Species Specific > Japanese Black Pine Bonsai Discussion

Growing Mikawa Japanese Black Pine from Seed

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During a BSG chat session yesterday, growing Japanese Black Pine from seed was discussed.  Other
participants in the discussion had followed the same methods I was using and they encouraged
me to post some pictures and information on my results for comparison.  I am basically
following the process as described in Bonsai Today Masters' Series: Growing & Styling Japanese
Black and White Pines.  So, for most of you this process is nothing new.

I will attempt to provide as much detail on the process I use as it exists today.
I'm entering my fourth growing season utilizing this method.  

As always, climate will have a huge impact on the process.  I live in central North Carolina
in USDA Plant Hardiness zone 7B.  Please keep this in consideration as you read.

Obtain the seed

Find a reliable source to purchase your seed. I've found an online source that has proven to
be very reliable and affordable.  I usually order Mikawa JBP for it's bonsai friendly properies.
I read somewhere the Mikawa is one of the few varieties that passes on its genetic traits via
seed.  So, no grafting or rooting cuttings is necessary to propagate this variety.

I order my seed at the end of February and try to sow by the second or third week of March.

Sowing the seeds

I purchase seed starter trays that have a humidity dome and 72 individual cells per tray.  
I use standard seed starter soil from Home Depot or Lowes.  One year I mixed my own starter soil
and saw no difference in the result.

Soak seed in water for 48-72 hours.  

Viable(good) seed will eventually soak up enough water to
sink to the bottom.  After at least two full days most of the seed should have sunk to the bottom.
At this point I take out the floating non-viable seeds.  These seeds float because they're basically
hollow inside.  To verify I attempt to crush them with my fingernail.

Prepare your seed tray by filling each cell with the seed starter soil and then thoroughly soak the soil
with water.  Be sure your tray has drainage holes. Some trays do not.

Now plant one or two seeds per cell.  I place a seed on the soil surface and then use a chopstick
to push it about 1/4 inch under the soil.  After pushing the seed under the soil use your finger
to move the soil around to cover the hole made by the chopstick.

Place the humidity domes on your seed trays.

I actually place the seed trays under my deck where they will only get direct sunlight for no more
than two hours a day.  I check the soil everyday to make sure it stays damp.  With the humidity domes
I find that I only have to water about twice a week at the most.  Just make sure the soil does not
dry out.

Hopefully, after about 14 days you should see some seedlings breaking through the soil surface.  
Even after they emerge I still keep the trays covered and only allow about two hours of direct sun
a day.

Apply Fungicide

After the seedlings have shed their seed shells and the needles have opened I apply a fungicide
branded as Daconil.  I soak each seedling with this spray once every two weeks to prevent damping
off.  Damping off is caused by a fungus (i think) that basically attacks the stem of the seedling
where it meets the soil surface.  The first year I lost 10% or so of my seedlings because I didn't
apply fungicide.  The past few years with the use of fungicide I've seen no damping off at all.


Here's an image of seedlings growing in a seed starter tray... minus the humidity dome/cover.

TWO MORE POSTS COMING... please don't reply yet!!!!

When the stems of the seedlings have turned a violet/purple color it is time to remove them from
the seed trays, cut off the new roots completely and transplant the seedlings into individual four inch
nursery pots.  I believe this usually takes four to six weeks from the time they emerge from the soil.
However, I usually don't pay attention to how long its been because I just watch the stems color.  Once
all of the stems have turned violet/purple its time to root prune and transplant.

New soil-
Here is the soil mix I use to transplant the seedlings from the starter
tray to individual four inch pots.  As usual, the basic requirement is that it must be very well draining.

80% inorganic - consists of equal parts of three different sized components. (see image below)
- Well gravel (filter sand) #2 small size
- Well gravel (filter sand) #3 medium size
- Crushed granite (Chicken Grit) large size

20% organic -
- 1/4 inch Screened Canadian Sphagnum peat moss ( use the fines from screening, removing the larger particles )

I used to just use 10% organic, but the summers here in NC can be very hot so I've increased the organic
component to 20% to help with moisture retention.

In the images below you can see where I screen the peat moss and the inorganic material.

Prepare 4 inch pot-
Put a 1/2 inch layer of the largest particle inorganic soil component as a drainage layer.  Now fill
the rest of the pot with your new soil mix to about 1/4 inch from the top.  I then run water through
the pot to settle the soil.

Gently pull a seedling from the seed tray.

Wipe your blade clean with a paper towel and alcohol before each cut to reduce the chance of spreading
bacteria from one seedling to the next.

Completely cut the roots off with an exacto knife leaving the stem about a 1 to 1.5 inches in length.

Be sure to cut with your blade perpendicular to the stem to make a straight cut.  This will promote a
nice radial pattern of new roots at the exact same height on the trunk.

I use a wine cork to create a hole in the soil for the seedling about an inch deep.

Fill the hole you made with the wine cork with the smallest inorganic soil component
The smaller particle soil size helps hold the root pruned seedling in place and promotes a finer new
root structure.

Dip the seedlings newly cut stem into rooting hormone.

Using a chopstick in one hand and a seedling in the other guide the seedling into the soil leaving
enough stem above the soil line to hold the needles above the soil.

Gently water being careful not to disturb the seedling.

Place the newly planted seedlings in a shaded area for approximately two weeks.  After two weeks start
introducing them to some morning sun.  I water as needed, but with this soil mix its pretty much everyday
throughout the summer.  In the past I've probably been over cautious with regards to sunlight, but
these seedlings can get roasted very quick in direct summer sun.  Choosing to err on the side of
caution has served me well so far.

About four weeks after root pruning and transplanting I start to fertilize with fish emulsion
once a week through June.  I stop fertilizing for the month of July (too hot, no growth) and continue again from August
through October.

You'll find that the newly root pruned and transplanted seedlings grow very little the first summer.
There will be a little extension during the fall and winter.  However, the next spring you should see
real signs of strength and the formation of the little pines first candle.  By the end of the second
summer your seedlings will almost triple in size... from 2 inches to 6... not much, but it's a start :)

I believe the Bonsai Today Masters' Series: Growing & Styling Japanese Black and White Pines book describes
possible doing a second root pruning to completely remove the roots again.  I have not tried a second complete
root removal.  I think just one provides excellent results.

Up to this point I've followed the Bonsai Today Masters' Series: Growing & Styling Japanese
Black and White Pines instructions very closely.  However, my oldest trees grown from seed with this
method are now entering their fourth year and I can't claim to have anywhere near the results of
our Japanese friends.  For me I've chosen to leave the seedlings in their 4 inch pots for three complete
growing seasons and then re-potting them into a 1 gallon air-pot in the spring of the 4th growing season.
I also wire the trunk for shape in early fall (i.e. the end) of the second growing season.

General time-line:
1st growing season -
Mid-March -> sow seed
Mid-May -> transplant root prune

2nd growing season -
fertilize, water and plenty of full sun
October -> wire trunk for shape

3rd growing season
-fertilize, water and plenty of full sun
-if the tree is strong enough prune the top in late March or wait til Mid June.

4th growing season
-When the candles begin to show movement repot into a 1 gallon air-pot
-I also pot some in 6 inch mum pots as well (these are a much cheaper than air-pots)

The results.  The images below show two trees entering their fourth year.  This root spread is typical of all
of the seedlings grown via this process.  




Now I just have to find a way of speeding things up.  I'm also just now beginning to understand how to
prune a pine in it's growth/development stage.  I've made many mistakes in the first two years and am
just now figuring out how best to balance a tree's energy.

More images of air-pots and trees in various stages of development.  Most of the pines are under four years old and
grown using the process described here.






Complete online album of the above images so you can view them in a larger format:
Album 1
Album 2

Thanks cray13! I've read that book(borrowed from a friend) and also have the BT mags with this information. I'll admit it was confusing to me how the info was laid out. Your post just explained it in very simple detail. Too bad I'm not doing pines this year :)

Really cool, thanks so much for sharing.  Looks like you're getting pretty good growth on them.

Do you like the Air Pots?  I always wondered how well they worked.


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