Cat Litter as Bonsai Soil (Diatomaceous Earth or 'Diatomite')

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Over recent years there have been a few controversies on social media on the subject of the use of catlitter for bonsai. There have, understandably, been intial doubts from some enthusiasts over the use of a product not packaged specifically for use as a soil or for bonsai. But, as ever with the internet, there are also those that seem happy to misinform or purposely mislead on the subject.
To clarify: At the time of writing (August 2017), I have been using molar clay sold as a catlitter for 13 years. I still use it as the main ingredient for ALL of my bonsai, from vulnerable raw yamadori to show quality trees. It should be noted that I nearly always use a surface dressing of a more naturally-coloured soil/substrate.
In the past 13 years of using the product, I have yet to lose a tree that can truly be attributed to the use of molar clay. And I have several trees that have not been repotted/have been planted in the same molar clay mix for well over a decade, and are still incredibly healthy.

Molar clay is not the only good quality, inorganic substrate available to bonsai enthusaists. However, it is the soil that suits my needs as a professional bonsai artist requiring huge quantities of soil each year. It also happens to be a cheap and extremely easily available product for bonsai enthusiasts of all levels to obtain, and over the years, its role in encouraging people to switch from organic/peat-based soils to an inorganic soil mix, and healthy bonsai, cannot be overstated.

It is a sad day for me to have to add a note to an article on in an attempt to rectify misinformation.

My personal explanation of why I, and many many others, have successfully used molar clay/diatomite for many years can be seen in the main article below.


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 had already been using it as a bonsai soil for a 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.

bonsai catlitter

(November 2017) Tescos Cat litter in its old and new packaging

Very easily available in the UK, I use an own-brand product available from 'Tescos' called 'Low Dust Lightweight Catlitter'. 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.

bonsai soil

Tescos Catlitter as bonsai soil

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.

bonsai soil

On the left is Tescos 'Low Dust Lightweight' Catlitter, on the right, chopped bark. My personal favourite bonsai soil is the combination of the two ingredients in the centre of the image.

'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.

Mountain Maple Bonsai in Cat Litter

Appearance of 'Low Dust Lightweight' Catlitter

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