Al's Gritty Mix and Sansevieria questions

jala4260(10a)March 12, 2012

I'm growing some Sansevieria Trifasciata Laurentii and Lillian True. They are also called Snake Plant / Mother-in-law's Tongue. They are slow growing plants and I’ve read that they take a decade or two to reach max leaf height. I’m aiming for leafs to grow over 4 ft height measured from the top soil, which is suppose to take over a decade. I grow them indoors and I've read that these plants are very prone to root rot.

I'm currently using Miracle-Gro Cactus Mix and it seems like the top soil is still dark (moist) after 2 weeks... I feel like I will never get the chance to water it which bothers me (I want to care for it) which led me to search for a more suitable potting medium. I place the plants in my bedroom so I wanted a soil that was hygienic, free of pests, and will last a long time (many years).

Then I read about the Gritty Mix which was soil-less and sounded pretty on paper. Remember, I want something perfect for my Sansevieria so that the leaves will last (hopefully) decades without dying, no root rot, healthy growth.

Here I go to test out Al's Gritty mix....

I made a batch of 1-1-1 Al's Gritty Mix using Turface All-Sports, Earthgro decorative Groundcover Bark, 1/8 Granite Grit.

However, it seems like all the water drains out completely. After a day, the top soil seems like its dry (light color, dark when wet). I tried to use a spray to moist the top soil lightly, but all the water drains out, whatever amount I put in it, I will see it in my saucer.

I don't want to water EVERY day, maybe once a week is better. My previous situation was top soil (miracle-gro cactus/citrus mix) still dark colored (moist I assume) after 2 weeks.

This is how I made my gritty mix 1-1-1 (please correct me if something is wrong):

Turface was washed with a bucket with 1/16 holes all over, small dust-like particles went out with the water. Kept the larger particles.

Bark was screened with 1/2 screen first to rid of large particles, screen again with 1/4 tablecloth wire. I kept all the fines and pieces that went through the 1/4. Anything larger was tossed out (did I do this right?)

Granite grit was 1/8, was pretty uniform out of the bag. I washed it anyway.

I also added "dust" that came from the process of crushing and making the granite grit. I was told it had many trace elements since the granite had been broken down. I bought it along with the granite grits.

Mixed it all together, rinsed it once more time, and placed it out in the sun to dry.

Question now is...

Should I add another 1/2 of very fine bark and 1/2 turface making it 1.5 Turface, 1 Granite Grit, 1.5 Fine Bark to increase moisture retention?

I'm growing Sansevieria, I don't wish for root rot, I want it to grow healthy, but the current 1-1-1 seems to 'dry' out fast. I'm not even sure if the mix is even holding much moisture for my plant.

For those curious of my mixture and cost. Breakdown as follows:

1) Turface All-Sports - John Deere Landscape - $15 for 50 lb bag

2) Earthgro Decorative Groundcover Bark - Home Depot - $4 for 2 cubic feet (had to toss out half the bag due to large particles)

3) Granite Grit 1/8 size - $7 for 80 LB bag

4) Rock Dust - $7 for a full bucket

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Something is wrong, ans some of your practices negated the reason for making/using the gritty mix, which is to provide your plants with a soil that holds little/no perched water, yet has good water retention.

1 part screened Turface
1 part crushed granite
1 part screened pine bark (1/8-3/8) or fir bark 1/8-1/4

The grit should be grower size Gran-I-Grit or #2 cherrystone. Manna Pro Poultry Grit is also appropriate. It sounds like you need the next size larger than you're using. What ARE you using?

Sans and succulents absolutely love this mix. You can maximize growth by putting them in larger pots than you can/would when using peaty soils, like your cactus mix. You're also over-watering. The mix holds much more water than you think it holds. If the gritty mix is made correctly, you should get a week or more between waterings in plastic/glazed pots, and a couple of days less in terra cotta or other gas-permeable material.

I also suggest you use Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 on your houseplants in the gritty mix because it has all the nutrients plants take from the soil in a very favorable ratio. More on that if you want to visit fertilizers.


    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 7:59AM
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jala, I water my succulents in the gritty mix every 3-4 days or so. I water slowly in sips to allow the mix to drink it in. A lot of the water does drain out, but I think that's supposed to be good for the health of the soil and the roots.

I'm new at this myself, but from what I've read, plants in the gritty mix should be watered every 3-4 days. I think once-a-week watering might not be enough. (Al, is this right?)

Do you have a bamboo stick or something that you could stick down a bit farther? There might be more moisture 1 or 2 inches deeper into the mix.

One mistake that I made early on is not getting rid of the original soil. The MG cactus mix still has a lot of peat in it, which has to be removed from the roots before planting the sans in the gritty mix. You didn't mention this process, so I wasn't sure if you'd done this part.

Also, the grit that Al recommends is just a little bit larger in size than what you described.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 10:08AM
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I just went out and bought EB Stone Orchid Bark - Size: Fine to save myself time from screening. They look like they could be used out of the bag. Got it from Armstrng, they said it was fir bark and that all Orchid bark is little bit composted to prevent it from taking too much Nitrogen from the plant.

The granite grit I have looks like the same size as the Turface All-Sports. Anyhow, I've attached a picture of my mixture (the coin in the picture is a nickel) for reference.

I want to adjust my mix so that I only need to water once a week, with the plant (even other species) being able survive two weeks without watering in case I won't be home for a while. I don't want the leaves going thirsty, drying out, and then filling with moisture quickly again as that would cause leaf problems. How should I adjust the ratio?

I did said before the soil felt dry but Al belives I'm overwatering. Reason being, I ran my hand through the soil and my fingers doesn't feel moist like I would through the cactus soil.

So anyway, should I try 1.5 turface, 1 grit, 1.5 bark or do you think the 1-1-1 is fine? This will be for my Sansevieria.

If so, I'll continue using the Turface all-sports, the same grit (if you think it's the right size, and the EB Orchid Bark)

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 6:38PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I use EB Stone Orchid Bark on occasion, and it certainly needs to be screened for Gritty Mix.
Out of the bag, it is perfect for a very durable 5-1-1, though.

Cacti and succulents can survive two weeks in this mix, but I wouldn't press more tender plants
for such a long period of time. That expectation is unrealistic, and it would be good to arrange
someone to water your plants once while you're gone.


    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 7:48PM
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Wow, jala, those pieces of bark look REALLY big. The bark in my gritty mix are pretty much the same size as the grit and Turface. Those long, light-colored pieces of bark (I forget what they're called) are not supposed to be good.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 8:10PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It does look like there's a lot of sapwood in that bark.

I agree with Josh that your expectations might not be realistic if you want a perfect soil that will go for extended periods between waterings. It's sort of like wanting a car that goes from 0-60 in 4 seconds but it needs offer excellent fuel economy. ;-)

I have most of my indoor plants in very small containers (bonsai). I water almost all my plants every 3 days, not because I have to, but because I CAN. I have a few plants that could go up to a week between waterings, but since it would be a nightmare to keep track of who needs water and when, I water on a schedule. Watering on a schedule can be the death knell of plants in heavy soils, but since you really have to work at it to over-water anything in a properly made gritty mix, it's no problem.

In a reasonable size pot, there shouldn't be any reason you can't expect your sans to go a week between waterings. If you really need more than that, you're probably going to have to start adding some finer ingredients or use a different soil; or as Josh mentioned - enlist a helper.


    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 9:12PM
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I just tried to screen the EB Stone Orchid Bark(Fine) with 1/4 tablecloth and it looks like I won't even be able to keep 1/3 of the bag.

So I took out a club and smashed it into bits...
Will it be okay to keep the grinded parts that looks like dirt? Otherwise there I won't even be able to keep 1/5 of the bag. I'm a bit confused about the size of the bark, wouldn't it be better to keep 1/2 inch size pieces so they last longer?

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 9:38PM
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if you have interest & time to read these posts, you'll learn a lot about soil structure (and the size of bark and other particles and why they should be of that size):

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 11:27PM
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Thanks for everyone's help. I actually did read that article and learned a lot about particle size that gives proper drainage and won't cause a puddle.

I just did another 70L worth of gritty mix with the correct type of bark(fir) and particle size. Screened with 1/4 to rid large pieces and then 1/16 to get rid of dust/dirt. Whew, getting the bark right took the longest!

Anyhow, someone said the wood in my 1st batch are light colored and would be bad to use. Al said that is sapwood?

Is it bad or toxic for my plants? Should I just toss it out? It's 70L worth of soil --- are there any plants that won't be affected by that type of mix?

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 2:56AM
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For what it's worth...

I've been using this original gritty-mix to grow Clivia, and it requires far less watering than you might imagine. The Turface-MVP is very water retentive, so you could be overwatering without realizing it. I stick a long bamboo skewer into the pot so it's next to the root zone. Pull it out every couple of days and press it to your wrist. If it's cold and damp...don't water. When it warmish and dry, water. It's really that simple.

My Clivia are growing in plastic pots which hold about 3 gallons of the mix. They have been in the mix since November. I think I have watered maybe twice since they were potted up. The top layer of the mix will dry out but the lower layer stays moist.


    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 8:47AM
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I have to add, that snake plants don't take decades to reach their maximum height. In fact, they send up new leaves, which reach max height rather quickly, and spread out over time. Have no fear, you won't be waiting decades, much less a year, for your snake plant to get tall. This, however, assumes good growing conditions, and I can assure you, the gritty mix is part of the recipe. If you're lucky, or unlucky to some, your snake plant may flower some day. Mine flowered 2 times in the last calendar year, but, as some may know, the flowers are oddly scented, and quite sticky with sap. They also drop little pedals everywhere when finished. But, neat none the less.

As for the gritty mix, good idea, and stick with Al; he'll lead you in the right direction. A tip for watering too; I pour water in, and use a turkey baster to suck it up from the tray, and reapply until I feel all of the mix is wet, then discard whatever water remains.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 8:37PM
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I hope I did not come across "snappy" when I recommended Al's posts...after I posted it I re-read your post & realized that you actually read it, I was too quick to react. Sorry for that. I read & am constantly re-reading lots of posts, since there is so much info there.
Good luck with the plants, I am still looking for some of the ingredients for the mixes to be ready replanting this June.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 9:41PM
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It is hard to obtain turface, I am using Leca ( hydroton) instead of turface in Al's Gritty Mix. Can Leca substitute turface?

    Bookmark   March 30, 2013 at 7:05AM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hi Longaeva,

I will let AL respond as far as using Leca as a subsitute for Turface. But i will say that it is important to keep all of the ingredients when making the Gritty Mix close to the same size as possible. I have seen some Hydroton Balls at the Hydroponic stores and they were to large.

Hopefully he will be back to answer your question.

I did want to respond and say that if you are having a hard time finding Turface, check for any John Deere Tractor Stores near you and ask if they carry the Turface All Sport or the MVP. They might be able to order it for you. If that doesn't work, then i would search for your local Parks and Rec. Ask the person who is in charge of maintance of the baseball fields and they may be able to point you in the right direction. If there are baseball fields around your area, then someone will know about Turface. They use this to help keep moisture under control on the fields. Just a thought...

Hope this helps..

Take care,


    Bookmark   March 30, 2013 at 11:39PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Longaeva - where do you live?


    Bookmark   April 1, 2013 at 5:19PM
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Hi Al,Thanks for your effort,I live in Poland. Can I add some charcoal to Al's Gritty Mixture?

    Bookmark   April 2, 2013 at 5:51AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

Turface is only hard to find if you are looking in the wrong places. Remember its primary use is for athletic fields, the infield of most baseball parks is loaded with Turface which avoids it becoming muddy. Horizon stores located all over the west is a good source. You are not likely to find it in garden centers or farm supplies. Al

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 10:34AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Longaeva - do a search for Seramis, or copy/paste the following link to your browser:

It's a calcined clay, like Turface, and available in Europe.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 3:19PM
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