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I found this Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) in the late Summer of 2002 while out walking and hunting potential material to collect during the following Winter and Spring.
When trying to find suitable material for bonsai in the wild, it can be difficult to decide exactly which features mean that a tree has or hasn't potential for bonsai.
Most importantly, on all deciduous trees, the trunk must be considered above all else.When looking for potential deciduous trees to collect, look for good trunks. Look for those that have good movement and are not too straight (often a problem with wild Hawthorn), have mature bark and sufficient trunk girth.
Often (but not always), the branches that exist on the tree in the wild will need to be regrown as they are often too heavy or badly positioned for the final bonsai design.There is also possibility that on a large mature field growing tree there will be no low branches at all.
A common mistake made by those new to collecting is to take home trees that have fantastic branch structure ramification without consideration of the trunk or whether the branch structure is low enough on the trunk to actually be usable for bonsai.
(I would also note here that a problem particular to Hawthorn is that any remaining low growth frequently consists of flowering branches and spurs that will not produce new flushes of vegetative growth necessary for the construction of new branches in the future.)
Finally, consideration must be given to the likely-hood that the tree can be collected and successfully nurtured back to health. Trees that are already weak in the ground will not react well to the stress of collection. Hawthorn (and many other deciduous trees) will grow very thick long tap roots with little of the fine feeder roots required for survival when found growing in dry, open soils. This makes them much more difficult (and sometimes impossible) to collect successfully. On the other hand, trees (such as the one above) found growing in soils that remain wet, moist or boggy even during the growing season will have much denser, more compact rootballs and are considerably easier to collect successfully.
Having marked the tree as having potential for collection, I left it alone until late Autumn of 2002. When the leaves had dropped and the bulk of the tree's energy was safely stored in the root system and trunk, it was time to chop it back hard to what I considered to be the future trunkline. The tree is pictured a couple of months after chopping in January 2003.
I waited until plenty of new buds had appeared all over the trunk in the Spring before digging a trench approximately 2 ft around the tree. This is the equivalent of a rough root-prune and cuts through the the largest and thickest of the roots. During the course of 2003 the tree would respond by healing the severed roots and producing a much denser rootball consisting of more compact fine feeder roots; all of which results in less stress for the tree and easier collecting for me when I finally dig up the tree and take it home.
By July 2003 the tree has responded very well, producing many new shoots that will eventually become part of the branch structure. During the year I took the opportunity to feed the tree with slow-release granules a couple of times to strengthen the tree and promote more vigorous growth.
In Autumn 2003 after the final leaves had fallen from the tree , I pruned it back heavily again, leaving only growth that I felt was suitable for the development of the tree as a bonsai.
At this stage I seriously considered chopping the trunk down to the the lower thick 'branch' to create a shorter tree with greater taper. However, I felt that the tree had more character and looked more natural at its current height and decided to forget any ideas I might have of shortening the overall height of the tree or removing the lower thick branch/trunk.
In January 2004, I finally dug up the tree, collecting as many of the roots as possible before bringing it home and planting it up into a large terracotta bulb pan.
I was very pleased to discover that underneath the surface roots that I found while the tree was in the ground, was some considerable trunk flare and an even better nebari (surface-roots). The scars where the top surface roots were removed can still be seen in the image above.
The tree was placed in a shady frost-free position with a little bottom heat (provided by a soil warming cable).
During 2004 the tree was very slow to bud and leaf out; not unusual for a newly collected tree. However, by midsummer it launched into growth and produced many new buds and shoots. It was now time to allow the tree to grow strongly and start developing the branch structure.
December 2006: Nearly 3 years after collection and the tree is looking like a bonsai. A combination of twice yearly pruning and wiring (at midsummer after the spring flush of new shoots and in late Autumn after the leaves have fallen) has seen the branch structure develop well.
Early March 2007: The tree is finally planted into a pot commissioned from Erin Pottery. My target for this tree in the next few years will be to continue to develop the branch structure; thickening the lower branches and increasing their ramification.