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Bonsai is a Japanese art of making miniature trees. Just as a painting requires the correct color palette and differently sized brushes so does Bonsai. For starters, Bonsai trees require special and spacious pots in order to grow well. The right pot will help you re-pot, water or plant a companion tree when necessary.

There are many reasons as to why bonsai trees need special pots. The first is the soil type. A Bonsai has a thin layer of soil on its branches and leaves. A regular tree, on the other hand, is surrounded by a thick layer of soil around its roots. This makes it difficult for the Bonsai to firmly root itself as it does not get as much moisture. A bigger pot enables more moisture absorption.

The second reason is the root system. When compared to regular trees, bonsai trees often have a low root system, which means that the root systems of most Bonsai trees turn out to be smaller than those of regular trees. This, in turn, makes them much more susceptible to disease than a regular tree would be. And the third reason a Bonsai tree needs a special pot is because its roots and branches are shorter than normal.
But if you make sure to plant your bonsai tree in a special pot and take good care of it, you will be able to bonsai just any tree you want. By proper care, we mean root and branch pruning, timely re-potting and proper nutrient soil that offers good drainage and aeration.

But if you’re a beginner or only want to work with varieties that are easiest to train you might start out with the following varieties: Juniper, Ficus, Japanese red maple and the Chinese elm. But whatever the species of tree, know that young bonsai trees will begin to grow like regular trees and survive in regular soil. But once you slow the tree’s growth in order to turn it into a bonsai, regular soil will no longer suffice. 

If you are thinking of growing bonsai trees from seeds or cuttings, it would be best to start out in regular soil, which provides more support for roots to grow. You need a strong root system to keep your bonsai tree upright. Once the root system gets established, transfer your bonsai into bonsai tree soil.

But what is Bonsai Tree Soil? 

Contrary to its name, bonsai tree soil does not contain regular soil but comprises many different materials. The combination of various materials you have in your bonsai tree soil will depend on the type of tree you are growing and the climate you live in.

As a rule of thumb, most of the materials, or substrates, in the bonsai tree soil are large-grained, except the organic materials that are additionally put in. But the majority of bonsai tree soils have in them a mixture of three most common substrates which are:

  • Akadama, which is a reddish dried clay native to Japan. One unique feature of akadama is that bonsai roots can grow right through the middle of the clay balls. Though akadama does not have any nutrients of its own, it can store nutrients from lava rocks or supplemental minerals. But this clay will degrade over time and hence need to be replaced every few years.
  • Lava rock, or bits of cooled lava, which is mineral rich and thus essential for bonsai health. This substrate is also very durable and does not degrade over time. For those living in a wet climate, you need to add this to your bonsai soil mix because of its excellent drainage properties. 

Pumice, which is  a white volcanic rock that offers good drainage for bonsai roots. It also prevents fungus from developing around the roots. For those living in a colder climate, it’s important you add pumice to your bonsai soil mix because it does not freeze and thus protects the roots from dying from cold.

If you live in a tropical zone or are growing a tropical tree, you need to add a small amount of organic material such as pine bark or peat moss to your bonsai tree soil. This will increase water retention slightly and mimic the tropical climate to your tropical tree is accustomed to.

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