BONSAI; Collecting from the Wild Part Two

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Digging the Tree Up

Whether because the tree was prepared well ahead of time, or because the tree has a naturally good rootball, the time will come when it will have to be removed from the soil if you want to make it into a bonsai one day. To do that it is essential that that time be the right time.

Once that time has come, the experienced bonsai enthusiast will have prepared one or more large-sized containers. He will have placed screens over the holes, mixed a large amount of soil with good drainage and, in short, will have prepared the whole work area well.

If it not has been done already, this is the time to prune away everything you are certain you are not going to need in shaping the new bonsai. If however, nothing has been definitely decided on, it is better to stop for a moment to think about what is going to be done.

The likelihood of the tree's survival will be greater if, shortly before removing it from the ground, a heavy rain has fallen. Thus the tree will have absorbed a large quantity of water and will be capable of withstanding the shock better. Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean that on the day when you carry out the operation it has to be raining cats and dogs!

During subsequent weeks, it would be better if the climate where you are going to locate the tree were pleasant. High temperatures without rain are like poison for most trees, including even those that have not been collected recently. If there is soil, grass weeds, stones or other material on top of the rootball, you should remove it very carefully.

With a sharp-bladed shovel, try to remove the largest rootball possible, although if the rootball is very stony, it may be better to work very carefully with a strong pick. The rootball should have a diameter of at least seven or eight times the thickness of the trunk. That means that if the trunk has a diameter of 2" (5cm), you will have to mark a circle with a diameter of at least 14" (35cm).

The depth depends on the terrain and the type of tree. For safety and in case of doubt, it is best to dig very deep, by at least three times the width of the tree. It would not be the first time that, after removing a tree from the soil, it is found that the main roots went much deeper than expected. What appeared to be the roots of the tree may turn out to be the roots of small nearby shrubs.

It is also advisable to check the position of the roots before removing the tree from the soil. To do that, clear the base of the trunk, grasp the tree firmly by the trunk and move it carefully. With a little experience it is possible to determine in what direction the main roots are growing.
In wet areas, they usually grow toward the side that gets the sun and, in dry areas, toward the shady side. Many times, it will be necessary to remove a lateral root mass if the main roots have a strong tendency toward one side.

It may also happen that roots are found that are so thick that it is not possible to cut them cleanly with the shovel. For that, sturdy branch cutters should be on hand in order to make clean cuts on branches or roots up to about 2 ½" (6cm) in thickness.

The majority of trees have a main root that penetrates the soil vertically, almost precisely underneath the trunk. It is essential, although difficult, to cut it back very carefully. To do that, the shovel is introduced from a certain distance, on a level, underneath the tree. If it doesn't work, it is also possible to work underneath a tree with branch pruners. For very large trees, it may be possibly necessary to remove them with a block and tackle anchored to another tree. In any case these tasks must be performed very carefully in order not to harm the small roots. It is not so important as you often think it is for the rootball to remain intact. In fact, it is most likely that, in finally removing the tree from the ground, it will fall apart. It is much more important to keep the largest possible amount of fine roots. I have often have good results by shaking off the rootball very carefully immediately after removing it from the soil. Clearly, you must always remember to keep a great deal of fine soil, so that the tree can preserve its mycorrhiza.

If it is possible, you should not try to remove the tree from the hole by pulling upwards on it, but instead by pulling it to one side, placing a cloth underneath it and then making it roll over the cloth toward one side. Then it should be possible to reach under the tree from the opposite side and pull the cloth. Next, knot the cloth so you can then proceed to remove the tree from the hole. Clearly, if the rootball is truly compact, you can take it right out of the hole and then wrap it.

Medium sized or small trees can be put into plastic bags. For large trees, possibly plastic garbage bags would be best, since they can be closed very well and they hold moisture for a long time. If you want to do things correctly, moss should be brought to fasten around the roots, although you can substitute wet newspaper for that.

Sometimes a good tree is found, but it is not possible to transport it immediately. By wrapping the rootball with wet moss and leaving it in the shade, you can leave it this way for several days without any problem. In any case, it is important that, during the often long and difficult transportation to the car, the fine roots not be damaged and, above all, that they not dry out. Some rootballs crumble, damaging many roots due to shaking during transportation. For this reason, it is often advisable to remove soil from the rootball with great care before transporting it.
However, in the case of Junipers and pines, this should be avoided as much as possible, since these species depend a great deal on having the roots keep the original soil of the place where they were found with the proper mycorrhiza. If the road to be traveled is very long, enough water for the person to be burdened with it should be carried.

Generally, trees that are found are much larger and voluminous than you want. When planting them, it is advisable to prune them to a greater or lesser extent. If you do this task before transporting it, you will make the operation easier.

Once out of the ground, it will be much easier to check whether you have pruned off everything that you are not going to need now you can see the tree in much greater detail (including the beginning of the rootball) and it is much easier to get an idea of possibilities for shaping.
The experienced bonsai enthusiast will determine the basic shaping right there and will prune off what is not going to be part of said shaping.
But, be very careful with conifers. Pines, Spruce and, although to a lesser extent, the Larch and Juniper suffer greatly if they are pruned too much. Their metabolism will be so confused that they will then have great difficulty in developing or they might even die in spite of having a fine rootball. You can tie an excessively voluminous crown with the rope that we advised you to bring at the beginning of this series of articles, although adhesive tape for wrapping packages may be substituted for it.

The best results are obtained with trees that do not have to be dug up, that is, those that have rooted in a crack or over a stone and only have to be lifted off. Perhaps it will be necessary to cut off some roots with pruners or even a saw. These quasi-bonsai that have had to survive most of their time with very little space for their roots, can be transplanted directly into a pot and, after one growing season, it is already possible to begin shaping them.

If you have the luck to know a location where trees can be collected from rocks, go equipped with the necessary tools. It is very useful to have a large, solid pick available. It is also very helpful to carry a crowbar and a heavy hammer. Perhaps you will have to work with a block and tackle. A special band saw that can be placed around a root so it can be cut even in difficult positions, is worth its weight in gold.

Collecting Trees (Yamadori) from the Wild for Bonsai

This mugo pine sits right on top of a big boulder.

Collecting Trees (Yamadori) from the Wild for Bonsai

Collecting Trees (Yamadori) from the Wild for Bonsai

This is the very best situation for outstanding material with very high survival hopes.

It should be possible to collect it with a firm rootball. But here one can see that for some big trees extra efforts are necessary.


Collecting Trees (Yamadori) from the Wild for Bonsai

Collecting Trees (Yamadori) from the Wild for Bonsai

Collecting Trees (Yamadori) from the Wild for Bonsai

After cutting the tree's roots and reducing the foliage, a wrench is used to pull it off the rock.

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