Water-elm, Planera aquatica, is one of my big-two bonsai species along with bald cypress. I’ve probably worked on more water-elms than any other species, and I may very well have worked on more than anyone else in the art. I’ve written on more than one occasion about water-elm collecting season, which is typically July of each year for me. Most of the specimens I’ve acquired have been collected in July. I have had occasion to collect in August – successfully, I might add – and even in January. But I recently learned that it’s possible to collect the species in October. Because my August success rate this year wasn’t all that great, I decided it was time to push the water-elm collecting envelope and see what happens.
This one came with a soil ball clinging to the roots. I don’t always get a soil ball – much less than half the time, in fact – but I’m always glad when it happens. If you look past the grass you can see the trunk base I saw. Definitely a worthwhile piece of material if it lives.
With all of the native soil washed off, you can see all the nice roots that came with this one. When I collect trees I’m primarily interested in the trunk. Roots can be grown pretty easily, and the whole branch structure has to be grown almost every time. It’s the trunk, and especially those with age and character, that are worth the hunt.
I included this photo to show you one of the reasons you have to be very careful with certain elm species. On both American elms and water-elms, the bark will peel easily on branches/sub-trunks you’re cutting as well as chops and, perhaps most significantly, roots. Even with sharp tools you have the potential for this to happen. If it does, do your best to do as I did in this case, peel away the bark along the wood you’re discarding. Then you can come back and cleanly cut the strip of bark.
Now everything’s cleaned up and I’ve made the final cut of the trunk to the length I want. The roots are cut flat and trimmed to fit, ultimately, the size bonsai pot this tree will reside in.
Potted in a nursery container. As always I’ve buried the roots deep enough to prevent their drying out.
The trunk base of this specimen is 3″, and it’s 13″ to the chop. The trunk character is really nice.
So, what with all the envelope pushing I got a wild hair and decided to find out if hawthorns can be collected in October. This is a nice old riverflat hawthorn, Crataegus opaca, with a 2″ trunk base.
More good luck with roots, as you can see. This one has a fine radial root system.
And snugged into its pot until next spring. The angle of the photo doesn’t allow the taper to show as well as it could. The base of this tree is 2″ and the diameter of the chop is 1″, which is the ratio you need. The height to the chop is 18″ from the soil surface. I’m thinking it could be chopped again by 3-4″, but this decision doesn’t have to be made right away. Once your hawthorns are recovered from collecting you have a lot of latitude in working with them.