Green Culture Singapore Articles

Contributor: Steve L. Steed Available online 2 July 2005

Photos: Published online with permission from Mr. Walter Pall

This article was written for hobbyist who would like to start with seed rather than buying a plant already growing.

The good side. Some people enjoy great satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment starting a tree or plant from seed, (watching its progress from day one, etc.) An almost infinite variety of seeds can be obtained from seed specialists. Some people are lucky enough to have access to trees that can be harvested for their seeds when they become ripe. A large number of plants can be started all at the same time with little or no money invested.

The down side. You will be waiting a few years to see any results from your efforts. However don't let that discourage you from pursuing your choice of starting with seed.

I became interested in growing tree specimens from seed about twelve years ago when I noticed that my property had a large variety of deciduous type plants and trees growing so thick that it was difficult to walk or stand without stepping on or running into one. There were so many interesting species that I didn't know where to begin, as far as collecting seed to grow.

It was during that time, I came across a book that gave basic instructions on growing bonsai from either trees or starting from seed. The ol' light bulb came on in my little pea brain. The tree species I have growing here gave direct access to potential bonsai material including Gleditsia triacanthos (Honey locust), Crataegus (Hawthorn), Pyracantha (Firethorn), Cornus (Dogwood), Ulmus alata (Winged elm), and a few other species. My work took me to places that gave access to the Acer palmatum (Japanese Maple), as well as, the Hedge maple, and the beautiful little cut-leaf purple maple of which I've taken cuttings from. The Acer palmatum and the above mentioned species, as you know, are deciduous trees and therefore their seed become ripe and ready to harvest in the fall. The area I live is the southern United States; other area's fall season may differ from mine for gathering ripe seed of these species. If these plants do not grow naturally in your area, your option would be to buy seed from a reputable seed specialist company. I begin collecting seed about the second week of October and ending the second week of November. I feel that if you start collecting before this time the seed may not be fully mature. By the same token, if after the November cutoff time, seed may be past their peak (prime). You want good healthy seed don't you? I only collect enough seed for what I want to use. (Otherwise they would be running out my ears!) The Acer seed from the tree should look plump and rather swollen with a nice red tint on their wings.

An Acer palmatum bonsai tree
(Published with the kind permission from Mr. Walter Pall,

Growing Acer palmatum from seeds...

Step 1. Gather the seed or buy your seed from a reputable specialist. Pinch the wings off of seed and place them on a plate or bowl. (Do not use paper plates.) Let them dry for 36 to 48 hours, no more than two full days.

Step 2. I use plastic butter bowls for this step. Fill a bowl with cool water (not cold). Place about 20 to 30 seed per bowl. Don't try to crowd more than that amount per bowl. Let these seed soak for 72 hours. Every 24 hours, you need to change the water, this part is very important; it helps keep fungus from beginning on the seed. Personally I do not use fungicides with the water, but you can if you feel like it may help. After the 72 hour period, the viable seed will sink to the bottom, seed that float can be discarded at this time.

Step 3. Deciduous tree seed have to be stratified, they have to be tricked into thinking they are going through the dormant winter season. They also need this period of time to store up energy for the final stage of breaking out of their shell.

For this step, I use brown paper towels. You know the kind you see at schools, hospitals, public restrooms etc. The reason is, these types of paper towels don't have as much loose fiber as the kitchen paper towels. (This also helps prevent fungus from forming).

Place the seed on a sheet of towel and (gently) pat all the moisture off of the seeds. Repeat until you are satisfied all the dampness has come off the seed.

Step 4. For this step, I use small Ziploc bags (snack size), sandwich bags are too big and may cause a problem with too much air locked in with the seed (air may aid in the beginning of fungus problems)

Place the 20 or more seeds, no more than 30 in the bag and begin to roll toward the open end to dispel most of the air. Zip it closed. Important: Place the bags in your refrigerator in the lettuce crisper or veggie drawer. The temperature in these compartments usually stays at a constant. You need to check it with a thermometer and make sure it is between 37 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit (~ 3 to 4 degrees Celsius). The seeds must stay at this temperature for 90 days. About once every 7 days, take the bag of seeds out and gently tap the condensation off the inside walls of the baggie. Place back in the refrigerator on the opposite side which the bag laid. Let them sleep and repeat the tapping off process every 7 days until the 90 day period is up.

NOTE: A few more days or even a week past that period won't hurt, but less than 90 would not be good unless your seed begin to sprout, in which you must take them out and plant them.

Step 5. Seed gathering and stratification process puts the time frame in my area for around the first or second week of February. This of course will vary depending on where you live and when you want to start the stratification. If you live in a tropical region, it can be any time of the year. You are now ready to sow your seeds! I usually sow mine in a prepared bed outdoors. Seed trays will work if you don't have room outside. I prepare my beds with a starting mix that is made by a company named "Peters". I have tried many brands and this seems to work best for my needs. It does not form a crust from repeated watering, this is very important for seeds sprouting up. They will die if they can't break through to sunlight. Plant the seed and cover with soil only the depth of the diameter of the seed. Keep the seed slightly moist (not wet) until germination. Generally speaking, the ground temperature should be between 58 and 62 degrees Fahrenheit (~ 14 to 17 degrees Celsius) for the Acer palmatum to germinate, but I don't believe this to be a hard and fast rule.

With this recipe, you should be able to see your labors of the past ninety days become a successful beginning to growing these beautiful little trees.

The other tree species named in this article can be treated the same way as the Acer for starting your own specimens for bonsai. An extra step must be taken for the Crataegus, Pyracantha, and Cornus species. These seeds must have the flesh removed from around the seed. Place the seed in a bowl of room temp or lukewarm water, put a drop or two of dishwashing liquid in with the seed and water, let sit for 4 to 8 hours. Begin to gently squeeze the seed flesh away from the seed. Be sure and remove (all) of the fleshy part from the seed or you may otherwise cause a fungus to form on the seed. You are now ready to begin the same steps as for the Acer seed.

I have learned through several years of trial and error that this stratification process works very well. I hope it will help hobbyists wanting to grow plants from seed as much as it has helped me.


Steve is a member of the Green Culture Singapore Discussion Forum and is known by his handle "Ablueonion". He lives in Southern Arkansas, US, which experiences very hot and humid weather during Spring to Summer and mild winters. He is a plumber by trade and a freelance artist. His works of art can be viewed at He grows primarily trees for bonsai. Currently, he has about 38 trees in his collection.


Green Culture Singapore would like to express our heartfelt thanks to Steve for his time to write us such an informative article.

We would also like to thank Mr. Walter Pall, a German bonsai professional, for letting us put up a picture of his magnificient Acer palmatum bonsai specimen on this site.His website is accessible via

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