Start a bonsai forest

The trident maples in the garden at Shibui Bonsai produce huge quantities of seed each year. This results in lots of seedlings growing in the garden beds. We usually leave a few hundred to grow on for use as bonsai.

You can germinate your own seedlings under controlled conditions but I find it far easier to let nature do that for me and I just harvest the seedlings I need from our garden beds.

Today I used some to put a trident group together. It will take a few year for this group to develop into show quality bonsai but groups are one of the quickest ways to get good results from immature material.

Primary tree

Start with a couple of larger trunks, a number of medium and a few smaller ones to give your group variety and perspective.








cut the roots fearlessly

Tridents are very hardy. You may be lucky and get a tree with plenty of radial roots but if not, just cut the roots back fearlessly so that you have the best radial root system the tree can give you.

cut the trunk near a bud






Also cut the trunk if it is long.



Cut the roots to make the best radial roots possible.

Secondary tree

Lay out your trees













Trim all the trees you have and line them up from thickest to thinnest.






seedling tray 30cm x 25 cm

You can put your forest into a seedling tray or any suitable wide container. A polystyrene fruit container is large enough to allow your little trees to develop quite quickly if you want to grow a larger group with thicker trunks.

add some potting mix





Place a layer of potting mix in the container and place the largest tree which will be the focal point of the group. This largest tree usually looks best around 1/3 of the way along the tray. Some more potting mix will help stabilise the tree while you work with the others.


Main tree a little to one side, secondary tree is toward the other side of the tray. Start adding the other trees in order of size.

Add the second largest tree. In this case I’m making a group with two subgroups so the second tree is further away from the main one.

Add medium sized trees to complement the 2 primary trees. Try to leave different spacing between the trunks. You’ll probably find that you tend to space all the trunks equally so keep moving them until you get a good, random looking arrangement. Putting some trees very close together will really help. keep adding mix to hold the trees in position as you go.

All the trees added but the central gap is too prominent.

Try to avoid planting straight lines. Check from the sides as well as the front to check that you can see all the trees. If you spot any lines, move one or more to make the placement appear more natural.

I was happy with the placement of trees in each of the sub groups but thought there was too much open space in the centre of the group so I moved all the trees in the secondary group closer to the main tree.

Move all of the secondary group closer to the main trees.


I’m planning for a small trail to wind through this group to add another layer of perspective to the arrangement and I want it to wind through the tree trunks between the 2 sub groups.






View from the side to make sure there are no rows of trees.

Finally water the tray well and put it aside to wait for the expected surge of growth in spring.

I’ll allow all these trees to grow freely for a few months in spring then start selectively cutting back long growth to create more branches on individual trees and to control the thickening of the trunks. I need to make sure that the focal trees stay thicker and taller than the rest of the forest to maintain the overall look of a natural forest.

This starter group is made from 17 trees worth less than $20 but should develop into a worthy bonsai in just a couple of years.

During winter Shibui Bonsai can supply raw seedlings like this straight from our garden at very reasonable rates. This year I’m offering seedlings with 6-10mm thick trunks at $2 each, 3-6mm medium trunks at $1 each and thinner seedlings for just 50c each. I can put together a selected bundle of 20 different sized trunks for just $20. Delivery costs will depend on the number and size of your order so email with your needs to get a fixed price and assemble your own, unique bonsai trident maple forest this winter.

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