When , how and why - Al's 5:1:1!

chilliwin(EU DK 7)January 31, 2013

First of all, pardon me for my poor English. Please try to understand my points :)

1. How many of you use Al's 5:1:1?
2. Who inspired you to use 5:1:1?
3. How did you get started and why?
4. Is it Tapla Al"s writing?
5. Is it the pictures you have seen here?
6. Is it your problematic soil to change to 5:1:1?
7. Are you really happy with 5:1:1?
8. Have you modified the 5:1:1 for you own convenient?
9. Have you have your own version of 5:1:1?
10. Have you any problems with 5:1:1?
11. What are your most convenient and inconvenient of using 5:1:1?
12. What are your most difficult parts of preparation of 5:1:1?
13. Are you happy the helps you got from our forum members?

My purpose and objective of this thread is to understand 5:1:1 more details and use it effectively.

Let's make it perfect.

New container gardener,


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Newby question: What is 5:1:1 I am assuming a line of nutrients?

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 12:10PM
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chilliwin(EU DK 7)

Hi Dhelsdon, I am also new here. 5:1:1 is container soil created by our well known expert Tapla Al.

Josh is one of the best members who uses and prepared this 5:1:1, if you have any question about this 5:1:1 please do not hesitate to ask him or send an email to him, I hope he can help you.

New container gardener,


Here is a link that might be useful: Tapla Al's 5:1:1 Container soil

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 12:26PM
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DMForcier(8 DFW)

IMO Al is quite full of himself. Every problem you have can be solved by his 5-1-1 "soil" mix. Peat/compost based soils are the devil! HAH!

5-1-1 is probably a good alternative, in that it more reflects a hydroponic-style of gardening rather than an in-ground style that may not be optimal for containers. But it is not God's Gift to humanity as it is sometimes portrayed. Many healthy and hot pods have grown in soil. That said, I am moving to a version of it this year.

So there.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 7:07PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

A bit of hyperbole surely, DMForcier?

Indeed, there are many ways to grow a plant, just as there are many ways to skin a cat.
Some methods are more convenient for the gardener; other methods are more convenient for the plant.
Al really doesn't care what particular mix one ends up using, as long as they have access to good
information before deciding on a particular mix. Indeed, to Al, learning the principles behind the
choice of a specific ingredient - bark, turface, peat, granite, perlite - and why we include that
ingredient, is far more important than adhering to a strict formula.

If you've read Al's writings at all, you know that he promotes his recipe as a starting point,
not an end-product. The recommendation is always to adapt the recipe to the cultural demands of your
plants and your climate. A bark-based mix does take some getting used to, which is why I advise folks
to try the original recipe first - then to make subtle changes in subsequent seasons.

I learned of Al's mixes from Al himself, and grow exclusively in bark-based mixes now.
I switched over for the primary goal of plant vitality and maximum growth potential (excepting only
the succulents that I grow lean and dry for purposes of maintaining hard compact forms).

I also switched over to enjoy a cleaner gardening experience - one free of that foul tea-colored
effluent so often associated with peat-based or compost-based mixes.


    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 8:36PM
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I still like to use potting mix in smaller container like 1 gal and lower. In the 2 gal and larger I used a bark based mix with higher results than large container with just potting soil.

I want to say bark is just great! I have even made mixes with 3 parts bark right out the bag and 1 part potting soil and lime. The roots that where growing in that mix where really thick and light colored. The roots that where in potting soil where thin and darker in color.

I want to say the 5-1-1 is a great mix.

This post was edited by TheMasterGardener1 on Fri, Feb 1, 13 at 14:37

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 10:29AM
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chilliwin(EU DK 7)

How did I get in here is a long hopeless adventure to find a good forum. After I have grown Habanero and bought Ghost chili seeds I tried to get more information of growing hot chili, I am not very good at looking information on the net. I have found all these forums, chilis Galore, Chiliforumi.fi , chilligrowers's forum, grow hot pepper's forum and growfruitandveg.co.uk, I was registered as a member but I was frustrated because I could not get much information and there were almost no activities in the forums.

I used many different nick names for these forums and finally I got fed up even I did not like to choose my nicks again but kept looking for a good forum. I was not serious when I found garden web just I did register. After registration I started to know it is the right place to start. I cannot recollect what was my first post who were the members responded me. Gradually I acknowledge our serious chili enthusiasts and remarkable professionals. It made me nervous I did not know how to praise and how to thanks someone for their helps, what a silly person I am.

I cannot remember very well why I chose 5:1:1 in the first place but I remember Al's articles of container gardening that made me to choose 5:1:1 it influenced me a lot. I was inspired by our forum members. Secondly I was impressed the plants they have grown in 5:1:1. In fact I did not give much attention on the container soil I used before and I did not have problems too when I have grown Habanero. Only I thought a good fertilizer can make my plants healthy and fruitful. When my plants died I blamed to the plants never thought about the soil and water habit. I was so wrong.

It was not easy to find the ingredients of 5:1:1 here, it was a difficult part of preparation for me.

It will be easier to prepare/use 5:1:1 who have been doing gardening many years, because they know about fertilizers, watering habit and the tools they have and used. However any new gardener can do it without problems.

The screening was very tricky for me, because I started with extremely wet pine bark. The first batch was OK but it was not a very good one I considered. Now the pine barks are almost dry I screened the pine barks with two different sieves and the result is awesome visually. I do not use it right now, I will use it soon. After I screened the pine bark I got a lot of small pine barks and other materials the size are almost same with CoCo Coir I used before. I found a lot of sapwood the main culprit of 5:1:1 I think.

The helps (mainly from Josh) I got from the forum members are remarkable, only I couldn't follow the instructions and advice correctly.

Now I can water my plants many times now I do water two times a day for only the small seedling pots. I found that if I do not screen and separate the sapwood properly, the 5:1:1 soil can be damp. 5:1:1 is well drain container soil but I should not do over water it should be an abuse of 5:1:1.

Most convenient part is freedom of watering without worry of damping soil related diseases.

I hope the original version of 5:1:1 will be remained as well as new versions will be coming up. Josh use Turface, Teyo use expanded clay and I have tested cat litter all these soils are 5:1:1 new versions to make it more effective and convenient to the users I think.

Al's 5:1:1 is well balanced container soil such as soil aeration, moisture and nutrients (I preferred to use slow-releasing fertilizer) they are the most important factors to be a good container soil I think.

Tapla Al's name will be remained in our mind as long as we use 5:1:1.

New container gardener,

This post was edited by chilliwin on Sat, Feb 2, 13 at 9:45

    Bookmark   February 2, 2013 at 6:41AM
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I've been experimenting with all sorts of soils for about two years before finally stumbling into Al's articles. I was thoroughly unsatisfied how store bought soils behaved, regardless of brand or price. When i started growing adeniums it was painfully obvious how badly water retentive and weakly aerated those soils were, even cactus mixes. So i tried all sorts of stuff, settling in the end on a combination most commonly for bonsai trees. It was the articles and introduction of bark that finally made me satisfied on how the soil behaved.
As for exactly 5-1-1, it saved a few very expensive brugmansia cuttings, that i transplanted into it as a last ditch effort, they were dieing in a supposedly high quality potting mix. If it had worked only for that it'd be enough for me, it was amazing how they rebounded and started growing literally within two days of transplanting. Now all my plants will go into it, i am now looking forward to buying ingredients for this season, it will be so much easier. Baby peppers are looking great, baby hibiscus too. Adeniums small and big have overwintered in gritty without problems, and i've watered them by submerging the pots AND fertilized them all winter (just try to tell any traditional adenium grower to water by dunking in winter and hear them scream). Anyhow, i couldn't be happier with this soil for now.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2013 at 8:42AM
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DMForcier(8 DFW)

The one place I have not found 5-1-1 style media to work well is in starting sprouts. This year I moved germinated seeds into a bark medium and those that did come up were having a very tough time of it. One I moved to MGMC (peat-heavy) and it perked right up. Later sprouts planted in (mostly) MGMC are doing very well.

For the theorists, one issue Al pushes is the avoidance of a significant perched water table (PWT), which can limit or kill roots. One obvious alternative is watering discipline, which is not always possible - i.e. it rains. Another is to use extra-deep pots since the depth of the PWT is measured from the bottom of the pot. I've never seen this addressed, and the direct question in Containers was never answered.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 2:04PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I've been growing plants in containers for about 40 years and have always loved observing how different methods and materials affect plant growth. I have probably read more than 100 plant/garden books and thousands of online articles and found that most make claims that are not backed up by evidence. I've tried dozens of different store bought potting mixes and do-it-yourself recipes. Through trial and error, and a lot of failures, I became quite successful at growing most of the plants I've tried to grow, both indoors and out.

Then, about 8 years ago, I fell in love with clivias, South African flowering plants that are very susceptible to root rot when grown in the wrong medium. I lost some very expensive plants using potting mixes that had worked for other plants. I was pretty desperate to find a mix that wouldn't get soggy or compacted when I found Al's recipes on gardenweb. His reasoning fit what I had experienced over the years. I was especially won over by learning how pine bark and larger particles work in mixes. I tried the gritty mix on my clivias, and tried the 5-1-1 mix on more than 100 vegetables and flowers I grow in containers each summer starting in the spring of 2011. Almost every plant I've tried these mixes on has shown significant improvement. My clivias are flourishing and my vegetables are healthier and produce more. I'm sold. There is no magic success formula for growing plants in pots. But using a fast draining mix with a complete fertilizer with a 3-1-2 NPK ratio comes close.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 4:50PM
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Yes, before finding the 5-1-1 I used a mix of 80% perlite and 20% potting mix. It is a good mix because 80% of the mix is a course material. I did not know the principles then , but from trial and error I noticed not untill I used 70-80% perlite the mix would then change in drainage. Being perlite is expensive, it makes more sense to use pine fines as the base of a mix then add fine particles from there.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 10:16PM
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What has everyone's experience been like growing vegetables in containers with the 5:1:1?

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 7:57AM
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chilliwin(EU DK 7)

Hi Studiousjr,

I do not have much experiences of this 5:1:1.

The 5:1:1 is maintaining the principle of CONTAINER SOIL. The health of the container plants are depended on many factors such as GROWING MEDIA, LIGHT, FERTILIZER AND WATER. Only 5:1:1 cannot make the plants healthy, it needs regular proper fertilization, lights and water.

The benefit of 5:1:1 are avoiding DAMPING OFF soil that kill the plants and supply OXYGEN to the roots that keep the plants healthy.

I do not prefer 5:1:1 for seedling.

The principle of Growing Media:

" GROWING MEDIA. The perfect germination and
seedling growing medium has good drainage and aeration but also some moisture retention. The medium should promote rapid root expansion, which produces vigorous seedling foliage growth. The particles of the medium should be fairly large so that the medium does not pack together and allows the roots easy penetration.
Dense or clay soils are the worst possible seedling growing media because the roots are drowned in water and receive no oxygen.

Although some growers believe that peppers should be germinated in the soil in which they will eventually live, we do not recommend using garden soil. It is usually too dense for the tender plants and may contain disease-bearing organisms. Gardeners who insist on using garden soil should sterilize it by baking it for at least an hour in the oven at 350F. Then it should be mixed half and half with soil expanders such as as perlite or vermiculite.

A number of commercial media are on the market, notably Jiffy Mix and Pro-Mix, which are usually combinations of milled peat moss or sphagnum moss, fine vermiculite, and fertilizer. These pasteurized mixtures work well in most situations but sometimes are unavailable to the home gardener. In that case, the grower can prepare a custom seedling medium by mixing together readily available materials that meet the criteria of drainage, moisture retention, and aeration. For our medium, we use commercial, sterile potting soil, perlite, and vermiculite mixed in equal proportions. Coarse sand can be substituted for the perlite, but never use builders' sand (too fine) or ocean beach sand (too salty). Peat moss is difficult to wet, is too acid, and compacts badly, so use it sparingly. Potting soil and vermiculite hold moisture and nutrients, and the perlite prevents compaction, aids in drainage and aeration, and promotes root growth." Source: The Complete Chile Pepper Book.

New container gardener,


    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 8:46AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I don't grow many vegetables in containers...other than peppers, of course ;-)

But I do grow a Sun Gold tomato in a 15-gallon container on my back deck every summer. The tomato takes over the lattice on the deck, scrambles up onto the roof, and vines its way into the liquidambar tree nearby. Other than some Osmocote, I really don't fertilize very much - just a few infrequent doses of Foliage Pro throughout the season.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 2:08PM
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DMForcier(8 DFW)

Finally laid my hands on some Perlite. 2 ft3 0.3 ft3 bag at Home Depot for $4.24. A little pricey, but he let me have an open $5 bag of pulverized lime for 50ยข. So it worked out in the end.

Now I can do the "real" 5:1:1 mix. The first four 4" pots are filled with my fake 511 (no Perlite or lime) so I can compare performance.

Just what is this perlite "anti-fertilizer" supposed to do anyway? It's as inert as glass and looks for all the world like ground styrofoam. Is the white color important to the little rooties?

This post was edited by DMForcier on Tue, Feb 19, 13 at 16:23

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 3:46PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

DMF: I think you could be mistaken about the price on that perlite. Our Home Depot sells a 0.3 cubic foot bag of perlite for $4.24. They sell a 2 cubic feet bag of the coarse grade (which you want) for $16.97.

Perlite is not an "anti-fertilizer." It is a natural substance made of volcanic glass that has been exploded like popcorn by high heat. After exploding, it is full of tiny bubbles, which is what makes it so light (and also what makes it white). It helps prevent your potting mix from getting compacted and soggy.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 5:58PM
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DMForcier(8 DFW)

Yep, you're right. It was the little bag. I don't think they even have the big bag, which is what I went in looking for.

I call it the "anti-fertilizer" because it is (apparently) the only soil additive that doesn't actually do anything, unlike fertilizer.

> "It helps prevent your potting mix from getting compacted and soggy."

You mean, like the pine bark?

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 4:21PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Perlite displaces water in the mix, so the overall water-holding capacity is decreased. When a mix is approximately three-quarters Perlite, the mix will also take on the drainage properties of the Perlite. Perlite holds moisture on its outer surfaces only, so it also dries fairly rapidly.


    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 6:39PM
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DMForcier(8 DFW)

Ah. Whereas pine bark absorbs water. Right?

    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 2:25PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

That's right. The bark slowly absorbs and slowly releases moisture. Bark's average moisture retention is somewhere between Turface and Peat. But beware, if a mix is all-bark, it will retain just as much moisture as all-peat...thus, we amend.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 3:29PM
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"if a mix is all-bark, it will retain just as much moisture as all-peat"

Not if it is large bark like 3/4-2 inch bark. I saw something about a greenhouse that used one media choice that is 100% Composted bark in that large range.

i guess I am speeking the obvious because orchids are grown in 100% bark and they need high porosity.

I guess if the pine bark is in that size range, its fine...

This post was edited by TheMasterGardener1 on Fri, Feb 22, 13 at 14:14

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 2:12PM
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DMForcier(8 DFW)

Retained moisture with bark, but deeper PWT (the result of the greater porosity)?

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 2:35PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

MG, you're talking apples and orchids....

We're not discussing Giant Bark. Very clearly, very explicitly, this Thread is about 5-1-1 and the bark used therein. A container full of 5-1-1 apropriate bark will hold as much moisture as a container of peat. The fine composted bark lodges between the larger particles of bark and changes the overall drainage to the drainage properties of the finer particles.

This is why, if the bark selected is very composted, we say eliminate the peat fraction entirely. Bark dust acts like peat dust, for all intents and purposes.


    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 3:54PM
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Well, I am new to the forum and not that experienced with balcony gardening (vs outdoor yard gardening) but feeling relatively confident these skills were transferable, I potted up a good number of plants.

After reading some of Al's posts, I began to dislike all the potting medium I had used for the initial pottings. The later pottings, I had amended significantly but between Al's logic in recommending this mixture and my local nursery offering me blueberry soil that was chock full of bark pieces, I became downright obsessive over changing out the soil in the plants I potted first, haha. The development of fungi gnats in one didn't help at all; I became CONVINCED this soil is murder, haha.

Poor things are about to undergo another transplant and they will either have to make it or kick it. I can't say I use the exact formula, but mixing in enough perlite and bark to aerate the soil for the benefit of the plants makes perfect sense. I am wondering why, for all of these years, I've always REMOVED bark from the soil and was so annoyed when a few would drop in. I never thought of it as good.

Added benefit: it lets me water more often because it dries out quicker. This really suits my tendency to torment a plant to death with love!

This post was edited by Sugi_C on Fri, Feb 22, 13 at 17:26

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 5:08PM
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This is why I clearly stated-

"I guess I am speeking the obvious because orchids are grown in 100% bark and they need high porosity.

I guess if the pine bark is in that size range, its fine..."

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 1:32PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

That anecdote isn't germane to the conversation.

And, regardless, I grow my Orchids in a 5-1-1 sized bark.


    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 2:35PM
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