Ender
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Would like advice on starting from seedlings

Hi, I'm new to the forum. I was originally intrigued by bonsais in 7th grade, when my science teacher had someone bring their collection into school and talk to us about them. After that enough of us were interested that he set up a field trip to take us to the closest bonsai place (Bonsai West in Littleton MA) where we all got a bonsai (Benjamin Fig) and a lesson on pruning/potting. Surprisingly, I've been able to keep that tree alive for the past six years, although I did kill the $10 one I also bought while at Bonsai West. I am now a freshman at Umass Amherst (studying Mechanical Engineering) and recently renewed my interest in them in a visit to the greenhouses on campus. (They have a small collection of bonsais there among an amazing variety of other plants)

I would like to start my own collection and would like to start basically from scratch. I would like to grow trees basically from the seed or close to it. My question to you guys is how to best go about doing this. I also would like to know what species are best for it and/or if any species can be made into a bonsai.

In the courtyard between a couple of the greenhouses are two magnificent European Beeches. They are enormous. I asked the guy in charge of the conservatory there how old they were and he said that they were estimated to be somewhere over 100 years old. I would like to create a bonsai European Beech if possible. He said I could take some of the seedlings that were popping up under/around the trees. How should I go about this/what should I put them in/how should I grow them?

I was reading some articles that have been linked to in recent posts
( https://www.bonsai4me.com/AdvTech/ATfieldgrowing.htm
https://users.stargate.net/~rocketmn/growing.htm )
and I am thinking that I should find a good place to plant them in the ground to let them grow for at least a few years before trying to limit them to a pot.

I read a bit about European Beeches on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_beech) and this part under habitat worries me a little. “The role of the mycorrhizae in the growth of the European Beech is important. Without mycorrhizae, it often does not develop well.â€

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Gnome
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Location: Western PA USDA Zone 6A

Chris,

Welcome to the Helpful Gardener. Before I get too involved I have a few questions for you. How committed are you to growing exclusively from seed? This is the slowest route to take and could very well try your patience. Perhaps you can consider other methods while you grow out your seedlings.

Where are you going to locate your plants and growing beds, at school or at home? I have been growing some seedlings in recent years and like to get them off to a good start in pots for a few years before planting them out. Can you accommodate dozens, or more, pots. I don't just mean space but with many pots comes a greater demand on your time each day. How can you manage all of this while you are at school?

By keeping seedlings in pots early on you have the opportunity to get the future nebari off to a good start. Someone said that when growing bonsai from seed the second year determines its future. At the beginning of the second year you must begin selectively pruning for the future nebari. After this I like to put them back in pots for the balance of that year. So now two years have passed before it is time to set them out. During the warmer months they require, no demand, constant attention. Can you manage all of this April through October? During the winter they will require some shelter as small seedlings can be damaged by harsh conditions. Can you provide some space for them?

When I grow seedlings I always start with as many as I possibly can. For various reasons not all will ever become a bonsai. The more you start with the greater the chances that you will have something to show for your efforts in a decade or so.

For instance, last spring I began a pine from seed project and started with several hundred collected seeds. Not all germinated, of those that did some fell to damping off despite my gritty soil. Of the fifty-some survivors only thirty made it past the rather harsh root pruning that Pines get their first year. Half of those were damaged by some unknown pest that ate the buds. Furthermore, I lost a few the first winter and am now down to 24, only half of which are intact and thriving.

Still want to grow from seed? I'm not trying to be harsh here just realistic. I grow seeds and enjoy it greatly but it has its drawbacks as do other methods of acquiring bonsai. Collected trees, which by the way make some of the finest bonsai, usually take two to three years just to recover from being collected. Nursery material often has very poor roots that makes a quality nebari difficult, this is the advantage of growing from seed. Mallsai are often little more than rooted cuttings stuck into a pot before they are ready. Pre-bonsai, while avoiding many of these issues, can be expensive.
I also would like to know what species are best for it and/or if any species can be made into a bonsai.
Zelkovas are vigorous growers that can show good results in a reasonable length of time.
I would like to create a bonsai European Beech if possible. He said I could take some of the seedlings that were popping up under/around the trees. How should I go about this/what should I put them in/how should I grow them?
In my area Beeches are just leafing out making this timing a problem this year. Next spring just before bud break would be better so you have time to consider all of this. I like Beeches but I have not done really well with them so far but I keep trying. I have one that I am trying a ground layer on to improve the root-spread.

Have you considered getting a Ficus or some other tropical species that you could keep in your dorm, or whatever? I hope this has been of some use to you.

Norm

Ender
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My reply is in bold
Gnome wrote:Chris,

Welcome to the Helpful Gardener. Before I get too involved I have a few questions for you. How committed are you to growing exclusively from seed? This is the slowest route to take and could very well try your patience. Perhaps you can consider other methods while you grow out your seedlings.

I'm not commited to growing exclusivly from the seed at all, I would just like to grow some from the seed. As I said in my first paragraph I already have a Benjamin Fig that has survived for 6 years already. I've been reading alot into bonsais over the past few days and have plans for that tree when I see it again at the end of this month (I'm leaving school around the 26th)

Where are you going to locate your plants and growing beds, at school or at home? I have been growing some seedlings in recent years and like to get them off to a good start in pots for a few years before planting them out. Can you accommodate dozens, or more, pots. I don't just mean space but with many pots comes a greater demand on your time each day. How can you manage all of this while you are at school?

I honestly cannot accommodate dozens of pots while at school, unless I can rent out space in a greenhouse or something. Depending on pot size I could potentially accomadate from 4-8 pots. When/if I planted any of them I assume it would be at home unless I got permission to plant them somewhere at school..

By keeping seedlings in pots early on you have the opportunity to get the future nebari off to a good start. Someone said that when growing bonsai from seed the second year determines its future. At the beginning of the second year you must begin selectively pruning for the future nebari. After this I like to put them back in pots for the balance of that year. So now two years have passed before it is time to set them out. During the warmer months they require, no demand, constant attention. Can you manage all of this April through October? During the winter they will require some shelter as small seedlings can be damaged by harsh conditions. Can you provide some space for them?

With a small number of pots I should be able to manage that from April to October. I have a good place to keep them over the winter too. At home we have an unheated enclosed front porch. I'm fairly certain it never freezes in there, but it certainly gets chilly.


When I grow seedlings I always start with as many as I possibly can. For various reasons not all will ever become a bonsai. The more you start with the greater the chances that you will have something to show for your efforts in a decade or so.

For instance, last spring I began a pine from seed project and started with several hundred collected seeds. Not all germinated, of those that did some fell to damping off despite my gritty soil. Of the fifty-some survivors only thirty made it past the rather harsh root pruning that Pines get their first year. Half of those were damaged by some unknown pest that ate the buds. Furthermore, I lost a few the first winter and am now down to 24, only half of which are intact and thriving.

Still want to grow from seed? I'm not trying to be harsh here just realistic. I grow seeds and enjoy it greatly but it has its drawbacks as do other methods of acquiring bonsai. Collected trees, which by the way make some of the finest bonsai, usually take two to three years just to recover from being collected. Nursery material often has very poor roots that makes a quality nebari difficult, this is the advantage of growing from seed. Mallsai are often little more than rooted cuttings stuck into a pot before they are ready. Pre-bonsai, while avoiding many of these issues, can be expensive.

I understand the success rate will probably be very low if existant at all. I would like to try anyway though.
I also don't understand the last two sentences above - what are Mallsai and Pre-Bonsai?


I also would like to know what species are best for it and/or if any species can be made into a bonsai.
Zelkovas are vigorous growers that can show good results in a reasonable length of time.

Thanks, I'll remember that.
I would like to create a bonsai European Beech if possible. He said I could take some of the seedlings that were popping up under/around the trees. How should I go about this/what should I put them in/how should I grow them?
In my area Beeches are just leafing out making this timing a problem this year. Next spring just before bud break would be better so you have time to consider all of this. I like Beeches but I have not done really well with them so far but I keep trying. I have one that I am trying a ground layer on to improve the root-spread.

Like I said earlier, I would like to try my hand at it reguardless of the not so hopeful outlook. It may not be the best time of year, but I don't believe these seedlings are going to last very long with the weather getting better and more and more students walking through and around that courtyard. And I'm sure more will pop up for next year. Could you give me advice on how to go about taking [some of] the existing ones out of the ground and caring for them? Like how big of a pot/container to put them in, what kind of soil, etc?

Have you considered getting a Ficus or some other tropical species that you could keep in your dorm, or whatever? I hope this has been of some use to you.

I do already have a tropical species, the Benjamin Fig. I didnt bring that to school this year because I didnt have a very good place for it. The only desk/shelf space I had to put it on was next to the window, and I figured that it would not fare well that close to the window through the winter. I plan on bringing it up next year though, I should have a better location to keep it in.

And you have been very helpful, thank you very much for taking the time to reply to my post.

Chris

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Gnome
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Chris,
As I said in my first paragraph I already have a Benjamin Fig that has survived for 6 years already.
Sorry about that, I overlooked that part while typing my reply.
I also don't understand the last two sentences above - what are Mallsai and Pre-Bonsai?
Mallsai is a somewhat derogatory term applied to trees that are seen in any of the big box stores or dept stores. They are often young, underdeveloped, overpriced and perhaps worst of all potted in an inappropriate soil. Having said that they are not all bad and can offer the novice an entry to bonsai. On-line retailers also offer similar material.

Pre-bonsai are trees that have been grown, or collected, with bonsai in mind. Often they have undergone root work in order to establish the nebari and several trunk chops to induce movement and taper. They are not finished trees, if there is such a thing, by any means but can cut years off the process. You will pay for the years that someone else has put into the tree.
but I don't believe these seedlings are going to last very long with the weather getting better and more and more students walking through and around that courtyard. And I'm sure more will pop up for next year. Could you give me advice on how to go about taking [some of] the existing ones out of the ground and caring for them? Like how big of a pot/container to put them in, what kind of soil, etc?
Well if they are going to be destroyed anyway I guess you have nothing to lose. Get some small pots around 2 to 4 inches, whatever you can locate. Over-sized pots can cause trouble by staying too wet too long. A situation where you need to water everyday is fine, it is better than a scenario where your pots stay wet for days on end.

As for soil, the usual advice is to get some inorganic components like Turface, Haydite or lava rock and mix in some appropriately sized Pine bark. I am beginning to think that not all trees, particularly very young ones require these premium components. Besides you need to move quickly and locating these components can sometimes be frustrating.

Two components that can be found in almost any box store/home center are the aforementioned Pine bark (often labeled as soil conditioner) and perlite. These two materials mixed in a 50/50 ratio should be fine for seedlings especially considering that you will be transplanting them in another year anyway. I would avoid commercial potting mix unless you find you absolutely have no other choice.

Have you, in the course of your research, discovered the importance if properly sizing your components? I use a set of homemade screens to exclude particles that I deem too large or too small. This is not optional in my opinion and is why potting soil is not appropriate, it is entirely too fine.

Other options in a pinch might be cacti/succulent mix if you can find it. It will be more costly especially after you screen it. There are also ready-made bonsai soils available via mail order or, if you are lucky enough to have one locally, specialty bonsai nurseries.

Norm

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Norm,
Sorry about that, I overlooked that part while typing my reply.
No worries.
Get some small pots around 2 to 4 inches, whatever you can locate.
Would using plastic cups be frowned upon? How cheap are small pots?
Have you, in the course of your research, discovered the importance if properly sizing your components? I use a set of homemade screens to exclude particles that I deem too large or too small. This is not optional in my opinion and is why potting soil is not appropriate, it is entirely too fine.
I have come accross a few things about the size of components, one that sticks out in my mind is ynot's sticky post including the video of how fast his soil drains. I'm planning on heading out to see what I can find soil-wise around 3:30-4.

Again, thank you very much for your time and help.

Chris

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Gnome
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Location: Western PA USDA Zone 6A

Chris,

Here are some pictures that might to help illustrate some of my previous answers.

Some suitable pots. 9 cell 1.5 inches; 4 cell 2.25 inches; 3 inch round; 3 inch square and 3.5 inch square. Any of these could be used depending on what you can find, the size of the seedling and how vigorous Beech seedlings are. Sorry I can't be specific there as I have never tried Beeches from seed.
[url=https://img263.imageshack.us/my.php?image=01pw2.jpg][img]https://img263.imageshack.us/img263/9779/01pw2.th.jpg[/img][/url]

Some basic soiless mix. Primarily Haydite, lava and Pine bark. The larger size on the left is 1/8 to 1/4. Meaning that anything larger than 1/4 and smaller than 1/8 is excluded. The smaller mixture is the fines from the general mix with the very small particles of less than 1/16 excluded. I find this useful for seedling and cuttings. The bright spot in the center is a 25c piece for scale.
[url=https://img263.imageshack.us/my.php?image=96482863nn2.jpg][img]https://img263.imageshack.us/img263/8858/96482863nn2.th.jpg[/img][/url]

Some seedlings I have grown in recent years. The first group are all starting their third summer (two full years old). From left to right; Green Japanese Maple, Zelkova and Barberry.
[url=https://img263.imageshack.us/my.php?image=17168559ac4.jpg][img]https://img263.imageshack.us/img263/4023/17168559ac4.th.jpg[/img][/url]

These ones are starting their second summer (1 full year old). From left to right; Scots Pine and Crab Apple.
[url=https://img263.imageshack.us/my.php?image=13631345xn0.jpg][img]https://img263.imageshack.us/img263/4389/13631345xn0.th.jpg[/img][/url]

Lastly some Japanese Maples from this year. There are over 200 seedling here and will all need to be re-potted. Last year I did so in summer with poor results. This time I think I will leave them alone until next spring. Easy to care for now, not so much come next year.
[url=https://img263.imageshack.us/my.php?image=34824351bk0.jpg][img]https://img263.imageshack.us/img263/6953/34824351bk0.th.jpg[/img][/url]


Norm

EDIT: Chris, I was editing this post as you replied above.
Would using plastic cups be frowned upon? How cheap are small pots?
You could use plastic cups I suppose, make sure you provide adequate drainage though. The small cells that I have shown above are not overly expensive although the smallest ones may be too small for your application.
I'm planning on heading out to see what I can find soil-wise around 3:30-4.
Let us know what you find.
Again, thank you very much for your time and help.
You are welcome and good luck to you.



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