What are your criteria for collecting a tree?

Cajunrider

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@M. Frary's comment on another thread:
" How do you know it is something that will turn out to be a decent bonsai?
How do you know how it will react to collection?
How do you know where to chop it?
How do you know sun placement?
How do you know it's water needs?
All of those questions depend on species identification.
Then, is it even worth the effort to dig it up?
Looks like the feeder roots are going to be fairly far from the trunk judging from those roots that look like legs.
The trunk is straight so unless you have a broom in mind you'll need to chop it low,grow it out,chop it again and so on and so forth.
Which all depends on identification.
I'm not against collecting trees.
All for it but why dig something up just for diggings sake."

The comment helped me put my thoughts on collecting in order.
  1. If the tree is a rescue then I count it as already dead. If there is any part of the tree that stands out and make it interesting and worth my time or if it is a species I want to practice on, I will collect it.
  2. Is the species some thing I want in my collection? If not, I will pass.
  3. Does the particular tree have the right root formation, trunk, etc. that make it a potential bonsai? If not, can the deficiency be fixed and do I have the time, patience, and skills to fix it. If not I will pass.
  4. Last but not least, is the tree better off being where it is or in my possession? This is the one I spend the most time contemplating whether to collect. Sometimes it depends on other things in my life such as my schedule, space to care for the tree etc..
What other thing should I be mindful of when collecting?
 

dbonsaiw

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Then, is it even worth the effort to dig it up?
Ive found that this question, like so many of my questions in bonsai, were best answered by actually jumping right in and doing it. Mistakes will be made. I agree that there’s no point in taking trees just for takings sake, but at the same time some trees will necessarily need to serve as sacrificial Guinea pigs to further our education. Practice makes perfect. Jump in on the shallow water side, not the deep end, and get your feet wet. It didn’t take me very long (or that many sacrificial trees) to learn why I shouldn’t have taken these in the first place and give me a frame of reference for what I should keep my eyes open for.
 

Cajunrider

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Ive found that this question, like so many of my questions in bonsai, were best answered by actually jumping right in and doing it. Mistakes will be made. I agree that there’s no point in taking trees just for takings sake, but at the same time some trees will necessarily need to serve as sacrificial Guinea pigs to further our education. Practice makes perfect. Jump in on the shallow water side, not the deep end, and get your feet wet. It didn’t take me very long (or that many sacrificial trees) to learn why I shouldn’t have taken these in the first place and give me a frame of reference for what I should keep my eyes open for.
Collection for practice is a legitimate purpose :)
I've collected a few that are no longer with me but they have served their purpose.
 

rockm

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Fundamental question going in--
do I have the skills to get the tree out alive? If in doubt (either from inexperience with collection, or with the first-time collection of a new species). If not, dig the tree NEXT to the best one in the field. Experiment on that one, not the better material

Rules for trees--

Nebari is ALWAYS the first consideration--does the tree have a decent root spread at soil level? If it's meh, leave it. The nebari is what collection is all about. Unless it's a conifer, completely ignore the trunk above two to three feet above soil level. It's not going to matter

Second does the tree have decent "movement" (a fluid line or some kind of bend) within the first two feet? Does it have "old" looking characteristics--bark, etc. in that space? If not. leave it.

Third what species is it? Make sure you know BEFORE YOU DIG. Asking the "what species is this" question after digging it up in mostly inexcusable. Respect the life you're hijacking, understand what it is and how to care for it. Implement that care post-collection.

Fourth, and probably the biggest physical consideration--is the tree actually collectible? Some aren't. Oaks, for instance, typically have DEEP tap roots. Severing those can lead to the death of the tree. Push a hand against the trunk, if the tree moves a bit AT GROUND LEVEL, it's probably collectible. If it seems rooted in cement and doesn't give an inch, it is probably not a great candidate.

Also don't mistake 'weird' for 'good' Just because a tree has an odd tangle of roots, masses on its trunk, or other characteristics that make it looks weird does not make it a candidate for bonsai. Weird is weird, mostly not in an attractive way. You're looking for a trunk in in miniature that is as natural looking as a huge counterpart.


Assume what you've dug up is going to die, don't get emotionally attached. LET IT ALONE for two years to recover.
 

Cajunrider

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Fundamental question going in--
do I have the skills to get the tree out alive? If in doubt (either from inexperience with collection, or with the first-time collection of a new species). If not, dig the tree NEXT to the best one in the field. Experiment on that one, not the better material

Rules for trees--

Nebari is ALWAYS the first consideration--does the tree have a decent root spread at soil level? If it's meh, leave it. The nebari is what collection is all about. Unless it's a conifer, completely ignore the trunk above two to three feet above soil level. It's not going to matter

Second does the tree have decent "movement" (a fluid line or some kind of bend) within the first two feet? Does it have "old" looking characteristics--bark, etc. in that space? If not. leave it.

Third what species is it? Make sure you know BEFORE YOU DIG. Asking the "what species is this" question after digging it up in mostly inexcusable. Respect the life you're hijacking, understand what it is and how to care for it. Implement that care post-collection.

Fourth, and probably the biggest physical consideration--is the tree actually collectible? Some aren't. Oaks, for instance, typically have DEEP tap roots. Severing those can lead to the death of the tree. Push a hand against the trunk, if the tree moves a bit AT GROUND LEVEL, it's probably collectible. If it seems rooted in cement and doesn't give an inch, it is probably not a great candidate.

Also don't mistake 'weird' for 'good' Just because a tree has an odd tangle of roots, masses on its trunk, or other characteristics that make it looks weird does not make it a candidate for bonsai. Weird is weird, mostly not in an attractive way. You're looking for a trunk in in miniature that is as natural looking as a huge counterpart.


Assume what you've dug up is going to die, don't get emotionally attached. LET IT ALONE for two years to recover.
Thank you!
 
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I would add being able to walk away. After 20 minutes if digging and finding some fine roots on a tree that was real wiggly, l often feel really hopeful. Then..the tap root, l know it feeds most of that live vein. Here l have to cut my losses not the tap root, and respect the tree, fill in my hole and walk away.
 

rockm

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I would add being able to walk away. After 20 minutes if digging and finding some fine roots on a tree that was real wiggly, l often feel really hopeful. Then..the tap root, l know it feeds most of that live vein. Here l have to cut my losses not the tap root, and respect the tree, fill in my hole and walk away.
This is good too. Simply destroying a tree trying to get it out only to realize you've damaged it beyond repair is stupid.

A couple more things:

99 percent of the trees you see ARE NOT WORTH THE EFFORT--mostly because they're not really all that great--a collectible tree HAS TO HAVE something that makes it special. Most trees don't. Some people settle for awful material because they're impatient and want a yamadori at all costs. That impatience can be a beginner's thing...Resist digging if a tree is only so-so. Continue looking, you have to look at A LOT of trees before you find a good one, thousands more to find a great one...

Many, many many trees are simply uncollectible, too deeply rooted, rooted in rock, etc. Those can be heartbreakers as some of them can be spectacular. Leave them alone for others to enjoy.

Don't ever underestimate the work it will take to get a tree out. Typically it will take three times as long as your estimate and triple the effort.
 

HorseloverFat

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Fundamental question going in--
do I have the skills to get the tree out alive? If in doubt (either from inexperience with collection, or with the first-time collection of a new species). If not, dig the tree NEXT to the best one in the field. Experiment on that one, not the better material

Rules for trees--

Nebari is ALWAYS the first consideration--does the tree have a decent root spread at soil level? If it's meh, leave it. The nebari is what collection is all about. Unless it's a conifer, completely ignore the trunk above two to three feet above soil level. It's not going to matter

Second does the tree have decent "movement" (a fluid line or some kind of bend) within the first two feet? Does it have "old" looking characteristics--bark, etc. in that space? If not. leave it.

Third what species is it? Make sure you know BEFORE YOU DIG. Asking the "what species is this" question after digging it up in mostly inexcusable. Respect the life you're hijacking, understand what it is and how to care for it. Implement that care post-collection.

Fourth, and probably the biggest physical consideration--is the tree actually collectible? Some aren't. Oaks, for instance, typically have DEEP tap roots. Severing those can lead to the death of the tree. Push a hand against the trunk, if the tree moves a bit AT GROUND LEVEL, it's probably collectible. If it seems rooted in cement and doesn't give an inch, it is probably not a great candidate.

Also don't mistake 'weird' for 'good' Just because a tree has an odd tangle of roots, masses on its trunk, or other characteristics that make it looks weird does not make it a candidate for bonsai. Weird is weird, mostly not in an attractive way. You're looking for a trunk in in miniature that is as natural looking as a huge counterpart.


Assume what you've dug up is going to die, don't get emotionally attached. LET IT ALONE for two years to recover.
This is one of the best ways I've seen this information presented.

Goo'jahb!
 

HorseloverFat

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This is good too. Simply destroying a tree trying to get it out only to realize you've damaged it beyond repair is stupid.

A couple more things:

99 percent of the trees you see ARE NOT WORTH THE EFFORT--mostly because they're not really all that great--a collectible tree HAS TO HAVE something that makes it special. Most trees don't. Some people settle for awful material because they're impatient and want a yamadori at all costs. That impatience can be a beginner's thing...Resist digging if a tree is only so-so. Continue looking, you have to look at A LOT of trees before you find a good one, thousands more to find a great one...

Many, many many trees are simply uncollectible, too deeply rooted, rooted in rock, etc. Those can be heartbreakers as some of them can be spectacular. Leave them alone for others to enjoy.

Don't ever underestimate the work it will take to get a tree out. Typically it will take three times as long as your estimate and triple the effort.
Haha! this too..

Any new tree collector only need read these few posts here.

🤓
 

Cajunrider

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I would add being able to walk away. After 20 minutes if digging and finding some fine roots on a tree that was real wiggly, l often feel really hopeful. Then..the tap root, l know it feeds most of that live vein. Here l have to cut my losses not the tap root, and respect the tree, fill in my hole and walk away.
A few days ago I came out to dig a bald cypress that looked really good from the top. The land owner gave me the OK. After spending 15 minutes to clear a path to the tree, the underbrushes, and moved the top layer of soil, I discovered that it was a regrowth of a much bigger tree that was buried in mud by hurricane wash. The 4" caliper top with that I thought to be a big flare was simply the old trunk underneath. I cleared away some of the soil to give the roots a much better chance to get oxygen. I told the land owner to leave that survivor alone.
 

BrianBay9

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Don't ever underestimate the work it will take to get a tree out. Typically it will take three times as long as your estimate and triple the effort.

Collecting in the mountain west, I never took longer than about 15 min to collect a tree. Longer mean I picked the wrong tree. Moved back east and the collecting is HARD. The soil is too good and the trees want to stay put. Then moved back west and I've been collecting coast live oak, on the coast of course, basically in sand, taking 15 minutes again.
 

rockm

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Collecting in the mountain west, I never took longer than about 15 min to collect a tree. Longer mean I picked the wrong tree. Moved back east and the collecting is HARD. The soil is too good and the trees want to stay put. Then moved back west and I've been collecting coast live oak, on the coast of course, basically in sand, taking 15 minutes again.
I can "dig" a big hornbeam in about 15 minutes with a reciprocating saw. The hardest part is getting such a tree at an angle to sever the largest roots underneath. Some species are easier than others.
 

woodkraftbonsai

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Collection for practice is a legitimate purpose :)
I've collected a few that are no longer with me but they have served their purpose.
I would absolutely agree on this. I started collecting with smaller material and slowly worked up to larger and older material, building confidence in my ability to keep a collected tree alive.
 

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