Help with substrate.

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Help with substrate.

Post  Mr. Carter on Fri Jun 08, 2012 4:22 pm

I've been researching different substrates and feeding schedules and now I have more questions. According to an article by Walter Pall, it's best to use a modern non organic substrate, water heavily, and feed heavily. Also it says if you do one of these things, you have to do the other two with it. So here's where my question comes in. With a modern inorganic substrate, you are required to water every single day, and sometimes two or three times a day. So what does one do when they don't have the time to water their plants three times a day? I could handle watering once a day, but two and three times a day? I have a full time job, and I'm not sure if I could swing that. So does that mean I could use say...20-30% organic material in my medium, to make up for the fact that I can't exactly baby my trees? And if this is the case, then how would I feed if I wanted the most healthy and vigorous plants? The article said feed every ten days, but ONLY if you use all modern substrate. Any help is always appreciated.

Also, I've been hunting for some of the ingredients to a more modern substrate but I can't seem to find anything around where I live. Maybe I'm not looking in the right places, but so far the only things I could find, were perlite and vermiculite. So as of right now that's what I have most of my plants in. About 30% vermiculite, 30% perlite, 30% soil (fox farm ocean forest) and a dash of sand. Am I going to have to order the stuff to make a good medium, or am I not looking in the right places?

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  MikeT307 on Fri Jun 08, 2012 4:46 pm

Turface - Pro League or MVP are very common potting soils for bonsai. Just do a forum search and you should be able to find where people get it. I'm south of you a ways but I got mine from Ewing irrigation. John Deere dealers also have it from what I've heard.

Although I value Walter Pall's opinion and everyone else's on here, you have to remember his location. He's doesn't live where you live. I doubt he sees many 100F degree days or hurricanes. Very Happy As long as the soil drains easily I see no problem with organics. Sure they are more likely to break down sooner and cause root problems but the extra moisture it holds gives me a little piece of mind when I'm away from home for 12 hours during the summer with no automated watering system in. This is only my second year so take my suggestions as a new comer lightly.

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  Poink88 on Fri Jun 08, 2012 4:56 pm

For Turface, check http://www.ewing1.com/ for a store near you. There are other irrigation and landscaping companies who carry it.

Being in TX, I have the same dilemma as you. Turface can dry fast (less than 24 hours even in my larger training pots). I am adding organics on my mix to retain more water longer. I can now go out of town on weekends w/o fear of my plants drying. Of course with it, you have to be mindful of the other ramifications and adjust accordingly.

Good luck finding your ideal mix!!!

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  FrankP999 on Fri Jun 08, 2012 6:22 pm

If you travel to the Monastery in Conyers, GA you can pick up many components: lava, akadama, pumice, etc. The Monastery is worth a trip anyways.

I have bought Dry Stall at farm equipment places like Southern Stores. Dry stall is basically pumice - has to be sifted though.

With some effort you can find compoments nearby. When you find something you like, buy an extra bag or two. You will use it as your collection grows and be glad you did when prices go up. Good luck.

Frank

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  Mr. Carter on Fri Jun 08, 2012 6:45 pm

Yeah a trip to the monastery would be cool, maybe sometime soon. As for now, I think I might try Oil Dri, maybe with some organic soil and sand. Those are things that I think will be fairly easy to get my hands on. I don't know, I guess it'll just take some experimenting. Thanks again for the advice.

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  drgonzo on Fri Jun 08, 2012 7:39 pm

I have been growing ALL my trees in pure inorganic Turface for two years now and have had excellent results. There are a few things to keep in mind when growing in 100% inorganics.

1. You must fertilize often and correctly. Cheap fertilizers that derive the bulk of their nitrogen from Urea will need to be flushed from the medium regularly as inorganic soils have limited microbial content to convert that Urea into a usable form for the tree. Without flushing, it and other salts, can build in the soil and you will have toxicities develop. You must use balanced Fertilizers that contain ALL the essential marco and micro elements needed for plant growth as inorganics contain basically no nutriment at all. I use Dyna-grow 7-7-7 now and its working well. When and If a nutrient deficiency arises it will do so quickly and usually with a pronounced display. Inorganics will FORCE you into learning the ins and outs of plant nutrition because its all up to you to feed them correctly. This knowledge is however WELL worth the time spend acquiring it.

2. Turface holds on to a surprising amount of water, if you like you can add chopped long strand sphagnum moss to your mixes to add a little acidity and hold on to a little extra moisture, I do this with my Maples. You can also top dress with the chopped Sphagnum and use it like a mulch.

3. Acid loving plants that need a lower Ph soil must have their needs respected by either making sure your fertilizer solution is at the correct ph after it interacts with the substrate to provide all the nutrients efficiently to the plants (liquid chemical ferts almost always Ph as relatively acidic so this is not usually a problem) Or by adding acidifying agents to the soil. Some inorganics are naturally lower in ph reaction and should be used for plants preferring a lower pH, (i.e. Kanuma and the like). Some folks simply use applications of fertilizers that are designed to acidify the soil water (i.e. Miracid) but such products often do so by using high amounts of Urea in the mix.

Organic fertilizers alone will again be mostly ineffective as there is limited microbial action within the soil to metabolize them and make them available in a form the plant can use.

4. Inorganics will "pretty much" eliminate overwatering and root rot. Not 100% of course but occurrence is much more limited. Plants grow better in my opinion and produce excellent root systems with all the extra oxygenation the inorganic substrate provides. It is also much easier to work with when re-potting a large collection.

As I have purchased higher end Bonsai from growers i have often found that any health or growing issues the trees may be displaying can often be corrected if I simply re-pot the tree into my inorganic mix. I am surprised at how often I have to do this and how heavily organic many reputable growers keep their mixes. No doubt done to help limit time spend watering a large stock of trees.

Thats my missive on inorganics and a bit of what I've learned so far.
-Jay


Last edited by drgonzo on Fri Jun 08, 2012 7:52 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  cbobgo on Fri Jun 08, 2012 7:52 pm

in additions to the suggestions above you could look into having an automated irrigation system. A simple lawn sprinkler on a timer can work really well for a mid day watering.

- bob

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  Mr. Carter on Fri Jun 08, 2012 8:03 pm

Wow man, you always come through with loads of info. It sounds like locating some turface is on my to do list. Could you maybe explain a little more about the use of organic fertilizers. You were saying they might be ineffective? I use a liquid organic, actually I think it's veganic, it's called bio thrive. So should I find an inorganic fertilizer to use?

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  drgonzo on Fri Jun 08, 2012 8:43 pm

Mr. Carter wrote: Could you maybe explain a little more about the use of organic fertilizers. You were saying they might be ineffective?

"organic" fertilizers require the metabolic action of soil microbes in order for their nutrients to be made available in a form the plant roots can absorb. The lower your concentrations of soil organisms the less efficient organic fertilizers will be and vice versa. Thats why working manure into your garden beds in the ground works well (lots of soil microbes in the ground) yet doing so in an inorganic bonsai soil (low microbial count) would be much less effective.

Urea in chemical fertilizers also requires metabolism by soil microorganisms in order to be converted into a form the plant can absorb.
-Jay

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  Mr. Carter on Fri Jun 08, 2012 9:15 pm

Okay, so as of right now my fertilizer should do it's job, because my mix is equal parts, organic soil, vermiculite, and perlite, with a little sand thrown in. But down the road when I decide to go with a medium like turface, I should look into a new fertilizer (that doesn't contain urea). Am I grasping this right? And also, even if I get ahold of some turface, all my plants have been repotted recently, so I shouldn't worry about trying to repot to a new mix until next year?

And this might be off topic a little, but I inoculated all of my plants when I repotted this year, but if I were to switch to an inorganic medium and a chemical fertilizer, would the mycortizae still be beneficial? I thought that I read somewhere that most chemical fertilizers cancel out the myco, or maybe kill it. Not sure I that is completely true, it's been a while since I've read up on it.

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  drgonzo on Fri Jun 08, 2012 10:13 pm

The effectiveness of Mico fungus in bonsai culture is a hot debate. The fungus live on and in the roots of the trees so substrate should have little effect on them. A high quality fertilizer designed for drip hydro in soilless medium (like dyna-grow) can make them less necessary but I don't personally think it makes them UN necessary. Many trees have evolved symbiotic relationships with soil Mico in order to facilitate absorption of micronutrients (and majors too I'm sure) in soil pH ranges that, without their help, would render those nutrients unavailable. To this end I think they are helpful. American Beech is a classic example of this with its mico fungus and Iron availability.

Even Turface has its issues, it is easily leached so i often run into K and Mn deficiencies especially as hot weather kicks in and I water a lot. I'm starting to think a good mix is chopped sphagnum and turface, to help hold on to some nutrients. I'm also starting to think that you can use organics like fertilizer balls in inorganic soils and as bits of them was into the soil, they act as breeding grounds for soil microorganisms and thus you increase the the microorganism count in the soil.

The only way you know if your fertilizer is "doing its job" is looking at your plants, it cant be inferred by deduction through examination of your soil components. Even in soils WITH high organic content Urea free fertilizers are much more efficient at delivering N to the roots and obviously less likely to be toxic as there is no Urea to have to rinse out of the organics.

With fertilizers, as with soil, 'whatever works best for you' I feel is the rule to live by. For me growing in Turface, Dyna-grow seems to work best. That combination of media and fertilizer so far has been the best I've tried. And I've tried all sorts of stuff. But what I am learning this year is I have to up the rate (not strength) at which I fertilize when I use such a free draining substrate.

-Jay

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  marcus watts on Fri Jun 08, 2012 11:24 pm

hi,
not much to add here apart from the long term results steadily improve with organic fertilizers. As Jay points out brand new inorganic soil mixes have little input in breaking down organic fertilisers due to the lack of initial microbes. Within a few months though microbes will be colonising the soils - and they will always exist in the heart of the rootball unless you are one of the very few who totally root wash the trees each repot.

in time you realise that many mature trees are far better repotted every 5-10 years rather than too frequently so the timescale for establishing soil microbes is much longer - by using inorganic soil particles and organic fertiliser you end up with a brilliantly balanced soil condition that remains working for many years - (it is years that are the key to bonsai results rather than months). Maybe an initial 6-8 weeks of chemical feeding is benefitial alongside organic applications but in the long game organics will give perfectly balanced results.

it only seems to be western growers that want to complicate feeding and bonsai additives when really its just about simply growing a plant in a set of conditions that remain stable year after year. - It is essential to understand agriculture, hydroponics, etc are about getting a finished crop quickly to market - bonsai is more about maintaining steady mature controled growth if a tree is to be convincingly mature in appearance ie short nodes, smaller leaves, short tight scales or needles - there is a subtle but essential difference.

welcome to the minefield of decision making - initially it depends on what stage your trees are at - (fast growth over mature growth), also your growing season and climate, and how much available time you have to devote to them..

in the early years experiment lots then stick with what works for you

cheers Marcus

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  Mr. Carter on Fri Jun 08, 2012 11:56 pm

Thanks for such detailed responses. I was hoping that I could keep at least some of my organics, because everything that I learned about gardening before I got into bonsai, insisted that organic was the way to go. My list of things I want keeps getting longer now. So I'm on the hunt for turface, some kind of bark (pine would be easiest to get where I'm at), and some new fertilizer. Toying around to find a perfect mix sounds like it will be fun too.

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  Steven on Sat Jun 09, 2012 12:16 am

Well put marcus!

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  drgonzo on Sat Jun 09, 2012 2:11 am

I toyed around with organic heavy soil mixes, organic fertilizer exclusively, inorganic fertilizer exclusively, inorganic substrate exclusively, and I'm starting to come around to an approach similar to what Marcus describes. A little bit of both in soil mixture and in fertilizer...there could possibly be poo poo balls in my future...we'll see.

-Jay

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  Steven on Sat Jun 09, 2012 2:24 am

I use a mix of high quality organic potting soil, perlite, vermiculite, sand, and either decomposed granite or fired clay depending on what i can get locally. Keep in mind most of my trees at this point are still young and being grown in larger pots, but I find it gives me a bit of a buffer where I live when the weather can jump or fall 30+ any day of the week.

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  Mr. Carter on Sat Jun 09, 2012 3:01 am

So if I'm wanting to make a mix of turface and sphagnum moss, or turface and bark, what do you think a good starting point would be in terms of proportions. 50 50? 75 25? I'm sure my climate is a lot different from NY, or the UK, so it's impossible for you to give me a guaranteed soil mix that work perfectly in Georgia. I just need an idea to build off of though, because I've never made a soil that doesn't contain soil.

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  crust on Sun Jun 10, 2012 1:39 am

One thing that gets rarely covered well during these substrate discussions is size of granule. Obviously if you have 1/4" nuggets of Turface or pumice or whatever it behaves differently than stuff that's been sifted down to 1/16"--or just used straight from the bag, fines and all. Organics even more so. I have always sifted and separated my substrate and keep quite a few deciduous and larch trees in a 70/30 mix of fine (1/16") Turface and fine soil conditioner (decomposing pine bark) I usually have added sand or a bit of perlite too I guess. But my point is to make it through the day the fine mix holds enough moisture in shallow pots for me.

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  Mr. Carter on Sun Jun 10, 2012 3:39 am

Thanks a lot man, that sounds like a good starting point for me. This sounds like it should be fun. I have the feeling that I'll turn into a mad scientist...constantly tweaking my formula...and causing small explosions...

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  toscgwsndiqz on Sun Jun 10, 2012 5:57 pm

Turface is available in Savannah at the John Deere supply in Garden City near US 80 and Chatham Parkway. I'm a big fan of the red lava rock.

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  FrankP999 on Sun Jun 10, 2012 6:22 pm

Where are you buying your red lava?

Thanks

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  toscgwsndiqz on Sun Jun 10, 2012 7:35 pm

FrankP999 wrote:Where are you buying your red lava?

Thanks

Colorado Lava

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  Mr. Carter on Sun Jun 10, 2012 9:08 pm

Sweet. That's just a few miles from my job, so I could swing by there on my way home. How much am I looking at spending on a bag?

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  Mr Miyagi on Sun Jun 10, 2012 9:43 pm

As long as all the properties are correct it matters not. Once a day is definitely OK, just make sure you water heavily. Not sure if you have seen this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccOGUj9b6dc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pij3eGv-nW0

Sam

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Re: Help with substrate.

Post  toscgwsndiqz on Sun Jun 10, 2012 10:25 pm

Mr. Carter wrote:Sweet. That's just a few miles from my job, so I could swing by there on my way home. How much am I looking at spending on a bag?

$17

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Re: Help with substrate.

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