Soil Amendments for Succulents

bronxfigsApril 21, 2012

I just recently browsed the aisles of my local pet supply chain-store, and came across some products that might have some use as amendments when mixing up potting mediums.

There is a product called "crushed, oyster-shells" and it's gritty, flaky, and might be a source of calcium.

Also, there are bags of granulated walnut shells, also a fine grit. IF this has a use in potting mixes, do you think that the poison that comes from walnut trees will be in the shells also?

Activated, granular charcoal...removes toxins from soil?

Coconut husk chips, coir, sterilized corn cob granules, (could these be used as an organic supplement as it breaks down)?

Then there's the rabbit-type foods that really are pelletized plants, and vitamins. Can these be used as a type of green manure?

Hydroponic supply stores have hundreds of products, like seaweed pellets, bat guano, soil-improvers, plant/root tonics, Humic acid additives, macro-micro nutrient powders, etc. Any good?

What about expanded shale products for improving soil texture, and drainage?

I mentioned all these products because I am curious to know if they can have a place in growing mediums.

Thanks for any comments.


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bikerdoc5968 Z6 SE MI

Diatomite, Coir, Turface and Oyster shell all are good as mix amendments. I wouldn't use too much Oyster shell and charcoal will also adsorb other things besides toxins. Some people substitute coir for humus. CHC is nice but you'd have to use the small size and it does retain water and lasts a long time; used more for orchids. If you live near a animal feed store, consider chicken grit. This is a course granite material fed to chickens to aid in their digestion. Usually sold in 50# bags. You can purchase smaller sized (2#) grit at pet stores made for small birds. If you live in the Michigan/Illinois/Indiana/Ohio/Kentucky areas, Meijer's sells course grain sand for swimming pool filters in 50# bags for $10.00

As for the other organic stuff...Hummmmm ???? If you want to add humic acid, etc, I have a product that goes way beyond that called Essential Plus Natural Plant & Root Stimulant. In addition to the Humic acid, it contains Kelp extract, Vit B6, Lignin, a number of amino acids and Gibberellic Acid. I have several extras if anyone is interested.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 2:40PM
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Thank-you for the very interesting answers.

I have spent a small fortune buying the components needed to make "Al's quick-draining, gritty mix", and the bark fines, and aquarium gravel cost the most money. Now, you have provided alternative sources for the coarse grit that I need. Thanks.

I am always fascinated at the variety of plant-growth enhancers, stem-stiffeners, root-tonics, vitamins, nutrient, seaweed solutions, ad nauseum, that can be found in these "hydroponic" wink-wink.... supply stores for pot-growers. I'm sure some of these products are more effective than the fertilizers that can be bought at any conventional garden center. But which product(s)? I'm always searching for that magic elixir! Thanks for the dope on the "Essential Plus, Natural Plant & Root Stimulant". I will try to find this concoction.

Again, thanks for the answers.


    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 3:13PM
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bikerdoc5968 Z6 SE MI

OK, I guess I'm not with the program, but what is "Al's Quick Gritty Mix"?

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 3:55PM
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A gentleman named" Dr. Al Tapla frequently posts extensive information on these forums explaining various facets of growing plants in containers, figs, bonsai, houseplants, etc. etc.

He has developed a quick-draining, growing medium that can be used for most container-grown plants including cacti and succulents. This mix will NOT support a perched water table, i.e. excess water that doesn't drain away, and is trapped in the growing medium, and will eventually rot away roots. This mix will allow fresh oxygen to always be around the root zone, and is impossible to over-water your plants. It also retains some trapped moisture, so roots stay hydrated.

A quick search on the Garden-Web will give you extensive and complete strategies for growing various plants in this mix. His explanations are backed up by good science. Very interesting reading that explodes all the old-wives' tales regarding plant "science" that have circulated for years.

His articles explain in great detail, the functions of the various ingredients used in this mix, and why they are used.

Hope this helps.


    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 4:43PM
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I use the Chicken grit for the Al's Gritty Mix I have made. It was only about 7 bucks for a 50# bag. I have also seen small pea gravel at the local big box store recently that was even cheaper and about the desired size. Would need to be washed and sifted of course but would probably work the same as the grit.

The root development I have seen since switching to this new mix has been great so far, but I have only been using it for about 3 months.

On a side note I also mix a batch with the addition of about 20% composted cow manure. This goes against the whole water table train of thought. But I have noticed the ones in the manure test mix have also developed great roots and seem to look better. They bloom better for sure. I don't water them as often either. But only time will tell.

I hate the fact that asking about soil is like asking about politics. LOL But I think the secret is finding what works for you and realizing that may not work for the next person. Ask questions, research, experiment, keep notes and you will find what works best for your growing style.


    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 5:33PM
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zone 8(Zone 8)

BronxFigs, just to clairify,

A gentleman named" Dr. Al Tapla frequently posts extensive information on these forums explaining various facets of growing plants in containers, figs, bonsai, houseplants, etc. etc.

Al is his first name, Tapla is his online handle. Whether he has a PHD, I don't know. I don't remember his last name. I do know that he is a whiz when it comes to plants. You should see his beautiful yard. Didn't mean to put you down, Al helps many, many people on many forums. Have a great day. Larry

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 6:32PM
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I think you are better off keeping things as simple as possible, mixing all those different types of ingredients adds too much unpredictability.

I found a local lawn supply retailer that sells Turface MVP for under $15 for a 40-lb bag. Coarse perlite can also be found in bulk, or at any big box store. Different combinations of those 2 ingredients will give you all the control you will ever want over your plant growth: you can control moisture retention by varying the amounts of turface, and all nutrition must be supplemented which also gives complete control, and since neither turface or perlite degrade over time this mix is re-usable and there is no fear of breakdown of organic material.

Once you have gained some "mastery" over that, which will take multiple growing seasons, it would make more sense to start experimenting with other substrates if need be.

Just my opinion, of course.


    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 9:15PM
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Thanks for the additional comments and suggestions.

Larry....Thanks, I just thought the man's name was Al Tapla. I'm glad that you pointed that out. And, yes....he does help anyone who asks. Great guy...good information.

xerophyle nyc....Too much conflicting information on soil mixes, drainage problems, soil additives, fertilizers, etc. I have been using the gritty mix, as so many suggest on various forums, and I have no problem continuing to use it...but it does have to be renewed after some years because the bark fines break down. Keeping it simple almost always works and pays off.


    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 10:17PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Hi Frank,

I recently learned that a place called Brooklyn Bonsai carries some of the components for gritty mix. My particular interest too is they supposedly carry pumice as well, not so easily found on the East Coast.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 10:09AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

There are very long lists of products that can enhance a plant's growth, but nothing that can enhance its potential. Potential is a genetic thing - a constant. Growth is related to how well a plant is able to handle the conditions under which it is growing. Whenever you start adding 'things' to soils or your treatment regimen to "enhance" growth, it's good to know that if it can enhance growth, it can also limit growth if it's added but not needed.

Instead of looking for that magic ingredient or elixir that promises to raise your plants to superstar status, look to the basics first. You're hundreds of times more likely to improve growth and vitality by getting the basics right than by dosing/treating with or adding questionable 'stuff'. It's by eliminating or minimizing, to the greatest degree possible, those things that are limiting your plants' growth that you develop that green thumb. I promise there's no green thumb in a bottle of Superthrive, or at the bottom of a bag of promises, or in any of the list of products Frank mentioned above.

The question to ask yourself before you invest time/effort/money is, 'What is the limiting factor 'this' is going to remedy and how is it going to, individually or in combination with other factors, going to do it?' If you can't answer, you're almost always going to be better served to fall back on concentrating on the basics.

Most people think I have a green thumb because everything I grow is always in perfect or near perfect health, yet I don't use any magic ingredients. I use good soils and watering habits, a fertilizer regimen that's simple to replicate, pay attention to light & temperature, and fix bug/disease problems if ever they arise, though they seldom do because the plants are so healthy. Why then, if I can do it, can't everyone? They can. By focusing on the basics and learning to recognize and reduce the effects of limiting factors, while at the same time avoiding self-limiting habits.


    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 1:44PM
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Who could argue with that? Back-to-basics, then observe.

Again, thanks.


    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 2:43PM
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