the nitty gritty

hookilau(long island NY)August 2, 2012

I had some difficulty with hydroton providing the stability my newly potted up DRs needed. Annnnd I began to worry about the amount of water they were getting/not getting, etc. After a great deal of studying, and reading *every* GW post on the subject, I got to sourcing out ingred. for Al's famous gritty mix.

Thanks to Frank in the Bx for indicating that turface can be found at the auto supply store, as the stuff you use to soak up motor oil spills. That little tip saved DH from a trip to Copaigue. I got 40#'s for under 14$

I ended up buying the repti-bark, aquarium gravel (in lieu of grit, going to feed store this saturday but in the meantime..) and got to sifting. I just happened to have insect screening laying about & bamboo skewers too so I'm in business!

I read all there was to find about Al's gritty mix, and I have to say, that Al is one patient guy, lol! Although it's only been a day since I've switched them, the mix definately keeps 'em upright in the pot. I've also derived a great deal of satisfaction seeing *all* the water drain out of the pot yet remain wet. I loved the pretty pots but the more I read, the lack of drain hole made me more & more insecure.

I have only a couple of questions. I totally get the particle size thing, properties of chosen ingredients & the strong suggestion to fertilize weekly, weakly. As well as the recommended Foliage Pro.

*I'm wondering about re-potting. For those of you who have used the gritty mix, do you just re-use the same stuff when you pot up & just add a handful of bark fines?

*Is the gritty mix appropriate for DR seedlings or is the 5:1:1 mix better. If the latter is better than the former, at which point do you change over?

* Must the bark fines be pine or can it be cedar? I found the Garden Pro bark fines at Lowes at less than 5$/bag but it says cedar blend. Repti-bark was just under 20$ for Finally, thank you guys for a fantastically interesting read . Over the last 2 or 3 days, your conversations from January of this year till now of theories, pics of pets & plants have served to get me well up to speed & kept me quite entertained as well.


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hookilau(long island NY)

I just checked those with gritty feet & have a couple of additional questions.

Roger's caudex in Hydroton had a wee bit of give to it when squeezed. This panicked me into re-considering the gritty mix vs hydroton. I didn't trim any roots & handled him carefully so I felt confident enough to 'water in' after he was properly seated in his pot. Today, his caudex has no give whatsoever. It feels very firm & I'm pretty confident this is a good thing. If it matters, he's in a snug, (about 1" of space all around him & roots below) plastic nursery pot. Nod to Al for his comments on rootbound preferences, misnomers & overwatering. If the shoe fits ;)

By comparison, my arabicum's caudex also had the same amount of 'give' yesterday as well. He is in a terra cotta orchid pot at the moment. Today, his caudex still has the same amt. of give. The mix is not as dry as Roger's & the exterior of the Arabicum's pot is cold (ie: damp?)

* Terra cotta or plastic? I am not opposed to watering daily or as frequently as's the infrequent part I have trouble with, ha ha.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2012 at 10:13AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hi, Antoinette. A good friend told me about your post & mentioned I might want to comment.

The product you are using as a replacement for Turface MVP is calcined (baked at very high temperatures) diatomaceous earth. It is very close to Turface in its physical properties, and as such makes a good alternate.

Your trepidation about pots w/o drain holes is well founded, unless you're using them as cache pots and are being careful to return the main pot to the cache pot after it stops draining. You CAN grow healthy plants (for a while) in pots w/o drain holes, but it is more difficult. Watering errors can quickly become lethal mistakes, and gradual decline as a result of accumulating salts from fertilizers and tap water must be dealt with or or the consequences accepted.

Some growers reuse the inorganic fraction of the gritty mix by first allowing the mix to dry down completely. Then, they pour the mix into a tub/wheel barrow .... of standing water and float the old bark off of the top. Allow what remains to dry, then screen over insect screen and add 2 parts of that mix to 1 part bark. It sounds complicated, but it's very easy, and you don't have to WATCH the various fractions dry out. ;-)

I recd 10 DR seeds from a seed supplier a few years ago. I started them in gritty mix covered by Turface fines. 5 of the 10 germinated. I gave 2 away and still have 3, all are perfectly healthy. From what I've seen in my own succulents, you'll look a LONG time before you find something better for the plant than the gritty mix. No boast - it's just the best soil for long term plantings I've been able to come up with in 20+ years of tinkering with soils.

Keep looking for pine or fir bark that you can buy in or screen to the right size. It's out there, but finding it isn't always easy. The cedar is rich in terpenoids and aqueous methanol, both substances KNOWN to be allelopathic (inhibit growth of other plants), so I would probably question the wisdom of including them in container media and leave them out entirely ..... but that's just me. ;o)

Containers with gas-permeable walls, like terra cotta, are definitely better for the plant. They help the soil dry faster (not necessarily a good thing for the grower, but a very good thing for the plant), and allow additional gas exchange through pot walls. The pores in heavy soils, when not full of water, often fill with gasses that additionally limit the amount of air the soil can hold. Sulfurous gases, methane, and CO2 are all gasses produced by the composting process and inhibiting of root function. Containers with porous walls add additional gas exchange to that which the gritty mix already provides in abundance.

Clay pots are partially self-regulatory insofar as soil/root temperatures are concerned. During periods of high heat, they allow for significant evaporative cooling. When it's cool, there is little or no cooling effect because evaporation slows to a near standstill. I grow everything I can in terra cotta, wood, containers with mesh sides .....

I hope that helps. Be sure to tip your hat to Laura for chasing me down. ;-)


    Bookmark   August 3, 2012 at 9:38AM
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I get the Turface substitute at the local auto parts store, 40 lb for $7. I also use crushed Hydroton.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2012 at 11:54AM
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hookilau(long island NY)

Hi Al & Laura too :)

It was Laura's re-pot of her rescued DR that got me to thinking, wich led me to your gritty....ahd then the more I read about the gritty, the more it made sense. Thank you BOTH for all your help, I just can't stop grinning!


I looked at the DR cuttings I originally put in hydroton & water, (having kept the level of the water below the cuttings & keeping the cuttings in the 'damp zone') and after about a week of no activity, I peeked & found they had rotted.

Luckily it was just the last .25" of each of the cuttings. I got a blade out & sliced away the necrotic part & planted in gritty mix up to their ears (top 2 leaves) except for one that I left in hydroton after surgery.

I had 5 cuttings, and of them, all are still alive but the ones in the gritty guessed it....have new growth!

The lone cutting in hydroton, while it did not rot, it did not thrive either. (I watered both types the same way as explained below)

I put him in the gritty today ;)
watering: I misted the mix lightly & watched the moisture spread downwards & through. I stopped misting when I could see it was evenly moistened (I used clear plastic disposable cups partially to observe the behavior of the mix). Popped that sucker in a ziplock & put it under supplemental lighting in a corner of my bright livingroom.... a week later and bang! I'm in business!

My original DR is doing well with no ill signs but no new growth either. He's outside on my patio in a lightly shaded but bright area along with the 8 little seedlings that I haven't managed to kill yet. I feel confident they will catch up shortly.

I can't say enough how true your statement about shortening the learning curve btw inexperience & the experienced with your gritty mix.

Currently, I have Spanish Thyme, an unknown hot pepper & the DR's in this mix and they are thriving.

Pine Fines:
I just found Pine Fines at Lowes in Hicksville NY. It was just 4.24 per 1.5 cu ft bag. Garden Pro is the brand and I think they also carry it in the Westbury store.

The bags were wet & pretty heavy so I haven't opened them up yet. Just got it home about a half hour ago.

Turface substitute:
I actually purchased Dri Rite 40, though the link below is for Dri Rite 50, it's the same product. It worked for me but is it optimal?....If not, I'll get the napa stuff.

@ Karyn ~ Crushed Hydroton:
How does this fit into the mix? Is it a substitute for a particular ingredient? do you use it?...was it purchased crushed or did you do it yourself?...I got a big ol' bag's worth I'd like to CRUSH, haha.

The autoparts store substitute turface, was it Napa?...@ 7$ for a 40# bag, that's half of what I paid. Looks like I need a new autoparts store.

Thank you all for your generous conversation & sharing of knowledge. Entertaining, informative & utterly useful.


Here is a link that might be useful: pine fines at Lowe's in Long Island

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 5:19PM
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hookilau(long island NY)

darn. wrong pic ;) the pic above is of the arabicum in AGM & it's wee tiny new growth.

Here's the pic of the cutting...

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 5:24PM
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hookilau(long island NY)


Continued reading, I found a great many of your posts addressing potting up vs re-potting, info about clay vs plastic etc.

Thank you for being a prolific poster!!!!!!


    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 5:28PM
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I root adenium cuttings similar to the way I root plumeria cuttings, almost no water. Moisture causes them to rot.

I take the regular Hydroton pellets and break them up a bit. I add them to my potting mix. It's just something else to increase drainage. It looks a bit like pumice when it's crushed.

I get the Turface substitute at a Napa store. I had a terrible time finding Turface in small amounts around here. Most places sold it by the thousands of pounds. Just a bit more then I need. lol Someone finally did send me a link to a store about a half hour away that sells the Turface in 20 lb bags. If I get out that way I'll check their price but for now the Oil Dry works fine.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 5:47PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hi, Antoinette. I'm waiting out a much needed rainy day and thought I'd cruise this forum - saw the nitty gritty thread & decided I'd revisit it & see what's going on. I'm glad I did - I like success stories and being around enthusiastic people. Love that word 'thriving', too! Lol .... also glad to see you're doing homework. It'll pay big dividends, as you might well be seeing already.

Best luck!


    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 3:10PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

You are more than Welcome !!! Glad AL came along to help you with your questions!!! : )

I knew AL could answer your question in a manner far more than i could have even tried to explain...LOL

So glad that i could help you.. Im glad you liked my repot on the DR. It is quite easy once you do it for the first time.



    Bookmark   August 13, 2012 at 12:04AM
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Hi all,

i just joined the forum, specifically to say thank you to Al for his gritty mix recipe :) actually more for the detailed logic behind it. With that i was able to mix up a close enough version of gritty mix (given locally available supplies) for my adeniums.
i have a bunch of seedlings, and i took the weakest of the bunch and trasplanted them to the modified gritty mix first. not only have they recovered great, but they are surpassing in growth those previously stronger ones!
the other ones were planted in a mix of cactus soil and some expanded clay.
i transplanted adult adeniums into gritty too, they're doing just fine.

i live in europe, and unfortunately there is no turface here, and no diatomaceous earth substitute in my country (not even in the form of good kitty litter). so i went with Liapor, basically expanded clay granules, one very similar kind of expanded clay only a bit bigger but crushed granules with better absorbance, tennisit (sifted crushed clay used for tennis courts) and perlite. i couldn't find the CEC score of liapor, so i added a tiny bit of tennis clay just to increase my chances lol. luckily i found the perfect pine bark, labeled for rose mulch, very uniform in size. added some granite too, but less in percentage than in the original recipe, i needed more moisture holding components as liapor isn't as absorbant as turface.

it was a hit or miss with different components, but i think it is doing a great job so far. i will also be experimenting with almond shells as the organic component.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 10:29AM
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hookilau(long island NY)

Welcome Teyo!
Sounds like you're well on your way =)
pics pretty please! (big grin)


    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 2:01PM
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Hi Antoinette, and thank you! :)

here are some images:

babies in gritty mix, you can see a couple in the old mix. these in gritty have kind of "shifted into fifth gear" :D all of them are the same age (except the one with the stones on the base, he has a sick caudex but is recovering), and about a week short of two months.

these are only a couple of weeks old, i thought, if these survive then anything will :D
on the side is a seedling of colvillea racemosa, also in gritty and doing good.

and one store bought adenium, over here we don't have seedlings for sale (i couldn't believe what other members have bought at your wallmart!), only cutting grown... still, it likes gritty mix obviously :D excuse the furry stuff, the kitties are shoving their butts into camera view lol!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 2:45PM
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hookilau(long island NY)

omygosh. You're my kinda beginner!!! love the pics!! and the furry butts were pretty funny too 8) I love how your babies line up so neat and orderly. They look fantastic, so healthy and the one in flower is just lovely. Do you have Walmart in Europe? ha ha, that sounds like a strange question a XD

I see 3 different mixes, what is the one with the red bits?


    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 5:56PM
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hahah, thanks Antoinette, glad you like the babies! We don't have Walmart over here, we have similar stores but since adeniums aren't very popular, they can rarely be found both there and in nurseries. thankfully there is ebay and thai growers, both for seeds and plants (but importing plants can be a hassle with customs).

there are actually just two mixes (of gritty, not counting the old stuff with cactus soil), they differ only in the amount of tennis clay (the red stuff). with some plants i wasn't lazy and spread a thin layer of liapor granules on top, so the real mix is just under (liapor looks nicer in my opinion).
in the planter with the smallest babies i sprinkled some more bark on top, both to keep moisture in better, and to support them, they were so tiny some would just fall over when i planted them. their mix is the one with less tennis clay, though it can't be seen because of the bark on top.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 3:38AM
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hookilau(long island NY)

Adeniums are not well known here either in NY. At least I mean to say they are not common. Florida seems to have plenty of admirers though, however on LI, we are behind the curve.

Had I not seen pictures of larger more mature specimens like Marie's, realizing their potential, I probably would've passed them by. No doubt I must have in the past.

It is *amazing* to me that Walmart of all places carries these guys. I went to a high end nursery here on LI, you know, the kind you only go to look =) This is where I'd expect to find them & I was not disappointed.

They were twice the price at Walmart & their caudices were large-ish, but not fat. They were also bottle shaped & not very gnarly or interesting. They were also very green as compared to the Walmart ones. I guess they're rather young.

Considering how showy they are, you'd think a nursery would grow one or two for display! Still, I'm content with their obscurity as long as I can still hunt the occasional plant at Wallyworld 8) This weekend, I'm checking IKEA!


    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 7:54AM
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sbrow156(Cairns QLD Australia)

They are hard to find here in far north queensland australia too. I went to a nursary yesterday that was HUGE !! never seen one this big. Had every kind of plant you could imagine! i thought for sure they'd have DR. I asked the guy there after an unsuccessful walk round the place and he said "no sorry they are only really good for pots not for putting in the ground" I was like "well der but its a nursary u supposed to sell pot plants as well" he said "try bunngings" IVE BEEN THERE! they only have seedlings! i want a more mature plant! GAH! was so annoyed :( Looks like ill have to wait for the next lot of markets. Oh and i thought is mention the ones here are not as green as the ones you guys have over there...different countries and climates i suppose...

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 7:07PM
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I am new to this forum so is it asking too much for someone to re-post the nitty gritty recipe?

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 6:34AM
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hookilau(long island NY)

Here's a link that explains the how & why of Al's gritty mix as it is commonly known. Forgive the punctuation, this is a huge subject =)

The recipe itself is quite simple. All ingredients should be screened. Visually you are looking for bb size to 1/2 bb size. Less than that, the particles are too small & will compact, more than that & the particles will leave air spaces that will be too large.

1 part turface
oil dry from Walmart or Napa oil dry part #8822 will do, use a fine screen and a dust mask, discard the teeny sand like particles, you'll be left with a uniform looking kitty litter textured material

1 part fir or pine bark
pine fines, sold as soil conditioner in certain parts of the country if you can't find it, you will need to screen it, I use 2 screens, first, what passes through a 1/2 " screen is then passed through a regular kitchen sieve & what's left I keep & use, you can use Repti-bark from the pet store it's prescreened, I hear the smaller bags has material that can be used straight from the bag, it's more expensive, I purchased the large bag & screened, ended up with very little, I hear that the larger bags have larger pieces & the smaller bags have smaller pieces, orchid bark can be used too, as long as it's fir or pine & the right size, you're good to go.

1 part grit
can be found at a feed store as brand name Gran-I-Grit, it's actually meant for feeding to chickens to help them grind & then digest their food, be sure to get the 'grower' size, 'starter' (the other size it comes in) is tooooo small.

Don't use anything with oyster shells etc. It should be plain old crushed granite. If you don't have a feed store locally, check places that carry crushed stone, sand, cement, etc. I believe it can be called an aggregate so I suspect it can easily be had there. If all else fails, you can use aquarium gravel, hot pink is preferred (ha ha, just kiddin') get any color you like =) I like to add a pretty tan to make the resulting mix visually interesting. An additional un-needed expense but, hey, I'm a girl =)

Slow release fertilizer, I use Osmocote & pelleted (or otherwise) garden lime @ the rate of 1 tablespoon per gallon of dry mix.

Finally, do a search for any of the terms I've used up above & you'll find explanations that will answer the inevitable questions that will arise =) Here's what mine looks like, Good luck!


Here is a link that might be useful: container soils - water movement & retention XII

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 7:49AM
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Antoinette, your gritty looks much better than mine :D
mine's not that uniform in size, with all the different part lol

btw, i transplanted some really tiny arabicum seedlings into gritty, they really weren't doing good in my seed starting mix. they have now put out their first set of true leaves,but the weather changed here, quite cold now and wet. but they're still doing good, even though they were in the rain while i was away a couple of days, thank good gritty mix is so permeable to water, i'm sure they wouldn't have survived in some sticky wet stuff

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 8:44AM
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hookilau(long island NY)

Thanks! I screened like crazy to get that gritty mix, lol! Definitely not my favorite thing to do but the results are surely worth it 8) For me, getting the fines out of this mix was the most important thing for me as I've had plants not really struggle, but not really thrive in a not well screened mix.

That being said, I'm done with big bags of pine fines, both finding & screening. Very difficult to find the right stuff in my area. I'm going with the expensive (by comparison) but well screened repti-bark from now on! I'm fixing to cut down my hot pepper plants to put in gritty for overwintering. Love this stuff.

By comparison, my mom can't get the hang of it 0_0 she can't wrap her head around the water once weekly thing. She waters sooo sparingly (used to MG bagged mix) that everything dries up to dust, ha ha. We've gone back to bagged cactus soil for her plants. She's not old per se, just stuck in her ways. At a certain point you just go with that flow =)

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 10:01AM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia


You are doing a great job with the Gritty Mix!!

My trees just love this miz and i am going to pot up some seeds soon in the Turfce fines (which i keep to sow seeds)

Thanks for all of the kind comments...if you understand how this mix works, your trees with be much happier and will show you in return how happy they are. Aeration is the key for roots and this helps the perched water level stay down so your trees won't rot by standing in water... Great mix!!!

Good Luck..


    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 1:38AM
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