Alternate soil from clay king, for young trees development?

Hello, I recently for the first time just repotted all my trees that were in training over the last 10-15 years from wooden boxes and turface as a soil medium to bonsai pots and clay king. It was mandatory for these trees as it was time to give them the “GOOD STUFF”, as I would call it. But I have about 100 three year old red and black pines I want to further develop in their own colanders to increase trunk size and develop the nebari. I was told recently that turface is a bad choice for soil medium and I can’t afford to buy several more bags of clay king. So I get to my question,


I appreciate any and all help on where I can get this, and prices of these products?

Also I have been searching the web everywhere for the 6-8" cheap plastic colanders to buy in a bulk 50-100 pack, and the cheapest I found was around $2 each! Anyone have a link to where I can get them for under or around a dollar?

Thank you so munch!

A good alternative to akadama-based mixes would be the same basic ingredients without the akadama. Pumice, lava and decomposed granite are a really good starting point. Collected trees are usually grown in straight pumice upon collection, and in Shokoku, where many black pines are grown in Japan, a common mix is 100% sharp sand (similar to our decomposed granite).

Note, a mix without akadama may dry out quickly as there are fewer fine particles, so careful watering is extra important. Also, whatever particles are used, it’s important to sift out the dust.

Here are some thoughts from Michael Hagedorn on turface:

Thank you Jonas. Both articles were very interesting and insightful and have witnessed everything he described with my trees over the last several years.
Any advice on where one can find lave and decomposed granite?
Also can you recommend where you found your bulk source online for the colanders?
Thank you again so much!

I use different shops online every time I buy as prices and shipping seems to change a lot. Big kitchen supply shops can be a good place to look.

Good soil yards in the east bay include American Soil Products (unsifted pumice and lava) and Acapulco Rock and Stone (decomposed granite). They’re very close to each other in Richmond.

If you’re interested, I have sifted (and unsifted) pumice and lava in a variety of sizes (feel free to call or write).

I urge people to remember that there is no single best soil mix. The best soil mix is what works for you, in your yard, for your watering style.

I don’t disagree with Michael Hagedorn on very much but I think he is Whacked on the turface issue. It is basically manufactured akadama - that is to say a medium temperature, low pressure metamorphic rock. It is not clay anymore than porcelain, or akadama, is still clay. It has excellent water drainage and porosity retention and does not radically alter the pH of the mix after it has been watered (rinsed) for a bit. I use it extensively to root cuttings, and for growing on. It has produced extreme root ramification for me in in my mixes so i reject the claim it is bad for root growth out of hand. I use it with an organic particle (coarse ground coffee) and it drains well, holds moisture, and my trees thrive. I just wish I could find it in a larger size than 1/4".

So dancinzen - if you have been having good results with turface, why the sudden desire to change? Public opinion, or is there a horticultural issue that has come up? Look at that and if you have a hundred pine seedlings that you want to move to a colander, Try a few in turface. Compare and contrast the results.

You may want to check Dollar General or that type of store. They may be able to order your quantity for less than $2. They sell them around Columbus, Ohio for a buck apiece retail.

‘Dollar tree’ stores have sturdy colander for $1.00 ea…

I do not have decades of bonsai growing experience but I can say I have tested turface in almost ever application in nursery production. I have propagated deciduyous and conifers in turface blends, I have used it for first potting of collected materials boith yamadori and nursery field grown, in bonsai pots large and small. I have done everything with this crap except eat it. When I first made the jump from nurserygrower to thoughtfully growing pre-bonsai I bought 2 TONS of this crap on a recommendation of the local club gurus. In my 45 years of propagating and nursery growing I have never had such miserable crops as I first produced as a thoughtful grower using turface. I suffered loses in the 1000’s, underdeveloped root systems with straggly wimpy roots. When I finally took that stuff out of the equations my plants became free growing unrestricted with an over all appearance of vigor. We can learn well from our mistakes, but why not learn from master like M. Hagedorn, Boon,John Kirby, Jonas, etc,etc,etc

This is a bit late in the game, but I have used Turface but not as a majority percentage soil component. It was used at about 20%. I have seen very good results when Turface was used at high percentages and have also seen poor results at high percentages. The recommendation of using granite with the scoria and pumice is a winner. Pines love it. If you have a drying out issue, add 5% small orchid bark. The organic does break down but at 5% it should not be an issue. If you do not like organics, then use 5-10% HARD akadama with the scoria, pumice and granite. The akadama will add moisture and nutrient retention.

Zack- I use to think Turface and Akadama were the same too. But now after starting with Turface and using it for a couple years, then switching to an Akadama mix. I’ve realized that they have more differences than similarities. Akadama is much better at holding water and nutrients, while turface does not hold much water/nutrients and even seems to dry out unevenly sometimes even when sifted. Akadama breaks down over time(a good thing) while Turface does not, Akadama is a volcanic product, turface is not. Turface is a high fired clay, while the Akadama we want to use is just heat treated and not baked. There is high fired Akadama, but I’m not a fan of it.