Cultivating trees from cuttings is very popular amongst Bonsai growers, as it is an inexpensive way to propagate new trees. This method will reduce the time it takes to grow trees from seeds by about a year, while also giving you the benefit of knowing in advance which characteristics the cutting will posses.
To start with, suitable cuttings need to be collected. Most types of trees are easily propagated using cuttings; select a branch of an existing tree and cut it off (see photo 1, below). The size of the cuttings should be about 5-10 cm tall (about 2’’-4’’) and 2-5 mm thick (see photo 2, below). It is possible to take larger cuttings as well but the chance of getting them to root is slim.
Generally, spring and summer are the best times to cut-off and plant cuttings. Some hardwood cuttings can be prepared and planted after their growth season (late summer). Read the bonsai tree species guide for timing.
Step-by-step plan for collecting and planting Bonsai cuttings:
Put the pot outside protected from direct sunlight and keep it damp at all time, but not wet. It will take a few weeks before the cuttings start growing; remove cuttings that died and leave the rest untouched until the next spring. Your rate of success will depend on factors including the species of tree and the size of the cuttings. As you gain experience more and more cuttings will survive. You can start using small quantities of fertilizer during the summer.
After one year the cuttings can be separated and put in bigger pots; it will take one or two years of unrestricted growth before the cuttings are ready for their first training (see photo 4, below).
Once you succesfully propagated trees from seed or from cuttings, the next step is to train the young plants throughout the years to become well shaped Bonsai trees. This will be a test of your patience, but it is a great way to style Bonsai trees without the need to prune thick branches (which is often inherent to styling Yamadori or nursery stock).
Read the "Bonsai styling" section for detailed information about techniques including wiring and pruning. But first, six images of a Criptomeria tree that was grown from seed into Bonsai over the course of 15 years. Thanks to Jose Ontañón for sharing these inspiring images.
The Criptomeria Bonsai, at 1, 2 and 3 years age.
The Criptomeria Bonsai, at 4, 10 and 17 years age.