bottom of the pot or the roots circling themselves multiple times. This can restrict the tree’s growth and lead to detrimental side effects, so it’s best to repot it as soon as possible and when the tree is dormant.
In early to late spring, you can repot your seedlings and trees into larger pots to give them more room to grow and encourage development. I don’t recommend putting seedlings into bonsai pots until they are an actual bonsai, as this will restrict growth and take longer for them to develop. Unless you are growing shohin bonsai, I do not recommend this.
To repot your cherry tree seedling, loosen it out of its pot and gently work the sides and bottom of the root mass, trying not to take a lot of soil out. You can then repot it into a larger pot, watering it thoroughly. As the tree ages, you can take more soil from it, but you should continually monitor its health before repotting.
I’ve found that cherry trees form amazing twists and bends by themselves from cuttings. However, from seed, this may not be the case. I don’t wire my seedlings in the first year as this can damage them depending on the species. Instead, I let them grow as much as possible before starting any bonsai work on them.
When wiring seedlings, you should use a low gauge of wire, such as 1mm or 1.5mm, as this should be sufficient to bend them while not damaging their bark or snapping them. I typically use annealed aluminum wire to do this, as copper wire is a bit too stiff for seedlings and it’s expensive.
For more in-depth advice on the general care of seedlings, you can refer to this article, in which I delve into it in more detail!
That’s a quick guide to growing cherry bonsai from seed, now let’s look at some common cherry bonsai questions.