Learn how to create and care for bonsai in Manitoba.

The Bonsai Society of Winnipeg presents an introductory course on Bonsai. More...

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Where to buy Bonsai Soil Ingredients

Shelmerdine Garden Centre sells a pre-mixed, pre-sifted, 4 litre pail under the brand name Borealis. This is the classic 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 recipe described here.

The three individual ingredients are also available in small quantities at regular club meetings but you'll have to sift these ingredients before you can use them.

If you require larger amounts of bonsai soil, you can buy the ingredients in bulk which you can sift and mix as needed.

Crushed Quartzite is available in a 50 lb. bag from feed mills that supply Turkey grit to poultry farmers. Cherrystone Brand has the least amount of dust.

Turface is available in a 50 lb. bag from I.C.E Marketing on Keewatin Street. Ask for Turface MVP to get the correct particle size.

Bark chips are available from garden centres and come in a two cubic foot bag called Mini Bark Mulch. One bag of Mini Bark will yield less than 20% of its volume in the correct particle size. Be prepared for a lot of sifting.


Bonsai Soil For Manitoba

One Third, One Third, One Third

Nobody gets excited about bonsai soil. It is a small miracle that readers have even come to this part of our web site. Soil just doesn't attract the same interest in the bonsai beginner as do wiring or carving. Eventually, though, when beginners have seen the effect of a proper soil mix, an odd obsession with soil will begin to develop.

The soil used in bonsai is much more coarse than for other potted plants. It must allow water to flow freely between the particles. Fresh water forces the toxic carbon dioxide, released by the roots, out of the pot. As the water freely flows out of the pot, beneficial oxygen is drawn in from the soil surface. This regular exchange of water and oxygen is critical to good bonsai health.

Another benefit of using a course soil mix in Manitoba is that it will dry up more quickly and allow for daily watering during the summer months with minimal danger of root rot.

The soil in a bonsai pot must perform several functions. It must:

- anchor the tree
- retain moisture
- supply food
- supply air
- shelter the roots

In Manitoba, to accomplish these requirements, we use a soil-less mixture (more accurately called a growing medium, but that requires too much typing, so we continue to call it soil) made up of equal parts:

1/3 crushed quartzite (turkey grit, no. 2 medium) provides ballast and helps to develop fine roots by providing hard, sharp points for the roots to grow around.

1/3 Turface, a fired clay that absorbs liquid water and slowly releases is as water vapour, a form preferred by the roots.

1/3 bark chips
they break down, providing nutrients, room for root growth, and beneficialbacteria.

Beginners must not be tempted to try using the rich, black loamy earth in which the trees in the yard are growing. For bonsai, loam results in a compacted growing medium which is difficult to water properly and thus can lead to tree mortality.


Before using any soil, you must sift out the very fine and the very coarse particles. Anything so fine that it falls through a sifting screen of 1/16 inch, (window screen size mesh), must be discarded as it will compact and prevent water from draining quickly. Any particles larger than 1/4 inch, that is, particles that will not pass through a 1/4 inch screen, must be discarded. Use whatever is left for your bonsai.

This 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 soil mix is a good general mix and most trees will thrive in it. Experienced bonsai artists sometimes adjust the mix to better suit individual trees with more specific requirements. Various bonsai books may recommend various other components or somewhat different proportions because their authors live in different climates or have different materials available to them. The above recipe works well in Manitoba!

At club meetings, beginners may hear members discussing extreme mixes, such as 80% shale in pines, or 100% Turface in figs. They may be getting favourable results, but beginners should not try these until well accomplished at keeping trees alive and healthy. The seasoned bonsai grower can detect and correct problems long before a beginner. These extreme mixes are unforgiving. Listen, learn, but wait.