One of the most critical aspects of growing bonsai is the preparation of a feasible potting mixture. Since the space area for growth in a bonsai container is restricted, it is imperative that soil placed into it should perform perfectly. Actually, the term ‘soil’ is really somewhat of a misnomer.
The components normally used to create a good potting mixture are, in fact, devoid of any soil. They are merely designed to provide an ideal environment for root growth. Nevertheless, it is this very soil that is essential for the physical condition of the tree. Although the recipes of each person may vary to a slight degree but the fundamental ingredients generally remain the same. The main objective of any prepared mixture should be to provide excellent aeration and drainage.
The actual components and the amount of each component used in any soil mixture vary in accordance to the region and garden. The components included in the mixture may be influenced by many factors. The first determining factor is the type of material that is readily available in the specific area and is economically viability to the grower. Secondly, one has to keep in mind the requisites of the local growing conditions. Thirdly, the size of the container also matters and finally, the moisture and pH preference of the particular variety of bonsai being planted into the soil mix needs to be taken care of.
Apart from these factors, it is absolutely crucial to meet two basic requirements for the success of bonsai. The mixture must drain water quickly, which illustrates perfect drainage and it should be essentially pH neutral that is, neither grossly acidic nor basic. A pH value somewhere in the range of 6.5 to 7.5 is considered perfect. For this purpose, pH testing kits can be procured easily from the market. Local agricultural agents are available to test the soil pH for a modest amount.
A tree can grow new roots in soil that is loose and drains well. If a plant grows roots fast, it will be healthy and aid in the overall growth of the trunk, branches and leaves. As the growing space in a pot is limited, bonsai practitioners attempt to gradually trim away heavier roots, thereby making more space for the growth of fine feeder roots which are able to nourish the plant in a better way. A good bonsai mixture promotes the growth of fine feeder roots.
The recipe for bonsai soil mix includes 1 part lava rock, 1 part pumice, 1 part akadama, 1/2 cup horticultural charcoal per 5 gallon mix and 1/2 cup decomposed granite per 5 gallon mix. For deciduous trees, one needs to use a small mix (1/16"-1/4") and add 1 part akadama to it as well. Conifers and high mountain species require a medium size mix (5/16"-3/8"). Although, this seems very large to look at, it prevents these trees from holding too much water. For the exterior look, a final layer of fine mix can be placed on top of the soil. For lower elevation conifer and water loving conifers, one also requires a small mix (1/16"-1/4"). One important thing to be remembered is that proper repotting technique needs to be applied, in the absence of which this soil mix may not work.
The appearance of a correctly prepared bonsai potting mix is drastically different from the heavy black dirt that is usually purchased for general potting needs. Also, this is by no means the only mixture or combination possible. The definition of a perfect soil mix may vary from person to person. Each grower could amend the ingredients or alter the ratios to suit his or her own specific growing conditions. However, the best general combinations of components are 75 percent inert aggregate material and 25 percent organic material.
Apart from the soil mix, watering and fertilizing also add to the development of a healthy bonsai.
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