So one of the things that I’ve been dying to do since getting into this hobby is to mix up my own bonsai substrate. Where to start? It’s been said many times in various books and online forums that there are as many soil mixes as there are practitioners of bonsai. Everyone seems to have their own mix, for their own trees… and they are all the best thing since the invention of sliced bread!!
I struggled for a long time, should I just buy a pre-made mix from a store, or muddle my way through?
There are of course some basic things that a Bonsai soil needs to provide. Drainage, moisture retention and air circulation – leaving aside for now nutrients.
There is much to be said for traditional components such as akadama and the like, but they all seem to be quite expensive and for the most part for good reason, such as shipping it half way around the world. So then, the key appears to be finding materials that are locally produced or at the very least already available locally for bonsai or other purposes.
So then, I hear you say, get on with it and tell me what you’re using!!
Well my first attempt consists of Perlite and Tesco (British supermarket) low dust kitty litter – which as has been mentioned by various people in the UK bonsai community (most notable Harry Harrington) is a diatomaceous earth. The last ingredient is some chipped pine bark, which I found in the form of ‘Jungle Earth’, a cage bedding material for reptiles and insects.
- 10L gro-Sure perlite – £6.99
- 10L Tesco Low Dust Cat Litter – £2.70 0r 2 for £5
- 4.5L Exo Terra Jungle Earth – £3.50
Total – £13.19
Out of this, once it was sieved through a 2.5mm mesh I ended up with approximately 6L of Perlite, 4.5L Cat litter & 4L of bark. Giving me a grand total of 15.5L of usable bonsai soil for about £13.20. The closest equivalent mix I could find pre-mixed online was 2L for £9.99, so it would have cost more the £75 to get the same amount – crazy shizzle!!
Is it any good? Well the short answer is I only mixed it up today and re-potted four of my trees into it, which are still dormant, so I don’t know! However it is very similar to the mix that Nigel Saunders uses on most of his trees (if you don’t know who that is, check him out on YouTube) and his trees seem to be doing just fine… Well better than just fine.
The bonus in all of this is that I have kept the finer grains that were sifted out in the mixing process which I will probably use for planting seeds in that are destined to become bonsai. This may require mixing in a little more organic matter but I’ll keep you updated on that in the future.
I’m not going to bother going through the process of how I prepared the mix because others have done that before, in fact THIS is the exact process I used and if you watch the video, you get to check out that guy Nigel Saunders I mentioned a while ago.
So guys and gals, thats it for this post. Have you tried a similar mix, or even a completely different one that you fancy sharing then comment below. Extra points for thriftyness!