Best commercial potting mix for JM's in containers?

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

I am thinking about trying a Japanese Maple this year in my garden, which will be my first. The problem is, that I don't know if I have an adequate amount of sun for one, nor do I have a free spot picked out just yet in which to dig a hole. I'm also a bit intimidated by them, because I am a new gardener and I try to deal with only "easy" plants. My thought was to just pick up a small inexpensive one locally, keep it in a container this year, and see how it does this summer so that I can decide if I want to pursue a nicer one in the future.

I'd like to know what the best commercial potting mix would be...I've been googling and I learned Miracle Grow, etc is too high in peat and has too much fertilizer. I've seen a lot of recipes for mixes you make yourself, but the truth is, in the interest of saving time, money, and gas from driving around looking for all the ingredients, I'd really rather just go and buy a bag of something that I can use for one little tree. Any suggestions?

Puyallup, WA(Zone 8a)

Really depends on where you are ... I buy a mix here in the Pacific Northwest by Gardner & Bloome called Acid Planting mix ...
Ingredients: Fir bark, humus, peat moss, worm castings, sand. My potted maples do great and I also use it around any maples I plant in the ground.

I know it's not available everywhere - hopefully others will offer suggestions!!

Springfield, IL(Zone 6a)

I really think the whole soil thing is a red herring FOR MOST FOLKS who have just one or two container JM's. I make my own mix but have added more peat products (pro mix brk and more regular potting soil that has3-6 month light fertilizer into my bark chicken grit mix ... I think if you are just doing one tree forget about the purists and peat products..fertilizer warnings and the rest of that crud.yes they have their drawbacks but your tree should do just fine. I would though not use those potting soils with water rentention blobs in them that may not be the best idea but excluding that, use whatever you like.. I am sure your tree won't die from that and should caring for it summer and winter is much more important and thats a whole nuther post David

Stanford, CA(Zone 9b)

I just use Master Nursery potting mix.

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

Ok, well now you've made me feel better, David. I'll probably end up getting the Coast of Maine "Bar Harbor" blend mix which has " lobster and aspen bark compost, long staple horticultural grade sphagnum peat moss and perlite", according to their site..My local nursery carries that, Miracle Grow, and Pro-Mix, but the Pro-Mix stuff seemed to be for mainly flowers and had the watersorb crystals, I think.

I'm really trying to simplify my life, so I guess I'll just get that. I'm pretty sure I don't have enough sun for a JM to do very well, so it will probably be futile anyway...just wanted to give it the best chance of making it. If it does ok thru the summer, my plan was to bury the container next to the house on the north side, or put it in the garage..haven't got that worked out yet.

Stanford, CA(Zone 9b)

Noreaster, I have maples that are doing fine in the dappled shade under a big Oak tree. I think that you'll be surprised. My butterfly gets no direct sunlight and except for the fact that I lose the pink, it does just fine. Also my Bloodgood gets no sun after about noon and it even stays red.

I hadn't thought that I should plant my trees in "Lobster" anything. Sounds pretty rich to me. LOL

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

Hee hee. I sort of think it's kinda gimmicky, the whole lobster thing..I assume it's a Maine company, as we're in Maine and all that. But apparently Coast of Maine brand has a good reputation, so I dunno.

Doss, I know, I may be surprised, and I hope I am. I've got kind of an unusal bed where one half gets more sun than the other, and there are spots on either side that I could put the container. The right side is in dappled shade all day long, and the hosta do great there. That is where I think the container JM will look best. The left side gets sun mid to late afternoon, thru a hole in the trees. I know, that's not the ideal time to get the sun. It used to have a bit more shade deep in that bed but I cut some ugly trees down. I'm glad I did it, as it looks a ton better, but I'm worried about the afternoon sun now in that spot. I'm just not used to any signifigant amount of sun so I really don't know what to expect. I'm also hoping my hosta don't fry!

I love "Butterfly" and wish I could grow that. I've admired pics of your's in the Plantfiles. I think that one would look really pretty in place of the trees I cut down. Unfortunately, I think the selection for JM's in my zone is pretty limited. Ultimately, I would like to put one in the ground and not have worry about babying it over the winter.

Stanford, CA(Zone 9b)

I know that people in your zone have had trouble with 'Butterfly'. I just mentioned it because it is in total, but bright shade. Here's a photo of some of my potted trees under the oaks and among the hostas - This garden is just beginning. The hostas are very small so it looks a little sparse. Even at that I know I've put some of the hostas too close together. They will just have to be rearranged if they outgrow their spaces.

Thumbnail by doss
Newport News, VA(Zone 7b)

I use a mix that is available in my region that really drains well and isn't too expensive. I use it in most everything now. It has peanut shells, bark, a bit of compost, and other good stuff in it. I think the real key is good drainage.


Springfield, IL(Zone 6a)

I think if you containerize and keep out of strong summer winds or salt if you are near the ocean... you can grow any JM includidng Butterfly just have to bring ity in your garage in winter ..I wouldn't plant out many JM's there but I am sure some will work great ...but in containers just about any JM will do ok if taken care of properly.

As far as pro mix they make about 6 differnt blends or more ...Mine Pro Mix BRK is pine bark, peat and micronizol for root developement ..I wouldn't use it by itself but in a mix it is very nice although a bit pricey..david

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

We're near the ocean, but not so close that I feel like there is salt in the air...I think the bed I'm thinking about is fairly protected. But, I'd have to dig out a ton of rocks to put one in the ground, which is also why the container option appeals to me at the moment.

Now don't get me started thinking I can have my Butterfly, lol. I have actually seen it for sale at a local place but it was very small, and I think they were only recommending it for Bonsai. Most of the ones I see for sale at nurseries or in people's yards are the red or green ones with the very lacey leaves. Our garage is pretty small, so I'm not sure how long overwintering a containerized tree would be an option. Seems like eventually that would become an ordeal and I can already hear the fights with my husband in my head! Do you have to take it out of the pot every year and trim the roots, or something?

Laura, I read that, about good drainage being key...I'm just not sure how to judge one potting soil's drainage against another, I guess. I may stop at a better nursery and see what other prepackaged options they sell.

Doss, your garden is lovely as usual. I'll try to take a pic of my bed over the next week or so after I move some plants around and get my empty containers in place.

Newport News, VA(Zone 7b)

I asked at all my local nurseries, and one told me...we just use promix. Another one didn't know what they used at all. Another mixes their own. I read a lot and was very confused. So, I started buying smaller bags of different potting mixes and taking a look at them to see which one had the most "roughage" (i.e. bark and such), and tried them with regular flower containers. By fall, I had a good idea which ones drained well and didn't get hard by fall, and the Sunshine mix is now the one I use for everything. Unfortunately, it's only available from one local farmer's market that I have yet found, and they aren't open year round. So...I have to stock up in fall. I have also tried regular promix, and added pine mulch in and some perlite, but I didn't find that much better than the Sunshine mix.

Thanks, Dave, I wasn't aware that promix came in different formulas. I bet I can order it from my favorite "mom and pop" garden supply/hardware store.


Gaithersburg, MD(Zone 6b)

I'm wondering if I am the cause of my problems with some trees.

I had asked sellers on eBay about planting instructions, soil, etc, and was just told well-drained and not too much water. So I went with that and got some gray gravel to put in the bottom of pots. I had a bunch - about 3 - die shortly after transplanting to those pots. If I remember right, gray gravel has a fair amount of limestone associated with it. Limestone is a base. But up above here, it seems there is a recommendation that you use an acidic soil.

What's up? Should I be paying attention to the pH? Was gray gravel a bad idea? I need to know, 'cause I'll have to repot if it is a problem.

Springfield, IL(Zone 6a)

If they are growing now and look ok don't mess with them ... You will never know with any certainty what is happening IMHO... It is likely you are overwatering and or putting them in direct sunlight to fast. read my other post in one of the other threads you posted in on young grafts ... It may also be your supplier has bad juju in his rootstock ... that is often shown with a healty leafed out beautiful scion that kaputs a few weeks ltr for no reason and is verified when the RS does not releaf its generic leaves... it just doesn't have enough life to feed the scion...but enough to start it. So the problem may be your inexperience or not...with young grafts as i said before it is a crapshoot.. David

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

I can't speak for JM's specifically, but in general for other sorts of plants putting gravel in the pots is a bad idea. There's a great sticky thread in the container gardening forum that explains this way better than I do, but basically there's always a layer of soil at the bottom of the pot that stays wetter than the rest of the pot. When you put gravel in, the bottom layer of soil still stays wetter than the rest, but now since that layer is higher up in the pot, there's a much better chance that your plant's roots are sitting in it.

Gaithersburg, MD(Zone 6b)


I understand it is something of a crap shoot. I get the feeling that what you're saying about the "bad juju" (whatever that is) is probably the issue. One day I got up and saw leaves drooping. From that point it took a few days to die. There were about 3 from the same seller that had this happen, and a fourth one that is still living, but the leaf tips keep graying and shriveling.

Will a fungicide help?

Newport News, VA(Zone 7b)

I used to put gravel in too "for drainage". I learned it wasn't necessary later, and just use soil now. I do put a bit of plastic screen on the bottom to keep the soil in, it's the size of "hardware cloth" but black plastic.


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