Pls help me fix my "soil"

DevaFreya(8b)September 21, 2013

Long story short- I need to fix my "soil" for cheap. I have Miracle Grow (which is awful), half a bag of small perlite, half a bag of vermiculite (that is nearly as small as sand), and bunch of pots full of a mix of the three.
I really can't justify spending more than $15-$20 right now on soil. If I wait a few months, I could spend a bit more.
Is it better to amend the soil to "decent" right now, to try to get my plants out of cruddy soil? Or should I just water less for now, and do it all the way when I have the extra money?

I'm not as worried about the succulents, because for the time being I can let them dry out longer. But I have some plants that like to stay damp but not wet, and I'm not really sure how to make that happen with this junk that I am using.

What I'm using right now has so much perlite that it's ugly, it feels pretty sandy (because of the vermiculite), and it's still wierdly wet on top, a number of days after watering.

I could maybe buy some more cactus blend, use that for now, and just repot everything next spring, which I'm assuming is the best time to repot.

I recently bought a bunch of discount (50cent) plants at Canadian Tire. They were VERY sad looking, and I wanted to repot them when I got home, so I bought a bag of Miracle Grow potting "soil". It was against my better judgment, but I had to be cheap. It seemed light and fluffy, so I thought it would be fine, and repotted a lot of my plants with it.
It is AWFUL, soggy, wet stuff.

So I bought some perlite, vermiculite, and orchid mix to add in. The orchid mix went back, because the pieces were huge. The perlite is smaller than other perlite I've used before, and the vermiculite looks to be just a little bigger than sand.

I tried a mix of 3 parts MG, 1 part vermiculite, 1 part perlite. Too soggy still, but not as bad.
My succulents (jade, kalanchoe, and aloe plant) I repotted again, taking the last mix, and mixing 1 part of that, 1 part vermiculite, and 1 part perlite.

My aloe plant WAS in a cactus blend, and was doing really well, considering a few months back nearly all the roots were rotten, and when I repotted it recently, there were lots of new healthy looking roots. Not sure why I messed with success. I suppose I thought the cactus blend was staying damp a bit too long.

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I used to be a MG fan, but no longer care for its new formula.

As far as money, we have to do what we have to do, right?

Which MG soil did you buy?
Since I purchased several large bags in the past, I still repot with MG.

Unless you bought the Moisture Control, it should not remain wet....unless you're over-watering, pots are without drainage, or plants are in shade, especially since you've added perlite and vermiculite?

The ratio you gave sounds right..3.1.1, so there shouldn't be too much perlite. Even though you said it was smaller than other brands.

When you combine soils and mediums, it should be done in a seperate container, then mixed well. Perlite, vermiculite and soils should be equal.

Apparently, you're on a budget. Can you afford a bag of, 'smallest pea gravel?' A 25lb bag cost 3.00, may even be on sale since it's Sept.


    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 4:51PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

A good part of the problem is the vermiculite. It is pretty darned useless when it comes to adding structure and porosity to a potting medium. If you moisten some vermiculite, then rub it between your fingers, what happens? It turns to mush. Right? You are adding to the problem by using that darned stuff.

Perlite holds up to pressure, it will add porosity to any potting mix. If your MG is too fine textured for you, add perlite.....not vermiculite. Perlite doesn't get enough credit for what it brings to a good soilless potting medium....not only does it provide air spaces, but it also holds onto water and dissolved nutrients.

The other amendment to look for is pine bark fines. If you spend a dime on any further ingredients, it should be for pine bark fines.

The very best potting mixes are composed MOSTLY of bark fines....with a bit of peat and perlite added. No vermiculite, no sand, no rounded gravel. The bagged potting "soil " that I use is composed of bark, peat, perlite.

I put quotation marks around the word "soil" for the same reason that you did. The typical packaged potting "soil" is mostly fine milled peat moss. Many of us are not satisfied with these products and that's why we keep adding different ingredients to fix them. There's nothing wrong with that and I dont think that the ratios matter all that long as there isn't an excess of peat.

I know that some think perlite is ugly....all I see is its functionality, so it's beautiful to me, lol. It's one of my favorite rooting mediums.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 6:29PM
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I went to the garden store, and got some proper perlite and a smallish bag of fine pine bark (3 liters for $ that decent?). I also spent a lot more than I SHOULD have, because, helloooo! Garden store!!! teehee. Oh well.
I also got some discount plants that are looking very sad, but should be fun to nurture, including a variegated jade plant (?) and an unknown succulent.

Now I can try to make a decent mix! I have a few plant-less pots testing different mixtures right now. I am testing a mix of 2 parts MG, 2 parts perlite, 1 part fine bark. In a second mixture, I've added some of the old mixture that included the vermiculite. Do either of those seem at least decent?

Would it be a HUGE improvement to get more fine bark? I could get another bag, if the improvement would be big enough.
Also, I saw pumice at the garden store. Is that a good thing to use? I didn't get it, but it was cheaper than the perlite, for a bigger bag. Should I run back and get some?

rhizo- you are totally right. THAT is my problem. My gut said that the vermiculite was the problem, but that didn't make logical sense so I ignored my gut. lol.

I am using containers with drain holes. At the moment, a lot of them are the 4" plastic containers that a lot of plants come in from garden stores. I water thoroughly at the sink, then let the containers drain, then either sit them on the dish drainer, or tilt them to drain more.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2013 at 1:15AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Hah! And I thought you had to watch your pennies! Lol

The price for the bark fines is extremely high. Look for conifer bark products at the big box stores at reasonable prices. I suggest that you experiment with what you have for several months. As you repot, wean yourself away from the peat based potting soil so that bark becomes the main ingredient.

I like pumice very much, as long as the particles are large enough. I won't use something that is too tiny. If the pumice is the size of the typical petlite....go for it. Most that hate perlite would like pumice particles, I believe.

Try to keep it simple.....

    Bookmark   September 22, 2013 at 4:58AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

"I know that some think perlite is ugly...." LOL - headin' it off at the pass! Is there any way to make this stuff turn a decent "dirty" color?

    Bookmark   September 22, 2013 at 8:00AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Lol purple....I was thinking about you as I wrote that! But you're not alone in feeling like that. Is certainly resists getting dirty, doesn't it?

The pumice is a gray color.....

    Bookmark   September 22, 2013 at 11:20AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

DF - Put your soil's ability to provide nutrients on the back burner - the one way, WAY in the back. Instead, focus on the texture of the soil; in particular, focus on the air spaces BETWEEN the soil particles. They are the key to healthy root systems, which in turn are essential if your plant is to be healthy and attractive, the goal of nearly all container growers.

In order to maintain an ample volume of air in the soil, it's essential that you START with a coarse medium - like pine bark or other mineral products that are larger than about 1/10 of an inch. Think of the nice air spaces between a jar full of BBs, then think of how small the air spaces are in a jar of wet sand or peat moss.

It doesn't take much sand or peat to entirely fill the air spaces between BBs in a jarful, so be sure to keep that in mind when you make your soil. You can't effectively start with a soil that is mostly fine material and amend it, because the coarse material must be by far the most significant fraction of the mix in order to take advantage of the added air spaces, which by the way are accompanied by better and more complete drainage. Soils that don't support a soggy layer at the bottom of the pot are easier to grow in and offer your plants a much better opportunity to grow as close to their genetic potential as possible.

Don't scrimp on the soil - it's the most important decision you'll make in establishing a planting.

If you're interested, you'll find a lot more info at the link below. Best luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: More about soils if you click me!

    Bookmark   September 22, 2013 at 12:37PM
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I'd like to do it right and get a lot more bark, but it's too expensive for all the plants I have, and I'm not even sure where else to look for it. Oooh, there is a Walmart fairly close. Would I find something there? I'm in Canada, btw.

The pumice was definitely not smaller than the normal sized perlite that I bought yesterday. It seemed similar, maybe bigger? It was a bigger bag, and it was cheaper. Thinking about it, it cost less than most bags of potting soil. So it would be cost effective.

If this is what I have to work with- plenty of pumice, plenty of perlite, a small amount of fine bark, vermiculite, and plenty of hummus based potting mix, what type of ratio would be decent for now?
Would I want perlite and/or pumice to be the biggest portion? Possibly 50%?

Rhizo said "Hah! And I thought you had to watch your pennies! Lol"

I know, right? I think I might have a little problem. lol. And I want to go back and get pumice *right now.* Things get more comfortable as summer winds down, but I still need to watch it for a bit.
But, in my defense, most the the plants were 50 cents each (and very very sad looking!) AND plants make me very happy in the gloomy, gray, rainy winters we have here (for months and months on end), and you can't put a price on mental health, right?

    Bookmark   September 22, 2013 at 1:11PM
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It does depend on the plant, though. Plants that are commonly regarded as "easy to grow" are those that will do ok in peat pudding, because peat pudding is what most people can find. I only have spider plants and epipremnum ("pothos"), and they're getting by just fine in pudding. They would probably do better if I had the ingredients for good potting medium, but I haven't found them. So if you want to get the pumice, your plants will thank you. But if you don't, you can still have the popular kinds of houseplants.

Even those pudding-tolerant plants probably wouldn't be able to tolerate salt pudding, though. Don't use too much fertilizer, and water so that some water flows out the bottom, taking along the leftover salts (fertilizer ingredients and hard-water minerals) from previous waterings.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2013 at 10:47PM
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garyfla_gw(10 Florida)

I've found a brand of pine bark fines called "Timberline "
to be fairly consistant and under 3 bucks for 2 cubic feet .
i get it from "Walmart ' comes in two sizes and the smaller is in a Purple bag but the back is transparent so you can see the size . have no idea about Canada though lol gary

    Bookmark   September 23, 2013 at 3:15AM
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Good to know. I'll check out Walmart next time I go. I really like the way the bark looks in the mix, so I'd like to up my ratio of it at some point. And, you know, it's better for the plants and all. :-)

I ended up giving up on FIXING my soil, and decided to start fresh. Sigh. I hate wasting money. But I have lots of outdoor gardens, so I guess it can go into those.

I ended up making a mix of 1 part pumice, 1 part perlite, 1 part potting soil (not MG- this stuff has bigger pieces/isn't as powdery as MG), and 1/2 part fine bark.

So far, I'm pretty happy with the non-sogginess of it. Hopefully it works for now!

    Bookmark   September 23, 2013 at 2:39PM
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