potting mix? how should I do it

msugrl2010July 7, 2012

Hello all,

I'm new to taking care of dwarf citrus trees and am going to order an orcoblanco grapefruit tree very soon. I would like to know of a great potting soil that I can get in stores or a type of mix that I can easily create by buying 1 or 2 different types of mixes at the store.

I have read other posts discussing this dilemma and am still a little lost. I'd appreciate anyone's help!

I also have a little orange tree that I bought at whole foods in May, and this is what started my interest. I posted a picture and he seems to be doing great so far, but I have him in a generic potting soil that seems to drain well at the moment, but I think retains too much moisture. He seems to be doing well now but I'm watching the situaton closely to make sure the soil continues to drain well. I only water him about once a week and measure the moisture levels to make sure he doesn't dry out. Everything is ok so far it seems. But I know I need better soil.

also, if anyone can give me advice on a good grow light that will keep my current orange tree and my soon to be orcoblanco grapefruit tree healthy through the winter would be great. I live in michigan, where we have unforgiving winters (usually overcast everyday during the winter). I'm also a grad student at the moment and am poor XD, so I'd appreciate a light that won't bankrupt me as well.

Thanks again for everyone's advice!!!


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you can do a search for al's gritty mix or 511 mix. it has multiple ingredients. and for only two small trees, it may not be practical for you to make. i dont know if any of our regulars live in your area or maybe mail you some.

as you already know, citrus needs a well draining mix. an alternative is a citrus/cactus mix with extra perlite. perhaps even an orchid mix.

for lighting, you could check out 'growing under lights' forum. there are several options, 2' or 4' shop light, 2 or 4 tube setup, metal halide bulbs, high pressure sodium (hps) bulbs, or high wattage compact fluorescent bulbs(CFL). you can create a stand out of pvc pipes. and use a large 10 or 12" clamp on brooder lamp. a power strip and a timer.

here's my setup, for our short winters.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 6:22AM
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Thanks so much for the info! I really like your lighting set up, where did you get all the supplies you need and how strong are those bulbs? I think I could do something like that for my 2 trees and be able to save some money. does it keep your trees happy through your winter? (I wish Michigan had nice texas winters! lol XD)

I googled the 511 mix and al's gritty mix, and citrus trees really like these types of ingredients? it guess it kinda suprises me because it seems like its so gritty that their roots wouldn't be able to grow well in a mix like this that doesn't have a lot of organic material XD lol! but I'm a newbie so I'll definitely take your word for it without questioning your wisdom :P.

Here's what I found for Al's gritty mix, though it seems kinda complicated, a lot of adding additional nutrients then getting screens to make it really small, etc. and I'm not sure I could find all these ingredients.


and I'm not sure if I found anything correct for the 511 mix that you were talking about, could you please send me a link as to what goes into the 511 mix?

what kind of mix do you use Houston? and just curious, what kinds of citrus do you have? :>

Thanks again for your help!

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 10:30AM
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here's something that I found.

It's the espoma cactus and citrus mix. Would this work well for citrus? I don't want to take shortcuts with my trees, I just don't think I have the resources to makes the gritty mix (and possibly the 511 mix once I know what it is). I want them to be healthy and happy, would this mix possibly do it?

anyone use espoma cactus/citrus mix and it worked well?

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 10:46AM
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i bought most of the materials from Home Depot/Lowes. some of the stuff is available at Walmart. you'll need a small hacksaw to cut the pvc. i didnt bother with any glue, it holds together pretty well, and i can break it apart for storage.

the small bulb is 45watts (approx 200watt equivalent) and the giant bulbs are 65watts (approx 300watt equivalent).

informative posts on the 511 mix

the 511 ingredients should be available at most garden centers/nurseries.

i've never tried cactus mix, but if you are going to use it, buy a bag of perlite and mix some in. the premade mixes usually dont drain well enough for indoor citrus. i personally use 70% Miracle Gro garden soil and 30% perlite. it dries out very quickly outside in our heat, and in the winter, i water lightly about every 4-5 day, just enough to moisten the soil and not to saturate it.

my potted citrus are Meyer Lemon, Moro Blood orange, and a noid mandarin. my other two are N33 navel and Cara Cara pink navel planted in ground.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 5:08PM
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Houston has been wonderful with you!

Just to add to her wonderful comments, I would reverse the mix ingredients in your case since you want your mix to dry out frequently, especially in your area. She gets lots of hot weather, and you only get that kind of weather for a month if that.

I would use 70 percent perlite and only 30 percent mix. If this is easy for you, then by all means go for it. The mix your tree is already in seems quite good enough. I see lots of perlite.
The 5.1.1 mix is ultimate and so the gritty mix, but if you understand why these mixes are used by many here, you are already on the right path. Using a good porous mix is key.
Does anyone sell 'Fafard' mixes by you?

I use the 5.1.1 and the gritty mixes. It took me a while to find the ingredients but worth my time. Many can't no matter what they do and many don't want to bother.
That is where others have decided to amend bagged mixes so that the soil is only a fraction of the mix, while amendments such as perlite are tinkered with until one makes a mix that is best for their plants, while best for their environment at the same time. You get it? Heck I even use something other than the 5.1.1 and the gritty when I run out and my plants do ok.

As for the lights? Houston is very helpful with that too.


    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 7:28PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I'm hoping that you are picking up on the fact that there really isn't a magic recipe for the ideal potting medium. The most experienced growers aim for porosity and usually gain that with an assortment of stuff that has a pretty large particle size than most people are used to.

You can make your own perfectly fine potting mix by using a little bit of regular potting mix (I really wouldn't bother with the so called organics) with a large percentage of bark fines. (The Fafard mix that I use is mostly bark.) When I've run out of that, I'll add a tiny bit of potting mix (ProMix) to a bucket of bark. OR a large percentage of perlite! Easy peazy lemon squeezy! ;-)

No need to turn it into a project for you to have great success. Just remember...porosity and rapid drainage.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2012 at 12:55PM
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Thank you so much for all the information on everything! lol it really helps. I'm going to try to find the materials for your light set up too. I wonder, do these light bulbs fit into a standard lamp? I have a floor light that looks very similar to the lamp in the link below, except the neck of my light bends so I can point the light down.
do you think one of the grow bulbs you use could fit into my lamp and be safe? (don't feel like setting the house on fire XD) I can bend the light so it points downward, and it might work so long as it's safe.


I'm glad you responded to my post, I was hoping you'd respond at some point, lol! you seem to be the unofficial expert on this forum. I'll definitely make a couple of calls to the plant nurseries near me (I'm thinking my best hope will be farmer john's and bordine's, not sure if you have any of these places out in Maryland). I think the perlite/ regular mix (70/30 ratio) will probably be my best bet. Just curious, what exactly is perlite? I know it's the white bits in my plant's soil, just not sure exactly what it is.
Whether wise it's been 90+ nearly everyday this summer, VERY unusual for Michigan summers. We just finally got some rain last week, before that everything was dried up and yellow,hadn't rained in my area in months, not as many people were having bonfires or setting off fireworks because of the fear that it would start a fire. It's been hell trying to keep my vegetable garden alive, but its finally starting to slightly cool down, so I think I made it through the worst part of it. Has it been unusually hot in Maryland too? I wonder how that heat would affect all your citrus.


Yes it is sinking in that there is no magical formula, just to get a formula that drains well :). Thanks for the clarification just in case I was a little slow, LOL XD, I truly appreciate it. (I really mean that without a sarcastic tone, seriously).:P

Thanks again so much! it's so nice to have this forum. On a high note I think my little orange tree is going to have some oranges. one of the flowers that bloomed has mostly fallen away, but beneath it there is a tiny green orange, maybe it will grow bigger. I thought my tree was too young to make oranges, but maybe its older than a year.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 10:39AM
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Msugr! yes, I am always forgetting the fines! Rhizo seems to always remember..lol

I too have a Fafard mix that is mostly fines, probably the same one Rhizo uses. So you know have several easy options. If you have access to pine bark finess. oh the things that you can do with that stuff!

By the way, perlite is, and I quote, aw, it's better to just give you a link.lol


    Bookmark   July 10, 2012 at 2:16PM
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the metal socket part is the same size as a regular light bulb, the large base fits most lamps, except for the ones with a narrow neck. the lamp you linked looks like it will fit.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2012 at 12:10AM
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