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goodhumusman

Tapla's 5-1-1 Container Mix in More Detail

goodhumusman
13 years ago

I recently joined the forum and discovered Al's 5-1-1 Mix, but I had several questions that Al was kind enough to answer by email. I also found the answers to other questions in several different threads. I thought it would be useful to organize all of the info in one place so that we could have easy access to it. 98% of the following has been cut/pasted from Al's postings, and I apologize in advance if I have somehow misquoted him or taken his ideas out of proper context. The only significant addition from another source is the Cornell method of determining porosity, which I thought would be germane. I have used a question and answer format, using many questions from other members, and I apologize for not giving them proper credit. Thanks to all who contributed to this information. Now, here's Al:

Tapla's 5-1-1 Mix

5 parts pine bark fines

1 part sphagnum peat

1-2 parts perlite

garden lime

controlled release fertilizer (not really necessary)

a micro-nutrient source (seaweed emulsion, Earthjuice, Micro-max, STEM, etc,)

Many friends & forum folk grow in this 5-1-1 mix with very good results. I use it for all my garden display containers. It is intended for annual and vegetable crops in containers. This soil is formulated with a focus on plentiful aeration, which we know has an inverse relationship w/water retention. It takes advantage of particles, the size of which are at or just under the size that would guarantee the soil retains no perched water. (If you have not already read Al's treatise on Water in Container Soils, this would be a good time to do so.) In simple terms: Plants that expire because of drainage problems either die of thirst because the roots have rotted and can no longer take up water, or they starve/"suffocate" because there is insufficient air at the root zone to ensure normal water/nutrient uptake and root function.

I grow in highly-aerated soils with the bulk of the particles in the 1/16"-1/8" size, heavily favoring the larger particles, because we know that perched water levels decrease as particle size increases, until finally, as particle size reaches just under 1/8" the perched water table disappears entirely.

Ideal container soils will have a minimum of 60-75% total porosity. This means that when dry, in round numbers, nearly 70% of the total volume of soil is air. The term 'container capacity' is a hort term that describes the saturation level of soils after the soil is saturated and at the point where it has just stopped draining - a fully wetted soil. When soils are at container capacity, they should still have in excess of 30% air porosity. Roughly, a great soil will have about equal parts of solid particles, water, and air when the soil is fully saturated.

This is Cornell's method of determining the various types of porosity:

To ensure sufficient media porosity, it is essential to determine total porosity, aeration porosity, and water-holding porosity. Porosity can be determined through the following procedure:

* With drainage holes sealed in an empty container, fill the container and record the volume of water required to reach the top of the container. This is the container volume.

* Empty and dry the plugged container and fill it with the growing media to the top of the container.

* Irrigate the container medium slowly until it is saturated with water. Several hours may be required to reach the saturation point, which can be recognized by glistening of the medium's surface.

* Record the total volume of water necessary to reach the saturation point as the total pore volume.

* Unplug the drainage holes and allow the water to freely drain from the container media into a pan for several hours.

* Measure the volume of water in the pan after all free water has completed draining. Record this as the aeration pore volume.

* Calculate total porosity, aeration porosity, and water-holding porosity using the following equations (Landis, 1990):

* Total porosity = total pore volume / container volume

* Aeration porosity = aeration pore volume / container volume

* Water-holding porosity = total porosity - aeration porosity

The keys to why I like my 3-1-1 mix:

It's adjustable for water retention.

The ingredients are readily available to me.

It's simple - 3 basic ingredients - equal portions.

It allows nearly 100% control over the nutritional regimen.

It will not collapse - lasts longer than what is prudent between repots.

It is almost totally forgiving of over-watering while retaining good amounts of water between drinks.

It is relatively inexpensive.

Q. Why do you use pine bark fines? Bark fines of fir, hemlock or pine, are excellent as the primary component of your soils. The lignin contained in bark keeps it rigid and the rigidity provides air-holding pockets in the root zone far longer than peat or compost mixes that too quickly break down to a soup-like consistency. Conifer bark also contains suberin, a lipid sometimes referred to as natures preservative. Suberin, more scarce as a presence in sapwood products and hardwood bark, dramatically slows the decomposition of conifer bark-based soils. It contains highly varied hydrocarbon chains and the microorganisms that turn peat to soup have great difficulty cleaving these chains.

Q. What is the correct size of the fines? In simple terms: Plants that expire because of drainage problems either die of thirst because the roots have rotted and can no longer take up water, or they starve/"suffocate" because there is insufficient air at the root zone to insure normal water/nutrient uptake and root function.Pine bark fines are partially composted pine bark. Fines are what are used in mixes because of the small particle size. There will be a naturally occurring "perched water table" (PWT) in containers when soil particulate size is under about .125 (1/8) inch, so best would be particulates in the 1/16 - 3/16 size range with the 1/16-1/8 size range favored.

Note that there is no sand or compost in the soils I use. Sand, as most of you think of it, can improve drainage in some cases, but it reduces aeration by filling valuable macro-pores in soils. Unless sand particle size is fairly uniform and/or larger than about ½ BB size I leave it out of soils. Compost is too unstable for me to consider using in soils. The small amount of micro-nutrients it supplies can easily be delivered by one or more of a number of chemical or organic sources.

Q. Do you use partially composted pine bark fines? Yes - preferred over fresh fines, which are lighter in color.

Q. I found some Scotchman's Choice Organic Compost, which is made of pine bark fines averaging about 1/8" in size, and, after adding all ingredients, the 5-1-1 Mix had a total porosity of 67% and an aeration porosity of 37%. Is that all right? Yes, that is fine.

Q. What kind of lime do you use? Dolomitic.

Q. What amount of lime should I add if I used 10 gal of pine bark fines and the corresponding amount of the other ingredients? @ 5:1:1, you'll end up with about 12 gallons of soil (the whole is not equal to the sum of the parts when you're talking about soils), so I would use about 10-12 Tbsp or 2/3-3/4 cup of lime.

Q. What grade of coarseness for the lime? Most is sold as garden lime, which is usually prilled powder. Prilling makes it easier to use in drop & broadcast spreaders. The prills dissolve quickly. The finer the powder the quicker the reactive phase is finished. Much of the Ca and Mg will be unavailable until the media pH equalizes so the plant can assimilate the residual elements. Large pieces of lime really extend the duration of the reactive phase.

Q. Does this mean that I need to make up the soil in advance? Yes. 2 weeks or so should be enough time to allow for the reaction phase to be complete & residual Ca/Mg to become more readily available from the outset .

Q. During those 2 weeks, do I need to keep turning it and moistening it? No

Q. Can I go ahead and fill my 3-gal. containers, stack them 3-high, and cover the top one to prevent moisture loss during the waiting period? Something like that would be preferred.

Q. The perlite I use has a large amount of powder even though it is called coarse. Do I need to sift it to get rid of the powder? Not unless it REALLY has a lot - then, the reason wouldn't be because of issues with particle size - it would be because you had to use larger volumes to achieve adequate drainage & larger volumes bring with it the possibility of Fl toxicity for some plants that are fluoride intolerant.

Q. What about earthworm castings (EWC)? I think 10% is a good rule of thumb for the total volume of fine particles. I try to limit peat use to about 10-15% of soil volume & just stay away from those things that rob aeration & promote water retention beyond a minimal perched water table. If you start adding 10% play sand, 10% worm castings, 10% compost, 10% peat, 10% topsoil, 10% vermiculite to a soil, before long you'll be growing in something close to a pudding-like consistency.

Q. Do you drench the mix with fertilized water before putting in containers? No - especially if you incorporate a CRF. It will have lots of fertilizer on it's surface & the soil could already be high in solubles. If you added CRF, wait until you've watered and flushed the soil a couple of times. If you didn't use CRF, you can fertilize with a weak solution the first time you water after the initial planting irrigation.

Q. How much of the micronutrients should I add if I am going to be fertilizing with Foliage Pro 9-3-6, which has all the micronutrients in it? You won't need any additional supplementation as long as you lime.

Q. Just to make sure I understand, are you saying I don't need to use Foliage Pro 9-3-6 until after the initial watering right after planting even if I don't use a CRF? And no additional micronutrients? That's right - on both counts.

Q. Do I need to moisten the peat moss before mixing with the pine bark fines? It helps, yes.

Selections from Notes on Choosing a Fertilizer

A) Plant nutrients are dissolved in water

B) The lower the nutrient concentration, the easier it is for the plant to absorb water and the nutrients dissolved in the water - distilled water is easier for plants to absorb than tap water because there is nothing dissolved in distilled water

C) The higher the nutrient content, the more difficult it is for plants to absorb water and the nutrients dissolved in water

D) To maximize plant vitality, we should supply adequate amounts of all the essential nutrients w/o using concentrations so high that they impede water and nutrient uptake.

All that is in the "Fertilizer Thread" I posted a while back.

Q. Do you use the Dyna-Gro Foliage Pro 9-3-6 exclusively throughout the life of the plant, or change to something else for the flowering/fruiting stage? I use lots of different fertilizers, but if I had to choose only one, it would likely be the FP 9-3-6. It really simplifies things. There are very few plants that won't respond very favorably to this fertilizer. I use fast soils that drain freely & I fertilize at EVERY watering, and it works extremely well.

If you are using a soil that allows you to water freely at every watering, you cannot go wrong by watering weakly weekly, and you can water at 1/8 the recommended dose at every watering if you wish with chemical fertilizers.

Q. What about the "Bloom Booster" fertilizers? To induce more prolific flowering, a reduced N supply will have more and better effect than the high P bloom formulas. When N is reduced, it slows vegetative growth without reducing photosynthesis. Since vegetative growth is limited by a lack of N, and the photosynthetic machinery continues to turn out food, it leaves an expendable surplus for the plant to spend on flowers and fruit. There are no plants I know of that use anywhere near the amount of P as they do N (1/6 is the norm). It makes no sense to me to have more P available than N unless you are targeting a VERY specific growth pattern; and then the P would still be applied in a reasonable ratio to K.

Somewhere along the way, we curiously began to look at fertilizers as miraculous assemblages of growth drugs, and started interpreting the restorative effect (to normal growth) fertilizers have as stimulation beyond what a normal growth rate would be if all nutrients were adequately present in soils. ItÂs no small wonder that we come away with the idea that there are Âmiracle concoctions out there and often end up placing more hope than is reasonable in them.

What I'm pointing out is that fertilizers really should not be looked at as something that will make your plant grow abnormally well - beyond its genetic potential . . . Fertilizers do not/can not stimulate super growth, nor are they designed to. All they can do is correct nutritional deficiencies so plants can grow normally.

Q. Should I use organic ferts or chemical ferts in containers? Organic fertilizers do work to varying degrees in containers, but I would have to say that delivery of the nutrients can be very erratic and unreliable. The reason is that nutrient delivery depends on the organic molecules being broken down in the gut of micro-organisms, and micro-organism populations are boom/bust, varying widely in container culture.

Some of the things affecting the populations are container soil pH, moisture levels, nutrient levels, soil composition, compaction/aeration levels ..... Of particular importance is soil temperatures. When container temperatures rise too high, microbial populations diminish. Temps much under 55* will slow soil biotic activity substantially, reducing or halting delivery of nutrients.

I do include various formulations of fish emulsion in my nutrient program at certain times of the year, but I never rely on them, choosing chemical fertilizers instead. Chemical fertilizers are always immediately available for plant uptake & the results of your applications are much easier to quantify.

Q. Should I feed the plants every time I water? In a word, yes. I want to keep this simple, so IÂll just say that the best water absorption occurs when the level of solutes in soil water is lowest, and in the presence of good amounts of oxygen. Our job, because you will not find a sufficient supply of nutrients in a container soil, is to provide a solution of dissolved nutrients that affords the plant a supply in the adequate to luxury range, yet still makes it easy for the plant to take up enough water to be well-hydrated and free of drought stress. All we need to do is supply nutrients in approximately the same ratio as plants use them, and in adequate amounts to keep them in the adequate to luxury range at all times. Remember that we can maximize water uptake by keeping the concentrations of solutes low, so a continual supply of a weak solution is best. Nutrients donÂt just suddenly appear in large quantities in nature, so the low and continual dose method most closely mimics the nutritional supply Mother Nature offers. If you decide to adopt a "fertilize every time you water" approach, most liquid fertilizers can be applied at ¾ to 1 tsp per gallon for best results.

The system is rather self regulating if fertilizer is applied in low concentrations each time you water, even with houseplants in winter. As the plantÂs growth slows, so does its need for both water and nutrients. Larger plants and plants that are growing robustly will need more water and nutrients, so linking nutrient supply to the water supply is a win/win situation all around.

You can tell you've watered too much (or too little - the response is the same - a drought response) when leaves start to turn yellow or you begin to see nutritional deficiencies created by poor root metabolism (usually N and Ca are first evident). You can prevent overwatering by A) testing the soil deep in the container with a wood dowel ... wet & cool - do not water, dry - water. B) feeling the wick & only watering when it's dry C) feel the soil at the drain hole & only water when it feels dry there.

Soils feel dry to our touch when they still have 40-45% moisture content. Plants, however, can still extract water from soils until they dry down to about 25-30%, so there is still around a 15% cush in that plants can still absorb considerable moisture after soils first feel dry to us.

Q. When you water/fertilize, do you give it enough that 10% leaches out the bottom each time? Yes, I try to do that at every watering. Remember that as salts accumulate, both water and nutrient uptake is made more difficult and finally impaired or made impossible in severe cases. Your soils should always allow you to water so that at least 10-15% of the total volume of water applied passes through the soil and out the drain hole to be discarded. This flushes the soil and carries accumulating solutes out the drain hole. In addition, each thorough watering forces stale gases from the soil. CO2 accumulation in heavy soils is very detrimental to root health, but you usually can't apply water in volume enough to force these gases from the soil. Open soils allow free gas exchange at all times.

Q. Should I elevate my pots? The container will not drain the same % of water if it's sitting in a puddle, but the % won't be particularly significant. What will be significant is: if water (in a puddle) is able to make contact with the soil in the container through surface tension and/or capillarity, it will "feed" and prolong the saturated conditions of any PWT that might be in the container. However, if water can soak in or if it will flow away from the containers, there's no advantage to elevating when you're not using a wick.

Q. I like a pH of about 5.7. Is that about right? That's a good number, but you won't have any way of maintaining it in your soil w/o some sophisticated equipment. I never concern myself with media pH. That doesn't mean you should ignore water pH, though. It (water pH) affects the solubility of fertilizers; and generally speaking, the higher the water pH, the lower the degree of nutrient solubility.

Q. How do you repot? Some plants do not take to root-pruning well (palms, eg), but the vast majority of them REALLY appreciate the rejuvenational properties of major root work. I'm not at all delicate in my treatment of rootage when it comes time to repot (completely different from potting-up). Usually I chop or saw the bottom 1/2-2/3 of the root mass off, bare-root the plant, stick it back in the same pot with ALL fresh soil, use a chopstick to move soil into all the spaces/pockets between roots, water/fertilize well & put in the shade for a week to recover. I should mention that this procedure is most effective on plants with woody roots, which most quickly grow to be inefficient as they lignify, thicken, and fill the pot. Those plants with extremely fibrous root systems are easier to care for. For those, I usually saw off the bottom 1/2 - 2/3 of the roots, work a chopstick through the remaining mat of roots, removing a fair amount of soil, prune around the perimeter & repot in fresh, well-aerated soil.

I find that time after time, plants treated in this fashion sulk for a week or two and then put on a huge growth spurt (when repotted in spring or summer). Growth INVARIABLY surpasses what it would have been if the plant was allowed to languish in it's old, root-bound haunts. Potting up is a temporary way to rejuvenate a plant, but if you look ate a long-term graph of plants continually potted-up, you will see continual decline with little spurts of improved vitality at potting-up time. This stress/strain on plants that are potted-up only, eventually takes its toll & plants succumb. There is no reason most houseplants shouldn't live for years and years, yet we often content ourselves with the 'revolving door replacement' of our plants when just a little attention to detail would allow us to call the same plant our friend - often for the rest of our lives if we prefer.

Q. Is there any rule of thumb as to how often to root prune? I'm going to answer as if you included 'repotting' in your question. There is no hard, fast rule here. Some of you grow plants strictly for the blooms, and some plants produce more abundant blooms in containers when they are stressed in some manner. Often, that stress is in the form of keeping them root-bound. I'll talk about maintaining a plant's vitality & let you work out how you want to handle the degree of stress you wish to subject them to, in order to achieve your goals. Before I go on, I'd like to say that I use stress techniques too, to achieve a compact, full plant, and to slow growth of a particularly attractive plant - to KEEP it attractive. ;o) The stress of growing a plant tight can be useful to a degree, but at some point, there will be diminishing returns.

When you need to repot to correct declining vitality:

1) When the soil has collapsed/compacted, or was too water-retentive from the time you last potted-up or repotted. You can identify this condition by soil that remains wet for more than a few days, or by soil that won't take water well. If you water a plant and the soil just sits on top of the soil w/o soaking in, the soil has collapsed/compacted. There is one proviso though: you must be sure that the soil is wet before you assess this condition. Soils often become hydrophobic (water repellent) and difficult to rewet, especially when using liquid organic fertilizers like fish/seaweed emulsions. Make sure this effect is not what you're witnessing by saturating the soil thoroughly & then assessing how fast the water moves downward through the soil. The soils I grow in are extremely fast and water disappears into the mix as soon as it's applied. If it takes more than 30 seconds for a large volume of water to disappear from the surface of the soil, you are almost certainly compromising potential vitality.

I'll talk about the potential vitality for just a sec. Plants will grow best in a damp soil with NO perched water. That is NO saturated layer of water at the bottom of the pot. Roots begin to die a very short time after being subjected to anaerobic conditions. They regenerate again as soon as air returns to the soil. This cyclic death/regeneration of roots steals valuable energy from the plant that might well have been employed to increase o/a biomass, and/or produce flowers and fruit. This is the loss of potential vitality I refer to.

2) When the plant is growing under tight conditions and has stopped extending, it is under strain, which will eventually lead to its death. "Plants must grow to live. Any plant that is not growing is dying." Dr. Alex Shigo Unless there are nutritional issues, plants that have stopped extending and show no growth when they should be coming into a period of robust growth usually need repotting. You can usually confirm your suspicions/diagnosis by looking for rootage "crawling" over the soil surface and/or growing out of the drain hole, or by lifting the plant from its pot & examining the root mass for encircling roots - especially fat roots at the container's edge. You'll be much less apt to find these types of roots encircling inner container perimeter in well-aerated soils because the roots find the entire soil mass hospitable. Roots are opportunistic and will be found in great abundance at the outside edge of the soil mass in plantings with poor drainage & soggy soil conditions - they're there looking for air.

3) When the soil is so compacted & water retentive that you must water in sips and cannot fully flush the soil at each watering for fear of creating conditions that will cause root rot. This isn't to say you MUST flush the soil at every watering, but the soil should drain well enough to ALLOW you to water this way whenever you prefer. This type of soil offers you the most protection against over-watering and you would really have to work hard at over-fertilizing in this type of soil. It will allow you to fertilize with a weak solution at every watering - even in winter if you prefer.

Incidentally, I reject the frequent anecdotal evidence that keeping N in soils at adequacy levels throughout the winter "forces" growth or "forces weak growth". Plants take what they need and leave the rest. While there could easily be the toxicity issues associated with too much fertilizer in soils due to a combination of inappropriate watering practices, inappropriate fertilizing practices, and an inappropriate soil, it's neither N toxicity NOR the presence of adequate N in soils that causes weak growth, it's low light levels.

Q. Is there any rule of thumb as to how often to remove and replace the old soil? Yes - every time you repot.

As always, I hope that those who read what I say about soils will ultimately take with them the idea that the soil is the foundation of every container planting & has effects that reach far beyond the obvious, but there is a snatch of lyrics from an old 70's song that might be appropriate: "... just take what you need and leave the rest ..." ;o)

Comments (412)

  • F Sin
    last year
    last modified: last year

    Enlightened Gardener, I'm curious if you are in Socal, and if so, who is your supplier for the fir bark?

    I recently just acquired many of the ingredients for the gritty and 5-1-1 mix. I'm experimenting using this from Home Depot: https://www.homedepot.com/p/Gardentime-2-cu-ft-Pathway-Bark-GT-00023/205690122

    Taking a bit more time to sift them but a better source would be appreciated. Right now I feel like im only able to make a gallon per day and that already involves ton of sifting.

  • F Sin
    last year
    last modified: last year

    Here is what I have so far, any feedback would be appreciated:

    I live in Los Angeles / Socal and I have listed the sources to help those that might need them.




    Left to right:

    Manna pro chicken grit - unscreened

    Gardentime Pathway Bark - screened using 1/16 and 1/4 kitchen colanders. Uncomposted douglas fir and ponderosa pine.

    Turface - screened using 1/16 kitchen colander)


    I am having to screen the bark a bit more than I would like. I seem to be losing at least half of the volume of the bag because of the bigger pieces (50% so far) whereas the dust particles are only about 10% of the whole bag. About 40% of the volume are useable to me. They are cheap ($6.50 @ 2 cubic foot bag) and readily available though at least (Home Depot).

    The Turface is also cheap and readily available at Ewing Irrigation supply store. Manna pro, I got from Tractor Supply, and also cheap. Just a bit out of the way.

    I will also add gypsum soon, and I think epsom salt?

    It is possible that the kitchen colanders are an inefficient way to screen this so i have ordered bonsaid sieves. They should arrive by this Friday.

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  • Enlightened Gardener
    last year

    @westes If you buy “mini bark select” at Ciardellas you won’t need to sift it at all. I live in Milpitas but I don’t use peat moss anymore so I can’t make you a “proper” 511. Happy to chat though. It would be easier if you messaged me on Instagram, if you use it. Same username.

    F Sin - that bark looks good, you’ll just need to sift out the larger chunks. Hard to tell from photos but it looks like bark I’ve used in the past. I’d always recommend to everyone that they should search for local landscape supply companies to find the best bark. Many places offer a “mini bark” that is pre-sifted to be smaller than 1/2” or 3/8” I live in the Bay Area so I’m sorry I don’t have specific recommendations for you but I’d guess you have plenty of options within a 30 min drive. Most places have photos and size ranges of their products on their website.

    Initially, it can take a good bit of research and exploration to find the best sources for everything but they are out there. Once you find them this app becomes quite easy and stress free.

    Best of luck to you all!

  • Enlightened Gardener
    last year

    That last bit should say “this ALL becomes quite easy” - defeated by autocorrect hehe

  • F Sin
    last year

    Yeah I actually found a couple of places. A place I went to had a 'mini nugget bark' that I felt were too big and didn't have enough smaller pieces. I have attached a pic that I took when I went to check it out



    Will check the second place to see them in person.

  • westes Zone 9b California SF Bay
    last year

    @Enlightened Gardener Mini Bark Select appears to be 1/8th to 3/8th sized bark, whereas 5-1-1 wants to have fines in it.

  • Enlightened Gardener
    last year

    @westes that’s what they say on their site but I can guarantee it goes down to dust. I usually sift it to 1/12” personally, there’s plenty of chunks smaller than 1/8”. It’s by far the best bark I’ve ever found straight out of the bag. Based on the bags I’ve sifted for gritty I’d say it’s about 10-15% dust overall so pretty much perfect as far as I can tell.

  • westes Zone 9b California SF Bay
    last year

    @Enlightened Gardener Okay, I will go buy some mini bark select, thanks. What kind of mix are you making from that, and what kind of plants are you growing in it?

  • WMS Lee
    last year

    @tapla - "For the 5:1:1 mix, particle size should be from dust to 3/8". (0 - .375", or 0 - 4mm), with most of the bark ranging in size from 3/16 - 3/8" ( .188 - .375", or 4.8 - 9.5mm)."


    I can get pine bark in 3 - 6mm and 6 - 9mm. In what proportion would you suggest to mix these to make the 5:1:1 mix?

  • pkapeckopickldpepprz
    last year
    last modified: last year

    @tapla, Al, glad to see you are still on here. On your comparison of the 5:1:1 to the alternative to coir/CHC, I would have thought the alternative would eliminate the peat completely but then still use the pine bark. So it would be pine bark: coir: perlite. Would there be any downsides to that? I would think the pine bark would balance out the pH more or less having pine bark and coir together. I'm sure you have a good reason why this wouldn't be an idea mix, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

  • stephaniedan
    last year
    last modified: last year

    I would really appreciate some help! After what seems like forever I finally sourced all the ingredients for 5-1-1.


    Where I live there is no fine bark so I bought nuggets and crushed them with a hammer and sifted through a 10mm sieve I made from a wire fencing i sourced. (Just for reference 3/8" is 9.7mm, there was a lot of dust and because I was using a hammer the sizes were rather inconsistent but I thought it should be fine as 3/8"-dust is required)

    Some of the pieces that fell through were rather large/long (i.e 10mmx25mm) so i hope thats okay!

    On initial testing (I havent let it sit 2 weeks yet for the dolomite) it seems extremely fast draining, literally water coming out straight away. Im wondering if this is how it should be or if I did something wrong as I have never had experience with proper 5-1-1 before 🙂


    I have attached pictures here for reference. I found a quarter dollar coin for reference. Thank you in advance!!!!


  • tropicofcancer (6b SW-PA)
    last year

    Welcome to 511 Stephanie. Your bark looks good. Yes some oval pieces will go through the sieve although the other dimension is larger. It is OK. Did you add Perlite? Needs to be pretty coarse perlite with the small stuff (< 1/8 inches sifted out)..

    Yes it will drain very fast. As a result you will have to change how you water. Water slowly and evenly covering the entire surface. This will give a chance for the bulk of mix to become wet again after it has dried in the pot. Otherwise the water will channel vertically down wetting only a small vertical column of soil. I guess you can imagine I am saying.

  • stephaniedan
    last year

    @tropicofcancer thank you for the speedy reply! Good to know im in the right direction ☺️ the perlite I have is apparently the coarsest available locally (I live in Israel, small country, small selection - I double checked with other suppliers and nothing unfortunately, it was torture finding the resources as it was).

    I see what you mean - so I currently use a very small nozzle to water. If it helps I will attach a pic when I get home. Do you think its better to do a water and then water again 20 min later?
    Or is it also something to do with it being freshly made and that the pine has been dry for a long while and perhaps hydrophobic?

  • tropicofcancer (6b SW-PA)
    last year

    Coarse perlite has size ranging from dust to about 9-10mm but mostly in between. It is also called horticultural perlite sometimes but that can be vague definition.

    It is a good practice to water twice with a settling time in between. 20 min is plenty. I also a small nozzle can for watering when indoors. Outdoor I use a hose end shower-head that produces a gentle rain like drizzle. Indoor it would, of course, be a mess.

    Fresh pine is hydrophobic. Freshly made I would let it sit in a tub and water well. I will keep it for a day turning the mix a few times and then let drain away. Does not have to be full of water. Just enough excess water so that it absorbs. After that it can be stored in a closed tub. It will retain moisture and will re-wet easily the next time. You do not want to store it soggy wet. Just damp enough. It will be easier to repot also when the mix is not soggy.

  • tapla
    last year

    This might be helpful:



    When I make 5:1:1 mix, I empty the bags of bark on a plastic tarp and wet it down, I then add the peat (don't wet) followed by the dolomitic/garden lime on top of the peat, along with any other additives I might be using, like Micromax or slow release fertilizer. Slow release is not the same as controlled release. Osmocote and Dynamite are controlled release fertilizers, and should be incorporated at planting time or used to top dress post-planting). On top of all ingredients listed so far, I add the perlite and wet it down. Then, I mix well, using method A) which consists of pulling on alternate corners of the tarp, which folds the ingredients together (works best with a helper), or B) I use the flat edge of a garden rake to thoroughly mix all ingredients together. More often than not, I save the bags the bark came in and use either a plastic dustpan to scoop the medium off the tarp and fill the bags, or I have a small plastic scoop shovel that works well.

    Wetting the ingredients before mixing 'breaks' any tendency toward hydrophobia as water vapor quickly diffuses throughout the mix, breaking any hydrophobic tendency of the bark or peat.


    Handfuls of bark at 3, 6, 9 o'clock are from 3 different sources/packagers, and all are about ideal for the 5:1:1 mix. The 1/8 - 1/4" prescreened bark at top works perfect for gritty mix. At the center is dry 5:1:1.

    Al

  • stephaniedan
    last year

    Thank you Al and ToC for the wealth of info!

    The perlite I have says: 0.075-2.5mm so its very fine.
    Should I not use it? Use it in a different ratio? I assume it will make the soil hold more water and fill airspaces more which is something the 5-1-1 is trying to counter. (Im not too keen on sieving this as it irritates my lungs as it is)

  • Meyermike(Zone 6a Ma.)
    last year

    Hi Al. My mom and I sent you a text days ago. Just do you know.

  • tropicofcancer (6b SW-PA)
    last year

    stephanie. That is bit on the smaller side. If you can, get the larger coarse variety. The smaller bagged versions are often sifted already and even if some little dust gets in I think it is not a big deal. I always sift it outside on a slightly breezy day to carry the dust away from me. And wear a good mask. That stuff is no good for lungs. In fact terrible stuff. But is very quick to sift unlike other ingredients.

    If you can get pumice in the size range you can use that too. It holds a bit more water. Or small leca balls if there is such a thing. The purpose of the perlite is to keep the bark separated and not form a mat. They flattish in nature and will tend to neatly stack on top of each other killing all air space. Called stratification. The perlite lodges itself in between and keeps them separated in all manner of random orientation. I guess you can imagine that. So anything that serves that purpose will do. You do want a good range of sizes to keep it random enough.

  • stephaniedan
    last year
    last modified: last year

    Ah that all makes makes sense now.... So annoying that I bought a 100L bag of that perlite 🤦‍♀️

    Ive seen Leca balls but they are quite large I will keep my eye out for a smaller size.

    Last 2 questions I promise (Im sorry to take up so much of your time)

    1) I contacted the perlite supplier and they have asked me what size particles I need. what is preferable? 5-10mm?

    2) i have small gravel used in building (no idea what its made of) will this help with the issue if mixed inside the soil? I attached image



  • tropicofcancer (6b SW-PA)
    last year

    Yes, all the leca balls I have seen seem to large and uniform. I would say 2mm to 6mm would be ideally suited size for perlite. In mine there are particles up to 8-9 mm but they seem to be a small fraction of the mix. Does not have to be exact as long as the bulk of it is around the size range. Al posted a size chart above. Here is the link to the website: https://www.supremeperlite.com/service/horticultural-grade-perlite/

    You want the coarse grade. I believe what you have is the medium grade.


    Gravel is often limestone and not a suitable material for soil mixes. It makes the soil alkaline - or at least that is the theory. But strangely enough I have seen roots of some of plants happily populate pure limestone gravel. In summer I place some of my pots on a gravel bed. Sooner or later roots poke out of the bottom and start populating the gravel like there is no tomorrow.

    But yours looks a bit different to me. Looks more like granite origin to me but not sure. If so, then I think it would work. Let us see if Al sees this and what he has to say.

  • Enlightened Gardener
    last year

    Just wanted to chime in and say that I bought a huge bag of perlite at a hydro store last year sized around 1 - 1 1/2”. Well, it’s terrible! Works great for hydroponics and propagation but it’s no good for potting mixes. Easy enough to pummel the bag a bit but I wanted to share that in case anyone is ever tempted by the super chunk or super coarse perlite that can sometimes be found. You really want the smaller and medium pieces to distribute themselves throughout the entire mix, whereas the huge pieces are kinda just sitting there. Good luck finding a better size. It might be possible that pumice or lava are easier to find in your location and those will both be fine substitutes for the perlite.

  • rob2983
    last year
    last modified: last year

    Would using a grow bag/fabric bag change the dynamics of the perched water table due to allowing air flow from the side and bottom?

  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a
    last year

    @Enlightened Gardener, I had a similar experience with very coarse Perlite.

    I had some that was 1/2 - 3/4 inch, and it worked *okay* for my peppers in the short term, but it was no good for a mango, fingerlime, and a few others - the particles were just too dissimilar to the other ingredients. So, when I restocked my Perlite for this season, I opted for a size down. This stuf is just about perfect.



  • Marty
    last year

    greenman28, you’re in Auburn, correct? Mind if I ask where you sourced your perlite? Flat lander here..

  • tropicofcancer (6b SW-PA)
    last year

    @rob2983 Grow bag does not change the PWT unless it is in direct contact with soil. If it is in direct contact with soil then earth will wick any excess water and PWT will be near zero. Besides that a grow bag will just dry out faster exposed to Sun. Larger grow bags will probably perform better. .

  • jennifer_55610690
    last year
    last modified: last year

    I'm hoping someone can give me some advice. I'm struggling to find anything resembling pine bark fines here in Ontario. I want it for repotting a lime tree as well as some container vegetables. I can get 'mini Pine nuggets' which are apparently 1-2" in size. I picked up a bag of #5011-943, All-Treat Farms Canada Red Natural Pine Bark Mulch that I found recommended on another thread, but seems to be mostly fine shredded stuff:



    I'm wondering if this might work, it's composted horse manure and wood chips:



    Any advice would be appreciated. I'm also having trouble with the coarse perlite (only fine so far), but I'm more hopeful about coming up with that.

    Thanks,

    Jennifer

  • tapla
    last year
    last modified: last year

    It's often called Soil Conditioner, Pine Bark Soil Conditioner, Pine Bark Mulch, Pine Bark Landscape Mulch. In the US, it can often be found at nursery operations or in bulk at landscape operations that sell decorative stone and mulch products. I have a wholesale distributor not far from home (<30km) that caters to operations that make their own media, so I can get it there in bulk or pallets of 67 bags (200 cu ft). That works for me because I use it to mulch my gardens as well as in media.


    The products at 3, 6, 9 o'clock are ideal for 5:1:1 mix. The center is occupied by what a well-made 5:1:1 mix should look like. The top image is fir bark screened 1/8 - 1/4 for gritty mix.

    You'll probably find the perlite from an entity that supplies nurseries or greenhouses, or from the nursery/greenhouse op itself. Normally, it comes in 4 cu ft bags here, which would be about 115 liters.

    Al

  • jennifer_55610690
    last year

    Thanks for the reply. I still wasn't able to come up with them. I ended up with an orchid mix (pine bark, perlite, charcoal). The pine bark was still too big and perlite still too small, but it will have to do I broke up some of the bigger bark pieces.

  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a
    last year

    @jennifer_55610690, I'm sorry you're having trouble.

    When folks can't find bark or other suitable substitutes, I often recommend "Orchid Mix," but it has to be the fine-grade for sure. Then I advise them to buy another bag of coarse perlite and a bag of quality potting mix/peat/compost.


    Josh

  • vikkyrk
    11 months ago

    Found some redwood / for bark in a local landscape store. This is the smallest bark they had (next is redwood compost, which is almost powdered). Does this look reasonable or needs a lot of sifting?

  • Enlightened Gardener
    11 months ago

    That looks too big, your mix will hardly hold any water at all. If they have anything called “soil conditioner”, that usually works very well, especially if you sift the dust out. Ask them what it’s made out of if they have it. If you have other landscape supply companies you can try, you’re looking for a product that’s usually called mini bark, micro bark, or bark fines. In my experience, anything called “small bark” is too large for potting mixes.

  • tapla
    11 months ago

    Agreed. If you know your breakfast cereals, think Special-K to corn flakes size.

    You can get a comparative sense of size when you look at this image. What looks like small specks of bark are indeed that, so the largest size in their largest dimension are no more than 1/2", and a 3/8" limit would be even better. The bark above at 3, 6, and 9 o'clock are what passed a 3/8 screen. The center image is what a well-made 5:1:1 mix would look like when finished and dry. The bark at 12 o'clock is prescreened fir bark I use in the gritty mix when I find it at a reasonable price.

    In addition to what EG said about how the right product might be labeled, you can sometimes find the smaller bark sold as soil conditioner, premium soil conditioner, or clay soil conditioner.

    If you do find it, it would be a good idea to do a little gushing over it to the owner or manager of the entity selling it. "Oh man! I'm soo glad you carry this. Thank you and don't ever stop. It's soo hard to find just the right size bark and this just NAILS it!" or similar. I'm lucky to have 3 local sources (currently) and a wholesaler I can buy from (with mountains of it) within 40 miles.

    Al

  • vikkyrk
    11 months ago

    Thanks Al and EG.

    Attaching a few more fir bark options:
    Mini Bark A is the one I posted earlier
    Mini Bark B is from a local landscape store
    Repti Bark is from Petco

    Let me know what you guys think.

    EG: I also live in the bay area. I just noticed that you recommended Ciardellas. I can certainly go there of none of the options above are good enough.

  • Enlightened Gardener
    10 months ago

    Your middle selection looks best but the stuff from Ciardella’s is better. It doesn’t require any sifting and has a great mixture of pieces up to 3/8” with ~10% dust. I also use the bark from Lyngso they call 1/4”. It needs to be sifted to remove the dust but has a high concentration of pieces in the 1/12”-1/4” size. It is smaller overall than what Al recommends though so I’d check out Ciardella’s first and if you decide you want more water retention you can try the stuff from Lyngso later on. But you will need to sift out the dust.

    This photo shows Lyngso bark already sifted above and Ciardella’s straight out of the bag below

  • vikkyrk
    10 months ago

    Thanks, I will check out Ciardella. I did find GreenAll micro bark that Josh (in an other thread) recommended, but it looks like it needs a 1/2 inch screen to filter out the big pieces.


    Also, where do you get your coarse perlite from? I got a bag of Vigoro Perlite from Home Depot but its mostly small particles with some bigger ones.

  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a
    10 months ago

    I responded regarding the bark in the other Thread.

    As for the coarse #3 perlite, I've had the best success buying from hydroponic/grow stores in my area. Purchase early in the Spring, however, otherwise it'll get swooped up pretty quickly by cannabis growers for their large containers. This Pahroc Giant #3 perlite cost $27 / 4cu.ft. and is probably the cleanest perlite I've ever used.




  • chamaegardener (Z5) Northeast Illinois
    9 months ago

    How come the 5-1-1 mix does not follow the gritty mix and use 5 parts pine bark, 1 Turface, 1 #2 cherry stone?

  • Enlightened Gardener
    9 months ago

    Compared to the gritty mix, the 511 accomplishes several things:

    1. Lower cost
    2. Less sifting
    3. Higher moisture retention
    4. SUBSTANTIALLY lower weight

    Perhaps there are others but those are the key differences. You could certainly mix it as you have suggested but you would need to do quite a bit of sifting and if you have larger plants (5 gal+), they would become quite heavy and cumbersome to move. This would be an issue mostly for indoor growers who need to water at the sink.

    If you are growing outdoors, gritty mix often requires watering several times per day under certain conditions so the 511 is a good performance mix that eases the strain of watering a bit.

    The one benefit to the mixture you are suggesting is longevity; it would last many years without issue. Although, to be fair, I have found that plants in 511 will outgrow their container long before soil compaction becomes an issue. So I wouldn’t worry about it either way.

    I hope this is the information you were looking for! Good luck with your plants and don’t be afraid to experiment!

  • tapla
    9 months ago

    In addition to what EG said, when I first started talking about the gritty mix some 20 years ago, no one would believe you could even get anything to survive in it, let alone thrive. The consensus was, the richer and blacker the medium is, the better opportunity it offers for plants to realize their potential. I think the reason used coffee grounds are so sought after for use in compost piles is, they already LOOK rich and black.

    In part, the gritty mix was slow to catch on for the reasons EG mentioned and it wasn't as black as compost. It was even a struggle to get anyone to entertain the idea that a 5:1:1 mix of pine bark/ peat/ perlite offered seriously more potential for most plants than the peat-based mixes virtually everyone was using at the time.

    This thread reminds me of a thread I started about 13 years ago. Following is a paragraph from that thread. It was titled Perspective: 'You gotta change, man' ......

    "As we laughed and visited, we traded stories, and Dick had a lot of them. At some point he stopped and said, "You know, Al - we don't do anything like we did 30 years ago. Everything is different." Of course, we all know that everything can't possibly be different, but we should all be able to see what he meant is, he's been around long enough to have seen lots of substantial change. He mentioned that horticultural practices and beliefs have changed radically since he began his endeavor. He talked of price increases and new machinery. He mentioned that some of the most far-reaching effects on how business was conducted and in the timing of operations came about when the advent of the use of plastic overtook the industry; but most often, he returned to the idea that growing practices have evolved continually, ever since he first began getting his hands dirty as a youth."

    Al

  • chamaegardener (Z5) Northeast Illinois
    9 months ago
    last modified: 9 months ago

    I just want to make sure I understand the reason for the various components.

    The peat in 5-1-1 performs the similar water retention function of the Turface in gritty mix? The perlite in 5-1-1 serves the similar low water retention/better drainage function of the cherry stone in gritty mix?

    If this is right, and weight of mix is not an issue for my use outside, then besides differences in cost and screening, a 5-1-1 mix (or 4-1-1, 3-1-1 or 2-1-1) using pine bark, Turface and cherry stone would perform similar to using peat and perlite?

    In my case, I am finding the pine bark to be one of the costlier components of the gritty mix due to buying it pre-screened from bonsai suppliers. So it seems I would achieve similar results by increasing the pine bark in my already purchased gritty mix components if I wanted to increase water retention to lessen watering requirements. On that note, would there be reasons for or against simply increasing the Turface instead, to a 1-2-1 gritty mix (2 parts Turface)?

  • DonB
    last month
    last modified: last month

    This is excellent information and as I have found, very productive and efficient for growing in containers. However, it is much too 'scientific' and "Ivy League" for most home gardeners who have to work a job, tend to kids, cook meals, have leisure activities, etc. While most of us support and agree with all this info, what we really need is where exactly the common rural person can actually find bags of 1/8 " pine bark fines !!! All /i can ever find is something called Clay-breaker, which doesn't exactly fit your certifications up there, and a brand called Nature's Helper Soil Conditioner, which I use, but they're a lot bigger than your formula shows. Scotchman's Choice Organic Compost is not found anywhere here. So that leaves us with the possibility of purchasing a shredder, which many of us can't afford or don't want to get that involved with it. Heck, I have grown Heirloom Tomatoes for years with much better taste and varieties than your typical Bonne Plants that Walmart, Lowe's H.Depot, etc always have, Many of those varieties are owned by the same company that makes Round-Up. That's a nice tasty thought !! But, alas, most still go to Lowe's or Walmart to buy their plants, even though I sell my heirlooms cheaper and bigger. So, people do what they feel comfortable doing I guess. So, what would really be nice is to go to a store and look in the gardening section and find a bag that says "


    Tapla's Container Mix" with two types...5-1-1 ration and 3-11 ratio. Your choice !

  • tapla
    last month

    There is a question mark feature on our keyboards that allows us to ask questions when when need something clarified.

    While that might seem sarcastic on its face, it's an understatement meant to encourage you and other forum participants to engage and ask questions re what they don't understand. Knowledge is key to becoming a consistently proficient grower, and it isn't acquired by osmosis; rather, it requires an effort, and I can say with a great deal of certainty that it's easier to learn when you're engaged and can ask questions and get reliable answers as opposed to doing all your own research. Someone here will almost always be willing to answer questions asked by those in need of help.

    Too, there often is a thread I or someone else can direct you to, which discusses the topic.

    You might not have discovered it yet, but there is a thread that explains how water behaves in container media; a concept that will prove invaluable to those on a quest for a green thumb or more reward for their efforts at growing.

    Where do you live? I often find I can find bark within a few minutes where ostensibly none was to be found.

    Al

  • tropicofcancer (6b SW-PA)
    last month

    @DonB Sourcing the components can be challenging for some depending on location. If I remember correctly someone on Etsy used to sell 511 mix at one point in time. Someone else used to sell gritty mix too. Shipping becomes expensive for individual bagged items like this and so it is not profitable.

    If you post your approximate location (town, city) you may get more traction as to where to get the components or appropriate substitutes.

  • westes Zone 9b California SF Bay
    last month

    @DonB There are sellers on both eBay and Amazon who sell well-made gritty mix. You can start out experimenting with it by buying it premade.

  • DonB
    last month

    That may be ok for everyone who is tech-savvy, has decent internet, likes to pay shipping costs, and likes to buy products without seeing them up close. I don't mind myself, but it sure would be nice for all our rural farm people (particularly in Appalachia) to just go to a store and buy it.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    last month

    Excuse my maybe obvious ignorance, but are "rural farm people" (in Appalachia or anywhere else for that matter) all that interested in container soil mixes?? I would not have thought them to be big container gardening demographic.

  • westes Zone 9b California SF Bay
    last month

    @DonB What are you growing? I am guessing if you want to grow container vegetables that you will use 5-1-1 mix not gritty mix.

    What you eventually realize when playing around with soil ingredients is that shipping cost exceeds product cost for anything that is not local. If you are not interested in making the mixes yourself - and I do not blame you because it is a time commitment initially - then you have to find someone out of your area that will do the dirty work for you and ship it to you.

    I love volcanic pumice and find it far superior to perlite. Perlite you can buy anywhere. Pumice is hard to find here. The few pumice sources I have do not screen their material. So I pay $15 per bag and then have to pay a human $30 per bag to screen it. That's a huge waste of time, and even finding people to do the work can stall projects. So I found a pumice mine and order from them directly, with the material pre-screened. Now I pay $19/bag but $33 for shipping, but at least I do not need to rely on finding people and time to process the material.

    The point of my example is that if you want something "special" that is out of the ordinary, and no one locally supplies it, you are going to either spend money in the form of time - yours or someone else's - or you are going to spend money to ship. No sense in complaining about it. This is the way the world works.

  • HU-659273525
    last month

    Even though buying in bulk is less expensive, I buy a smaller quantity of materials in bags because I don't have enough space to store truck loads of bulk materials.


    I buy mini pine bark nuggets and soil conditioner at a big box store. If I cannot get the mini nuggets, I buy pine bark mulch and let it compost for a longer time.


    I visit the store's website first because it might indicate how many bags are in stock at the location where I intend to shop and where it is located in the garden center. I write down the product location and take it with me. If the store where I shop is out of stock but has multiple locations nearby, I might need to change the store location on the website to see if one of their other locations has the product in stock. Checking the website before visiting the store saves a lot of time and energy.


    I keep these materials separate, and empty the bags into small wire compost bins on the ground so that they can age before they are used. When I'm ready to mix soil, I dig into the center of the pile. After the bark composts for a short time, sifting is unnecessary.


    I buy expanded shale from a local nursery. I've also seen it for sale at a feed and seed store. It's heavy material so I don't use it in large containers that I intend to move. But I often use it in the mix for raised beds, small containers and always use it when planting in the ground ...due to heavy red clay soil.


    I like this pumice https://buildasoil.com/collections/aeration/products/pumice the shipping is expensive, so I figure out the best deal in terms of shipping, which usually works out to be 4 or 5 of the cubic foot bags.


    ~

    Rural farm people create an excellent and cost-free container mix for flowers: dirt from the woods combined with dirt from the chicken coop.

  • Jonah Henry
    5 hours ago

    Could someone please give me some feedback on this bark and my plans? I am making some 5-1-1 mix, and obviously it's pretty late in the season, so I'm pretty frustrated with difficulties trying to find the information I need(that I remember reading last year.)

    I made it last year for my new citrus trees, but this year I'm making it for my pepper plants. One of my biggest challenges is with overwatering and being unable to feed the plants via watering, because of rain.

    Last year I bought several bags of various brands of bark, and found that I kept having way too much <1/16", or way too much >1/2". The best I found had a lot of 1/4"-1/2" particles and a decent amount of 1/8"-1/4", but they all were severely lacking in the 1/16"-1/8" range.

    I spent so much effort screening all the bark into individual grades so that I could mix them back together with the proportions I wanted. It pretty much took a lot of obsessing last year and it was too much work. and I think it warped my understanding of the basics, so now I'm confusing myself.

    Due to numerous issues, I've just finally gotten the bulk fine bark mulch (advertised as a mix of fir and hemlock screened through 5/8") I've been planning for since last fall.

    Luckily there is very little >1/2" to screen out,
    I screened a small test batch and got roughly these percentages:
    1/4"-1/2": 19%
    1/8"-1/4": 25.5%
    1/16"-1/8": 26%
    >1/16": 29.5%
    This is absolutely amazing compared to what I dealt with last year.

    What I don't have a good sense of, and what I'm confusing myself about, is if 29.5% of the bark being <1/16", plus the 1 part of peat, will give me too much <1/16" overall and too small of an average particle size.

    I remember reading that the overall total of particles <1/16" should be limited to about 1/6th of the total volume, but last year ended up with about 38%, because I didn't have much choice with insufficient amounts of 1/16"-1/8" and 1/8"-1/4".

    It also seems like a lot of people don't bother doing any screening other than screening out >1/2" or >3/8".

    Can I get away with not screening out the excess <1/16"? and should I forego the peat, and make this 6 parts bark to 1 part perlite?

    Here's a couple of pictures of the bark (after screening out the minimal amount of >1/2")





  • HU-659273525
    1 hour ago

    I'm not an expert, but regarding the less than 1/2" size, I used to screen and eventually found it made no difference, but I also use soil conditioner as well as bark, The soil conditioner is finely shredded pine bark. I use coir instead of peat because it seems to drain better than peat and has a neutral ph.