Creating a Bonsai by digging a tree

This is one of the most rewarding ways of aquireing a bonsai. You must however get the site owners permission. Scources of this type of material are: Garden clearance, Building sites/new road works, or perhaps your local forest. Join a club and get them to organise a dig. You local version of our Forestry Commision is also worth a try. Keep your eyes open and explain to the site owner what you want to do.

Don't be put off by larger bits of material, particularly Deciduous trees, these will bud back from the trunk. These buds will allow you to develop a new head and branches. Trees with 6-10cm wide trunks will make good bonsai.

A newly collected stump and how it could look in a few years. The trunk had been hollowed out to give the impression of taper. This technique is called Sabamiki.


If at all possible try to spread the collection over two years. The first year dig a trench around the tree, severing any major roots. Treat these cut ends with rooting powder and fill the trench in again. This will form new fiberous roots close to the trunk and aid the trees survival when you come back to collect it. Year two dig the trench out carefully and avoid to much root damage.

Dig out under the tree and cut any remaining roots, trying to avoid removing to much soil from the root ball, as this will stress the tree. Wrap the root ball in a cloth or bag and tie it up. If you are going to lift the tree at the first attempt, cut under the tree with a spade and saw through any roots, then ease the root ball into a bag.


Before collecting you should have a container large enough to cope with the tree, I use plastic washing bowls with large holes cut in the bottom. You should also have a fairly gritty compost available.

On arrival home pot the tree up as soon as you are able, tying it in to the container to avoid disturbance to the newly forming roots.

Don't be in to much of a hurry to work on the tree, leave it for at least a year to recover.

When either purchasing a tree for conversion, or collecting a tree from the wild, you will find the tree will have a major root going downward. This is called the taproot and must be removed for the tree to fit into a shallow bonsai pot.

This process may need to be carried out over several repottings and can in the case of pines take quite a while to achieve. However if you read the section on layering you will be able to induce new roots above the place where you wish to cut the taproot.

You may, if you have removed a lot of root at one time, have to remove some of the foliage to 'balance' the tree.

A good collecting site, with lots of Beech, some Pine and Silver Birch.

Allen. C. Roffey May 6, 2018 10:44