BONSAI; Collecting Trees from the Wild

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by Walter Pall

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Make a hole with a shovel for placing the tree in the soil of the wooden box. The hole should be quite a bit larger than the rootball. The tree is placed in the centre, with the help of another person, if necessary, to hold it. If the tree is too large and, due to the shape of the rootball, it appears that it is not going to remain very firm, it is advisable before closing the hole to put in a strong stick to which the tree can subsequently be fastened.

The soil is usually placed over the hole. It should never be tamped down, since that would hinder the subsequent supplying of air and, also, would break some of the fine roots. Next, the rootball has to be 'muddied'.
This means that it must be watered with special intensity so that the soil is distributed well among the roots, securing the tree in its position. Now you can proceed to water the tree, adding a growth hormone such as vitamin B2 or Super Thrive to the water.
Some authors (Peter Adams for example) explain that, before planting the rootball, they leave it an entire night in a receptacle of water to which a growth hormone has been added. Nothing will happen if, in the beginning, the level of the soil is higher around the trunk than in the rest of the box. Over the time, it will level off.

If the wooden box is in full sunlight, the crown can be covered with a shade netting that can be found in various densities in specialised gardening shops. This netting prevents drying since it will reflect more than 50% of the sun's rays. In addition, this mesh will permit the creation of a moist microclimate that will be beneficial to the tree during the first weeks. It can also be sprayed with anti-evaporation protection as is done in greenhouses when valuable conifers are transplanted. Anti-evaporation protection is a solution that is mixed with water and applied to the needles with a sprayer. This substance creates a fine layer of wax that is not impenetrable, but that reduces evaporation notably, depending on the concentration. The film is rain-resistant, but disappears by itself after a few weeks.

As has been said, the container can be a wooden box, but also a large plastic tub, a plastic washbowl, or an extra large bonsai pot if you have one available (which would be unusual). Logically, all these receptacles must have one or, much more advisable, several holes for drainage. Some professionals insist that it is essential to have the soil sterilised.Collecting Trees (Yamadori) from the Wild for Bonsai

The rootball does not have to be cut to the measurements of the container, a container must be found in which the rootball will fit. It is preferable to have the tree fit exactly in the container. It is not good if the container is too large because too much moisture will accumulate in the soil that could cause the roots to rot. The container must be strong enough to support the weight of the tree, generally large and heavy trees, together with the soil. It must also be kept in mind that almost certainly in the coming months the whole thing will have to be moved, so very large trees it is advisable for the container to have handles.

As has been said, the mix that you use now will be more permeable than the soil that will be use subsequently as bonsai soil.
Good results have been obtained with a mixture of 40% coarse sand, 30% akadama and 30% composted bark humus. Pumice stone has proved to be very efficacious as soil for the bottom of very large receptacles. It has characteristics similar to those of akadama or lava granules, but it is lighter. Many enthusiasts avoid using old soil for fear of bacteria and the remains of fertiliser. However, it is advisable to add soil from healthy trees in order to include mycorrhiza.

Immediately after planting the tree, the soil has to be watered thoroughly. Afterwards it only has to be kept relatively moist so that the roots will be stimulated to grow. On the contrary, the crown has to be sprayed with water daily to keep it always moist. In no case should fertiliser be applied before the tree shows clear signs of growing.

The container should be placed in a shady location, if possible, away from currents of air. Here it must stay until the tree shows clear signs that it has caught on.
Then it should be placed in semi-shade and, subsequently, in sunlight. It is important to protect the tree right after collecting from frosts or desiccating winds.
To do that, the ideal is to keep it in a cold greenhouse for the first year. For very valuable trees, a heating system may even be installed in the floor, a system that you can find in shops specialising in accessories for greenhouses. It appears that in Japan they even install small nozzles in the floor, under the roots, that regularly blow warm vapour on the cold roots.

Serge Clemence has developed a method with which he has succeeded in getting even trees with poor roots to catch on well. He carries a rucksack full of sphagnum moss to the spot where he found the tree. Immediately after digging it up, he wraps the rootball with the moss and ties it.
Once he arrives home, he places the tree in a receptacle just as it is and adds soil around it. He says the success is astonishing. After a growing period, the moss is full of fine roots. Even trees with fibrous roots collected from cracks in rocks, have caught on this way. With this method it would also be possible to plant trees in soil outside. Nick Lenz has developed a method for making a larch layer easily with sphagnum moss. He discovered that the layering only worked well with live sphagnum moss and thinks that it is due to some hormone. Logically, this fact would be a great endorsement for Serge Clemence's method.
Wait at least one growing period before starting to shape the tree. It is important to make clear that you are talking about growing periods and not months. If you collect a tree in Autumn and plant it immediately in a wooden box, it may catch on that Autumn, but you have to wait until it has definitely caught on in the next Spring or Summer before starting any preparations for shaping.
If a tree was dug up in Spring, possibly the first shaping tasks can start in Autumn if it has enjoyed a Summer 'crowned with successes'.

The Number of Growing Periods from Collected Tree to Bonsai

 
Old Conifer
Young Conifer
Old Deciduous Tree

Young Deciduous Tree

Roots
Good
Poor
Good
Poor
Good
Poor
Good
Poor
Preparation
0-2
2-4
0-1
1-2
0-2
2-3
0
1

Large Box

2-3
2-5
1-2
2-3
2-3
2-5
0
1
Nursery Container
1-2
2-3
1
1-2
1-2
2
1
1
Start of Shaping
3-7
6-12
2-4
4-7
3-7
6-7
1
3
Shaping
5-10
5-10
3-5
3-5
5-7
5-7
3-4
3-4
Bonsai
8-17
11-22
5-9
7-12
8-14
11-14
4-5
6-7

This table shows the timetable for a collected tree to be converted to a bonsai.

For example, for an old conifer (more than 50 years old) with a good rootball, between 3 and 7 growing periods may be necessary before being able to start shaping, while shaping itself may take between 5 and 10 periods. From the time a tree is found until the day when it can be called a bonsai, between 8 and 17 periods or, indeed, years pass. If the roots were not in an ideal condition from the beginning, the complete process may even take 11 to 22 growing periods. It is clear that shaping continues over many years.

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