Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

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Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  Afellure on Mon Jun 25, 2018 12:58 pm

So, from reading I believe the following are the main components of your average bonsai substrate:
Akadama/turface (30% to 60%)
Crushed lava rock/diatomaceous earth (20% to 100%)
Some sort of organic component (0% to 35%)
The percentage of components varies from source to source so the ranges I put are pretty much the maximum ranges I have found of those components.
So, my first question is how do you tell a good bonsai mix from a bad one, before you make a mistake and hurt a plant? I know that it varies from locale to locale and even species to species. However, I don’t want to play trial and error with some of the amazing trees that I have my eye on collecting. I would kick myself if I killed some of the pieces of living art that I have found that I want to bring out so other people can see. I suppose, ideally, someone from my area or at least from my zone (zone 6a or 6b depending on the map you look at), would probably know best what would work and wouldn’t work around here.
There is a caveat though, and that is that after about a month and a half of searching, in my local area I do not have any of the typical components for bonsai except the least component which is the organic component. My question is this; what sort of bonsai soil alternatives have users on here used with success?
I have the following available to me, which may or may not work:
#9 grit (crushed limestone)
crushed brick
this stuff for cleaning up oil spills that the guy at Rural King says is crushed pumice rock (he wasn’t sure though)
kitty litter from Wal-Mart
I live near the Ohio River so I’m sure I could find sand for free
decomposed shale
repti bark (shredded bark/coconut husks)
fine crushed walnut shells
pea gravel
expanded clay pellets
Perlite
There is probably more stuff like that that I could find if I looked. But from my initial search this is what I have thought of.  Are there any thoughts from anybody on what of that would and wouldn’t work for alternatives?

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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Mon Jun 25, 2018 3:13 pm

Afellure,

bonsai soil should be freely draining, yet moisture retentive.

You need to be aware of your humidity.

Think about this ------- the Ball Bearing Principle - a glass tumbler, marbles.
How do the spheres touch each other. Water passes through, 02 comes in.
[ Thank you Ms. Iris Cohen around 2010 ]

That said, think carefully about adding inorganic materials that breakdown with
time and are smashed by roots.

My soil mix is 5 mm silica based gravel, aged sifted compost and if needed crushed
red brick, porous also at 5 mm.
Aged compost is compost left in a large covered container, kept moist, and in the
dark, weed seeds germinate and die [ in the dark for up to a year.]

This is a soil mix based on the 2nd most popular soil mix of the early 80's [ American Bonsai
Society survey ] which is how long I have been growing Bonsai.

Try and work with native seedlings first. Would be easier on your nerves.
Within every 50 x 50 miles there are supposed to be 30 to 50 usable natives for Bonsai.
Until.
Khaimraj










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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  kevin stoeveken on Mon Jun 25, 2018 6:23 pm

couple quick notes:

do not use kitty litter... the stuff here in the US is usually perfumed or treated in some way
the "oil dry stuff" is not pumice... if you are lucky it may be diatomaceous earth, which does not suck too much as a substrate componant
(NAPA has the good stuff if thats the route you wanna go... some folks have great success using 100% Napa oil dry)

any bark you consider s/b composted (fafards pine bark is one and its easy to find... also orchid bark is good to use)

small lava is good and can be ordered from home depot

you wrote "Crushed lava rock/diatomaceous earth" together, but they are very different

a product called "soil perfecter" is also a good componant and is expanded shale...

I have replied to your question because i do not (and do not want to) use akadama and so I have spent some years coming up with a really good substrate that uses componants sourced 100% from North America... (Wisco Gold... you can google it)


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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  Afellure on Tue Jun 26, 2018 4:49 am

Khaimraj, you have brought several useful principles into the light for me that I had not considered previously, thank you. I will see if the local brick/stone place has 5mm silica based gravel.
Kevin, I will go back tomorrow and see if it is diatomaceous earth. Also, thank you for the other advice.
Is there a proper way to compost the bark? My friend gave me 2 bags of orchid soil I was also considering adding to my mix. Seems to be mostly bark.

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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  Afellure on Tue Jun 26, 2018 5:01 pm

There is a local stone and block place, but when I called them up they had no idea what I was talking about when I asked if they had silica based gravel. They also treated me like I was a weirdo for asking if they had 5 mm gravel specifically. They said they don’t measure it like that. After I described what I was looking for, I found out that they have #8 and #9 and pressure crushed brick as well as #7 #8 and #9 gravel. Would any type of rock gravel do? As long as it’s not limestone as I read that that can basify the soil?
With a combination of one of those crushed brick screenings one of those gravel screenings and some low percentage of organic material make a good bonsai mix possibly?
What screen size gravel and brick should I use if so?

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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  Afellure on Tue Jun 26, 2018 5:03 pm

I also just found a place locally that sells Napa oil dry for seven dollars a bag.

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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  Bougies!!1!1!!! :) on Tue Jun 26, 2018 7:23 pm

kevin stoeveken wrote:couple quick notes:

do not use kitty litter... the stuff here in the US is usually perfumed or treated in some way
the "oil dry stuff" is not pumice... if you are lucky it may be diatomaceous earth, which does not suck too much as a substrate componant
(NAPA has the good stuff if thats the route you wanna go... some folks have great success using 100% Napa oil dry)

any bark you consider s/b composted (fafards pine bark is one and its easy to find... also orchid bark is good to use)

small lava is good and can be ordered from home depot

you wrote "Crushed lava rock/diatomaceous earth" together, but they are very different

a product called "soil perfecter" is also a good componant and is expanded shale...

I have replied to your question because i do not (and do not want to) use akadama and so I have spent some years coming up with a really good substrate that uses componants sourced 100% from North America... (Wisco Gold... you can google it)


"Wisco Gold" eh? Will be googling that myself ;D

Fully agree that cat litter in the US is probably not a good idea, in the UK I guess there's a popular variety that's DE but in the US I've never heard of a brand that is.. NAPA's 8822 DE is fine, I mean I love DE but the problem is their particle size is just so terribly small it just barely can go into a mix...last year when I was still making more mistakes than not, I setup some all-DE boxes (large ones, two had >1' wide trunks in them!) and man do they retain water in large containers- I was actually growing mushrooms from one of the boxes!!! While I did get fantastic growth, that tree also has the worst algae problem on its lower bark..now I'd only use pure DE or heavy-DE blends for rooting stuff or for small 'shohin' size trees (ie shallow pots only!)

I'm of the same mindset as you, not only is akadama inappropriate for us here (as it's not from here and needs to be shipped internationally...) but it breaks-down in a way other stuff doesn't, and with enough aggregates available locally- DE, perlite, scoria/lava, pumice, organics - you can tweak a substrate's total CEC/pH/WHC/etc to your liking w/o ever wanting for akadama!
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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  Bougies!!1!1!!! :) on Tue Jun 26, 2018 7:30 pm

Afellure wrote: I also just found a place locally that sells Napa oil dry for seven dollars a bag.

Can't recommend enough that you get a 1mm (at the smallest) sifter (window screening works well IME), sift the dust out of that *and* then go and rinse it while it's in the sifter, you'll see the water run-off being gray at first, you *do not* want that in your mix as the DE from this product is already about as small as you can use after you've sieved/sifted/rinsed (and even then I'd consider it inappropriate as a major component, like >15 or 20%, of any mixture for a container w/ >1/4gal substrate or taller than 1.5-2", it just holds water too-well and, when used alone, can really pack itself together tight, the particles 'interlocking' with each other)

I do use the stuff in almost all my blends though (and the NAPA product is probably all you'll find locally for DE if you're in the US), I find its water-holding capacity (WHC) to be high-enough that, along with a little organics, they off-set the primary ingredients of my mixes (lava-rock & perlite, both of which have terrible WHC and incredibly low CEC values) I actually smash&sieve my scoria/lava rock myself, it's nice having several different sizes available depending on what I'm trying to pot, but doing it this way lets me get a couple bags of landscape lava-rock, a bag of DE, a couple small bags of perlite, I'll be at ~$20 and have a *ton* of great substrate! Just can't stress how important sifting and then rinsing is on lots of these components!
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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  Bougies!!1!1!!! :) on Tue Jun 26, 2018 7:37 pm

Also the 'crushed limestone' - check if that's going to have any significant impact on the substrate's pH, because if you're using tap-water to water your plants there's a good chance you're using alkaline water and trees' roots don't uptake nutrients so well when they're in relatively-neutral pH substrate and getting watered w/ alkaline water (my tap is 8pH, my rain is 4.7pH...)




I'd also suggest you read walter pall's article here: http://walter-pall-bonsai.blogspot.com/2010/06/feeding-substrate-and-watering-english.html

With how worried you are about substrate being a life/death thing to these trees I can't help but wonder how informed you are about what you're collecting (ie whether it's the right time of the year for that species, whether there's special techs for collection, etc), this is important as collecting varies wildly, I'm in FL and can collect bougies/crapes any time of the year summer or winter, however bald cypress I can only collect in dec/jan. Then there's things like most ficus being able to take a trunk-chop....when I started-out my first attempted bonsai was a ficus benjamina, I trunk-chopped it just like everyone does on their ficus', only to watch it die slowly for months- turns out the benjamina cultivar doesn't back-bud when trunk-chopped below foliage!

Sorry if you're 100% about how to collect but with the Q's on soil I'm guessing you're new so just wanted to potentially avert wasted time & materials for you ;D
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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  Afellure on Tue Jun 26, 2018 10:32 pm

Bougies, thank you for the sage advice! I ordered some 1/8” hardware cloth (like heavy-duty metal galvanized screen) from a local hardware store today. It will get there Monday. They said if I wanted smaller screen that I’d have to go with nylon screen and that didn’t sound sturdy enough to do the job. I will check at Walmart for smaller screen mesh sizes. My plan is to make a box about the size of the wood bonsai pots I just built and attach the screening to the bottom and just shake it. Then take whatever is left in the box and wash it like you suggested.

I looked into the limestone, and Bougie you are correct, I believe it would make any mix unusable because it seems (from your insert) that it would make most nutrients less available.

So, here are the materials I have gathered so far:
Shredded and sifted bark around the 1/8” to 1/4” size
“Orchid Soil” it was on sale at Lowe’s for $0.88 figured even if it ends up not being suitable, it isn’t a huge loss
Perlite
Napa Oil Dry 8822

Correct me if I’m wrong, but all I seem to be missing is a non-porous/won’t raise pH gravel around 5mm or so in size? I might be able to sift that out of some creek gravel and pick out the bits that are too big.

Bougie, you are correct on all fronts ha ha, I am VERY new to the practice of bonsai. I have read about it for years, but only just within this year started making serious effort to actually try to start doing this. I have kept some succulents and called them “bonsai” but they weren’t really. More just plants that formed a caudex or species like Trichodiadema bulbosum.

I should have been more informed about when to collect, as you say. With all the reading I have done, I didn’t even think of that unfortunately. Although I’m not one to allow mistakes to stop me from continuing to try. NEVER fear that you will upset me or hurt my feelings by correcting me or making a suggestion. I try to have a student mindset at all times, and consider such things kind actually, as you (or whomever) have taken some time out of your day to actually read what a noob like me wrote and come up with a very useful response meant to help me. And others who come after looking for the same info.

And I do have a general idea of the species I collected, although I am no expert and I’m not sure at all on one. I will take pictures soon and post them in the tree identification section. Any good compendiums on when best to collect certain species of trees?

Without having posted anything on the tree identification page yet, I believe the three species I collected are Dogwood (Cornus spp.), Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), and Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris).

I would really love to find someone in my general area who I could take collecting with me. I feel somebody with more experience would be very useful with hands-on learning of this stuff. And I would be willing to trade some honey holes I have found for info/practical local bonsai knowledge.

P.S.-Sorry for the mini-novella XD


Last edited by Afellure on Tue Jun 26, 2018 11:42 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  Afellure on Tue Jun 26, 2018 11:17 pm

Here are the substrate materials I have gathered so far. The first picture is perlite.




Plus, the 8822 Napa Oil Dry, just didn’t wanna open it yet lol.

While I was at the hardware store, I took a picture of the screening you were asking about also.


I rather enjoy my front porch:


And so does my Archimedes thumbs up

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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  Afellure on Tue Jun 26, 2018 11:24 pm

That Walter Pall article was most enlightening.

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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  Afellure on Wed Jun 27, 2018 3:39 pm

It would appear that the only crushed stone I can source locally to purchase, is limestone. Which is going to be unsuitable. Looks like I’m going to have to continue with the screened creek sand/gravel for now. Trying to do everything as local as possible. I really like the idea of sourcing all the things I need to grow my plants as locally as the plants themselves.At least as much as possible. Also, it seems to be more economical if one can make it work.

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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  kevin stoeveken on Wed Jun 27, 2018 6:00 pm

with all due respect to Khai, just skip the gravel...
he is in a FAR FAR different climate than you and uses what is available to him...
and while Bougies offered good advice as well, they are in Florida, so bear that in mind...
ALWAYS consider where the advice is coming from and adapt it to your climate...

for just starting out, you will be just fine with 100% SIFTED napa oil dry (and a simple window screen will do for getting the dust out)...
yes, the particle size is small, so it will hold plenty of water (size matters Razz )

small particle = more water retention
large = less




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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  Afellure on Fri Jun 29, 2018 3:02 pm

Kevin, I ended up skipping the gravel. What I ended up using, was approximately (by volume) 10% larger chunks of fir bark, 10% perlite, and 80% oil dry. I sifted and rinsed everything through a sieve with ~2mm mesh. It was kind of neat watching the diatomaceous dust being pushed out of the bottom of the sieve as the water was going into it.
Everybody seems happy so far.
I have read several conflicting theories on when to start fertilizing a new tree like that however, and was wondering if anybody might be able to clear that up for me with some practical experience. I have read some places where it says you should wait a week or up to a month before you fertilize a new tree for the first time. And some people say you should fertilize with the first watering. Others say just throw a handful of chicken poop on top of the soil and water that until that’s gone and then start fertilizing. What do people think is best?

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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  kevin stoeveken on Sat Jun 30, 2018 7:26 pm

GENERALLY speaking it is not good to fertilize a newly repotted tree...
again... species specific... but as a general rule, after about a month, its ok, but start light and increase as time goes on
(but again (and again and again) that also depends on the time of year if it is appropriate to fertilize that particular species yet...)


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Post  Afellure on Sun Jul 01, 2018 12:52 am

Thank you Kevin, I’m gonna wait about a month or from what I read if I see new growth then it’s okay. Does that sound solid? Also I know to slow down and stop fertilizer in the winter as the tree stops growing. I apologize if my ignorance/excitement (which lead to me jumping the gun on collecting 3 trees that I should not have collected at the time of the year) has upset anyone or ruffled any feathers. After digging up some trees that were going to be removed from McDonald’s and would have died anyways, I got really excited to jump in headfirst. But the fair admonishment I recieved has not mad me want to stop trying. In fact it has made me more determined to not repeat those mistakes and learn everything I can/look up read anything you more experienced bonsiers suggest. I’m NOT looking to have my hand held, but I am determined to never put a tree at risk again, even or especially through ignorance (by trying to learn everything I can to avoid that). I also have the opportunity to rescue a few Japanese maples tomorrow that will otherwise be ripped out and thrown in the waste bin. Gonna start a new thread for that though.

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Post  kevin stoeveken on Sun Jul 01, 2018 1:10 pm

my initial enthusiasm was not unlike yours... but a few people here helped reel me in (RIP Jim Lewis for one)

and yeah, even at this time of year, if i see something interesting getting yanked out by the march of "progress" (i.e. paving paradise to put up a parking lot), i too will still grab her and give her a go...

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Post  Afellure on Tue Jul 03, 2018 1:11 pm

Thank you, now I don’t feel so bad about having overdone my excitement Smile And I do genuinely appreciate you guys helping to reel me in, as I am serious about getting into bonsai and doing it right. And I realize now that a more careful controlled approach will be the way to make things work out. Being me, I will always get excited about things, but now that I know little bowl bit more about what I didn’t know, I think I will be able to control that excitement and focus it.

All of the trees were looking decently healthy as far as I could tell, until yesterday, and then in the morning I caught the neighbors huge Great Dane peeing on two of the trees. The substrate on my other trees already looked partially wet. I shooed him off, and then immediately watered the trees more than I normally would to hopefully wash the urine out. However, by the end of the day, every single leaf on those trees except the Pines was crinkling up and looking weird. This morning, pretty much all of the leaves are looking dead now. Could that have been caused by the dog? Or did they all just get too stressed out by heat yesterday? Even though I watered them four times? I tried to water them every time the soil looked like it was drying out, because it was in the upper 90s yesterday.

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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  Vance Wood on Wed Jul 04, 2018 12:55 am

Afellure wrote:So, from reading I believe the following are the main components of your average bonsai substrate:
Akadama/turface (30% to 60%)
Crushed lava rock/diatomaceous earth (20% to 100%)
Some sort of organic component (0% to 35%)
The percentage of components varies from source to source so the ranges I put are pretty much the maximum ranges I have found of those components.
So, my first question is how do you tell a good bonsai mix from a bad one, before you make a mistake and hurt a plant? I know that it varies from locale to locale and even species to species. However, I don’t want to play trial and error with some of the amazing trees that I have my eye on collecting. I would kick myself if I killed some of the pieces of living art that I have found that I want to bring out so other people can see. I suppose, ideally, someone from my area or at least from my zone (zone 6a or 6b depending on the map you look at), would probably know best what would work and wouldn’t work around here.
There is a caveat though, and that is that after about a month and a half of searching, in my local area I do not have any of the typical components for bonsai except the least component which is the organic component. My question is this; what sort of bonsai soil alternatives have users on here used with success?
I have the following available to me, which may or may not work:
#9 grit (crushed limestone)
crushed brick
this stuff for cleaning up oil spills that the guy at Rural King says is crushed pumice rock (he wasn’t sure though)
kitty litter from Wal-Mart
I live near the Ohio River so I’m sure I could find sand for free
decomposed shale
repti bark (shredded bark/coconut husks)
fine crushed walnut shells
pea gravel
expanded clay pellets
Perlite
There is probably more stuff like that that I could find if I looked. But from my initial search this is what I have thought of.  Are there any thoughts from anybody on what of that would and wouldn’t work for alternatives?

The truth is before you run off the deep end; unless you are dealing with a really sensitive tree with very specific needs it is very difficult to negatively impact a tree with a mediocre soil mix as long as you pay attention too your watering.
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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  Vance Wood on Wed Jul 04, 2018 12:59 am

Afellure wrote:Thank you, now I don’t feel so bad about having overdone my excitement Smile And I do genuinely appreciate you guys helping to reel me in, as I am serious about getting into bonsai and doing it right. And I realize now that a more careful controlled approach will be the way to make things work out. Being me, I will always get excited about things, but now that I know little bowl bit more about what I didn’t know, I think I will be able to control that excitement and focus it.

All of the trees were looking decently healthy as far as I could tell, until yesterday, and then in the morning I caught the neighbors huge Great Dane peeing on two of the trees. The substrate on my other trees already looked partially wet. I shooed him off, and then immediately watered the trees more than I normally would to hopefully wash the urine out.  However, by the end of the day, every single leaf on those trees except the Pines was crinkling up and looking weird. This morning, pretty much all of the leaves are looking dead now. Could that have been caused by the dog? Or did they all just get too stressed out by heat yesterday? Even though I watered them four times? I tried to water them every time the soil looked like it was drying out, because it was in the upper 90s yesterday.

You have a problem you have to deal with. Obviously you do not have an area that is isolated from your neighbors so apparently your trees are susceptible to dog wee. You are going to have to find a way to deal with this.
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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  kevin stoeveken on Wed Jul 04, 2018 6:40 pm

Hhhhmmmm Our Arbor Arts member in Australia, Denno, likes to have a slash on his ficus from time to time...
He aint killed em yet geek lol!

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Post  Bougies!!1!1!!! :) on Sun Jul 15, 2018 5:41 pm

[firstly- *awesome* patio!!!]

[edited-in: Secondly, is your handle slang for "a fella"? Smile ]

Afellure wrote: It would appear that the only crushed stone I can source locally to purchase, is limestone. Which is going to be unsuitable. Looks like I’m going to have to continue with the screened creek sand/gravel for now. Trying to do everything as local as possible. I really like the idea of sourcing all the things I need to grow my plants as locally as the plants themselves.At least as much as possible. Also, it seems to be more economical if one can make it work.

Such awesome sentiment, am the same way myself ie I collect/propagate my trees, my backyard is ringed w/ bonsai-benches that I made entirely of salvaged wood and then painted to make uniform, and my substrates are things I can get from Home Depot and process myself (lava/scoria, perlite, DE, bark nuggets) I like that Orchid-Mix stuff you pictured, though they charge an arm and a leg IMO (for me, I already have the other stuff so it's really just a small bag of bark for like $5, I can spend $3 and get a huge bag of "mini bark nuggets" and, to manually-process an amount equivalent to the $5 bag, spend maybe 10min- that'd put my time at $30 an hour, so that's effective IMO!!) Have used every variety they offer at one point or another though, they're definitely solid for organics (of course sieving&rinsing is necessary here but that's the case w/ *all* aggregates IMO!!)

Love the idea of smart/sustainable/efficient uses of things, use that as a guiding principle in how I approach things-in-general and particularly bonsai, anyways if you've got access to ample creek sand(*large*-particle sand of course!) and gravel, and you screen appropriately, you should be able to have bags/buckets of 2mm gravel, 3-4mm gravel, 4-5mm gravel etc etc, and since you know that it's a great *shape* but has very low WHC/CEC (water holding & nutrient-retention) characteristics, well, you can simply amend it with something that's got as-high-as-you-need WHC & CEC, sphagnum moss is the champ in this context IMO, you could probably get away with something like 10% sphag / 90% rock, you'd want to play-around with mixtures as well as putting pen-to-paper to do #'s to calculate the *total*/average WHC/CEC of your mixture, I mean a standard mix has relatively similar WHC/CEC values among the particles, if you used just the 2 aggregates mentioned they have such dramatically different WHC&CEC values that I'm unsure if 7%, or 18%, sphagnum is the best, but with a calculator you can figure-out the ratio needed to make the final mixture have a total-WHC&CEC that matches the type of bonsai-mix you'd ideally buy if $ were no object and shipping didn't bother you!

(want to be clear that I'm referring to the tan sphagnum moss, not the *peat* sphagnum moss that's brown/crumbly. Most types of sphagnum moss I find for sale require chopping before usage as they tend to come in tight clumps, the container my current sphagnum is in was quasi-air-sealed and looks like a tan brick of pot lol, but yeah you have to break it up / cut it up to get it a good size, *then* I'll put it in my rinsing-box - 4 pieces of wood that hold a window-screen, 1mm holes - and hose quantities of the cut sphagnum thoroughly to be sure to remove all dust/fines, I do that when using it at 3-5% so if you're considering what I suggested above just consider how much more important it'll be to thoroughly rinse any aggregates you use that have small particles/fines!)

It depends what container size you're using, what you're growing and the manner you're trying to grow it, but generally speaking I'd say rocks/pebbles in the 2-5mm range (no sand/grit) and sphagnum at the % needed to counter-balance the 0% WHC & CEC of the stones is just fine, the difference between that and a "perfect bonsai mix" is less than the differences that most can make by learning pH or watering-rates better, ie the gravel/sphagnum will do what you need / be a reliable bonsai mix for the life of the sphagnum (which isn't that long, sadly- if you want extra longevity you could substitute bark-chunks for the sphagnum, it's got less WHC and CEC than sphag but has like 2-3x the lifespan!) There's also the DE from NAPA (product 8822), this stuff has a higher WHC than akadama and is small-but-usable sized particles, at maybe 30% it could be a good balance to a 2-4mm pebble mix (I can't think of any reason you'd want <1 or 1.5mm particles, unless it's in the context of top-dressing larger containers or some other special-use case, I generally just let <1mm particles rinse right to the ground / consider them useless for bonsai)
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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  Marty Weiser on Mon Jul 16, 2018 5:26 am

I did a fairly detailed analysis of the common Diatomatous rock products this spring in my area (Spokane, WA). NAPA Oil dry was the finest of the 3. Here are the results.

                                                   -1/16"        -1/8"       -1/4"   -1/3"
NAPA Oil Dry                                 15%            63%        22%
O'Reilly's Floor Dry                          2%            37%        61%      
Down to Earth Diatomatic Earth        0%             0% 60%        40%

All three are mined in the western USA (Nevada I think). O'Reilly's is also know as Schucks in some parts of the country. I saw something that the Down to Earth is available back east (I am originally from outside of Columbus, OH).

For sieving I also use 1/3" hardware cloth which I buy from McMaster-Carr to screen out the larger particles of some of my components.

In the western USA we also use pumice and lava as bonsai substrates since they are fairly readily available with fairly significant mines in Oregon and Idaho. Pumice is light enough that it could be shipped if not readily available. I have also used some perlite (chemically similar to pumice, but lighter) recently and the results look fairly good, but I don't have long term results.

I recommend against crushed limestone or oyster shells since they tend to be rather alkaline as others have noted. Some brands of chicken and turkey grit are crushed granite which is good, but my guess is that in the eastern USA they are limestone. Another option might be crushed sandstone which might be similar to crushed brick. There are several brick kilns in that part of the country and they might be able to point you to distributers of their crushed brick waste.


Last edited by Marty Weiser on Mon Jul 16, 2018 1:22 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Corrected Data for Diamatitic Earth)

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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

Post  Afellure on Mon Jul 16, 2018 1:53 pm

Bougies, thank you for all that information. I’m gonna research how to properly measure WHC and CEC today. I’m curious to compare the mix I made with other things. How does one determine ideal quantifications of those qualities? From a cursory search, there isn’t much solid data on that but some stronger general consensuses. If it’s mostly trial and error (as there are many variables and I have learned they there is rarely only one “good” answer) then it seems like it might be a good idea to pot up two or three of the same type/age/size of trees in each of the substrates with different WHC/CEC values within the reasonable range of those values that seem to be more popular. Grow them in that for a year or two trying to keep all other variables the same, then see which trees are “happiest”. May need to repeat this for other species with different growth patterns/etc.

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Re: Bonsai soil questions/alternatives?

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