Two hands holding up three perfect pine cones
(Image credit: santanor)

The idea of planting pine cones in pots is a cozy and cute one, which explains why “how to make a pine cone bonsai” is trending on social media. But let’s just say this directly: it is about as practical as tossing an unopened pack of seeds into a flower pot.

On the other hand, the seeds in the “bonsai tree pine cones” can certainly be planted and the seedlings nurtured into bonsai. You can think of this as one way to grow pine cone bonsai, although the cone itself doesn’t come into play.

Bonsai Pine Cones

There is something inherently appealing about pine cones. Tiny pine cones appear on the branches of conifers, then the pine cones grow and mature, either standing up on the branches like candles on a Christmas tree, or hanging down like decorations. Finally, they fall to the ground, dropping their seeds.

This final act is critical, since this is the way conifers propagate the species. They are seed-producers, and new trees grow from those seeds. The seeds are encapsuled in the cones. However, it is only when the cone and seeds dry out and go their separate ways that the seeds can spout and grow into seedlings.

Extracting Seeds from Pine Cones

In nature, pine seeds mature, dry, and, at some point, the seeds that grew inside them fall out. Squirrels can dig into the cones to extract the seeds first, and so can you. Collect pine cones in the autumn and leave them in a dry sunny spot to open. Shake them to remove the seeds.

Seeds usually germinate faster if you stratify them. Since it’s free and quick, there is no downside. Soak them in lukewarm water for 48 hours, then move them to a plastic bag with wet sand. Store the bag for 30 days at around 35 degrees F.

Planting the Pine Seeds

You may think of a bonsai as a miniature tree, kept small by meticulous trimming. But some say it means a container plant. That’s the way to look at it initially, in any event, since bonsai trimming work doesn’t start for months after a seedling appears.

Once you have extracted and stratified the pine seeds, prepare a container for planting. Using bonsai soil will save you a lot of time, but you can also mix up your own with lava, pumice, and akadama, topping it with a layer of clean sand.

Plant a few pine seeds at least an inch apart just below the surface of the soil. Place the container in a sunny location but don’t allow the soil to dry out or the seeds will die. If the soil is kept moist, the pine seeds should germinate fairly quickly, generally within a week to a month.

After the seedlings appear, keep the soil moist and allow the little seedlings to grow until it’s time to start shaping them into bonsai. If it’s your first bonsai experience, consider attending a class or working with a bonsai group to be sure you are pruning in the best possible way to support the health of the pine tree bonsai.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.