Yamadori collection "archeology technique"

I have done some collecting and find it very difficult to get proper size root balls. I have tried different techniques but none has been very successful. So I am thinking of using a more time consuming approach but would like to hear what people here are thinking.

I would like to try and tease out as much roots as possible following each root from the trunk using only fingers and a soft brush to bare root each individual root from top down. Also shaking the root while holding it loosely to get off the soil. Then wrap each root in spaghnum moss or wet news paper before teasing out the next root. I imagine this might take a couple of days, depending on the extent of the roots. But the roots will be left in spaghnum or news paper for some time.

The advice on not bare rooting, as I have heard it, is only related to keeping the microbial life intact. And that could be handled by adding some of the field soil in the training container when potting. In my understanding, this would be a safer approach then trenching and cutting roots in the blind.
Am I missing something?

All inputs are highly appreciated.

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Bare rooting would be too much of a shock to the tree, especially if it takes a couple of days. It’s having the soil and roots together that aids the recovery and encourages fine roots to grow. Simply putting some soil in with the roots probably wouldn’t work as efficiently. You haven’t mentioned what species of tree you are planning to lift.
It is fine to bare root deciduous, indeed it should be done prior to potting on, but with conifers you definitely need to keep as much of the root ball in tact as possible.
If the tree is quite local to you it is possible to undercut the root ball in September and lift it the following spring. Far safer as more capillary roots will have grown thus creating a cohesive root ball for you to lift.
If this is not possible then when lifting a yamadori, start from about a metre from the tree and work in a circle carefully cutting the roots. Once you have ascertained how the roots look you may be able to move carefully closer to the tree and cut a bit more off. Then dig at least half a metre underneath before tilting the tree to see the roots growing underneath. What I would do then is wrap the root ball in burlap (Sack cloth) and either plant in your garden for twelve months or do as the video on yamadori repotting states. There really isn’t any shortcut for this.
Have you watched the video where Ryan interviews Randy Knight? He is a highly successful yamadori collector in the US.
Hope this helps.

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Some example of what is described above for deciduous trees.

These were booth bare rooted the following day and the roots cut back further before planting straight into large containers.

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Deciduous or conifer?

Ok, thank you for your reply. I was planning on collecting both a larch and a scotch pine with this technique. But as you say it the lack of soil contact with the roots stresses the tree, so it is probably not as good an idea as I first believed. The Randy Knight interview I have seen 4 times now:-)

Anyhow I might try this technique on a not as high value tree, but try to keep the soil around the individual roots intact. In particular the common juniper has these long tap roots stretching for several metres with just little feeder roots distributed along its entire length.

Conifers and particularly the common juniper. They are notoriously difficult to collect and even more so to keep alive, I believe also the latter is root related. Keith-in-UK pointed out I must try to keep the contact between soil and roots. So I think I will try and tease out the feeder roots but keep a small amount of soil around it along its length. Also the small feeder roots can stretch for metres and i want to keep as much as possible.

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Thanks for input. Not so worried about deciduous material. Its the conifers where I find the inner 1m diameter consists of only structural roots and very little feeders I thought this technique could be helpful. But based on replies here I must rethink the approach:-)

For conifers, you definitely want to keep the root ball as intact as possible. I don’t think that even with extreme care you can tease out individual roots without doing more harm than good. I agree that common juniper is damn hard to collect, but I wouldn’t say sylvestris is that difficult as long as you get a decent root ball collected. I’m a novice at collecting myself, but so far I’ve only managed to kill one sylvestris (that one I collected out of season, with little roots and minimal soil left around them, so it was a long shot to begin with).

I think your main problem is the area where you’re collecting. If your collecting in a place where the roots are free to grow far and wide they will. It’s only logical the tree tries to stretch its roots out as far as possible to guarantee its survival.
Apart from the harsh conditions in the mountains (or on top of rock) that stunt growth a major reason for collecting there is that trees grown in shallow soil pockets or cracks. When the tree only has a very limited area for root growth it makes collecting easier as you will find a solid root ball close to the trunk and in some cases there isn’t even a tap root as there’s no place for it to grow.

Close to my “hunting grounds” there’s an old sand/gravel pit with heaps of quite nice material, but I’ve never even attempted collecting there because I know the roots run for meters and meters and there’s no chance of getting enough root without excavating a several meter wide circle around the tree. And the soil is so loose that it would be almost impossible to get enough field soil to keep enough mycorrhiza for the tree to be healthy.
I’ve found a lot of really nice material that I just leave in the ground because I know it wouldn’t be responsible to try to collect it because of where it grows. I usually only look for yamadori material in places where I think collection is possible, for me, that’s on solid rock. And even then, I often found trees that can be collected. If, when I try to move a tree and it doesn’t budge at all, I know it grows down into a narrow crack and there’s no chance of getting enough roots to have it survive. Then I just leave it and keep searching.

I spend most of my yamadori hunting time on finding good material that can be collected with a high probability of success. Where I collect, a majority of the trees I find don’t fall into that category so I just enjoy them for a while and move on.

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Would it be easier to just grow some from seed or air layer branches?

I like what you did in your other thread. Hopefully putting pumice at the base will promote root growth. Maybe scoring the structural roots with a sharp blade will promote root node development in the pumice.

A lot of it depends on the soil you have to work with. Here in the PacNW I find the best trees in bogs or marshes which are mostly decomposed plant matter and mud. Getting enough roots is more about how far out do you want to dig. While it’s hard to get an actual “root ball” with intact dirt, it’s kind of impossible to bare root the tree because they’re all covered in thick mud. Conifers are definitely more challenging and require more care with the shovel and trying to get enough “soil” to keep the roots as covered as possible. But the elongating species I have access to (Thuja and Tsuga mostly) are very hardy and can handle a lot. Deciduous I pretty much just dig them out with a machete and they’re fine. I’ve even used a sawsall on big roots, no problem.

Oh yeah, and Randy Knight’s wood chip technique has significantly improved the survivability of my rough and rugged approach.


@Geir_Norway. Now we know which species you’re collecting it is easier to help. With larch there are two early opportunities. What you can do is undercut the roots about 1m from the tree just as green is appearing from the buds, or (and my preferred option) is to wait until the first flush has hardened then lightly prune the foliage to reduce transpiration and do the same undercutting of the roots. Either way after undercutting, settle the tree back in its spot and leave until the following year before lifting. This reduces overall stress on the tree as it stays in familiar soil and surroundings.
Pines are a little more difficult as they get their energy from the roots. Best to investigate how far the roots are from the tree before cutting. February / March time is ideal. If the roots are too far away I would only undercut half or even a quarter of the roots and continue the following year. If it’s a good tree it will be worth the wait.

I can’t believe that I forgot about this strat when this is exactly what I did with a loblolly across the street from my house. I just took my shovel and undercut all the way around it. Didn’t actually lift it from the ground. Just wanted to stop the roots from continuing to spread and allow them to regrow feeders where I’d be taking the root ball…then my douchebag neighbor “cleared the area” with his riding lawnmower so he could hang a swing from a big tree. I had to be “that neighbor” and politely asked him to take it down. It’s a freaking protected area…that I hunt for yamadori in lol. I was sad about my loblolly though. :frowning_face:

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