Professor Tapla's Super Duper Container Soil -- Modified

figaholic(Z6; Bucks County PA)August 28, 2008

OK, so I searched high and low and couldn't find a single place that had the materials that Al's special mix calls for. So I called a local arborist for help. He gave me some ideas for substitutes so here's what I ended up with:

Miracle Grow Potting Soil

Quickcrete All-Purpose Sand

Garden Pro 0.5-0.5-0.5 Composted Manure & Humus

I'm going to mix this up in equal proportions in a garbage can then shovel it into terracotta planters. Just to be safe, I may only do this for 1 tree, until I get some feedback from the group here. If no one has any serious objections, then I'll use this for the rest of my trees.

The 3 I ordered from Joe Conti up in MA arrived today also and are beautiful, albeit small. I'm very excited...I feel like I've given birth to triplets. :)

I will keep everyone posted.


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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Just so we're clear: You shouldn't presume that anything in the list of 3 is a substitute for any of the ingredients I suggest in soils, unless you substitute your MG soil for 1 part peat in the 5:1:1, pine bark:peat:perlite blend I often suggest for veggies & display plantings. This has nothing to do with trying to steer you toward something I suggested, and everything to do with trying to keep you from making a big mistake. Even when newly mixed, the soil you're suggesting will be extremely heavy, poorly aerated, & very water retentive. Additionally, the Miracle-Gro and compost will continue to break down very quickly.

All the soils I use/suggest are built around the idea that they must remain structurally sound and provide excellent aeration for the expected interval between full repots. That's why I never include fine (less than 1/16" diam) sands or compost/manure in container soils. If you can't/won't spend the time it takes to find the ingredients, you're much better off to simply amend the MG soil with some perlite & call it a day.

You may want to look closer at the NPK analysis on the 'composted manure & humus' bag, too. Most that I've seen are actually .05-.05-.05 analysis, not .5-.5-.5. There is a big difference between 5/100 of 1% and 1/2 of 1%. Most bagged composted manure products are little more than fine, black sand.


    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 9:58PM
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CA :If you can't make Tapla receipe,just look for the Promix,Potting soil,your Walmart have it sometime,and just add some more perlite,wich can't hurt,and that is it.
I did it this way and it works super.
If you try to modify Tapla recipe that mean you do not respect the ingredients,and it will let you exposed to a lot of mistakes.
Miracle grow potting soil is too havy and retain too much water,and is not ideal for fig trees.
Hope this will help

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 10:35PM
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figaholic(Z6; Bucks County PA)

Hey Al,

Thanks so much for replying. I really do want to do this right. It's not a matter of not wanting to spend the time to find the ingredients; I truly don't know where to even start. I spent most of today on the phone striking out. And I don't even know what Turface is to even explain it to someone over the phone.

If you or anyone else can point me to someplace in my area (bucks county PA) that carries all of this I would gladly make the road trip necessary to get it. Even telling me what KIND of place sells it (garden center, quarry, etc) would be a start.

Is there anyone out there in the Greater Philadelphia area that has used Al's suggested mix? Where did you get your supplies?

Thanks in advance.


    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 10:37PM
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figaholic(Z6; Bucks County PA)

Thank you Herman, I appreciate your advice. It DOES help, believe me :)

I don't think it's a matter of not respecting the ingredients so much as not knowing what they are. What is Turface? Is it a brand name or a material? What are "fines"? Perhaps I'm just fooling myself into thinking I can go this.

Part of me wants to throw my hands in the air and give up...but another part of me refuses to. Al's recipe has helped so many people (all those people can't be wrong) that I want to benefit from it too.

I'm headed to South Jersey tomorrow...maybe I'll spend a day or two hunting for this stuff down there.

I should also apologize to Al -- I didn't mean to imply that the mix suggested by the arborist was a comparable mix to yours. Mea Culpa.

Sorry for the trouble.


    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 10:48PM
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CA, Apparently you want comments, so here goes - take the point that Al so strongly makes, do not use the mix you are asking about. Also, I have had trouble with MG potting soil compacting, even mixed with Perlite. I have found another potting soil, initials PM, which does not seem to have that problem. But, it is hard to find around here.
Turface is impossible to find in my area, so I sent away to an orchid supply house for a bag of same. I hated the darned stuff, and it made my containers very heavy.
Not everything Al suggests is readily available to everyone, so use what is available and still works. I like using Perlite because it lightens (loosens) the soil and reduces weight. I use it 50/50 with PM, and have never had the deterioration problem that Al talks about with peat products.I must add that I do NOT garden or raise trees in containers, except to overwinter the young ones inside.
What Al had to say about bagged, composted manure products is so true, the sellers should be ashamed to take your money in exchange for it.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 10:50PM
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figaholic(Z6; Bucks County PA)

Hi Elder,

Yes, I do want comments so thank you, thank you for taking the time to respond. I do feel somewhat guilty though, since there are so many other threads already devoted to this but I find them hard to get through.

Ordering Turface (I'm guessing via the internet?) never even crossed my mind (that's why I wanted comments :)). Other than the weight of it, did you like it? I'm guessing that Perlite could be an acceptable substitute for Turface.

As for the potting soil, I'm not sure what the PM stands for but if I try hard enough I could probably figure it out. I've used MG before -- don't hate it, don't love it. But I'll take your word for it and try the other product.

I also take it that you do not use the bagged composted manure. This was the very first time I've purchased it so had no clue it was anything other than what the label said -- cow poop. Is there any organic material that you do use? Or is your mix just Perlite/PM?

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. Like I said earlier, I feel as though this topic has been covered many times before and hope I don't wear anyone out by bringing it up again. And I in no way meant to imply that my list of substitutes was just as good as Al's mix.

I guess that's why I consider myself a newbie. :)


    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 11:09PM
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I do use MG, and think it also COMES ready infected with
'them-nasty' fungus-gnats eggs (or something)...

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 11:19PM
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Elder Im think your initial --PM--,stand for the same product I was Using--PROMIX,wich come in large Rectangular,Packages.I know it is hard to find because this year I could not find it at my Home Depot any more.
Best Regards

    Bookmark   August 29, 2008 at 9:44AM
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Figaholic:Just Google PRO-MIX,and you will get there then you click on your state and you find the Pro-mix potting soil,Distributors in your area.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2008 at 10:00AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

CA - I thought I had offered this info for you on one of your threads or via email, but perhaps I have you confused with another. To find outlets for Turface in your (any) state, copy/paste this addy to your browser:

and use the drop-down menu to add your state.

Turface is calcined (baked) clay. It is fired at temps so high, that it becomes like rough little porcelain granules. It retains the CEC (nutrient holding properties) of clay, and also holds many times its weight in water, while still promoting excellent aeration. It does this because it's larger particle size insures good drainage, but it's porosity and highly irregular surface allows water to be held both internally and on the surface. One pound of Turface has 14 acres of surface area. That is a lot of surface to hold water and lots of ionic attachment sites (for holding nutrients).

Look for Gran-I-Grit (crushed granite) at (usually rural) feed stores that cater to farm animals (OK - to farm animal owners, then) ;o) and elevators (they store and dry grain for farmers). It is sold as poultry feed supplement and comes in 'starter' or 'grower' sizes. Some elevators or feed stores may also have 'cherrystone', which is a suitable substitute.

I have found pine bark in suitable size at several nurseries near me, a wholesale outlet, and at Home Depot (orange/white bag labeled "Premium Landscape Mulch Pine Bark", or something very similar). It is easier to find early in the year.

I don't ever try to sell anyone on "my" soil mix, but I do offer recipes that have been proven, by me and hundreds of GWers, to do what is promised; and that is to retain their structure and aeration for a long, long time after peat based soils have collapsed. I'm unabashed at the fact that what I really sell is aeration and durability in a soil. There is really no questioning that what I promote works well. The forums are full of thank yous and anecdotes about how changing to a well aerated and more durable soil has changed peoples growing experience. There is no brag in that - just a simple statement that's appropriate to the conversation, and you only need to review some of the long-running threads to test its veracity.

I also usually point out that the downside to growing in a well-aerated soil is the need to water more frequently. The Turface is very valuable in this area because of its excellent water-holding ability, so I consider it the backbone of soils I build that need to be well aerated AND more durable - trees, houseplants, succulents, cacti ..... mainly.

If you come to fully understand the thread I'll link to below, how soils work will be clearer to you. It really doesn't matter what soils are made of. You only need a mix of the proper size particles that holds enough air/water and is not toxic, to have perfectly healthy plants.

Good luck. ;o)


Here is a link that might be useful: Soil Primer

    Bookmark   August 29, 2008 at 10:48AM
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stevec(Z6b MD (DC suburbs))


I really appreciate your sharing this knowledge on soil. If possible, could you comment on watering plants using this mix. I realize, watering intervals and amounts depend on a number of factors including weather, and size of plants planted. What I am looking for is how do I know when I have watered enough? or worse yet ... when I am watering too much?


    Bookmark   August 29, 2008 at 12:30PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

could you comment on watering plants using this mix . . . how do I know when I have watered enough? or worse yet, when I am watering too much?

You have watered enough (this applies to all containers) when 10-15% of the total volume of water you applied runs out the drain. Copious watering insures that fertilizer salts & solids dissolved in your irrigation water are removed from the container in the leachate.

Plants absorb water best/most efficiently when there are no nutrients or other solutes dissolved in it - distilled water is easiest for plants to take up. Obviously, w/o nutrients, the plants cannot carry on photosynthesis or keep their systems running smoothly, so we need to supply them in the nutrient solution. As we add nutrients, the water and nutrients dissolved in it become harder for the plant to absorb, until finally, when the nutrient solution is too concentrated, it actually REMOVES water from cells (plasmolysis - fertilizer burn). The key is to maintain the fertilizer solution at a low enough level so plants can still absorb water easily, but not so low that there are nutritional deficiencies.

Back to watering now ..... Frequent fertilizing at low rates, and flushing the soil at each watering, insures that nutrients are available at adequacy levels and they are easy for the plant to acquire. If we water in sips, ALL the salts in the water STAY in the soil, building up and making water uptake more difficult. Do you see now, why an open soil that allows you to water copiously at every watering is so important? The aeration and drainage afforded by a good, open soil will always help your plants grow at much closer to their potential genetic vigor than a slow, poorly aerated soil will.

It's difficult to water too much in a coarse soil like I grow in. As particle size approaches 1/8", the perched water table disappears entirely. At this point, you cannot overpot a plant. You can grow the tiniest little plant in a 100 gallon container with no additional risk of root rots than if the container held a cup.

I screen the soils (and use larger particulates) I use when I grow in shallow containers because they cannot afford any PWT. I would suggest that if you don't screen the ingredients, that you use an appropriate size container and/or a wick (even with the well-aerated soils I describe) until the planting is well established and roots have colonized the container completely.

You can tell you've watered too much (or too little - the response is the same - a drought response) when leaves start to turn yellow or you begin to see nutritional deficiencies created by poor root metabolism (usually N and Ca are first evident). You can prevent overwatering by A) testing the soil deep in the container with a wood dowel ... wet & cool - do not water, dry - water. B) feeling the wick & only watering when it's dry C) feel the soil at the drain hole & only water when it feels dry there.

Soils feel dry to our touch when they still have 40-45% moisture content. Plants, however, can still extract water from soils until they dry down to about 25-30%, so there is still around a 15% cush in that plants can still absorb considerable moisture after soils first feel dry to us.

I hope you guys find that helpful.


    Bookmark   August 29, 2008 at 4:48PM
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figaholic(Z6; Bucks County PA)

I was in Homer Depot today and in the Lawn Repair section found bags of Pelletized Gypsum. The bag said it loosens clay soils and provides calcium & sulfer. The consistency was very small "balls".

Can anyone tell me if this would be a comparable substitute for Turface? If I can use this instead of mail-ordering turface, I'd rather get the Gypsum.

Also, I found Pine Bark mulch there as well. Not in an orange bag (it was clear w/purple lettering) but it had the consistency of shredded pine bark.

Can this substitute for Pine Bark FINES?

Prof Al, I hope you don't think I'm taking the easy way out, but if I can buy this stuff locally rather than get it through the mail (and pay shipping) that's what I'd prefer.


    Bookmark   August 30, 2008 at 12:44PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

. . . substitute for Turface?

NO - the balls are just 'prills' of powdered calcium sulfate. Adding gypsum to container soils at anything other than small amounts (1 tbsp/gallon of soil) will raise the EC and TDS levels so high it will cause plasmolysis (fertilizer burn), or leave you unable to supply any amount of fertilizer w/o causing burn, the former being the more likely. It's a nutritional supplement, not a soil component ....... and you should use some form of dolomitic (garden) lime (as a source of Ca & Mg) in soils for figs - not gypsum.

Pine bark doesn't usually come shredded. If you read the thread I linked you to above, you'll find pictures of suitable size bark.


    Bookmark   August 30, 2008 at 3:04PM
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stevec(Z6b MD (DC suburbs))


Thanks for the info ... i am learning :^).

I have two large figs in containers that I believe are currently suffering from too much water. They were showing signs of problems for a few weeks and since we have had a tremendous amount of rain over the last week they are getting worse. My mix does not follow your recommendations ... it is peat based. The leaves have all turned yellow and the trees are in distress. The idea of a wick is new to me ... can I retrofit a wick into a container by inserting it into a bottom hole of the container with a narrow dowel? With the tree already in distress would it be better to go ahead and repot it now with a better draining mix instead of waiting for dormancy?


    Bookmark   August 30, 2008 at 8:18PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I think Steve's question is still 'on topic' enough not to be a hijack, but I hope CA's ok w/it.

". . . can I retrofit a wick into a container by inserting it into a bottom hole of the container with a narrow dowel?"

Yes - or a straight slotted screwdriver with the wick folded over the tip. Allow the wick to dangle a couple of inches below the pot or allow it to remain in contact with the soil so the earth can act as a giant wick. Use the wick as your indicator. When it is still wet - withhold water . . . dry - water. Also, tilting the container during prolonged periods of rain can substantially reduce the volume of soil that retains water, thus reducing the volume of water in the PWT.

"With the tree already in distress would it be better to go ahead and repot it now with a better draining mix instead of waiting for dormancy."

This is a complicated question. There is a difference between repotting and potting up. Deciduous trees should not be repotted when in leaf, but potting up is fine. The problem with simply potting up into a soil with better aeration is found in the fact that dissimilar soils in the same container should always be avoided. I would unpot the plant & examine the roots. If they are still healthy and not sour or rotten-smelling, I would set the plant on newspapers over night & allow it to dry down. Repot into the same container with a wick and be careful about how you water. Repot into a free draining soil in early spring. If there are advancing root issues, you should remove the soil & prune roots back to healthy tissue. This always carries with it the risk of losing the tree, but advancing root rot guarantees it. If there is a radical reduction in rootage required, you'll need to reduce the canopy, too. (Before anyone reminds me that I'm not following the new thinking on not reducing the canopy of transplants commensurately with root reduction - I'm aware of it, but it does not apply to bare-rooted deciduous trees in leaf - as in this case.) ;o)

At any rate - if there are rotted roots to contend with, let's cross that bridge when we get to it.


    Bookmark   August 30, 2008 at 10:26PM
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figaholic(Z6; Bucks County PA)

Professor Tapla to the rescue - again. Thank you for saving my little fig from almost certain death. You are our hero.

I checked your photo with the soil compositions and I think I'm ok with the pine bark mulch I saw at Homer Depot (finally - one thing went right!). I'm going to go back tomorrow and get it.

As for the other 2 ingredients, I'm just going to bite the bullet and order both online. I'll let you know where I end up getting it from in case anyone else needs/wants that information.

I have a question about the lime. I saw 3 different types at HD: one granular, one pelletized and something else. But they all looked like fine powder to me. Is this lime acceptable? Or is there something else I should be looking for. All 3 were for your lawn.

And I would be HONORED Professor, to have you hijack my thread. Your wealth of knowledge is welcomed.


    Bookmark   August 30, 2008 at 10:41PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Did you try the Turface distributor locater? I can't imagine that you can't find it (Turface) near you. Copy/paste this addy to your browser & then select your state from the drop down menu:

The lime is all the same (most likely), just in different physical form. The prilled (pelletized) product is just the powdered stuff rolled up in little balls. It dissolves into fine particles quickly. Read the label & don't get quick lime. You want dolomitic (garden) lime, which will have somewhere in the neighborhood of 4:1, Ca:Mg. You can just buy a small bag of Espoma's garden lime if you don't want to deal with the 50 pounders - close to the same price for each.

What big cities are you near? If I have bonsai contacts in those cities, they would know where to find the Turface/granite and I'll make a call or two to see if I can find them for you.


    Bookmark   August 31, 2008 at 9:48AM
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figaholic(Z6; Bucks County PA)

I'll look at the Turface distributor again, but I remember not being able to find it last time I looked.

My state is PA (I'm just north of philly) but I'm on the border of NJ (abt 30 min from Trenton). If you can help me find a distributor, you can have the first figs that I harvest :)


    Bookmark   August 31, 2008 at 9:57AM
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pezzuti9(z5 PA)

I just bought three 50 lb. bags of Turface MVP at Herbines Garden Center on Route 29---4301 Chestnut Street near Emmaus, PA. Over the phone they told me 5 bucks a bag then when Al told me that price could not be correct I called again. Speaking with a male this time he said no it's 11 dollars a bag. After I bought the three bags I looked at the receipt and they where rung up at 15 dollars a bag. To late to say anything I was already on the road when I saw that. The wife was at the counter and she paid for the items while I was strolling around looking for the crushed granite. No luck finding that. Next I'll check with a feed store.
I bought pine mulch because the pine bark I saw looked to me rather very large chunks.
Dont know yet it that will work.

Can't say I'm not trying. By the way the phone number for the place I bought that is
It was a good distance from my home as well.
Good luck.
Lou NE., PA

    Bookmark   August 31, 2008 at 9:02PM
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figaholic(Z6; Bucks County PA)

Thanks Lou, I wish I saw your post 15 minutes ago. I just bought 5 bags (8qts per bag) at an online orchid supply place called

Make sure you are on the home page, then do a search for 'Turface MVP'. I believe the first product to come up is what you want. You can choose to order it 'alacarte' or as an add-in to another product. I chose 'alacarte' and bought several bags.

The next task on my list is to find the Gran-i-Grit. Once I find an online source, I'll post that as well.


    Bookmark   August 31, 2008 at 9:18PM
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figaholic(Z6; Bucks County PA)

Isn't it funny how life works sometimes?

Last night, I purchased turface from an online orchid supply place. Afterwards, I was surfing around looking for crushed granite and gave up the search around 10:30. About 11pm I got an email from a gentleman who works for the orchid supply website who said he saw my post and wanted to let me know that in addition to turface, they also carry crushed granite. Well I'll be darned! :) :)

I promptly got back online and ordered it. They're going to combine my 2 orders and adjust my shipping fees so I'm not paying more than is necessary.

They even carry pine bark fines if anyone needs them. Hot Diggity Dog! :) :)

Anyway, I promised to provide an update when I found crushed granite online, so here it is. You can find the link to the provider in the previous post above.


    Bookmark   September 1, 2008 at 12:14PM
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