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Collecting Wild Bonsai

Collecting Wild Bonsai

One of the real joys of our hobby is collecting wild or yard bonsai. The same general rules apply to both as far as getting permission from land owners or neighbors, the timing of plant removal and aftercare. Wild bonsai are generally native trees that are naturally seeded and growing successfully because the climate and other conditions are within the range for that type of tree. Yard material can be any horticultural variety that can be coaxed into growing.

Going native to collect specimens means that depending how far north or south from home you travel you may begin to challenge the conditions suitable for the plant you are collecting. Understanding the natural range of the specific plant will be helpful. I collect larch (Larix laricina) in Michigan above the 45th parallel of latitude. Soils are very sandy, winters are harsher, summers less so. While occasionally larch appear in landscape plantings in Columbus naturally seeded larch are absent. Understanding why will help improve chances for successful transplanting.

Digging out your prize is similar to any repotting except the bigger the root ball you can take the better chance you’ll have at success. Oaks are mostly tap rooted and near impossible to successfully transplant. Timing is critical, early Spring is best, Fall second best and as far as Summer or Winter you’re on you’re own. Something that can be done in Summer, though, is root pruning in place. Take your spade and cut through the soil in the shape of the root ball you plan to later remove. This will trim down the extra root material but the shock to the plant will be far less. The tree will develop a fine root network inside the ball making successful extraction far more likely months later.

After you have your prize out of the ground do the initial branch pruning right away to reduce the water demand on the roots, starting the plant in a wood growing box for a year or more is ideal. Since transplant shock is generally all about the plant running of water reduce the water demand by shading the plant, putting the tree on the ground to help keep it cooler and don’t miss a watering. Appling a root hormone with the watering initially is a good idea but don’t worry about fertilizing for awhile.

Once you get started collecting, believe me you won’t stop. Side benefits of collecting wild stock is that usually you will bring several native wild flowers or other neat plants as a part of the deal which can serve to remind you of the area you were collecting in. So don’t be afraid, carry a good spade or shovel, study up on the trees you think you plan to collect and dig in!