Canadian Gritty Mix

dogg1967September 7, 2013

I have been a Gardenweb lurker for some time now and have spent hours absorbing valuable information concerning soil properties, specifically regarding Al's Gritty Mix. I was certainly intrigued by the notion of offering a better growing medium for my house plants, but ultimately lacked true motivation. Little did I know, that motivation would soon come...

I finally took the plunge when I repotted my very large Schefflera with Vigaro potting soil and the next day was overwhelmed with fungas gnats. See what I mean by motivation. I went on a whirlwind scavenger hunt to find the gritty mix ingredients to rectify my gnat issue with a proper repotting in a high quality medium. Now, being in Northern Ontario, Canada, I expected this to be a challenge in itself.

Anyways, what follows is my journey. It is a journey that is still in progress and owes everything to those pioneers who travelled before me. Thank you Al, Josh, Jodi, Jessica and Mike to name just a few. Your contributions to Gardenweb acted as my inspiration...

This was not difficult in terms of utilizing the rather expensive Repti Bark. I have yet to locate another source of fir/pine bark fines.

This ingredient could be found in Southern Ontario, but is no where to be seen (as of yet) in my Northern Ontario market. And, Canada just does not have Napa Auto stores as far as I know. So, I went to my trusty Canadian Tire store and searched for a floor dry product that was viable. I found Qualisorb which claims to be basically 100% calcined diatomaceous earth.

My local rock centre has crushed granite, but most of it looks to be too fine. I searched out local feed stores and found a poultry grit #2 grower size.

The Mix
I initially sifted all three ingredients with some old patio door screen (done at the end of my driveway while my neighbours looked on in baffled amusement) and I further rinsed the granite as well as soaked the bark.

Note: For my American friends, that's a Canadian dime I'm using for reference which is basically the same size as your American one (but much better looking with the Bluenose sailing ship).

Here's the final mix:

And here it is in action with the aforementioned Schefflera:

The mix does indeed drain quite quickly and will take a period of adjustment in watering habits (as well as avoiding saucer overflow which would truly vex my wife), but after a week, the big plant seems to be adjusting without any issues. I look forward to slowly repotting all my house plants and watching them flourish.

I'll keep you posted on my progress... thanks again!

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congrats on the journey. Gritty really needs MUCH attention (watering and fertilization)...and has been abandoned by me. That is not to say it is not good. It has it's place.

This post was edited by fireduck on Sun, Sep 8, 13 at 16:36

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 4:35PM
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I hate to burst your bubble, but Qualisorb has a problem in this usage. If I may explain?
I belong to another forum and there they have been testing DE as a cuttings starter and seed mixture. I joined in and bought Qualisorb (I'm Canadian like you), but it doesn't work the same way as the USA stuff.
I tested is as a seed starter, hopeless. Finally tried rooting tomato suckers, no go!
There is something different about Qualisorb, possibly .ph, or they might be adding growth inhibitors, all I know is it's virtually inert.
What the outcome for you will be I'm not sure, it does wick moisture very well. So if that's why you need it, then it's OK.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 8:05PM
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Hmmm, as calcined DE, I would think the Qualisorb would simply serve for its moisture retentive properties in the mix. Now, if it does throw the ph off somehow or does contain some kind of growth inhibitor, then problems will occur. I did check out its MSDS sheet and it said it was basically 100% DE with I'm not using it for nutrients in any way as the grower pretty much has complete control of this aspect with the gritty mix. I added Gypsum to the mix as well and plan to water with epsom salts while using MG. I can't get ahold of the Dyna Gro unfortunately.

Thanks for the heads up... I'll have to keep an eye on the plants I've transplanted.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 9:11PM
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Hmmm, as calcined DE, I would think the Qualisorb would simply serve for its moisture retentive properties in the mix. Now, if it does throw the ph off somehow or does contain some kind of growth inhibitor, then problems will occur. I did check out its MSDS sheet and it said it was basically 100% DE with I'm not using it for nutrients in any way as the grower pretty much has complete control of this aspect with the gritty mix. I added Gypsum to the mix as well and plan to water with epsom salts while using MG. I can't get ahold of the Dyna Gro unfortunately.

Thanks for the heads up... I'll have to keep an eye on the plants I've transplanted.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 9:12PM
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Oxboy555(Las Vegas)

You're supposed to use maple leafs instead of bark in your mix, Dogg. :)

    Bookmark   September 10, 2013 at 4:33PM
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Did you buy that grit at TSC by chance? If you did, I am 98.9% sure it is not granite. If it is the same product I found (see link below) it is crushed dolomite marble chips and contains Mg and Ca which is not good and useable.

Just went through this about 10 days ago. Here is the link to what i found etc.

My first post is very near to the bottom.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2013 at 6:12PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

In addition to the other comments (which bear investigation), I can see that the bark is too large. In Gritty Mix, the bark is screened to 1/4 inch. Reptibark is too large to used out of the bag.


    Bookmark   December 17, 2013 at 8:53PM
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The Whitestar Grit actually says "granite" on the tag in very fine print, so I'm hoping that is not false advertising. I picked it up at a local feedstore.

I was under the impression from several other posts that Reptibark could be used out of the bag, but visually speaking, I thought it looked a tad too large when I put it all together. Anyways, I'm living with it until Spring then I'll look at mixing up another properly sized batch if possible. In the meantime, the plants I transplanted into the mix seem to be thriving and I also used a predominately bark mixture for my holiday cacti, so at least the Reptibark is of some use.

All in all, I'm happy to be making a step in the right direction in bringing a better growing medium to my plants.... baby steps, as they say.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2013 at 9:53PM
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About Repti-Bark, there are indeed a number of older posts around this forum saying it can be used straight out of the bag, then a bit of a backpedalling claiming the smaller size bags (4 quarts?) have smaller pieces than the larger size bags.

I've purchased a lot of reptibark in all bag sizes from 4 quart to 24 quart and find the particle size to be very consistent, independent of bag size. You can use it out of the bag directly for 5-1-1, since almost all of it is smaller than 1/2", but only about 40% of it is smaller than 1/4", so you must screen through at least a 1/4" screen when making gritty mix.

I made my first batch (a few gallons worth, unfortunately) using reptibark straight out of the bag based on those forum postings, and quickly found the bark always rose to the top of the mix due it being significantly larger than the other compenents.

If you want to fix your mix, and you're confident about the ratio of turface:granite, you can dump it in a big bucket of water and separate the bark because it floats and the other components sink, but its a bit of work.


    Bookmark   December 18, 2013 at 9:43AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Yes, Reptibark is great for Holiday Cacti, but as Daniel says it is too large for proper Gritty Mix. The particles separate, leaving you with a mix of smaller particles in the lower layers - which leads to perched water.


    Bookmark   December 18, 2013 at 11:38AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I agree that Reptibark is too big, but it can work fairly well in some circumstances. It's certainly better than something like MiracleGro. When I first decided to make gritty mix about three years ago, it was the only pine or fir bark I could find. I needed to repot a Clivia that was showing signs of root rot in a peat-based mix. I ended up transplanting about 10 clivias into gritty mix made with Reptibark, grani-grit and NAPA floor dry (calcined DE). They were all large, mature plants in 2-3 gallon pots. Most of those clivias are still in that mix, and they have done very well. Clivias have roots that are similar to orchid roots and can even grow epiphytically. Your schefflera will probably be fine until you can switch to a mix with a better sized bark next summer. These days, I have a good source of PBF, which I have used for gritty mix for many different sized plants with great results. I have transplanted a few of the clivias from that original Reptibark mix, and their roots were healthy and vigorous. My story is in the link below.

Here is a link that might be useful: My original gritty mix post

    Bookmark   December 21, 2013 at 3:55PM
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It's not a backpedal... it's more of a discovery.

I only buy the small bags of Reptibark and have never had an issue using it straight out of the bag... that would be purchased and for use within my own environment, altered slightly for individual use... but I did discover that the larger bags do contain larger pieces of bark. (I'm assuming the larger bags are typically bought and used for larger reptiles, which would make sense as related to particle size.)

Orchid barks and their particle size, not to mention various mulches and other products, vary by location and manufacturer, too... as do the oil dry products and other ingredients used, etc...

As every grower has a slightly different environment to deal with, and slightly different ingredients available to them... I would think that everyone would do a bit of investigative inquiry, themselves... as opposed to simple presumption. An ingredient that works for me may not be acceptable to someone else. And what's available to me may not be the same thing available elsewhere.

Quality seems to differ slightly by location, and as quality of almost everything is falling in a commercial sense, it would be most helpful to explore and examine the size and quality of potential items available to the individual... before diving in and just using them.

I am in the habit of adjusting my mix, which is based upon the concepts of Al's Gritty Mix, to the individual plant and its location within my own environment. Some plants do very well in straight Gritty Mix, while a few others seem to require a little more moisture retention.

For my use, I have found that the basic CONCEPTS of Al's teachings are excellent, very sound, and extremely workable... science and physics tend to be like that... but, for my use, I have found that slight adjustments are sometimes necessary, keeping the original concepts in mind.

One size does not always fit all... is the basic lesson I have learned through much experimentation. It's not necessarily "what" we use that's of the utmost importance... though we do know that some items work better than others... it's more "why" we are using specific ingredients that is most important to keep in mind.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2013 at 11:39AM
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I believe it was your video that actually spurred me to make the conversion to a more aeration friendly mix jodik, and so I really want to thank you for that (along with Al, of course, who gave me multitudes of valuable information to read).

No problems making adjustments as I travel down this path to greater growing happiness. I'm just happy to be on the road! I'll need to do some more investigative work in the spring to find me some real pine fines. Anyone in Ontario happen to stumble across a good supply?

Thanks to all who have made both myself and my plants happier (although my wife would like a word with all of you as the house is, according to her, "too full of plants!").

    Bookmark   December 22, 2013 at 6:54PM
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I used the same granite chips, found in farm supply store, it was $9.60/25kg

Check Gro-Bark - it was recommended to me. They have locations in Georgetown, Milton & Waterloo. They probably supply lots of garden centres too, and I believe they may carry Fafard products.

Where in Ontario are you?


This post was edited by rina_ on Mon, Dec 23, 13 at 1:14

    Bookmark   December 23, 2013 at 12:48AM
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Happy Holidays everyone!

Yes Jodi brings up a good point. Depending where you are located you will find different ingredients for your soil mixes. If you can't find pine bark in the suggested size then you may have to use the ReptiBark even though the particle size may not be ideal. Same with granite. Since granite does not retain moisture or add nutrients it could be replaced with similar ingredients available locally.

I can't tell you all how many times a forum member said they went to their local chain store and found a specific ingredient, but my local store did not carry that particular brand or product.


    Bookmark   December 23, 2013 at 7:39AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

The bark that I purchase is too large as well, and so it must be screened to the appropriate size. Seldom will one find an economical bark that is perfect.


    Bookmark   December 23, 2013 at 10:18AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I have no application for grity types of media but I am getting into 5-1-1 formula, with some variation.

I bough 3 bags of small bags here from Lowes @ $4.50 per bag . It is perfect. it does not need to be sifted. But if I wanted to to do that I can use the big ones at the bottom and on the top (as mulch) I just made a mix and re potted few pepper plants.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2013 at 6:51PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hello Everyone!

I just wanted to comment since I have had a few emails about Reptibark.

This will do for those that can't find a suitable substitute. I agree, it is costly and when i buy my bags I wait until they go on sale and buy a couple to have on hand. My Fir Bark is screened over a 1/4 inch screen and I keep the larger pieces for orchids.

Like Jodi mentioned, the smaller bags seem to have smaller pieces. But I would screen just to be sure if there is any question. Once you have the feel for what it looks like and the proper ratio, it won't float or be a problem at all. I also moisten my mix when I getting ready to repot. The mix ( bark) will retain moisture and then it seems to keep it in its proper mix when adding to the container.

Reptibark is 100 percent Fir Bark and is a great product. To use when you are limited or until you can find a better value on bark .

The final mix will speak volumes and when you see how it drains and allows the trees roots to be properly aerated , you will see why it works . I can't say enough about making it and using it as mentioned above!

Good luck to my friends that have asked so many great questions!!'

Keep up the good work!!! ;-)

I also agree with Josh, you will never find the perfect bark.. Hands on is the key.

Take care,


Screening Reptibark over my 1/4 inch screen.

The mix in equal parts...

Take care,


    Bookmark   December 23, 2013 at 10:02PM
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seysonn and Laura,

Finding the "right" size of pine or fir bark right out of the bag can be very difficult, especially in fall and winter in the upper Midwest and, I would believe, Canada as well. All of the big box stores around here have long ago removed the majority of their garden supplies and typically don't get new shipments in until late March or early April. Until then, no pine bark. I'm sure in warmer climates pine or fir bark is available year-round.

That's the one advantage of using Repti-Bark. It's always available, even though the cost is very high compared to 2 and 3 CF bags of pine bark.


    Bookmark   December 24, 2013 at 7:46AM
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Hey folks...
Well, the Great Canadian Gritty Mix experiment continues... (as reported from North Bay, Ontario)...

Despite some posts cautioning a few of my alternative ingredients (the grit and the Qualisorb), plants that have been transplanted (including the beastly Schefflera) are doing well. I still have yet to find a cheap pine bark fine and still use Repti-bark but have worked in better quality control with more diligent screening.

Anyways, thanks to all that contribute to the threads here at Gardenweb as I have thoroughly enjoyed learning from all of you in some way or another. It has helped me become a better custodian of my plants...

PS to Al in particular... Did you know is selling bagged gritty mix called "Gritty Mix Special Imperial Potting Mix"? Ha!

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 10:49PM
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Dogg: As long as your plants are doing well, that's what really matters. Many members here cannot find the perfect or ideal ingredients so we use what we have and can find. It sounds like your ingredients are promoting good plant growth.

The garden center where my pine bark comes from is closing for the season. All plants, and mulch is half price. I bought a couple of extra bags of pine bark mulch so I will have them for next spring. I have very little storage space in my garage, but if I had a big pole barn or something I would have bought about 20 bags. That's about all they had left.

Since you are in Canada, and Canada is home to millions of pine and fir trees, I would think you could easily find pine or fir bark there. Maybe Canadians don't use as much pine bark for mulch as I think.

Happy growing.


    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 1:51PM
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So I've mixed up a new batch of Canadian Gritty Mix taking the advice of many to sift my Reptibark with 1/4 mesh to eliminate overly large pieces. This mix also substitutes some perlite in place of granite to lighten the load a bit. It's a 2-2-1-1 Mix: 2 parts bark, 2 parts Turface, 1 part granite, 1 part perlite....

Sizing looks a lot more uniform. Now off to repot a variety of my plants.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 2:31PM
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It looks beautiful!

Once we understand the concept of the Gritty and 511 Mixes, we can easily adjust depending on what ingredients we can source locally, what types of plants we're growing, the size of pot and plant, and our own individual micro-environments... creating a mix that allows for excellent root health and gives a wider margin of error in watering.

I use ingredients very similar to yours... ReptiBark in small bags, coarse perlite, granite chips, and turface if I can score some. I adjust ratios to suit different plants and pots, and everything I have seems to love it!

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 7:57AM
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Thanks for the encouragement jodik! A lot of your posts have been inspirational in my journey.

TYG: I just found out that a RONA store here in my city offers Gro-Bark products and they have some promising pine mulches as you can see from this link...

So maybe, just maybe, the search for great soil mix ingredients got a little bit easier (and less expensive too).

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 11:04AM
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I had to look up RONA and see what it was. Looks similar to a Lowe's or Home Depot.

As Jodi and others have mentioned many times on here there's nothing wrong with using the ReptiBark. If it works for you, and it's readily available, then you are in business. I bought a bag to try it. The fir bark pieces were a bit larger than what I expected, and it was pricey. But the good news is that you can reuse the soil for many years before the fir bark breaks down so the cost/investment isn't that bad when looking at it that way.

The pine bark I use is quite inexpensive, less that $3.00 US for a 2CF bag, but the bark is not pre-screened (see attached photo, pine bark right out of the bag). So for making 5-1-1 this stuff is perfect with a single 1/2" screen, but if I made gritty mix with this pine bark I'd have to screen it twice. Also, since this bark is already somewhat composted it won't last as long in a soil mix as will the ReptiBark.

So if you find pine bark in your area, that's great. If not, the ReptiBark works fine. Your latest batch of gritty mix looks perfect.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 4:23PM
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Edit - just realized I already gave you this advice back in December...sorry...

the info below is duplicate then-
If you have space, you could buy in bulk from GroBark directly, much less $ than buying by bags. They have locations in Georgetown, Milton & Waterloo (I picked up stuff from Milton yard before).

This post was edited by rina_ on Wed, Aug 13, 14 at 19:07

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 7:03PM
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Wow... thanks, Dogg! It's a very good feeling to know that something I said made a positive impact on someone else, helping them along the journey through gardening! I am flattered, and humbled. :-)

The only reason I use ReptiBark is because I only have to make small batches of medium at a time. I only use Gritty Mix for my potted bulbs and plants that come inside for the winter... in other words, my "houseplant collection". If someone needs a large quantity of fir bark, ReptiBark would not be economically viable.

In that case, I would search big box stores, look for a local orchid grower, a mulch company, or some other industry/company that would deal in larger quantities.

Even if the bark you source is located a bit of a distance away, you could plan on making a special trip and acquiring as much as you can... so you have some stockpiled.

Once I get all my plants re-potted, I won't need to mix another batch for 2 or 3 years... unless I happen to add anyone to my collection, that is! I just recently did a re-pot on most of my bulbs, so I won't need to play with medium ingredients for a while!

Looking at that GroBark site... I would ask them if they have some pine bark that's not quite so composted. (I am assuming they acquire it and allow it to compost.) Maybe it will look better in person... the photos of what they have are kind of small, and most of it looks... to my eyes, anyway... like it's already quite composted. I think I would ask if they had anything not so far along in the composting process.

Good luck! :-)

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 8:55AM
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Good point Jodi. Composted pine bark (like the PB in my posting above) works great for 5-1-1 but not so well for gritty mix. If going to the trouble to make gritty mix, and reusing that soil for several years, then fresh bark is a better way to go.


    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 9:12AM
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