Soil advice for small-time urban (indoor only) gardeners?

splatteredwhim(7)September 2, 2012


I am wanting to start using a better soil for my plants, and I've read back in the forums on all the Gritty mixes, and 5-1-1 and all that and I am feeling rather overwhelmed. The plants I have are:

2 peace lilies

1 golden pothos

1 Aglaonema

1 snake plant

I am likely getting more plants in the future (2-3), but I live in a cramped 1 bedroom apartment in Washington DC, so there's not much room for more.

I understand it is best to have fast-draining mixes that don't break down, and I like the look of the "gritty mix" but it isn't practical for me to run all over town (without a car. I don't have one) for large quantities of ingredients. For example, I doubt I will ever use up a whole 50 lb bag of that turface stuff, but that seems to be the smallest unit available.

So what is the next best thing one can do if they're not running a large-scale operation?

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
dellis326 (Danny)

Quick and easy. . . Go get a bag, big enough for your current plants, of orchid mix. Wash off all the soil from your plants and repot in the orchid mix. You'll need to water a bit more often but this will work. You'll also need to remember to fertilize your plants because this mix won't hold nutrients or water for long.

All the plants you mentioned can be grown in this. It will break down after a few years and you'll need to repot. Again, not the perfect mix but it will work

    Bookmark   September 2, 2012 at 5:09PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Just curious...why do you want to use "better" soil? Do just want to try something different, or are your plants not looking as beautiful as you would like? If its to try something different, dellis' idea sounds good. But here's the thing;all the plants you have are common indoor landscaping plants, and in commercial situations they are always planted in a simple peat-based planting (or soilless) mix. I'm thinking, if you're not completely happy with your plants, the first thing you need to do is check your watering practices. In as few words as possible, the soil needs to dry (or aerate) to the point that when you squeeze a pinch between your fingers, it still feels cool but doesn't stick together, and the soil needs to be tested 1/2 to 3/4 of the way down the pot. Also, don't water the peace lily until the leaves just start to bend down on the stems. And let the snake plant dry completely to the bottom of the pot before you water again.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 1:02AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The plants seem to be doing ok from what I can tell, meaning they've not seen any decline. But they didn't grow much over the summer, either. I understand they're slow growing, but it seemed more like no-growing. I've also noticed that when i repot with the regular soil I've been using, it seems to repel water really easily and it shrinks and compacts very quickly. I wait till the pots are quite dry before I water, but the soil doesn't feel pinchable, instead being quite hard and crusty, which doesn't seem good. So now I'm thinking some different medium might help

    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 9:29AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You could mix a non-organic orchid mix 50% with a good potting soil, that would give better drainage. I have put some plants into a gritty mix and have to water them at least once a day, and that's too much. I've switched to a 50/50 mix with a good potting soil and like it a lot better. If you're using a totally dry potting mix, you need to soak it first, and use it after it's rehydrated.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 9:51AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

SW - I think the fact you want to improve the living conditions of your plant's roots is admirable. I just left these quotes on another thread minutes ago, but they're very applicable here, so a copy/paste: "Roots are the KEY factor in plant vitality." "As the root system goes, so goes the plant." "If the root system ain't happy, ain't no part of the plant happy." ~ C E Whitcomb, PhD

Some people believe a healthy plant is possible with an unhealthy root system. It's not. A compromised root system always =s a limited plant with lost potential. If we presume you're worried about the two things associated with a heavy soil - over-watering/lack of aeration and a build-up of salts, the best remedy is unquestionably to work toward improving drainage/aeration and reducing the ht of the perched water table (the water in that soggy layer of soil at the bottom of the pot. Doing that revolves around one thing - the size of the particles that make up the soil. You need to base your soil on a very high % of large particles, like 80%+. Mixing some large particles into potting soil isn't going to do it. Imagine a 50/50 mix of pudding & BBs to see the BBs do nothing to improve drainage or aeration. The same holds true with a 50/50 mix of perlite and sand or perlite and peat. The fine particles simply surround the larger particles, leaving aeration and drainage (flow-through rate) almost completely unaffected. Now imagine 85-90% perlite or BBs and the rest fine particles. Do you see all the wonderful air spaces in those combinations in your mind's eye. In those examples is the essence of how to combine particles to your plant's best advantage. If you're interested, read more about it here.

Setting aside the idea you might want to employ the concept explained in the link I just left, the next best thing is to learn to deal with the excess water retention. It's not the best route, but if you feel there are no other options, you will find this link very helpful.

If it matters, you should be able to get all the ingredients you need to make a small batch of the gritty mix at one good pet store.

Schultz Aquatic Plant Soil (is Turface MVP)
Fine aquarium gravel
Repti-Bark reptile bedding (fir bark)

You could substitute NAPA #8822 Floor Dry for the Turface/Aquatic Soil, too. If you come across a suitable size pine bark, you can use it in the gritty mix or make something easier with the bark, a little perlite + the soil you probably already have.


    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 12:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

It would be great if Metro actually made it easier to get around, especially outside of DC. Can you tell I'm not a big fan? You can buy small quantities of Turface and the other ingredients needed to make a gritty mix on Ebay. It might cost you a bit more but you won't have 40 extra pounds of the stuff in your apartment.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2012 at 9:57AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I couldn't agree more. And places to get things are fewer and far between. Urban Sustainable went out of business...I heard Old City Green is getting pushed out of their place. So there's fewer and fewer gardening places with transit access.

I am going to try petco for the repti-bark. When you say "fine aquarium gravel," how fine is fine?

    Bookmark   September 4, 2012 at 1:51PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

They might not have it graded by size, but in a perfect world 3/32-3/16 would be ideal. If they have something that looks like 1/8", it should work perfectly.


    Bookmark   September 4, 2012 at 5:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


The C&S Forum misses you and your plants. What ran you off?

    Bookmark   September 4, 2012 at 5:40PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

@splatteredwhim: You can also substitute Manna Pro Poultry Grit for the aquarium gravel, if you can't find the suitable size.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 11:28AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Ok, So taking stock of the places near me, the materials I have at my disposal include:

Aquarium gravel
"Orchid mix"
"cactus mix"
and standard soil.

So what would be my best combo, in what ratios?

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 5:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Can you get pine fines or bark to sift?

I have had great results with a larger bark mix as well, which requires more watering and fertilizing.

I get a bag of "mini nuggets" pine bark from lowes. After sifting my pine fines out of the bag, I am left with a pine bark size range of 1/2-1" or even larger, and let it age outside. This mix is only bark and it is very light, and holds large air pockets. To get a good look_

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 5:36PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Edit: "Can you get pine fines or bark to sift? "

I forgot to mention right after asking that- Try the 511 mix.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 5:38PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I haven't seen anything called "pine fines" and I don't have equipment to sift things with. Would that be in a different kind of store than a standard small garden center, or am I just not looking in the right places?

Mostly, what I'm trying to figure out is how I can do better for my plants without making it too complicated, so I've been trying to work out something with local, easy things.

Earlier, Al mentioned something with a "suitable" size pine bark, perlite and a little standard potting soil. So would the proportions on that be something like 45% bark, 45% perlite, and maybe 10% of the standard soil mix be acceptable? Or less perlite to be more like the 5-1-1?

Regarding the 5-1-1, is the dolamite lime a hard and fast requirement?

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 6:53PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

SW - I would get a bag of NAPA Floor Dry, part #8822 and screen it through a standard kitchen strainer (outdoors - don't breathe the dust), then combine

3 parts of 1/8" aquarium gravel
2 parts of screened DE (floor dry)
2 - 2.5 parts of ReptiBark

If you use Foliage-Pro 9-3-6, you don't need dolomite in the gritty mix.


    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 9:03PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Christmas cactus help needed please!!
I inherited this plant from my uncle, he had it forever....
Stef Cunningham
Planting Zones
I need to know the Zone for Toronto, Ontario, Canada....
String of Pearls
Here is a photo of what used to be a very healthy 'String...
Fittonia - ID & Care
Here's another plant I just bought. I'd appreciate...
"Heirloom" geraniums, coleus, impatiens etc.
perhaps this isn't exactly a houseplant question......
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™