Hello, and Questions about 5:1:1

tigerdawn(7)April 3, 2011

Hello everyone! I have come from the Hoya and Oklahoma Gardening forums to learn more about container growing. What I have currently is about 75 houseplants (porch-plants in summer) that are growing in pine bark/pearlite/potting soil/crushed granite at different ratios. The ratios are different based on how much the plant likes drainage and also what I had on hand when I decided I needed to repot something.

The catalyst for my visit this morning is that I plan to grow tomatoes in containers this year. The nursery I visited recommended the square foot gardening soil mix and I asked about it on the OK forum and they sent me here. I have perused the first 3-4 pages of posts and I have read Al's famous article. I have learned a ton in just a few hours!

So! I think I have a decent beginner's grasp on the concepts. It helps that I took soil science classes in college! (Wildlife Ecology major) I have a few questions that I didn't have answered in what I read. They may be answered in the older threads but I'm short on time. I should have been here learning all winter!!

Basic goals: 5 tomatoes in 20gal containers, a couple in slightly smaller containers, strawberries and other veggies in 5-10 gallon containers, happier tropical plants.

1. What size screens should I have besides the 1/2"?

2. Is screening easy to find at Lowe's or HD or should I go online? If online, where would I find quality and cost effective solutions? I would like to build my own if it is cheaper.

3. My water requires 1/8c vinegar per gallon to get below pH 6.0. Is there a good water storage solution so I can make gigantic batches? What has worked for others?

4. Most containers in Oklahoma require twice daily watering in the heat of summer, and that's with a commercial potting mix. What options do I have for either adjusting the 5:1:1, or some sort of self watering setup to keep my plants happy while I'm gone all day? (I'm looking for solutions on the cheap side)

5. If wicks are a good solution, where would I find them?

6. Is one particular mix variation recommended for tomatoes and other veggies?

I'm still trying to learn what the calcined clay, lime, and peat actually bring to the mix. I'm assuming TomatoTone is a fertilizer. I have VegetablesAlive 4-3-1. Will that work?

I really wish I had come over here sooner. There's so much I didn't know that I didn't know!

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First off, HI Tigerdawn!!!

I remember you from the Hoya side and all your pretty Hoya. Looks like you are getting the concept about well draining mixes..Bravo ..Welcome.

1: For the 5.1.1? No more than that, at least in my case.

2: From what I have told, you can find cloth screens at any of those places in different sizes.

3: I would make a batch of that solution and let it sit for days then retest. As for me, I use vinegar fresh at every watering. Good question.

4: Many use drip set ups and I am in the process of looking for one myself should I finally escape for a vacation.
If you want to increase water retention, just add extra parts of peat, but as you add more, the more you create a (Perched Water Table), and the further away you get from the purpose of the 5.1.1. mix, which is to stay open and drain well providing god air exchange to all the roots..
The benefits of open mixes aloows my tomatoes to grow more robust, set more fruit, avoid yellowing leaves, and so on.

It all comes down on your personal choice between doing what is best/efficient for your plants, or what is more convenient for us that allows us to more less frequently. If plants could have it their way, they
would much prefer to be watered and fed every day or more often, especially tomatoes..

5: Al uses the nylon strands of mop heads which leads me to believe at any hardware or big box store. Or maybe even cotton rope like they use to hang clothes out on the line.

6: I personly use the 5.1.1 for everything I grow for seasonal vegis with great success.

I know that lime brings the pH up in acidic mixes and provides Ca and Mg while at it. I use this in my fresh made batches of the mix.

I am use to using certain fertilizers, so maybe someone can enlighten you on the one you have.

I am so happy to see you here and have such a desire to bu successful just as you are with your Hoya's! :-)
Maybe I will see you soon over at the Hoya forum since I have added many new plants to my collection by way of very generous friends there!

Good luck. You came to the right place. Al's famous articles have been a God send for so many, including me!

Please correct me if I have erred in what I shared anyone.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 2:52PM
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"I really wish I had come over here sooner. There's so much I didn't know that I didn't know!"

Welcome, tigerdawn! That's the perfect way to voice what I, and I'm sure many other folks think when they are introduced to Al's writings! I sure wish I'd found him sooner... I could have saved myself decades of guessing and floundering around the world of gardening! I didn't know there was so much I didn't know, either! I thought I had a pretty good handle on things, but it turns out I was lacking the basic foundation! :-)

Now that you're here, you'll find a great support group ready, willing, and able to help you get the most out of your growing experiences!

I'm certain that Al, Mike, Josh or one of the others currently using the 511 mix will be along shortly to answer your questions. I'm more of a Gritty Mix user, so I have more experience toward that end.

I can tell you that the peat adds moisture retention to the 511, and that it's the best choice for short term, seasonal plantings... such as annuals, container grown vegetables, and that sort of thing.

The Gritty Mix is more suited to longer term plantings, and is mostly used for indoor plants, or plants that you don't plan on re-potting for 2-3 years, or so. I use it for all my indoor potted plants, including bulbs, orchids, cacti and succulents, and anything else I might grow as a houseplant. The Gritty Mix is extremely durable, lasting for a very long time, and it's very free draining, virtually eliminating any perched water table.

I have yet to try the 511, but I think that as long as I understand the concept of the mixes I'm using, and I understand what each ingredient brings to its mix, I won't have any problems using either medium... or even tweaking a batch to suit my individual needs.

I have yet to employ wicking, so I can't be of much help there... I use the method of inserting a wooden skewer into my medium to test for moisture. A cool, damp skewer signals moisture, and a warm, dry one indicates the need to add water.

Your enthusiasm is contagious! I'm even more excited to begin planting my outdoor containers! Again, welcome... and...

Happy Gardening!

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 3:02PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hi, TD! Haven't I seen you at 'Houseplants', too? Seems like I remember you. ;o)

1) You may not need a screen

for the 5:1:1 mix if the bark you find is appropriate size.

What you see at 3,6,9 are all excellent choices for the 5:1:1 mix and can also be screened for the gritty mix if you plan on using that. I'm assuming you're here because you're not happy with what you get from a bag (soil). For the gritty mix, you'll want what does pass through a 3/8 screen, but doesn't pass through 1/8, with 1/8-14 bark being ideal. I'm able to find that ideal size from an orchid grower near CHI. Dust to 3/8 or a little larger (if most particles are concentrated in the lesser size range) would be great for the 5:1:1 mix. You'll want to screen the Turface or DE over insect screen though. Since everything is pre-screened except the Turface for me, I only use 1 screen for the gritty mix, but up to 3 might be req'd.

2) You might be able to find the screening at a hardware store cut to size. At a big box store, you'll probably have to buy more than you need. Get aluminum insect screening to remove fines from everything for the gritty mix.

3) You might have trouble trying to store water with vinegar already in it. It will prolly grow an almost clear algae. Plants in containers like a lower pH than plants in the ground, so you might want to consider making 5.0 your target pH for fresh tap water. The pH will also rise automatically as your fresh tap water gasses out CO2, so your 6.0 is prolly yielding closer to 6.5 if you tested fresh from the tap.

4) I have 18 gal tomatoes & have never had to water more than once per day with the 5:1:1, but if you're worried you can add a part of Turface or calcined DE in place of perlite for more water retention & no sacrifice in drainage, aeration, or ht of the PWT. Those are the reasons people want to leave heavy soils behind them. You can't amend a heavy soil and gain the advantage of improvement in the properties I listed, unless the fraction of large particles (bark + perlite) is by far the largest fraction of the soil. More on that if you're interested - not sure if it's in the long thread you read or not.

5) I use strands from a 100% rayon mop head. I understand you can get them at Walmart. I ordered mine online from Ace Hdwe.

You can also use strips (scissors) from 100% rayon man made chamois.

6) I use the gritty mix for all long term plantings - anything I think will be in the same soil for 2 or more growth cycles. I use the 5:1:1 mix for all my mixed display plantings

and veggies

I'll leave you a link to digest about fertilizing containers, and we can talk more about the merits of soluble fertilizers in the ratio closest to that which plants actually use (3:1:2 RATIO - different than NPK %s. 24-8-16, 12-4-8 and 9-3-6 are all popular choices for 3:1:2 ratio fertilizers).

Calcined clay is Turface or similar. 'Calcined' just means fired at high temperatures until the particles are almost ceramic-like. Calcined DE (diatomaceous earth) is similar. W can talk about lime vs gypsum if you use the gritty mix, but for the 5:1:1 mix, the dolomitic (garden) lime serves both as a pH adjuster and as a Ca/Mg source. I, or someone else will help you through that once you decide how you want to proceed.

Welcome, by the way. Most of the people here are upbeat and positive, more than willing to help you get all you can out of your growing experience. Love your enthusiasm, too!


    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 3:02PM
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Dang! They beat me to it! :-)

We all must have been typing at the same time!

As always, Al, I love looking at your gorgeous plants and yard! Thanks for sharing!

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 4:19PM
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Well, I was significantly more enthusiastic this morning before I spent 4 hours running errands with every single other person in Oklahoma City. I am exhausted and ready to not dodge any more children or wait for shopping cart traffic jams to clear. Ugh!

I have access to Green Country Pine Bark Mulch. It has a lot of large pieces and will need to be screened. Lowe's didn't have anything large enough. Is there a particular department I should look in? I was in the insect screen and window screen area and the largest I found was maybe 1/4"

The reason I only took my water to pH6.0 is because that's as far as my test kit will read. I need to find a better kit.

I actually have the gritty mix in some of my houseplants and they do well. The only reason I add potting soil to the other is because I am inexperienced with fertilizer. I just let the fertilizer in the soil do its thing. But I'd like to fix that. First I want to tackle the mix and then I'll work on understanding fertilizer.

I think this year I'd like to use 5:1:1. Am I supposed to use all calcined clay instead of all pearlite or some of each? What is the pH of this mix with lime as opposed to gypsum?

My brain is mush right now so I'll ask more questions later...

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 6:13PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Lowe's didn't have anything large enough? They had fine PINE bark?

The only pine bark I've seen that was actually borderline too fine was Fafard's AGED pine bark. I've commented on this several times that I had tried that in the 5:1:1 mix one year & wasn't happy with the results. I have no ax to grind against Fafard's, they make some fine products, but their aged bark is double-ground and about like coffee grinds fine. If you found pine bark that at this point you think is too fine .... it might not be.

Understand on the pH - we can revisit that if you choose.

So glad you like the gritty mix. Almost everyone that tries it does.

Don't worry about the fertilizer thing. It's easy to fix. Even if you don't understand yet, it's easy enough that I can just offer easy directions until we can fill in the blanks.

Concentrate on finding the bark for the 5:1:1 mix. You CAN use Turface or calcined DE if you want. I don't - I use perlite because it's less expensive and I usually have more water retention than I actually need. The actual pH of the mix after liming varies with the pH of the bark and the peat, but the times I tested it it came in at about 6.0-6.2 after 2 weeks, using 1/2 cup of dolomitic (garden) lime per cu ft (same as 1 tbsp/gal). Don't worry about the gypsum for now. Stick with the lime. Don't worry so much about pH. It's not as important in containers as in the garden.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 9:36PM
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I'm sorry, Lowe's had pine bark with all sizes of pieces but no screens large enough. Like I said, the brain was mush!

Here is some of the same stuff that I already have.

There are lots more smaller pieces underneath.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 10:32PM
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Good news: the current batch of pine mulch at Lowe's is much finer than the bag I got in the winter. I may not have to screen it at all. Woot!

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 9:25PM
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Does it matter if you use potting mix vs pure peat? Potting mix is almost all peat anyway I believe.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 10:41PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Lol - sounds like you scored, Dawn! A little determination goes a long way, eh? ;-)

C00 - No, it doesn't matter - you CAN easily use potting mix instead of the peat fraction - works just as well. Just replace the 1 part of peat with 1 part of potting mix and go just a little lighter on the lime.

5 parts PBFs
1 part peaty potting soil
1 part perlite

As always, you'll learn how to modify the recipe slightly to suit yourself, but you should be thinking that the PBF fraction should always be at least 75% of the mix - if you want to take full advantage of increased aeration/drainage and a greatly reduced ht of the PWT.


    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 11:27AM
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Ok, as of this evening, I now have 15cf of pine mulch, 3cf of sphagnum peat, 4cf of pearlite, and 40lbs of lime. I have ten 18 gallon containers to plant tomatoes in.

Methinks I'll need more pine mulch...

    Bookmark   April 8, 2011 at 9:36PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

TD - With that amount of material, you'll end up with about 130-140 gallons of soil.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 10:45AM
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Cool. Now to work on the watering. Where I live we get 100+ degree temperatures for weeks on end, high humidity, and strong winds. But not at the same time. If it is hot and humid, it is also very still and sometimes it feels like you can't breathe. And then you'll get hot dry winds that suck the moisture out of everything. I water most of my potted plants once or twice a day during that time of year. But I worry that the tomatoes need more than that. What are your thoughts? Also, I'll be gone for the first week of September and I need an easy to follow plan for my plant-sitter.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 9:26PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

By Sep, it will prolly be difficult to over-water tomatoes unless you work hard at it. Your weather sounds just like mine. I live on the Bay & we get humidity and dry winds. I don't know how you feel about fungicides like Daconil, but with all that humidity you might wish to consider it's positive effect on blight, graymold, and other diseases that are prevalent when humidity is high. Do avoid spraying foliage if you can - the practice often provides the incubation period many species of fungi need to get a hold.

I grow tomatoes in the 5:1:1 mix. My vines are always lush; but still, I never need to water more than once daily. My plants are usually in 18 gallon containers.

Part of a mid-July experiment on behalf of the UpsaDaisy Company - just getting started:


    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 11:20AM
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I have some copper fungicide. Will that work?

I'm just wondering if I should do a wicking system, or maybe the spikes and pop bottles, or if just traditional hose watering will be enough.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 8:49PM
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I recently mixed up some 511 for 18 gallon containers.
Hopefully my ratios were good enough.
per container,

1.5 cf bag of soil conditioner, (pine bark fines).
2 gallons peat.
2 gallons perlite.
1 cup powdered garden lime.

These amounts filled the 18 gallon containers to within about 4 inches to spare.

I bought a 32 gallon container to do the mixing in.
Worked pretty well but IS work when doing 12 containers like I did.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 10:41PM
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