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Bonsai Soil Tests: Part 1: Water Retention

Welcome to Appalachian Bonsai. This video is one of a series to discuss soil components and some of their properties as they pertain to bonsai. These components are what we’re available to me at this particular time. What’s available to you may vary by region or by country. When it comes to bonsai soil no two person’s soil mixtures are alike. Each soil mixture depends upon the species, the climate, and the person who’s using them. I hope that just seeing these components in testing will allow you to make choices for your own.

Thanks for watching. Today, we’re going to look at water retention and a little bit on drainage. All plants need water so let’s see how much water these components hold. Both organic and inorganic materials were considered. Just because something holds moisture doesn’t make it good. Conversely, just because it might not absorb moisture doesn’t make it bad. I began by measuring equal volumes of each component and measured their dry weight for reference. Next, I added distilled water to each type and let it soak for one hour. This should allow plenty of time for each type of soil to fully saturate.

After an hour, the components are removed from the water and allowed to drain. Each is weighed out over time to calculate retention. Let’s see the differences. We’ll begin with organic materials. Coconut coir is commonly used in flower baskets and hydroponics. It is sold in brick form and soaks up water like a sponge. It fills the entire cup. That’s a lot of water! But, all available space is filled, which isn’t necessarily good for bonsai. We’ll will look more on that type of drainage in another video. After draining for an hour and 45 minutes, we weighed each sample. We weighed the samples again 3.5 hours later.

By comparing the different weights, we are able to determine the amount of water retained, and a basic percentage of loss. At 129 grams of water retained, plus minimal loss, Coconut Coir ranks number one in organic material water retention. This is mushroom compost I bought in bags at my local nursery. It is damp at purchase time, so I oven-dried it before I used it. Small twigs and sand may be present, and the content will vary depending on where you purchase.

It drains well and has a slight alkalinity. I’ll do a video on pH at a later date. At 26 grams of water retained and 31.5% lost, Compost comes in at number three with water retention for organic material. Sphagnum moss is found in cooler damper regions of the world and is known to hold moisture very well. However, in the United States commercially available peat moss comes in a fine kiln dry powder.

Unlike fresh sphagnum. In this processed form it does not whet easily, much like baking flour. More information will be available in a future video. You can see it has absorbed very little water, and is actually floating on top. If powdered peat moss in a soil mix is allowed to dry out potential dead zones may occur. If it is saturated, powdered peat moss will hold plenty of moisture, but for this test, it did not perform well. After draining for five and a quarter hour, peat moss only held six grams of water with 40% loss. It ranks number four on the organic list. Pine bark and fir bark are fan favorites in the bonsai world. I have pine bark available in my region.

Here, pine bark chips can be sold as soil conditioner. I sift it to a proper size and put the rest in the garden. Sifted bark drains well and holds good moisture. Beneficial microorganisms like bacteria can thrive in these porous structures. As a quick note, pine bark is on the acidic side. At retaining 22 grams of water at a 14.8% loss, pine bark comes in at number two in organic water retention. Let’s look at the Inorganic materials and aggregates. Akadama is the classic gold standard of Japanese bonsai mixtures. Here in most of the U.S., it is expensive and not readily available. It is often purchased online or at dedicated bonsai nurseries. Its large particle size drains well and its porosity absorbs and retains moisture. Because of the expense and its scarcity outside of Japan, people around the world look for alternatives to akadama. With water retention of 22 grams at a 26.6% loss, Akadama ranks number two overall in inorganic material.

Diatomaceous Earth, or diatomite, is a lightweight fossilized clay that is used as an absorbent in kitty litter and oil dry. This product needs to be sifted well before use. It also compacts and breaks down over time. We will look at that in another video. Like Akadama, it absorbs and retains moisture very well, and in fact, retains more water than akadama. At 37 grams of water retained with 30% loss, Diatomaceous Earth comes in at number one overall ranking, Chicken grit or granite chips is a popular aggregate in soil mixtures. Its popularity stems from its excellent drainage, its inert structure, and it’s pretty cheap. It’s also one of the heaviest components used. The color depends on the quarry, and for the most part is non-porous and absorbs little water. Most of the water retained is merely from surface tension. With only one gram of water retained and a 94.4% loss, Granite chips ranked last in our list of inorganic materials. Expanded shale is becoming more available as a soil component because of its ability to prevent compaction. It has a semi porous structure and can absorb some moisture.

The large particle size I had available to me drains very well. It has a good color, too. Unlike some other expanded materials this one does not break down easily over time. With only two grams of water and 84.6% loss Expanded shale ranks number nine on the inorganic list. Lava-Rock, which is sometimes known as scoria, is a hard yet porous material with excellent drainage. Its large pores absorb some moisture and can house beneficial bacteria. It also has a pretty color which makes it a good choice for top dressing. Similar to expanded shale and granite, it can last a long time without breaking down.

But 4 grams of water at 76% loss, Lava Rock or Scoria ranks number eight overall in inorganic material. Perlite is a type of volcanic glass that is expanded with high heat. It is common in growing mediums here in the U.S. Its porous structure allows it to float. Much like lava rock and granite, most of the water retained is through surface tension. Also like these other components, It does not break down easily over time One of the problems for bonsai is its stark white color. This usually means it’s only used for training trees and not for formal presentations. At 14 grams of water and 36% loss this product ranks number six on our list. Pumice is a less dense, but more porous variety of Lava Rock.

It, like processed perlite, will float. Like nearly all materials that you use in bonsai, you need to make sure that you sift it and wash it well before you use it. It drains well, and it’s similar to Akadama and its ability to hold and retain good moisture. With 22 grams of water retained and only 29% loss, Pumice holds the number three rank for inorganic material. Sand is one of the most available components around the world. It’s also the heaviest of the components that we tested. Small grains of sand can easily block drainage, so it must be sifted well before use. Sand also drains very well, but the majority of the moisture held within it is from surface tension and not from absorption.

With 12 grams of moisture retained in 67.5% loss, Sand ranks number seven on our list. Turface is a type of Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate or L.E.C.A. It is one of the most common Bonsai soil mediums used outside of Japan. It readily absorbs moisture, but like all of these components, it does have some drawbacks that will be discussed later in another video. Turface drains well and has a very good color. Though it’s relatively stable, it can break down over time. Turface held 30 grams of water with 36% loss.

This ranks at number 4 on our Inorganic list. Vermiculite is sold in various forms, including this expanded type. It’s most common use in the gardening world is to break up clay soils. Its use in bonsai depends upon the person. Even though it floats along the surface it does absorb moisture without becoming soggy. There is potential for vermiculite’s small size to clog drainage. Because of its 28 grams of retention with 41.6% loss, Vermiculite comes in at number five. Bees. Again, this is not a full list of components used for bonsai soil mixtures, but what we’re available to me at this time.

I have more tests to show you so stick around. Leave a comment in the section below about what types of tests you’d like to see me perform in the future. If you haven’t already, Follow us on Facebook or Instagram Stay tuned… There’s always more to come! Thanks for watching!! .

Air Layer Series Part 1: Trident Maple 2017

Hello and welcome to Appalachian Bonsai! Today’s video is part of an ongoing series to discuss air layers. I hope you enjoy it. Today we’re going to be working on an air layer of this trident maple. I’ve been working on this maple for many years and even tried layering it one time. You can see the scar around the body and the belly here. And I’m trying to do this because, I have a large reverse taper (right there). My first attempts were not very successful So let’s try this again.

What I have here is a box knife and I’m using it because it’s nice and sharp. So just be careful you don’t cut yourself. Cut a section about as wide as the tree is in diameter. The sharp knife is gonna make a clean cut. What I’m doing here is, I’m cutting the cambium layer, which is the softer outer layer of the bark, down to the sapwood. The cambium layer transfers nutrients made by the leaves down to the roots, which help create new roots. The sapwood, which is the inner layer of white wood that you will see in a moment, is what carries nutrients from the roots up to the leaves and branches. By removing this cambium layer, we are removing the ability for the leaves at the top to provide nutrients to the roots at the bottom.

We’re gonna call the nutrients “root juice” for simplicity. The root juice is not getting to those roots at the bottom, but they’re still providing nutrients to the area where it’s cut. What’s it going to do? It’s going to create new roots, and that’s the intention here : To create new roots at the cut. But, we’re not starving the branches and the leaves, because we’re not cutting into the sapwood layer. The roots are still providing nutrients to the top of the tree, so, our tree is able to thrive and produce new roots at the same time. When you’re removing the cambium, make sure you remove ALL of the cambium. The cambium is a pathway from the top to the bottom, and if you leave any of it, the pathway remains open. We must close the process, so remove all the cambium. Scrape it with a knife. I’m using a razor here to finish the process. Then I’m going back and cleaning up my cuts to make sure they’re nice and sharp and crisp and clean.

Take sphagnum moss that has been soaking in water. You can add a root hormone, if you’d like. Squeeze out excess moisture and pack it on the cut. The sphagnum moss is gonna make sure that that cut stays damp and doesn’t dry out. But, it’s also going to provide a medium for which roots can grow in. Wrap the sphagnum moss and the tree with plastic. This plastic will prevent evaporation. It will also make sure that the sphagnum moss remains tight around that cut area. Rubber electrical tape is what I’m using here to ensure that the plastic stays on the tree as well as tight against that trunk.

Finish by wrapping with aluminum foil to protect the new roots from sunlight. So it’s a few months later, and now we’re about to see what our root system looks like. I’m not sure what this is gonna to be here. There is potential I have no roots. Let’s see what we have. As much as I want to cut this down I may have to rewrap it back up again. So, I’m going to do this carefully.

Hush, dog. Hush! It’s the reveal! Oh, man! I can’t tell if that’s sphagnum moss, or if it’s roots. There’s a root right here. I have one root here, and there’s bound to be more, but, they’re not filling up the whole bag. So I’m gonna cover it back up. I’ll check back again. Okay. It’s all done up. Use foil again to protect those new roots from sunlight. Roots like to grow in the dark. That’s why they grow in the ground. Ta-Da! I’ll see you in another month. It’s been a month and a half since we last looked at these roots, and I’ve taken a peek at them over the past weeks, and I wanted to show you what I’ve seen, and what I’ve concluded to do.

There aren’t many roots on this side, but, if you can see this, I do have several roots starting to come through right here and that’s exciting! They’re even starting to poke through the bottom of the bag. I don’t know why it’s not doing as well on the back side. It may be a too damp and maybe too dry. We will see pretty soon. What I’m going to do is take off this layer of plastic, and I’m gonna replace it with this right here. This will be attached to the bottom of the tree, and it will be filled with soil. And that will allow the roots to continue to grow without me disturbing them. So, let’s get in there and see what happened. Hot and humid out today, so it’s not a bad time for me to be exposing the roots.

Yeah, now you can start to see them. Yeah, pretty. Real pretty We even have some root started up here. Oh, I just have to look! Hold on. It’s really wet, and that may be the problem. I see a root or two. There’s a root or two back here. And, I was correct: These are roots right here. Just put that back on and loosen a little bit of that up. It’s good to have it damp but not wet, and I think wet was my problem.

Let’s attach this now What I did is measure the diameter of the tree, mark, the bottom of this container and then made some slits where it would be larger and hold around that trunk. Then I split a section all the way up the side, so that I could open and slide it around the tree. This is not the best design, and there are better ones out there that you can purchase with a hinge on the side. It makes this a little bit easier, but It’s slightly more expensive. I went ahead and drilled some holes, and now we can put this on. I plan on putting that just below where these root tips are, being very careful not to break them. I’m gonna see if I can slide this on. Okay So I got this on, and now I just need to tie it off. It’s not the prettiest thing, I know.

I’m wrapping aluminum wire around the container to hold it together and I’m using little smaller pieces of aluminum wire to hold the main wire in place. As mentioned before, this isn’t the best design, but it still works for this purpose. I’m using my coarse bonsai soil It’s the same soil I used with my other trees. It’s with a little bit more pine bark to give it extra moisture. Then I teased those roots out gently. It took some time, but I got it on there. Then what I did is I fill it with soil I had to brace it up some to keep it to this level. I wanted to make sure that the topsoil was well above where the root cut was. So the root system can grow, and that way everything stays nice and damp. I’m gonna give this a good watering, I’m gonna cover it and some sphagnum moss. That way the sun doesn’t hit it and dry it out too badly. And we’ll see here in another couple of months. Hopefully I’ll have some roots coming out on the sides.

Stay tuned for the next video in this series. Like and subscribe because there is more to come. Thanks for watching! .