by Jerry Meislik
Growing any bonsai from seed is a very slow process. I recommend it only if you do not have access to a specific type of plant or if you are determined to control every aspect of your bonsai’s creation from its inception. It is much quicker to develop bonsai from suitably sized plants. However, many types of exotic bonsai are not available as either plants or cuttings. This forces me to propagate certain rare species from seed. Many plants propagate fairly easily from seed and Ficus is one of those easy materials.
Ficus seed works best if it is fairly fresh as this will show a higher germination rate. But since only a plant or two are needed even a batch of seed with poor germination will allow a plant or two to be grown. From these one or two plants cuttings can be used to propagate many more of that species.
While Ficus form figs that contain seed, that seed is not fertile unless the specific wasp that fertilizes that fig is present. This most often occurs in the native outdoor environment of the tree. Some types of edible fig can form seed without fertilization.
If you have access to fresh, fertile, ripe figs soak them for 1-2 days in water. Then squeeze and squash each fig thoroughly between your fingers exposing and breaking up the pulp. You won't hurt the seeds. Drop the squashed material back into water and allow it to soak for another 24 hours. After that time swirl away any material that floats. Viable seed will sink to the bottom of the container. Keep adding fresh water, swirl and pour off water and floating debris. Finally all the good seed will settle to the bottom in a small pool of water.
This seed may be placed on top of a granular bonsai soil mix. The use of a fine, organic soil may encourage fungal problems or rotting of the seed so I most often just use small sized lava, Turface, or granitic chicken grit. Settle the seed into place with fresh water and cover the top of the container with a piece of plastic to keep the humidity high. Remove the plastic cover for an hour or two each day to prevent the growth of fungus that may cause the seed to damp off.
It can take a month or two for seedlings to appear. Once the seedlings have two leaves they can be gradually acclimated to room air.
Carefully lift the seedlings out after 4-5 leaves have formed and place each into its own container of your favorite bonsai soil.
Grow the seedlings in as much light as possible but be careful not to keep them in over-saturated soil or allow them to dry out.
From here on allow the seedlings to grow as much as they will and trim back only when you wish the tree to branch or the trunk thickness is large enough to consider bonsai training.
At about 8-15 inches the seedlings can be wired to shape the trunks in the basic desired form of the bonsai. Or, reduction building can be used to reduce the height of the trees cutting back to a low branch as the new apex. Your artistic desires and the training method that you select will direct the seedlings along their path to becoming great bonsai.
Its fun to try your hand at growing a few bonsai from seed. There is a great pride factor in doing it all yourself and in controlling the shape of the tree and forming a wonderful root system from the start. Ficus are among the easiest to grow from seed so go ahead and give it a try. Then let me know how it goes.