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What type of soil should I use for my Bonsai tree?

Using the correct soil is essential for a healthy Bonsai.

By: Mark Givensel, Bonsai Connection

Bonsai trees require unique soil mixes in order to thrive over long periods of time.  When a tree is in the ground, its roots are free to explore the earth seeking out nutrients to feed itself.  Because a Bonsai spends its entire life in a pot their survival depends greatly on the contents of soil in the Bonsai pot.

Although Bonsai soil mixes vary with different species of Bonsai, most soils are comprised of three different elements.

Cinder
Cinder provides the drainage and aeration for the Bonsai soil and can be purchased at most nurseries and home improvement stores. The color of cinder does not mater, but finding the small size required can be a challenge. 

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Sub Soil
There are different materials which can be used for the sub soil portion of the Bonsai soil.  At the high end there is a material call Akadama which is a proprietary, baked clay made in Japan.  Akadama is expensive and hard to find in the United States.  Other material such as compacted clay, Turface or even sterile cat litter can be used in its place.

Bark
Park or mulch is the third element of Bonsai soil.  The bark helps to hold the moisture in the soil.  Bark can also be purchased at any nursery or home improvement store.  Make sure to purchase the smallest size and do not purchase anything with added fertilizer of other components.  Also, recycled rubber mulch is not the same and can not be used in Bonsai soil.  Make sure to use wood bark or mulch.

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Chinese Elm Bonsai Tree

Mixture of Elements

Each element must be sifted to a size of approximately ¼ inch in size.  Care must also be taken to remove as much dust as possible during the sifting process.  Special sifting trays can be purchased at many nurseries or online for this purpose.

Once each of the three materials has been sifted, mix equal parts for a general Bonsai mix.  Varying quantities can be mixed for specialized mixes.  For example Junipers and other pines tend to grow better with an equal mix of cinder and sub-soil, leaving out the bark.

The best way to determine mixes that work best in your geographic area is to contact a local Bonsai club and ask what portion is recommended for your particular Bonsai tree.

Creating your own soil can be fun and is not difficult once you understand the basics.  Once you’ve repotted your Bonsai in its new soil it should last about two years with regular feeding and watering.

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