Bonsai Plants: Collecting Bonsai

Despite the ancient philosophical traditions of the Far East requiring one to find one’s own bonsai in nature, it is certainly far simpler (and so much more efficient) nowadays, to acquire one’s bonsai from an importer of established trees or professional grower. However, it is not impossible for the most patient amongst us to produce our own bonsai, either from cuttings, seed, grafting or layering. A variety of different grafting techniques are featured and described, step by step, within the Bonsai section of this website.

Collecting Bonsai

bonsai plants and bonsai treesWe have seen that collecting – that is finding bonsai naturally in the wild – featured strongly in the philosophy of this highly intellectual exercise. To the Buddhist monk or Samurai, it was inconceivable that bonsai could be created in the same way as a common vegetable. Crucial to the philosophy was a return to nature, a symbolic quest for ‘self’.

In Japanese, the quest for a tree in its natural surroundings is called Yamadori and bonsai obtained in this way are Yamadori Shitate. This has the advantage of allowing you to choose the shape you want, as well as a tree which is already several years, or even decades, old. Conversely, it is rare to find a tree which conforms to the established styles. It is often harder to correct the defects inherent in an established tree than to shape a young tree produced from seed, cuttings or layering. But the satisfaction of finding a superb tree, even if it does not conform to the established styles. Can be profound.

Before describing the methods of collecting, it is as well to define the limitations of this practice.

Legal restrictions

The scope for collecting from nature is, in fact, very limited. Removing plants from land owned by the state is strictly prohibited. There are, justifiably, severe penalties for removing any type of plant from forests which are set in protected natural parkland.

Where land is privately owned, you should always, of course, ask the owner’s permission to dig up plants. Even then. Plants can only be lifted if the land is not set in protected parkland, and the plant itself is not protected by law. Clearly the legal restrictions are numerous, severely limiting the possibility of collecting many trees from the wild.

Where to look

Even if there is no legal restriction to collecting, the location still needs to be suitable for producing potential bonsai subjects.

Stunted growth in trees can only result from conditions unfavourable to normal development. This could be caused by the area’s climate (high altitude, for example), poor light (such as dense undergrowth or permanent shade from a cliff), or even poor soil (in sandy moorland or stony ground, perhaps).

When to lift

In principle, all transplanting should be carried out during the plant’s dormant period before the year’s growth commences. The considerable climatic variations in areas where there is a good chance of finding suitable bonsai material make it difficult to pinpoint the correct months for transplanting. But as a rule of thumb, deciduous trees should be transplanted in autumn and conifers in early spring (through to mid-spring in temperate zones). In either case, plants should not be lifted while frost persists: the ideal time is after rain, when the earth is well soaked.

How to lift

Before transplanting a tree collected from the wild, its roots should he trimmed. The roots of a tree form a complex network often searching far into the earth for the water and nutrients it needs. To give the lifted tree the best chance to become established, roots and rootlets should suffer as little damage as possible.

The plant should never be wrenched up: take the utmost care to dig a trench deep enough to ensure that all the roots can be lifted, with as much of the surrounding earth as possible. Also take some soil from around the tree to ease the transition from nature to tray. It is more important to lift deciduous trees with as much of the surrounding soil as possible, than it is for conifers, which can be transplanted with almost bare roots and still have a chance of establishment.

How to move

The essential function of roots is to allow the tree to ‘drink’ and this is why it is vital to keep them moist during transport. The most natural way is to take a little moss, moisten it and wrap it around the roots. If you cannot find any moss, use cotton wool. The wrapped root ball should then be covered in plastic or aluminium foil. If transport is to take several days, the rootball must be moistened again. For trees with only a few fine roots, and especially outside the dormant season, spray the tree with a transplanting spray. This should be allowed to dry before the tree is lifted.

Before wrapping, the roots should also be sprayed. This spray acts as a sealant and helps to stop the tree losing moisture by transpiration, thus giving it a greater chance of surviving the shock of transplanting. Some recommend trimming the roots and foliage before transport, just after lifting. This consists of pruning some of the leaves and the ends of the roots to limit evaporation through the leaves and to make absorbing water at root level easier. It also provides an opportunity to re-establish the balance between the branches and roots.

Cut only a little foliage from a tree which has many roots and cut only a few roots from a tree which has sparse branches and leaves.

25. February 2012 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Bonsai | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Bonsai Plants: Collecting Bonsai

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