Where to collect good material?

QuantumSparky

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It always amazes me when I see posts about people who have collected trees from nature that already have the form of good bonsai, but I always wonder where they manage to find such treasures. Is there a certain type of environment that these trees are more likely to show up in? Living in Eastern Pennsylvania there are plenty of woods and forests but I would imagine that some sort of hiking trails that feature (or at least come close to) natural cliffs and steep slopes would be the place to search. What do you all think the best types of locations are for collecting young trees or established dwarf trees?
 

Paradox

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Be careful with trying to collect trees "from the wild".

If it's private property, you need permission.

On public lands (parks, etc), you either need a permit or it is illegal to remove trees.

I'd also advise getting basic care down before you start trying to collect
 

Wires_Guy_wires

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Places with larger grazing animals are usually good. As are rocky sites.
I prefer forest floors for pines because they tend to make very good feeder roots when they're in damp soils. They're less rugged and less aged, but easier to collect.

Sandy areas are usually hard, because trees need huge tap roots to find water.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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East of the Mississippi River, there are very few "open lands" where one can collect trees. That cliff face in Pennsylvania is probably part of a natural area where collection is prohibited. Lands designated "Forest", either State Forest or National Forest were originally set aside with future logging in mind. Check with the management office to see if permits are possible. Private land with permission is possible.

Urban "yamadori" is an excellent source of older nursery material. Make friends with local landscape companies. They can alert you to upcoming projects involving the removal of older landscape shrubs. You can then either approach the homeowner to get a few before the dog begins, or you can pay the digging crew to get all the roots when they dig a certain shrub.

Also watching Craig's List and other forums for give aways.

Make friends with a local farmer, fence row, fallow fields, and shrubs that have been browsed in pastures are great sources.

Road cuts, here road cuts are one of the few areas with rock faces that collection might be possible. Difficult to figure out just who to get permission from. Usually possible to "get forgiveness" if you get stopped digging along a road cut or road right of way. Be cognizant that the edge of a "right of way" is private property. Private property owners might not have a good sense of humor. Similar situation with rail road right of ways.

Good hunting.
 

andrewiles

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Sounds like it's much harder out east, but in the PNW many ranger districts allow transplants from national forest land, with the appropriate permits. The best trees are in exposed areas. Rocky ridges, near tree line, etc. Second best are areas just off dirt roads or trafficked paths, where the trees are periodically cut down by snow mobiles and the like. Though in these latter cases you need to talk to the rangers to see if there are any distance-from-road limits.
 

HorseloverFat

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Is every person not within walking distance of large amounts of public forests, meadows, cliffs and dunes? ;) or is that just cause I live in the woods, basically?

If you have access to public lands, just start making calls to your DNR (or equivalent).. let them “get to know you” as that “tree person” 🤣 They can give you information on what you can collect, where you can collect, and how much (if any) you’ll have to pay.... MOST times.. around here, you don’t have to pay... this also varies on species. They WANT you to dig “invasives”... They LOVE it!

When you DO have to pay... it’s cheap... REEEAL cheap.

I’ve found that an open and honest approach tends to alleviate ANY hypothetical “problems”

Check the local “city shop” where they dump dug public shrubs for mulching (if you have such places)

Ditches by public parks offer neat windfall opportunities.

Hiking trails.. as long as there’s not a “don’t grab this flower (or whatever YOUR state’s ‘no collecting’ icon is’ sign.) 🤣

Inland lakes...

Get in touch with parks people, groundskeepers... the people that normally have to PAY to get rid of shrubs.

All good advice said BEFORE i got here, too.

🤓
 

PA_Penjing

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It's been really rough going getting permission to collect in Eastern PA. It's built up pretty good and our state parks seem to be absolutely against collecting. Fair enough... Best chance is finding rocky private land and contacting the owner about it, if you can even figure out who the owner is haha. Urban yamadori is our best bet. I have collected at a quarry in the past, the trees were okay on the cliffs edge. Both sold quickly. trees growing up into chain link fences are usually rugged and hated by the owners (of the fence) so there's a chance if you get them before they fuse to the fence.
 

PA_Penjing

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For what it's worth, I think it's the age, torture and unplanned damage that makes yamadori so coveted. It's not nearly as romantic as scouring the mountains but a tree that has been crushed repeatedly by a road crew or snow plow can have really great bones. Ditto for an invasive weed tree growing in a hedge row that gets half murdered every summer. I don't know exactly where you are but in our part of the state conifers aren't common. outside or EWP and ERC, and while I have seen some incredible examples of both... it's not the best material.
 

M. Frary

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Edges.
The edge of a woodline.
The edge of a lake,river or pond.
The edge of a road,trail or railway.
The edges of powerlines.
I advise wearing amber colored polarized lenses to distinguish the different greens of foliage and the different browns and grays found in bark.
Good hunting.
 

HorseloverFat

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Edges.
The edge of a woodline.
The edge of a lake,river or pond.
The edge of a road,trail or railway.
The edges of powerlines.
I advise wearing amber colored polarized lenses to distinguish the different greens of foliage and the different browns and grays found in bark.
Good hunting.
AWESOME advice!
 
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Not sure where in Eastern PA you are but lots of farming areas, especially in Lancaster Co. I am sure every Amish farm would allow you access to their fields and streams to remove anything. Especially if you offer them a few bucks. Keeps them from having to mow it off. FWIW, I have collected quite a few smallish, unexciting trees so I can get some practice for when I come across “the” tree. I’ve lost about half, but have gained something from each one. Most of these were going to be crowded out or mowed into extinction so it was a little less painful...
 

rockm

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In the east, forget looking "up in the mountains" and publicly-held wild lands for western style old growth stunted conifers--ain't gonna happen. Permission mostly too difficult to get (figuring out who to ask, etc). Some of the BEST material isn't in those lands anyway. IT'S IN PEOPLE'S YARDS...old growth azalea, boxwood, wisteria, etc. are extremely common here in the east. One notable bonsai artist in Pennsylvania claimed to have made a very nice azalea bonsai from a plant collected on a property owned y Benjamin Franklin. Below are pics of 250 year old dwarf boxwood on a plantation near me here in Va. owned by George Mason. I've seen old stunted Japanese Maples in the front yards of mid-century modern houses built in the 1950's here too. All are worth looking for. Old wisteria (also pictured in a snapshot from near me in the woods) can be had for FREE. It and trumpet vine and bittersweet are all invasive species. Parks and recreation departments actually pay people to dig that stuff up and get rid of it. Additional places to look for smashed and stunted deciduous/conifers are junk yards, abandon lots and roads, urban ruins, etc. Iv'e found a very nice old stnuted black cherry stump in the cul-de-sac of an old access road. Teenagers drinking beer back there had repeatedly backed over with their trucks. Be creative, don't expect to find "natural preshrunk bonsai" here. Won't happen. Stop envying western collectors. We in the east have unique plants they don't. Look for them.
 

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Tycoss

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I live in the west (Alberta Canada) and most of my native trees were collected from the Rockies or a First Nations reserve where I work, but I've also found nice stuff in less "glamorous" locations that you would also have access to.
Not the best picture, and still in development, but this boxwood was developed from a piece of hedging thrown out in the yard waste section of a recycle depot. It's actually turning out to be one of my better broadleaf trees, free from the dump:CB600C9D-F8B9-4C0B-BD77-1B73246C8D18.jpeg
 

rockm

Spuds Moyogi
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FWIW, this boxwood bonsai began its life about 60 years ago as part of a hedgerow at a house in Arlington, Va. The top five feet was cut off and the remainder became a bonsai after it was dug up about 15 years ago.
 

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