Suitable bonsai soil on a budget

DeeJay

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👆All of that, for better or worse.

I've been playing this game since I started a couple years ago, and it's a big part of why I have pretty much nothing to show for all my efforts in bonsai.
I tried potting some aloe vera in pure sand - very fine stuff mind you - and it stayed too wet and compact. Heavier grit compacts less, and holds less moisture, but little room for root movement. I've tried about everything to mix in compost, but keep coming up against the too-wet-too-long issue, especially since my kids like to water the plants when I'm not looking.

I am convinced there's a way to allow all the positive aspects we need in soil, but not have to water multiple times a day in summer. Just haven't found it yet.
There has to be, otherwise I might have to quit until I'm too old to go camping.
Thanks for your responses and info!
One last question - what about agricultural charcoal, around 1/4"?
 

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👆All of that, for better or worse.

I've been playing this game since I started a couple years ago, and it's a big part of why I have pretty much nothing to show for all my efforts in bonsai.
I tried potting some aloe vera in pure sand - very fine stuff mind you - and it stayed too wet and compact. Heavier grit compacts less, and holds less moisture, but little room for root movement. I've tried about everything to mix in compost, but keep coming up against the too-wet-too-long issue, especially since my kids like to water the plants when I'm not looking.

I am convinced there's a way to allow all the positive aspects we need in soil, but not have to water multiple times a day in summer. Just haven't found it yet.
There has to be, otherwise I might have to quit until I'm too old to go camping.

I use a coarse mix of lava, pumice and akadama. My azaleas are in pure kanuma. I have NO compost, pine bark, peat moss or the like in my pots. Only akadama, lava, pumice mix or kanuma.

The only time I even think about watering twice in one day is when its over 90 degrees and usually I dont unless its 95+ So dont know why you are having to water multiple times.

Azalea dont like to be overly wet
 

0soyoung

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I am convinced there's a way to allow all the positive aspects we need in soil, but not have to water multiple times a day in summer. Just haven't found it yet.
I think focusing your efforts on reducing evaporation directly from the substrate surface will prove to be more productive. Simply shading the pot will do a lot, but you will likely want to cover or 'dress' the pot with something damp (e.g., a damp towel) or that functions as a moisture barrier (without producing greenhouse heating effects - you don't want root temperatures to get to 95F or more).
 

Paradox

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So what's y'all's thoughts on decomposed granite?
Can work well as PART of a mix. I wouldnt use it as the only soil component.

It can be mixed with lava and/or pumice

Also please put your location on your profile so that we can help you better.
Much of bonsai information is dependent on location.
 

DeeJay

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Can work well as PART of a mix. I wouldnt use it as the only soil component.

It can be mixed with lava and/or pumice

Also please put your location on your profile so that we can help you better.
Much of bonsai information is dependent on location.
Roger that! Houston.
Yeah I figure it would retain a little moisture while draining well. I am mixing it with perlite, lava rock and pumice - while sieving out anything under 1/8".
 

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ShadyStump

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I use a coarse mix of lava, pumice and akadama. My azaleas are in pure kanuma. I have NO compost, pine bark, peat moss or the like in my pots. Only akadama, lava, pumice mix or kanuma.

The only time I even think about watering twice in one day is when its over 90 degrees and usually I dont unless its 95+ So dont know why you are having to water multiple times.

Azalea dont like to be overly wet
I live in a much drier climate than you do. Here we routinely go several weeks in the summer without rain, and by August temps in the 90s F are the norm sometimes into October. We are to Missouri what Arizona is to us in the summer. In the winter, replace those with Virginia and North Dakota- temps barely above freezing from mid January to mid February, and the rest extreme cycles. 70s on Christmas and single digits for New Year's isn't unusual.

I can't afford akadama or kanuma for all my trees, and they'd turn to sludge by the end of winter anyway. I'm regularly away for a two or three days at a time, and can't always ask someone to water for me. In my present situation, building an automatic watering system won't be in the cards for at least another year.

My options are give up on bonsai (um, no), find a sugar mama and become a homebody (oh, if the gods were only generous), or try and manage the impossible.
 

Paradox

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I live in a much drier climate than you do. Here we routinely go several weeks in the summer without rain, and by August temps in the 90s F are the norm sometimes into October. We are to Missouri what Arizona is to us in the summer. In the winter, replace those with Virginia and North Dakota- temps barely above freezing from mid January to mid February, and the rest extreme cycles. 70s on Christmas and single digits for New Year's isn't unusual.

I can't afford akadama or kanuma for all my trees, and they'd turn to sludge by the end of winter anyway. I'm regularly away for a two or three days at a time, and can't always ask someone to water for me. In my present situation, building an automatic watering system won't be in the cards for at least another year.

My options are give up on bonsai (um, no), find a sugar mama and become a homebody (oh, if the gods were only generous), or try and manage the impossible.

My suggestion is to refrain from buying additional trees and invest in the health of the ones you have at this point. You indicated in another post that you havent had much success. Then, imo you need to reevaluate your approach.

Andy Smith at Golden Arrow Bonsai is in South Dakota which I believe is similar climate to yours? Maybe find out what he uses?

You dont need an elaborate system to water trees.
Im assuming you already have a hose?

If you can add a regular oscellating lawn spinkler for $10-$20 and a timer for $30, you can have an automatic system.

This is what I use for my trees. Takes 5 minutes to set up and is relatively inexpensive. The timers I have are 3 years old and still working fine. I bring them inside before freezing temperatures arrive in the winter and remove the batteries for the winter. The spinkler, I would get a spare one to keep around the second year as they can begin to malfunction after a year or so.

As long as the batteries are good and the sprinkler works, its a more reliable sytem than asking a friend who may forget or just not do it.


 
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ShadyStump

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You dont need an elaborate system to water trees.
Im assumimg you already have a hose?

If you can add a regular oscellating lawn spinkler for $10-$20 and a timer for $30, you can have an automatic system.

This is what I use for my trees. Takes 5 minutes to set up and is relatively inexpensive. The timers I have are 3 years old and still working fine. I bring them inside before freezing temperatures arrive in the winter and remove the batteries for the winter. The spinkler, I would get a spare one to keep around the second year as they can begin to malfunction after a year or so.

As long as the batteries are good and the sprinkler works, its a more reliable sytem than asking a friend who may forget or just not do it.


That's not a bad idea.
For this summer I'm moving my trees near the root vegetable plot in the garden. Not as direct sun exposure, though still plenty, so should stay slightly cooler and more humid.
We'll see how much of a difference that makes.

Water efficiency is also a concern, but I'll be working that out this summer. I've only been in this house for 6 months, so still learning the property's micro climates.
 

DeeJay

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Went to a store today that sold a lot of bonsai and I noticed what they use mostly in their potting media, it's called Cinderite.
Looks like some kind of volcanic material.
Anybody got any wisdom on this stuff?
 

ShadyStump

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Went to a store today that sold a lot of bonsai and I noticed what they use mostly in their potting media, it's called Cinderite.
Looks like some kind of volcanic material.
Anybody got any wisdom on this stuff?
Bumping for this answer.
 

ShadyStump

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The term sounds very familiar, like it's a hardened volcanic ash if I recall, but I'm no geologist, and that doesn't tell us how it does in shallow pots.

Might have to find some time to do more research.
 

Cajunrider

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That's not a bad idea.
For this summer I'm moving my trees near the root vegetable plot in the garden. Not as direct sun exposure, though still plenty, so should stay slightly cooler and more humid.
We'll see how much of a difference that makes.

Water efficiency is also a concern, but I'll be working that out this summer. I've only been in this house for 6 months, so still learning the property's micro climates.
Each time I have to travel, the weekend before that I move all my trees into an area that can be covered by one lawn sprinkler and set the sprinkler up 2 days before to make sure everything works before I travel. After all that move the area is dense with all my trees. I put a camera on it to make sure I am getting the water. If something goes awry, I call my local friends for help.
 

DeeJay

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The term sounds very familiar, like it's a hardened volcanic ash if I recall, but I'm no geologist, and that doesn't tell us how it does in shallow pots.

Might have to find some time to do more research.
The place I visited was an established nursery owned by an old Asian gentleman. He had hundreds of bonsai that he crafted over many years for sale.
He had the Cinderite in clear plastic bags about the size of a bag of mulch with a dark red label. I asked the price and they were $45.
I'm pretty sure he used it exclusively in his pots.
I should have asked about his fertilizer.
 

ShadyStump

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This is the company website.
I'm reading more to find out exactly what it's made of, but off the bat it's some sort of volcanic cinder product. It's marketed as a one-time application soil conditioner to help retain moisture, aerate, and supposedly help balance and strengthen the geomagnetic field which according to them helps cation exchange, and microbiology development.
 

ShadyStump

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The most detail I've found so far is it's another type of volcanic scoria. Doesn't say from where, or how it's processed. The FAQ has one article comparing it to basalt, so we could assume it's essentially a porous basalt. Lab results for heavy metals and plant soluble nutrients are readily available when looking through the site.

Overall, seems legit. Available direct from the company and on Amazon, as well as a couple mom-&-pop sites I've come across. Not thrilled with the prices I've seen, though. Doesn't seem to fit the "budget" aspect of the thread.

Edit: link to those lab results for those interested but who don't want to dig through the site.
 

DeeJay

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The most detail I've found so far is it's another type of volcanic scoria. Doesn't say from where, or how it's processed. The FAQ has one article comparing it to basalt, so we could assume it's essentially a porous basalt. Lab results for heavy metals and plant soluble nutrients are readily available when looking through the site.

Overall, seems legit. Available direct from the company and on Amazon, as well as a couple mom-&-pop sites I've come across. Not thrilled with the prices I've seen, though. Doesn't seem to fit the "budget" aspect of the thread.
Might be worth experimenting with. Maybe add a portion to a mix or two.
 

ShadyStump

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Was editing to add a link to the lab data while you were posting, BTW.

Seems like great stuff, or at least as good as pumice or lava. Totally worth a go for those inclined to spend on it.
 

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