5-1-1 mix vs Earthbox mix

edh87(7a - Durham, NC)November 15, 2012

Hi all,

Thank you for so much information, especially Al Tapla. I'm new to gardening with a few DIY earthbox-type containers. I've been frequenting GardenWeb and the Earthbox forum. Earthbox people are very adamant that the potting media should be ~70-80% peat and 20-30% perlite+vermiculite with NO compost and NO pine bark. But here, everyone is of the opinion that pine bark fines are essential to good aeration in a container. I understand that less pine bark and more peat should be used in a bottom-watering SWC to enable wicking, but can anyone explain the vast difference between NO bine park recommended by Earthbox and MAJORITY pine bark recommended here? Any opinion on which is better for wicking-type SWCs in particular?

Thank you!


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Bottom watering requires soil that wicks up water against gravity. Mixes like the 5-1-1 are intended for top watering, which, in a container, requires soil that sheds water WITH gravity. The goals are opposites. And in both cases, people have spent a lot of time, money and effort in developing mixes that work with their goals in mind.

The high-peat mix in the bottom-watered containers works because the soils are not watered from above - they only suck up just enough water for the plant roots to access and use. Any excess water is free to drain down to the reserve tank by gravity, so moisture reaches a healthy balance with soil air.

The high-pine bark mix in top-watered containers works because excess water drains with every watering, and roots get enough water through frequent re-watering. Again, moisture reaches a healthy balance.

Both mixes work, but only in their respective watering regimes. If you try to go against the logic of either soil mix/watering regime system, you're bound to fail.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 3:22PM
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edh87(7a - Durham, NC)

Yes, but I've read posts from Al Tapla and others saying that they recommend something like 5-3-1 (bark-peat-perlite) for bottom watering SWCs, which is still very different from Earthbox's recommendations for 0-4-1 (NO bark, ~80% peat, 20% perlite/vermiculite).

    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 3:37PM
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After using SWC's for about a decade, I found a mix of about 50% peat and 50% something else (turface, bark,..) was good.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 11:37PM
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