We go out on a Saturday or a Sunday after trees are dormant in the fall, or before buds swell in the spring.
Two of the most interesting activities that the Bonsai Winnipeg plans each year are the Spring and Fall Digs. A day trip is planned to an area usually within about an hour’s drive of Winnipeg. Members meet at a pre-arranged location, then form a convoy (car pooling encouraged) to a pre-scouted site in search of the perfect bonsai starter tree. Experienced members demonstrate the right way to dig a tree in the wild. You can then search the area for the perfect little twisted tree that you can take home, pot up, and begin the transformation into a wonderful bonsai. And the price is great, just show up with a smile.
There is usually more than one tree that ends up in the trunk of your car over the next couple of hours. All that is required in the way of tools is a shovel and a container big enough to hold your prize tree, which may vary from a small bag or pail, or a large container for the experienced member after the "big one". Other digging and pruning tools may be required, but these can always be borrowed from someone else at the time. Within reason these are rain or shine events, and occur in early spring, so you are advised to bring appropriate clothing and footwear, including rubber boots.
Once on the hunt, you’ll find that a little drizzle will not sway a bonsai enthusiast, and the sun is usually prevalent anyway. Many participants like to stop on the way home for a bite of lunch, and a chance to compare their new-found treasures, and stories.
These digs are a terrific and inexpensive way to obtain hardy native material. They are also a great social event. Friends, kids and pets welcome. Since it does involve walking in highway ditches or woods, and adults are often busy with the digging and carrying, it may not be advisable to bring young family members unless supervised closely by another adult.
Winnipeg, capital of the province of Manitoba, is just a few kilometres west of the longitudinal centre of Canada. Collecting bonsai from wild areas near Winnipeg is easy. The provincial government allows the harvesting of trees from any provincial road allowance. Trees can also be collected from the road allowance along trails in the provincial forests.
Just a 90-minute drive from the city towards the north, east and south-east, one can find tamarack, cedar, spruce and jack pine growing in the ditches. Some trees are young saplings while others have been cut back several times by mowing equipment and have stout, interesting shapes.
Bogs on crown land can be a good source of naturally-stunted trees, as are the rocky outcroppings of the Canadian Shield where jack pine grow in pockets of soil between the rocks.
Gravel eskers, and glacial moraines are another good source of naturally stunted trees.
Private woodland and pasture land can be a good source for wild plums and hawthorn but be sure you have permission from the owner.
Don't overlook the overgrown shrubs in city gardens as potential bonsai. Consider lilac, potentilla, junipers, Amur maples and Chinese elms.
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