Understanding Bonsai Soil

Understanding Bonsai Soil

All good bonsai soil has three things in common. 1) The ability to retain water, 2) the ability to drain well, and 3) sufficient aeration.

  • The ability to retain water

Most bonsai should never “have wet feet.” This means that you want to get water to the roots but in most cases, you never want to have the roots soaking in water. You need a particle that will hold the water needed by the plant.

  • The ability to drain well

Good bonsai soil should drain well. This lets the particles mentioned above capture moister but allows excess water to drain away.

  • Sufficient aeration

The particles that you use must have enough space to allow tiny pockets of air. This allows beneficial fungus and bacteria to thrive helping the plant to feed.

In the weeks ahead, I will be discussing each of the qualities and how they affect plants. Hopefully, I will also show how to save money by mixing your bonsai soil locally, using native materials.

Water Retention

  • Akadama – occurs naturally in one region of Japan. It is collected, graded, and sold by size. It is unfired and appears to be clay. However, it has a great ability to hold moisture and when it breaks down, it becomes sand-like and will not harm feeder roots. Akadama is widely used among bonsai enthusiasts and as such has risen rapidly in price over the last few years.
  • Turface MVP – is a brand name of a product used to keep baseball infields dry. Turface is porous calcined-clay. It absorbs water very well and does not easily compact. It is available at commercial gardening companies. Turface can be purchased for a low price and does not usually have added chemicals. When sifting you must protect yourself from breathing the dust.
  • Perlite – is a volcanic glass that is formed by the hydration of volcanic obsidian glass. It occurs naturally and holds water well. It is hard to find in bulk quantities.
  • Cat (Kitty) litter/Multi-Purpose Garage Absorbent – standard cat litter is made and works in a similar manner to Turface. The problem with using these materials is that it often has perfumes and other additives. When sifting you must protect yourself from breathing the dust.

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