First tree collection!

Hey y’all! I’m planning my first urban yamadori tomorrow and I had a few questions from all those who have some knowledge.
Question 1. How big of a rootball is suffice? How deep should I go before severing the tap root?
Question 2. Do I chopstick any pumice into the root ball once in the box or container? Or do I just drop it in and cover as much roots at possible?
Question 3. Is there an aeration layer in the collection container? Do I still do a volcano to settle the tree in?


Q1 - Generally as big as you can get. However, if there are lots of roots close to the trunk you can definitely take a smaller root ball. Start big and adjust as you get more information.
Q2 - You need to make sure there is not a clean interface between the original soil and the pumice. if you get a fully intact root ball you will need to break up the surface a bit to make sure you have a mixed soil/pumice interface.
Q3 - What is the bottom of the new container. If it is solid with drainage holes like a bonsai pot or a nursery container you need an aeration layer. If it is more open like an Anderson flat or a wood box you can get away with a nice layer of your pumice for the rest of the pot. The mound size depends upon how much space needs to be filled under the trunk - big hole = big mound, round bottom = small mound. The goal is to make sure there are no air pockets.


First, I agree with everything that Marty just said.

I’m not sure where you are but it may be a little late to collect in the northern hemisphere but if this is an Urbandori, better to try than to let it get plowed under.

I don’t know if this will help but here are the general rules that I’ve come up with based on experience and what I’ve learned from Ryan and Mirai:

  1. it really helps the process if you can control what is above ground before you tackle what is in the ground. By this I mean, identify what you want to keep (keeping as much as possible) and then take twine / moving shrink wrap / netting / burlap / what ever and wrap it around the tree to pull the branches up and together and retain them that way. This is so you’re not fighting with the branches as much as possible as you work your way around the tree.

  2. clear the duff from around the base of the tree to create a work area. Essentially making sure that there aren’t any critters (snakes) hiding under the tree.

  3. identify a circle or shape (circles don’t work on crack roots very well) around the trunk that is bigger than you think you need. It is easy to reduce the root ball but you can’t add on after you get it out.

  4. dig your trench by pulling dirt away from the trunk of the tree trying to keep from disturbing the root ball as much as possible. As you encounter roots that cross the trench, sharply cut them at the root ball and on the other side of the trench to get them out of the work area.

  5. After you’ve dug down 6-14 inches ( the variation is due to what you’re digging, what it’s growing in and what the roots that your encountering look like) stabilize the root ball by wrapping something around it that will hold it securely. I routinely do this with the stretchy clear plastic wrap that you use when moving. Professional tree growers will use burlap with wire or rope tightly holding it in place. The goal here is to keep the root ball from falling apart.

  6. After you’ve got the outside perimeter of the root ball secure, then start digging under the ball to find the downward growing roots and any tap root that may be present. Once the roots have been isolated underneath the ball, sharply cut them. There will come a point when the tree can actually be tipped to the side some to allow for better access but the root ball really needs to stay secured in a solid chunk. You may need to add more wrap of the ball during the process to help secure the bottom of the ball.

  7. When you have the last of the downward growing roots cut then you can roll it out of the pit that you’ve created so you can see if it can be reduce further or be kept the same. Field soil is typically very heavy so the ball that you start with may need to be reduced just so you can move it but remember that the goal is to keep from disturbing the root mass that you’re lifting out of the ground.

  8. Assess if your collection eyes were bigger than your vehicle. Sometimes, a little of the precious foliage may have to be removed just so you can get it home. Fill in the hole with a bag of top soil that you brought with you and clean up the area by moving the duff that you cleared at first back over the soil. You don’t want to leave a hole that someone or an animal might step in a break a leg.

  9. After you get it home, you don’t have to immediately get it into the recovery box but it needs to be placed in the box as soon as possible (24 hours). As you unwrap the ball, you may be able to lose a little more of the field soil but don’t remove much. Bottom of the box needs to have big drain holes or lots of little ones. Put in your pumice / pumice pine bark mix and set the tree in the box then back fill. Secure the tree to the box so they move as a unit. A loose tree will not grow roots. Then, place the box in a protected area from wind, direct sun, and really soak it. You won’t be watering if for the first 7 days.

I collected a juniper Jan 6th and still don’t know if it will survive. It’s under a mist system and it’s just a matter of time and patience. Good luck and drink lots of water. This is sweaty work.

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@MartyWeiser wow thanks for your quick response and all this really helps me out. I feel I have the confidence to pull this off. I thank you again!

@Les-in-Tx holy smokes man! Sounds like I may be in for a treat tomorrow! I really appreciate you sharing all this info. I’m in Utah and this week is literally the first week it hasn’t been freezing at night. Buds on the tree are swelling right now, Not yet opening, hopefully this still means I’m ok. The tree is in my mother in laws back yard, on the corner of the house right next to the drive way and next to the basement window, where there’s a metal container for the opening. (If that makes sense) It looks like the roots should be well compacted. Well hopefully. Thanks for reminding to grab something to replace the hole with! I’ll grab something from Home Depot that I can plan to dig out in 4-5 years. Just don’t tell my Inlaw. I was planning fo just do pumice. Should I add some organic mix?

It’s an Alberta spruce. About 5 foot tall.

My knowledge base is too small for me to really have any sound base to recommend pumice vs pumice with some organic in as well. I think that the most important aspect is excellent drainage. The arid nature of Utah may have impact on your decision.

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Are you planning on digging it out and replacing it, hoping your mother in law won’t notice??

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I was just joking. My wife asked her 2 weeks ago and she said sure as long as I replaced it with something. I ended up getting a boxwood. I had a hell of a time digging it out. The internet cable prevented me from getting the right angle with the shovel. I lost a lot of the root ball due to one last root. I’m just hoping for the best now. I’ll post pics later for sure. Thanks

image image image image image image image image image image image
Hey y’all, so here are some pics, it was a super long endeavor for sure. I dug it out on Monday and I had to come back to pick it up the next day because it didn’t fit. I had it in the box and placed before 24 hours. But around 20.
I had a really nice root ball but it fell apart when pulling it from the ground. I’m really just hoping for the best. If I could do it again I probably wouldn’t lol. I definitely bit off more then I can chew. The tree is huge! I didn’t realize how huge of a project this was and I ended up calling out at work since I didn’t get any sleep before my night shift. I’m really just hoping for the best.
What are the signs to look out for success or failure? How long do I have before I know for sure?

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@Les-in-Tx and @MartyWeiser man thank y’all for the great boost of confidence with all your help and guidance, once I started I knew I had to finish. There were many times when I just wanted to quit and just chop it up and a loss. I knew I had to get in the box sooner then later and thanks to you guys I feel that it went really well even though it might have been a total loss. I learned a lot and I much appreciate it!

well done.
Now the after care. Shade, out of the wind and probably mist 2-3 times daily given your drier environment.
I use Fog It nozzles (

You can put them on a battery powered sprinkler control and connect several on a single circuit to mist the whole tree.

Now is the waiting and watching part. Good luck.

dude, hell yeah!!!

now the hard part-

dont touch the bugger for 2 years. This will be very hard, but its worth it.

on the upside, if you keep collecting, then then after two years you will always have something to do working on staggered collection years

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With something this big I would run some guy wires from about 1/3 - 1/2 way up the trunk to the 4 corners of the box. The goal is to insure that the tree does not move in the box. Trees this tall and bulky will wiggle even if the root base is well tied into the box.


@Les-in-Tx - “Assess if your collection eyes were bigger than your vehicle.”

@Hexdex33 - pfffttt… I’ll be fiiiiiine.

20 hours of digging later…



@jesse you’re not lying! My eyes definitely deceived me. I may be sticking to nursery stock for a while after this. It took a lot out me, I wasn’t ready for 2 days of balls to the wall.

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Bring a unsuspecting friend, with a bigger truck…:hugs:
COME GET THIS TREE…I cut the top 1/3 off my buddy’s yardadory elm. Dug till I was done in. Cut the taproot, rolled into a wheelbarrow Rolled into th back of my truck. Rolled out onto my workbench. Cut off half of top and roots… tried to not bare root…
Wired into biggest pot I had. Filled with 2x 5 gsllons of bonssi soil. Couldnt pick it up… levers and wheels…
Last spring I reduced it ALL by half. Into a 'smaller pot.
Maybe some day my tree will be a bonsai…:fearful:
@Hexdex33 . Thought I would add last summer’s photo…

So, there IS hope… just learn when to breath…
Bonsai On!


Thanks @Yugen! Do you really think I did a good job? Well from what you can see? After seeing the reply from @MartyWeiser this morning, I finalized the securing of the tree to the box. I think much better then before. I actually feel pretty confident that I’ve done everything I can/know until this point. Now for the hard part from what everyone says lol.

![image|640x480](upload://nKMCMbKPybqrzIDqwHpBuKVtV0J.jpeg) ![image|640x480](upload://6ItfLhFZWVKlrnobbbzaaCC1938.jpeg)

Holy moly @KurtP that sounds intense! Lol. My back is still aching from the single man lift.