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Updates: New products reported in Latvia/ Baltic States and the Netherlands
Akadama, Turface and Seramis are among the most popular high quality (inorganic) soil components available in which to plant your bonsai. Unfortunately, they can be difficult to source and are expensive particularly if you have many large trees to repot, have to buy by mail order or just require a small quantity for a small number of trees.
These soil components are all (basically) clay granules that have been fired/heated to create small pellets or granules that are water retentive, extremely well draining and are stable, that is they will not breakdown over the course of the year.
Some cat litter products are exactly this; fired clay granules. Originally, a knowledgeable fellow enthusiast who has been using it as a bonsai soil for the past decade, introduced me to using clay granules intended as cat litter a number of years ago. I have been planting all of my bonsai in this particular brand of catlitter for a number of years now and it has proved to be an excellent material that I would now comfortably recommend as being superior to Akadama and Seramis.
As time has gone on since first writing this article around 2004, I have since heard from many enthusiasts who have switched to Tescos Low Dust Lightweight and a number of other similar (diatomaceous earth/diatomite) products with great success.
Tescos Cat litter with its yellow packaging
available in the UK, I use an own-brand product available from
'Tescos' called 'Low
Dust Lightweight Catlitter' (previously known as 'Premium Lightweight'). There are other brands
that make suitable bonsai soil (see the updates at the foot of
the page) but this is the only one I have direct experience of
and can therefore personally recommend.
I use this product for my all of my bonsai, with cuttings and air layers and even newly collected yamadori (collected trees) all to good effect.
At a cost of just around £5.00 for 16 litres, easy availability (as there seems to be a Tescos Superstore wherever you turn in the UK), and an absolutely ideal medium for growing healthy bonsai, if you are living in the UK, I couldn't recommend any other soil for bonsai at the moment.
'Low Dust Lightweight' can be used on its own (100% pure) for all tree species. If you require a more water retentive mix for bonsai in small pots (mame) or to lengthen the amount of time between each watering, the addition of approximately 10%-20% chopped bark is useful.
At present I am adding approximately 20%-25% bark to my basic catlitter soil mix.
Appearance of 'Low Dust Lightweight' Cat Litter