Tag Archives: featured

Misleading High Desert "Hardiness Zones"

In the High Desert we can range anywhere from USDA zone 8a to zone 9b. The 2012 Sunset Western Garden book currently places us at Sunset Zone 11, though we had previously been placed at zone 10 in the 2001 version. This leads to plenty of confusion when choosing plants to beautify our landscapes. I hope to demystify this widespread confusion.

USDA Hardiness Zone Southern California

What does “hardiness zone” mean?

A hardiness zone is an estimated amount of days that a location experiences a certain level of cold temperature. A plant with a hardiness zone of 7 means that it will survive the cold winters of areas that have been estimated as zone 7.

What “hardiness zone” does NOT mean

Hardiness zones do not take into account the high temperatures that the zones might experience. This is where the High Desert is an anomaly. We experience high temperatures like any other desert, but we also experience freezing temperatures in the winter. This makes for difficult interpretation of plants ability to survive.

AHS Heat Zone Map

The American Horticultural Society has begun the implementation of a heat zone map to indicate a plant’s ability to handle a certain amount of days over 84° F. While not currently available, this will be the indicator that makes plant selection more accurate for us. You may see this mentioned on a few selection of plants sold by Monrovia Gardens at big box stores.

Microclimates and what to consider when growing “borderline” plants

If a plant is in USDA hardiness zones 3-8, you can deduce that they can get very cold, but heat might be an issue for us in the High Desert. This might not be a fantastic plant to place in the middle of your dirt lot with no protection from the afternoon sun or the harsh wind. This would be a plant that would benefit from afternoon shade from a building or larger tree.

On the flip side, if you have a plant that is great for USDA hardiness zones 9-12, you can deduce that heat and sun shouldn’t be a worry, however cold tolerance may be an issue. This can be handled by planting it near a building that retains heat. South facing walls, retaining walls, bricks, asphalt, etc. can retain a significant amount of heat that will help nearby plants to deal with the cold nights. Mulching the plants can help as well. As a last resort, covering or protecting plants on nights that might drop below the prescribed cold tolerance can help the plant to make it through the colder nights throughout the winter.

Microclimates in the High Desert that kill borderline plants

The High Desert has plenty of climate issues that keep plants from growing that might otherwise thrive. Here is a list of things you might want to think about protecting your plants from:

  • Wind

  • Afternoon Sun and Heat

  • Cold Nighttime Temperatures

  • Alkaline Soil

Wind can be dealt with by sheltering plants with a windbreak (plants, fences, walls, buildings, etc.)

Sun and heat can be dealt with by planting under trees, balconies, overhang on house, pergolas, etc.

Temperatures can be dealt with through planting near buildings, south facing walls, asphalt, brick, retaining walls, and porches.

Alkaline soil can be handled by amending the soil at planting time with peat moss and acidic fertilizer, and by fertilizing regularly with acidic fertilizer throughout the growing seasons.

Specific Plants and Their Needs

Japanese, Silver, Autumn Blaze, Trident and Red Maples all need wind protection and if possible some sun protection

Azalea, Hydrangea, Camelia, Japanese Maples, and many more need acidic soil and sometimes sun, wind, and cold protection.

Plants that break the hardiness zones

Here is a list of plants that supposedly do not grow here based upon hardiness zones. I have witnessed all of these trees growing in the ground in Apple Valley, CA in several locations.

The High Desert zones as stated by USDA Hardiness Zone Map and Sunset Western Garden Book:

USDA Zone: 8b – 9a

Sunset Zone: 11 (previously listed as 10)

California Pepper Tree

  • USDA zones: 8-11

  • Sunset zones: 8, 9, 12-24

Coast Redwood

  • USDA zones: 7-9

  • Sunset zones: 4-9, 14-24

Deodar Cedar

  • USDA zones: 7-9

  • Sunset zones: 3B-10, 14-24

Crape Myrtle

  • USDA zones: 7-10

  • Sunset zones: 2-10, 12-24

Colorado Blue Spruce

  • USDA zones: 2-7

  • Sunset zones: 1-10, 14-17


  • USDA zones: 8-11

  • Sunset zones: 8-10, 12-24

Pineapple Guava

  • USDA zones: 8-10

  • Sunset zones: 6-9, 12-24

Lily of the Nile – Agapanthus

  • USDA zones: 8-10

  • Sunset zones: 4-9, 12-24

American Arborvitae

  • USDA zones: 3-7

  • Sunset zones: 1-9, 15-17

Sadly the hardiness zones are not much of a help for us High Desert folks. The hardiness zones cause more confusion than competence. This requires a higher understanding of our plants to have success in growing plants that are more than capable of growing here.

Bonsai Design and Display Critique – #3 Japanese Maple

Japanese Maples are one of the most popular bonsai specimen with good reason. Here is one of my favorite Japanese Maple displays I’ve seen. For the previous critique on the Olive tree click here.

Japanese Maple Bonsai Display

What do the trunks and branching communicate?

The trunks clearly show a dominant trunk with two smaller trunks. The branches seem a bit chaotic but help to display a mature canopy.

The rounded canopy suggests maturity which is complimented by the branching that is visible from the front. You can see the ramification of the branches which portrays the lack of foliage in the interior and gives the impression of age.

What does the display communicate?

The display has a sense of simplicity to it as a whole. No drastic angle changes in the display, tree, companion plant, or scroll.


Great balance in the display. The main tree is higher up to make it easier to view, while the scroll is as a similar height and the companion plant is lower to not detract from the main tree.

I’m not 100% sure on that pot color selection. Maybe it’ll blend better in the Fall once the leaves change colors, but that blue doesn’t seem to resonate with the display or tree in any way.

Wonderful consistency throughout the display of feminine design.


The tree seems to be planted a bit too high in the pot. When you have a pot that shallow you should be planting it inside the pot to make the trees size versus the pots size more dramatic.

There are a few branches that cross from this viewing angle on the left side. I can’t say for sure, but the silhouette would seem to be untouched by removing the two branches on the lower left side.

I want to see the nebari so badly, but it is hidden by the moss. I’d like a better angle to be able to see if the nebari helps to show age of the tree.

Next Up:

Elm and Pine Bonsai Display

This display is up next for critique.

Orange County Bonsai Society Show

I was able to head down to the OCBS event and had a great time. We had David Nguy visit and do a demo on a juniper. I won a Ginkgo forest and 2 pots in the raffle, and met a few wonderful people.

David Nguy’s tree that was on display:

California Juniper Bonsai Display Deadwood

The Displays: I do my best to get tree species and names of the owners of the trees to give credit where due. I missed a few tree species and a few names.

Japanese Black Pine Bonsai Display

Japanese Black Pine – June Nguy

Two shohin displays and individual shohin trees by Peter Macasieb:

Blue Atlas Cedar Bonsai

Blue Atlas Cedar

Shohin Bonsai Display

Shohin Bonsai Display

Shohin Bonsai Display

I always want to see more of shohin trees so I made sure to take close ups. Here is a slideshow of them if you’re interested.

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Willow Leaf Ficus Bonsai

Willow Leaf Ficus

Cork Bark Portulacaria Afra

Cork Bark Portulacaria Afra – Gary Lai

Boxwood Shohin

Boxwood Shohin – Joyce Gibbs

Ficus Burtt-Davyi "Nana"

Ficus Burtt-Davyi “Nana” – Gary Lai

Olive Bonsai

Olive – Allan Sugimura

Shohin Bonsai Display

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Shohin Display – Joyce Gibbs

Shimpaku Juniper Bonsai

Shimpaku Juniper

California Juniper

California Juniper – David Nguy

Juniperus Chinensis "Tortulosa"

Juniperus Chinensis “Tortulosa” – Jummy Takeda In Memoriam

Bougainvillea Bonsai

Bougainvillea – Nicole Mashburn

California Juniper Yamadori

California Juniper – Tom Vuong

Ficus Burtt-Davyi "Nana" Bonsai

Ficus Burtt-Davyi “Nana” – Gary Lai

Japanese Boxwood Bonsai

Japanese Boxwood – Gary Lai

Star Lavender Bonsai

Star Lavender – Ken Schlothan

Chinese Elm Bonsai

Chinese Elm – Ken Schlothan

Cork Bark Portulacaria Afra Bonsai

Cork Bark Portulacaria Afra – Bill Vega

Japanese Black Pine Bonsai

Japanese Black Pine – Carly Mashburn

Oak Bonsai Tree

Oak – Ken Schlothan

Bougainvillea Bonsai

Bougainvillea – Nicole Mashburn

Shimpaku Juniper – Michael Walsh

Japanese Boxwood – Michael Walsh

Additional views on some of the trees:

I love the dead portions of the trunk on this olive.

This boxwood was essentially topped and then branched out to form a broom which turned out quite nicely!

This boxwood had the best negative space out of all of the trees I saw at this show.

Fantastic separation of the foliage pads.

Blue Atlas Cedar from the angle I think it should’ve been displayed at.

I’d like to openly state that there were no awards at this show. I took the liberty of adding my own opinions and awards as I saw fit.

1st Place: Japanese Boxwood by Gary Lai

Japanese Boxwood Bonsai Display

  • Great negative space between foliage pads

  • Solid twin trunk styling

  • Consistent feminine design throughout

  • Solid bottom branch that defines length and carries out the triangular shape

Japanese Boxwood Bonsai Tree

2nd Place: Japanese Black Pine by June Nguy

  • Fantastic trunk movement

  • Small pot in comparison to tree which is important in Bunjin stylistically

  • Stand, pot, and display as a whole is consistently feminine and doesn’t distract from the tree

  • The lowest branch doesn’t seem to sit right at this viewing angle. It either needs to be moved, removed, or have the foliage angled differently. The branch seems to function correctly when viewed from another angle (seen below)

3rd Place: Cork Bark Portulacaria Afra by Gary Lai

  • Overall the display has great consistency in the rough texture of the bark, stand, pot, and the fantastic stone planting.

  • While great nebari are difficult to cultivate on P. Afra species, the trunk shows how the roots have twisted down into the soil and show age.

  • Great taper to the trunk as you move up into the apex. Not easily seen, but branching is also well tapered and distributed.

  • There were plenty of young shoots that should have been pinched off for displaying. Many of them blocked the view of the trunk and crowded the negative space between the foliage pads.

Best Shohin: Ficus Burtt-Davyi “Nana” by Joyce Gibbs

  • Great usage of the curves in the branching and pot

  • Design and artistry become much more difficult with less space and material to work with

  • The pot, stand, branch movement, and planting angle all contribute to the successful display of this tree.

  • Would love to have seen the tree displayed at the angle the picture is taken

  • The top left portion of the tree needs a bit of filling out to complete the asymmetry of the canopy

Best Abnormal Species: Star Lavender by Ken Schlothan

  • Absolutely fantastic trunk displayed well so that the deadwood can be seen as well as the hole in the trunk

  • Mature and well ramified branching

  • Great movement and taper to the trunk and branching

  • I’m not sure what is going on with the lower branch and the few stragglers outside the silhouette.

  • Once this tree flowers I think a different pot choice would suit it better. A glazed colored pot with a round or oval shape would help to be consistent with the feminine nature of this tree.

Personal Favorite: Blue Atlas Cedar by Peter Macasieb

Honorable Mention: Willow Leaf Ficus

I really liked the Willow Leafed Ficus, but I didn’t catch who styled and grew it. This tree didn’t seem to stand out to me as much as the Blue Atlas Cedar did.

This is not a common tree to see as a bonsai. I love the color of the tree’s foliage and the cascade is executed well here. My huge complaint was the angle at which it was displayed. With a little tweak in the wire and a changed angle you could have a great negative space between the pads and be able to see the trunk as well. (see below)

Additional Tree Critique

I gave critique for the trees that won in each category, but had some constructive critique for trees that weren’t winners.

Olive: Remove foliage/branches that it in front of the split trunk to help bring out that major feature of your tree. Once the foliage fills out and it is better ramified this will be an amazing specimen!

Chinese Elm: I was perplexed by this tree for awhile as I viewed it. I’m not sure what it is exactly that made it feel a bit off, but here are a few things you might want to consider: Tree is off balance, not supported by a big enough trunk, too wide of a pot and not shallow enough, the planting angle, topdressing of moss might help give it an aged appearance.

Portulacaria Afra: The trunk has an initial turn, but then goes straight out (This is common with this species if not pruned or wired). Wiring to bring the branches into the correct spot if you choose not to trunk chop.

Japanese Black Pine: The main thing is wiring the foliage at the tips to be able to angle them upward. Having them not angled upward makes it look “unkept” and not styled.

Oak: Just a few straggling branches that stood outside the silhouette that could’ve been removed for display.

Olive: The crossing branch on the left definitely draws my eyes away from the potential bottom line that the branches create.

California Juniper: Obviously the tree could use more foliage, but I wanted to point out the different in moss cultivation. The moss in the pot is enough to pull the eyes away from the tree due to how unruly the moss looks. If you see the photo below you get moss how David Nguy cultivated it and it looks much cleaner.

Bougainvillea: Having a clean exit from the trunk with a main branch that continues as the “leader” off the top of the trunk would help the tree not be so wild.

David Nguy’s Demo

To be fair, I think starting with a triple trunk juniper like this is a tough task. He asked us if we wanted a semi-cascade or an upright style. They went with upright.

The victim

This was the end product from the front.

I am more partial to changing the angle and potentially removing an entire trunk once we learn more about the base and how the trunks interact.

Here are the ginkgo forest and pots I won in the raffle.

Ginkgo Forest Bonsai

Bonsai Pots

I’m glad I was able to go to the show and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Bonsai Design and Display Critique – #1 Juniper

I recently stumbled upon a wonderful book by Andy Rutledge about bonsai design. I have also recently spent a good chunk of time watching critique videos and seeing how others judge bonsai. While I’m not a professional in any sense of the word when it comes to bonsai, I have had fun looking at trees with the purpose of judging the tree and applying artistic design to what has been created.

I now plan to add a new tree every other week or so and continue a critique series so that others can watch and learn how I evolve. I’ll try to give information if I have it about the tree and also include both masterpieces and not-so-masterpiece-y trees as well.

Tree #1 – Juniper

Juniper Bonsai

What does the trunk communicate?

The trunk communicates a bending contorted growth pattern. The curve of the trunk gives the impression that the rocky path was handled gracefully.

What does the pot communicate?

The pot draws no attention away from the tree by being a neutral dark color that is not too ornate. The wider rim and smaller bottom suggests a feminine style. Overall the pot communicates “I am not the focus, but a complimentary piece.”

What does the foliage communicate?

The very rounded top continues the feminine traits that have been displayed in the trunk and pot.


Very feminine tree in terms of curves, pot selection, and foliage shape

Emphasis on this tree is obviously on the trunk. Fantastic trunk.

While lots of junipers commonly have amazing deadwood, this trunk twisting as much as it does and having no “wasted” deadwood is beautiful and elegant.


The only thing I can honestly critique about this tree is that the lower branch could be a bit more ramified vertically. It gives the appearance that it has the same shape as the top pads, but it could use a bit more vertical foliage.

Bonsai Soil Information

I come to you with the goal of making a one-stop shop for bonsai soil information. While I myself am not a soil expert, I do consider myself resourceful in finding the information I need.

Within this post will be sections about particle size, soil mixture recommendations, different substrates and their ability in different categories, as many comments on substrates I can find from reliable sources, and a few reliable places to find the substrates. I welcome additions to the lists from any and all locations.

Particle Size

I know there is no standard particle size that everyone agrees on, but here is what I’ve carved out due to a bit of research. Going a tad bit bigger or smaller doesn’t kill the tree, but it might change watering requirements and change the root structure. Generally aim for these relative sizes.

Large – Anything 30″ and up 1/8″ – 5/16″ (3 mm – 8 mm)
Medium – 10″ to 30″, two hand trees 1/16″ – 1/4″ (3 mm – 6 mm)
Small – Can go up to about 10″ to 12″ 1/16″ – 1/8″ (1.5 mm – 3 mm)

If you don’t like my sizing guides here are a few other posts and details you can check out:




Mixture Recommendations

I know there is no standard soil or mixture that people agree on, but there are a few agreed upon principles when mixing soil. The main things you need to consider are having adequate aeration, water retention, and ability to hold nutrients or CEC.

I feel the most common and most agreed upon mixture (also known as “Boon’s Mix”) is 1/3 pumice, 1/3 akadama, 1/3 lava. Here are the different mixture suggestions I came upon with my research:

  • 1/3 akadama, 1/3 pumice, 1/3 lava
  • 1/2 akadama, 1/4 pumice, 1/4 lava – Deciduous trees
  • 1/2 akadama, 1/4 bark, 1/4 lava
  • 2/3 akadama, 1/3 lava, a bit of organic something – Conifers
  • 1/2 pumice, 1/2 lava with slow release fertilizer
  • 100% Akadama – refined deciduous trees
  • 100% pumice for collected trees (I have found almost no disagreement upon using pure pumice for collected trees)

*akadama, pumice, lava, and bark can be replaced with Turface, DE, DG, or other substrates that provide similar water retention, aeration, and CEC.

These are things that we need to take into consideration regardless of the mix we choose:

  • Take into consideration the species of the tree when choosing a soil mixture. Some like to dry out completely, some need to be acidic, some need to remain moist but not wet. This can make different mixes and some substrates better or sub-optimal.

  • Age, size, and trees in refinement can require different repotting intervals which can alter an optimal mixture

  • Deep pots have a tendency to dry out quicker

  • It is common to put a layer of larger substrate on the bottom to retain good drainage

  • Shallow pots have a higher water table than deep pots.

  • Location and weather need to be considered when choosing a mix and substrates.

  • High heat and wind can dry out a tree quick through increased evaporation

  • Frequent rain can cause problems if you don’t have a soil equipped for extra water.

  • Extreme cold can cause several freeze-thaw cycles and can break down certain substrates quickly


There are two videos from the Appalachian Bonsai that test and rank substrates in water retention and freeze-thaw cycles. I’ll refer to those rankings below. The details of the test and the list is in the details in the video details. I need to add, CEC stands for Cation Exchange Capacity and measure how well a substrate can hold nutrients (fertilizer). The higher the number the better it is as holding nutrients.

One of the best discussions I’ve ever heard about soil is a podcast done by Ryan Neil with soil scientist Ian Hunter. 2 pure hours of soil nerding. I strongly suggest listening to it.


What it does like no other: Roots can grow through the akadama. This means that a pot with 100% akadama leaves the roots with 100% of the pot to grow in. Other mediums restrict the percentage of the pot that the roots can use to grow. This is best for refinement as it allows for the roots to become fine which in turn makes the branching fine.

Complaints: Lack of availability or the cost. People also frequently order akadama without knowing the “hardness” of it and that can lead to it breaking down too early and can block drainage as it turns to mush. Many claim that lack of knowledge on how to properly water and fertilize leads to a dislike of the substrate.

Water Retention: Akadama holds water well. Ranked at #2 in water retention

Aeration: Great until it starts to break down which can vary depending on brand and hardness.

CEC: 21/100g #5

Durability: Can not be reused and breakdown over time. It does not hold up well against freeze-thaw cycles and that can cause problems. Even though it breaks down you can still have roots that grow through it, you just need to be careful in watering and understanding your tree.

Freeze-Thaw Cycles: Ranked 10th out of 10.

Availability: Difficult to come by in US. It is expensive to get it due to the limited availability. There are definitely places to get it, just how much you pay for it depends on who is getting and selling it.

Professional Bonsai Artists Opinions on Akadama: If you’re arguing for or against akadama please do read this post from Bonsai Empire on differing opinions on akadama from professional bonsai artists so you can understand what you’re talking about. These are my favorite snippets for the lazy:

  • “I do not use Akadama. Have tried it and it doesn’t do its job here. (Northern Europe)” – Morten Albek

  • “In Indonesia, we only use volcanic lava soil from Indonesia for all of our Bonsai. for all stages.” – Robert Steven

  • “Products like Turface are soil amendments that the manufacturers recommend using at no more than 10 – 15 percent of the total volume. I follow that recommendation. I have noticed that turface gives good results for a year, possibly two years when used for newly collected plants, but during year three there is a deterioration in vigor at the time when one would normally expect an improvement.” – Collin Lewis

  • “Yes, I use akadama for all my trees. I use less akadama on the tree in training (25% or less).” – Boonyarat Manakitivipart (Bonsai Boon)

  • One additional comment from Adam’s soil blog post comment section: “On Peter Tea’s last visit back from Japan we were talking about soil mixes and he said, “do you know why they use akadama in Japan? It’s because that’s what the sell at the hardware store.” That’s not to say it doesn’t work great for our purposes. His point was, it’s worth looking into other things to use, that work just as good, that are more affordable, and don’t need to be imported from the other side of the globe.” – Anonymous Adam

Worldwide Map of Bonsai Nurseries

This is going to be your best bet in buying Akadama. Clubs, bonsai nurseries, or wholesale bonsai suppliers are going to be the main sources of akadama.

Southern California Suppliers:

SoCal Bonsai Supplyhttps://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?id=1026762080767062&story_fbid=1039194236190513

West American Import Export – David Nguy4207 Walnut Ave, Chino 91710 (714) 914-7001

San Diego Bonsai Supplies (Tim Hua) lava (scoria), pumice, and akadama supplies.

Grove Way Nursery – 239 Grove Way, Hayward, CA 94541 Phone: (510) 537-1157

Lava (Scoria)

What it does like no other: It does not break down and can be used over and over again. This makes it a fantastic component for trees that are not repotted often as it will continuously provide the drainage and aeration that other components might lose over time.

Complaints: Only complaints that I have ever heard about lava is availability. Not being able to buy it in smaller particle size makes this a frustrating search for “cheaper” lava. Bonsai retailers typically have this available, but you do have to pay for it.

Water Retention: Ranks 8th out of 10, which is not particularly fantastic.

Aeration: Fantastic aeration that doesn’t change with time. Might be the best out there other than just rocks that hold no water at all. (But then again these are lightweight!!!)

CEC: 10/100g Be nice, it’s just a rock. #8

Durability: I mean, it’s a rock, it’s durable…

Freeze-Thaw Cycles: Ranked 5th out of 10.

Availability: Available most places, but not in 1/8″ particle sizes. To get that size you typically have to get truckloads delivered or go through a bonsai supply store. I’ve tried to help by listing places below. Some might only have 1/4″, but that can fly depending on how particular you are.

Tuscon, AZhttp://www.acmesand.com/soil-amendments/black-lava-sand/

Irwindale, CAhttp://sunburstrock.com/redcinder.html

SoCal Bonsai SupplyFantastic prices, especially if you can pick up yourself.

Fillmore, UThttp://gngrock.com/rock-products/scoria-cinder-lava-rock

Springfield/Eugene, ORhttp://laneforest.com/bulk-rock-and-gravel/red-cinder-rock/

Clearlake Oaks, CAhttp://www.cllava.com/landscape_rock.html

Minot, ND(possible correct sizing) http://www.gravelproductsinc.com/photoMinot.html


What it does like no other: Great for yamadori collecting. It seems to be one of the best things to put collected trees in, just 100% pure pumice. Others will suggest adding in other substrates with it.

Complaints: I honestly didn’t come across a single complaint of pumice. I’m not sure why someone wouldn’t like it other than availability. Its cheap and mostly available around the US.

Water Retention: It ranks number 3 out of 10, but I’m not sure about the differences between the Kanuma Pumice used in the ranking trial and Horticultural Pumice.

Aeration: Pumice provides great aeration while retaining moisture, which is one of its many fantastic qualities!

CEC: 15/100g #7

Durability: Over a long period of time I’ve heard it breaks down, but I’ve been told that it doesn’t degrade even though it is a tad bit soft and can be crushed with your hands. Either way it’s good in terms of durability.

Availability: Pumice seems to be pretty available from my understanding. It can be bought as dry stall if not under the name of pumice (working with them to get a supplier list). I found mine at a hydroponics store that sold a large bag (like around 50 lbs.) for like $13.

The best distributor around the US and Canada I found was Featherock and Sunlight Supply ($15.95 for a 47 lb. bag – 1/2 cf! Waaay cheaper if you can find it than bonsai retailers). I think Sunlight Supply had a retailer in almost every state I checked, and you can find Sunlight Supply’s retailer finder at https://www.sunlightsupply.com/page/findretailer, while Featherock has distributors in these states:

Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, Canada

Download Distributors Master List 2017


Eugene/Springfield, ORhttp://laneforest.com/bulk-rock-and-gravel/horticultural-pumice/

Olancha, CA (Shipping as well)http://www.generalpumiceproducts.com/horticulture/

Canby, Oregonhttp://www.phillipssoil.com/retail/

Salinas, CAhttp://mas-dist.com/pumice-2/

Bellingham, WAhttps://natures-footprint.myshopify.com/products/pumice-3-5-gallon?variant=18101887171 ($22 shipping to Southern California for reference)


UK Aylesford http://www.techfil.co.uk/full-product-range/pumice/pumice-aggregates/

UK Staffordshirehttp://appliedminerals.co.uk/products/am-pumice/

Sparks, NV/Rhode Island/Puerto Ricohttp://reade-px.rtrk.com/products/pumice-powder-amorphous-aluminum-silicate

Baton Rouge, Louisianahttp://www.alligatorclay.com/chemicals.php

Still researching these following providers:



Ohio & Onlinehttps://www.bulkapothecary.com/raw-ingredients/other-ingredients-and-chemicals/pumice/



What it does like no other: It makes bonsai enthusiasts blood boil.

Complaints: I don’t want to rehash this, but here we go. People love, like, hate, and hold disdain for Turface. I have no complaints using it, but it isn’t my main component, so there it is. It apparently doesn’t readily give water to roots which is its major turn off.

Water Retention: It absorbs water and slowly releases it. It does a great job holding water

Aeration: From using it I would say it doesn’t provide great aeration, but it doesn’t inhibit drainage too much.

CEC: 33/100g #3 about the same as akadama

Durability: Not as durable as other things that can be reused, but holds up better than akadama does over time.

Availability: Not too difficult to get a hold of, but can be depending upon your location.

Turface MVPhttp://www.turface.com/find-a-distributor

Here is a general layout of the listed distributors:







Discussions on Turface:

Michael Hagedornhttps://crataegus.com/2013/11/24/life-without-turface/

Jack Wiklehttp://hoosierbonsai.blogspot.com/2013/12/turface-or-not-turface-active-question.html

The Bonsai Dilettantehttp://www.bonsaidilettante.com/2014/03/im-cutting-out-the-turface.html

Diatomaceous earth (NAPA part #8822)


Comments: TL:DR it’s another version of Turface. Cheap akadama replacement and I haven’t heard too many negative things about it as I have Turface. Then again, I think the root of the word Turface is hate. Also cat litter has been used and classified under DE. Kitty litter seems to be the go to for Europe, while Napa Floor Dry is the go to here in the US.

Water Retention: Ranks #1 above Akadama. DE can hold up to 6 times its weight in water, needless to say it gets the job done.

Aeration: Good aeration, but as noted by the freeze-thaw cycles it will slowly breakdown over time which inhibits the aeration as time goes on.

CEC: 27/100g, #4 better than Akadama

Durability: Not known for being sturdy. It does break down over time and is not reusable.

Availability: Widely available. Can be purchased at NAPA Auto Parts and most Walmarts if not plenty of other places.

Great resources for kitty litter being used:http://www.bonsai4me.com/Basics/Basicscatlitter.htm

Decomposed Granite (Chicken Grit)

Decomposed Granite

Comments: I know this can get really heavy if you’re using a significant portion of DG in large pots, be careful of this.

Water Retention: Ranks #9 out of 10, so not good.

Aeration: Great aeration due to absorbing nearly no water. Also great durability since it doesn’t breakdown with freeze-thaw cycles. Needs to be sifted as it can compact easily with smaller particles.

CEC: 10/100g. #8

Durability: Really durable, even when frozen and thawed. I’m assuming it’s reusable, but I’m not 100% sure and didn’t find anything about re-usability.

Availability: Searching through tile suppliers, gravel yards, and animal feed stores should net you a supply of DG.

Sand (Silica)

Comments: Helps add drainage that won’t degrade. This can be super helpful depending on what you mix is made of.

Water Retention: Ranks #7 out of 10, so not terrible in my opinion.

Aeration: This is the main reason to use it, so I’d say it does great and will mainly function for aeration.

CEC: 0/100g. #10

Durability: Really durable, even when frozen and thawed. It is a great cutting propagation medium and can be used afterwards in a growing out bed or propagation medium. Reusable.

Availability: Typically available at your local department store. Lowe’s carries the sand I’ve purchased, but Home Depot did not. Known as building sand as well.

Expanded Shale

Comments: Reminds me of lava in terms of what it provides. Great long term drainage with not much holding power for anything else.

Water Retention: Ranks #9 out of 10, so not good.

Aeration: Great aeration due to not absorbing much water or nutrients and not breaking down.

CEC: 15/100g. #6

Durability: Really durable, even when frozen and thawed. Reusable

Availability: Not highly available, might require some searching depending on your location.



Complaints: Availability, similar to akadama

Water Retention: Great, wasn’t measured in the tests below, but similar to akadama

Aeration: Great until it breaks down. This is similar to akadama in almost all things except pH. It it used specifically for Azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

CEC: 62/100g. #2 Fantastic CEC that is nearly double that of akadama.

Durability: Not reusable and breaks down over time. Not durable.

Availability: Not widly available. Usually through bonsai supplier or special ordering (SoCal Bonsai Supply also sells this on occasion).



Perlite Substrate

Comments: I’m not fond of the fact that it floats and tends to always find a way to the top.

Water Retention: Ranks #6, better than lava, but not enough to replace an akadama-like substance.

Aeration: Good until it compacts. Wouldn’t work well with heavier soil components

CEC: 1.5/100g, so none. #9 or last.

Durability: Doesn’t break down, but definitely compacts.

Availability: Available at almost every gardening store and should be purchasable at Lowe’s, Home Depot, or your local gardening store.

Pine Bark Fines

Comments: OMG it’s organic! Ruuuuuuun. No really this stuff is great. I love its CEC since inorganic components don’t do that really well.

Water Retention: Does great in water retention.

Aeration: I love that the particle sizes and shapes are different than the typical “rocks” we put in bonsai soil, helps change up the structure up. Other than that not super fantastic in terms of drainage.

CEC: 150/100g. #1 This is why you put this stuff in your mix if you do. More than 5 times better than the next best which is DE.

Durability: Degrades and is not durable or reusable.

Availability: Available most places or easily acquirable. Getting it in smaller sizes instead of bark nuggets is the difficulty most times.

If you have suggestions, corrections, quotes, preferred brands, suppliers, or anything to add to this list of resources please feel free to contact me with a comment below, through the website, or email me at natesnursery.net@gmail.com. You can also send a text to (760) 503-4647 with the information and I’ll get it put up as soon as I can. I’ll add your name and addition or correction below if you so desire.