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Are you still using Bonsai Soil?

If so it’s probably a good time to drop it. I understand we are creatures of habit and it’s hard to change what you do…especially if you have been doing bonsai awhile. I can remember the first time I heard “you should put more drainage in your soil”. It was John Thompson talking to me at a Wednesday night workshop. It was really driven home when I started taking Boons classes….

So that was a blog I started a while back…pretty one sided right…maybe or not really? So I am changing this blogs name…
How to start a fight in bonsai…Fast! For Fun please stop by my Facebook group

Walk into a room full of bonsiast and say the best soil only uses rockadoma. Within seconds you will get…well I use turface, I use akadama, or I use pumice, or I use turkey grit, I use kanuma, I use caladama, or I use lava, I use sand, I use gravel dust, I use fir bark, I use gravel, I use super soil all said while puffing out their chest….Ok you get the picture and remember most of these people will fight you to the death about how right they are. They will fight that person who just got back from Japan who studied all the latest techniques in bonsai. I think everyone likes a good fight but let’s talk about what that soil is really doing.

Is it that the soil mix is just keeping your bonsai alive or is it really helping it thrive? I would say I am a little opinionated having tried mixes that did not work. First, I tried river rock and straight super soil…hey, I sifted out the small stuff just like the club taught. When re-potting season came around I would end up … well with a mess and not many fibrous roots. Then I began adding Red Lava, “hello”, wish someone had told me wash it, wash it and wash it and wash it again. Another re-potting season went by and each plant I pulled out had red lava dust all in the bottom of my pots and roots stained red. Yes I lost a few plants back then. Then I noticed a few people were using pumice…OK. so now I got it the mix right. No it still was not the mix…I was just keeping my plants alive…Barely.

I then began taking Boons class and my first class was, you guessed it… spring re-potting. I remember getting in my truck after class and going to lunch with a fellow student named Dan and telling Dan. Seriously no matter what he says I will never change my soil. Stubborn yes, ignorant yes…but you can overcome ignorance….it just meant I did not know. So I went home and began removing things from my soil. I would even email Boon and ask “ok, why shouldn’t I use certain things like fir bark”? Boon would say well “fir bark is the main ingredient in the stuff they spread in your garden flower beds to block light and kill weeds”. “It also breaks down and double or triples your nitrogen level”. I thought to myself wait a minute, I am fertilizing with low nitrogen why would I want more nitrogen in my soil. I felt like I was sabotaging what I was learning.

OK, so with doubt I removed all organics, yes I said all and began using… well no organics whatsoever. It’s been a little over two and a half years since I changed my soil…. Actually, it’s no longer soil. Its bonsai Mix it consists of all non-organic rock and a few other secrets. I don’t have a degree in Soil-oligy but a have a mix that finally works fantastic. Is this a sales pitch for my mix…Honestly no!

But because of taking some good advice which was hard to do, my mix provides excellent drainage, and what does excellent drainage do for your roots. It provides them with much needed oxygen, water and moisture without the muck mess or the bottom of your bonsai pots being coated with dust from unwashed lava, pumice or soil. I would love to make everyone happy and tell them use what works for you. But then I would be politically correct and that just would be wrong. Try a little something new and see if your plants improve add a little more…hell add a lot more drainage to mix and see what happens.

This may be redundant but here is what I do. I screen all material that is bone dry. I use the largest screened medium as drainage. I use the other sizes and mix three or four different aggregates together. I of course discard the dust. Ok, here is one small little secret I will let you in on because I want your plants to thrive also. You may already know this…Add Charcoal. Really Charcoal, yes it helps remove impurities and I believe it’s a secret weapon. Explain to me why some plants can’t grow until a fire happens in the forest and how after the fire the plants in that area grow like they are on steroids.

The pictures I am posting are missing the before picture, you will have to take my word…But pictures don’t lie. My Student got this tree from the raffle table in January of this year, 2013. He said there was no roots and hardly any soil keeping this plant alive and was very sickly. He re-potted it in my mix, I traded him a plant in September for this one since I did not have a Hinoki cypress. Here are the pictures of the after being in a well-drained mix for 7 months…Let’s say I was wrong? Let’s say this had been in my mix for two years. I don’t know about you but I would still be extremely happy. I would be ecstatic. Isn’t it fun to explore!!

I look forward to the fight to follow.



Before removing from pot

Great mix great roots

the end...No the beginning!!

Written by Ron Anderson — November 07, 2013