Yamadori Hunting with the Redding Bonsai Club

by Cheryl Petty -- February 2, 2009

Saturday morning November 15, 2008 at 8:30 I picked up James Scott, and he added his collection gear, including a back pack especially designed for collecting trees in the wild, to mine in the back of my old 1961 Ford nursery truck. According to Google, we should be meeting the rest of the Redding Bonsai Club in Whitmore, across the street from the General Store at 10:30am. For mid November in Northern California, it was an unusually gorgeous day, blue sky, fall color and t-shirt weather.

Whitmore is a tiny hamlet at about 2170-feet elevation. To get there you drive east from Redding on Hwy 44 through oak savanah. The road starts to climb into mixed hardwood and conifer forest of Yellow Pine (Pinus ponderosa), Black Oak (Quercus kellogii), Canyon Oak (Quercus chrysolepis), Manzanita and Incense Cedar (Calocedrus). We formed a caravan and followed Art and Gayle Tilles up another 500 feet. All the roads were paved and the collection location was easy to get to. We had permission from the landowners and their management company to collect bonsai specimens using hand tools.

Although this summer was very dry and considered to be a drought, about three inches of rain had fallen prior to our collection date. The ground was soft and easy to dig, there were few rocks to deal with, and the moist reddish-brown clay soil clung to the roots.

Henry Neissink

Henry Neissink

Most of the group, Henry Neissink, Roseanna Davis, Art and Gayle Tilles, had collected here before, and they quickly dispersed, looking for likely specimens. James and I found a venerable giant Canyon Oak, twisted and torn by wind and snow. Beneath its broad and twisted boughs were many saplings at all stages of development.

First we cleared away debris from the base of the trunk to check rootage and trunk formation. The specimens we selected were generally multi-trunked and about 30-inches high and wide. We dug in a circle around the tree, digging down to same depth as diameter of root ball. Small shovels are good, but a pick axe is better. These specialized tools that foresters use have a handle 26-inches long attached to a short pick. You can use it to dig out from underneath the tree quickly, exposing the tap root. We were lucky. The trees we chose had numerous fibrous roots close to the surface and only a small tap root which we cut with long handled loppers. 

It is hard to keep the soil from falling off the root ball in big chunks, but you want to keep as much of it as you can. Native soil contains valuable mycorrhizae (soil fungi) necessary to the healthy growth and development of the trees roots. The root balls were wrapped in strips of black plastic and fastened with duct tape. We had big jugs of water in the truck which we used to drizzle into the top funnel of the root package. The trees were packed into a milk crate and the foliage wrapped in shade cloth to protect them from transpiring during the long trip back to Dunsmuir. We backfilled the hole, sprinkled the scar with pine needle and oak leaf duff and left the collection area in as good a condition as we found it.

I couldn’t help collecting a young Mahala mat (Ceanothus prostratus) growing next to my tree. They are potted together as companions. All together 6 Q. chrysolepis, 4 Q. kellogii, 1 Calocedrus, 2 Pinus ponderosa were collected that day.


After Care

The container should be larger than the root ball as it sits on a layer of sand or gravel. A #3 size nursery container is wider than it is tall and is a good fit for these trees. Trees with a longer taproot fit well into a #5. Be sure the drain holes are not obstructed. As long as the media is fast draining while able to retain water, there are a variety ingredients that can be used such as pumice, ground bark, sand, decomposed granite, perlite, akadama and gravel as well as using the native soil where they were dug. Misting the foliage and drenching the roots is recommended as soon as possible as well as a vitamin B1 or Superthrive treatment. No fertilizer should be applied before the tree shows clear signs of growing. Water sparingly to avoid root rot.

This is a good time to cut off any unnecessary long material proportionately to the size of the root ball and trim any damaged roots to avoid rot. Over winter the trees will be sheltered where they can receive energy from the low sun as well as snow and rain. By next season they will be moved into shade or semi-shade rigged up with misters.

Trees collected in autumn that show signs of growth the following spring or summer can begin shaping the following autumn. At this time you can transfer it into another slightly smaller pot after trimming back the root ball and adding new media around the root ball in the new pot. Some people like to wait at least two years before lifting the tree and severely pruning the root ball before planting it in a smaller pot. Water these native oaks sparingly.


After several hours of work, digging and climbing up and down steep slopes, we were ready to wind down at Art and Gayle Tilles’ gated house near Whitmore. The Tilles’ have lived here more than 20 years, and have turned an old historic farmhouse and stage stop into garden spot with year-round streams, naturalistic water features, greenhouse, mature specimen trees, mini-orchard and vineyard. Their tree collection is arranged artistically along the railing edge of decks that follow the contour of the land. Choice Seiju elms and Ilex serrata Koshobai caught my eye as Art poured wine and Gayle served up Ukranian soup and artisan bread for a late afternoon supper.


Barreau, Olivier. “The Green Cob”. Bonsai Focus. 88. 5/2007 September. Pp.96-101.

Hickman, James. ed. The Jepson Manual. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993.

Keator, Glenn. The Life of an Oak. Berkeley: Heyday Books and the California Oak Foundation, 1998.

Naka, John. Bonsai Techniques I. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Bonsai Institute of California, 1973.

Jim Scott

Jim Scott

Naka, John. Bonsai Techniques II. 2nd ed. Bonsai Insttitute of California, 1982.

Pavlik, Bruce, Muick, Pamela, Johnson, Sharon, and Popper, Marjorie. Oaks of California 3rd ed. Los Olivos, CA: Cachuma Press and the California Oak Foundation, 1991.

Schoech, Wayne. ed. and comp. Growing & Styling Juniper Bonsai Passumpsic, VT: Stone Lantern Publishing, 2007.

Published Golden Statements The Magazine of the Golden State Bonsai Federation Vol xxxii No.2 Mar/April 2009 p.12