Only gravel, no soil (?)

andrewbels

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Hi everyone, I'm a first-time bonsai owner - trying very hard to keep my first one!

I received a Juniper (Juniper procumbens nana) a few days ago. To my surprise, and contrary to most of what I have read, it came potted with only gravel - no soil whatsoever. I contacted the shop who my friend purchased from and they said their dealer does this to reduce the chance of owners overwatering. The shop recommended granular fertilizer on top of the gravel (though, the growing season is now ending so this won't be for a little while) and that the tree is okay to remain in only gravel.

I know the Juniper is quite resilient, but I wanted to see: has anyone else heard of growing a Juniper like this or had success in this way?
 

Shinjuku

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Congratulations on getting your first bonsai! I hope you’ll enjoy caring for it and learning about bonsai. There’s a lot to learn.

In general, this sounds right. Bonsai are very rarely grown in standard dirt or potting soil for several reasons. “Gravel” is actually a technical term and refers to a very specific kind of rock that trees can be planted in. Other kinds of bonsai soil made from “rock” not “soil” include gravel, pumice, scoria, akadama, perlite, vermiculite, etc. A quick Google search for Bonsai Soil can give you more details.

If you can show us a picture of the soil, we can confirm whether or not it’s good soil for a procumbens nana and give you suggestions for watering it.
 

bonsaichile

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Hi everyone, I'm a first-time bonsai owner - trying very hard to keep my first one!

I received a Juniper (Juniper procumbens nana) a few days ago. To my surprise, and contrary to most of what I have read, it came potted with only gravel - no soil whatsoever. I contacted the shop who my friend purchased from and they said their dealer does this to reduce the chance of owners overwatering. The shop recommended granular fertilizer on top of the gravel (though, the growing season is now ending so this won't be for a little while) and that the tree is okay to remain in only gravel.

I know the Juniper is quite resilient, but I wanted to see: has anyone else heard of growing a Juniper like this or had success in this way?
@Shinjuku is right. Bonsai "substrate" is generally lacking in soil, to ensure enougj oxygenation of the roots. For what is worth, you should still lightly fertilize your tree. It is likely not dormant yet, so even though it might not be growing (mine still are!), it will need nutrients for certain cell functions.
Water it when the top soil feels dry. If it is in purely inorganic, there is very little chance you will overwater it. Keep it outside, in full sun and do not bring it inside. Procumbens do not tolerate being indoors and die quicly once inside.
Good luck!
 

cbroad

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it came potted with only gravel - no soil whatsoever
This is rare, and probably a good sign your bonsai was taken care of well at some point.

As far fertilizing, it depends on how much season you have left. Put your general location in your profile or USDA hardiness zone and we can help you more.

Good luck with the new addiction!
 

andrewbels

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@Shinjuku @bonsaichile @cbroad thank you all for your thoughtfulness... no thanks to you @sorce lol.

I am keeping it outdoors. And I live in Philadelphia, PA, USA. It's still somewhat warm here, so light fertilizing might be a good idea.

Also, I have attached a picture of the soil. Thanks a bunch in advance!
 

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Microscopic

Chumono
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Hey another Philadelphian!!! I'll be looking for a house in NJ though lol.

Beware, these are notorious for having gravel on top of potting soil. But no "inspire" rock. Nice!

We got only a bout a month left so not sure about fert. But guest it shouldn't hurt.

Welcome aboard...
 

AZbonsai

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no thanks to you @sorce lol.
I do not think he was refering to your tree...I think it was your question. I believe you are the first new to bonsai person I have ever heard ask if gravel was a good bonsai soil! Usually, the soil is a swampy mess with beginner bonsai but the gravel provides good drainage.
 

Shinjuku

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Your substrate (bonsai soil) looks good.

1. Is it glued together? (If so, that's not good.)

2. With your finger, gently dig down, being careful not to break any roots. Is it all the same kind of substrate down toward the bottom too? If it's all the same substrate without any dirt underneath, then that's very good.

If the answers are #1 = No and #2 = Yes, then you're good to go - it means that with this bonsai soil, it's impossible for you to over-water. Before you water it, stick your finger in the soil just a little bit to feel if it's dry. If it's dry, it needs water. It may need water once a day or so for now while keeping it outside in as much sun as you can give it.
 

petegreg

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Nemoose

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0926181002.jpg
I use a mix aquarium gravel and pine bark. That gives good drainage and some water retention. There is also some larger gravel in this mix but not necessary. I just had it around and added it.
 

andrewbels

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Thanks for the replies everyone. @cbroad @Nemoose @sorce @petegreg @Shinjuku @AZbonsai

It sounds like I lucked out with my first tree:
-It is the same substrate all the way through (no dirt)
-There is no glue

I don't mind the lack of water retention... I enjoy checking on the tree everyday so I won't mind more frequent watering.
 

Underdog

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Get some chopsticks from Chinese take out and stick one in the soil halfway between the pot rim and trunk and leave it there. Then you can easily see when dry. Often the surface will dry fast but not really thirsty yet. Tooth pick will work.
 
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