How To Grow A Pine Cone Bonsai

Pine cone bonsai have to be seen to be believed. So simple and easy to create, yet looking as though they have been cultivated by a skilled bonsai master. Learn how to create beautiful, fantasy-inspired displays with pine cone bonsai here!

Not just a case of planting a pine cone

To get the conditions right for growing a pine cone bonsai, it is unfortunately not as simple as sticking your pine cone in the ground. Nature has designed the pine cone to release its seeds and have them dispersed by the wind, and taken to a new location far from the parent tree, to grow. Although not technically impossible, it is actually very uncommon for pine cones to sprout. This is because the design of the pine cone does not let enough water or sunlight into any seeds that remain in the cone. Most of the pine cone bonsai you will see have been created to look as if the cone is sprouting.

Types of pines that can be used for bonsai

There are more than 120 species of pine, but not all are suitable for bonsai. You can probably buy pine cone bases from shops or online, but depending on where you live, you may be able to simply go out on the hunt for suitable pine cones. The most commonly recommended are:

  • Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii)
  • Japanese Red Pine (Pinus densiflora)
  • Japanese white pine (Pinus parviflora)
  • Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris)
  • Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa)
  • Mountain Pine (Pinus mugo, or Mugo pine)

Make a good starting selection

The best time to go hunting for pine cones to give you some seeds is between September and November. You need to look for ones that are a decent size, have been freshly dropped and are not yet fully opened. You want a cone that is still closed but has a brown color. Green cones will not provide viable seeds. Trees that appear to have a lot of pine cones are usually the healthiest. It’s worth giving the pine cones a soak in a diluted lime-sulfur solution before using, to ensure that you rid the pine cone of any bugs or fungus.

Harvesting the seeds

Once you have rinsed off the pine cone, you can leave the pine cone on a sheet of paper indoors in the warm room. Any seeds that are dropped can easily be seen. You could also set the pine cones up on a metal sheet with holes to allow the seeds to drop down the paper below. If your pine cone remains sealed up, pop it in a warmer area between 104 and 113 degrees. It is also possible to use tools so snap open the cone and then use tweezers to gently extract the seeds.

Stratification of pine cone seeds

To help increase your chances of germination, soak the seeds in water for a day and use the ones that float. You can also improve the odds of the seeds germinating if you stratify them. This process replicates the exposure of the weather and outdoor environment. Pop the seeds in a plastic bag into the fridge for at least two weeks; and ideally for a couple of months. When you bring the seeds out, they will be under the impression it is spring and will be ready to start growing!

Begin small

Plant the seeds in a small container that has a mix of mineral and organic material. Place them gently on the top of the soil and cover them with a very thin soil covering. They will usually take between two to three weeks to sprout. Keep them moist but not too wet.

Creating the bonsai

Once you are ready to create the bonsai, remove the plant from the container, you will see the root system established under the pine cone as well as on top. Clear off all of the soils and loose roots with a skewer, and then trim off any straggly parts. The roots will look like long tales and be roughly the same length as the height of the plant on top. You’re then ready to place the seedling into your selected bonsai pot.

Transplanting your bonsai seedling

As you prefer to transfer your seedling into a bonsai pot, make sure you choose a container with holes. You might select something low and long, or brightly varnished, or a more organic looking container. You have two options in terms of placement of the seed and pine cone. Your best bet is to strategically position the pine cone next to where the seedling is growing. Don’t put it right on top as this would deprive the plant of air and light. The other option is to pop the seedling into the spaces in between the scales on the pine cone shell, along with some organic material and soil.

Bonsai techniques

There are several ways you can personalize and shape your emergent bonsai creation:

  • Remove elongated branches
  • Sculpt a rounded or more asymmetrical shape
  • Use wires to support the intended direction
  • Add peat moss around the base to give a more organic look

Two or more cones can happily live in the same container, so have some fun coming up with your ideal form.


Keep a good level of hydration – don’t allow the plant to dry out but avoid going overboard and creating soggy soil. This can cause the plant to rot, especially because of the presence of the extra organic material of the cone. Although they look magical, your little pine creations can suffer from fungal diseases too, or be at the mercy of aphids, mites and other bugs. If your tree is looking weak, adding some gentle fertilizer may revive it. The nutrients within the pine cone will be a valuable support for your emerging plant.

The bottom line: If you know the tricks, it’s not so difficult to create an intriguing and magical pine cone bonsai! Next time you take a walk, see if you can find any suitable pine cones and get started with your creation today.