How To Make Bonsai Rocks – Whether you are growing plants in the ground, growing them in a large container, or confining them in a small pot, soil is a very important aspect of gardening.
But getting it right is essential when growing bonsai. Since there is very little of it in the pot, there is no room for error.
How To Make Bonsai Rocks
Overwatering or underwatering your plant is easy, and providing the right amount of soil makes all the difference. It also contains nutrients your plant needs to survive.
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In other words, the wrong combination of nutrients in your substrate and above or below water will kill your beloved plant.
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We tend to forget that while soil is not living, it contains living microbes that are an integral part of the tiny ecosystem we are trying to create.
If you want to create the perfect conditions for your prized plant to thrive, here’s what you’ll find in the upcoming guide:
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Growing bonsai is a complete success, even more so when you mix the substrate. If you’re ready to get your hands dirty, here we go!
Before we jump in, it’s important to understand the purpose of the floor. It not only anchors the plant, but also holds water and nutrients.
At the same time, enough light is needed to reach the oxygen sources. And it also provides a buffer against extreme temperature and humidity changes.
The average garden soil is 50 percent solid, 25 percent water, and 25 percent air. But the soil in the garden is too dense for the needs of bonsai, most potting soil. Garden soil also hardens over time.
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Bonsai soil may not actually contain soil, so many experts refer to it as a substrate instead.
The type of substrate you need to make depends on the type of plant you are growing. But regardless, it must provide three key elements: drainage, water retention, and ventilation.
To balance these elements, a substrate contains organic and inorganic materials. Inorganic materials in this sense are gravel, clay and rock.
Together these form a base that will hold some water but still allow drainage and air to get to the roots of the plant.
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However, not every plant has the same requirements. It is important to know your species and their specific needs.
Many people think that having drainage holes in whatever container they choose will solve all drainage problems, but that’s only part of the equation.
Even with drainage holes, any surface that holds a lot of water will hold that moisture for a long time.
To create an ideal surface, you need some type of soil that will help retain moisture. Most practitioners use Akadama, a clay specially developed in Japan for use in bonsai.
Lantern Lit Roots Over Rock
If you can’t find it or don’t want to use it, look for clay made for use in potting soil. Academa or Turface are the most commonly used products.
Akadama is a clay-like mineral produced from volcanic clay quarried in Japan. Turface, on the other hand, is heated to 1500°F and is known as a calcined clay.
Alternatively, you can use any type of garden soil. When we say soil, we don’t mean the kind you can dig up in your yard. You should never use soil from the ground to grow your bonsai.
Next you will need some type of rock, usually volcanic rock, such as lava or pumice. They improve the porosity of the soil, making the soil lighter and more accessible to oxygen sources.
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Some grit, such as coarse river sand or crushed granite, may also be used in addition to or in place of stones. I prefer volcanic rock but like to experiment. Large pieces improve drainage and ventilation.
Finally, you need well-rotted compost. If you have a compost pile, great. Otherwise, you can buy general-purpose compost, which is a combination of peat, plant debris, bark, and other materials.
You can also add a small amount of rice husk or coco coir to improve drainage and water retention. This is especially useful if you live in a humid or rainy area.
For evergreen conifers, use half the soil in your substrate. The other half should be a mixture of rock and compost.
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For deciduous trees, use 10 percent more soil and 10 percent less compost. Tropical plants need about equal parts soil, rock, and compost.
You should not use too much superfine material, as root hairs will not grow in a fine substrate and larger roots cannot absorb enough oxygen.
Before you mix your materials, sift them all – minus the compost – through a flour sieve to remove the fine dust.
Not only does this reduce root space, but the water sits at the level between the surface and the gravel due to surface tension and capillary action, making it much easier to overwater and smother your plant.
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Once you have your ingredients and have sifted them, mix them together in the recommended ratio in a large bowl. Now it’s ready to hold your plant.
Whenever you dig up a plant or buy it from a nursery, be sure to repot it into your homemade potting soil.
You should also remove some of the old substrate and add new each year. This is because organic matter breaks down over time, making it difficult for plant roots to access oxygen.
Your bonsai needs a firm, healthy, well-draining foundation. Without them you cannot grow your plants. Thank goodness creating your own mix is an easy task, isn’t it?
Life On The Rocks
Now that you better understand bonsai’s unique needs and how to set the right foundation for them, what are you going to grow?
We’d love to hear how your beauties are doing in their new home and pictures are always welcome! Leave both in the comments section below.
While you’re at it, if you’re looking to continue your bonsai journey, we have a few other guides that may help, including:
Photos by Christine Lofgren © Ask the Experts, LLC. All rights reserved. You can find more details in our terms and conditions. Product photo of Bonsai Boy. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.
Lb Coarse Sand Stone
Christine Lofgren is a writer, photographer, reader, and garden enthusiast based near Portland, Oregon. She grew up in the Utah desert and moved to the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest in 2018 with her husband and two dogs. Her passion today focuses on growing ornamental edibles and foraging in the urban and suburban landscape. Kokedama, which has the English translation of “Mass Ball,” is not just for the poor. It’s an all-round garden technique that’s perfect for minimalist spaces. It’s a nice way to diversify your bonsai experience! Kokedama is very complicated…
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