Alternatives to tea bags

I am only now starting to use pelletized fertilizer. I have decided to use teabags but I am wondering of alternatives. I am of course aware of the plastic baskets that offer the advantage of not shadowing the moss underneath and leaving a square bare patch as the teabags might. Has anyone tried placing the pellets on the surface and simply covering them with a layer of sphagnum moss instead of using teabags? Some advantages I see are that you can spread pellets more evenly and it would be less unsightly. I don’t know if critters would pick them out more easily and definitely looses the possibility to remove if necessary but them moss would grow over it probably. I’d like to hear your experiences. What are the disadvantages of baskets? do teabags leave a bare patch? any alternatives?

The idea behind the tea bag is to keep undissolved solids in the fertilizer from mucking up your soil and decreasing percolation. So I feel like just spreading it evenly over the whole soil surface and covering with moss would just be doing the opposite. Like delivering the muck straight into your soil. But it depends on which fertilizer too. Like Ryan doesn’t use anything for bio gold, but puts Dr Earth Life into tea bags because it has no binding agent and turns to mush after the first watering. I assume since you said pelleted you’re talking something more like Dr Earth or holly tone.

So I wouldn’t do the direct in the soil thing in that case. Though I’m sure there’s plenty of creative solutions out there. I think I just read on this forum the other day from someone saying that they dissolve biogold into a watering can and water a little bit with it everyday, could try something like that maybe?

Thanks Mike,
In my case it is actually biogold. So Ryan doesn’t use anything for it? As I have no experience with it, I assumed it would turn into mush after a few waterings. For me it would be too much trouble to dissolve it. I rather have it on the surface and let it percolate into the substrate as I water.

I just filled 100 teabags with organic nursery fertilizer,that takes over an hour!
That is about a day for the growing season…
I m thinking about trying Walter Palls method of heavy fertilizing with liquid fertilizer.
What you guys think speaks against this?

I have thus far since I started (only just over 3 years ago) only used chemical liquid fertilizer once a week. It works and I also use slow release osmocote/nutracote (whatever it is called wherever you’re). I want to give organic fertilizer a try for as long as my current bag of 5Kg of biogold will last to see if I see a noticeable difference. I think if I were to use liquid fertilizer alone (even not the slow release) I’d want to dilute it a bit and apply every watering, which can get quite laborious unless you have a mixer/injection system. It is all a lot of handwaving arguments but depending on the overall CEC of your substrate mixture, if you use only liquid fertilizer you’ll get spikes of concentration of fertilizer on the day you use it and a decreasing amount afterwards. Also, if you use nutracote that dissolves with water in a temperature dependent manner (usually above 20C), you’ll get more fertilizer released in the summer than in spring or fall. I am starting to think that the best is to use pellets which gives you the opportunity to stop during summer and add more in spring and or fall, have continuous release each time it is watered. Also the scientific literature does support the idea that microbes in the soil, particularly mycorrhiza fungi in root system helps prevent infections. The Nitrogen in liquid fertilizer comes as a mixture of different molecules with only a part being in the form that is readily available to be taken up by the roots (I think ammonia) so in principle the mycorrhiza and different bacterial species would still be able to thrive with the breaking up of the other forms but maybe less effectively that if using organic fertilizer. I don’t know. The jury is still out on this one. It is not like chemical fertilizer hasn’t revolutionized agriculture. I am giving it a try for the time being but may go into diluted injected liquid fertilized with each watering. Sorry for the confusing post, just a stream of thoughts and no time to go back and organize this paragraph in a consistent and clear manner.

My only concern with chemical fertilizer is that it does not promote the microbial activity that is so important for the tree’s health. I would only use chemical fertilizer occasionally on top of organic fertilizer. Just my 2 cents

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I use biogold in the watering process successfully. The proportion is 2-3 pills per liter of water. I put the pills in a panty and then the panty with a knot in the watering can. The effect of biogold using in this way is per one week. Biogold starts fermenting in the water and dropping the nutrients gradually so you can feed the tree everyday during one week in low doses. Using it in this way l keep a better percolation in the substrate and l feed all the roots, not only the points where I used to put the pills. I have good results using it in that way.


@rafi yes Ryan said that he doesn’t typically use biogold in teabags, only if he’s trying to apply it where the soil surface is a steeper slope or something to make sure it won’t roll off/move. He does use tea bags for other things like Dr Earth for example. Dr Earth will go to mush and seep into you’re soil within two days I’ve noticed. Like right away. I can’t remember where I saw him say this but it was very recently. Though I’ve been rewatching some old Q&A’s recently so it could be one of those.

Biogold has a binding agent in it that keeps it from going to mush right away enough for Ryan to not use tea bags. It’s a product made specifically for bonsai so I guess this makes sense.

I just got a bag a biogold for the first time as well, so we’ll see how that goes.

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Thanks @Valdes, @Mike_Hennigan. @Stavros: I know @Ryan says that chemical fertilizer does not promote the development of a root microbiome but a good fraction of the nitrogen in chemical fertilizer still needs to be broken down to its most directly usable form and that requires microbial activity for which the bacteria or fungi get paid for - this is the point I still want to understand to leave chemical fertilizers behind.

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The chemical fertilizers are in an available state. You get results in days. It doesn’t stay in the soil and washes of easily so the chemical left overs go to nature and are a lot are not ecofriendly. Bacterial conversion doesn’t really happen that much since it doesn’t really need to breakdown the nutrients because the nutrients are in their simplest state or readily available.
Chemical fertilizers being inorganic or processed organics will eventually have salt build up after the nutrients (NPK mainly) break off the “carrier” compound or salt as you see in the ingredients. Salt loves water. As salt builds up they “dry out” the beneficial mucrobes in the soil. That and decreased activity weakens and kills the beneficial microbe. Then the tree dries out.
Looking at it from what simple compounds do to us humans:
Refined sugar/simple sugar/glucose = hyperglycemia
High fructose corn syrup (processed compound carbohydrate) = insulin resistance and eventually diabetes
Table salt, MSG, Increased salt intake ( and low tolerance of salt) = hypertension, kidney dysfunction
And the likes…
To summarize, temporary use and timing may offer short term benefits. Boosting the foliar mass to heal wounds. Prep the tree for major work or something like that.
Theory: if extended exposure of red blood cells to high concentrations of sodium (Na) or glucose make the cells swell (less hemoglobin and oxygen carrying capacity), I would think that it would be the same for the plants, less the hemoglobin stuff. Prolonged swelling of the cell or constant swelling and shrinking weakens the cell membrane and eventually causes cell death.


@rafi i think that is why Ryan uses Dr. Earth Life in conjunction with Biogold. In terms of the microbiome, mycorrhizae etc breaking down organic ferts into usable nutrition for the tree. Dr. Earth Life has mycorrhizae and other benificial microbes in the fertilizer. Ryan said that he usually uses it as the first round of fertilization after a repot and then switches to biogold. I’ll see if I can find the q&a where he talks about this.


@rafi I tracked down the Q&A where he talks about inoculating the soil with Dr. Earth Life: live q+a xxxix

I can’t seem to figure out where i saw him say he uses biogold without tea bags so maybe i am imagining that hahaha. I swear i heard him say that recently but maybe bonsai has fried my brain.

Thanks @Mike_Hennigan, I will try to ask in the next Q&A.

@rafi- In regards to your original question: cheese cloth. You can find it in rolls or squares at the store. I use small pellet organic fertilizer called Green Dream (bone and blood meal) and I have at times rolled it in this cloth and “stapled” it to the soil with wire. It worked well for release but the pellets did not break down completely, very similar to how they acted in the plastic cups. This spring I have been just dropping the pellets directly onto the top dressing. They breakdown after a few waterings and I have noticed are 90% gone after about 25 days. In a couple days I will put on the third monthly treatment and the last treatment is mostly gone.


EDIT: The cheese cloth is not the best aesthetically pleasing option…

Filter media bags for aquarium filters.

Go to your local aquarium/pet store (I know Pet Smart carries them) and ask for media bags for filters. They are little mesh bags with draw strings that are meant to allow water to flow freely through them. If you get the generic brand ones, you can get them on the cheap. They also make all sorts of sizes to suit any size tree.