Swampathon 2014

So I decided to take a day off work and go snatch some awesome trees.  Any day off work is a good day, right?  I was lucky enough to have a friend give me access to some of their property bordering a freshwater lake here in South Carolina.  I decided today was the day and off I went.

Anytime you are planning to do a lot of repotting, collecting, styling, etc., it’s always a good idea to prepare your tools or whatever else you may need or use in advance.  Yesterday evening I went out to pick up some large containers because I knew I would need some much larger than what I already had.  I came home with these mortar mixing containers from Lowes.  They were only $5 and were 20x26x6 inches which are perfect for collecting larger trees.  I would have liked something a bit deeper but hey, you can’t win them all.

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Since I want to plant my trees in these guys, I have to drill plenty of holes for drainage and cover them up with some plastic canvas.  You can pick this up really cheap too.  I buy it in sheets and can cut them to whatever size I need.

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Unfortunately, I only have one picture of the swamp or the digging process.  I was afraid to take my phone out and drop it.  You can see the conditions I was digging in…knee high water with nothing except bugs and trees but it was beautiful out there and very peaceful.

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Once you have picked out your tree, getting it out of the ground is extremely easy compared to other trees in solid ground.  A circle around the tree with a hand saw and you’re ready to haul it out in 5 minutes. 

I picked out 3 Bald Cypress and 1 Water Elm.  I bagged them up and threw them in the truck.

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Keeping them in the cab gave them the best chance to survive.  Since I had to drive over an hour on the interstate, the wind and heat could have stressed them out too much.  Better to be safe than sorry!

I got home and set them out in the driveway to admire my haul.  I was hot, sweaty, and worn out, but I had a lot of work ahead of me. 

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I started with the Water Elm and it went pretty quickly.  This tree has great movement and pretty good taper halfway up the tree.  I left it much longer than my final design calls for.  Sometimes your tree will die back from the chop so I want to give it plenty of room.  I also needed the extra room to secure a screw to the tree and pot to help hold it upright.  The screw won’t hurt the tree at all and will be in an area that will be removed later on.  I could have wired it in to the container but it would have taken a hell of a lot more wire and a lot more time.  This way took less than 5 minutes.

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Once I had my elm all potted up and watered, I started on my Bald Cypress.  The process is the same for all of them so I don’t have a lot of progress pics on each tree.  The flare on the base of these trees is why they are so loved for bonsai.  They backbud like wildfire and are pretty tough.  The three I chose had very large bases and good taper.  They are also very tall but will likely stay that way.  I may end up taking off a bit more later on with a tapered cut, but I can’t remove too much more or the ratio will start to look all funky and I will lose my taper.  Anyway, on to the trees!

The first one is an average well aged tree.

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The second one has a very small knee formed on the left side in this picture.  Knees are highly desirable and a unique feature.  They only form on older, mature trees and are the only tree I know of to form this growth.

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The third one, and my favorite one, has a huge knee on the side.  This tree will be a real showstopper in a few years.  Not only was it the best looking tree, it also had the healthiest fine rooting of any of the ones I collected.  The top 2-3 inches were all very fine roots.  I was shocked to see these were all roots and not just caked mud around the top of the root ball.  It should bounce back very quickly with these fine feeder roots.  It will take a few years to get rooting anywhere near this good on the other 2 I collected.

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Once I started getting them in pots, I was so glad I hoarded up all the soil components I could find earlier this year.  I went through 3 totes of pine bark, turface, and pumice!  You can see in the group shot below that I even had to resort to using the sifted fines I had for saved for starting seeds.  I was getting nervous that I would run out but I barely had enough to finish.

 

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I will update on these guys in about a month or two and see how well they have responded.

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5 thoughts on “Swampathon 2014

  1. I’ve watched several videos of another guy that collects cypress in the summer and I’m very surprised they’re living afterwards. Here in Florida it’s only done in the coldest months. I’m interested in the aftercare you’re giving it (are you putting them in a tub of water for example?)

    1. Adam,

      I just pot them as deep as I can and keep them watered very well. This is my first time collecting these in the Summer but I have several friends in the area who are very successful at this time of the year. I’ll be updating with how well they respond.

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