For those of you who have been tinkering in bonsai for a while, you’ve likely learned that just because a package says “bonsai soil” on it doesn’t mean it’s actually good for your bonsai.
From buying soil that that is too moisture retentive and you might as well just pot in potting soil, to getting a product that seems to be nothing but grit and perlite, to trying to pot a small bonsai in orchid mix with particles too big for your trees, you’re likely fed up.
There is one huge bonus to buying premixed stuff. You don’t have to buy and store all the components (lava, fired clays, perlite, Turface, bark, Akadama, sphagnum moss, compost, perlite, or potting soil). And you don’t have to bother with the mixing and sieving yourself. So if you don’t care about the control of mixing your own special brew, or you live in an apartment or small space and don’t have the place to store all the half filled bags as you figure it out, this is the article for you.
Both the categories below are for an all-purpose mix. Those with bonsai with special needs (say, a pine or another conifer) may be better suited to another mix. If you have any question about what that is or if you should use an organic or inorganic mix read my What Kind of Bonsai Soil Should I Use article to understand what you’re looking for in a mix and why.
Best General All Purpose Bonsai Mix (With Organic Material)
The below recommendations are for a basic organic bonsai soil. These soils might be used for pre-bonsai and young bonsai (for at least the first several years). Those with older bonsai, whose development is complete, may like to move to a more inorganic mix.
- The runner up silver medal goes to Hoffman for their “Bonsai Soil Mix.”
COST: 2 quarts for around $16
INGREDIENTS: Haydite (Expandable Shale), Sand Pebble, Aged Pine Bark, and Turface
COMMENTS: Hoffman makes a good general bonsai mix here. Reviews have been consistently high and it’s a clear customer favorite. Another nice feature, Hoffman’s bonsai mix comes in a re-sealable bag to let hobbyists use a bit at a time. Customers may end up with silt, so you might want to rinse the mix before use.
- The winning gold award goes to Bonsai Jack for their “Organic Bonsai Soil Mix.”
COST: 3.5 gallons for around $35
INGREDIENTS: 40% Pumice, 40% Bonsai Block (calcined clay), 20% Pine Bark Fines. All 1/4 Inch. pH: 6.4
COMMENTS: Bonsai Jack has really come into their own for producing good quality bonsai soil components. They do a dab of selling pots or accessories, but their specialty is the soil mixes and components.
This soil mix is optimized for pH, water absorption, evaporation, bulk density and particle size. They note that this product (and all their products) meet the following process: ordered by the full truck load, crushed, screened to 1/4 inch, rinsed/washed, insect inspected, dried, PH tested, CEC/cation exchange capacity tested, moisture retention tested, moisture release tested, nematode tested, bagged and shipped to your door. The company also offers impressive customer service and fast delivery.
I’ve linked to a 3.5-gallon amount, which gives you a price break but should be plenty for a moderate number of trees. You might consider how many you plan on repotting in a given year or season before choosing what size you want to purchase. Extra material could be stored easily in a larger bin or in completely dried out gallon milk or water jugs (make sure they’re completely clean and dry before storing any mix in them though!). Bonsai Jack does offer larger and smaller sizes of this mix so you can buy more or less depending on your needs.
The only side note on this item is there’s a little more white color components than I generally care for in my mix, I like the look of a little more clay or red in there. But that’s personal preference, and one easily remedied with some top dressing. Overall this is a fantastic product and one I would not hesitate to repot all my general young bonsai into.
Best Inorganic All Purpose Bonsai Mix (Little or No Organic Material)
The mixes in this section are inorganic. If you choose to use one of these mixes as your baseline you might mix in some organics such as pine bark fines, for those trees that are appropriate. That would be an excellent way to go if you have both new and old bonsai trees.
- The bronze third goes to Bonsai Boy for his “Bonsai boy Professional Bonsai Soil”
COST: 5 quarts for around $25 AND $13 shipping (total $38)
INGREDIENTS: Ingredients aren’t listed. Speculate at least shale, fired ceramic of some sort, and lava. Likely mostly made up of crushed shale.
COMMENTS: Bonsai Boy does a decent job with this mix, at a pretty good price. It does a great job with deciduous and tropical trees. The packaging leaves something to be desired but that’s cosmetic.
- The gold award goes to Superfly Bonsai for their “Professional Bonsai Soil Mix” or “Boon’s Mix”
COST: 2.5 quarts for around $25
INGREDIENTS: Akadama, black lava, pumice, and a small amount of Haydite & charcoal.
COMMENTS: As with any mix that starts the list with Akadama, it’s a pricy one. But I can’t argue with the quality of the goods, this is excellent stuff to work with. Bonsai Boon said he uses one part lava rock, one part pumice, 1 part Akadama, ½ cut horticultural charcoal, and ½ cup of decompose granite (per five gallon mix). But he also said he uses less Akadama for trees in training, and uses pumice as the bottom layer for drainage. (Reference: Bonsai Empire: To Akadama, or not to Akadama? )
Personally I wouldn’t make this choice if you plan on mixing much of this with something else. For newcomers, buying this mix and throwing in some potting soil would be akin to mixing your Johnny Walker Blue with coke. Just don’t do it. If you’re looking for a whiskey to mix with coke consider Jim Beam, and if you’re looking for something to sip on the rocks then you get out your Johnny Walker Blue (or if we’re comparing apples to apples get out your Pappy Van Winkle 20 year… but I digress…) The point is, this bonsai mix is made of good quality ingredients and is better suited for established trees or fine bonsai. But, hey, if you like to mix your JW Blue and coke, then this might be for you too.
- The gold goes again to Bonsai Jack for their “Inorganic Bonsai Soil.”
COST: 2 gallons for about $29
INGREDIENTS: 25% Pumice, 25% Bonsai Block or calcined clay, 25% Lava and 25% Turface. pH: 6.7
COMMENTS: The components on this mix don’t compete with the quality level of Superfly’s, but the quality is higher than Bonsai Boy’s. The quality is still excellent here though and the processing with which Bonsai Jack cares for its products really coms through on this product as usual. Overall this mix gets the gold medal for an excellent combination of value and quality.
Overall any of these mixes are a solid bet for your next repotting. Consider sieving and/or rinsing whatever you use before you use it. And if you don’t like the color, you can always add some top dressing to your bonsai.