Question on "transferring" plants into 5-1-1 mix

tryingtogrowagainAugust 8, 2012

Ok...I have about 20 houseplants(see pics below) and have changed all but 2 of them over to my homemade 5-1-1 mix.

I did not even consider or think too seriously about removing all the old potting soil from around the root mass/ball of each plant before I put them into the new mix.

I loosened the root ball/mass and teased out some roots and plunked it down into my new mix(My fern I couldn't even really loosen it b/c it was so packed so I just plunked it down in the pot)...I was sooo excited!!

But .... I just lost 2 young plants to root rot b/c while the 5-1-1 was dry the root ball never dried I quickly unpotted the other 4 young plants (again!!!) and carefully cleaned off every bit of potting soil off of them(they never dried out either but I caught them in time...they had bigger root systems also).

So my question is this...should I unpot them all (again) and clean off the root ball/mass and get rid of all the potting soil on the roots so I don't risk root rot on my other houseplants? My other plants look wonderful and look like they are not declining at all. Some of them are actually growing(I see new growth and bigger leaves) and then others look good but not as much new growth but still look good nonetheless.

I bare rooted these 3 and another small one...the roots were caked with wet potting soil that I had to pick off.

A just-watered dieffenbachia and pothos behind it and a spider plant behind both of them

Mom and pups(just separated from mom)

Dracaena husband put it out in the sun and the leaves got burned...arghhhhh

This spider and the previous one were one planting. I separated it when I transferred it over to the 511 mix....lots of roots on both plants.

Big Spider

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Since the 5:1:1 holds less water than your previous soil, you would expect that water would move into the 5:1:1 through diffusion. That your old soil holds water so tightly that it doesn't represents significant potential for continued problems, though not as significant as would be had you repotted into your previous soil. If they were my plants, I'd bare root, prune roots as necessary, and the top if appropriate. I'd site the plants outdoors in open or dappled shade & let them recover. I think you'd be well pleased with the results of that plan, and even though the best time to repot might have passed, it's still much better than trying to deal with your current situation for the better part of a year.

I'll look at your other thread later & see what else you had to say. Take care.


    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 10:46AM
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Nice set up Trying!
Love the pics, which leads me to ask..

Is the 5-1-1 a good across-the-board mix?
I know I've seen it and several other mixes on here, but for the newer less experienced among us, could you include the recipe?

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 10:57AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

5 parts pine bark fines of appropriate size
1 part perlite
1 part sphagnum peat
1 tbsp dolomitic (garden) lime per gallon of soil or 1/2 cup/cu ft

It's an excellent medium for houseplants, gaining a distinct advantage because it starts with a large fraction of coarse pine bark, so aeration and drainage is already built into the medium. Media that have material with small particles as their base (peat, compost, coir, sand, topsoil) can't be effectively amended because even if you mix them with perlite or other coarse materials @ 50/50, the fine material surrounds the larger particles, filling the space between any large particles and essentially destroying aeration/drainage (flow-through rate). Your soil needs to be about 75% coarse material to take advantage of all that a well-aerated, fast draining soil can offer.

I'll leave a link to a thread that goes into soils in more depth. I think the concept explained in the thread is of extreme importance for any upwardly mobile container gardeners to understand, but see what you think, and what others think (their comments).

You may also be interested in learning more about the gritty mix, which is a step up from the 5:1:1 mix. It provides a very friendly environment for roots and virtually eliminates the several potential limitations that accompany soils that support any significant perched water tables (explained in the thread). It's VERY easy to grow in - easier even than the 5:1:1 mix.


Here is a link that might be useful: More on soils if you click me.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 12:47PM
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Deadhead, I am such a newbie with this myself. But when I read all the threads(including link that Al mentioned) I just kind of 'knew' this was a good thing, if you know what I mean. It made so much sense to me and reading about the soil that tropical plants live in just coincided with what Al was presenting. Also, I've not had success with plants long-term and I so wanted to have a green thumb and have gorgeous plants like other people I saw so I decided to give this a try.

I've transferred all these plants over to the 5-1-1 mix over a period of 3 weeks. Even my aloes-I couldn't wait until I found the ingredients to the gritty mix Al shared with us so I decided to put them in 5-1-1. This is soooo much better than leaving them in the potting soil until I found what I needed. Now I have at least a year or two until my aloes are going to need new soil and I have time to locate these ingredients that I've never heard of. :-)

The majority of my plants look like they have not even skipped a beat after I transferred them over. They continue to grow and I'm loving all the new leaves and fronds(my fern) I see emerging.

I think I can say that I love this mix although I've only had about 3 weeks experience with it but in that time I've come to know how to make my mixes better and more tailored and individualized to each plant. I've learned that the bag of bark that I bought holds more moisture than I thought so I do not need to include peat or potting soil in my recipe. I know that now but didn't now that about 1 1/2 weeks ago and made that batch with potting soil for my peace lily, fern, and small dracaena(as I've read they like mostly damp not wet soil). I'm also learning how to water. I used to just pour a bunch of water on the soil but now I pour until it soaks in and then pour a little more until it begins to drain out the bottom.

sorry, didn't mean to go into all that but as you can see I am excited about this. I believe finding Al's info on these mixes and the effect of water and soil on plant health has revolutionized my thinking therefore developing my skill in tending to my plants....

So, in answer to your question, Yes, I feel this is a good across the board mix. :-)))

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 11:04PM
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Al, as I typed the question out I felt like I should do as you now suggest. The 2 plants I lost, their root balls were sooo compact. With most of my other plants I did loosen the root ball and tease the roots out on the side and at the bottom so those root balls are not as compact. Quite honestly I'm tired and don't feel up to doing this all again :-) so I'm probably trying to convince myself right now that it's not as bad as it may seem!! LOL!! But I will do what is best for my plants.

I'm learning at every step, in every phase. As my children's spelling curriculum has printed across the bottom of the spelling test..."Mistakes are opportunities to learn". I love it!!

So instead of feeling like I've made a big mistake, it's just an opportunity for me to learn and glean what wisdom and understanding I can from it.

I wanted to share about the big Dracaena tree in one of the pics. but I'm tired now and it's late so I'll post later on it.

Thanks for reading and being such a help, Al!

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 11:21PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I could sense the enthusiasm you managed to convey in your post, and I think it's infectious for us all. As someone whose primary growing focus is on bonsai, every once in a while I'll come across something written that changes the way I think. Often it won't be anything major, but occasionally something that tells me it will probably be to my advantage if I take stock of how I've always done something and consider trying something different, even though it may be a radical departure from a previous MO. In every case, I've learned something, which is always and forever a plus; and in many if not most cases when my instincts tell me it sounds worth a try, it was.

I often use an analogy that compares the similarities between growing and assembling a jigsaw puzzle. At first, you start out slowly. Most people do best when they start a puzzle by completing the border - the straight-edged pieces - which represent good information on the basics, like soils, light, nutritional supplementation, proper watering, how to work with the plant instead of against it, .... The misinformation you'll receive is unfortunate but inevitable - like someone tossing in a handful of pieces from a completely different puzzle - they just won't fit, and make your job so much harder. Once you have the border in place, the rest of the puzzle becomes much easier. I think that's pretty close to where you are now - in that transitional phase, so everything should start coming together faster for you now, and the more you learn, the faster it will happen. The shortest route to a green thumb isn't along the trail of experience, it's along the path of knowledge. Relying on experience to move you forward can't even compare to the gains that are possible if you learn all you can, and then use your practical experience to validate that knowledge.

You may not have thought about it in exactly these terms, but your attitude, enthusiasm, and open mind are blessings that can carry you far. At least that's the view from here.

Take care.


    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 3:52AM
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Al, no I had not thought about it in those terms but I TOTALLY get the analogy. I tend to understand and think in pictures so as I read I could 'see' exactly what you were saying and was able to apply it to what I am endeavoring to do with these plants. Excellent analogy..I love it!!!

    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 5:35PM
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Now on to this Dracaena. I hate to say that this one is my 'problem child'..:-) but I don't willingly embrace what I feel needs to be done for this plant...creepy crawly things skeeze me out, like TOTALLY!!

This plant was sent to my house for my mother-in-laws passing. We had it for about 2 weeks and I kept feeling the soil and when it felt dry on top I watered it. This was all before I discovered the info on 5-1-1. It was sitting in a decorative basket with a nice bow and a layer of peat on top of the soil. When I pushed my shirt sleeves up and got to work on taking care of all these plants I had inherited I decided to lift this plant out of its basket and at the drain holes the soil looked so strange. So I picked some off and examined it in my hand to discover a worm crawling in my hand. I just about had a hissy fit. I didn't want anything to do with this plant after that but I felt so bad about not tending to it b/c it NEEDED tending to. So I got my 10yr old son..who is a true boy-boy and loves worms and frogs and he came and dug out some more..they looked like baby centipedes...oh how gross...just thinking about the memory.

So the nursery down the street gave me some insecticide to sprinkle on top of the soil and water it in and then don't water for 10 days...yada yada. My hubby took it outside and we dumped all the old soil. It was packed as well and hubby took the shovel and wacked to root ball several times to get it loose and shook a lot of old wormy soil off. We put in more MG pottting mix(didn't know any better) and applied the insecticide and let it sit. Many edges and tips turned brown and some bottom leaves died...not too many. I watered it after the 10 days and out of the drain water came 2 large I watered after about another 2 weeks or so(which was last week) and put in about 3 wicks to help get the perched water out.(By then I had discovered 511 and had read about wicks, etc.)

This plant sits on a stand b/c I wanted it elevated so it could drain and so I could see if anymore worms come out in the drained water. (I have not seen anymore) It has been about 6-7 days now and the wicks in this plant are still saturated with water.

I sooooo want to transfer this to the 5-1-1 mix b/c I know the roots are probably crying out but should I make sure the worms are gone first? Actually, I just bought some Neem Oil for my veggie garden outside. I could probably spray the roots once I get all the MG off....does that sound like a wise plan? This plant has been through a lot already. It's back to looking like normal. After my hubby whacked the root ball and we 'put it back together' the plant look like it was 'crying'....the leaves were just so droopy, I felt bad for it but I'm glad it's back to looking good again, but I know what's going on in the soil needs to be taken care of or is won't look good for long.

I hate looking at worms......

    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 5:55PM
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I forgot to post the pic to the above post.....

    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 6:00PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

In my experience, a high % of the growers looking at your plant will be saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"; and if I had a nickel for every time I heard the advice given, I'd be a lot closer to a comfortable retirement. Do you ever hear, "If your car still starts, forget about changing the oil" or "Why bother having the brakes fixed if you haven't had an accident yet?"

You know best what the original root mass is like. If it's badly congested, it will affect the plant as long as it remains that way, but it's not a decision I can make ..... whether to go for the whole repot now, or wait until early summer next year. I suppose I would weigh the likelihood that I could get the plant through the winter in decent shape and use that as the issue on which the decision balances. If you're confident you can, then what harm in waiting? If you're concerned, then maybe best to don your gloves and git 'er done.

I don't think you need to spray the roots with neem oil .... I've never done it, so can't share how the plant might or might not react. Any idea what the active ingredient was in the insecticide you were given to use on the soil's inhabitants?

Keep us posted? More questions I might help with? Observations?


    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 7:16PM
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The insecticide is by Bonide "Systemic Houseplant Insect Control"

Active Ingredient: Imidacloprid

    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 9:42PM
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I for one, have a hard time with the 5-1-1 mix. I just cannot work with it, believe me, I've tried. But as said before, "find what works for you". I do make my soil mix, bark, perlite and peat moss, but it is more of a 2-2-1 mix. I don't know why but I can't seem to get plants to take root with so much bark. Even if the roots are good and strong. Getting them to stand up is hard for me. Just working with so much bark is hard, least for me. Some plants have more bark than others, but it is still basicly the same mix.

I am just saying that I am using this formula as a "base" and working from there and finding out what works for me. So far my plants are not complaining (knock on wood- pun intended)

Trial and error sorta speak, hoping for less error, of course. Anyway, there is my 2 cents worth, find what works for you.

Marjie :)

    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 11:05PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Lamora - could you post a picture of the bark you're using? I'm guessing you need the large peat fraction because the bark is on the large side. I can't think of any other reason why you would be having a problem with the mix.

T2GA - there shouldn't be any living insects in the soil now - or worms - if you've used the Bonide.


    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 7:52AM
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thanks Al! THAT is SUCH good news!!!!! Gotta go buy another bag of bark to make more mix(already used my first bag up). I was thinking of using coarse perlite. I loved Josh's video of his 511 and he used coarse perlite. I have the Miracle Gro perlite which is much smaller/finer. Is coarse perlite better?

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 12:27PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I like the coarse perlite better too, and that's what I use, but a finer product works well, too. In pine bark based soils, the perlite gets wedged between the flat bark particles, holding them apart - like putting a marble between dinner plates that would otherwise be neatly nested. So even if the perlite is fine, it can still work to create air spaces that won't fill with peat OR water. ;-)


    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 1:24PM
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Al~ this is a bit of left over from my last potting.

So far it is working for me. But if you or anyone else has any suggestions, I am all for it. I know I should put more bark in it, sometimes I do. But this is just a base of what I use.
Marjie :)

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 1:56PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If that's the mix you're using, it looks fine to me. The bark looks a little coarse, but the plants would like that - it just means that you'll need to water a little more often than if the bark was finer, but the plants ALSO like the more frequent watering. If you like how things are going and aren't bothered by watering frequency, there is no reason to fret.

It's been fun to watch your progress!


    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 2:42PM
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Thanks~~ I am glad that SOMETHING is progressing in the right direction in my silly little life~~ :)

I've learned a lot here, hope to learn more and maybe~ just maybe~ teach someone.. something.. someday.


p/s I love watering!! makes me feel like I am doing something, just gotta make sure I am not over doing it.. ;)

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 7:45PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

See? You ARE learning .... ;-)


    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 8:49PM
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