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Montmorillonite Clay?

Aloittaja Edymnion, lokakuu 01, 2011, 03:51:57 ap

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Was reading up on "real" bonsai and got into the whole akadama thing and how inorganic soils are used, yadda yadda yadda.  Anyway, read that one good (and cheap) way to do this was to buy a bag of the oil absorbant you can get at any auto store.  Looked it up on the bonsai wikibooks, and it does indeed montmorillonite clay particles as a good growing medium.  Checked the fine print on the bag, yup, its the right stuff.

Just got home with it and did a test pour to see how much water it held (quite a bit, actually, I was impressed), but something more immediate hit me.  This stuff fizzed like a soda bottle the instant water hit it.  It produced vapors.  And sticking my finger in it proved the mix to be warm (an exothermic reaction must have occurred).  My immediate first response was "What the blankity blank blank is going on here?  I'm supposed to put a plant in THAT?"

Whatever it was seemed to go away after that initial pour, so I'm guessing it'll be safe if I give it a good washing first, but I still wonder.  The fact it warmed up a little told me it was an actual reaction going on, not just nucleation, but what exactly is in this stuff?

Its a bag of Moltan's oil absorber I bought at Auto Zone, only ingredients listed were the monmorillonite clay and silicates (sand), so I'm stumped.


I've never heard of it before. But a quick lurk on google tells me a little bit..

First, Wikibooks (http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Bonsai/Bonsai_soil):
"Arcillite - baked montmorillonite clay, sold as Turface, Schultz Aquatic Soil, and other products. Arcillite has an attractive reddish color that darkens to brown when wet. It has high nutrient-retention properties, and is very stable and long-lasting."

Also, Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montmorillonite):
"Montmorillonite is used in the oil drilling industry as a component of drilling mud, making the mud slurry viscous which helps in keeping the drill bit cool and removing drilled solids. It is also used as a soil additive to hold soil water in drought prone soils, to the construction of earthen dams and levees and to prevent the leakage of fluids. It is also used as a component of foundry sand and as a desiccant to remove moisture from air and gases.

Similar to many other clays, montmorillonite swells with the addition of water. However, some montmorillonites expand considerably more than other clays due to water penetrating the interlayer molecular spaces and concomitant adsorption. The amount of expansion is due largely to the type of exchangeable cation contained in the sample. The presence of sodium as the predominant exchangeable cation can result in the clay swelling to several times its original volume. Hence, sodium montmorillonite has come to be used as the major constituent in non-explosive agents for splitting rock in natural stone quarries in order to limit the amount of waste, or for the demolition of concrete structures where the use of explosive charges is unacceptable.

This swelling property makes montmorillonite-containing bentonite useful also as an annular seal or plug for water wells and as a protective liner for landfills. Other uses include as an anti-caking agent in animal feed, in paper making to minimize deposit formation and as a retention and drainage aid component. Montmorillonite has also been used in cosmetics.

Sodium montmorillonite is also used as the base of some cat litter products, due to its adsorbent and clumping properties.

Calcined clay products

Montmorillonite can be (calcined) to produce arcillite, a porous, calcined clay sold as a soil conditioner for playing fields and other soil products such as for use as bonsai soil as an alternative to akadama."

So, I think that montmorillonite bought as a oil absorbant isn't gonna be the same product as the bonsai-soil stuff. It is most likely not baked or calcined, seeing as this only seems to be done to the material when it's going to be used in soils. I would think that the expansion of the material is causing the heat, that adds up with my basic physics knowledge anyway :D

It was definitely a interesting read though, thanks for sharing  8)


lokakuu 01, 2011, 12:56:31 ip #2 Viimeisin muokkaus: lokakuu 01, 2011, 12:59:17 ip käyttäjältä wizzard
I just feel like sharing this, it's a pretty inexpensive soil mix
pumce may be a bit hard to find, and I personally avoid adding sand since it may clog the drainage.

edit: and that guy's blog: http://kuromatsubonsai.com/bonsai-soil/


Well, the difference after being calcined is primarily that the clay becomes more absorbent to water.  I went out and pawed through the mix I had laid out last night and after all night and day it was still very moist (you'd swear it had just had water poured on it 5 minutes ago as opposed to 20 hours ago).  So its obviously very absorbent as is.

My main concern is that it has a slight turpentine smell to it now.

I think I'll put this stuff aside for the time being.  Got a bead on a specific brand of kitty litter sold at Walmart (Special Kitty in a yellow bag) that others have been using for a while now that sounds like a good one to try and find.


Decided to give this stuff a test before buying anything else.  Pulled a weed sapling out of the yard and put it in a container with nothing but this stuff.  If it doesn't die within a week or two I'll consider it safe.


Nice! I'm looking forward to the results  :D


Lainaus käyttäjältä: Mayloa - lokakuu 04, 2011, 17:09:18 ip
Nice! I'm looking forward to the results  :D
Well, so far so good.  Two days and there is no sign of wilting, no discoloration, nothing.  Looks to be perfectly happy at this point.


Okay, not quite a full week, but I'll be busy this weekend so I'm calling it now.

Status of plant: Excellent
Not only is it not dead, not discolored, nor showing any signs of stress, its got new growth on it.  It seemed to be quite happy in it's new home, before I pulled it up and tossed it's scrawny weed butt onto the compost heap anyway.

Status of clay: Indeterminate, but looks good right now
From what I can see, the clay performed excellently.  One good soak last week and its still every bit as ready to go today as it was then.  Absorption is excellent while giving the roots plenty of air.  However, I did not put it through all the tests "real" bonsai clay would go through.  I didn't freeze and thaw it repeatedly to see if it breaks down, and I have no idea how well it will work in the long term.  It might turn to mush in 6 months, or it might outlive us all.  But for now its doing great, no obvious signs of any immediate breakdown.

Appearance of clay: Excellent
This stuff is just plain nice to look at.  Light tan when dry, nice dark brown when wet, with enough variation in color between individual pieces to give it a visually appealing texture.  Natural tendancy to clump together when wet (duh, this stuff is used as kitty litter too), so its nice and stable (less worries about shifting around and damaging roots).

Verdict: Thumbs Up
I'm going to use this on my permanent bonchi.