Bonsai Soil
Bonsai Soil
Bonsai soil is one of the most critical aspects of growing bonsai.  A good soil mix will allow you to get away with some mistakes.  A bad soil mix will quickly kill your trees.  One of the first things to make clear is that bonsai soil is not dirt.  But there is a joke that bonsai soil becomes dirt when you drop it on the floor.  Dirt around your house varies widely from area to area but I know of no location where the native soil would be good for bonsai in pots.  In fact, when planting nursery material in the ground, I backfill the holes with my bonsai mix because it get the garden plants off to a better start.  If you have one or two trees, the bonsai mixes available from many garden stores are adequate.  Note that I did not say potting mix.  Do not try to use the Miracle Grow or other potting mixes available in garden shops and big-box stores.  Theywill lead to the quick demise of most bonsai.  Read further for details about what constitutes a good bonsai mix.  If you have a number of bonsai, you will want to start making your own mix.  And if you have tens of bonsai, you will probably be at the point where you will want to start specializing your mix. My mix is a moderately coarse mix that provides good drainage and aeration while holding some moisture for longer periods.  I prepare it in 20-25 gallon lots using 5 gallon buckets.  It is a long-lasting potting mix that withstands the three or four years between repottings for some of my bigger, older trees.  I have chosen this mix because I still work and travel and it is suited to our area.  What this implies is that it can be over-watered while maintaining the health of the plants.  It is not unusual for us to get a week of rain.  Or when I travel, I use an automatic watering system because my wife is totally unreliable with my bonsai and she often travels with me.  My system slightly overwaters my trees and will run on rainy days.  Thus good drainage is essential.  My basic mix starts off with three components: porous inorganic, non-porous inorganic and organic.  All should be sifted to remove fines.  The organic should be double sifted to remove both large pieces and fines.  I mix them in a 2:1:1 ratio by pouring the back and forth between 5 gallon buckets.  Porous inorganic:  I prefer to use Turface MVP.  It is a large-particle, light-tan, porous calcined (medium fired) clay that holds water internally as well as between points of particle contact.  Its primary use is in the infields of baseball diamonds so that the field can be played on soon after a rain.  It is widely available from farm stores and some grass seed stores for Little League diamonds or dirt volley ball courts.  Akadama is a pumice material available from Japan and is used for bonsai such as pine, juniper, cedars and other acid loving plants.  Kanuma is another pumice material that professionals use primarily for azaleas, but I find it too soft and too quick to deteriorate in my environment, so I stick with Turface or akadama.  Akadama and kanuma are available online or from higher-end bonsai vendors.     Nonabsorbant inorganic – It is good to have some sharp-edged inorganic material in the mix.  My mainstay is Gran-i-grit brand turkey grit which is 5/16” - 7/16” crushed granite, easily available from farm stores.  It is light gray to white and is quite good for the soil.  The downside is that t does not visually match the Turface and can be considered a bit unsightly.  A better but harder to get alternative is Haydite which is a calcined (high-fired) shale.  It has an appreciable iron content so it is red-brown to black and is esthetically pleasing in a bonsai mix.  It is also often used to top-dress a plant when being put on display.  It is often available form bonsai vendors or from the manufacturer:            Hydraulic Press Brick Company.                       5505 W 74th St, Indianapolis, IN 46268 Phone: 317-290-1140 * FAX: 317-290-1071 Organic:  For the organic component, I use pine bark fines or pine bark soil conditioner.  It is available from Timberline and it or related products can generally be located at Lowes or Home Depot.  This should not be confused with pine bark mulch which is much larger pieces.  Other materials that individuals have used are cocoa shells (if you live within striking distance of Hershey, PA), or fine orchid soil.  Having established the basic mix, there are many variations or specializations that should be considered.  If being used for a pine or juniper, I cut back the organic.  As mentioned above, for azaleas, I replace the Turface with akadama.  For flowering trees, add up to a cup of bone meal to a 5 gallon bucket of mix to promote blossoms and fruit.  For better water retention add more Turface while reducing the crushed granite.  For better drainage, aeration, and less water retention, you can use one part Turface rather than two As mentioned above, all of the materials should be screen to remove fines which will block drainage and reduce aeration.  This time- consuming process is generally done by hand.  One BBS member with a large collection who required a lot of bonsai mix, built a screening machine that was shaken by a Sawsall and deposited the various sized materials into different piles by using graded screens down an incline.  The graded screen are visible in the photograph.  
Contact Home About Us Meetings Trees Creating Bonsai Pots Display Galleries Stones Information Contact Us Turface MVP                      Akadama (medium)                    Haydite (medium, gray)       Haydite (fine, red-brown)    Granite (turkey grit)
Brandywine Bonsai Society is an educational organization and as a result, the material in this site may be copied for educational purposes.  If large portions are copied, we would appreciate attribution.  We welcome links to this site. 
Bonsai soil is one of the most critical aspects of growing bonsai.  A good soil mix will allow you to get away with some mistakes.  A bad soil mix will quickly kill your trees.  One of the first things to make clear is that bonsai soil is not dirt.  But there is a joke that bonsai soil becomes dirt when you drop it on the floor.  Dirt around your house varies widely from area to area but I know of no location where the native soil would be good for bonsai in pots.  In fact, when planting nursery material in the ground, I backfill the holes with my bonsai mix because it get the garden plants off to a better start.  If you have one or two trees, the bonsai mixes available from many garden stores are adequate.  Note that I did not say potting mix.  Do not try to use the Miracle Grow or other potting mixes available in garden shops and big-box stores.  Theywill lead to the quick demise of most bonsai.  Read further for details about what constitutes a good bonsai mix.  If you have a number of bonsai, you will want to start making your own mix.  And if you have tens of bonsai, you will probably be at the point where you will want to start specializing your mix. My mix is a moderately coarse mix that provides good drainage and aeration while holding some moisture for longer periods.  I prepare it in 20-25 gallon lots using 5 gallon buckets.  It is a long-lasting potting mix that withstands the three or four years between repottings for some of my bigger, older trees.  I have chosen this mix because I still work and travel and it is suited to our area.  What this implies is that it can be over-watered while maintaining the health of the plants.  It is not unusual for us to get a week of rain.  Or when I travel, I use an automatic watering system because my wife is totally unreliable with my bonsai and she often travels with me.  My system slightly overwaters my trees and will run on rainy days.  Thus good drainage is essential.  My basic mix starts off with three components: porous inorganic, non-porous inorganic and organic.  All should be sifted to remove fines.  The organic should be double sifted to remove both large pieces and fines.  I mix them in a 2:1:1 ratio by pouring the back and forth between 5 gallon buckets.  Porous inorganic:  I prefer to use Turface MVP.  It is a large-particle, light-tan, porous calcined (medium fired) clay that holds water internally as well as between points of particle contact.  Its primary use is in the infields of baseball diamonds so that the field can be played on soon after a rain.  It is widely available from farm stores and some grass seed stores for Little League diamonds or dirt volley ball courts.  Akadama is a pumice material available from Japan and is used for bonsai such as pine, juniper, cedars and other acid loving plants.  Kanuma is another pumice material that professionals use primarily for azaleas, but I find it too soft and too quick to deteriorate in my environment, so I stick with Turface or akadama.  Akadama and kanuma are available online or from higher-end bonsai vendors.     Nonabsorbant inorganic – It is good to have some sharp-edged inorganic material in the mix.  My mainstay is turkey grit which is 5/16” - 7/16” crushed granite, easily available from farm stores.  It is light gray to white and is quite good for the soil.  The downside is that t does not visually match the Turface and can be considered a bit unsightly.  A better but harder to get alternative is Haydite which is a calcined (high-fired) shale.  It has an appreciable iron content so it is red-brown to black and is esthetically pleasing in a bonsai mix.  It is also often used to top-dress a plant when being put on display.  It is often available form bonsai vendors or from the manufacturer:            Hydraulic Press Brick Company.                       5505 W 74th St, Indianapolis, IN 46268 Phone: 317-290-1140 * FAX: 317-290-1071 Organic:  For the organic component, I use pine bark fines or pine bark soil conditioner.  It is available from Timberline and it or related products can generally be located at Lowes or Home Depot.  This should not be confused with pine bark mulch which is much larger pieces.  Other materials that individuals have used are cocoa shells (if you live within striking distance of Hershey, PA), or fine orchid soil.  Having established the basic mix, there are many variations or specializations that should be considered.  If being used for a pine or juniper, I cut back the organic.  As mentioned above, for azaleas, I replace the Turface with akadama.  For flowering trees, add up to a cup of bone meal to a 5 gallon bucket of mix to promote blossoms and fruit.  For better water retention add more Turface while reducing the crushed granite.  For better drainage, aeration, and less water retention, you can use one part Turface rather than two As mentioned above, all of the materials should be screen to remove fines which will block drainage and reduce aeration.  This time- consuming process is generally done by hand.  One BBS member with a large collection who required a lot of bonsai mix, built a screening machine that was shaken by a Sawsall and deposited the various sized materials into different piles by using graded screens down an incline.  The graded screen are visible in the photograph.  
Home About Us Meetings Trees Creating Bonsai Pots Display Galleries Turface MVP                      Akadama (medium)                    Haydite (medium, gray)       Haydite (fine, red-brown)    Granite (turkey grit)
Brandywine Bonsai Society is an educational organization and as a result, the material in this site may be copied for educational purposes.  If large portions are copied, we would appreciate attribution.  We welcome links to this site.