BONSAI; Collecting Trees from the Wild Part Three

by Walter Pall

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This is the third part of a series of 3 articles by Walter Pall on the subject of collecting wild trees (yamadori). Originally printed in Bonsai Today #74,75 and 76, these articles fueled my own ambition to collect old, wild trees for use as bonsai. The information contained within these articles were of enormous help in not only successfully collecting and ensuring the survival of my collected trees, but also in teaching the respect necessary before one removes trees from the wild.

More of Walters work can be seen at his website

Collecting Trees (Yamadori) from the Wild for Bonsai


The recently dug up tree has to be transported and given the necessary care as soon as possible. For that reason, there is no sense in converting vacations into a kind of safari in search of a tree to collect because the tree removed from the ground that does not receive the necessary care, will not likely not survive in the trunk of a car.

Once home, the best thing to do is to put the tree in a large rainwater tub. The next day the tree will be very moist and the enthusiast will have recovered his strength and will be eager to work.

The experienced bonsai collector will have determined prior to arriving home what he is going to do with the tree. For the majority of recently collected trees, the best option is to place them in a wooden box that fulfils the functions of container and will permit the tree to recover from the traumatic treatment it has undergone. To do that:

· It must be easily accessible and must not present problems for watering.
· The soil mix that you use must be permeable and must be able to retain water. Given this case, its composition should be improved by adding coarse sand and peat. It is better for the peat to be bark humus. Actually, you could prepare a mix similar to one you would use in a bonsai pot: a mixture of coarse sand, peat and humus. Somewhat coarser like that which would be used for a tree in the process of being trained, with good drainage, to avoid rotting of the roots.
· The location must be protected from the wind. A fence would be ideal, some type of wattle screening etc, placed in the direction from which the predominant winds blow.
· Place the ensemble in a shaded or semi-shaded location in order to complete the protection of the tree.

Collecting Trees (Yamadori) from the Wild for Bonsai

Before planting it, take advantage of a last opportunity to analyze the rootball. All roots that are clearly dead must be removed. The live roots, thin and long, must always be left even if they have wrapped several times around the rootball. These roots will nourish the tree and assure its subsistence. Cuts that are not clean and broken parts must be gone over again with very sharp pruning scissors since a smooth cut will facilitate the growth of new roots and callus formation.
The cut area must always be pointing downward. You never know if this very part of the root will someday emerge on the surface in the pot. A root with a rough cut will not do very well. Also, new roots always grow downward.

When working with roots, never consider whether the rootball will fit into a pot or not since that is not the main problem. First you must get the tree to survive and to do that it will probably be too large for any pot. After two growing periods in the wooden box, you will be able to dig the tree up again and prune the rootball more severely. Often it will be better to plant it again in the same place and leave it for one or two more years before pruning the rootball again to obtain the right size for the final pot. Do not cut off the thick roots since these roots will have importance for the tree corresponding to their diameter. It is always better to think about the method of pruning incorporating the training in it. There is always the possibility of layering.

Nick Lenz who, for many years has been working with native trees in the eastern United States, thinks that more than 50% of all trees collected do not die because the rootball is too weak, but mainly because of parasites that have been brought along with it.
The tree, having been weakened due to transplanting, is not capable of mobilising its natural defences. So, as prevention, Lenz recommends subjecting recently collected trees to a treatment with insecticides and fungicides.
He even goes so far as to put the trees in a large plastic bag so that the air will remain contaminated and will kill the last parasite, at the same time maintaining very high levels of humidity in the air. The trees are subjected to this treatment in the same place where they were found so that the parasites do not end up infecting the entire bonsai collection.

>>Collecting Trees From The Wild: Part Three, Page 2 of 2