What if you love 5-1-1 mix but hate perlite? Replacement?

plantcrazed101July 19, 2014

Hey y'all,

I have definitely noticed a difference the closer I move towards a 5-1-1 mix. I've made slow changes because I've learned in growing plants that changing EVERYTHING SUDDENLY generally leads to disaster, and it's a lot less stressful to try something on one plant.

I just hate working with perlite. It makes me cough all day when I use it, even with a mask, and then it disintegrates.

So can anyone suggest an alternative to perlite for 5-1-1?

And will someone please ask Al just to write a book already? lol

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jodik_gw

I'm with ya on the book writing! I do think Al should put together a book on "The Art, and Physics, of Successful Container Growing"... as a suggested title. (I have several more in mind!) ;-)

Perlite is useful to me because of its weight... it weighs almost nothing, which is helpful when we're talking about very large containers. I'm sure there is a substitute, but I'm not certain what that might be... I have no issues with the use of perlite, myself.

When I work with it, I sift it so the dust blows away from me, and I usually wear a good set of garden gloves when doing anything plant related, so... I wonder what would be a good substitute?

Al? Josh? Mike? Calistoga Al? Laura? Anyone?

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 8:40AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Though I don't mess around with a 'recipe' since I use an excellent manufactured medium (Fafard professional heavy weight mixes), I keep perlite handy for propagation purposes. Rinsing it well prior to using it really, really helps.

I use a kitchen stainless wire sieve, the kind you use to filter out the solids when making a good stock or sauce, lol. Don't worry.....I have two of them and one never leaves the kitchen.

Use a low pressure fan spray so that the dry perlite doesn't fly all over the place initially. Once wet, it stays put.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 9:00AM
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calistoga_al

My experience is the same as rhizo 1, but if I were to substitute in the 5-1-1 mix I think I would try the Lava Rock. Al

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 9:38AM
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spaceman13(6b)

Once when I ran out of pearlite in the middle of mixing a small batch, so I substituted TurfAce for about 2/3 of the pearlite. It worked out OK. It may not have been optimal, but it wasn't detrimental enough to notice, for me anyhow.

I thought about replacing all of the pearlite with TurfAce for my Salvia Guaranitica 'Black and Blue' as they are very thirsty plants, and are the first to wilt, and MUST be watered daily when temps are over 90F. Perhaps I'll wait to hear what the "big guns" have to say before I try it!

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 11:16AM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

I would say that scoria or pumice could replace perlite

Also, if you are coughing because of dust that is a problem. Perlite dust can lead to silicosis. You should wash it and wet it down before use.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 11:52AM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

As a test I'm using pine bark and diatomaceous earth (DE). So far so good. The DE holds internal water similar to Turface so it might be a good test for hot climates.

TYG

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 1:38PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Many of us have played around with the 5-1-1.
I've used Turface, Pumice, and Lava Rock (Scoria) as substitutes. You'll just need to adjust the way you water while learning how the water moves through the mix, but the mix should work just fine.

Josh

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 8:43PM
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spaceman13(6b)

Yard Guy, I an doing same. what are your percentages? I added one part DE to the standard 5-1-1. It held more water but not enough to keep my 'Black and Blue' Salvia from wilting a bit in 90+F temps. I have to water it daily.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 10:35PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

You can also just leave it out.

This post was edited by edweather on Mon, Jul 21, 14 at 1:16

    Bookmark   July 21, 2014 at 1:15AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I use DE, but you have the same dust problems. Spaceman, some plants just suck so much water, I'm not sure you can get to the point where the soil holds enough? Increase compost portion (Peat), can help. using soil moist crystals is another way In my expierence you can use a 1-1-1 ratio that is a very wet soil. Perlite may work better than pumice, lava or DE at that level of compost to pine bark as you do need that drainage factor.
As to the poster I would try lava or pumice. less dusty and work rather well. DE is probably just as or even more dusty. I would also increase amount to 5-1-2. Well you may have to play around with ratios to get the drainage right.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2014 at 6:16AM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Spaceman: in this test I'm using about a 3-1 ratio of pine bark to DE. I'm only testing this on 2 white spruce seedlings but both appear to be enjoying the mix very much, and I noticed another round of new growth has started.

Of course tree seedlings need far less water than other plants. If I were growing tomatoes or something I would maybe try a 1-1 mix. In hot weather you would probably need to water daily no matter what soil you are using.

TYG

    Bookmark   July 21, 2014 at 7:29AM
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plantcrazed101

Okay Lava Rock it is! Now just to be sure, are y'all referring to the red lava rock, aka scoria that they sell at big box stores?

Also, is the Scoria fairly easy to break? I'm guessing I'd have to break it down.

You know it seems like perlite falls apart before the pine bark does in the 511! lol

So I will try this mix:

5 parts pine bark
1 part peat (I'll probably just use my leftover potting soil)
2 parts crushed scoria

Question time:

What size should I get this scoria down to?

If the chunks of Scoria are too big, what is the consequence? I think I read that too large chunks create a larger perched water table...is that right?

Same question as above but for pine bark, if the chunks are too large, will that hold too much water? Not drain? or not hold enough water? etc.

You think I could find scoria already in smaller sizes?

    Bookmark   July 21, 2014 at 9:51AM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

You are going to want to find 3/8" scoria. The stuff at the bbs is too big and unless you are only making a small amount, breaking it up is a PITA.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2014 at 11:00AM
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plantcrazed101

thank you for telling me that! I had feeling it might be huge pain...so yes I will be looking for 3/8" scoria...any suggestions for finding that around Austin, tx?

    Bookmark   July 21, 2014 at 11:48AM
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jodik_gw

You might try stores that deal in Hydroponics or Bonsai... or, you might try giving Google a search and see what pops up...

I have no idea if aquarium gravel might come in lava rock pieces... but that may another avenue to search...

I'm not really sure... just thinking off the top of my head. I hope you can locate what you're after!

    Bookmark   July 21, 2014 at 12:58PM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

Try to find an aggregate supplier or a major landscape gravel supplier. They are probably near a ready mix concrete place. Maybe someone in the area will chime in.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2014 at 7:28PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hi Guys!!

I also like the Perlite because if the weight issue. But If was to use an alternate , I would probably use Dry Stall ( pumice). Only because its lighter than granite or Cherrystone especially if your looking to keep the weight down. Lava rock ( Scoria) is another great substitute as well.

I have included a pick of the Dry Stall ( pumice). You can find this in feed and seed stores. Or anywhere they sell horse supplies. I found mine at Southern States. There is a Stall Dry that is DE, so be careful... You want Pumice.. Also look for tractor supply stores. They sell Granigrit ( growers size). Manna pro. ( poultry). No oyster shells. Granite only...

I love the Cherrystone ( quartzite). But if you want it lighter, go with Scoria or Pumice( Dry Stall)

I would also like to see a book, from Al... That would be awesome!!!

Hope this helps!!!

Have a great day everyone!! Nice to see you all!!! ;-)

Laura

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 10:57AM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Here is a close up of the Dry Stall..

Unsifted...

;-)

Laura

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 11:00AM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Hey Laura, thanks for the Dry Stall info. I've heard of this but have not found any locally. How does this compare with DE? Heavier or lighter? More or less absorbent? Based on the photo you posted it looks very similar.

Thanks.

TYG

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 11:17AM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hi yard guy!!!

I have added some Info below... I know that the pumice is larger pieces that help in the 5-1-1 mix ... You can see where and how they are from the earth below... DE (Diatomaceous Earth) is usually to ground and to fine for our needs in the 5-1-1 unless you can find it in the proper size . We use it for our pools to filter the water ...

Pumice

Specimen of highly porous pumice from Teide volcano on Tenerife, Canary Islands. Density of specimen approximately 0.25 g/cm3; scale in centimeters.
Pumice /ˈpʌmɨs/, called pumicite in its powdered or dust form, is a volcanic rock that consists of highly vesicular rough textured volcanic glass, which may or may not contain crystals. It is typically light colored. Scoria is another vesicular volcanic rock that differs from pumice in having larger vesicles and thicker vesicle walls and being dark colored and denser.[1][2]

Pumice is created when super-heated, highly pressurized rock is violently ejected from a volcano. The unusual foamy configuration of pumice happens because of simultaneous rapid cooling and rapid depressurization. The depressurization creates bubbles by lowering the solubility of gases (including water and CO2) that are dissolved in the lava, causing the gases to rapidly exsolve (like the bubbles of CO2 that appear when a carbonated drink is opened). The simultaneous cooling and depressurization freezes the bubbles in the matrix. Eruptions under water are rapidly cooled and the large volume of pumice created can be a shipping hazard.[3]

What is diatomaceous earth?

Diatomaceous earth is made from the fossilized remains of tiny, aquatic organisms called diatoms. Their skeletons are made of a natural substance called silica. Over a long period of time, diatoms accumulated in the sediment of rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans. Today, silica deposits are mined from these areas.

Silica is very common in nature and makes up 26% of the earth's crust by weight. Various forms of silica include sand, emerald, quartz, feldspar, mica, clay, asbestos, and glass. Silica does not exist naturally in its pure form. It usually reacts with oxygen and water to form silicon dioxide. Silicon dioxide has two naturally occurring forms: crystalline and amorphous. Most diatomaceous earth is made of amorphous silicon dioxide. However, it can contain very low levels of crystalline silicon dioxide. The first pesticide products containing silicon dioxide (diatomaceous earth) were registered in 1960 to kill insects and mites.

I'm not that scientific.. Lol. So I figured I'd post this for you!!! ;-)

Hope this helps!!!

Laura

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 12:04PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Thanks Laura. Trust me I'm not all that scientific either...

The DE that I use is about 1/4" in size after screening. The "pool filter" type is all powder I believe and not what I use.

The DryStall product looks very similar to the DE that I use. I'm guessing both hold good amounts of water and release it to plants. Maybe the products are interchangeable?

I'll post a photo of the DE I'm using when I get home this evening.

Thanks.

TYG

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 12:56PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I use Optisorb for my source of DE. It's sold at O'Reilly's auto store. Almost every auto store has either a clay product or a DE product. Napa Floor Dry (#8822) or CarQuest Premium Automotive Oil Absorbant .
The Carquest is excellent, larger pieces very nice!
Here is Optisorb

Here is a link that might be useful: DE products

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 1:28PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Drew: Yes that's what I use, OptiSorb from CarQuest. Nice DE product with particle size slightly larger than NAPA Floor Dry.

Laura : Do you remember what a bag of DryStall costs? The OptiSorb DE is about $9.00 for 25#.

Thanks.

TYG

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 1:43PM
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zeuspaul(9b SoCal)

There is a BIG difference between pool DE and the granular stuff in the floor dry products. Pool DE is crystalline silica and is not good for your lungs. The floor dry is amorphous silica.

I use Blue Ribbon cat litter (DE) available at Dollar Tree for a buck per 4.5 pounds or about $5.56 for 25 pounds.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 4:38PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Zeuspaul: Yes I have heard that the Blue Ribbon cat litter is excellent DE to use. I have not been able to find any to test. We have a couple of Dollar Tree stores in my area, and several other "dollar" discount stores, but all of them sell cheap, unfired clay cat litter which turns to mud as soon as it touches water. So finding this Blue Ribbon DE cat litter totally depends on where you live.

That pool grade DE is very dusty and bad to breathe no doubt. The OptiSorb isn't nearly as bad. There's some dust of course, but if you screen it outdoors on a breezy day it's no problem. Perlite and, I assume, DryStall, are both the same way. There's a fair amount of dust in all these products.

Laura: I looked online and found that DryStall is about $16.00 for a #40 bag. Sound about right? Just curious, when you screen it approximately how much fine material do you lose? Out of a #40 bag, would you say you can use about 1/2 or 2/3 of the bag?The photo of DryStall in your hand looked quite dusty. We don't have any Southern States stores this far north, but I might be able to get it from the local feed/farm supply store via special order.

Although DryStall looks interesting I'm not sure it really provides anything different than perlite. Both are sterile and help drainage, both are inert, and neither absorb water but both hold some water in the rough surface areas.

Thanks!

TYG

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 6:25PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

TYG!!!

I paid 8.99. For a 50 lb bag... Very cheap here.. Horse country here in Virginia!! Had a hard time finding it though.. I like both, so if you have the right size DE, that's awesome. Like josh mentioned, lots of substitutes... Just be careful on the hand when watering until you get the feel...

I would probably get 2/3 of the bag for use after sifting out the dust particles..
Great thread... Lots of great info!!!

Have a great night.

Laura

    Bookmark   July 23, 2014 at 2:06AM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Laura: Thanks again for the good info on DryStall. Your price of 8.99 for 50# bag is great, much cheaper than in this area. Probably a better idea for me to stick with DE, granite, and perlite since I can find them locally at a decent price. The DryStall would have to be special ordered and would cost about double compared to what you are paying,

TYG

    Bookmark   July 23, 2014 at 7:27AM
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jodik_gw

When using Diatomaceous Earth, it's very important that you obtain the right type, or grade, for your uses...

There are different grades of DE, aside from the size... I actually obtain Food Grade DE, which comes in a powdered form, to use as an organic insecticide. We also use it for our health, mixing a small amount into our coffee daily to help lower cholesterol, blood pressure, aid in digestion, among a long list of other benefits. I also use it to lightly dust our dogs for fleas and ticks. But we're talking about Food Grade DE, specifically for the uses I mention.

The Diatomaceous Earth Laura mentions, which is larger in particle size, CANNOT be ingested! It is NOT food grade! Breathing the dust is dangerous, as well! It's generally used for pool filters and other things. It has been processed... kiln fired, I believe, which changes its structure... so it's very different than the food grade.

Please be certain you understand the different grades of DE and their uses beforehand, and be very cautious! It's a very good idea to wear a mask and eye protection when working with it!

    Bookmark   July 23, 2014 at 9:16AM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Great point Jodi!!!

As always, great information!!!!

Have a great day!!!

Laura

This post was edited by loveplants2 on Wed, Jul 23, 14 at 10:52

    Bookmark   July 23, 2014 at 10:31AM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Jodi : Great points, thanks for mentioning that info. The DE that should be used in container soil building is the coarse type you find in auto part stores sold as oil absorbent or, if you are lucky enough to find it, DE-based cat litter.

The very fine pool filter DE or the food grade DE is not used for building container soils.

TYG

    Bookmark   July 23, 2014 at 10:50AM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

This is the DE product that I use (OptiSorb brand) and what it looks like after screening out the fines. I use a 1/8" screen so what you see here is everything 1/8" and larger, up to about 3/8". I have tried the NAPA Floor Dry DE and it's also quite good, but has slightly smaller particle sizes based on the sample bag I tried.

Anyway, if you are looking for a Turface substitute this is the type of DE you would use in container soils. It's typically sold at auto parts stores and used an an oil absorbent. As Zeuspaul mentioned earlier, it's also available in some areas of the USA as Blue Ribbon Cat Litter and sold at Dollar Tree stores regionally but I cannot find it in my area.

As you can see, this type of DE is far different than the very fine, powdery pool filter type of DE that many people use.

Jodi mentioned using "food grade" DE but I admit I've never used it so I do not know what it looks like. I'll let Jodi or others on this forum comment on that.

Thanks.

TYG

    Bookmark   July 23, 2014 at 4:53PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Crisp picture, Yard Guy!

Food Grade DE is basically a fine powder with a flour-like consistency. Almost as fine as Dolomitic Lime. One would never confuse it for a coarse potting mix amendment.

Josh

    Bookmark   July 23, 2014 at 4:55PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Thanks Josh. I wanted to post that photo to show everyone what DE looks like in case they had never used it before. Also I think I owed Laura a photo in return for her DryStall photo lol.

From the way you described the food grade DE it sounds similar in appearance to the swimming pool filter version of DE. I've helped friends do some pool work from time to time and the DE used in those filters is very fine. As you said, that type of DE reminds me of baking flour. I'm guessing the food grade DE has a similar texture. I admit that I didn't know you could use in coffee and similar things to reduce blood pressure and the like! Jodi might have to tell us more about that when she has the time.

TYG

    Bookmark   July 23, 2014 at 7:00PM
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jodik_gw

Food grade DE comes in a fine, powdered form that looks rather white with a slight grayish tint. As Josh said, it wouldn't be mistaken for the grit looking type of DE that's used as a medium ingredient.

I order food grade DE online from a company out west... Earthworks Health, I believe the company is called... they have a website with a ton of information... link below for your convenience.

It's mined right there in the same state, taken out of the earth naturally, and is very reasonably priced. I think we paid about $14 for 10 pounds, including shipping. That amount lasts us a very long time, and as I mentioned earlier, we use it mainly for health reasons... though it also makes a wonderful natural insecticide and an anti-parasitic agent for pets or humans.

The health benefits of ingesting about a tablespoon per day are many, and include helping to lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, aid in digestion, help to build stronger hair and nails, help to keep skin healthy, rid the body of parasites, and the list goes on.

I mix about a tablespoon with my cup of coffee in the morning... I have to keep stirring as it doesn't really dissolve, but it's odorless, flavorless, and loaded with benefits.

Because of DE's structure... what's it naturally made of... the microscopic pieces are incredibly sharp and cut insects or parasites to ribbons. It's so fine in powdered form, however, that it does not harm pets or humans... it does, however, have the great benefit of helping to clean out the entire digestive tract, which allows for better health.

I also use it in the garden to help kill insects on my plants... it's completely organic. I lightly dust the leaves of plants that appear to have bug damage. It does need re-application after a rain, but it's cheap enough. I also place a small bit on my windowsills where I keep my indoor plants, and it kills anything that sneaks in and comes in contact with it... like those ladybug look-alikes, box elder bugs, earwigs, etc...

I've never worked with the DE for pool filters, so I can't really comment on it... except to say that the dust is very dangerous if inhaled or if it gets in the eyes. It's a terrible irritant. When processed, it turns into a glass-like structure/substance, from what I understand... and it can be dangerous if breathed in or if it comes in contact with mucous membrane, like the eyes. You would not want to mistake this grade of DE for the food grade! The grade for pool filters is NOT edible, or for use on pets or plants!

I've never worked with DE in larger particled sizes... as in cat litter or oil dry products. But I must say, it looks like a great substitute for turface. I will have to keep my eyes open next time I go shopping... or need auto parts!

Come to think of it... my son works for O'Reilly's... I could probably get a discount on the product, if they have it in stock. I'll have to ask him. I could sure use some!

Here is a link that might be useful: FOOD GRADE for Health

    Bookmark   July 23, 2014 at 9:51PM
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