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In Defense Of Solid Fertilizers


Bonsai Heresy illustration by the great Sergio Cuan. Sailor tattoos on bonsai should be commonplace.

We lifted this post from the inimitable Michael Hagedorn. Check out his books Bonsai Heresy and Post Dated as well as our fertilizer selection.

Fertilizer adventures are a given in most bonsai gardens. For years I used solid organic cakes, being the traditional solution, but found the birds unmanageable in their hunt for grubs underneath them. I wasn’t willing to use insecticide to control fly larvae, so birds, and lost fertilizer, were my fate for a while.

Now there’s a cat in the garden. It’s a quite well-fed one, with a dragging belly (and no piles of feathers anywhere), but she’s apparently a sufficient talisman of ‘Don’t you even THINK of flipping a cake off that pot!’ We’ve increased her pension plan.

Now I’m back to my preference, organic cakes.

If you’ve read Bonsai Heresy, you may remember one chapter where I write about fish emulsion being our primary fertilizer. But the most important sentence comes right after it: ‘If my situation were different, I’d likely use cakes for their multiple benefits and ease of use.’ Yet now all I get are questions about our fish emulsion schedule.

One of the fears of any technical book author is that the most important sentence will be missed, and the least important remembered. The fertilizing chapters of Bonsai Heresy are full of such awkward potential.

If possible, go with a slow release, solid fertilizer. Organic cakes if possible, maybe chemical pellets if not, or try fish emulsion or maybe a mild chemical liquid. We’ve all got different yard variables, and so our fertilizing choices will likely differ, too.

Slow release works great for our process. A little bit gets in every time we water. Equally cool, slow release fertilizers resist flushing out. We can flush liquid fertilizer out with watering, and rain can flush it out, but slow release solids keep fertilizer levels steady regardless. Infrequent use of mild liquids often ends in pale, weak looking bonsai. You can use liquids, just be aware it’s often a lot more work.

In general, I’d say if confused by anything you’re reading, don’t blame yourself, blame the author. It’s what I do.

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