This weekend I finally got started on creating my own bonsai from plain old shrubs from Home Depot. It was pretty involved, since I sifted and mixed my own bonsai soil, built some training boxes, and re-potted the trees.
Bonsai soil mixes are a very divisive subject, and I've come across about countless recipes and recommendations. One thing that everyone can agree on is this: the three main components of bonsai soil.
- Porous material (akadama, pumice, Turface, diatomaceous earth)
- Organic material (pine bark, orchid bark)
- Grit (gravel, sand)
Akadama is the classic bonsai soil component, but it's definitely pricey! I searched for a while online for a more affordable substitute, and found out about Turface and diatomaceous earth. Opinions on Turface range anywhere from great soil component to never plant your trees in this garbage.
I figured for a few shrubs I got from Home Depot, I would use more affordable soil components. I finally decided on 1/3 NAPA oil dry (diatomaceous earth), 1/3 chicken grit, and 1/3 pine bark for my soil mixture. From the thousand different bonsai soil articles I read, this seemed to be a good all-around soil mix for me.
I wasn't sure where to get find Turface locally, so I used diatomaceous earth from NAPA instead. The chicken grit (crushed granite) came from a local feed store, and the pine bark mulch came from from Home Depot.
Training pots or boxes are used to transition a "normal" plant's growth into that of a bonsai. These pots are deeper than normal bonsai pots, but wider and shallower than regular plant pots. I didn't want to drive all the way out to my favorite bonsai nursery to get training pots, so I decided to build some training boxes from lumber.
I couldn't really find much in the way of specs for these, so I just came up with my own. I went for 7"x7" square, and 4" deep. I built them out of regular pine 2x6s and 2x4s, because I wasn't sure if the chemicals from treated lumber would be safe for the trees. I drilled two 1" drainage holes in the bottom, and covered them with bonsai mesh.
Here are the materials needed for one box:
- 2 - 2x6, 10" long
- 2 - 2x6, 7" long
- 2 - 2x4, 7" long
- 2 - 1x2, 10" long
- 8d common nails
- 1 1/4" wire nails
Next time I build these, I will probably build the bottoms differently: maybe a 2x4 in the middle and 2 2x2s on each side. Trying to use a spade drill bit in the middle of two boards was really difficult, and tore the wood up pretty badly. My spade bit took quite a beating as well.
Potting the Trees
I potted and styled three trees: a Japanese holly, a white azalea, and a burning bush. Unfortunately, I didn't get any "in progress" pictures of my Japanese holly.
A big thanks to my bonsai apprentive, Stevie, for his help and companionship with this project!