Perlite as a Bonsai Substrate

Perlite is readily available and cheap, but I’ve never really used as a soil component because it is too lightweight (floats/doesn’t weigh down the pot) and it is really ugly.

However, I’ve noticed that there seems to be a practically religious following in Italy of bonsai growers who swear by using pure perlite for rehabilitating recently collected yamadori.

As evidence of the powers of perlite, check out these amazing pictures taken from this thread on the forum, which is administered by Andrea Meriggioli (a young professional in the very serious Italian bonsai scene):

Pinus nigra... once of those "oops" trees that did not exactly come out of the ground as expected. It is amazing that Andrea even bothered to try with this tree.

As far as pine goes, this is practically no roots.

Planted in pure perlite

Here it is budding out. The tree is still alive today!

It even has roots coming out of the pot in the same growing season as it was planted.

I’m not sure if perlite can be given all the credit for this pine pulling through. Andrea also used a number of tonics when he planted the tree (“radimix, bioxim, and antym kombu40 etc.”), whatever that stuff is. Nevertheless, it is an impressive story.

2 Responses

  1. crust

    Very interesting story. Years ago I had heard the japanese had actually been doing this too. I have used using perlite for many years with my collected stuff–mostly pondo pines, junipers, and white cedars( thy go crazy in the stuff). it seems to work well. I was buying coarse grade then sifting out the fines. I amended coarse turface based soils with up to 25% perlite. One can top off with with unperlited soil to avoid floating off. Besides good root growth the much LIGHTER boxes are a blessing. One problem is if you reuse soil like I do eventually it is in everything…. like it is, oh well.

    March 18, 2012 at 5:59 pm

  2. What soil do you typically use for collected conifers? I’m going collecting in New Hampshire in a few weeks and need to get everything together.

    March 12, 2013 at 8:42 pm

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