Welcome to the Helpful Gardener, Please post some pictures of your current tree and we will try to identify it.
Growing bonsai from seed certainly can be done and some feel it is one of the best ways to do so. A big advantage with this method is that you are able to put the effort into developing a good radial root system that is so often missing in nursery material. Growing from seed, while rewarding, is about the slowest route to a 'finished' bonsai there is. Indeed, this is a very long-term project, with much time spent doing nothing at all.
When I grow seedlings I always start with as many as I possibly can. There are many obstacles, mishaps and maladies that can befall a seedling on its way to becoming a mature 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, in the spring of 2006 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 summer. Half of those were damaged by some unknown herbivore that ate the buds. Furthermore, I lost a few the first winter and by the next spring was down to 24, only half of which were intact and thriving. By the end of the second summer a few more declined and had been removed.
I usually leave my seedlings in pots for two years before setting them out in growing beds if I am going to do so. This gives you at least two opportunities to improve the root-spread that will become the future nebari. 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.
The second spring (one year old) re-pot and remove the taproot and begin to refine the other roots. The following spring you can further refine the roots before setting them out. Actually I usually start my seedlings in small trays and in this case their first transplanting is performed in early summer of the first year. So by the time I set them out I have worked the roots three times. Every time you re-pot is an opportunity to improve the roots of the tree.
During the warmer months they require daily 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? Where are you going to locate your plants and growing beds? 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.
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, or longer, just to recover from being collected. Nursery material often has very poor roots that make 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.
Here is a link that describes the process in more detail. Please note that he purchases his seedlings so his year one will correspond to your year two. When you get to the bottom of the page follow the link to the maple section.
In all honesty starting from seeds is a poor way to begin your adventure into bonsai and I glad to hear that you at least have one tree to work on while your seedlings are growing. don't overlook other methods of pursuing bonsai. You can purchase a "finished" tree, pre-bonsai or nursery stock. You can also look around your neighborhood for overgrown shrubs that are being removed. Many times these "urbandori" can be obtained for free or perhaps just a little effort to help out. Actually the shortest, relatively speaking, route to bonsai is to collect something that already has a trunk and some structure to it.
Now on to your questions. Japanese Maples seeds do poorly if allowed to dry out. I collect seed in the fall and store them moist and cold all winter long. I get good germination this way. Pines, at least Black and Scots Pines, are not so picky. I have collected cones, again in the fall, and allowed the cones to dry thus releasing the seeds. They are stored dry until spring and then planted.
As far as soil goes please read the soil sticky, and the others for that matter, located at the top of the forum. For seedlings I use my same free draining mix only sifted to a smaller size. Pot size must be in step with the size of the plant. Using too large a pot early on is a poor practice, as it does not promote a timely wet/dry cycle. In other words a large volume of soil remains wet too long. WRT to climate, since bonsai is primarily an outdoor activity you don't have a whole lot of say in the matter.
Last edited by Gnome
on Wed Aug 29, 2007 2:44 am, edited 1 time in total.