Can I make bonsai from a branch cutting?

malik(z6 TN)September 18, 2005

I have a Japanese Maple tree growing in the backyard. If I cutt of a branch and dip it in Root Hormone and stick it into soil will it take root and become a bonsai? How can I make a bonsai tree from a cutting?

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Read everything you can about bonsai, then maybe go and buy a small tree from a nursery. J. Maples can be almost impossible to grow from cuttings, and even if it grew some roots, you would still have to learn to make it into a bonsai, which is not a short process. There's a lot to learn.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2005 at 5:17AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Using cuttings is just one method of propagating material which can be used for bonsai. A rooted cutting will simply grow to the normal size of its kind.

Like Lucy said, there's a lot that you have to learn before trying to grow bonsai from cuttings. Go to your local library and check out any books on bonsai they have there. It's not enough to casually read these books, if you wish to delve into the world of bonsai, studying will be essential. Only once you have a good grasp on the fundamental techniques and the reasons why they are used can you excel.

Again, like Lucy said, there is a lot to learn.


    Bookmark   September 18, 2005 at 10:40AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
bwaynef(z7 SC)

Just to reiterate, Japanese Maple is extremely difficult to propogate from cutting unless you're heavily invested in propogating equipment. Your results will be met with disappointment. Go get a tree from the nursery and start working on it.


ps. Other trees are more easily propped from cutting. JM's are extremely tough.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2005 at 2:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
malik(z6 TN)

Well i read somewhere that all i have to do is make a slit in the bark, spread root hormone on it, cover it with sphagnum moss, and wrap it in plastic. Then I just wait about 5 weeks or so for the roots to develope and seperate it from the tree. Is this untrue?

    Bookmark   September 19, 2005 at 6:20PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

That's not a 'cutting' (which is a piece cut off from the end of a branch). It's called air layering (or an air layer). Your info. is generally not wrong, but it's more than a 'slit in the bark', and it's definitely the wrong time of year to do it - spring is best. What you do is cut a full 1" high belt right around the branch of the bark (down to the green cambium underneath). Lightly brush on the hormone (and lightly blow off excess), when wrap in quite a fat bagel of wettish (not dripping) sphagnum, wrap in plastic, tie above and below by another inch each way, and wait. It could be months, depending on the tree type, but sometimes 1-2 are enough. Keep a close eye on things to see if the sphagnum looks dried, and spray very well and retie (usually takes wks), and then watch for lots of roots to fill the bagel. When you have a good mass, cut the thing off below the layer, and plant it.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2005 at 7:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

To add what Lucy says, you really have to watch the calendar before proceding to do an air-layer. The new roots (if/when the form) have very little protection in the way of frost and cold. Thus, starting an air layer now (whilst fall is arriving) is usually not a good idea because the new roots (if they have time to form) will easily get killed off during the winter, and usually along with the branch they're originating off from. And even if you do detach the successfully rooted part before winter, the new plant may not have enough time to get established to survive the winter. Another factor is that growth speed is greatly reduced during the fall-winter time as trees prepare to or are going dormant, thus an air-layer in spring will root much fast than an air layer in fall.

Best plan of action as of now is to research through the fall and winter, so once spring comes, you can be prepared!


    Bookmark   September 19, 2005 at 8:43PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Dredging up a thread that's over a year old, I'm hoping someone can give me a tiny bit of direction. I too have a Japanese maple in my yard. I've tried for two years now to propagate it by cuttings. I have long heard that Acer palmatum resists most attempt to propagate, but I've also heard that some trees simply won't propagate by cuttings. Is this an "old wives tale" or should I try again this year? I have tried various humidity and misting. I have not attempted bottom heating, which I have heard increases your success rate. I would appreciate any information. Thank you for your time!

    Bookmark   October 7, 2006 at 12:28AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

It's not an old wives tale at all - some trees will propagate only by seed, or tissue culture (a complex laboratory procedure). Some people might get lucky with a particular cultivar one day, in a certain location, etc., but that seems quite a hit and miss way to try and grow something, and is generally unsuccessful.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2006 at 6:57AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
rjj1(Norman OK Zone7)


Your posts like this frustrate me.

Yes, Japanese Maples are more difficult to root than other trees. "LUCK" has little do with it. Having good information and using good technique has everything to do with it and it doesn't require a complex procedure.

Yes, commercial growers use heat and mist systems to root them. I have rooted many Japanese maples in the past, but don't do it anymore because they don't like my climate. It gets too hot here and they have to be babied too much.

Rooting them in small dome containers that create high humidity is how I rooted them years ago. I did it in 3 inch round pots with a translucent plastic drinking cup turned upside down over the pot to make a mini greenhouse.

I also rooted them in 1 liter plastic coke bottles.


    Bookmark   October 7, 2006 at 7:49AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Randy, if you read Michael Dirr's books on this subject, it is clear that while some species can be rooted some of the time by people who know what they're doing, others cannot, or as close to 'cannot' as not to be worth arguing about. And I certainly am not going to argue with Dirr about it. If you rooted certain types, that's great (I never said you couldn't do ANY), but that doesn't change the fact that some can't be reasonably done either ever, or else without a lot of expertise and/or ideal conditions.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2006 at 8:07AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
rjj1(Norman OK Zone7)


You are going on what you read. That's fine.

But it's obvious you don't know anything about this subject because you don't do it. I don't like the fact you discourage others on something you know nothing about or don't care to do yourself.

That's what rubs me the wrong way. I get a little tired of your constant pessimism. It would be nice if your cup was half full instead of half empty "just" some of the time.

Japanese maples can be rooted by cuttings, Yes percentages can be very low on some varieties.

People make a living rooting cuttings and sell many different vatrities as cuttings. I've rooted about 10 different types with percentages from 40 - 80 percent.

I'm no expert, but enjoy propagating and growing plants. it doesn't have to be expensive or difficult.

Please stick to offering advice on things you know little about.


    Bookmark   October 7, 2006 at 9:04AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I DO know things from reading - e.g. do I really have to touch a hot stove to know it'll burn me? Dirr is a bit different from parrotting someone else's post on the web somewhere after all, but in fact I HAVE tried to do it myself and while some are doable, others aren't. That's not pessimissism, just reality, and maybe living in OK confers an easier time of things on your trees (though I have not lived there!), some might be harder where we live if only because of the much shorter growing season.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2006 at 11:01AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hello malik
This is my first post here , but you have brought up one of my favorite subjects , Japanese Maples .
I live in N.Fla. ( pert near in Ga.)
Been keeping Japanese Maples about eight years.
I take cuttings from the time buds start forming till up into summer , anytime I'm pruning. I use a sharp knife, I stick them in any soil handy or the ground , keep them in the shade for the first year ,keep them moist.
Some make it , some dont , thats better than throwing the prunnings in the trash, where they all for sure, die.
Not very scientific , but this is fun , not work.
Air layering is a lot faster, and you can air layer at least up to 2 inch dia. branches.And get roots where you want them.
In late spring or when the leaves harden off, remove a band of bark a little wider than the dia. of the branch. cut down into the wood, you don't want it to heal over.
you can cover the cut with spaghnam moss, and silver foil, or plastic. I prefer to use a split plastic pot held in place with duct tape, and filled with bonsai soil with a layer of moss in the bottem and top of the soil. Keep moist. I get better,or less deformed roots in the bonsai soil.
With plain green Acer Palmatum I expect to get 100% results with air layering ,probably 30 % for cuttings. For me the further I get from plain green maples (Red Dragon-0, Okishimo-0 , Atropopurum, hit and miss ) the worse results .
If someone else has differet results please publish them,cause I sure want to learn how.
Anyway you can't really do anything until next spring, so you have all winter to read up , on cuttings , layering, Bonsai. I would start with Evergreen Gardenworks , there is a lot of info in the archives or search programs on all the bonsai forums.
Hope this helps ,BTW , Welcome to the Maddness.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2006 at 5:49PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

hi everyone. i am from sunny (and humid) Durban, South Africa. i am very new to this hobby. started at the beginning of the year. i bought a beautiful 12 year old chinese elm that was very expensive, and since i have been absolutly hooked. since i have bought a very young japanese maple to train, as well as starting a local tree from seed (it is about 10cm high seedling). i also have a young wild fig which i bought from a nursery and i attached it to a beautiful piece of petrified wood i found (heres hoping for a great result in a few years). as you can see i am very keen, the wife feels neglected when i call them my babies.
my question is this, i want to try air layering or propagating from a cutting to see how they go. first how small do cuttings have to be to be propagated? can i take an established branch off a tree in my garden, put it in some growing medium with the right hormones, will it grow? or must it be the newer little branches?
secondly, is spaghnam moss something i can buy at a nursery, i have never seen anything like it here in SA. if not is there an alternate to it for air layering.?
thanks for your help

    Bookmark   October 12, 2006 at 6:39AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

hi, me again. my stupid net nanny at work won't let me post a question, only answer one. so i have another question under this link. my root over rock wild fig will eventually need to be uncovered. i know i can't uncover all at once. however how long do i need to wait before i can begin to expose roots (it is mid spring here now and the tree is about 1.5 years old and i attached it about a week ago) the bonsai dealer reckoned two months to start then a bit every month after that. this seems very quick. basically how long before the roots start to form around the rock and no longer need to be trained onto it?

    Bookmark   October 12, 2006 at 7:22AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hi, sphagnum moss is a form of peat, but different from the tiny reddish fibers used in soil mixes. It's long sandy colored fibers (the best is from N. Zealand) and you may have seen it used to line hanging baskets of house plants, etc. (though there are other fibrous things used for that too, so don't get them confused). It comes 'dry', and can be wetted, then squeezed out and used damp. It's hard to say how long your roots will take, every time you expose more of them, dig a bit deeper and see how woody (or not) they've become and eventually you'll have an idea. Once they are woody, you can uncover them, but every tree in every location is going to react differently.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2006 at 1:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You all give interesting and diverse answers to Malik's orginal question. Here is my two cents with a twist. I have been doing maple cuttings for several years. I am fornuate enough to have a green house so I wait till the maples go dormanent in the fall and then do the cuttings.I think they get irrated from being awakened :). I do the hormone thing and gently wrap them in Angel moss spagnum or "live" if I have it on hand. I should say that live spagnum out preforms packaged do to its antibacterial properties. I then pop the in a mix of course sand, akadama, and leaf grow. I mist them regularly and by January they are in leaf. I have had the same results with cork bark elms. Last year I did 30 maples and 18 made it. Strange thing though,the maples that made it all came from a yamadori tree. The one's that didn't came from a nursery bought tree. My thinking is most nursery trees are sterile and produce no seeds. This may be a gentic thing when it comes to propogating cuttings from those trees. It's just a thought and a little speculation. I guess the bottom line is that it can be done. If it doesn't work for you the first time,tweak your method try again. Thats the fun of it, discovering what works and what doesn't. Go for it have some fun, what you got to lose.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   October 27, 2006 at 10:23AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You can make a bonsai from anything and from any plant. However, you should know which materials or type of plants can make good bonsai. I guess the best material is found in nature, where the plant's growth has been stunted by harsh elements like cold and wind. Some seedlings grow slowly and stay as dwarfs and can be readily used for bonsai. You can take any seedling and start restricting the growth of its roots and it will become a dwarf, which explains why a bonsai is always kept in a small pot.
Now back to your question, of course you can start a bonsai using a branch cutting if you can get it to root first. Can I make a good bonsai from a cutting? The answer is yes and no. Yes, because you would have available a thick stem, which size may take a seedling a good number of years to reach. Depending on the style of bonsai you intend to follow, then you can select the branch that already has the bend and curve you desire. For example, if the style is a cascading bonsai, then starting from a branch can be ideal.
Now to go to the 'no' answer, the branch has been growing at the normal rate and it is quite an art to make such a branch look aged. Bonsai made from a branch tends to look lanky rather than dwaft. Hopefully you can check its vertial growth and concentrate on thickening its main trunk by checking the root growth. Low root growth will induce the leaves to become smaller especially when the pot is root bound.
If I have to make a bonsai I would go hiking up mountain trails and look for specimens of dwarfed trees. Failing that I would start with a seedling and be patient and wait 6 to 10 years to get some semblance of a good bonsai. In bonsai they say short cuts are not the best way to go.
I hope I have answered your question satisfactorilly. LOL.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2006 at 5:20AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Right, no every plant will just grow from the cut branch. In fact, most Asian bonsai trees are special kind of plants. Most of them will only survice if you plant them with roots.

Here is a link that might be useful: 4 Tips for Stunning bonsai

    Bookmark   October 29, 2006 at 3:14PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
bonsaikc(z5-6 KCMO)

Here's another example of total crap being pushed on newbies. I hope no one buys this book. Megdilts, you should actually grow some trees before spouting this stuff.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2006 at 6:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

That is interesting . Of course the only trees I have ever used are nursery trees.
Were the nursery trees you used , just plain ol green Japanese maple, (Acer Palmatum), or were they some named cultivar ?
Bonsaikc , you are 100% right.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2006 at 8:57PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Meg... there is no such things as 'special' Asian bonsai plants, just ordinary trees like any other, though some may be 'foreign' to you as they don't grow in N. America naturally (though many have become almost native by now due to their having been planted long ago, and reproducing in certain areas. Why not get some real books on bonsai and do some reading over the winter...

    Bookmark   November 1, 2006 at 4:37AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Fukien Tea - Making a come back!!!
Hello Everyone, this is a wonderful story. Back in...
bonsai a large outdoor camellia?
Someone long ago planted this camellia much too close...
Japanese Maple Bonsai Tree Started to Sprout
Hello, I am a first time bonsai grower and I bought...
Does My Bonsai Need Repotting?
Hello, I got a Japanese Juniper bonsai for Christmas,...
making bonsai leaves smaller
i heard somewhere that if you cut back the leaves on...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™