cat litter for bonsai soil

simplelineMarch 30, 2009

I have been trying to find a clay cat litter that doesn't have any chemicals in it (i.e. fragrance, etc.) but have had no success. Will the fragrance chemicals harm the bonsai? Is there a process to remove those chemicals?

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hi, actually, unless you're in England and have access to Tesco Premium litter, there are only a very few litters in the U.S. (and almost none in Canada) that are suitable, not because of the perfume, but because they turn to mush very quickly and prevent the roots from drinking properly. Almost all are "low-fired" clay rather than high-fired, and you'll do much better with a different type of grit (there are many), including plain old natural colored gravel for aquariums. Go to and look under the Soil forum (subforum of General Discussion) for lots of ideas if you want others, and how to mix them with bits of the right organic material for your trees.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2009 at 10:46PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
frankp0(z8 GA)

The fired clay of choice is Turface. It is a soil ammendment - not a cat litter. It sometimes can be found at landscape centers like John Deere. Be careful though - some types have too small a particle size. I have read that some products sold at auto parts stores for oil spills (i.e. Oil-Dri) will work but I have not personally used that. I use Turface. Where are you located?

    Bookmark   March 30, 2009 at 11:05PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

yeah, let's buy a tree for lets say 300 bucks but cut back on a proper soil and kill it right away! sounds like fun!

    Bookmark   March 31, 2009 at 4:43AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Wow dsdevries, who said anything about spending $300 on a tree? I'm just looking for alternatives to specialty store soil that's comparable but not outrageously expensive. I usually get wild specimens or cheap nursery stock, there's no way I'd spend that much on a tree at my level of expertise. Sorry to offend your "expensive=quality" sensibilities. While you're at it though, do you have anything constructive to offer? If I knew clay cat litter was dramatically different from turface or other high fired clays I wouldn't have asked the question in the first place.
To the rest of you, thank you for the advice, and I live in Wisconsin and Virginia, depending on what I'm doing.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2009 at 9:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

While I agree my previous post was a bit short and quite an overstatement, you should consider it constructive. Wether you'll spend 300, 200 or 75 buck on a tree at the local nursery, they still are expensive and so are the ingredients for the right soil! But you'll only have to buy it once every 3/4/5 years for conifers and once every 1/2 years for non-conifers depending op the type of tree. So what's the fuzz if you compare that to what you've spend on the tree itself?

I found that price should not (never) be a reason to question the expertise of many great bonsai artists that devoted their lives to finding the right ingredients suitable as building blocks for soil in specific regions of the world to put their bonsai in. If they would have found that cat-grits was suitable, they would have sold you that by now at your local nursery for the same price as let's say akadama, kiryu, turface or any kind of suitable ingredients.

You must bare in mind that finding the right soil, together with water and light is absolutely the most important key to keeping your trees alive. Therefore it is the last thing you would want to cut back on.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2009 at 4:13AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

ps. you're not the first one asking about the possibility of using whatever-purpose materials as ingredients for bonsai soil. It is basically the same thing as asking, why can't I use a knife to drive out screws? You and I both know that it is possible, but most have killed a knife or two, or worse, killed a few screws. In general it is safe to say that it is always best to use products for the purpose they where made for, and only for the purpose they where made for, especially when you new to certain jobs. Bonsai no exception.

Finding the right soil for you bonsai is already hard enough even when working with high quality, soil-purpose ingredients. Let's not make it any harder and leave cat-litter for you cats and use soil for your bonsai. At least you'll rule out one more reason for your trees to give up on you.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2009 at 7:10AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thank you dsdevries. Makes sense, even without sarcasm. I appreciate you taking the time to explain.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2009 at 10:48PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Took some screws out with a knife this week. Didn't break either the knife or the screws. I have a friend who has fabulous, fabulous bonsai. He's been known to go out and shovel dirt from his backyard to use. He is very gracious and will answer any question, no matter how many times he's heard it or how dumb it sounds. We live in Texas and his soil is a thick gumbo. Anyone who's ever been to the south knows exactly what I'm talking about.

Constructive does not mean rude.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 8:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Most kitty litter will work as long as it's made from Turface, I'd screen out the fines before using it for most plants. Regular (coarse) Turface and the Oil-Dry will also work very well. Something else which is also easy to get and very cheap is 'pea-gravel'. It's 1/4 to 1/8" sized gravel which will take up and release moisture easily but mostly overlooked.

Of course (something which is not mentioned much) is to get all of the plants in a combination of pots and medium which will allow you to just water them all evenly. As mine were before the big move I have them set up that way special treatment...when I'm out of town my maid knows to come over either in the morning or evening and just give them a good long soaking with the hose and sprayer. The only thing I do remind her to do is run the water until what comes out of the end is cool and not red hot from sitting in the sun.


    Bookmark   April 8, 2009 at 1:12AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
greenlarry(UK 8/9)

How about the cat litter in somerfield, its own brand? Would that be the same as Tesco's?

    Bookmark   April 8, 2009 at 2:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
magic_dave(z9 FL)

What you want is diatomite (spelling?) You can pick up a 25 lb bag at any NAPA auto parts store for about $6.00. Conifers usually like acid soil so you can soak it in a maneur tea or add a little maneur compost to your mix or use an acid fertilizer. Perlite is another option but it's bright white so it doesn't look natural...
I tried Oil Dri, as a suggested alternative to cat litter. Just so you know, Oil-Dri is just plain old cat litter so don't bother with it. Diatomite is more like chalk than clay. It won't break down in water as rapidly as cat litter, it is just as absorbent, if not more so. I am using it and/or perlit for everything I have in a container except my Orchids.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2009 at 7:57PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
michaelg(7a NC Mts)

On the GW Container Growing Forum, people say that some batches of Oil-Dri are low-fired clay like cat litter that softens in water, while other batches are high-fired like Turface or Profile. The Oil-Dri corp. does produce a high-fired soil amendment, and apparently they package some of it as Oil-Dri. But you can't tell without testing it.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2009 at 2:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

agree with magic dave, go for the diatomite. Just google it and you'll find sources and more info on wikipedia.

All the best,


Here is a link that might be useful: Brian Hancock

    Bookmark   June 9, 2009 at 10:05PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
making bonsai leaves smaller
i heard somewhere that if you cut back the leaves on...
Turface in Eugene OR
I have been looking for Turface or Turface like products...
Need ID help
I just picked this up in the bonsai section of the...
josephines123 z5 ON Canada
Fukien Tea in bloom!
Brand new to Bonsai but my Fukien Tea has started opening...
My first bonsai. What is it?
Bought this at our local chain store:-) the tag said...
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™