Mixes for Beginners

stonesriver(6B Tennessee)July 3, 2012

This thread is meant to help beginners find a basic, easy-to-use or easy-to-make mix; not to discuss pros and cons of one mix over another.

Many of the people new to these forums only have two or three plants and don't need large amounts of soil. They have easy access in Big Box Store to small bags of potting ingredients (soil, perlite, vermiculite, sand, gravel, bark, etc.) and most are not ready to take the step of making their own mix from ingredients that need to be ordered or are not accessible in one place.

Taking the above into consideration, what simple mix would you suggest from ingredients that can be found in one store. You can break it down to "You can use ??? for succulents, ??? for philos," etc.

Me? I recommend Miracle Gro with 50-60% perlite. Both ingredients are readily available BB stores. I would warn against straight Miracle Grow no matter the formula (especially the African violet).

I asked in advance and GW has confirmed that I can set the rules. So, please keep it short and no posts which denigrate peat-based products or criticize any of the suggested mixes.

Thank you,


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stonesriver(6B Tennessee)

Oops, meant to add nurseries, garden centers, etc., as sources of ingredients; not just BB stores.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 3:30AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

The ingredients in the mix you use aren't as important as the size of the particles in the mix. If you want to use a high % of coarse perlite (75-85% plus) and a small fraction of peat/compost/coir ...., you can make a soil that is structurally well-suited to virtually all your houseplants except perhaps those that are very fluoride sensitive. If you mix either peat/compost/coir .... and perlite at approximately 1:1, the perlite helps serve to reduce water retention but does little to improve aeration or flow-through rates because the finer particles of peat/compost/coir .... simply 'fill in' around the coarse particles of perlite. Used as small fractions of container media, large particles serve little purpose in container media, but as very large fractions of the soil they make a significant difference. In some cases, as in when the larger particles are not internally porous (perlite) the particles do serve to reduce water retention, which is a plus.

In a recent thread, I mentioned that you can use a few ingredients to make an excellent soil, or you can combine the same ingredients in a manner that makes a poor soil. Understanding why this is true, and understanding the factors that govern things like water retention, aeration, and how tall that soggy layer of water at the bottom of the pot is going to be is much more valuable than any recipe I might offer. It also allows you to walk into any establishment that sells potential soil ingredients and make an on the spot decision as to the suitability of those ingredients in container media.

What I said isn't a rap against any ingredient or any recipe, it's simply a very general and limited commentary about container media.


    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 7:07AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Linda, great topic! I agree the addition of coarse perlite is a benefit. It would be my second choice for an amendment, bark fines being my 'fave '.

What I hate to see is anyone giving up before even trying to grow their very first houseplant. That hurts me. It is perfectly possible to have lots of success with a good commercial mix. What's that commercial for orange juice say? "Unmessed around with." :-)

I hope you get some input about some readily available potting soils....other than MG. What are some of the orchid or cactus mixes like? I confess that I don't know.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 7:23AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

For the last 10 years or so, I've been using mostly aged mulch (been in a bag for a while, over winter is excellent) to which I add some composted leaves and top soil. This isn't practical for those without a yard but it works well for me and my plants like it a lot. Ever since I stopped using any peat, I haven't had any plants die except for unrelated reasons, such as freezing to death.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 8:23AM
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stonesriver(6B Tennessee)

Thank you, rhizo and purple. I'll keep the compost idea in mind.

Like rhizo, I hate to see the plant world's future give up before they have their first success. After all, you have to learn to turn on the oven before you can bake a cake! If you slap a Red Velvet cake (and icing) recipe at someone who is learning to bake they will often give up over that intimidating task. So you start with cake from a box. Later, when they are more confident in their abilities, you introduce the "from scratch" thing.

I have used Fafard in the past and currently use Metro Mix; both available at nurseries and co-ops. Unfortunately, the Farfard many prefer isn't sold in small bags at my co-op and they won't special order them. Wouldn't the Fafard you find in nurseries work okay if amended with coarse perlite?

I've grown succulents quite successfully in bark and perlite. And I believe I read one poster who grows Easter Cactus that way.

Anyhow, please bring on what you would recommend for a beginner.



    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 3:52PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I was born with a love of the outdoors and a love of hunting. When I was 10, my father allowed me to buy a single shot .410 shotgun with money I had earned working on truck farms so I could hunt with him. It had a full choke, and at a range of 40 yards the size of the pattern covered by the shot pellets was hardly bigger than a basketball, so it was very difficult to hit a pheasant in flight. I'm sure I was limited to a non-repeating firearm because my father wanted to be sure of HIS confidence in my ability to safely handle a repeater. I carried the gun for 3 years before he relented and allowed me the gun of my choice, a pump action 20 gauge. In 3 years, I might have shot 3 pheasants with the first gun, but after I acquired the 20 gauge with a modified choke (larger pattern) I rarely missed a bird and harvested (easily) 50+ pheasants per season over our (GSH) pointers. So, I endured 3 years of frustration with no increase in my confidence/ability because I was limited by the gun I was forced to carry. Soils can be much the same.

So far, everyone who has posted to your thread recognizes the limitations imposed by container soils based on fine particles - we all agree on that point. I don't think any of us would recommend Miracle-Gro as a good growing medium, for example. We all agree you can MAKE it work, and you CAN grow healthy plants in it, but it's not as easy as it would be with a soil that has more porosity, better drainage, and doesn't have an excessively soggy layer of soil at the bottom of the pot after watering; and it doesn't have the same potential to produce plants that can be counted on to exhibit good growth and vitality.

Each of us wants everyone we help to succeed. I know I'll go to the ends of the earth to help any grower who exhibits some enthusiasm and the want to improve their skills. It happens that I think the biggest improvement a new container grower can make is going to come from his understanding of soils and how to keep the root system functioning efficiently. That is requisite for healthy plants. If we don't give a new grower the opportunity to gain that understanding, are we doing him a favor? I don't think we are.

Whenever a new grower shows up with a problem, 90% of the time that problem will originate with the soil. We need to explain the importance of soils and let it go at that. Sure, it's helpful and an improvement to add perlite to MG soil, but it's a whole lot better to add MG soil and perlite to pine bark .... and the reasons why are clearly delineated and defined by science.

Let's look closer at who might choose to give up on growing because of information overload. I think this probably goes straight to the heart of the topic. I'm probably about the most technically minded person who regularly visits this forum when it comes to plants. I'm rarely interested in a thread unless I can offer something that requires some science to explain, so whenever I post, it's so the person I'm speaking to can have an opportunity to absorb the best information I can offer, but I'm no dummy. As soon as there is a hint I'm wasting my time, I'm off to somewhere else.

I know with a great deal of certainty that offering people the opportunity to learn as much as they can as fast as they can is the right thing to do, just by the number of people who contact me off forum and the comments I receive. If they choose not to pursue the information, they lose nothing but the opportunity. I can't imagine anyone being put off by the offer of help to the degree that they would stop growing houseplants, but I can see a good percentage of growers who aren't interested enough in growing or in making the effort to at least want to learn how they might improve their soil situation that they might remain perfectly happy with a soil like MG .... and if they're happy, shouldn't we all be?

What does put some growers off is friction and disagreement that isn't handled well. When we intentionally sow the seeds of misinformation or get personally aggressive, people often go elsewhere. That is an unfortunate by-product of HOW some people handle disagreement. Fortunately, this forum has been a much nicer place to spend time lately because the tactics that cause so much friction have been on something of a holiday of late.

In following your lead, I broke one of your rules and 'went long'. For that I apologize. I'm passionate about soils because I truly love to help others, and the topic of 'soils' is the area I feel represents the best opportunity to help. You'll have to forgive me if I continue to offer help the best way I know how to those who want and need it. My experience is that it may not be that everyone fully appreciates the offer, but no one who asks for/needs help resents it, and the number of people that have been helped by information that to some might seem too technical is far too large to abandon sharing all we know. I'll always choose to help someone by suggesting ways to get all they possibly can from their growing experience and let them choose whether or not they're happy with something less. I'm of the opinion it's better to be wrong in assuming people want to be educated than be wrong in assuming they want to remain (classically) ignorant. The former assumption is a small foul, but the later is almost a tragedy in terms of lost potential.

Take care.


    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 6:42PM
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Al, you're like the Alton Brown of plants. :)

Getting all sciencey when you explain the importance of the right soil.

I like it! :)

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 8:31PM
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Linda, speaking of Red Velvet Cakes.

My recepie books calls for 2 bottles of red food coloring. Is this a mistake? Should it read two drops or teaspoons?
I'm quite serious, in my inquiry.


In the beginning I planted all plants straight from MG or Hyponex bags. No additional Perlite.
Hyponex didn't add Perlite at that time. Many plants did well, but I admit it's heavy by itself.

However, I still add Hyponex w/MG, Perlite, coarse sand, and tiny pebbles to make a batch of All Purpose mix. Spider Plants, Dracaenas.

For plants that need acidic soil, additional Peat is added to the All Purpose mix. Gardenias, ferns, palms.

Succulents...MG, sand, pea gravel, and Perlite. Toni

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 9:11PM
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Red velvet cake was called that because back in the day they noticed that the acid in the buttermilk reacted with the cocoa powder making it a red/brown color. Now a days people like a more brilliant red color so they use food coloring. I don't use it because I don't care if my cake is really red but I have before and would recommend only using 2 tbs if you want a red cake.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 9:29PM
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stonesriver(6B Tennessee)

Thanks for the mix suggestions, Toni. Could you post approximate ratios?

Moose is correct: two tablespoons. If that's not red enough, add more. :-) Oh, and it could be that a small bottle of red food coloring is only a tablespoon. Can't remember.


    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 12:31AM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hi Linda!!

What a great idea for this thread!!! When i first started my search for a new mix i was a lurker here and never posted. I was concerned that i didn't have much to say and there was never a thread such as this...

So for that.. I applaud you for making it easy and friendly for people that just come and look. They do try and learn as well, but mot are just to shy to say anything for fear of getting hit hard with all sorts of questions... or making them feel like they are just beginners. There is nothing wrong with starting out and trying different products. But this thread will give others that are just starting a point to begin. I wish this was around when i first started...

Thank you For making this a little easier on the new people that are most welcome here!!!

When i first started looking for a new mix.. i wanted something very light and fast draining because i grow Desert Roses and Plumeria. The PSA (Plumeria Society of America) likes to use products that are hard to find here on the east coast. I looked and became very frustrated. I even called the Man at one of the farm stores and it would have cost an arm and a leg to ship it to me.

I kept searching.. I came across Foxfarm (Ocean Forest) at one of my local Nurseries. They carry it in the large 38.6 qt size bags and smaller. They also carried the coarse perlite. This seemed to be my lucky day. I started to use this and i was happy. Then i started readinng more on the Houseplant and Container forum about the other fast draining mix. i wondered could this be good for me? I asked that question for over a year while i played with the first mix that i found.

I found Mike at one of the forums and he turned me to one of AL's post. I was really impressed with this informtion but didn't think that i really could do all of this. You see, i work for an airline and i am gone for days at a time and i was concerned about watering.

I found the information interesting and i approached Al and with his help he offered to help me find the location of some of the products. I was just amazed that someone would be that helpful. It turned out that they were all local here around Virginia Beach. I continue to use the regular mix of Ocean Forest and Perlite when rooting or maybe even some plants. But when i am planting Plumeria and or Desert Roses i use the Gritty Mix.

I know you want it to be simple for the new people and i also wanted it simple for me. What i am saying is that once you start to see the difference by adding some bark here and some other things in your mix, you can see the difference in the response from your plants. It did take me a few years to get the nerve to reaally want to search and understand the meaning behind soil and why they need the proper aeration, water and fertilizer.. but it all seemed to come together easily.

I would agree that one could start with the basic Soil and add some Perlite and or Pine Bark or Fir Bark. It is really up to the individual to take the leap to learn and want to add more to the basic soil mix that they can start with. This is a good beginning though.

I am really pleased with everyone trying to help the new people. We can see that when they finally come and ask questions.. it is in a friendly manner and noone seems to treat them like some other forums around these parts : )

I want to say Thank You to AL. He has taught me many things in his long post. I looked at them along time ago and when i was ready, i looked at learned from them. My plants love this mix and have done really well.

Here are a few pics from my cuttings... I like to try new things and i did this experiment on two of the same cutting. They were cut at the same time from the same tree. One in the OceanForest 1/2 Perlite 1/2 and the other cutting was Gritty mix. Both were in the same conditions in the same greenhouse for the same amount of time. I thought it was interesting.. i hope you all think so..

The left bottle is the ocean forest and the right bottle is the Gritty mix. I was surprised at the size of the roots in the Gritty mix. The other mix had smaller more fine roots.

Now my last post.. My DR before..

After i changed it to a lighter fast draining mix... Gritty

here it is today...

I just want to say that i have learned so much from all of you and i appreciate this thread so that new people can come here and not feel like they need to jump in to fast. Read, listen and watch others and you will learn to love these beauties and really see the dfference that you can make in the health of you plants and trees. They will reward you in many ways!!!

Thanks ladies...

Oh... I also have a Red Velvert recipe that came from a friends Grandma. It calls for Scalded milk and lard.... I haven't tried this one yet, but it does have a very old fashioned ring to it...who knows? It might be the most moist red Velvet cake i have ever had!!!

Take care and i hope that i helped just a little!!!

Sorry if i went on to long... : )


    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 6:17AM
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ChemGardner(10a SWFL)

Great thread, and Laura, great post! So cool to see the differences in roots with the gritty mix! Amazing what a difference the extra oxygen (among other things too) makes.

The gritty mix was a bit of a project to find stores that carry each ingredient, but luckily it's only something you have to do once.

Knowing the nitty-gritty (ha!) about how and why soil works, or doesn't, has given me the confidence to once again try out houseplants again without worrying about bugs and rotted roots. The plants I have are all doing well and pushing out new growth like crazy.

This post is sounding all testimonial-y, but as a science teacher, what al advocates, and the reasons behind it not only make sense, but are supported with huge amounts of personal success stories from people all over the Internet. This is not to say that you can't grow some good plants in miracle grow type mix, but for me personally, the margin for error was far too small, and led to a lot of wet-on-the-bottom, dry-on-the-top soils that frustrated the heck out of me.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 9:23AM
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Moose and Linda,...Maybe Red Velvet is more for show..lol

Linda, ratio is difficult because I haven't measured for years. Approximate measure.

I mix ingredients in a 12x8" container.

All Purpose Mix.

10 cups of MG
1-2 cups black soil
4 cups Perlite
2 cups pebbles
1.5 cups sand

Acidic Plants

Same as above but added Peat. 2 cups.

Succulent Plants

10 cups MG
2 cups sand
5-6 cups Perlite
3-4 cups Pebbles

Last..I sprinkle All Purpose, Timed-Release Fertilizer per batch.

I'd best not get cake and soil ingredients mixed up..that'd be one lumpy cake...lol

Hey Laura..How ya doing? Toni

    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 11:41AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Linda says, "This thread is meant to help beginners find a basic, easy-to-use or easy-to-make mix; not to discuss pros and cons of one mix over another", and mentions, "I've grown succulents quite successfully in bark and perlite". Since others have mentioned bark fines (small pieces of pine bark) w/o comment, it's safe to assume that pine bark is on the table as a valued component of soils.

It seems that pine bark, peat, and perlite have every one's blessing, so the only question remaining is how to combine them in order to avoid the issues most commonly plaguing growers who arrive at the forum with problems, and that is 'water retention'. Briefly, water retention is directly related to particle size - the smaller the particles the greater the water retention and the greater the negative impact on root health and root function. Maximizing the volume of coarse particles (75%+) forms the basis of a well-aerated soil that drains quickly, doesn't remain soggy after watering, and provides a healthy environment for roots, which is a prerequisite for healthy plants.

This mix

5 parts of pine bark fines
1 part perlite
1 part peat or peat-based soil

is indeed very 'basic', with only three ingredients. It's very 'easy to make' - as you simply measure roughly and mix; and as far as 'easy to use' is concerned, you'll go a long way before you find a soil that's easier to use or more forgiving of the mistakes most commonly made by new growers. If this recipe was changed so there was only 1 part of pine bark and 5 parts of peat or peat-based soil, it would completely change the structure of the soil, and not for the better.

This recipe yields a soil that has received wide acclaim not only on GW, but on many other gardening sites and in the gardening community in general. That it's very easy to grow in, costs half or less what commercially prepared soils cost, and offers new and experienced growers greater opportunity for their plants to grow to their potential are only a few reasons why.

You can use your Miracle-Gro or other commercially prepared soil as a fraction of the recipe above, or you can use peat. You don't need to bother trying to find coarse peat - something that is often quite difficult to find (usually a hydroponics store). The main drawback is, finding a suitable size pine bark isn't always the easiest thing to do. Others are amending and making soils with it (me, Rhizo, Toni, Linda, Laura, ChemGardener, Mike, Josh, and hundreds more), so it's out there.

There's no doubt the recipe above should be included for the consideration of container gardeners, regardless of their level of experience.

Good thread. I understand why you didn't wish to discuss pros & cons, and why you didn't want to compare one soil to another, so I respected that wish to the greatest degree possible while ensuring I still had anything meaningful to offer; but to my way of thinking, people NEED to know the pros and cons and NEED to be able to compare soils to gain anything meaningful from a conversation. There is nothing preventing the next poster from suggesting new growers should grow in something we all know to be a soggy mess; but more importantly, w/o the ability to compare/qualify/offer pros & cons, there's nothing to prevent the new grower from adopting something that's going to frustrate and disappoint him. This, in my mind, has much greater potential to turn someone from growing than too much information or a robust conversation (as long as participants remain on an even keel) about the attributes and drawbacks of a variety of soils. I think the teacher that inspires and teaches you to be the best you can be is to be favored above the teacher that inspires a person to rise only to mediocrity. To the best of our ability, no matter how that might be viewed by anyone else, shouldn't we all try to be the former?


    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 2:37PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

So sorry - what I meant to say above is:

[with the recipe above] you don't need to bother trying to find coarse perlite (not peat) - something that is often quite difficult to find .....


    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 4:02PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hi Toni!!!

Hope all is well with you!!! : )

I was hoping for more posters to come and give opinions and stories to help everyone...

The post are all good and make sense..

Thanks for starting this Linda!!

I hope more will come and contribute!!!

Take care,


    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 3:22AM
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silentsurfer(6A OH)

Hi all! Joe, Cinti, semi-new (but old lol) houseplant, succulent, mini-tree enthusiast.
new to the GW forums.

Ive been a long time grower in peat/perlite. standard bag mixes, ammend to my tastes.
The recent discovery (and study of) 'Grit' aeration/drainage has totally captivated me.

I cant help but make the assumption that 'particle size' is somewhat relative (to a degree).
...as long as the ingredients are relative (similar-sized) to each other??
seems pea-sized granuals in an 8" pot, would be roughly equivalent to 'BB sized' granuals in an 3" pot? each allows for the equivalent air-space between particle size?
a rootless 'cutting' might prefer the 'confines' of the BB's over 'peas'?
Benefits? Comments? critisisms?

Ive not seen any mention of varying 'layers' of coarsity(?) in container soil culture (IE: coarse, medium, fine grit, bottom to top) ...where-as the varying layers might be built around (and designed to) counteract the PWT somehow? Comments? critisisms?

...all this kinda implies (to me) the (almost equivalent) importance of screening utilities, as well as 'proper' ingredients.

Linda, Please forgive the (continued?) hijack? but ive always believed (and heard local nurseriests attest to) the soundness of simple 'potting soil', ammend as needed with coarse sand.(period).

I (however) Also believe that there are 'good' ways, and there are Better ways, of doing (or looking at) anything, including 'beginner' soil mixes.

I also (just recently) have come to believe that while procuring a good basic mix and 'ammendment ingredients' seems a little daunting at first, its Not the 'Holy Grail' quest, once you know What your looking for, and Why. :)


    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 12:24PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

I rarely disagree with AL, but when it comes to peat, I do. Just wanted to remove myself from those who endorse peat, I don't. I used to buy huge bales of it every spring. In addition to being an inferior substance for potted plants IMO, the harvesting of it is damaging to the source locations. Even if I thought it wasn't responsible for the deaths of countless plants, I would feel ecologically irresponsible for participating in perpetuating its' harvest through purchase. This is a decision I'm comfortable with, and I'm not saying anyone who wants to use it is wrong. Everyone is free to reach their own conclusions based on their own experiences, desires and beliefs.

The most interesting aspect of this decision to me is the vast differences from which folks have success. Different strokes for diff folks, and the plants seem to go along fine with almost all of it.

As long as a newbie understands the soil in their pot is not permanent, that's about as important as what goes in the pot, IMO and IME. Repotting at least every-other year (preferably every year) is so important to keeping plants alive for extended periods.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 10:22AM
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Howdy Laura...I'm okay and you?

SS, hello. I read your post three times, but for some reason am unable to understand if you're asking questions or making statements. lol. Please forgive me, it's not your writing....

Howdy Purple. No peat? What do you use for plants that require acidic soil? Ex. Gardenias, Citrus, etc. Toni

    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 10:53AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Pip - I don't mind disagreement, as long as we play fair. ;-) I don't see where we disagree all that much, other than you don't use any peat (at all?) for ecological reasons (I hope it's fair to word it that way) or you think peat is inferior as a soil component? I guess I'm asking more than making a statement. I take a slightly more moderate stance on the 'inferior' thing. I think peat has earned a place as an excellent soil component if used appropriately, and I didn't mean 'appropriately' to be viewed from an ecological perspective (more in a sec).

I think we all have a right to use or not use peat based on our individual perceptions, and I certainly respect anyone's decision about peat - no problem there. I've done my own looking into the sustainable/unsustainable thing as it relates to peat, so in that regard we do come down on opposite sides of the fence.

I think that resources are there to be used by man, but that doesn't mean we have the right to rape. The list of what comes from the earth is so long we can hardly imagine it. Grains - vegetables - iron - coal - precious metals - gemstones - oil - lumber ..... all leave lasting marks when taken, but to avoid taking is essentially a death sentence; we can't live w/o food or shelter. The key is deciding what is reasonable and what isn't. When we build a road/a bridge/a school/a mall, or strip mine a coal field, we truly are destroying ecosystems, one after another, but when we harvest peat, what's left in the wake is another ecosystem - a wetland. Not a bad trade in my mind - as trades go.

Here's an alternate perspective - something I wrote on another post somewhere:

I'm not biting on the non-renewable lament (about peat). In Canada alone, there are more than 270 million acres of harvestable peat bogs, which doesn't take into account there are far more bogs not worth harvesting (economically) than there are bogs that are harvestable. If we make the conservative guess that just the harvestable bogs are only 10 feet deep, that would mean there are more than 900 billion cu. ft. available for harvest - just in Canada - and that's just the stuff that's economically advantageous to harvest! These numbers don't even take into consideration what's available in Europe, Asia, or places like New Zealand where they also mine peat. Canada currently has mining/harvesting operations underway on only about 40 thousand acres or about .014% of what is economically available (that's 14 one thousandths of 1 percent), a minuscule amount.

The math is accurate and conservative. It's more likely that the next ice age will be upon us and glaciers will have covered what's available before we even use a notable fraction; which is why, from my perspective, renewable/non-renewable = moot.

As always, YMMV. Take care.


    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 3:08PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Wiki: "Most modern peat bogs formed in high latitudes after the retreat of the glaciers at the end of the last ice age some 12,000 years ago.[10] Peat usually accumulates slowly, at the rate of about a millimetre per year."

I've had so many plants die when potted in/with peat. But with the exception of Fuchsia, and factors like freezing to death, a pest problem, or light deprivation, I've not had any peat-less plants die. That's my personal experience and endorsement. It's possible to attribute the lack of failures to increased knowledge and experience, but the coincidence is too glaring for me to ignore.

Al, thanks for the info. Long after deciding peat wasn't for me, I became aware of the environmental controversy regarding peat. It's not a crusade in which I participate (as there are others I deem more worth of my time and energy in regard to crusading,) but there are numerous articles available for those who want to do a search and study the issue for themselves. I put a few links below, and of course articles on both sides of the issue are readily available. But generally, those who have some financial interest in peat are those who make the claims about restoring the wetlands (both the ability to do so and whether or not it's actually being done as claimed, which is also the subject of micro-debate within the peat issue) and downplaying the as-yet unknown long-term consequences of disturbing something that takes thousands of years to develop. When people with no financial interest take time to crusade, there must be a reason. Even if you chalk some of them up as wackos, as always happens when there is a "nature" debate, this issue has rational and professional people worldwide taking up this crusade. That always carries more weight with me than the spokesperson of a corporation or government that has industrial priorities.

Regardless of which side of this issue one sits, I think it's worth noting that peat has only been commonly and widely used in potting mixes for less than 100 years, about 50-60 years from the info I could find on "the history of peat." So we know it is a foreign substance to nearly every plant growing in it, except those that actually grow in/around peat bogs. It's not necessary for plants because we know there were plants in pots for a LONG time before someone put some peat in pots.

I'm more comfortable with and interested in more closely replicating nature than alternatives. (I'm de-progressing?) The phrase "soil-less mix" is completely unattractive to me although I understand and appreciate its' appeal to others. It makes more sense to me to use mulch and compost (and some soil,) which has particles of varying size and has nutritive value. If I had the machinery to make my own shredded wood, I would and could. But a purchased bag of mulch is exactly the same as what I could produce. Container gardening does not require any store-bought gadgets or substances,...

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 10:33AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I agree that peat isn't a requirement as part of a container soil, even though it makes up the lions share of almost all commercially prepared soils; and like you, I could get along just fine without it. In the way I look at soils, used as a small fraction of a soil it just happens to serve a purpose as a handy way to adjust water retention of the bark-based mediums I prefer for shorter term plantings. Just as you understand peat's appeal to others, I understand the reasons why you and others might not want to use it, and I'm fine with whatever people decide. That doesn't mean that if someone proposes to substitute coir for peat that I wouldn't point out the potential shortcomings of coir - I guess it's just that thing of mine that requires I do all I can to make sure people get the facts they need to make their own informed decisions.

Unless we dig up soil from our gardens, pretty much anything we choose to grow in will be completely foreign to plants. What I find intriguing is that we are able to build our container soils from a mix of only a few materials, all completely foreign to plants, and provide a medium that plants much prefer to the soils where they naturally occur. Perhaps it takes a nerd to find art in that search - I see it plainly, and I'm sure many of us find artistry in places others never bother to consider.

If someone who never grew a plant in a container in their life came to me and asked for the one piece of advice that would have the greatest impact on their growing experience, without question it would have to be, 'Learn how to build a superior soil or recognize one when you see it. It will pay big dividends.'

I heard an announcer for a MMA fight yesterday criticize a fighter's strategy. He said, "If he keeps on doing what he's doing, he's going to keep on getting what he's getting." Paraphrased, it might have been said that if he wants to improve his lot, he's going to have to change something. It's perfectly ok if he thinks his strategy is working ...... as long as he doesn't mind being beat about the head, thorax, and sundry other body parts. Growing is like that in some ways. We all have decisions to make about what is or isn't good enough for us as individuals. If we're happy with the soils we're using - that's great; but if you think there is a path to improvement you'd like to take, it's going to take some effort and change. No one cares whether a person chooses to improve his lot or not, other than the interest we all have in seeing everyone get all they can from the growing experience. That decision making process absolutely should include the knowledge of what's out there, and how various decisions are likely to affect the growing experience. Only then can someone move toward an informed decision.

It's easy to tell everyone that "You're only a beginner - you don't need to know all that stuff - this has always been good enough for me, so it should be good enough for you", but that is being terribly presumptuous. I can't tell you how many people have told me, "I wish I'd have known all this years ago", or any one of a number of other similar statements - dozens and dozens surely, but more likely hundreds - I couldn't count it's been so many. That's how I know it's better to inform people and let them decide intelligently than to presume it's better to keep them in the dark, just in case the information is too much to handle.

The interesting debates and discussions you referred to are a big part of that process, so we're agreed there, too. How we present our views and support them is pretty much all people have to go on when they DO make decisions. The petty, personal bickering that occasionally erupts is certainly not helpful, but disagreement in itself is healthy and an excellent way for adults to learn & to gain help in their decision making.

Best luck.


    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 3:06PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

I can show what I am talking about. The tale of 2 identical Begonias, which I know to be true because I only bought one. All copies are propagated cuttings.

This weekend I unpotted this plant, which I bought in spring of 2011 and added the Tradescantia. It is the Mama of all of the progeny that inhabit my porch (and now the porches of several friends also.) Here is what I always find in the pots of "peat-plants." It's a ball of peat with perlite bits in it, surrounded by roots (not full of roots.)

After chopping off the bottom with a shovel (more about this below,)

and "teasing" the exposed center, very few roots can be found. And not healthy, thick roots, these were as thin as hairs mostly, and so embedded in the old media that I could not loosen much of it without removing the entire root system (which crossed my mind, just chop everything into cuttings and repot those, discard the original roots. But I decided to see what it does after putting what was left back in the pot on several inches of peat-less. Maybe the upper root layer can be replaced on the next repot. Will see what happens.)

Here it is, repotted, back in its' spot.

Conversely, here are cuttings started by sticking a piece of that same Begonia in the non-peat, earlier this year.

I'm pulling one out to see the roots:

Here it comes:

After shaking it loose a bit, you can see the healthy, 3-dimensional root system:

Back in the pot:

This Begonia demonstration happened within the space of about 4-5 minutes. I did this on June 15 to back up advice I was giving on this thread. As yet, it is unaffected by the experience, continuing to grow new leaves and flowers.

I'm sure someone will say "there was too MUCH peat" or "other stuff should have been mixed with it." I totally agree, but I see no reason to give peat any more chances when I have proof of how well plants do in its' absence.

Ok, back to the shovel. Although I still use a shovel when I am repotting plants that have been previously repotted (from what it came in) into peat-less, it's really not necessary, just expedient. Although the roots make a ball that doesn't fall apart, I've never found a rock-hard core,...

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 3:34PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

If anyone gives me credit for putting that together in response to Al's 15:16 post, I would probably leaves that alone but since I don't think anyone would, I'll go ahead and admit it took about an hour between distractions and other tasks, so sorry if it seemed a "pouncy" response. I would have done the pics earlier today but ran out of time and was getting nervous about the system not messing up what I had already done.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 4:03PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Thanks for the pics, Purple.
I have some pics of roots in the bark-based mix, as seedlings and as end-of-the-season
about to be composted plants. I like to take lots of pics.... you never know when you're
going to need them! ;-)

A while back, I was challenged to produce a pic of a tall tomato that I grew, and I was sure
glad that I had a few in my collection to prove that I wasn't just fabricating a story.


    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 8:27PM
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