Hard Water, pH And Its Effect On Bonsai

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The Use of Vinegar for Cleaning Lime-Scale

The build up of lime deposits, known as lime-scale, on bonsai pots and the nebari of bonsai in hard water areas is very unsightly and the deposits can be very difficult to remove without damage.

However, I have found that the acidity of vinegar is excellent for neutralising the lime without causing damage to tree or pot.

limescale on bonsai
The nebari of my Acer palmatum bonsai covered with a build-up of lime-scale.

Removing this thin layer of chalky-white lime is ordinarily very difficult, however the use of a strong solution of vinegar and water (1 part vinegar to 20 parts water) neutralises the lime enough for it to be brushed off with a soft brush (such as a toothbrush). If necessary the vinegar/water mix can be 'painted' on and left for a period of time without causing any damage to the roots or the tree itself.

limescale on bonsai
After cleaning the roots of my Acer. Once the lime-scale has been removed it is worth thoroughly flushing the soil with water to dilute and remove the vinegar as at this strength it can cause damage to any fine feeder-roots.

Where the foliage of my bonsai has been sprayed with hard tap water, particularly during the heat of Summer, the leaves can and will develop a milky-white layer of lime on their Surface.

Obviously cleaning each and every leaf with a vinegar solution would be impractical. A weaker solution of vinegar and water (1 part vinegar to 50 parts water) is sprayed onto the entire foliage mass so each and every leaf is soaked; the soil is then saturated with tap water to flush away any run off of the vinegar/water solution from the leaves. After 5-10 minutes (and before the leaves begin to dry), the foliage mass is then sprayed with clean water to remove the vinegar solution. Though not as cleansing as one would hope for, this technique will remove a lot of lime-scale without causing any discolouration or damage to the leaves.

Cleaning Lime-Scale from Bonsai Pots

Bonsai pots will frequently display a serious build-up of lime-scale in hard-water areas and the method for its removal is straightforward; use 100% vinegar and a soft-brush to break down and remove the deposits of lime, quickly and efficiently. Vinegar will not cause any damage to the pot or its glaze.

The ideal or optimum pH ranges of many tree and plant species used for bonsai or found within our gardens. If the pH of the soil is outside of the bonsai's ideal pH range, the tree may simply lack vigour. In other cases the tree can begin to suffer ill health.

A pH of 5.0-6.5 is regarded as acidic, a pH of 6.5-7.5 is regarded as being neutral, a pH of over 7.5 is regarded as alkali.

Acacia 6.5-7.5
Arborvitae 6.0-8.0
Ash 6.0-8.0
Azalea 5.0-6.0
Barberry 6.0-8.0
Beech 6.0-7.0
Birch 5.0-6.0
Bougainvillea 4.5-5.5
Boxwood 6.5-7.5
Camellia 4.0-5.5

Cedar 6.0-7.0
Cherry 6.0-8.0
Cotoneaster 6.0-8.0
Crabapple 6.0-7.5
Cypress, bald 5.0-6.0
Deutzia 6.0-7.5
Dogwood 6.0-7.0
Douglas Fir 6.0-7.0
Eleagnus 6.0-8.0
Elder 6.0-8.0
Elm (Ulmus) 6.0-8.0
Eucalyptus 6.0-8.0
Euonymus 6.0-8.0
Euphorbia 5.5-6.5

Ficus 5.0-6.0
Fir 5.0-6.0
Firethorn 6.0-8.0
Forsythia 6.0-8.0
Fuschia 6.0-8.0
Gardenia 5.5-6.5
Geranium 7.0-8.0
Ginkgo 6.0-8.0
Grape (Vitas) 6.0-8.0
Hawthorn 6.0-7.5
Hazelnut 6.0-7.0
Hickory 6.5-7.5
Holly (Ilex) 5.0-6.0

Ivy 7.0-8.0
Juniper 5.5-7.5
Lantana 5.5-7.0
Larch 5.5-6.5
Lilac 6.0-8.0
Mimosa 5.0-7.0
Magnolia 5.0-6.0
Maple (Acer) 6.0-8.0
Mountain Laurel 5.0-8.0  Myrtle 6.5-7.5
Oak (Quercus) 5.0-7.0
Oleander 6.0-7.5
Orange 5.0-7.0

Oxalis 6.0-8.0
Pine (Pinus) 5.0-6.0
Podocarpus 5.0-6.5
Pomegranate 5.5-6.5
Poplar 6.0-8.0
Privet (Ligustrum) 6.0-8.0
Prunus 6.0-8.0
Quince 6.0-7.5
Redbud 6.0-8.0
Rhododendron 5.0-6.0

Rose 6.0-8.0
Rosemary 5.0-6.0
Sage 6.0-8.0
Spirea 6.0-8.0
Spruce (Picea) 5.0-6.0
Sumac 6.0-8.0
Sweet Gum 6.0-7.0
Tamarix 6.0-8.0
Tuliptree 6.0-7.0
Viburnum 6.0-8.0
Willow (Salix) 6.0-8.0
Wisteria 6.0-8.0
Witch Hazel 6.0-7.0
Yew (Taxus) 5.5-7.0

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