Easier potting mix for citrus?

keodark(9)July 16, 2012

Hi all,

I'm a novice gardener, and I apologize for asking a question that has been asked many times before. I did do a lot of reading on these forums about mixes, and I have to say that despite what may be "better for the plant", I'm just not up to the task of maintaining Al's 5-1-1 or a similarly aerated mix for my citrus (three kinds of dwarf citrus and two avocados, destined for half wine barrel planters). I have a drip system in place, but the continual fertilizing, plus the difficulty of finding the ingredients (the guy at OSH looked at me like I had two heads when I asked for partially-composted redwood bark fines, and then tried to sell me bark nuggets) is just not something I'm up to right now.

So, for a large container (half 60-gal wine barrel planters, drilled) in Zone 9 (San Jose, CA) with full sun, and dwarf citrus that I'd like to only have to fertilize once in awhile and not repot until the barrel falls apart... what's my best bet for potting medium?


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I just use ProMix regular with about 1 part sand per 3-4 parts mix. I don't really measure, just visually estimate it. Seems to work just fine, I've never had any problem with roots rotting. I assume ProMix is available nationwide, but if not, any other good soilless mix should work. I would, however, avoid the "moisture control" type mixes, I think they stay too wet. For the sand, I just buy bagged "play sand". Home Depot stores here carry the ProMix in 2 cu ft compressed bales for $13.97.

Here is a link that might be useful: This is what I use

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 2:31AM
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in your area, and climate, temps, etc. you can try Miracle Gro garden soil at about 70% and MG perlite at 30%. works well for me in Houston, full sun, hot summers, mild winters.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 4:09AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Keodark, I hate that you sound almost apologetic that you simply can't deal with the task of compiling ingredients for that planting mix recipe. Millions of people around the world manage just fine without it, so it can be done.

But, I have to say that you cannot expect any potting medium to perform in the manner you've cited. Any peat based mix is going physically break down rather quickly, losing porosity with each passing day. Most are too fine textured in the first place, but can be amended with an array of particles to improve their functionality. The mix that I use is bark based and very sturdy, but I would never expect it to perform well for years and years.

You will also need to come to terms with fertilizing. Citrus are heavy 'feeders ' and have specific requirements for certain elements not typical to the usual soluble plant food. You'll need to find a product that will do the job and follow the directions on the label. You absolutely do NOT need to use a weak solution every time you water, especially if you use a peat based medium.

Conifer bark has been an important component of nursery mixes forever. Composted redwood? Nah. Pine bark fines aren't difficult to locate...much smaller than mini -nuggets.

SO! I have to say that if you want someone to come up with a medium that will last for years with little decline of porosity, with ingredients that are easy to locate and use..................

If you have serious physical constraints which prevent you from normal maintenance routines, and many of us do, then we can rethink this.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 9:20AM
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Thanks for all of the responses!

rhizo - If I sound apologetic it's because I know a lot of contributors to this forum are dedicated to optimal growing conditions for their plants, and I understand that what I'm asking for is a less-than-optimal choice for growth medium.

It's not so much the difficulty of getting components that bothers me, as it is the commitment to water and fertilizer that an aerated mix like Al's requires. It gets pretty hot here, and the thought of watering twice a day - even with a drip system - plus constant fertilizing... I just don't need another pet. ;) As you said, plenty of people are successfully growing plants with MG soil and dealing with the consequences.

I'm just looking for a happy middle ground that avoids root rot but still allows me to go on vacation without hiring someone to feed my plants!

So far it sounds like houston's suggestion of 30% perlite / 70% MG garden soil is the way I'll go. Any other thoughts?


    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 2:04PM
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Hey, I'm two zones lower than you and I only use something like gritty mix on some of my epiphetic bromeliads and orchids. If I used it own my citrus, I would probably have to quite my job and dedicate my life to watering. My citus get to spent most of the year on a very hot, strip adjacent to my blacktop driveway and temps probably average 95-100 f. In July and August. As it is, in a loose but peaty/humusy mix I have to water at least once a day and and they are still too dry!

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 4:02PM
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Well, the only thing I can kind of mix I can think of that requires hardly any work, is cheap, and does not rot is those hydroton balls or simmilar.
That means you have have to grow a plant that is happy to sit in water 24 hours a day without the medium ever rotting away, like my 'Lucky Bamboo' plant.

There is no such thing as a mix that will not require a repot in a long period of time unless you use ingredients that will hold their structure for years on end.

Perfect examples would be,turface, larva rock, pumice, crushed granite, perlite, fired clay balls like hydroton, sand, small pebbles....ect

These type of ingredients depending on the size will either require frequent watering, or a lack thereof.
I can tell you this type of mix would last for years, but still, anything planted in a mix composed of material that will be difficult to break down will still require frequent fertilizing.

Good question though and it would be great to discover a mix that does not breakdown, requires little watering, and little fertilizing.


    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 7:48PM
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mksmth zone 6b Tulsa Oklahoma(6b)

ive been slowly switching from the gritty and homemade 5.1.1 for Fafards 52 with added coarse perlite. so far so good. Its only 30% peat and the rest is bark/perlite/vermiculite. The gritty I mixed was for some reason could get very hydrophobic and became a pain in the you know what to re-wet. I need to add some photos one of these days to update everyone. Been busy on my plumeria binge. LOL.


    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 4:34PM
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I have found that you have to read the bag to find out what it is under the manufacturers label. After giving up on pine bark fines I got some Nature's Helper. Upon reading the bag I found that it was pine bark fines.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 1:03PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

keodark, if you find that "miracle" potting mix, please let us all know, lol! Seriously, there just isn't anything out there that will fit your requirements. But, I understand trying to use the KISS method. I don't have the time to mix my own container mix, either, and, here in S. Calif, I need something that is actually more water retentive than gritty mix or 511 mix. Farfad's is probably your best choice, but I can't find it anywhere in my area, sadly. So, my next choice is EB Stone's Cactus Mix, which is got fir bark in it ( Fir Bark, Lava Rock, Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss, Sand, Redwood Compost and Mushroom Compost to be exact.) So far, my container citrus are doing exceptionally well in it. I've even brought a few abused citrus back to life in it. Fertilizing - you have to fertilize container citrus even more frequently than in-ground citrus. I use the new Osmocote Plus, which has a decent N-P-K ratio for citrus plus the micros, and I also will fertilize with a small amount of regular citrus fertilizer (Gro Power Citrus & Avocado Food) every 3 months during the growing season, too. Citrus are pretty heavy feeders, really needing nitrogen, so if you want to grow citrus in containers, and keep it as carefree as possible, this is what I do, and so far, it's working very well. I anticipate I'll need to re-pot in a few years, maybe 3 or 4 if I'm lucky, since I have my citrus in a little larger containers than some of the really serious container citrus growers on our forum, but I can do this because I'm not moving my citrus in and out for weather reasons. They just sit on my patio all year 'round. So, saves me a few re-potting sessions.


One year later:

Before (this was a very coveted, rare citrus, I about had a cow when it came to me in this condition:)

About 2 months later:

Patty S.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2012 at 7:44PM
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Keodark, I mix Miracle Grow Cactus, Palm and Citrus mix with some regular potting soil and then add vermiculite. Seems to work for me. I have to water everyday in the summer when my plants are on my balcony, but in the winter I water once every 5 to 7 days.

For fertilizer, I use Foliage-Pro with a little bit of white vinegar as Meyer Mike recommends. I have had lots of success with that as I can attest to with the attached picture of my calamondin below. Good luck to you.

Patty S. - Love your plants and pots. In my mind, a good looking citrus is enhanced with a good looking pot. You obviously feel that way too.


    Bookmark   July 20, 2012 at 10:42PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Thanks, Jerry. Good to know there's more than one way to have successful container citrus, your citrus tree looks exceptional! And thank you for the kind words on my pots :-) They are resin, and they look like terra cotta without the issues around terra cotta (I love terra cotta, but it dries out very fast for us here in our dry summers of S. Calif.) All my container plants are in resin pots, or glazed ceramic pots, mainly Talevara. I like how you're using pot feet, very smart. Very happy Calamondin!

Patty S.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2012 at 11:18PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I'm beginning to sound like a broken record about the stakes and tight tape around those spindly little trunks.

The stakes are necessary for shipping protection but should be removed upon transplanting. The trunks will always remain fragile if prevented from normal movement. Equate it to what happens to a person with a restricting cast on a limb. A tree can't add the girth it needs if it can't move and sway with breezes.

Something else to consider is that the phloem, the part of the vascular system which transports photosynthates manufactured in the leaves down to the roots and other points of growth, is located
Just under the bark. That's the green stuff you see if you scratch the bark. If phloem transport is constricted, a plant begins to deteriorate.

Love seeing the'before and after ' pictures of the trees.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2012 at 7:26AM
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I am not even sure where to begin!!!

Rhizo, Rhizo, Rhizo, Rhizo, Rhizo, you a broken record, never..lol Great advice as always along with great reminders. I just finished removing another tie from another tree.

Patty! Amazing! You have done it! You have got the hnag of container citrus! I am very proud of you. Looking fantastic, and I love that you brought that tree back to life. I am so excited for you.
I have a feeling with your heat and sunny weather, the roots to your trees will outgrow the pots before that kind of mix even starts to collaspe, at leats I hope. Keep a close eye on your trees as teh mix ages.
Your trees are absolutely beautiful Patty. Lucky you being able to just leave them in one spot all year. How are your in-ground ones doing these days? Has your weather been cooperating?:-)
Love the before and after pics.

Jerry! Seems I have a little competition here...:-))))
Wonderful job on your trees. I LOVE the color and fullness.
It seems that Patty, You, and I have a thing for citrus in beautiful pots! It does makes a big difference on the looks of our trees. Beautful! I can envision the people growing citrus in Italy as my sister describes!


    Bookmark   July 21, 2012 at 8:41AM
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Thanks Patty and Mike for your kind words. Patty, I have a couple of large resin pots, and the Calamondin will eventually be transplanted into one of those... because the weight with terra cotta pots becomes too much for me to handle with really large pots. Mike, I only have three citrus, which is probably less than 1% of the citrus that you have. So you won't have much competition from me... Besides, you're my citrus mentor!

Rhizo, thanks for your advice on not using steaks. It makes sense to me and I will remove the stake from the calamondin. Never have any of my potted plants staked when they are inside. Unfortunately I have very limited space for potted plants outside and unfortunately both places, in front of my townhome and my back balcony, become wind tunnels on windy days. Do you think I should trim the calamondin a bit so that little truck doesn't have so much to support? I plan on transplanting the calamondin to a slightly larger resin pot.

Thanks all for compliments and advice.


    Bookmark   July 21, 2012 at 9:23AM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

rhizo, I agree in about 95% of cases, but this tree needs the temporary support until it had a root system (when I pulled it out of the pot, all the roots were rotten, almost zero root system). So, the stake stays for just a bit longer until this poor little tree has roots to hold it upright! In fact, if you look at the little Ortanique next to it, much spindlier trunk and larger canopy, BUT it has an extensive root system now. And, even in the beginning, when I potted it up last year, had about 3 times the amount of roots that the poor Chironja had, which is much, much taller than the Ortanique. The Chironja would have simply tipped out of the pot! The Ortanique didn't need a stake. This Chironja will lose it's stake in a few months. I only leave a stake in a young tree for two reasons - no roots or it's planted in an area when it may sustain serious wind damage. Otherwise, all my trees are stakeless. So, sometimes a stake is part of the healing process for me :-) If you want to use another analogy, I would say it's a little like taking the training wheels off a bit too soon. So, I anticipate I'll keep the stake probably until December or so, then I will feel it's safe to pull it out.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2012 at 11:16AM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Thanks, Mike! My in-ground citrus are doing well, even the ones that were really struggling. The only two left I'm worried about is an Oro Blanco of all things, and a Tahitian pummelo, which I fear may not make it. I am going to try something this year, as I go into winter. For any citrus that were really doing poorly last year, I'm going to mulch with both compost, a little copper (to treat a possible phytophthora infection), as well as some soil sulfur. I have narrowed the issue down to two possible issues: Either the pummelo and pummelo hybrids are more sensitive to my soil's pH, which isn't that high - about 7.0 - or the rootstock the pummelo hybrids are on, are not as resistant to phytophthora, and when we had our heavy rains this winter, that fungus ended up proliferating. It is the latter I'm leaning towards. So, I'm going to try to treat for both and see if I can rescue these last two struggling citrus. Oh, and my Melogold in the back of the house as well - same deal. There are 3 of us in my neighborhood all dealing with the identical same issue, and it across the board is the same tree or trees - all pummelos or pummelo hybrids. We have a lot of fungus that live in our soils here due to the perfect temps for fungal growth nearly year 'round. I just found a climbing rose covered in rust yesterday, which is highly unusual for us in the summer, but we've had monsoon conditions this last week, and our humidity levels have been between 60 and 90%. Very unusual (and miserable) for us here, but we do see this for short periods in the summer. So, thinkin' this is a case of "fungus among us", and really not so much a function of pH, as we have plenty of Oro Blancos and Melogolds growing out here without any pH intervention (these two hybrids were specifically bred for our area).

Patty S.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2012 at 11:25AM
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Just a quick thought on your need to simplify you potting soil regimen. I have found a pretty good trick that works and involves very few calories. I take a couple of bags of pine nuggets and pour then out in a column in the drive way and then drive over them lengthwise for three or four passes and then use a leaf rake to comb out the larger pieces (which get run over again) and sweep up the residuals. I have been getting pretty good results and use all but the finest dust in my potting mix. I don't use 511 or gritty but both are a good point of departure for building your own soils.

I gotta get the camera out and take a few pics if it ever dries out again. I have a few containers using these soils which you might enjoy...

    Bookmark   July 21, 2012 at 11:40AM
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"It's not so much the difficulty of getting components that bothers me, as it is the commitment to water and fertilizer that an aerated mix like Al's requires. It gets pretty hot here, and the thought of watering twice a day - even with a drip system - plus constant fertilizing... "

I've found I need to water my gritty mix/5-1-1 containers less than I need to water peat mixes. Peat mixes/miracle grow/etc seem to be soppy messes for the first couple weeks/months, but then they won't hold water at all anymore.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 11:35AM
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