How to tell a tree collected in autumn has survived?

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Hi all,

Apparently, I am full of questions this week. How do folks who collect deciduous trees in autumn distinguish between a tree whose yellowing, dropping leaves are the result of natural/seasonal processes and those that are the result of the tree dying? Do people who collect in autumn just keep watering their leafless stumps until the cold sets in and then hope/pray for a new flush of leaves come spring?
 

Bonsai Nut

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It is pretty rare to walk out in the woods, spy a tree that has survived for 20 or more years, and just happen to be there right as it dies... and while you were getting ready to collect something. I don't doubt it could happen... but I would think it would be uncommon.

It is perhaps better (if possible) to do your sleuthing in the summer while the trees are in full leaf, find those you want to collect, tag them, perhaps prune them and trench the roots, and then return to them in the fall once they go dormant. Once dormant, a tree isn't using any energy, nor is it losing water (or at least, not as much water as when it is in full leaf). You don't water dormant stumps, per se, as much as just make sure the roots don't dry out. A dormant tree uses very little water.
 
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It is pretty rare to walk out in the woods, spy a tree that has survived for 20 or more years, and just happen to be there right as it dies... and while you were getting ready to collect something. I don't doubt it could happen... but I would think it would be uncommon.

Sorry--my fault. I meant after collection. Once a collected tree has been put into a substrate and is sitting on a bench, how does one tell the difference between normal leaf drop and a dying tree?
 

penumbra

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If it is stressed, as in having been collected, re-potted, root pruned etc, it is going to drop leaves. You will not know until spring if it made it. You probably should not be attempting collecting in the fall. Even the pros can have problem with that.
 

Tieball

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Where I am, if the leaves shrivel up, dry out and twigs easily snap, I’m fairly sure it’s a goner. However, I’ve done all the digging and boxing, so I treat it as if it will make it through regardless of what it looks like in autumn. I’ll know for sure after spring.

For me, where I live, I will only know if my collected tree lives when spring arrives. And then, that spring growth has to make it all the way into summer and continually grow. A spring flush of growth does not always mean the tree will survive well. I’ve had many trees that grew quickly in spring....and then rapids died off in early summer. The energy stored in the trunk was probably all that kept the tree going and when that was depleted...the tree was done. In the autumn, I treat a collected tree like other tree with watering as needed. My personal rule is that I take care of the tree the following year, I let it grow if it’s growing....I do not fiddle with it. When I collect I’m greatly reducing the roots so any growth the following year is helping rebuild roots. If I prune to quick, just because I think it’s healthy enough, it almost always produces a setback situation....and I have to tell myself again to just let it grow - hands off.

When I collect, I usually use a soil higher in bark chips with added Turface. I have not had good luck in my climate, my winter after autumn, with putting a tree in a coarse substrate. The temperatures are just to cold and remain well below zero for weeks at a time...sometimes months. It is likely just related to my climate and my desire to leave trees outdoors naturally.
 

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Hi all,

Apparently, I am full of questions this week. How do folks who collect deciduous trees in autumn distinguish between a tree whose yellowing, dropping leaves are the result of natural/seasonal processes and those that are the result of the tree dying? Do people who collect in autumn just keep watering their leafless stumps until the cold sets in and then hope/pray for a new flush of leaves come spring?
Don't collect trees in the autumn
 
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I followed this procedure as a guideline for fall collecting:


It seems it can be done and with higher success rate than in spring for certain tree types. I'm not sure, @rockm , why you would advise against it. I'm new to bonsai, and I figure the more experience I can develop in collecting the better.
 

PA_Penjing

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I suppose I shouldn’t speak in absolutes like that. I just read the article though and it seems like he does recommend collecting when the leaves begin to change. Which is what I have always done or just after. Which he also says is a good time. You also have to keep in mind that the UK (as far as I can tell) experiences fall coloring before we do. Their timeline will be a little sped up
 

Woocash

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I followed this procedure as a guideline for fall collecting:


It seems it can be done and with higher success rate than in spring for certain tree types. I'm not sure, @rockm , why you would advise against it. I'm new to bonsai, and I figure the more experience I can develop in collecting the better.
Different climates dude. We experience far milder winters than vast swathes of the US and so the stresses aren’t always the same.
 

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I suppose I shouldn’t speak in absolutes like that. I just read the article though and it seems like he does recommend collecting when the leaves begin to change. Which is what I have always done or just after. Which he also says is a good time. You also have to keep in mind that the UK (as far as I can tell) experiences fall coloring before we do. Their timeline will be a little sped up


Just going to throw this out as an anecdote... something to think about even though it certainly doesn't "prove" anything.

On our property in Illinois (when I was a child) my parents would often take trees from the woods to plant around our house. My mother always made us do this after the leaves had fallen - but before the hard freeze. We would go out early, tag the trees we wanted, wait for a couple of months, and go dig them up and relocate them. We would plant them in the ground then - in the fall - and in the spring they never failed to burst forth with healthy growth. I never thought or worried about it at the time, but in retrospect Illinois has harsh winters and I wonder that some of them didn't die. But they didn't.
 

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Early on in my bonsai life I collected a hand full of Norway maple right at leaf change and had 100% success rate. This also proves nothing, Norway maple will survive a bomb drop and they were pretty young which helps. But I have since abandoned the species and the practice of fall collecting, but only because everyone else says spring is better. They have more experience so I listen, but if I only had a chance to collect in the fall, I would. I hope you don’t feel like anyone is attacking you for trying. You seem to get a lot of responses from experienced members here. Everyone has their opinion, but I think experimentation is worth the experience sometimes too
 
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Different climates dude. We experience far milder winters than vast swathes of the US and so the stresses aren’t always the same.

I hear you. But "vast swathes" of the U.S. only covers a small portion of the U.S.--we're pretty swathy. Lately, in Indiana, the winters really haven't been too bad--one of the perks of climate change, I suppose. Interestingly enough, the temps he describes on the webpage ("By September in the UK, night temperatures have dropped to the low double figures") are actually colder than here.
 
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I suppose I shouldn’t speak in absolutes like that. I just read the article though and it seems like he does recommend collecting when the leaves begin to change. Which is what I have always done or just after. Which he also says is a good time. You also have to keep in mind that the UK (as far as I can tell) experiences fall coloring before we do. Their timeline will be a little sped up

I actually emailed Mr. Harrington about the process a month ago, to be sure I understood the advice his website gives. He confirmed that trees should be collected 2-3 weeks before leaf drop--so, right now, in Indiana.
 

PA_Penjing

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I actually emailed Mr. Harrington about the process a month ago, to be sure I understood the advice his website gives. He confirmed that trees should be collected 2-3 weeks before leaf drop--so, right now, in Indiana.
Well damn, i won't argue with that. I guess my answer to your question becomes, I have no clue haha. You'll know in the end of winter if/when the buds start swelling on the tree. Unless someone on this site has been collecting just before leaf fall and can tell you any subtle thing to look for.
 
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You seem to get a lot of responses from experienced members here. Everyone has their opinion, but I think experimentation is worth the experience sometimes too

I appreciate all the responses! Honestly, without this forum, I doubt my burgeoning love of bonsai would have lasted this long. It's super helpful knowing that I can post a pretty asinine question on here and, within minutes, people will respond. As a former teacher, I know what it feels like to answer the "same dumb questions" over and over. Yet, that's what good teachers do, and that's what I've found on this forum--good teachers. Admittedly, some could work on the "ramification" of their words a bit, if you catch my drift. :)
 

rockm

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I followed this procedure as a guideline for fall collecting:


It seems it can be done and with higher success rate than in spring for certain tree types. I'm not sure, @rockm , why you would advise against it. I'm new to bonsai, and I figure the more experience I can develop in collecting the better.
You know that article is about collecting about 3,000 miles away in a completely different climate with completely different species, right?

Collecting in autumn is not ideal for a number of reasons. First, you're facing winter only weeks after you dig up the tree and remove most of its roots. Roots are the engine that stores a lot of the energy that will power spring growth. Roots won't begin growing until the soil warms up and the tree has completed its chilling cycle.

Second, unless you have a frost-free location to store the collected tree, you're putting yourself and the tree in a very difficult situation. Freezes will kill roots, as well as the top of the tree, or severely damage it. Keeping the collected tree inside where it won't experience dormancy will force weak growth in really bad conditions (extremely low light and desert-like humidity conditions produced by your home heating system. An unheated garage or shed may work, but that can be a crap shoot and you have to understand conditions inside and what the tree needs.
Third, and this is related to both of the above, cut roots sitting in the cold will rot and/or dry out, depending on your ability to understand when the tree needs water (and it will need water if its freezing out--water insulates to some extent and protects roots in very cold conditions. Dry soil and freezing leads to dead trees.

All of this is in addition to your problem with identifying a dead tree from a trees preparing for winter.

Springtime collection gets past ALL of those problems, as you collect trees when they are already on their way to their most active period of growth. They have time to recover more quickly and thoroughly from the drastic treatment you're giving them.

Sure you can collect in Autumn, but unless you know how to care for what you've collected, your wasting your time and killing trees for no real reason. There will be folks who will tell you that process will teach you how to collect. I don't think that's true. Collecting in spring teaches you more, since the tree is actually growing after you collect it, has more resources and is more responsive.

And FWIW, asking people at these organizations is going to get you more accurate info than from someone working in the U.K

 
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