I think I'm a gritty mix failure too :(

oolijanMay 1, 2011

After hearing all the rave reviews on this mix, I decided to try it out for myself. It was a bit of a pain to get the ingredients, but I am using:

- Turface

- Repti-bark (it was on some massive special at Petsmart at the time

- Grey pidgeon grit, which the storeman assured me was granite.

I planted my plants about four weeks ago. Here are the results:

This is my bay tree. It looks like it's extremely thirsty, but it's crazy because I water it every second day because of the high temps we have here - and everything I've read about bays is that they love the heat and can tolerate it very well.

My first herb box. Oregano, Sage, Thyme. Thyme died almost immediately after being transplanted in, oregano has only just recently been on it's death bed. Sage looks close to joining. Again, been watering it constantly. Now, it did get a fair amount of afternoon sun which I thought might be the issue but I moved it to a place where it would get morning sun and afternoon shade, and that's when the oregano decided to cark it.

This is my second box. Chocolate mint, lemongrass, lemongrass. The lemon grass look perfectly fine, the mint took a beating when I transplanted it but it's pulling through, as mint does. It gets some afternoon shade, and it's been watered as much as the others above.

What have I been doing wrong? I really want to save my bay tree but everything I'm trying is not helping. The smaller herbs I can deal with losing as they are pretty easily replaceable. Is it because they were in the hot texas sun all the time? Because they were perfectly fine after I had transplanted and kept them in the shade.

And more importantly, what can I do to fix this?

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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Hi oolijan,
First of all, you are not a failure! You may have over looked something, but not a failure.

Many of us have made mistakes.
The first time I made it, I used a substitute ingredient, but not the right amount. :-)

First of all,
Did you sift all your materials? The Turface and grit should be sifted over a fine mesh like insect screen to remove all the fine particles.

Your bark looks large to me.
It should be in the size range of 1/8"-1/4". Is it?

Was the grit only grit, nothing else added? Around here they add crushed oyster shell which is not good in these mixes.

Watering every other day may not have been enough for a shallow root plant like the herbs.

your in the right place to get back on track, so hang in there and someone will be along soon to help. :-)


    Bookmark   May 1, 2011 at 7:42PM
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Jojo is right.

You are 'not' a failure and somewhere along the line, I myself have missed a step or two and ended up determined to make it work, and it did!

I must ask you out of curiosity? If they are only seasonal plants, why did you use the 1.1.1 mix instead of the 5.1.1 mix which holds moisture longer than the gritty?

If you are determined to use the gritty, you must be careful to water even more often than once a day at times depending on the size of the root ball, extreme heat and if you are putting new plants with small roots in such shallow pots out in your very very hot sun. Do you use a sprinkler, hose, or hand water with a spout?

If I may, did you slowly introduced your plants to the full sun after the re-pot, or did you put the plants right out there the same day or close to it? How long did you let them adjust before you placed them in your hot sun? Why not give them shade during the hottest part of the day?

You must remember that the roots to those freshly potted plants are very shallow and are going to dry out if you are not frequently watering them until they start to fill the mix, especially in your extreme hot sun. The first top inch or two will dry out rather quickly in even in my climate, and that is where most of those roots are going to be to start with.
Have you thought of covering the top with a moisture retaining properties such as bark mulch or an extra added layer of bark?

May I ask you another a few more questions?

Did you make sure all the sizes to your mix were roughly the same size as Jojo stressed and thoroughly mixed? You might not have this problem if so.

If you did and the mix seems to dry out too fast for you, maybe you could think about amending your mix with more turface to hold more moisture in your very hot sun.

I also noticed that there is patchy bark, they seem kind of big which seems to have gravitated toward the top, and that can have a significantly negative effect on holding moisture properly in your mix. It needs to be mixed in together more throughly and bark size could be a bit smaller. Evenly distributed throughout.

If you can't find the right size bark, maybe you could crush it into smaller pieces, or dampen the entire mix, and mix it thoroughly as all the ingredients stick together forcing the bark to stay evenly distributed throughout and then use it.

Just my way of helping you and I am sorry you had to learn this way. Been there done that, but you will get it right and once you do, you will never go back on cruddy soils again.

This shows me that you are determined to use an open mix and really understand the concept of this and that you genuinely care for your plants!
Bravo for the effort and for the courage to come here for help.

If you need anything, we are here, and just retrace your steps and see where you can improve on your mix with the help you will get here.

Believe me, if there is anything we are forgetting to tell you, our good friend Al and others will be along when you need them in time of need.


    Bookmark   May 1, 2011 at 8:47PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Your plants look like they've suffered from plasmolysis, commonly known as fertilizer burn, to me. What, if anything, did you add to the soil besides the 3 primary ingredients, and how much? I think I would take a very close look at the grit and get a definitive answer as to what might be in it.


    Bookmark   May 1, 2011 at 8:52PM
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It may have been over fertilizeing like Al said. Is that a soiless mix? Dont use that mix again use: potting soil,perlite,peatmoss. Keep it simple Use this mix it is good because it will retain moister and buffer ph more. Work with it by adding alot of perlite and see if it looks good. Watch the ph of each mix make sure it is what the plant wants.

"I'm a gritty mix failure too"

    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 1:17AM
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Again Al's mix looks like a perfect mix. But the soil mix may be better in the heat?

    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 1:37AM
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O sorry. I thought that was an Al's mix? I am new on here and thought it was "Al's". Bark in mix's are good.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 1:51AM
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You're not a failure... we all began somewhere!

I think everyone else has pretty much covered the questions you may want to ask yourself... I'll only add that there is a slight learning curve when first switching from bagged mixes to an open medium like the Gritty Mix.

It's important to understand the concept of each mix Al offers in his original article... the 511 and the Gritty Mix each have their place in growing, and each serve a slightly different purpose.

The 511 may be more suited to the plant types you're growing. It's more moisture retentive while still allowing for better drainage, and is usually used for seasonal or shorter term plantings. The Gritty Mix is used more for long term plantings, where you need a durable medium that won't collapse.

ReptiBark seems to be perfect sized when purchased in the small bags, but the larger bags seem to contain a larger product.

Poultry grit should state right on the label that it's 100% granite chips... if it contains oyster shell or other ingredients or coatings, it could lead to problems.

It's very important to maintain comparable particle size throughout the gritty mix, so mixing bark that's too large or using items that aren't sifted/screened for size might affect how the mix works.

The learning curve is mainly in how we water. We want to water thoroughly, every time we water, and we want to be certain to water often enough. It may be to your advantage to try the wooden skewer method of checking for moisture within the pots. There's a ton of information available, or someone can explain if you're not familiar with it.

Window boxes are rather shallow... and I don't know that I would have chosen a Gritty Mix for that type of container... especially in an environment that is extremely hot or dry.

Don't worry... you'll get it figured out. Any time there's a major change in what we use or do, it takes a little getting used to. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have issues, myself. It's all good now, though.

Al, JoJo, and Mike can definitely steer you back on course! Their advice is very trustworthy! :-)

Here is a link that might be useful: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention 13

    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 7:22AM
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Aw, thanks for being so supportive! I've never done anything more than bought Miracle Gro potting mix and then stuck some plants in it and hoped for the best, so I'm definitely on a learning curve!

Q: Did you sift all your materials? The Turface and grit should be sifted over a fine mesh like insect screen to remove all the fine particles.

A: No, because I read somewhere that having more fine particles increases water retention. I understand the concept of PWT, and when I read that fine particles do this, I was a little perplexed but accepted it. That tidbit was on this forum somewhere btw.

Q. Your bark looks large to me. It should be in the size range of 1/8"-1/4". Is it?

A: Again, read that Repti-bark is good straight out of the bag, so that's what I did. it probably has a lot of large pieces, but there are a good number of ones that are within that range, I know that.

Q: Was the grit only grit, nothing else added?
A: Storeman assured me it was pure granite, nothing else.

Q: If they are only seasonal plants, why did you use the 1.1.1 mix instead of the 5.1.1 mix which holds moisture longer than the gritty?

A: These herbs are perennials, actually. So the intent was to make them last season after season, which apparently is what the gritty is good for. Same deal with the Bay tree, although that's pretty obvious in this regard :)

Q: Do you use a sprinkler, hose, or hand water with a spout?

A: All three. I started out with the hose, then when it got really nasty hot, I set the sprinkler out for at least 40 minutes to ensure there was good soakage. Now that I've moved them out of the sun, I'm watering with a watering can.

Q: If I may, did you slowly introduced your plants to the full sun after the re-pot, or did you put the plants right out there the same day or close to it? How long did you let them adjust before you placed them in your hot sun? Why not give them shade during the hottest part of the day?

A: I left them in the shade for a little over a week when they first got potted in. At the time, it wasn't this crazy hot, so I thought it safe to move them out into the area where they will get part sun, part shade. None of the boxes got full sun but I will say that it probably wasn't a wise idea to have a box and the bay in the afternoon sun. I moved them mid-last week to a much more shady area when things weren't improving :(

Q: Have you thought of covering the top with a moisture retaining properties such as bark mulch or an extra added layer of bark?

A: That was actually a thought I had over the weekend when I was mulching the rest of my garden. I just didn't know if it would do funny things to the mix.

Q: Did you make sure all the sizes to your mix were roughly the same size as Jojo stressed and thoroughly mixed? You might not have this problem if so.

A: It was more of a spot-check than anything else :( I pulled out a small handful of each product and compared - I must've only picked out the smaller pieces of bark. I did, however, made sure they were very well mixed, even when the bark insisted on rising to the top.

I haven't fertilized them at all; I generally wait for at least a month after plants look hale and healthy before doing so to make sure that no burn is going to happen.

How can I best fix this? Should I go through the mixes I have there, screen all for the bigger pieces of bark, replant the survivors (do plants survive being bare root for a long time, like a couple of hours or so? Would putting the roots entirely in a bucket of water help?), and keep them out of the sun? Should I use the 5:1:1 mix on the window boxes even though they aren't expected to be annuals?

Thank you all for your help! I was getting a little dismayed at my inability to keep these guys alive.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 12:55PM
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It depends.

Untill you get the mix under your belt by using it when it is not so hot there, I would use the 5.1.1 mix and transplant when you see that mix has expired. That mix has been known to outlast any bagged mix in which peat is the main fraction.
I have some plants growing 3 years in the same mix.

Maybe by the time the hottest weather has passed and you have the time to make the gritty mix as close as to Al's examples as shown, then you should give it a shot in extreme hot conditions. You might even want to consider tinkering with the mix a bit with a plant you have no interest in by adding more turface and see how that works for you?

Remember that anytime we start to tinker with it you run the risk of a PWT in a more retentive mix that could possibly kill your roots, or you could run the risk of having a mix that dries out much to rapidly.

I use the gritty mix with plants that sit out in full sun in the hottest part of the day that do not dry out like that. I water before I go to work in most cases in the early am with a hose on shower or a sprinkling can, then sometimes when I get back home. Sort of a dedicated routine I like doing in reward of receiving very vibrant plants with much higher yields in return

Once you sacrifice your open mixes for ones that are more water retentive, then you run the risk of plants that just do their job, possible die of root rot, or some that even thrive for s short time the slowly decline. That has been the case with me anyway

I would keep those roots wet while you re-pot and do it in a shady area.

Since I have to run, I will leave much more to be said by many whom have great success with the gritty mix:-)

Happy growing


    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 2:43PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hi, guys!

Oolijan, welcome aboard! Sorry you've met some obstacles along the way.

The first thing that jumps out at me from your recent answers is the lack of screening.
Screening out the fine particles is very important.

Secondly, and related, the bark particles need to be screened. When using large bark,
those finer particles will migrate and lodge between the bark, which impedes drainage greatly.
I experienced this with some of my early mixes (using unscreened Perlite), and I know that
others have had issues with their first attempts, as well.

I would expect that the lower layers of your containers are actually still quite moist/wet.

With new transplants, you'll want to keep the upper inches consistently moist to encourage roots
to colonize the top of the medium, too. Because you'll be watering more frequently at first, you
can also employ a wick dangling from the drainage hole to help the mix in the bottom of the container
dry out in proportion to the upper inches.

I would agree with Mike that you might prefer the more moisture retentive 5-1-1 for Summer growing.
It is very easy to re-pot from this mix to the Gritty.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 3:07PM
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These are herbs I planted in gritty mix, although I used pumice instead of grit, they have been in full sun since planted. I think the trick that worked for me has been that I watered twice a day for the first three weeks (that middle herb though needed a quick shot in the afternoon's), now I just water in the evenings so they start the next day well watered. They have doubled in size in the month.

On the other hand I have some pepper's and basil's in a 511 mix in smart pot's that aren't doing as well (I don't have pic's), I just keep pluggin along, figuring things out with what I observe and great advice I get from others here.

No one's a failure as long as you keep trying, you just might be on a long learning curve :-)


    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 3:28PM
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I use ZooMed's ReptiBark right out of the bag...however, I only buy the small bags. It has come to my attention that the medium and large sized bags contain a larger product, and those will require screening, or may even turn out to be too large for our purposes.

I must say... I feel rather guilty for recommending a product without checking out all the sizes... but to be fair, the bags do not state that there's a difference in product size.

If you use the small bags, the product seems great right out of the bag, but if you're obtaining it in larger bags, it may not be the proper size. I think that should be a permanent caveat where the ReptiBark is concerned.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 4:00PM
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Hi Josh!

Many points made that should help anyone to avoid mishaps:-)

Jodik: Thank you for caring enough to direct us to the right product. My sister says it was very thoughtful of you.

Jerry: Wow. Great job!

Oolijan: I hope all of this helps you:-)


    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 8:19PM
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I have a confession. I don't screen my gritty mix products (gasp)! But, my plants do fine, in fact they thrive. I have had citrus in the gritty mix for 3 years that continue to show beautifully dark green leaves and grow very quickly. While it is ideal to screen your ingredients, I think the affect it has on plants is over-estimated. An unscreening gritty mix still drains much faster than a traditional potting soil.

When I first started using the gritty mix I also had a lot of plants suffer, but not longer. Here is what happened. In my experience, roots in the gritty mix have the tendency to centralize. In other words, the roots tend to cluster together in the center. The consequence is that there is precious little of your soil intermixed between the individual roots which limits water exchange.

Now I am very careful with the actual physical planting product. I make sure the roots are widely spread out and that there is plenty of soil intermixed between the individual roots. After doing this on a regular basis, I have not lost any plants and the stress induced by re-potting seems greatly diminished.

Perhaps this has contributed to your difficulties. While I am a skeptic, the gritty mix seems like a great soil alternative. Even without screening, it drains like crazy and you get the self-satisfaction of constantly hearing the popping sound of air emanating from the mix during watering.

I hope this helps.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 12:59AM
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I think we each have to take into consideration that we're growing in different environments, where different factors can be at play. So, we might have to make slight adjustments due to that.

I also think Brett has a good point... not everyone thinks of the same things when they think "re-potting". To me, this involves removing as much of the previous medium as is possible, and spreading out the plant's roots to make the most of the fresh medium and how the plant will colonize it.

I do screen the ingredients, but I also adjust ratios for moisture retention. Or, if I need more retention, I add a handful or two of a quality potting soil. A lot of different factors come into play when deciding exactly what an individual plant will require... the pot size, plant size, where it's going to be placed, light conditions, the plant's cultural needs, etc...

Personally, I think we each will need to tweak how we use the more open mediums, and we have to think about our own environmental differences.

And, Mike, I guess I was so excited to find a product that I could use, without a lot of extra work, that it never occurred to me that there could be differences. I'm glad it's been pointed out, though, and I'm glad I could help in that respect. I just wish the bags were labeled according to the product size...

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 7:58AM
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Why is it necessary to screen the items? I could understand it for buying the pine nuggets to get out all the undesirables, but granite and turface really just have dust, if anything.

Also, why does the pine bark need to be no larger than the sizes specified?

Thanks for your help everyone! I'll admit to overlooking the fact that the roots of the herbs are so close to the surface. I'm still clueless on what is going on with my bay.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 11:23AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I planted my herbs, including a bay that is more than 10 years old, in gritty mix about four weeks ago. The mix I used included the remains of my first batch of gritty -- made with NAPA Floor Dry, Reptibark and grower size Gran-i-grit -- and an equal amount of my new mix -- made with orchid fir bark a little smaller than the reptibark, Turface MVP and grower size gran-i-grit. I did only a quick screening of the Turface to get out the dust, but didn't screen the bark. My herbs include small starts of parsley, marjoram, tarragon, spearmint, rosemary and thyme from the garden center.

After I planted them, they spent about two weeks in a sheltered location out of the sun near the north side of my house. After that, I moved them into an area that can get about four hours of sun a day. I say can because we had very little sun in April. Instead, we had record breaking rain of about nine inches and unseasonably cold temperatures ranging from freezing to about 65 degrees F. I think these conditions -- so different from what you experienced in Texas -- may explain why all of my herbs are thriving.

Here's the bay:

And, finally, here is one of a couple dozen morels that popped up in my lawn last week as a testament to how wet it's been. In 27 years of living in this house, I have never seen morels before. I'd know because I adore them. Yum.

A couple notes from a relative newcomer to this mix:

I don't think it is essential to closely screen ingredients for the gritty mix if you're planting in large pots for outdoors. But I do believe you should try to get the ingredients to be fairly uniform in size between 1/8 and 3/8 inch. If you have a lot of dust and a lot of large bark pieces, they can knit together to make for poor drainage.

I bare-rooted all these herbs including the bay, which had been in the same pot of standard soilless mix for three years, and spread the roots out as much as I could before covering them with the gritty mix. The pots are all about one gallon and the plant roots only occupy the top couple inches. I'm hoping I can keep at least some of them alive through the winter indoor under lights. That's why I used the gritty mix instead of 5-1-1. I did plant dill seeds in 5-1-1 because I expect to harvest that this summer. It is growing well in all this rain too.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 10:05AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

You said the person you bought pigeon grit from assured you it was granite, but I am wondering about its size (compared to chicken grit) and composition. Maybe there were additives that caused problems. I Googled pigeon grit and found several references like this:

"If you are feeding your birds on mixed grain mixes, you must also provide pigeon grit for them. This grit is a mixture of oyster shell, minerals, salts, stones and charcoal which they use to process their food."

    Bookmark   May 8, 2011 at 11:04AM
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You may be right. I'll follow up on that. Thank you :)

    Bookmark   May 9, 2011 at 10:58AM
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