newbie overwhelmed by gritty mix info

mrtulinDecember 28, 2010

Gritty mix is new to me, and finding and mixing the ingredients seems like more than I can take on! It's the dead of winter in Massachusetts; there's a new 18 inches of snow, all the spaceI have a kitchen table to work on and my storage is in the basement....involving a very steep flight of stairs.

What is the simplest way to get the ingredients for this miracle mix? Is there an acceptable mix to which particular materials can be added for a good approximation of gritty mix?

I'm not a professional, so I don't need to start with a huge quantity.

Other than an amaryllis and orchid or two I've killed recently, I haven'tbeen serious about houseplants in decades.

However, I have six amaryllis and a beautiful orchid I've made a commitment to, and I'm willing to get serious.

I am an experienced outdoor gardener and used to experimenting and taking losses philosophically. But for some reason, I'm intimidated by this!

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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

Were I in your neighborhood I would gladly share with you. Perhaps you have a knowledgeable container gardener nearby. Look for a bonsai club in your town or county. Al

    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 8:42AM
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There are two bonsai shops in Mass that I would suggest Locations are
Bonsai West Littleton Mass ( Is that Rte 2a or 119 Mike ?) N.E Bonsai Bellingham Rte 126 S. both places have webb sites for hours and directions

Other shops are
Rte 146 N has a Worms Way and a manager that grows & displays orchids at the store other employees grow and display various plants there as well... from hydro crops to succulents there not really up to date on the " mix " you are looking for and you could be redirected to a bagged soil stick to your guns if you go here they're old school but still very knowledgeable with due respect.

Russels garden and gift Rte 20 East, Wayland Ma does offer limited product as a second market for NE Bonsai. For a garden center IMO there actually very well stocked for potting media from free draining to how they wont look at you funny when you mention that you want to make your own mixes or soils but you do have to find the right employee.

I'm not up to date on Mahoneys garden centers I have yet to go to one of them but there day is coming for my visiting.

Pine fines ( if thats what your really looking for) might not be at any place in Mass this time of the year. You can sub pine fines with (a bit pricy) reptile bark from Petsmart or it's smaller equivalent pet supply shops or you could use the less pricy Orchid bark that would need a chopping for size. Perlite is as easy to find as Home Depot or Lowes. MVP Turface in Mass isn't going to be available in 50 pound bags until early March Winks at Mike

It just occurred to me that I posted where everything for a mix can be found in central/eastern Mass and that isn't really fair, maybe to late to ask but by the way what area of Mass are you in ?

    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 9:51AM
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Hello, idabean. The gritty mixes are nothing to be intimidated by... once you have a basic understanding of HOW and WHY they work so well, and you have gone over the basic information a few times to familiarize yourself with it, it's all relatively easy.

The tough part sometimes, is locating the ingredients we'd prefer to use... although, there are some substitutions that can be used. This is one of the reasons it helps to know the HOW and WHY of it all... so you'll know which items can work in place of others.

The first thing to remember is that container gardening is completely different than gardening in the ground. Mother Nature has her own little army of microscopic creatures that work diligently at breaking down matter into usable food for plants, keeping the ground aerated, and keeping a balance of PH, and good and bad bacterias, fungi, and other elements, etc...

This same army of constantly working creatures is not present within the confines of a container, so the soils tend to compact, the balance of good and bad cannot be maintained well... in a word, organic growing doesn't work very well in confined spaces.

Moving on... I, myself, had a very difficult time locating the ingredients I needed. I didn't need much, though, and I'm only using the gritty mix at present for my indoor plants, so I settled on 3 basic ingredients that were rather easy to locate.

At PetsMart, I bought the larger bag of Repti-Bark fir bark bedding for reptiles. It's 100% fir bark, clean and ready to use right out of the bag.

At Rural King, which is a farm oriented store, I bought small bags of Manna Pro Poultry Grit, which is 100% granite chips. It does need to be rinsed and screened to remove dust and tiny particles.

And I get bags of perlite from anywhere... Lowe's or Meijer's, Home Depot... almost any store that has a plant/garden section carries perlite.

Turface is an excellent ingredient, but I haven't been able to get any in quantities I need yet. I know there's a thread in this forum dedicated mostly to ingredient location, and I'm sure people here would be most happy to help you locate what you need.

The link below is the starting point. I read it over several times, digesting the information very well before I struck out on a quest for the ingredients I needed. My suggestion is that you do the same. Learn how and why a grittier, more fast draining, well aerated medium is conducive to healthier roots.

Take it all slowly... there's no reason to rush, or to be intimidated. There are plenty of wonderful, helpful, very knowledgeable gardeners here who are more than happy to help you, every step of the way. :-)

Happy Gardening!

Here is a link that might be useful: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention 12

    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 11:03AM
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There is just SO much for a newbie to be intimidated about. My peeve: there is not one thing on Al's original post that says to "screen" anything, and yet I'm constantly reading posts that say you have to "screen" your pine bark fines or your grit or your Turface. Seriously, how is a newbie supposed to know what that means?? What size screening? How do you make a frame for it, or can you buy "screens" pre-made? Do you need a different guage screen for your pine bark fines than you do for your granite grit and your Turface? Also, where the heck do you buy gypsum by the tablespoon? And WHAT is a "source of micronutrients?" A casual and/or new gardener is not going to spend hours and days and weeks driving around the state hunting all these elements, buying 50 or 100 lb. bags of it, constructing screens, etc. etc.

Why, if these mixes are so great, aren't they sold pre-screened and pre-mixed? And until that time, can anyone recommend a decent commercially produced bagged potting soil mix without explaining, AGAIN, how it's all muck with a PWT and anyone who uses it is brutalizing their plants?


    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 12:56PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

The answer to your final question, Maureen, is no.
There is no acceptable bagged potting mix that I would recommend.

The reason these mixes aren't sold commercially is because of the cost/availability
of the ingredients - namely, the bark component. Similarly, the grit (Turface, Granite)
would be costly to ship around the country.

Commercial producers operate for a profit. Bagged soils will be sufficient in a greenhouse for a
few months, but the eventual result is dismal once the customer brings the plant home.

The old adage - Give a fish, eat for a day; teach to fish, eat for life - applies here.
When we learn why a soil works, and how to build that soil, we are self-contained (pardon the pun)
for the remainder of our gardening lives.

Commercial operations would be cutting themselves out of the loop if they offered these longeval
mixes, as well as the knowledge and ingredients with which to assemble them.


    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 1:39PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Maureen - First, the post I wrote about water retention & soils is very clear about screening ingredients for the gritty mix. It's easy to throw up your hands and say the gritty mix or any other mix anyone discusses "is not for me", and no one really cares. If the obstacles seem insurmountable, forget it - use something from a bag that's easy. No one is begging anyone to use a particular soil, but there are a LOT of people perfectly willing to help anyone who WANTS to and needs help.

If you really have questions, and really want help/advice - ask .... instead of scolding whoever is at hand for things you don't understand or the effort you're unwilling to expend. It's a very easy choice, and no one cares about what side you come down on.

IDA - the gritty mix is a soil that is specifically designed to provide superb aeration for the long term (several growth cycles) while it also provides good water retention. Over the years, as I was experimenting with the soil, I came up with a formula that combines 3 ingredients that are the best at doing their job as a part of the soil as any I've found. Not all of the ingredients are always easy to find. It does take some effort, but once you nail down your sources, you eliminate the concern about finding the ingredients.

I'm sorry I can't help with suggestions on how to overcome some of the difficulties you have to deal with. I will say though, that what's most important is understanding the concept that a well-aerated soil that drains well, and that retains these properties for an extended period are going to offer you and your plants the best potential for growth and good health - no matter what mix you choose.

There are threads that offer help and suggestions on where to find ingredients. If you DO decide that you'd like to try the soil, I'll help you find the Turface and granite if they are available near you. Don't be reluctant to keep asking questions or asking for advice. There are a LOT of folks here who love to help the open-minded. ;-)


    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 1:52PM
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I am sorry if I haven't much toadd since many here have stole my thunder.

But this I will add if I may?

To subject "my" plants to bagged potting soils and muck with a PWT that serves no purpose in my containers = brutalizing my plants, and never again shall I.

I am ever so greatful I was taught to "fish", since now my plants are never at the mercy of money making rachet bagged soil mix companies that deprive them of their best potential..


    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 5:13PM
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Josh is very correct... I concur... I also agree with Al.

Most commercial greenhouse/growers WOULD be cutting themselves out of the loop, and they're in it for the profit... not for fun and laughs. Most growers know their goods will only be in the soils they use temporarily... once a customer buys starter plants and gets them home, most go into larger, more permanent containers or the ground. They're not gonna expend the extra energy and cut into their profits in order to keep young plant roots healthy... especially since those plants are slated to be moved out of temporary pots and soil once purchased.

Why would a profit driven industry want to sell a product that won't keep consumers coming back for more? They wouldn't. And so, they sell you a disposable product that will keep you needing more... more soil, more plants, more everything. All industry is basically the same... they operate on profit.

If someone thinks that putting together the Gritty Mixes is "too hard", and doesn't want to expend the energy or time to learn about them and implement them, that's up to them. If they think the commercially bagged sludge that passes for potting soil is good enough for their plants, that's on them. For myself, good enough isn't what I'm looking for. I'm looking for optimal. I'm willing to go the extra length for the health and vitality of my plants.

Al's articles are very clear and concise. Every step necessary for building a better soil is in them... right down to the screening and rinsing of some ingredients. And the articles don't stop at recipes and directions... they explain HOW it all works and WHY it all works. They give factual, scientific reasoning for everything done. It all makes perfectly logical sense.

And there are hoards of helpful gardeners here, just waiting for the opportunity to give help and answer questions. No one is ever left out in the cold! If you don't understand some aspect, just ask. It couldn't be easier!

In a word, anyone who denigrates Al's Gritty Mixes either hasn't tried them, doesn't want to try them, doesn't understand them, or hasn't asked for help with a question they've had. The only thing holding anyone back from optimal container growing is themselves.

Would I recommend any of the bagged potting soils on the commercial market? No. I would not. They are not designed to give optimal health to roots. If anything, they are designed for very short term planting... very short.

I prefer to build my own planting mediums... this gives me total control over the aspects of moisture and nutrition, and I don't need to consider them 'short term plantings'. And healthy plant roots don't lie... all of my container plants absolutely love the more aerated, faster draining, inorganic mediums!

Coincidentally, idabean... the majority of my plants are Amaryllids, Orchids, and other rare bulbs or bulbed plants. Bulbs cannot tolerate "wet feet", so the Gritty Mix is exactly what they need.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 8:48PM
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Hello Everyone,
Well, I didn't expect such a variety of responses! I'm looking forward to joining Al's Gritty Groupies. It shouldn't be impossible to find most of the ingredients, but the earth doesn't turn because of a perfect or less than perfect potting medium! Golly, gardening is supposed to be fun not another way to get an ulcer.

I promise I will ask lots of questions. I've been on other GW forums (esp New England and Perennials) and know how immensely generous and well informed many GWebbers are. I couldn't begin to list what I've learned from people here.

Al, when I commented on the kitchen table and the steep stairs I was saying I don't have room for garbage cans full of potting medium ingredients on the first floor, and wouldn't be hauling bucketfuls up stairs.

Then it occurred to me I could clean up a corner of the basement and set up a small winter potting area.

Here's a quick question. How do cyclamen like gritty mix? I have several that suddenly developed yellow leaves....I assume they are suffering from nutrient failure after being forced into bloom for Christmas.

I have to wade through the snow drifts and get to the Miracle Grow. Not ideal, I know, but it is all I've got at the moment

Thanks again for the encouragement.


    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 9:56PM
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You can grow successfully in bagged mixes. Many do and if you have good growing conditions (sun, good light) you can grow well with some simple amendments. I grow both 'dirt plants' and orchids. All my dirt plants have always grown in bagged mixes.

For dirt-plants, I add small orchid bark and perlite to a bagged mix. I use any bagged mix I can buy easily. I mix it in well until I have a nice, loose mix. I have good light and only water when the mix is almost totally dry (I stick my finger down deeply). Depending on growth, light and air circulation, that could be as long as 2 weeks.

My mixes never get soggy or packed down. They stay nice and loose and my plants do very well. I use the same mix for my outdoor container plants.

As far as orchids, it depends on what type you are growing. If the orchid has a tag, post the name and I can advise you or you can visit the Orchid forum as there are many friendly people there who will help.

BTW, this is not the best time of the year to repot your plants. If you can wait until early spring it would be better. As the days lengthen and the sun gets stronger, plants will start growing again and be revitalized by a repot in fresh mix.


    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 12:41AM
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Of course, all of your responses make perfect sense. There are so many industries that have purposely built in the failure of their own products in order to keep the consumer on the hook, why should potting soil/plants be any different? I'm sorry for the whiny, grumpy tone of my post. I have a love/hate relationship with gardening. I love plants and a nice landscape, but for some reason gardening is not easy or intuitive for me. It's hard work, and although it's often very rewarding it can also be very frustrating. I have a limited amount of energy (health issues) and not much patience. I do believe that if something is worth doing, it's worth doing right. Now I have to decide if I should give up on having container plants completely, submit to the influences of the market and keep plants in crappy soil (accepting the consequences of unhealthy or short-lived plants) or jump in with both feet and spend the energy needed to do it "right". *sigh*


    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 12:43AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

That's the spirit, Maureen! ;)
Don't give up, don't submit...once the soil is mixed, the energy expenditures drop and the
enjoyment increases ten-fold. I personally think it takes more energy to grow plants in bagged mixes...

Marie, I just had to do an emergency re-pot of a special Orchid that was languishing in
packed Sphagnum moss. The roots were shriveled by the time I got to it...and I am glad
that I didn't wait a day longer. But no sooner had I re-potted the Orchid than I noticed
new growth forming!

For the Orchid, "Orchid Bark" (no surprise there!) provides the best base for a potting mix.
I use Orchid Bark in the "fine" size, and I add some grit for structure, durability, and added
moisture retention. The grit I use is Pumice, Turface, and occasionally Perlite.
I like an appropriate amount of Osmocote slow-release mixed thoroughly, as well,
in addition to the normal fertilizing that I do.


    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 1:09AM
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Marie I don't think of my self as a " groupie " per say I am just a guy who likes growing plants, if it takes a certain mix to help them grow/look/perform better then I'm good with that.

Ohhh I live in Mass and if you need ANYTHING then...... just ask Mike....... Just so you know he's got a bigger car but I get better mileage NOT that it has anything to do with plants but as far as the mix goes, Well..... thats how "GOUPIES" with the mix work.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 2:16AM
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Welcome to the wonderful world of grittier mixes and healthier roots, Marie! You, too, Maureen!

It's certainly possible to grow plants in most any medium... but as Josh says, the poorer the medium, the more work it is to keep those plants thriving! If you give them a healthy environment to begin with, the work turns into pleasure, and you reap the rewards... along with your plants!

I don't have the physical health or strength required to mix and move huge batches of mediums, either... so I mix my soils a small batch at a time, as needed. I keep a small 2 gallon bucket with a lid handy, and that's the amount I mix at one time. If you only require a small amount of Gritty Mix, as I do, you only need to work with small amounts of the ingredients. It couldn't be easier.

I have an area set up right near my plants to work in. I keep my bagged ingredients, my fertilizers, my stack of pots and saucers, and anything else I need right next to my plant shelves. It's only a few steps to the kitchen sink, so everything I need is handy. If I had a nice basement to set up an area for myself, I'd do that.

As for Cyclamen, I haven't met a plant type yet that doesn't adore the aeration allowed through use of a grittier medium! I use the Gritty Mix for bulbs, orchids, rooting cuttings, seed starting... every plant I grow is in some variation of the Gritty Mix.

I used to think adding amendments to bagged potting soil actually helped keep them from compacting and was good enough. I was wrong. Adding perlite or bark pieces to regular bagged soil doesn't do anything... the soil fills in around the perlite and bark pieces, rendering them useless as amendments. You might as well not add anything. It compacts and suffocates roots just the same.

The only way to keep a medium from compacting is to ensure that ALL the particles that make up the mix are approximately equal in size. The idea is to maintain the air pockets around the particles so the roots can breathe... not allow them to fill in with silt and tiny soil particles. The exchange of oxygen and gases within the soil, to and from the roots, is very important for their health.

Maureen... I encourage you to look a little deeper into different gardening methods... to have a little patience, and go with the adage that "anything worth doing is worth doing well"! My Dad told me that over and over as a child, and it stuck. It's an excellent piece of advice!

To be quite honest, there is no such thing as a "green thumb"; it's all knowledge and experience. The more actual facts and information you know, the easier and more pleasurable gardening will become. How do I know? Because at one time, I thought I needed a "green thumb". What I needed was to do a little reading and research... and once I learned about the basic science of growing, learned about my zone and the indoor environment I had to offer, learned the difference between growing in pots and growing in a garden... and learned a little bit about each plant type I wanted to try... it all came together!

My biggest Aha! moment came when I read Al's article about "Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention"... That single article was the catalyst that brought my growing skills to the pinnacle of success! I can honestly say that reading Al's writings has truly boosted my knowledge, and thus, my growing success.

He has a way of taking what would otherwise be boring, complicated science and making it into easy to understand terms for the average gardener to read. I can never thank him enough for what he's given me... for the doors he's opened.

What have you got to lose by trying something new, anyway? You never know... you just might find that it opens doors for you, too!

Happy Gardening!

    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 8:57AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Maureen - the very first thing I want to do is offer you a sincere apology for my reply to you. This forum (and others I frequent) have been inundated lately with people who offer nothing positive or who work very hard intentionally try to create discord, so when I see a post from a new person that seems overly critical, it makes me very suspicious. If I'd have waited to see your second reply, what I would have said would have left you with the feeling that I (and many others) DO care about your growing experience, and want to help you get the most from it. That want to help isn't dependant on your choice of soils; we'll offer our opinions about how you can improve your experience by improving your soil, but even if you decide that you're going to stick with a bagged mix, the response from most people will be to help you any way they can in a positive way - the normal response to anyone taking a positive approach. ;o)

Marie - Got it! ;o) ..... and cyclamen do very well in the gritty mix. I've use it for them, and I think Nancy is using it on hers now. Nance?

There is no big rush to get get everything into the gritty mix. Understanding how soils work and how water behaves in soil will go a long way toward giving you the tools that can allow you to get the most out of heavier, peat-baaed soils. Often, people make lots of claims about what they are using from a defensive posture, not even realizing they are doing it. Often too, they don't and can't realize claims are very subjective. By that I mean when someone says 'my plants are perfectly healthy' or 'my soil doesn't compact or hold too much water', they may not realize that though their plants may seem perfectly fine to them, others may not hold the same view. Not only that, but there is no way to measure lost potential.

I'll explain that: Plants can only make so much energy with what they have to work with. Soils that hold significant amounts of perched water see a portion of the fine roots die when they are exposed to the anaerobic conditions of saturated soils. It takes energy that would be directed to flowers/fruit/growth .... to replace that lost rootage. This does not occur in soils that do not support that soggy layer of soil at the bottom of the container. You'll probably hear the same people that deny other overwhelming scientific evidence claim that this doesn't happen in 'their' soils, but ignoring science or wishing real hard doesn't change it.

You can grow happy plants in peat-based soils. That's not at issue. What is at issue is, there ARE soils that are much easier to grow in, provide a much wider margin for grower error in the areas of watering and fertilizing, and offer far better opportunities for plants to grow to realize their potential. If this wasn't so, there wouldn't be thousands of people over the years that have left bagged soils behind in favor of something they have found to perform much better.

Occasionally, you'll find a lonely voice in the wilderness that disagrees with practically everything I'm saying and holds forth how foolish it is for anyone to consider changing from something that's easy and works ok. Generally, there is no reason for the argument, other than to prevent people from testing their wings and moving forward to something so many have found to be a better way to approach container culture.

Maureen/Marie - if you stick with people with a consistently positive message, you can't grow wrong. You'll find the most and best information there. Positive people help you by telling you you CAN, and helping you to get there instead of telling you you can't or shouldn't based on a personal bias they have difficulty supporting. Lol - we'll help you with your wings if you'll only agree to spread them.

Happy New Year.


    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 10:32AM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

I just got back from a Gritty Mix ingredients expedition. I couldn't find Pine Bark Fines, but I got Orchid Bark from Worms Way in Sutton. Pet Smart might have a better price on the Reptibark. The bonus was that Worms Way also had Foliage Pro 9-3-6 as well. Got a great source for Turface also in Sutton (50 lbs for $12.50); a place called Turflinks off Gilmore Road in Sutton. Had to go to Acton to get Grit, but Erikson's at 113 Main St. had what I needed. Ready to start mixing tomorrow.


    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 5:47PM
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Fantastic Steve!

Congrats on your finds since I was just as excited as you are when I found the products myself I love making the gritty mix!..Thank God we have these places locally.
I have full bags just waiting in the wings to get used once spring comes.

Maureen/Marie: Welcome here and I hope your experience with this new approach if you should choose to do so, is just as rewarding for you as it is for me.
Understanding how soil works in a container has changed my life and I will pass this on down to generations in my family. Thank God for a teacher such as Al here, might I add with an extensive backround in this field, who has only been encouraging, kind, generous, and patient with my desire to stay on this wonderful journey.
I don't know many people in my life that care that much when it comes to growing my plants, whether in the ground or containers!
Therefore there isn't anybody that can change my mind about people like him no matter what the negativity is. I find it is always those that have not tasted what's good that find themselves discouarging others from something they find very rewarding. My little niece REFUSES to try real Maple syprup and loves the artificially flavored corn syrup one. Her loss. Still working on it

Thank God for this information and the people that have supported me all the way, and continue to do so to help me grow my plants beyond just ok.

If anyone lives locally to me, I can get much more of my fir bark in huge bags if you have a problem doing so.

Mrlike4u: We shall talk later. Thanks for the nice words good man and your e-mail

Josh:You are one of the most encouraging and outstanding friends I can think of here. A real boost to anyone who is looking for a new stragety to make their plants explode with vitality without steroids.

Jodik: Same as Josh!:-)


Great to meet you new folks and no matter what course you choose, it was a pleasure to see you post, your views, and I wish you all the success in what ever you do.


    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 6:14PM
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What size plants are you planning to grow? Weight must be taken into account if you have to move plants and carry bags of heavy mixes. Do you have anyone to help?

I believe gritty mix is heavy and is a consideration if plants need to be moved or lifted.

I broke my shoulder a few years ago and have little strength in that arm. I need to be able to move my plants around and carry the smaller ones to the sink. They have to be kept light or I couldn't care for them.


    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 11:25PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hmmm - I think that since Steve already has the ingredients and has noted that some come in 50 lb bags, it's a good bet he's aware of the weight of the materials and has set that aside as an obstacle.

Everyone that has researched the ingredients that go into the gritty mix is well-aware that the gritty mix is about 25% heavier than peat based soils when the soils are at container capacity (saturated). No one has ever tried to obscure that fact. I believe that 100 lbs of the gritty mix is heavy, too; but I don't think 5 lbs of the gritty mix is more than any one of us can handle.

I'm sure everyone is chagrined when they learn that any forum member has physical limitations that prohibit them from performing some tasks, but it isn't logical to project that limitation on others, as though it applies to everyone who might wish to try the gritty mix. What affects the goose doesn't necessarily affect the gander. The logical conclusion is, if someone wants to use the gritty mix but has physical limitations, use it only in containers that ARE manageable. If someone DOESN'T want to use it, DON'T, but please allow there are others who do. That is not too much to ask, it's just being considerate.

Weight is an issue with ANY container. I have seen pictures Jane has posted of fairly large plantings, both indoors and outdoors, that must be very heavy. Obviously she somehow gets by, so it is not weight alone that prevents her from using it, if she so chose, and in smaller containers. If she can handle the large 25 lb+ containers she's shown us, a little 5 pounder would be nothing. Don't get me wrong, I'm NOT trying to talk her into anything or change her mind - just trying to put things in perspective.

I believe big pots are heavy, too, but every time someone shows a picture of one or comments they are bumping a pot into a 15 or 20 gallon container, I don't fall into the habit of trying to prevent them from improving their situation by offering a long list of abstract negatives everyone already understands are inherent in the person's intent. I just don't understand why anyone could not want someone to move forward in the hope that they might improve their growing ability.

I'm wondering why it is that anyone would not want people to try any of the soils that have proven themselves over and over again to be very well-favored by virtually all who have used them, and why anyone who has never tried a soil being discussed would regularly and very frequently speak out against it on multiple fronts in post after post, repeatedly expressing displeasure even at the idea they are even discussed?


    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 12:40AM
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What can one say when such negativity consistently rears its head? Well, for one thing, you'll get further with a positive attitude, and have a much more positive experience.

It's already been said that the ingredients can be found in smaller bags, and smaller amounts can be mixed, used and stored.

As far as I know, Cyclamen, bulbs and orchids don't get to such an enormous state indoors that they'd require a herculean effort or the strength of an elephant to move.

In such case that a pot does get a little heavy, there is always the use of leverage, or common sense... and neighbors, friends, and family members are usually more than pleased to lend a hand.

I've never had such heavy containers indoors that I couldn't move them, myself... and I'm a lupus sufferer with chronic pain and injuries from a previous automobile accident. I'm also a grandmother who sports a bit of age. It's not so detrimental that I can't handle a potful of Gritty Mix.

Are there any more negative aspects that need explanation to show the positive side?

    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 3:14AM
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Are there any more negative aspects that need explanation to show the positive side?
Hi jodi I was hoping for at least one of my comments to read just as you said it too, but sometimes ( as you know) a person reads one thing and understands something else from what is being said.
Steve Mass said one manner of finding mix ingredients Of all places right on Rte 146 just as I mentioned and is true. You (Jodi) said the same thing to read get it small for easy handling which is also true FOR MASS PEOPLE I also mentioned the places to buy smaller sized mix ingredients OKAY I'll ADMIT IT I forgot to mention that a barking dog might also cause distractions to them. Yes I was unfair I saw it sitting there.
In all fairness there is no one set of written rule of an absolute right way to do anything. Buying or getting mix ingredients included. Negative or positive I am in a reasonably fair understanding the idea of finding mix ingredients in smaller easier sizes or finding big 50 pound bags in Mass is and can be a bit of a drive for some might be where the real message might of gotten lost in a more fuller understanding of what you I and some others already understand.
Maybe there isn't need to be so hard on oneself yet it's okay to let them know that they too where heard. You know as well as I do this is much better and easier then teaching an old dog new tricks.

Aside from that and on a more positive note I kind feel all warm and fuzzy knowing at least one person got himself some mix ingredients and didn't let the folks at Worms Way mis lead him to the bags.
Hats off to you Steve you did your plants proud. If closer the next time you need grits there's a place in Millbury that is also feed and supply See also link provided MASS Sate wide feed and supply

Woof woof to you over there even I know a barking dog never bites, Wanna know why ? Cause it's too insecure.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 5:43AM
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My large trees are on wheels. Very easy to slide around on wood floors. Thank you for your observation.

I asked the OP if she had help because if so, they could help with transplanting and moving plants outside. They could carry potting materials for her. I am fortunate that I have a strapping, strong son who can come and help me. I would not be able to grow large plants without help.

My son is not available at all times, however. So when I need to move my large plants, they can roll across the floor. I certainly couldn't lift them without help. I grow them in plastic, resin pots which are very light. I use a very light planting media. When dry, the weight is mostly the plant.

I was wondering if the OP was growing large plants or small. Small plants shouldn't be a problem. I think its important to consider weight when dealing with health constraints and growing plants.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 10:44AM
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Where there's a will, there's a way. This is an old saying that has much merit in the world of growing. Everyone knows their limitations, and our use of common sense goes far in getting around any limitations we may have.

Moving dollies, wheelbarrows, carts, anything on wheels, or the strong arms of a neighbor can go quite far in giving those who are weaker the freedom to utilize larger bags of product or to move larger plantings from location to location. We are only limited by our own inability to look at a situation and come up with a solution.

However, in looking at the clues Idabean most generously left for us, it becomes clear that she won't need much outside help.

In Idabean's very first post, she says, "...I don't need to start with a huge quantity."

And, "...I have six amaryllis and a beautiful orchid I've made a commitment to..."

I grow Amaryllids and Orchids, myself. I know firsthand that a new commitment to new plants would most likely place them at a rather small to medium size, which helps estimate their weight as easy enough to carry and move without the help of outside forces.

Until those Hippeastrum bulbs, more commonly known as Amaryllis, gain some girth and require re-potting, they will stay within a manageable size and weight.

So, there you have it... I think Idabean will manage just fine.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 11:28AM
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Wow, that's amazing how 'easy' Jodik makes it sound.

Getting all the stuff is the big issue. Maybe with the help of fellow posters in your area, someone can deliver the ingredients. Sure would be easy if it were mass-produced.

I know for me I don't have the time, money or energy to get that involved. Many people use the bagged mixes with success. Just have to be careful about light and over watering.

It always comes down to what someone can manage. There are many ways to grow successfully without getting too stressed over it. You need to decide what you can handle. Growing should be fun!

Good luck,

    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 11:56AM
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If I can do it, Jane, in my semi-disabled state, then anyone with a little bit of determination and cognitive thought can do the same.

Why is it you seem to want to make the mixing of a better medium for an interested gardener into an impossible feat? Impossibility couldn't be further from the logical truth!

Did you not read the very first post in this thread? Every clue to the ease Ida will have is right there. The fact that she only requires a small amount of medium to begin with, and the fact that she's caring for 6 bulbs and an orchid all point toward a relatively easy task.

The further information given throughout the thread, as people gave information on ingredient location, and offered their help with any questions she may have... these, too, point toward a positive experience.

I just don't understand why you seem to want Idabean to fail in her quest to try the Gritty Mixes. Why is that, Jane? From one gardener to the next, shouldn't we be all about helping other gardeners to accomplish their goals?

    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 12:29PM
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ykerzner(9 TX)

Idabean - you asked about screens. For both mixes you want pieces that are between 1/8" and 1/4" in size. To do that, you sift whatever you have through 1/4" hardware cloth (Lowe's or Home Depot, in building materials sections). Now you have dust + what you want.

For the 5:1:1 mix, which lasts two years at the most, you can leave the dust in and skip the peat (I sift a bit anyway), so the ration becomes 6 parts sifted pine bark to 1 part perlite.

For the gritty mix, where small particles are not wanted, sift through 1/16" insect screen. I staple a piece to the bottom of a Large moving box (U-Haul or Home Depot), open the flaps out, and voila, instant, foldable screen. The sifting area is at about chest height when kneeling on the flaps.

The 1/4" screen can be hung on the wall for storage. I sift into a wash-tub.

Grit should be washed, carefully, to remove small particles. Turface can be sifted as well, but that's not always necessary.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 12:44PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

First off, I want to say "Welcome" to Marie and Maureen! It's always great to see new poeople here, looking to learn a new and better ways to garden.
I hope you will continue to do so, and not be afraid to ask questions. There are a lot of very wonderful and helpful people right here in this thread that are always more than willing to help!
They got me started, and bless their hearts put up with endless questions. (still) lol..
Unfortunately there are a few very negative people that seem to pop up all the time in these threads, and I hope they don't discourage you.
It really is as simple as Jodi puts it!
"Where there's a will there's a way"!! Simple as that!
I too have my limits, a shattered wrist a few years ago, and a back that has had a rough life, that tends to argue with me.
But I manage, because I made a choice to have my plants grow in a better mix!
Although the mixing and sifting is a little work, I find it relaxing in a way. And NO more work than all the garbage I had to add to bagged mixes.
I chose to make a small amount of the gritty mix to start and see how I liked it, now EVERYTHING is going in it!
I find it to be far more cost effective too.
Not replacing bagged mixes twice a year, and not throwing away plants anymore!
Our season is 8-10 months here, some plants year round! Bagged mixes became nothing but dust by the end of summer and were impossible to keep moist enough! Threw away many a plant, and this time of year, cold mush!
"Growing should be fun"
Yes, it should. So maybe you could try to be less negative about a mix you haven't even tried, and let others that are willing to give it a try have their fun.

Were not here to force anyone to try these mixes, yet you seem to think we are. And seem to feel a need to run them down.

Were just a number of people who have tried it and choose not to go back to old ways, so we share that!

Several of my friends and family here have seen my plants and now want to try this way! I didn't try and talk them into it, just shared hows and whys. Simple as that.

Jodi mentioned~~

"Until those Hippeastrum bulbs, more commonly known as Amaryllis, gain some girth and require re-potting, they will stay within a manageable size and weight."

True! I just repotted one and bumper her up to a 10" pot, and she's still very easy to care for and move around.
I'll share a link to the thread below. She really didn't need a 10" but it was all I had on hand, and with the gritty mix, there's little to no worry of over watering.

A huge thank you again for you and Larry for helping me get back here. :-)


Here is a link that might be useful: Repotting an Amaryllis

    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 2:57PM
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Anyone notice that the more Jane promotes the peat based bagged soil the more people become more willing to take the plunge and find ways to get the mix of the OP question of topic.

I would like to add how....

.....I always enjoy my problems.

The way I see the OP is...... Even though they didn't ask you any questions at all Jane I will take a moment to say thanks for volunteering your response. With out you we might not of gotten any one to use/convert to a custom gritty mix and finally end there bagged soil dilemmas.

That's where you've been, mending breaking bones and finally got the NON Gritty mix computer back to working order. Welcome back to the forum Jo Jo It's always a charm to hear from you.
Mike: When we do talk I hope it will be about how I pay for the gas and you pay for the plants, who knows maybe all I do is let you buy me a nice bonsai dish. Just kidding but I am glad your feeling better.
Jodi I have em both, yes it's one of the two you said before. Lets make a deal this one is which ever one you want it be the other can be the one I want it to be.

Have a safe happy 2011

    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 6:44PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Hello Mrlike2u~
Yes, things have been a little nuts around here and i've been away.

Thank you for the welcome back!

Beautiful Flower, and Plants!
Is she Apple Blossom?

A safe and Happy new year to you too!


    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 6:56PM
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ykerzner(9 TX)

Jojosplants: Bagged soils vary so widely by region and even by city that it's no wonder people get turned off by them. I have access to a pretty good bagged mix that can last up to 3 years outside, in the rain and heat. It maintains its structure for a good while. I continue to use bagged soils because there are no ready sources of pine fines in my area, and because the amount of containers I have overwhelms the amount of gritty/5-1-1 mix I can make.

With proper fertilizing even a bagged soil can produce wonders (as compared to a poor fertilizer regime, like bloodmeal, bonemeal, and greensand applied at the beginning of the season).

    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 8:24PM
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It was our pleasure to help you, JoJo. I'm glad to know that our tech support was helpful... any time you require such help, just give a holler! That's what friends are for! :-)

Being new to the forum, plant48, it's reasonable to assume that you wouldn't have a clear picture of the history between certain posters. Let me see if I can phrase it so you'll understand... ever since Al gained popularity and a following as a teacher, mentor, and giver of sound advice, certain persons have made it their personal crusade to vilify the methods he advocates, and as can be clearly seen, shadows Al and followers with an intent that leans precariously toward breaking the forum rules... and on a consistent basis.

The picture you see through your limited view is actually quit backwards, plant48. But since you're new, it's understandable. If you do a little research, you'll find that Jane consistently avoids providing information to back up her claims, circumvents the questions asked of her, and seems unable to provide a positive response to any of our queries.

When anyone posts fallacious information, it's normal to see others correct it, so as not to cause harm to the many people who come here looking to learn and be successful in their growing endeavors.

When it comes to the science of plants and growing, there are the facts... and then there is everything else, such as old wives tales, fallacy, and poor information that keeps circulating, though it does no one any good. It's only proper that our more knowledgeable gardeners debunk any fallacy, modify any half truths, and make certain that the information provided is vetted.

When certain posts appear ignored, there may be a reason. It would depend largely upon the content.

As I've said before, everyone is fully entitled to their own opinion... but no one is entitled to make up their own ideas and label them as facts. Posters tend to be taken seriously when they answer queries, and can back up their information with logical facts. But when a poster consistently denigrates others and their vetted methods, well... I'm sure you get the picture.

No one is intent upon proving Jane wrong. It is Jane's responsibility to prove herself right when asked about the information she provides... if she wants to be taken seriously, that is. There is nothing unnatural about that.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 8:53PM
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I've been reading all these posts and there is a lot of passion on this subject! I'm a kind of lazy correspondent and don't usually address every poster's post. But thank you, everyone, for the encouragement and advice.

The selection of materials at Mahoney's is slim. The orchid bark is very big and chunky. There must be half dozen kinds of moss, a surprising amount dyed green. They sell bags of "sand" from the west, ridiculously overpriced, and 3or 4 different kinds of pebbles and stones. It was pretty much a waste of time.

HOwever, I did find a product that I believe was pine or fir 'fines" it was from a company with "moss" in its name, and it sure looked like a fine pine or fir. The small label said it was "orchid soil."

I didn't buy it or plant food b/c I wanted to re-read everything here, make a complete list that I can take around with me as I look for the ingredients. I can haVe the pleasure of crossing things off!

I don't care about the arguments. Oh, the arguments about planting "Empress Trees"; red mulch; pesticides, how close to plant trees to a house (that's a favorite on the tree forum)

I have a job where I sit and listen to people talk. So even on garden forums I often just "listen" and make up my own mind. I find what other people say generally interesting and often wonder about the story behind the story.

Clearly, Gritty Soil has a history and a story and there are always people who don't believe the story, no matter what it is!

I'll keep you up to date on my search. Mahoney's has a 33.33 percent off sale of all plants. The orchids were really picked over, but there's a purple stemmed fragrant one I have my eye on. I picked up an unusual begonia as well. The sale ends tomorrow, and I think I'll have a few house plant additions before the day is out.

Happy New Year, everyone.


    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 11:21PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hey, Marie, you're right...the Orchid Bark is often sold in "medium" and "large" sizes -
both of which are too large to be useful. If you can find the Orchid Bark marked "fine,"
you'll be in business. If not, wait until the right stuff comes along ;)

Tell me more about the different pebbles and stones.
I buy small bags of volcanic Pumice, often called Scoria, as well as white Quartz gravel
and Pea Gravel in small quantities.


    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 12:41AM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Hey Josh,
What's with your zone info and Al's? Looks funny. :-)

Now for the other question. :-)

Awhile back you posted a link for someone looking for bark. I belive it was like a health food store? or similar.
Do you know which one i'm talking about? It was just in the past few months.

We actually have the store here, but I cant remember the name to save my life (happens when we get older ;-)lol)

I had called them and they weren't too sure what I was talking about so that means road trip. ;-)


    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 1:39AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Howdy, JoJo!

I can't recall off the top of my head....

But I can tell you about the zone screw-ups...that's all due to GardenWeb.
They're in the process of doing something, and this is when things glitch.
Just have to sit tight until it gets fixed. I actually deleted my zone info....
lot of good that did.


    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 2:06AM
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There IS a lot of passion in all this, Marie... many of us are passionate about growing, and devoted to making sure that those who want it can expect to find growing information that is correct and provides for optimal success... as opposed to the idea that something "works for me", so it's good enough and it must be right.

I've experienced failure and wasted time listening to the deficient advice of people who really couldn't explain why their methods were good ones, or how they worked. As an example, I bought into the hype on cococoir as a medium for my bulbs. The end result was several rotten bulbs, more fungi and mold than I've ever seen on a potting medium, and a rush to learn exactly what the problems were and how to correct them, so I could save my remaining bulbs and plants.

I told myself, from that point forward, that I would never again take anyone at their word without an explanation of how and why their methods worked... what made them logical choices. Gardening isn't something that needs to be taken on faith. We have the technology, so to speak, to build a better medium for healthier, more vital root systems, which in turn, provide for healthier, more vital plants.

It's hard to argue with success... and even more difficult to argue with scientifically proven information, that when put to the test, passes with flying colors.

But don't take my word for it... give it a go yourself. I'm not a betting person, but I'm betting on your success once you put together and begin using a grittier medium for your plants. The logic of it, the simple science of how it works is so solid that I'm surprised I didn't think of something similar a long time ago.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 3:48AM
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Ida: When I wanna read a good old fashioned key board fights I read orchid threads.

Josh as Marie said they're a bit short for words from the keyboard allow me if I may.

Pumice it's sometimes a hard to find product here (Mass) it wont be found at the typical garden centers of any MAYBE at either or one of the two Bonsai shops I mentioned 20 pound bag 15-20 $ but can talk it down, usually and most common when available red, I hear there is a remote to good chance that one can get black in the spring. I don't think there is any real benefit or difference between the two BIG hunks no problem as long as you want the Hawaiian Lava Plant too 35.00'40.00 not to bad for a plant price of this type.

white Quartz gravel very cool and interesting. Quartz has an internal energy of it's own as does silica if your in to a finer mix. Either of them are very willing to share the internal energies they possess. QG is at some garden centers not all usually 50 pound bags. Add Silica sand at swimming pool shops then add hardware stores and gravel yards the pond out back if I must.

Once somebody starts finding mix ingredients they find it easier and easier to get em AND as the list gets longer the easier it gets. Same as an addiction in a sense & very legal.

Jane: I'm sure you'll understand why I think it best to not confuse anyone on the mix for the Raphionacme in the green plastic container that doesn't have a drip tray under it seeming or meaning.... NEVER MIND, Don't worry it's Okay I'll even wash the cotton cloth later.

Right Jo Jo ;) ? Which brings up either Susan or Vera.. don't worry for all I know you might even be right too. I mix up tags faster than a feline can run away with them.

GW Zone issues; as long as I know where I am is good enough the rest of it is in the bank.

ykerzner are you ready to give me the what I really need to know type lecture ? Good lets get started.

Fact: No matter what part of the world I get a bagged soil from the top ingredient in ANY AND ALL bagged soil is sludge peat. A swampy thick soup of mud that is bug filled and it's eggs mixed in with slimy wormy mud, a bit of perlite. Some unknown amount of the additives that you already said aren't worth the time it takes to use em fertilizers of blood, bone meals and some green fungus or mold on sand.

Here are two questions regarding what I need a lecturing on, let me ask you I may.
Do I really want to add about 10 thousand microscopic bug eggs in a container to start and grow a plant ?
Then explain to me how a proper fertilizer you use is also going to remove this pest problem that I never see coming. As the microscopic eggs start hatching and munching away on the roots of a young plant. At the same time the now growing bigger everyday bugs are being feed by the very same fertilizer you suggested I use for optimal plant growing the now bigger adult bugs are also reproducing ?

Please take your time and and convince me that a peat based bagged soil is the best thing I can use to grow as many plants as possible.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 5:12AM
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Hi Mrlike4u!

Great points brought out and I love your suggestions for where to find the ingredients. I happen to be as lucky as you, and with a little leg work that I was willing to put forth, the suppliers are a lot closer than I thought.

Black "pumice"? That sounds interesting. I certainly do like the red one that a certain member here has so generously sent me, and a bag of "turface" that another so kindly brought me.

You see, you make good friends here, and not only do you learn to grow your plants to their best potential, but you also meet ones that go above and beyond to make sure you get the ingredients you need and share what they have.
I am sure if you just asked any members here that I know live in this state, they would be willing to direct you the closest provider, or even meet you somewhere and bring what you need to you. I happen to have plenty of "fine bark fines", fir that is.

I happen to agree that "BAGGED SOIL MIXES" is a bunch of hogwash and "sludge". I have had pictures here to prove that this stuff is nothing but junk, and a yard full to plant graves. I might even take a couple of pics of plants still left in this great stuff that I have yet to get them out of.
I was deperate the other day, 6 days ago, because I dropped a plant on the ground and could not get into my garage to get my gritty mix to replace it.
So I used a bag of MG my father bought a month ago to hold me till spring. You know, a quick fix. It took 3 minutes for the water to disappear from the top and it is still wet in a nice sunny window.

Where does one get Quartz gravel?

Idabean: I here you about Mahoney's. They have nothing I ever need to help grow the plants I buy from them in realtion to fertilizer and mixes, or mix ingredients.
They do not even sell anything for one interested in hydrponics.
They do sell a bagged mix of their own, that is just as bad as the rest. It does not hold it's structure after a month or two.

The support here for the best growing medium and rewarding experiences, wonderful life changing improvements for my plants and me has been amazing, and I thank certain people here for that.


    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 9:56AM
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Hi Everyone,
I'm going to call Bonsai West and see what they have. If they don't have everything, I've decided to go with "repot me" because I can get everything I need at one time. Yes, the cost is outrageous. However, I work full time and have so little free time that I'd rather spend the money than the time driving around. When the days are longer I can pick up the ingredients in quantity, make nursery stops, and mix up big batches outside, then repot my potboud nursery stock to grow on before planting out. (I love the use of prepositions in nursery-talk!)

Here's another question: I believe I should use a 5-1-1 mix for 4" pots of very healthy gaultheris procumbens (wintergreen) grown as Christmas plants, (that I got half price).
There are more and more perennials that are sold at Christmas, then marked half or more off afterwards. If one has the space and can keep them going...with an Al mix...what a great way to have beautiful big starts in spring at little cost!


    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 10:01AM
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It never ceases to amaze me to see the hoops hundreds are willing to jump through, extremes ,the obstacles, time and "money" many will invest in, and negative talk many pay no heed to by those who have yet to taste these wonderful mixes will do for the sake of their plants! It is just awsome.

It makes me smile even further to hear the great postive experiences once anyone get's started and see's the results once they learn how soil works and see how these mixes come into play.

Good luck and if you should decide you need bigger bulk, at a much lower cost, let me know and maybe we can arrange something. I am sure even Mrlike4u would too;-)

Enjoy your wonderful journey and I hope will bring us along.


    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 10:52AM
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ykerzner(9 TX)

MrLike4u: It seems you misunderstood me. Organic fertilizers like the ones I mentioned are absolutely NOT good in containers; I used them to contrast GOOD fertilizer, like Osmocote 19-6-12, or FP 9-3-6 with regular, weak fertilizing. I never mentioned any bugs, but if you mean the ones in the potting soil, well, the stuff I have doesn't have those problems, apparently. Peat-based soils are definitely NOT the best thing to use, as you and almost everyone on this forum know, nor am I advocating for them. If I wanted to use either one of Al's mixes for every container I'd be sifting literally every day, for 5 hours, a day, just trying to get enough pine bark fines (leaving out the hours spent on rinsing granite and sifting turface). I simply don't have enough time to devote to this pursuit (someday...) and I get satisfactory results from bagged mix (Scott's, not MG, Baccto, or Hyponex, if you care to know).

Your description of bagged mix sounds exactly what I saw when a member of a horticulture society I'm part of brought in a bag of Hyponex. Now that it's set, I use it as a demonstration of B.A.D. potting soil.

The pictures have been downsized for low-bandwidth connections.

The potting soil I use.

What the potting soil looks like.

Summer-time growth. All plants here are in bagged soil, except for two small containers in the lower right.

This eggplant had 12 fruits on it at the end of October, which is late even here.

I lost count of how many fruits each of these two pepper plants produced.

Again, I am most emphatically not advocating bagged soils over the gritty or 5:1:1 mix; if I didn't want the pine trees (the third picture) out they would have gone in gritty ages ago. I am simply saying that it IS possible to get good growth out of bagged soils.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 11:31AM
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ykerzner(9 TX)

Ah yes. Ingredients of potting mix: 45-55% forest product compost, sphagnum peat, perlite, wetting agent, plant food (0.07 - 0.01 - 0.03, in percentages of whatever compounds they use).

At the end of the season it switches to mostly peat-based soils which collapse in a couple of months. Terrible stuff, so I buy large amounts in advance.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 11:38AM
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ykerzner, I have the same results. I add some small orchid bark to the bagged mixes for some, not all, and I get good results.

Nothing against using gritty mix, and would consider it for outdoor containers, minus bark. Weight is a big issue so I would probably look for media which was lighter for the outside pots. Indoors, my plants do very well in the bagged mixes, I would have no reason to switch. I buy my bagged mixes at my local nursery and don't remember the name. But I've used straight MG mixed with bark with good results.


    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 11:50AM
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Marie, the world of bonsai is a wonderful place to gain both knowledge and ideas for planting mix ingredients! Most bonsai growers use a very gritty, fast draining medium, too.

The link below has some very interesting reading, and it includes information on building soils, what to use, where to find it or look for it, and even some interesting information on cat litters and oil dry products that can be substituted for the turface. I refer to the site, myself, occasionally... and it has some extremely beautiful bonsai photos as a bonus!

Since the more inorganic, grittier mediums last so much longer than the bagged potting soils, it's actually more economical even if you do spend a little more now. The medium you build won't collapse in record time, so you won't need to replace it as often.

Here is a link that might be useful: bonsai Basics - Soils, Watering, Etc...

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 12:03PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Hey Josh,
Looks like you and Al are in a zone of your own for awhile. ;-)
I think the link I asked you about was a distributor for the orchid bark you get. Does that help any? ;
I just thought it would be useful here, because it was an off the wall place people would never think to look for bark.'

I found my pumice at a feed store, sold as dry stall. Grey, not the pretty colors Josh can get. lol.. The only bonsai store here that I know of shut down. :-(

I'm courious as to where Josh gets the quartz gravel to, but my guess would be a gravel/landscape place. I need to hit the phone book again here real soon to find a good grit myself.

I know all about those kitty cats. Mine weighs 20lbs. If he wants a label, he gets it, then blames the dogs. LOL!
Anyway, it's a beautiful flower!

As far as bagged soils,
to each his own.. They just don't work here! I even tried adding bark awhile back to get me by until I could get around and get all I needed for the gritty and 5-1-1.. all it did was compact, and dry up!

Here's a tomato that was struggling in a bagged mix .

Here it is just a few short weeks after moving it into the 5-1-1

This shows that the mixes are well worth the effort!

It's not so scary after you start gathering and start sifting. Just remember there are plenty here to help. ;-)


    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 12:32PM
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ykerzner(9 TX)

I totally agree with Jodik: because of its longevity the gritty mix wins hands down for any long-term plantings (bulbs, succulents, cacti, shrubs, and trees come to mind). It is worth every ounce of effort you put into it.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 12:37PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I think there is a common misconception, promulgated by an overzealous one or two that infers that anyone that touts the use of the gritty mix or the 5:1:1 mix tells everyone they meet that you CAN'T grow healthy plants in commercially prepared bagged soils. This would be an example of people twisting reality to grease the skids that lead to a personal agenda, and couldn't be farther from the truth.

Speaking for myself. I can say with complete honesty that I REGULARLY state the fact that you CAN grow healthy plants in a commercially prepared mix. BUT, it is usually more difficult and they cannot offer the same opportunity for plants to grow as near to their genetic potential as soils with better porosity and less water retention. If there is argument, it should center around this key factor. No one is saying your plants will die in Miracle-Gro soil, but MANY are saying that if you are struggling with the highly water retentive soils that come from a bag, and if your plants are not all you want them to be, there are ways to improve your situation and help to be had.

Personally, I have a very long record of helping people to get the most out of ANY soil they are growing in, or any soil they want to grow in. I've even written threads dedicated to Dealing with Water-Retentive Soils to help in that regard. If you look closely, you'll find that I rarely PUSH either the gritty mix or the 5:1:1 mix unless I'm asked about it. In recent days, I've come across several people wanting to repot into one of these mixes, which would be a PERFECT opportunity for me to PUSH the 5:1:1 mix or the gritty mix. Instead, I have told people it's better to try to get your plant to limp along until summer, correcting limiting factors now to the greatest degree possible sop that when days lengthen and the plant gains more energy it will withstand the repot better, ans we can talk more about soil then.

In other words, I'm more interested in people understanding the CONCEPTUAL relationships between soils and water retention than I am in 'getting them to use ""my"" soil'. I've NEVER used that term, btw. That doesn't mean that I won't help people when they ask about a soil, or point them in the direction of a better choice of soils AND the concept I push when it's painfully obvious their troubles are soil-related.

Look - I went to considerable effort, and maintained that effort, to tell people why soils work and why soils fail. I'm referring to the thread about how water behaves in soils. The thousands who have responded favorably to the information are clear evidence that I wasn't just blowing smoke, that the information is scientifically sound. I'm not a theorist. I hope it shows that I try to be scholarly, but more importantly, I'm a practical applicationist who has extensively observed the merit in what I have shared. I learn, then I let my practical experience validate what I've learned, then I share it with the forum. Everything I share or say is something I'm ALWAYS ready to discuss with all comers, at length and in depth.

If I only told people WHY certain things work as they do, I would be a theorist. I also show people HOW to make things work as I have shown them to work. The basic recipes I offer at the end of the thread about soils is the substance that separates be from theorist and allows me to be viewed as a practical applicationist; pictures help, too. I'm very glad people show interest in the recipes, and especially glad because it proves that what I said strikes a chord and makes sense. Because of how this information is received, people make their own decisions on what is the right or wrong path for them to follow. It's an individual decision that they make based on proven sound information.

Now, imagine a contrasting scenario with Chicken Little, feverishly running around in circles and telling everyone that they can't cross the mountain, while hundreds who have all crossed it are standing in a loose group looking at the pass and calmly reassuring others that haven't crossed, that they can if they wish. Chicken little can fabricate horrible stories about mudslides, rock slides, snowstorms, grizzly bears, roadside puddles, and waning daylight ..... but the reality is, so many have crossed the pass that the repetitive warnings become nothing but annoying background noise, especially because Chicken Little has no experience crossing the pass. It's most annoying to those that have crossed because the overwrought alarmism unnerves others who are as inexperienced in crossing as Chicken Little. It's not a surprise that the group with the positive approach and experience crossing the pass, gains the ear and trust of others. Ideally, Chicken Little would either cross the pass or get the overwrought alarmism under control; things would go much more smoothly for everyone.

I looked at what Ykerzner said and thought, "Hey - who am I to judge. The guy is happy with the way things are and I have no inclination to expend any energy to try to get him to change his mind. He knows already that I wish him well, and that if he needs/wants help or support he only needs to ask. That is the kind of relationship I prefer with everyone. He probably understands where I'm coming from and has decided what's best for him. Do I think he could do better? Yes - we all can, me included. He's not making any accusations or statements that if challenged he couldn't support, and his tone is very conversational - nothing at all in it that smacks of wanting to instigate an argument. What he said was very well thought out and reasonable."

..... so Happy New Year, Ykerzner! ;o)


    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 1:24PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hey, folks! Great discussion!

JoJo, maybe it was a distributor location at E.B. Stone's website? I'll link below.

I get most of my ingredients from a local nursery - Bark, Perlite, Red and Black Pumice, Quartz, Pea Gravel.
It's all produced by E.B. Stone.

I buy Turface at Sierra Turf and Supply down the road in Rocklin.


Here is a link that might be useful: E.B. Stone organics

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 1:33PM
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ykerzner(9 TX)

A Happy New Year to you too, Al!

And by the way, before I read the thread on a fertilizer program for containers, some time last winter, I rarely got more than a handful of fruits on any vegetables. Yields exploded (relatively) after this, and now I have a much greater understanding of fertilizers in containers. Thanks so much.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 2:00PM
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Thanks for your explanation, Al. I would have appreciated being included in your mention but that's okay.

In the spirit of the New Year, I wish everyone health and happiness and peace.

A few photos:
Great tomatoes grown in bagged mix/bark

Annuals grown in bagged mix/bark

Hibiscus potted in bagged mix/bark

Various annuals, vegetables all potted the same way

Assortment of vines - Moon Flower, Morning Glories potted in bagged/bark mix

Schefflera potted in bagged/bark

I apologize if some photos are too large. Still trying to learn how to reduce size.


    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 2:01PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hey, Jane....
(I know you meant to type Pachira instead of Schefflera...) ;)


    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 2:24PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Sungold tomatoes through October....


    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 2:31PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Jane - would you please take a minute to explain what you meant by "I would have appreciated being included in your mention but that's okay." I'm unsure what it refers to.


    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 2:56PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

HI Josh!
Yes, that's the one. :) Thanks!!

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 3:50PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

"""Posted by ykerzner 9 TX (My Page) on Fri, Dec 31, 10 at 12:37

I totally agree with Jodik: because of its longevity the gritty mix wins hands down for any long-term plantings (bulbs, succulents, cacti, shrubs, and trees come to mind). It is worth every ounce of effort you put into it.""

I agree too! I'm looking forward to enjoying more time to
"visit" my garden and all the beauties of it, due to less time repotting.

I grow alot in beds too.

Great pics everyone!

Your plants look very nice.
It's good you can grow in bagged mixes if that's the only way you can right now.

It looks like you can give them a little more shade than me. Arizona sun is brutal in the summer. I tired bagged for years and they just don't work.

If someone can make them work, than that's great.

I even tried gourds last season in the 5-1-1 and saw a huge improvment in them.


    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 5:13PM
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Darn it, a long post I tried to send from work (work? what's that?) didn't go through
Question: it has been mentioned several times about postponing repotting until spring, when dayhours are longer. Al's mentioned interim measures for improving plant health until its the optimum time to repot.
1/ My question is how do you know whether you've got situation that demands repotting even if it is January? 2]Which ills can wait till spring to be corrected.
3]Is there a triage logic? If it looks like this or this, go directly to surgery. If it doesn't, wait in the E.R. for 3 hours If the plant just has a stomachache wait until spring? (the equivilant of 6-8 hours in the ER)

I have a couple of orchid qs but I'll ask over at the orchid forum

ps went to Mahoney's and looked allround again. Just bout MG, in case one orchid's ills are lack of is like taking aspirin....


    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 6:18PM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

Mr.like2U thanks for the heads up on local sources of grit. That'll save me some gas. Made some gritty mix today and did an emergency repot on my wife's Christmas Cactus. The root system was extremely compacted with peat (pudding?) and it took me a while to bare root this plant using the kitchen sink spray hose. But I got it done and repotted. We'll see how it does pretty soon, but it was pretty unhapppy so I'm sure it will improve.

Marie, Bonsai places like NE Bonsai have all of the ingredients for either 5-1-1 or Gritty Mix, and it comes in smaller sizes. I went for the 50 lb sacks of grit and turface because it is cheaper that way. You can also get all the ingredients and have it mixed for you at, but that can be quite expensive. If you only want small amounts it might be OK. I need a large amount because I'm planning on putting about 50 hostas in 5-1-1 or gritty this coming spring.

If you need any help with acquiring ingredients, please feel free to email me. I'll be glad to help.


    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 7:49PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hi, Marie. Triage logic - cute! ;o) Plants that are weak just don't tolerate extensive work well. Heavy pruning above or below the ground, like during a repot (as opposed to potting up) is a trauma that plants in good vitality tolerate well, but weak ones do not. In almost every case, there is no justification for piling that kind of stress on a plant when it is weak & the recovery period guaranteed to be lengthy. The 2 issues that require careful some careful consideration during the winter are the soggy soil/over-watering relationship and a build-up of salts in the soil. Other issues that often occur are insects and lack of light, but here the course requires little consideration. You get rid of the bugs or put the plant in better light. If you don't have better light, there is no sense in fretting because you can't fix it unless you supplement.

OK - back to the 2 most common problems, soggy soil/over-watering and a build-up of salt. Both are almost always soil related issues and can be remedied by changing the soil to something like we're discussing on this forum, but we know it's not best to repot in the winter unless we're talking about temperate plants that are dormant and there is no chance their roots will be exposed to freezing temps after the repot.

There are ways to temporarily deal with soggy soil and salt build-up, so part of my routine suggestions is to flush the soil and then take measures that help with the saturated soil/over-watering. It's something of a shotgun approach I wouldn't have to take if I had the plant in hand and could (hopefully) isolate the actual cause of the plants decline, but once things like insects, disease, and a greater-than-normal-for-winter lack of light are eliminated, we're usually left with the usual suspects.

Most growers never even consider energy management in their plants, but because of the major work bonsai practitioners must do to bring their plants along, it becomes critical that we have a good understanding of how the plant reacts to all sorts of stimuli at various parts of the growth cycle and at all energy levels. Plants are plants, and 95% of what applies to plant A applies to plant B. When it comes right down to it, the physiology of trees in little different than that of a potato or a marigold. If you understand 1 plant thoroughly, you understand at least 90% of what applies to all plants - probably more.


    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 9:29PM
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Steve Pudding ? LOL at least the dog will eat it RE; the help offer is very kind of you I sent you an email to extend your offer. I see you re-potted a holiday cactus too, funny there seems to be a bit of that going around lately. Worry not it will bounce right back suggesting to give it a rest in a soft light area no direct sun 6 - 10 weeks before moving to a more direct sun lite position.
On your bagged soil feedback I certainly respect you for your response even thou you knew convincing me wasn't going to be done you took great efforts in expressing yourself in a very courteous and friendly manner. In short are there alternatives other than peat based bagged ? Do you think that a truck load of top soil or loam delivery would help to not have to pick up second rounds of bagged soils ? Maybe a home compost pile could take a chunk out of the extra bag buying duties I mention this because Al also never said plants WONT grow in these types of soils either.

Marie: Repotting I read Al saying or how I read it. The ideal/best time to re pot is during a plants dormant time up to and ideal time being just prior to there initial ending of dormancy. Which is usually spring for a lot of the most common plants. Al said MOST plants because he knows not ALL plants go dormant at the same time.
I think ( not to dismiss Al ) Jodi can help explain re-potting yours a bit better than I can at least she definitely makes for better reading that I could ever offer.Jodi may even ask if your going to store the bulbs or allow a more natural growing as I do for Hyppies.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 11:25PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Generally: Repot houseplants/tropicals/sub-tropicals in the month immediately prior to their most robust growth. It's common to repot many tropical flowering plants like hibiscus and brugs in the spring, even though they would recover faster if repotted in the summer. This, so the bloom period is not interrupted.

Repot temperate deciduous plants and temperate herbaceous perennials in spring at the onset of, or just before growth or budswell if there is any chance the plants' roots would be exposed to freezing temperatures if they were repotted earlier.

It's ok to repot most plants in fall if they are kept in an area where their roots will not be subjected to freezing temps. It's not that freezing soil temperatures are particularly dangerous to plants that are tolerant of freezing lows, only that new roots are much more succulent and less hardy than older lignified roots and need protection to prevent the plant from expending energy unnecessarily on roots that will be lost if they freeze.

Evergreens vary, but most are best repotted in spring at the onset of growth, except most pines are repotted in the summer months - I repot my pines in Aug.


    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 12:07AM
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Al,The wintergreen was being sold inside/indoors the nursery at Christmas as a christmas plant. They should be enjoying the cold, however I don't know how they were raised before showed up in Massachusetts in pots indoors. Wouldn't you hestitate to put them where it is freezing without acclimatizing them? Can't acclimitize to outdoors is 50 today and could be 20 by tomorrow. I know they are very hardy...well below zone 4. However I don't have a garage or a cold greenhouse. Are you saying they need a dormant period? The best I can do is the cool basement. BTW, the only outdoor container plants I have are annuals, and a few perennials I use in pots. It is the house plants I'm concerned about.
mike, I live in Lexington. I still don't know where you are located.
Bonsai west website is under construction. But I'll call and see what they have before I order from Repot Me.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 1:46AM
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Al, I love your Chicken Little analogy! It tells the story very well, indeed! :-)

Marie, when it comes to Amaryllis bulbs, re-potting or triage will largely depend on the exact issue. If I could see your potted bulbs, I'd know exactly what to tell you. I've been growing Hippeastrums and other Amaryllids almost exclusively for the better part of a decade, now. A few of my bulbs are older than that. You might say that bulbs are my specialty!

Amaryllis bulbs are very sensitive to excess moisture. They hate "wet feet", or consistently wet roots, and bulb rot can quickly become an issue.

When I purchase a bulb kit, the very first thing I do is dispose of the coir medium that comes with it, and the cheap plastic pot. I prefer growing bulbs in porous terracotta clay pots, and I get the best results from a grittier, more aerated medium.

As long as there aren't any rot issues presently, and you allow the soil to dry out around the root ball area before watering again, you can probably wait until spring to disturb your bulbs with a re-pot. If there IS a rot issue, immediate triage will be necessary in order to save the bulb.

There are different schools of thought on growing Hippeastrum bulbs... the discussion of which could take up another entire thread! Some people force a dormancy, some schedule their bulbs for blooming, some allow dormancy with the bulbs left in the pots, some un-pot and store their bulbs... I grow mine similar to any other houseplant, and I allow the bulbs to tell me what they want by observing them closely.

They are sold around Christmas, primed to bloom by the growers... but their natural bloom time is actually in early spring to summer, after which they grow a set of leaves in order to recharge, and then they rest... in anticipation of their next bloom cycle. My bulbs typically bloom in early spring, grow leaves and utilize the sun and fertilizer to recharge over summer, and then they drop leaves and rest in late fall and over winter. When I observe them wanting to rest, I cut back on watering somewhat. When I observe new growth, I resume normal watering. I feed a diluted fertilizer about every other time I water, and I flush with clear water every so often to remove excess salts.

The important thing to remember is that bulbs can't tolerate constant wetness, which is why the Gritty Mix works so well.

Tell me about your bulbs and the condition they're in, Marie, and I'd be happy to help you determine a re-potting schedule. If they appear to be growing well, and there are no rot or other issues, you can easily wait until spring to re-pot... but if there are rot or other issues, I'd be happy to walk you through emergency triage! :-)

    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 6:11AM
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Hi Marie:

I live in Lowell, just 15 minutes from you. How good is that? Looks like you will not be worrying too much about the ingredients since I can help you out quite a bit. We will talk soon

Also, I thought the "Christmas Pine Trees" being sold in stores now were tropicals. Am I mistaken? I have a few of those, or what looks like those growing on my property in the Tropics.

Have a happy day everybody!

    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 8:18AM
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Happy New Year! We had a lovely New Year's Eve with friends, most of whom are in their 60's, like us. The yawns practically swallowed the dining room by 11;15, but we all hung in till midnight. Mass exodus at 12:05.

The last thing I did before going to sleep at 3:30 am was check this forum. I knew there would be many posts, just like now! Do you guys ever sleep? I guess you live breathe and sleep container plants!

JoJo, the amaryllis bulbs are brand new, growing in that terrible coir medium. I've grown them before but never had one longer than a year when I got exasperated with the space it took up and tossed it.

This fall, I decided to play with houseplants seriously for the first time since I had children. I realized I needed a hobby to get me throug the winter. That was 30 years ago. I had a couple of dozen back then, and they slowly died from neglect when I discovered I couldn't take care of them and a baby. Over the years, I've had more but they die over the summer when I spend every waking minute of daylight out in the garden.

I bought the amaryllis because they were inexpensive and very forgiving. I must have opened 60 boxes in the grocery store checking their size and health. I have 6, all the very common ones--appleblossom, amigo, vera, white xmas,--they've all sent up leaves and a couple have stalks peeping up. I'm only watering when dry. I think I'll let them stay in the coir until after they've bloomed. I've got enough to do!
My other undertaking is a couple of evening florist classes in flower arranging. Very inexpensive and time limited but also a good change of pace from outdoor gardening

I garden on about a half acre in Lexingon Ma, where the American Revolution started. Sometimes neighboring Concord stakes that claim, too. But in fact "the shot heard 'round the world" was fired there. It is not an old town anymore; it is an affluent suburb, though we are not among the affluent, in part because I spend every extra penny on plants, trees and shrubs. I love to garden, but I am not a very accomplished designer. I have a vision, but really realy struggle in the execution.

I put together a couple of big Xmas urns this year. They came out verywell, but were lacking something. I realized I encountered the same limitation as in my garden design. I often stop short of whatever makes a design "sing"....or "zing"...I threw on a dozen more red balls and it made a big difference. But I had to talk myself into it!

As I get older I'm following a not uncommon path: putting in more and more trees and shrubs.I'm getting tired of fussing with grooming, dividing, fertilizing and weeding big perennial beds. The Weeding. The Watering. My aching back. Finally am paying for some help in garden, too.

I've got two young adult children who live halfway and all the way across the country.Another lives near us; she has developmental disabilities. On Sundays when she is home, she wants to garden, go to nurseries or greenhouses.She is a wonderful plant shopper with a great eye for form. When I'm buying a plant I'll set out several and ask her to choose the best. She has an unerring eye.She stops at plants I walk by and comments on the form or color. She hasincreased my appreciation of 'gardening without premeditation"

Mike, it is great you live so close. I worked in Lowell for a year, and still have a few friends there. I'll email you about getting in touch and how you would like to handle the soil.

I hope you all don't mind I've shared something about myself. I've actually never done so on another forum. But you guys are truly exceptional in your generosity and warmth. Don't know what I contribute to this forum except my thanks for a place among happy people during a New England winter!


    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 1:09PM
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That wonderful and ACCURATE history lesson is a great contribution. Boston to Lexington to Sudbury yeah Concord too. A early American history filled area love the country side road scenery especially in fall. For your daughter CLICK HERE and you too even in bleek gray cold Feb there is something there for both of you.
Mike, Steve is over here by me up the road a bit let me know if you need anything other than black pumice.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 5:28PM
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Mrlike2u: Did you here about Jimmje's nursery closing up for good?

You can get 50 year old and very mature plants, such as blooming Hoya's, thick trunked Jades, Hobbits years old, NBC at flowering stage, huge citrus trees, olive trees over 3 feet tall and so on for about as cheap as can be. I got a 5 foot blooming olive tree worth 150 dollars for 20 dollars and a few mature thick trunked gorgeous hobbits worth over 50 dollars, variegated, compact crosby jades and much more for 4 dollars! I bought some for a few friends here that do not even know it. lol
The owner is 92 years old and believe me when I tell you, there are lot's of gems I found there.

If you are off Tuesday am let me know.


    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 9:26PM
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Mrlike2u: Did you here about Jimmje's nursery closing up for good?
Got the news two days ago was planning Wed but Tuesday works for me too.
It's going to take a few days for my decoder ring to work I dropped it a week ago and it cracked but as soon as it's back in working order I'll know what a plant type NBC is. (Nice big cactus?)
If your heading this way and wanna be the hitch hiker just send an email of where we can koalackha if not then I'll be the hitch hiker

    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 11:39PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hello everyone!!!

I just want to say that you all are so lucky to have that lovely nursey close to you in Mass...Both of my parent are from Boston...I loved the little histroy lesson...on my mother's side...our names go back to the Revere name!!! Yes, the man who had a big mouth!!! love all of the history...mkes me want to visit again soon...maybe when it warms back up...

Mike that sounds like great find...lucky lucky!!!

I have found a nursery close to me in Richmond who has alot of the ingredients for "the Mix" I can't wait to get my proper ingredients together and repot come springtime!!!

Take care this thread...Welcome Marie!!!

Laura in VB

    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 11:40PM
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It's always nice, Marie, to learn a little something personal about the people we share these forums with. Thank you for sharing! Welcome, if I haven't already said it. :-)

Looking back on my own life, I pared down my gardening, too, while raising my children. Once they were grown, though, I dove back in with much zeal!

I find myself in a quandary as I get older, though... I don't really want to pare down, even though the physical aspects are getting harder to manage as time passes. A mere decade ago, I could manage all parts of landscaping and preparing new beds outdoors, right down to the double digging and hauling heavy wheelbarrow loads of amendments.

Today, I have to find help to get through the more difficult physical aspects of perennial gardening. I think choosing a more "Cottage Garden" style of growing has helped eliminate some of the more demanding issues... I allow the perennial beds to evolve on their own, for the most part.

The largest amount of work is in the rose beds... unavoidable, though, as this is our business. We grow and sell hardy, own-root roses of the harder to find and old fashioned persuasion. Keeping it to a manageable size will be imperative.

Tender and rare bulbs, my indoor passion, gets neglected during the nicer seasons so I can work outdoors... the colder months brings a renewed effort to work with my indoor jungle!

Sleep? What's that? As I age, it seems that insomnia creeps in more and more... and I find myself napping during daylight hours! I think you'll find people posting at all hours due to many reasons... mine just happens to be insomnia. I should probably try to rest... have a lovely day, everyone!

    Bookmark   January 3, 2011 at 6:02AM
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Laura: I will help you..I will e-mail you sometime tomorrow, k. Also I will try and see if something you really like is at the nursery! Good to see you too!If you should ever decide to visit up here, let me know and I can take you around. By the way, I just LOVE your snowy palms pics! I use them as my backgrounds at work and everyone loves them. Thank you

Jodik: How are you? You getting old? Stop that. You are still just a kid at heart and in mind..This I will tell you though that no matter how old you are, cleaning perennial and rose beds can zap the life right out of you!
Your hard work really pays off though, since the pictures you post speak volumes! I can not wait to see more come spring.
By the way, I just got some Amaryllis bulbs, not sure that is how you spell it, lol for 75 percent off the regular price. I can not wait to grow some thanks to you.

Marie: I really enjoyed learning about you. I love the way you describe the area too. Thank you much. Don't forget to let me know what you need and I will deliver..

Good night everyone


    Bookmark   January 3, 2011 at 9:54PM
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I too am a newbie to gardening. My husband and I built a beautiful deck and pergola last year and a container gardening bug bit me. I have never really had a veggie garden but I am determined to try. I am very interested in growing some basic vegs in large galvanized wash tubs that I have. I think I understand that the 5-1-1 mix is for one growing season and the gritty mix can last 2 or 3? Would it work to plant vegs in the gritty, cover the containers after harvest (we get loads of rain and snow) and hopefully extend the useability/viability of the soil rather than mix up new 5-1-1 every year? Would it be a good idea for me to line the inside of the metal containers with bubble wrap in case it might decide to get too hot in western WA :)? I know I'll have a million more questions and I'm so grateful to have found the forum. Any books anyone recommend on beginning veg container gardening?
Thank! Julie

    Bookmark   January 3, 2011 at 10:20PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It seems like every time a discussion about the gritty mix comes up (or the 5:1:1 mix for that matter), there are always one or two negative Nellies that try to sell you a hundred reasons why you shouldn't even try them, which makes no sense to me, especially because in nearly every case they admit to never having used them. The real point I'm getting to here, is you can see the support group that comes along with the decision to try the mixes. Support from those who HAVE tried them, many of whom attest to having experienced remarkable changes in their abilities to consistently produce superior plants with less effort.

Doesn't it warm your heart to see people go so far out of their way to do as much as they can to help you make your growing experience more rewarding? You're a good guy, Mike, and so are all the others upthread offering help, support, and encouragement.

Johnny Mercer wrote a song and Bing Crosby (I think) made it popular ... oh, about a hundred years ago ...

You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between

You've got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium's
Liable to walk upon the scene


    Bookmark   January 3, 2011 at 10:33PM
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Al, you can brighten up! We all went to Bonsai West and gasped as the hundreds of Bonsai on display. That didn't include the cold greenhouse or the outdoor display.
And I bought their gritty bonsai mix.
I told you I listen to advice, get information and make my own decisions. So i'm giving gritty mix a try.
I must say, if money was really hard to come by, I might not have.I had sticker shock. A huge bag of Scott's (even if it is mostly air, perlite and dried peat) is a lot less expensive than the small bag of bonsai soil. I heard what you all said about the long term expense being reduced, but this soil is an investment and I can understand that many people would balk. However, I'm sure most people don't even get as far as comparing prices between store bought mass produced potting soil and making/buying gritty mix. They probably don't even think about the soil at all.

I bought their bonsai mix, which they've developed over the 25 years in business. It is grit, turface and fir. I didn't think to ask about the proportions. Frankly, I figured if they are growing bonsai selling for 5,000 dollars the soil is probably pretty good. I think they are selling $10 bonsai babies in the same mix!

They did not carry the special fertilizer y'all like so much.I have MG. I need gypsum don't I?

Mike, if I need gypsum I"ll let you know.Meanwhile the plants are just going get along with new soil.

And Mike, if you do read this before you go to that nursery, keep an eye open for rizome begonias with gorgeous leaves or orchids. I think I mentioned this in an email I sent, but it may not have gotten to you.
btw, at Bonsai West I loved the "sago pine" There was someting about that squat bulb with three gorgeous leaves hovering over it. It reminded me of a little round woman in a lovely hat. If I wasn't say no to both my kids, I would have bought it. But my vow is no more plants till I repot what I have.


    Bookmark   January 3, 2011 at 11:46PM
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Marie, that's kind of how I began with grittier mediums, too... I bought a small bag of bonsai mix from our local garden center/nursery to try! I, too, was shocked at the price tag on a very small bag of what bonsai enthusiasts use! However, that bonsai medium looked so good that I began my quest for the ingredients to make my own, positive I could shave a few dollars off the price by doing so! And so I have.

It takes a little getting used to... adjusting your watering to accommodate, and all... but once you get a feel for everything, and you see how your plants respond... well, I think all the support here speaks for itself!

Al, that's exactly it. And to quote my Dad, "How do you know unless you give something a try?" He used to impress upon me how easy it was to be negative, to say "can't" or "won't"... but you'll never reap any rewards unless you give effort toward them.

So much of what he told me as a child made deep, lasting impressions. He was always so positive, so supportive... he pushed me from the nest so I could soar on my own, but I always felt his strong hand ready to catch me should I waver. I hope I've passed that very same "can do" attitude on to my own children... and I hope it shows up here, too. :-)

Mike, you've already got the knowledge base to be extremely successful in growing those bulbs. I know you'll enjoy their easy care and easy bloom! And if you've ever wanted to try your hand at pollination, the Hippeastrum flower is the perfect place to begin. We all know them as Amaryllis bulbs, but their name is actually Hippeastrum, and the types you've purchased are more likely Hybrids with variety names such as "Apple Blossom" or "Red Lion", etc...

If you have any questions, I'm only an email away, Mike! I'd be thrilled to help you with any bulb questions you may have! :-)

Julie, welcome to the wonderful world of container gardening! There is so much excellent information to be had by reading through some of the past threads in this forum... and there's a support group of folks here only too happy to help you in any way you need!

The best starting point I can recommend is reading Al's thread on Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention #12. It's the most popular and informative thread this forum has ever had, and it's been filled to capacity 12 times! That says a lot!

There's no reason to be overwhelmed by all the Gritty Mix information... take it slow, do a little reading... once you understand the HOW and WHY of it, all the other details fall easily into place.

And with such a great support group waiting in the wings to help, failure is not an option! :-)

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 8:47AM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Hi Marie,
you will need to add gypsum. And it's best to mix it in before adding the plant.

""I would have bought it. But my vow is no more plants till I repot what I have.""

Please let me know how to stick to this rule.. Because i'm sure we've all decided this at one time or another, but yet the darn plants still end up following us home. LOL!

Good to see things are coming together for you!

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 9:25AM
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Hello Marie. I would like also welcome you to the container forum. I have been a member for about 8 or so years. First I hung out in the nature forums under a different user name. But then i stumbled on to this forum and Al's potting soil knowledge. I have been a gardener for a very long time, but not a very good one. I grew allot stuff in containers with meager results at best. I'm a slow leaner. The people here like Al and others had lots of patience with me. When I switched to the 5.1.1 for my outside containers the results were nothing short of amazing. It too me a while to locate the ingredients for the gritty, but it was sure worth it. I would post some pics but I can't seem to figure out photo buckets new format. I told you I was a slow learner! :) There are people here who write for garden magazines. They won't let you know who they are. But you kind of figure it out after a while. I'm from the north shore of mass. I have lived in southern maine now for 26 years. I get my turface from john deer landscapes, and my granigrit from Andys harware, I buy my pine bark by the small truck load. I sift it myself. If I can be of any help at all to you please let me know. Happy gardening! filix.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 9:58AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Oh, I'm brightened up, Marie. ;o)

One tip: For economic reasons, commercial bonsai soils are usually not screened so they don't hold perched water. I can't say that is the case with what you have purchased, but you'll probably have to be a little more careful about watering than you would need to be with the gritty mix. Still, what you have should offer noticeable improvement over most bagged, peat based soils. Now we need to get you started on a good fertilizer program.

When you said "WE" went to the bonsai shop, was it with someone from the forum - just curious.

Best luck! Don't expect immediate miracles because of the season, but you should really start to see improvement once the days lengthen after the equinox and on into summer.


    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 11:04AM
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Hi Al,
So, lets get started with the fertilizer program!
My family went with me. We got there minutes before they closed but it was a fantasy land.
Only 25 minutes from home, very easy drive.
I'm glad I went ahead and bought it. It could have been weeks before I got all the other ingredients together, and with me I have to do things while I'm interested. Not infrequetnly, half done projects languish forever with me.


    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 9:05PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Wow! I love that enthusiasm. I really do! It's so much more fun to be around enthusiastic people who are looking forward with a positive attitude.

OK - here's Marie's reading assignment. When you're done with that, if there's anything you don't understand, just ask and your 'entire support group' will have it covered. ;o) Even if you don't happen to have enough 'background' to understand a large part of it - don't worry. It's better to understand the how and why of what makes things work, but even if just following proven directions is what it takes, we can do that and you can learn on the job. You'll have your friends & family envious over your plants by summer's end .... no problem. ;o)


    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 9:27PM
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'"For economic reasons, commercial bonsai soils are usually not screened so they don't hold perched water".

Is that suppose to say that they DO hold perched water because they are not screened Al? Sorry The one they use is not screened and even a bit dusty.

I will say that the mix sold there is much better than most bagged mixes, but for me it still held water way to long. It will not allow me to grow plants in a cool room in winter while it stays damp for days on end. The use of a fan does help a bit, but not good enough for me.
The ingredients are very fine indeed and yet many at that shop will say I shouldn't be to concerned over it. I guess that is if one is use to growing in mixes that stay wet longer than the gritty mix I use.

It is much different and I just can't grow in it, even after asking them how to.I have already lost 2 jades in it, a gardenia and a citrus. It can be a different experience for someone else and maybe the best soil for the next person to use.
Of course, as much as one of the workers there is my friend, he is still trying to convince me to use peaty mixes, has great success with it while at times showing me many of their Bonsai's that do well in it.

I am not saying it will not work for you, and that is is not a good mix. By comparison to most bagged mixes, I will say it is better than bagged mixes in some ways.

Marie, give it a shot and ask the Bonsai shop owner and workers how to work with it. I strongly suggest that you let them help you since they are the ones that make it and seem to grow everything they have just fine. They know the secret to using this stuff.

You can even post a close up picture of it here to get our opinion.

If this mix does not work for you, you will have me around to make you some of the gritty mix I use, or even get the 3 supplies you need and show you how to make it.

If I wasn't so tired I would continue, but I do have to say a special goodnight to my friends. You know who you are:-)


    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 11:33PM
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I will use the bonsai west mix for my indoor houseplants that may be more moisture tolerant than succulents. I have the begonias and few others that I bet will be happy in anything other than what they are in now.

Maybe I was a bit quick to buy it.I now have two offers to help me get the supplies for the gen-u-ine mix and mix them. I think I will have a gritty mix party. Anyone who wants to drive to Lexington MA just let me know and I'll arrange the refreshments.

What about mixing the gritty mix half and half with the bonsai mix. I bet that would be very close to the 5-1-1-
Have you two Mikes/Michaels met one another?

    Bookmark   January 5, 2011 at 12:14AM
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I just read a great tagline utilized by a semi-hydroponic grower... it goes a little something like this:

"Better growing through science and logic!"

Just wanted to share that, because that's what we're all about! :-)

    Bookmark   January 5, 2011 at 11:53AM
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Maire ask Have you two Mikes/Michaels met one another?
Yes. LOL thou my name isn't Mike and the next time he leaves something in my car I'm holding it for ransom my way of saying thanks to Mike for the two potted items

Not to go off topic but for Marie; Ref to your amaryllis bulbs, Can we think of them as a plant ? If you follow a regular watering schedule you can have an outcome that you can enjoy. The mix you got from B West will work as well as the mix ingredients I got from the other shops and enjoyable leg work.

I wont waste time on which is the better mix as there both in a sense nearly the same. What most people would reference as a free or open draining. An experience and result I know of is one benefit ( there are more) for a free draining soil is ****** IF **** I where to water my plants every day I would not over watering it. HOWEVER I find daily watering to be true for the plant that we call Amaryllis. A second advantage is, If I don't water everyday the plant will still grow and have a good result(flower) YET What I really do is water on a regular schedule depending on the season outside and inside temps the watering times will vary.

Al I didn't read the/her reading assignment for fertilizing thank you for the link For her efforts in being more plant growing complete I drew a little drawing

Mike is that the hostage ? Just let me know if it's a taker.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2011 at 12:24PM
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I'm clearer on the potting medium, but....very confused about the Michael and not-mike. I'm not going to worry about it, although if not-mike wants to clarify who he really please go ahead.

In any case, I'm enjoying the advice, no matter who the source is.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2011 at 4:31PM
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Marie: Please excuse the wording I use that could be confusing you. Perhaps it would be better to un-confuse you if or when you decide to hold the gritty mix party. I'm VERY VERY glad you had some time and got to see some parts of Bonsai West, I think of them as a very eye pleasing tip of (the plant lovers) ice-berg. As the smaller New England Bonsai is closer to me. If by chance Bonsai West doesn't have something that would be in a gritty mix Mike updates me and I in turn go to the bit smaller but still a great NE Bonsai shop to get it.

I like that quick re-post Jodi, as just the other day someone understood me when I repeated. It isn't what we can grow, it's what we cant get to grow with the lengths we use to succeed.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2011 at 2:50AM
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I see why I thought you were a mike....just drop the r &l from your moniker. My brain does things like that.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2011 at 2:54PM
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A new friend on this forum bought a bag of chicken grit for me. Onto the turface!
I'm gonna see if Bonsai West will take back the large unopened bag of its soil. Of course I"ll have to buy something with the credit....

    Bookmark   January 9, 2011 at 12:06AM
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Yes they should have MVP turface available in different weight sized bags There will be a second market price mark up as you may already know I don't know about exchange policies there never had to make one but an exchange for MVP with the bagged soil sounds like a plan. Suggestion Stop in at any home depot or lowes and pick up a bag of perlite on your way back should be in the indoor lawn and garden dept inside.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2011 at 8:42AM
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Well I just joined to say it IS overwhelming, in part due to the style of this forum not being able to "sticky" important posts for easy reference. It is NOT helpful at all to read the inventor of this mix chastising someone "my first post..." when a search returns HUNDREDS of threads and posts about this mix.

Moreover, sarcastic comments like "Hmmm - I think that since Steve already has the ingredients and has noted that some come in 50 lb bags, it's a good bet he's aware of the weight of the materials and has set that aside as an obstacle." are rude and unnecessary. The person was CLEARLY referring to carrying around pots and just because someone like Steve maneuvered 50 lb bags of crap is irrelevant.

Further, perhaps you infer Stevie will have no problem with the weight and feel this entitles you to insult women (and others) however, post Jessicasgrowincitrus "my first time transplanting" CLEARLY STATES SHE CANNOT MOVE HER TRANSPLANTED POT and will have to RE-DO her entire transplant.

Seems to me for such an ~expert you would mention that newbies should be placing their pots on a wheeled device instead of insulting someone for being concerned over the end weight of a SMALL container after BREAKING HER SHOULDER a couple years ago. eyeroll

I am an experienced gardener, and the concept of the mix is not a challenging one. Moreover I know how to "fish" not just "eat fish". But having to sift through hundreds of postings to uncover the brand names, substitutions, locations, qualifiers, qualifiers of what you need to replace in terms of nutrients if you go with a replacement additive etc etc etc takes DAYS.

I've spent one entire 24 hour day period of time this weekend just trying to come up with a shopping list and "if this" , "then that" document when a simple LINK to a LIST of Brand names and ratios and nutrient needs would have taken care of it by these all knowing experts. Not saying this is the fault of the members because of the code of this board, but all this pearl clutching over other members finding it difficult and the condescending, smug insults are beyond.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2011 at 10:56AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Rather aggressive tone you have there, but welcome to the fray.

The "fish" comment was mine, and I don't think it was offered in any condescending fashion.

Unfortunately, Brands aren't consistently available around the country, nor are the actual products
consistent from bag to bag, season to season - as we've learned regarding the bark component.
This makes it difficult to recommend a Brand or a store.


    Bookmark   May 8, 2011 at 12:53PM
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