Advice for soil mixes for Maryland

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USDA Zone
7b
#1
Hello :)

I've only used pre-mixed soil for the past several years and it's well overdo time I try mixing some soil myself. I've spent quite a long time reading through the soil recipe discussions here (I'm still in the process of digging through it though,) and have noticed there are a lot of recommendations for making a completely non-organic mix. However, I've also seen a fair amount of feedback that this isn't ideal for very hot/dry climates because the soil dries out too fast without an organic ingredient. I've used several different brands of pre-mixed soil but every one of them has always had an organic ingredient like pine bark in it, so I don't have any personal experience of how a soil without bark in it will react to my climate.

I'm in Maryland and it gets pretty hot here in the summer (often 90-100 degrees throughout July and August and it fluxuates between being rainy and going long stretches without rain. It is very humid here though). It appeared to me that there are a few members on this forum that seem to be pretty experienced with bonsai and live in Maryland. Can anyone familiar with Maryland's climate give me feedback on whether an inorganic mix will work here? I'd like to try it out but would perfer to avoid buying ingredients if I may switch to a different formula and also would like to avoid casualties since I'll be unable to check on my trees during the day to see how they are faring with a new formula.

I have a long workday schedule that's also far from home so watering multiple times a day isn't an option for me. I need something that will retain enough moisture for once a day watering (the pre-mixed stuff I've been using accomplishes this.)

Also, if it helps to know, here's a list of the types of trees I currently have that would eventually be using the soil:
Benjamina Ficus
European Olive
Azalea
Japanese Hornbeam
Japanese Maple
Boxwood
Lacebark Pine (not styled and in a multi-gallon pot, I've been considering switching it to regular potting soil due to the expense of it using such a large volume of soil and not being treated as a bonsai...I'm not sure if using bonsai soil is significantly benefiting it??)
Ginkgo (Currently in the ground but will eventually be dug up and put in a training pot)

I do plan on joining a local club (another thing long overdue).
 
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Location
New Jersey Shore
USDA Zone
7A
#2
Don't know where in MD you are, but no matter i'm in NJ, my mix is red lava called track alert 1/4" largest, they use it to outline baseball fields so they know before running into the wall.
next is turface, it's like cat litter but firmer harder and doesn't clump, they use it to soak up moisture in the fields, people sub something from napa ( oildry )if they can't get it .
third is pine bark chips, which is involved for me...only one nursery sells small chips, which I have to lay out to dry, then keep running with my truck a couple of days, then run over with my bagged lawnmower to get even smaller and bagged to sift the right size for me. no big deal.
my basic mix starts at 1/3 of each, then adjust for the type of tree. i'm with MABS and one of our clubs is Brandywine, I don't know if that helps you. sk.
 
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USDA Zone
7b
#3
I'm in the middle of the state, next to the bay.

My original plan had been to do a mix of akadama/organic component/poultry grit. After reading a lot of the advice here I was thinking about switching to akadama/pumice/lava. I'm just not sure if that's a good idea for Maryland's climate and my watering schedule needs....

I was planning on using akadama whatever the final mix I settle on because I already have a bag of it. I don't know if I'll stick with that long term due to the cost, I may switch it for a more affordable man-made substitute next time like turface or quick-dry, etc. What I was really trying to decide was whether I should toss out my plans for organic and grit and switch to lava and pumice or stick with something like the original recipe.
 
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Location
New Jersey Shore
USDA Zone
7A
#4
I do mine once a day except for last weeks weather then twice. best way to experiment is stick a toothpick in at the end of the day and feel how moist it comes out. sk.
 
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Location
Bethlehem, PA
USDA Zone
6b
#5
Hey skyrat I'm about 3 hours northeast of you. I have one tree in akadama, actually it's a 50/50 mix of akadama and poultry grit. The grit is pretty heavy but nice and uniform in size and the akadama will break down after a season in our climate. Which I've heard isn't a bad thing, doesn't seem to bother the tree. But I believe for our little area of the USA lava is king. I'm still experimenting with all types of soils but I never regret using lava as a component. Obviously boons mix (ak,pum,lav) is probably the best, it's pricey for us beginners buying and killing shit all the time. Stevek's mix sounds pretty good, I think a lot of the time it comes down to what's available near you. It seems like the west coast has all the good stuff locally, over here finding components can be a real test
 

rockm

Imperial Masterpiece
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Fairfax Va.
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#6
I'm in the middle of the state, next to the bay.

My original plan had been to do a mix of akadama/organic component/poultry grit. After reading a lot of the advice here I was thinking about switching to akadama/pumice/lava. I'm just not sure if that's a good idea for Maryland's climate and my watering schedule needs....

I was planning on using akadama whatever the final mix I settle on because I already have a bag of it. I don't know if I'll stick with that long term due to the cost, I may switch it for a more affordable man-made substitute next time like turface or quick-dry, etc. What I was really trying to decide was whether I should toss out my plans for organic and grit and switch to lava and pumice or stick with something like the original recipe.
You will have dried out trees in that mix if you're gone more than seven hours or so. If it's windy and dry, five would be pushing it. If you have small trees and containers under a gallon, count on watering three times a day in mid-spring...AK and pumice/lava is a BAD idea for just about any deciduous tree around here. I used to mix my own soil. Don't anymore. Have a readier supply of prepared bonsai mix from friends now.

I used composted pine bark soil conditioner, swimming pool filter sand, haydite or other expanded shale (turface MVP will work). Only used the extreme smallest poultry grit and had to search very hard to find it. It's become even scarcer now.
 

just.wing.it

Imperial Masterpiece
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Blips and Chitz (mid MD, 6b...ish)
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6B
#7
I've been playing with different mixes in MD over 4 years now.
I like inorganic mixes with a hefty layer of moss or sphagnum moss on top.
Some of my trees are in a mix of DE, Haydite, and minimal pine bark chips....no issues there.
Some are in lava, pumice and haydite...no problems there.
Some are in just lava and pumice...no issues there...
My trees get the hot afternoon sun here, all of it....I leave home at 5-6am and return at 6-7pm or later...
I drench the trees right before I leave and as soon as I get home...
I think our high humidity works in my favor...
I also subscribe to the idea that with this type of soil mix, in the correct container, over watering is not possible.

So far so good.
Hope this helps!
Welcome to the Nut House, btw...

*Edit: I also have some trees in Turface, and mixes of Turface, DE and Pumice...
Also all ok...
I'm gonna probably lay off Turface as a main component and maybe only use it lightly, due to its want to stack up on itself and become hydrophobic.
 
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32
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27
USDA Zone
7b
#8
Thanks everyone so much for the feedback!!!

I'm gone a bare minimum of 11 hours a day which is why I really wanted to get some input rather than just jumping in and experimenting, since I have no option to closely monitor them throughout the day if I try something new. (Also I've had the majority of my trees for around 15 years or so, so I'd really regret it if I accidentally killed any of them with a single day's watering mishap.) With the exception of the lacebark pine all my trees are in pots ranging from about 4" to 12". These answers confirm my suspicion that that might be risky. If I try an inorganic mix I think I will definitely make sure to add some sort of top dressing to help retain moisture.

I'm not too worried about the akadama breaking down as I usually repot and change the soil of my trees every year, so I should be able to stay on top of that. I go to the Bonsai festival at the National Arboretum every spring and there are usually vendors with akadama there so as long as I stock up at that time I can get it without having to bother with shipping (still on the pricey side of course but not as bad as ordering it myself.) I'll have to see how far a bag of it gets me before I decide if it's a good option to continue with for me.

I probably should have included that none of my trees are in 100% full sun though. I have a big kanzan cherry tree in my yard causing partial shade/dappled light. My yard is also on the swampy side so it's possible I have even more humidity than average for here. So the micro climate of my yard might not be as prone to fast drying out as some other places nearby. I water mine around 7 pm (I know it would be better to do it in the morning but I really have issues making that work with my schedule) and they are fine until the next evening in the current mix I'm using. I'm mainly looking to change how I do the soil because I had a bunch of trees planted in the ground for several years that I've finally started digging up and putting in training pots. So the number of trees I have that require bonsai soil more than doubled in a short amount of time and the cost of my old way of doing things is no longer very sustainable. So long as I have to mix it myself I'm wondering if something would be more optimal for their health than the generic mixes I've been buying out of convenience. I'll admit that while I've been doing bonsai for a pretty long time, I haven't necessarily been doing things the best ways and I want to get more serious about my trees again.
 
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Location
Connecticut
USDA Zone
6b
#9
If you can get it pumice is a fantastic addition to any mix.

I haven't used their products but Beam Clay in New Jersey looks like they have some reasonably priced lava and expanded shale. They actually have some that they market for bonsai.
 
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Location
New Jersey Shore
USDA Zone
7A
#10
being with MidAtlantic Bonsai Societies, I have to put a plug in . next april 12-14 2019, we'll be at the holiday inn in Grantville pa, and I know a lot of people from md come because of the way the states line up. so maybe you'd find help from one of our 15-18 vendors there for other options in the future. we'll be there in 2020 also for now. sk.
 
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#11
Thank you for the lava resource link!!

And thanks for the info on the Midatlantic Event. Grantville is a bit of a hike for me, but I added it to my calendar so I'd remember to consider it as an option! Esp since the show at the Arboretum almost always seems to overlap with other events the same weekend so it's nice to have an alternative one to go to in case I can't make the DC one. Awesome.