Recipe for Organic potting mix

yaso(8a)June 3, 2013

Have been growing plants in containers for the past two years using store bought potting mix. I want to go organic from now on and plan to repot all my plants in organic potting mix.

To start with I got pine mulch, cedar mulch, mushroom compost, cow manure, perlite, vermiculite and sphagnum peat moss. Please help me on the following,
- what other ingredients are missing
- do I need add any fertlizers to the mix, if yes, then what are best organic fertilizers
- what is the best time to repot the plants
- how often repotting is required?, yearly or do I need to look for any signs in the plants
I understand that the ratio and ingredients could be different for potting mix for different plants

These are the plants I have in containers and I'll be adding few more this year

1. Blueberries
2. Blackberries
3. Strawberries
4. Tomatoes
5. Thai chillies
6. French beans
7. Mint
8. Basil
9. Several varieties of roses
10. Arabian jasmine
11. Kumquats

Thanks in advance

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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

The 5-1-1 mix many of us talk about on this forum is organic if you leave out the chemical fertilizers or replace them with something like Tomatotone or Gardentone.

I am in my third year of using 5-1-1 to grow many of the things on your list (except berries). Follow the link below if you want to learn more about it and about why it is a bad idea to use compost or manure in any significant amount in your mix.

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

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 12:37PM
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Thanks Ohiofem for pointing to the tapla's posting. It is a very informative and detailed posting on potting mix and rest of the folks also contributed to it.

Regarding the main component "Pine bark fines", I went to couple of Home Depot stores and one Lowes in Dallas, TX but none of them carry it, they all have pine bark mulch though. By any chance you know where to get them or what else can be substituted for Pine bark fines.


    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 6:34PM
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prestons_garden(9B SZ 22 HZ 6 SoCal)


You can use fir bark fines instead of pine.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 12:15AM
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DWD2(10a, Sunset 17)

yaso, That is quite a list of plants. I grow many of them myself. Annual crops like strawberries, chilies, tomatoes, French beans, mint & basil, I grow in store bought, organic potting soil. All purpose organic fertilizers from suppliers like Down to Earth, Gardener & Bloome or EB Stone work well. I add a bit more nutrition to my tomatoes upon planting in 15 gal pots in the form of fish bone meal and worm castings. All of the above respond to additional nutrition as the growing season progresses which I supply as a "tea" made from worm castings. Blueberries and citrus like kumquat benefit from more specialized media in my experience. I have not grown blackberries, roses or jasmine.

There are a lot of sources of information about growing in containers out there. Before you spend much time on this forum looking for general information, I suggest you try some more authoritative sources. The horticulture departments at the University of Florida and North Carolina State University are both superb resources in my opinion. If you interested in organic growing, the ATTRA website has lots of info.

Here is an example of a NCSU publication you might find useful:

Many other universities and state extensions have sites with lots of useful info. UF & NCSU are the best I have found.

Good luck with your growing!

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 3:54AM
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shazaam(NC 7B)

For a readily available and inexpensive organic fertilizer option, you might want to consider alfalfa pellets. If you soak them in warm water for a short while in advance, they crumble nicely and can easily be incorporated into your potting mix. There's no hard and fast rule about how much to incorporate, though. You'll find widely divergent suggestions, so you'll probably have to experiment a bit to find what works best for you.

If you want to stay strictly organic, another fertilizer option worth considering is hydrolyzed fish. It's predigested, which means that the nutrients require less work from soil microbes in order for them to be available to your plants. A liquid fertilizer like that works nicely in conjunction with a dry/granular fertilizer that's incorporated in the potting mix.

Also, be sure to pay close attention to your blueberry's unique soil requirements. If you can find the pine or fir bark fines, then, in my experience, Al's 5-1-1 mix (without lime) is a great choice for blueberries.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 10:27AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Yaso: Pine fines are sold using a lot of different names, including landscape mix (Scotsman's Choice or Hapi-Gro are examples) and soil conditioner, which usually has smaller pieces of pine bark. Bags labled pine bark mulch can work, but you don't want shredded pieces or large nuggets. I have found bags of pine bark mulch at big box stores and hardware stores that are partially composted from being left out side in torn bags and have most particles the size of a dime or smaller, which is what you want. (You do not have to screen out the fine stuff.)

A quick search of the Home Depot web site shows that at least one store in Dallas carries a couple products that might be suitable. One is the Natures Helper Organic Soil Conditioner. I couldn't see what was in the bag, but it is often pine bark fines.The other is two cubic feet of pine bark mulch, which I'll link to below. You have to go to the store and look at the product.

Here is a link that might be useful: Pine bark mulch

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 1:15PM
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Thanks to all for the update.

@prestons_garden: I went few HD, Lowes and couple of local nurseries this weekend, i could find Pine, Hardwood, Ceder, Cypress mulches but not Fir bark fines.

This post was edited by yaso on Mon, Jun 10, 13 at 17:26

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 5:20PM
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@DWD, thanks to your detailed response and providing reference gardening. I did go thru all the links and in the coming weeks I plan read all of them. I had no clue when starting my gardening last year but I everyday i'm learning some thing new.

Looks like none of the organic fertilizer companies you had mentioned sell products in Texas. I did find tomato, citrus and all purpose fertilizers from Espoma in many of the local garden supply stores. Will do a research on them before buying them.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 6:45PM
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@Shazaam, thanks for pointing Alfalfa meals. I just found couple of farm products retailers selling Alfalfa in Dallas and the price is around $10 for 50lb bag. Planning to visit those stores this week.

Regarding blueberry, I found lot of interesting postings in 'Fruits' forum. I realized that my current Blueberry potting mix is not perfect, I plan to re-pot them in new potting mix that I plan to come up using 'Al' potting mix ratio

I found Hydrolyzed fish fertilizer online, will check whether it is available locally.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 7:01PM
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shazaam(NC 7B)

That's a great price for alfalfa. For anything that you can't find locally, you might want to check out Peaceful Valley Farm Supply (if you haven't already). They have an extensive selection and a very affordable $7.99 flat rate shipping option for orders up to 40 lbs.

Here is a link that might be useful: Peaceful Valley

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 7:18PM
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yaso, you can use the pine bark mulch. Pine bark and fir bark are basically the same thing.

Just make sure the bag DOES NOT say nuggets or mini nuggets! Do look for "Can be used as soil conditioner" and/or "particle size 1/2 or 3/8 and lower"

The one in the photo in the above post looks like it will work as long as it's Pine/fir bark and not hardwood. I clicked the link and the photo looks like double or triple shredded hardwood mulch! Lets hope that was an oversight by their web designer!

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 8:55PM
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DWD2(10a, Sunset 17)

My primary reason for suggesting buying an organic potting soil from a producer you trust is the company has done a lot of the hard work, assuming they are honest, adjusting the potting mix so that the critical components are where they should be. This may be too much information, but those parameters are total porosity, air space, container capacity, available water, unavailable water, bulk density, pH and cation exchange capacity. Also, nutrition (fertilizer) in some form is typically added so that you can grow at least for an initial period without additional nutrition. All of those things are actually pretty easy to test, but most folks understandably don't want to be bothered. If you can not find good organic, potting soil at one of your local garden centers (I avoid HD or Loew's), try a hydroponics store. Irrespective of what you feel about what their primary customers grow, their selection of high quality potting soils and organic components is far superior to the standard garden centers in my area and I hear everywhere.

I have been successfully growing blueberries in pots for several years. I grow Jersey, Rubel, Rancocas, Bluecrop, Elliott, Legacy, Misty, Patriot, Revielle, and, as of last Fall, Elizabeth. Yes, I like the old strains. I agree with shazaam that pH management for blueberries is atypical from most of things folks grow. I did a lot of research before I chose my media and I chose not to use the 5-1-1 media and instead went with a media recommended by Dave Wilson Nursery.
I did it because the water & nutrition management of the 2 media are different and I prefer this media which I find more forgiving. That said, you should be able to get excellent results using the 5-1-1 with careful management. Two words of caution. First, be aware that all components vary in their physical properties EVEN from the same producer. Here is one scientific publication outlining meaningful differences from various Canadian peat mosses.
The same is particularly true of pine & fir bark where tremendous physical differences have been noted in barks from the same producer harvested at different times of the year or locals tens of miles apart. The second caution is to test the pH of a test batch your media with all the goodies added prior to adding the soil sulfur. I got very lucky & the components I used following the DWN recipe landed me on a pH of 4.9 without any added soil sulfur. The same is true of the 5-1-1 or any other mix. Your blueberries will not do well at the wrong pH.

I apologize for adding to your reading list, but here are some excellent blueberry resources:

Good luck with your blueberries!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 4:35AM
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Thanks again for all the responses.

@Ohiofem, I got pine bark mulch from HD and Lowes. I think Lowes Pine Bark much could be used in the potting mix, in the bag it says that mulch are less than an inch. HD pine mulch has fine particles and also large ones.

Below is the HD Pine mulch pictures - Bag and mulch compared with quarter and dime. Next post had the Lowes one

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 6:39PM
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Here is the Lowes Pine Mulch pictures

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 6:40PM
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@spaceman, I couldn't find pine bark mulch less than 1/2 or 3/4 inch but the one i have posted from Lowes is less than 1 inch, at least that is what stated in the bag.

Hope it can be used for potting mix. thanks

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 6:45PM
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lowes is the pick of those 2 if I was buying it, maybe still a bit big though ?

I brought one of these and run bigger bark through it and it comes out pretty good :)
not sure what brands etc you have there of the blower vac mulcher things like in the photo but that one was 69 $


    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 11:17PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hi Ohiofem,

The Home Depot has the Nature's Helper at our store and it works great with screening. I think it is the best compared to other "mulch" I also use Fir bark and Orchid Bark, but if i need to make the 5-1-1 i use it right from the bag, if making the Gritty, i screen and im very happy especially with the price. ( around 5 dollars)

Thanks for posting the pic for everyone.. it is a great product!!

Take care,


This post was edited by loveplants2 on Wed, Jun 12, 13 at 10:31

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 11:41PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I would choose the Natures Helper on Laura's recommendation. She grows stunning plants. My second choice would be the Lowes mulch. If you choose that one try to get most of the big spears of sapwood out of it.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2013 at 10:12AM
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