Your shopping cart is empty.

Commercial Potting Mix Recommendation

March 12, 2019
I need to repot some Houseplants and need a potting mix that drains readily and doesn’t hold excess. I’ve gone to two local nurseries and both recommended mixes that ended up staying wet (and soggy) for too long. Any suggestions please?

Comments (24)

  • Dave

    Making your own 5.1.1 mix would be far better than anything you’ll find pre made.

    5 parts pine bark fines (bark size is very important)

    1 part peat (something like MG potting mix works fine)

    1 part perlite (coarse if possible)

    dolomite lime to taste

  • Karen S. (7b, NYC)

    Or use some sifted Perlite & add it in equal portions to what you already have. That will certainly make it faster draining. FYI: There really isn't any one recommended mix or most of us would be using it.

  • socks

    What actually is “pine bark fines?” I don’t see bags labeled that way.

  • Dave

    Fines would be the smaller pieces. Some bark mulch comes in large chunks wich are not suitable.

    This has always been my go to for fines. About 95% of the bags are normally usable with this brand.

  • cactusmcharris, interior BC Z4/5


    What are you wanting to grow in it? Is this for a commercial operation or are you looking for a commercially-produced potting mix? Different plants need different soils.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    "Different plants need different soils."

    Not so much :-) At least not with houseplants. Most tropical or semi tropical houseplants will do just fine in the 5-1-1 mix described above. Cacti and succulents would be most happy in a grittier, faster draining mineral-based soil. So really only two different soils one needs to worry about!!

  • mickeee
    Thanks for the responses so far. I need a potting mix for home use. My fiddle leaf fig, jade plant, and ripple jade need to be repotted.
  • cactusmcharris, interior BC Z4/5

    I can't speak about a FLF, but for the other two plants, a mix if 50% sieved cactus and succulent soil (to remove the large bark chunks) and 50% perlite is one which your Crassulas will delight in. When you do repot, wait a few days before you water them after repotting.

  • mickeee
    Garden pal 48, what’s a mineral-based soil?
  • mickeee
    Dave, your “one part peat (MG...” does that mean substitute one part Miracle Gro for the peat? Thanks!
  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    Pretty much what cactusmcharris described - a soil mix that has minimal organic content (bark, peat, coir, etc.) and is primarily granite grit, pumice or perlite, sand, turface, etc.

  • cactusmcharris, interior BC Z4/5

    Don't use sand, please. Leave it for your brick path leveling, something to scatter on the ice as an anti-slipping agent, and the beach. It has no good place in a C&S mix, unless it's BIG SAND (also known as #2 gravel).

  • Dave

    Mickeee, correct. Miracle Gro potting mix is fine to use as the peat portion, since that’s mostly what it is anyway.

  • mickeee
    Ok folks, I think I’ve got it. Thank you all immensely! For the fiddle leaf fig I’ll make a 5-1-1 mix. For the jade and ripple jade I’ll use 50% Miracle Grow cactus mix and 50% perlite.

    The ripple jade’s roots are really dense and tangled into a ball. Should I try to untangle them and rinse off the old potting mix before I repot?
  • mickeee
    One more question...why don’t commercial potting mix companies make a 5-1-1 product?
  • Dave

    No they don’t. 5.1.1 is homemade only.

    Id use the 5.1.1 for the Jades too. 5.1.1 is a versatile mix and can be used with just about anything.

  • cactusmcharris, interior BC Z4/5

    Regarding your root ball question, you certainly can. If it's too compacted, take a pruning saw and cut off the bottom third of the ball. From there, you can manually clean up the root ball, but you don't have to remove it all.

  • aviolet6

    I wish someone would make the 511 and sell it. I would buy it. I have no interest in running around trying to find the individual ingredients to mix up my own.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    You can purchase something quite similar. Kellogg's Soil Products has barked-based potting mixes (indoor and out) that are very close to the consistency and ingredient mix of the 5-1-1. These are sold under 3 different labels - Gardner & Bloome, Master Nursery and Kellogg's - and are essentially the same mixes with different brand names :-) There may be a few additives I would prefer they leave out but they won't hurt at all and from personal experience I can say these make a reasonable, if not perfect, substitute for the 5-1-1.

    Kellogg's used to be restricted to the west coast but has expanded their operation and now markets across the country. The G&B and Master Nursery labels are limited to independent nurseries/garden centers but the Kellogg's label is also sold by the box stores. Visiting the Kellogg's website will allow you to search for retailers in your area.

  • aviolet6


  • PRO

    Mickee - If you were designing a perfect soil, it would hold all of its water inside of porous particles, on the surface of all soil particles as a microscopically thin film, and at the interface where soil particles contact each other. Spaces between soil particles would be full of air, instead of water as commonly occurs in the bottom 3-6 (or more) inches of soils based on fine ingredients, like peat, coir, compost, composted forest products, topsoil, sand, ...... You can't avoid this layer of perched water by adding perlite to water-retentive soils. Perlite, when mixed with water-retentive ingredients does very little to increase aeration or drainage or reduce the ht of the perched water table that is the limiting factor in water-retentive media. You can "see" this in your mind's eye. Start mentally adding perlite to a jar of sand. When you've added perlite so it represents 25% of the sand's o/a volume, ALL spaces between the perlite particles are still full of sand. Now look at 50/50 perlite and MG - you're getting closer, but all spaces between the sand particles are still filled with fine ingredients, so where does the added aeration come from? You can "see" the sand packed tightly against and fully surrounded by sand - right? The advantage lies primarily in the fact that perlite takes up space that would otherwise be occupied with water-retentive sand - even though it is not internally porous. Total porosity hasn't changes much, nor has air porosity at container capacity. It's only when the perlite is 75-80% of the o/a volume that you cross the threshold to the point where there is an insufficient volume of sand to fill all the air spaces between perlite particles that it makes a significant difference. That holds true for ANY media comprised primarily of the fine materials noted above. Once you get to where the perlite is more than half of the mix, you're not growing in amended Miracle-Gro soil, you're growing in perlite amended with soil.

    Chemistry aside, container media work best when they are made of particles in the 1/10 to about 5/32" size range; this, for the simple reason they do not support perched water. If you're using an organic medium, maybe based on pine bark, the particles will be larger and water retention might be inadequate, so adding some peat or internally porous ingredients like Turface or calcined (high-fired) DE will help increase water retention, as would allowing the fine fraction of bark (dust to 1/10") to remain as part of the medium instead of screening it out.

    The bark in the image at 3, 6, and 9 o'clock are all from different packagers and would be very good choices for use in container media, as is - no screening required. The pile in the middle is the finished mix I use for short-term plantings like mixed display containers in the gardens and on decks, and veggies.

    All my woody plants I grow on for/as bonsai, and all my succulents are in a very coarse mix.


    mickeee thanked tapla
  • mickeee

    Hi Tapla, I found your 2015 thread that discusses soil, water retention, the 5-1-1 mix and the three-item gritty mix, etc. Thanks for providing such a comprehensive explanation. Would you please explain the pros and cons of 5-1-1 vs gritty mix for regular (not bonsai) strictly indoor Houseplants. I live in Ohio. Thank you for your consideration.

  • PRO

    It's good to keep in mind that you can have a few ingredients on hand that can be combined in such a way that you end up with a medium that's very close to perfect. You can use the same ingredients and combine them in a way that leaves you with a medium that most growers would consider unusable. Ideally, you'll understand how to tell the difference by the time you're finished with your research.

    5:1:1 - good things

    Most importantly, if it's properly made, it works better than virtually any of the commercially prepared media you're likely to run up against. I dare to say that more of our plants' potential is sacrificed to excessive amounts of water in the soil than any other factor, except maybe light, in extreme cases - the 5:1:1 mix goes a long way toward fixing that excess water issue.

    You can make it for about half the price of bagged potting media.

    It's easy to make - you only need 4 ingredients.

    Down side

    It requires the effort it takes to find the ingredients and make the soil

    Sometimes the bark is difficult to find. I never have a problem. I have at least 4 sources I can rely on to have it all summer.

    I'm not going to say that having to water more often is a disadvantage. You're always going to pay for extended intervals between waterings with loss of potential that doesn't occur in media that require more frequent watering. If a grower only wants to water twice a month, they shouldn't be offended when someone tells them they're leaving the lion's share of their plants' potential lying on the table. When someone comes up with a medium that allows them to water bi-weekly without loss of potential, THEN I'll consider it a disadvantage.

    Gritty mix - good things

    Properly made, it holds little to no perched water

    It's flexible. Growers who say it doesn't hold enough water have missed the best part, which is an understanding of the concept that under-pins the soil. It's adjustable for water retention over a wide range by varying the
    ratio of Turface to grit, and limiting the bark fraction to no more than
    1/3 of the o/a volume; this, with no sacrifice in o/a porosity or air porosity at container capacity. If it doesn't hold enough water, it can be fixed in 2 minutes - not after the planting is established, of course, but it only takes 2 minutes to add an extra handful of grit or Turface MVP to lower or raise water retention.

    It's the culmination of years of experimenting with container media - I simply haven't found/ seen/ used a more productive medium.


    Ingredients are not always easy to find, and they cost considerably more than it would cost to make a similar volume of 5:1:1.

    The Turface MVP and grit come in 50 lb bags and has to be screened. Once made, it's heavy. 1/5-1/3 of the Turface MVP will be too fine to use, and should be used for other projects - gardens, beds, hypertufa projects) If you're not going to screen it, don't make it. No sense in paying extra for ingredients that when combined won't do any more than the 5:1:1 is capable of.

    You must stay on top of your fertilizing in order for plants to thrive.

    It's been a long day, so I might have forgotten to add something to either column (good or bad). If I did - it wasn't intentional.


  • mickeee
    Thanks, Tapla! It’s so generous and kind of you to share your vast knowledge. I’m going to make the 5-1-1.

Need help with an existing Houzz order? Call 1-800-368-4268 (Mon-Sun).