The Hype over 0-10-10

This is one of our grand leaps down the rabbit hole…0-10-10 fertilizer for bonsai. It has very limited uses, and yet it’s often touted as THE fertilizer for all bonsai in the fall.

The 0-10-10 fertilizer is essentially for maximizing blooms, or perhaps, when you plant a perennial, you might get its roots better established without much top growth. For a bonsai garden with many non-blooming species present, the recommendation to use it exclusively in fall is on very shaky ground.

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One of many 0-10-10 fertilizers, which do have their uses, but is NOT the bonsai fertilizer for fall.

The urge to outthink how a plant works is fairly common to most who grow plants. We all do it. Certainly this is where the mis-use of 0-10-10 for bonsai started.

0-10-10 has no nitrogen in it (nitrogen is the first number of the three).

  • And yet every cell process, even those going on in the fall, require nitrogen. 

The building blocks of life are carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen. That’s what makes up your amino acids, which run the ball game. Potassium and phosphorus are necessary too, but they come into the game later.

Fear of tender growth late in the year is at least one of the claims in support of using 0-10-10.

  • But if you’ve used a fertilizer with all three macronutrients present consistently throughout the growing season, continuing to do so in the fall will not bring about a flush of growth in the fall that is susceptible to cold. 

After all, nitrogen does not disappear in the landscape in the fall. The use of fertilizer cakes or something similar (roughly 5-5-5) throughout the growing season, and in the fall, is the accepted standard of bonsai professionals in Japan, and will never push late growth.

So nitrogen is necessary for your plants in all phases of growth, even during the fall. Bonsai are no different than any other plant. Don’t be lured into thinking, ‘Oh gosh, I don’t SEE growth happening in the fall therefore they must not need nitrogen.’ Everything that goes on in a plant requires it.

‘Everything in moderation’ is a good Greek standard to apply to fertilizing. And ‘everything’ would definitely include nitrogen.

On the other hand even moderate amounts of Twitter would kill me, so maybe the Greeks were daft after all. Oscar Wilde modified the original idea by saying ‘Everything in moderation, including moderation,’ which sort of gives us free reign to live expansively, but this has nothing to do with fertilizer and should be reserved for dancing, ridiculous dinner parties, movies featuring Judi Dench, etc.

14 Comments

  1. Daniel Dolan says:

    Michael:

    Thank you for this………please provide more of the same.

    “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants……….the other is getting it.”

    Oscar Wilde

  2. Ray says:

    nice post Michael. enjoyed the twitter part

  3. George Haas says:

    Thanks for the post and clarification. I use an organic 7-5-7 or 7-1-2 and it works for me.

  4. endsurg says:

    Mike, as we have spoken about this kind of information that runs virally through the bonsai community. There is so much BS that its difficult to separate what’s true and valuable from what’s balony. This is one of them. Another is the use of Superthrive. One guy has made a fortune bamboozling the bonsai community into using it for “strengthening” roots. One prominent member of the ABS decided to test it out. He poured an entire bottle of Superthrive on one medium sized tree. He saw no change in the tree good or bad. After this, one must d
    ecide for himself if it is useful.

  5. An enlightening post Michael. Thanks for sharing it. Think I’ll be reviewing my use of such fertiliser.

  6. Vern Maddx says:

    Mike,
    Thanks for your debunking many such myths. We sorely need real information and not things that take us all down the rabbit hole. Twitter-what the heck is that? (I know but would prefer to act ignorant and leave it at that).
    Thanks for everything you do.
    Vern

  7. anijhuis says:

    Good post Michael, on the same note some US states have banned the use of phosphorous in lawn fertilizers. Now Scott’s fall fertilizer is a 31-0-3 NPK not sure on the last number (K) but no phosphates. The old fall fertilzers were something like a 3-24-24 NPK or even 0 on the N. Fertilizer tests done in the fall on turf indicate that nitrogen is the key to winterizing your lawn – in a slow release form (polyon coating is better than the sulfer coating).

    Bear in mind also that the different fertilizer formations are a major marketing ploy by the manufacturers.

  8. Leo Schordje says:

    Doing fertilizer research is expensive, most books simply repeat old information rather than checking the newer research. All plant, trees included need roughly the same ratios of fertilizer all year round, the ideal is somewhere around 13 -1- 2. The ratio needed doesn’t change with the seasons, just the demand changes. Check the information for commercial potted plant production out of Michigan State University. By the way, in the USA it is required for labeling to list the K as % di-potassium oxide which actually delivers 2 potassium ions for the one on the label. So an ideal fertilizer with the nutrients in the ratios the plants actually use would be a 13-1-1, with minor variations up or down a little depending on which source you use for the ratios. But something approximating this is a fertilizer formula that would not deliver excess of any one nutrient.

    The old zero nitrogen recommendation for fall feeding came out of 1880’s research done at Kew Gardens, in the UK. This was for vegetable & perennial gardens, outdoors. In the fall, London homes began heating with coal. The acid rain, smog, that made London famous were providing all the nitrogen the vegetable gardens needed. This was good research for its time, but totally misapplied when it was quoted and repeated over and over again in gardening books for the home and hobby growers. The result is that this canard has become “fixed” in the mind set of hobby growers.

    There is a real need for hobby horticulturists to get familiar with the current professional and scientific information on plant nutrition, and quit relying on old research done over 130 years ago.

    Thank you for your post on the subject
    Leo Schordje

    • crataegus says:

      Marvelous comment, thanks for sharing that history!

    • crataegus says:

      Another issue is understanding fertilizer as it relates to bonsai training goals. And that is almost non-existent in the literature. HOW we use the fertilizer we use is deeply embedded in what we’re trying to do with it, and that is unfortunately overlooked in the hysteria over what brand of fertilizer we use. Fertilizing black pines that you’re going to decandle in June is entirely different than fertilizing white pines that you’re NOT going to decandle.

  9. Ram says:

    Twitter is nothing more than a very small version of blogging on your phone, So its kind of like a bonsai, in a way 😉

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