To help those who are unsure about how, here is the Shibui Bonsai Guide to seedlings.

Most experienced bonsai growers will have their own preferences of when and how to prick out seedlings and many methods will produce similar results.

Shibui Bonsai needs to constantly replenish the stock that has been sold to continue to provide high quality pre bonsai and starters to the bonsai growers of Eastern Australia so we grow many seedlings each year. This is how I start many of our Shibui Bonsai starters and prebonsai.

Seed is sown in winter and spring and begins to germinate as the weather warms. Here is a pot of Japanese Black pine seeds that started to appear a few weeks ago. Seeds usually germinate at different rates so there are still more popping up each day.

Japanese black pine seedlings

You can leave these in the community pot to grow on but competition with each other and lack of nutrients oftem means that growth is slowed. i prefer to prick out seedlings early rather than later.
Lift out a few seedlings at a time with a knife, stick or similar implement.
Seedlings of any size can be potted up successfully.
Older seedlings will already have started to develop lateral roots.

Close up of roots

To promote the best possible future nebari I cut the main root to promote lateral roots.

If several lateral roots have emerged from one place I cut just below these. 
Cut long roots

The main root can be cut quite short

The seedling shown at right will still develop lateral roots and grow if you can give reasonable care and avoid drying until roots are re-established.
 After shortening the roots I dibble holes onto the potting mix, insert the seedling, fill mix around the roots then water in well. Seedlings can be potted up in individual pots or into community pots to grow on.

Pine seedlings potted up into a community pot

seedlings potted up
Note that the seedlings have been inserted at an angle. This will give a future trunk that emerges from the ground at an angle rather than a vertical ‘telephone pole’ trunk.
Keep newly potted seedlings in a position where they recieve good light but are protected from wind and extreme heat. Water as often as necessary to avoid the new roots drying out. At Shibui Bonsai these newly potted seedlings will be kept in the poly house for a few weeks until growth resumes them brought out into full sunlight on the growing benches.
Don’t worry if you cannot prick out your seedlings very young like this. Seedlings can be potted up at any stage of development and still produce good plants suitable for bonsai. I often prick out the most crowded seedlings from the seedling pot and leave the rest to grow on and pot them up at a later date.
Some keen bonsai growers will be aware of the seedling cutting technique where the seedling is cut just where the stem changes from white to purple, leaving no roots at all. The seedling is then dipped in rooting hormone and planted out as a tiny cutting. I tried this technique for a few years and found that it worked quite well but the resulting root system was not significantly different from seedlings treated as above and growth is significantly slowed for a few weeks so now I just use the far simpler method outlined above.
Young seedlings of most species will tolerate quite hard root pruning and can be treated in much the same way as the pines above.

Ficus rubiginosa seedling
Roots shortened
treat smaller seedlings the same way

Trident seedlings

These trident maple seedlings were pulled from our garden. The longer roots will be cut short before potting these into individual pots to grow on.


Good luck to everyone who is growing seed to start their own brilliant future bonsai.

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