As a follow up to my post on soil ingredients (click here….now!) here are my soil composition percentages and sifting techniques.
Remember, though, that this soil is what works for me. It also works for many others out there but there are some so-called professionals out there that will poo-poo this mix.
Let ’em. Between you and I; I have soil for sale, but I don’t try to sell my soil. If you get my meaning?
And then there are those snobs who just must use what is traditional and correct or what all the Japanese Masters use…..phaugh!
If you read my last soil Epic you’ll remember that the particle is less important than the characteristics you need. So,if you’re using DE granules from NAPA auto parts and that works for you, then continue to do so.
To put it simply, I use what has become the standard Florida mix, but with my own percentages.
I use red lava (scoria), calcined clay (Turface brand) and pine bark (Fafard Organic Soil Conditioner). The mix is 50% lava, 25% Turface and 25% Fafard.
I’ll tell you why later.
This is my secret method…..don’t tell anyone, shhhhhh.
First I spread the pine bark on a tarp to dry in the sun (for my New England readers that’s a tahp)
Needless to say, it should be a sunny day. This drying is important because if you don’t, the dust will stick to the larger, desirable particles and it will ultimately clog the drainage screen.
As the bark dries (which requires multiple raking and turning the wet bark to the sun) I actually wash the lava
I know, dry the bark, wash the lava. It’s much easier to wash out the dust (there are few particles that are smaller than that 1/8 inch size to sift out) than to dry it and sift. Plus it’s healthier for your lungs.
Imagine all that red gunk clogging your drainage hole (there’s a joke there)
So I set all the lava aside to drain (you can dry it in the sun now if you have all day. My friend Erik does that.) and now it’s time to sift the Turface.
It comes in a 50 lb bag and after sifting you will only have about 35-40 lbs of usable product.
I used to use one of these
Now I use The Machine.
I made this all by my lonesome.
This is a YouTube video showing it in action.
It’s very handy. I can sift soil very quickly. Faster than you can 😜”neener neener neener!”
Anyway, I can get through the whole bag in about five minutes.
It’s very sexy.
Just look at Dave
I got a call from his wife about this pic; it seems that all my lady readers are contacting him (its posted in the pictures section) and some of my male readers too (prints are available for $10, send a SASE to me with a check or money order)
After all the sifting we get this
So the question is: Why do I use the percentages I use?
When I put a tree into bonsai soil I do so for a few reasons.
If its going into a bonsai pot the only reason is drainage. This mix, in Florida, will last all day in the Florida sun. In the summer, our rainy season (when it could rain every afternoon after all day heat and sun) the mix drains freely. Keeping just the right amount of water within itself for the trees health.
The lava I get is the correct size and shape for root developement.
I use the Turface for its high C.E.C. and it’s water retention capabilities.
The pine bark has the highest C.E.C.
has great water retention and, importantly,the pine bark is a differently shaped particle, which keeps the mix less uniform and more airy. The roots need air and water to grow. The pine bark breaks up the uniformity of the other two particles and keeps it from compacting. It’s almost spongy.
If I’m using bonsai soil in a deeper training pot, the reason is pure development. I will have to watch the watering more (a deeper pot drains quicker. Keep that in mind! The shallower the pot, the slower water drains and the better chance of root rot.) but it will allow the roots to grow better and push the tree faster.
My mix works for me (I can’t stress that more. My watering habits, my microclimate, and my pruning frequency). That doesn’t mean I’m not experimenting with other mixes.
I recently bought a bag of mixed soil from Japan (akadama, pumice, black lava and river rock) that I’m using on some junipers.
My friend Nick found a cheap source of expanded shale I’m experimenting with on trees that need less water (bougies and such).
I did get some of the DE granules from NAPA and I’m experimenting with that.
Probably the best reason I use this mix is……aesthetics.
This is art, after all.
And I think it’s purty.
My best advice to you: find out what longtime bonsai growers in your area are using. Try their mix but, ultimately, you’ll have to develop your own.