Succulents, Pumice and Austin Petelski

– Posted in: Succulents


At my Designing with Succulents presentations, I’m often asked “what’s the best soil mix?” If you’re doing only a pot or two, simply buy a bag of cactus mix. Otherwise, combine any bagged potting soil half-and-half with pumice. (For the garden, mix equal parts garden soil, pumice, gritty sand like decomposed granite, and compost.)

Crushed pumice (lava rock), shown above, aerates the soil, absorbs excess moisture, and has trace minerals that enhance plant vitality.

Where does one get pumice? For nearly a decade I advised my audiences to go to tack-and-feed stores. (View my 2-1/2 minute YouTube video: Soil Mix for Succulents.) But last year there were supply problems. When I called the company—which had been unaware of my efforts on its behalf, and was not particularly interested—I learned the mine had been shut down “until some issues are resolved.”
I mentioned this to a few avid gardening friends who promptly hunted and hoarded all the pumice they could find. I began telling my audiences, “pumice or perlite.” Perlite is the white stuff in bagged potting soils that’s used by growers and nurseries because it weighs less than pumice. However, perlite floats (imagine white, tidal-foam drifts in your garden), is inorganic, lacks micronutrients, and the dust is dangerous to inhale.
Then a few weeks ago, I received an email from a company I’d never heard of, General Pumice Products: Hi Debra, My name is Lexi Petelski, and my family owns the only 2 pumice mines in California…if you would be interested in receiving some free samples of our horticulture grade pumice we would love to send you some…we are trying to branch out to as many nurseries and notable individuals in the horticulture world as possible!”
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It seems the Petelski family, which has a background in mining, had bought and reopened the mine. When Lexi’s brother Austin was in the San Diego area making sales calls to growers and nurseries, he stopped by. I took some photos of him for my newsletter, told him I wanted to adopt him, and sent him on his way with a hug.

A large scar on Austin’s scalp made me wonder if he’d fallen down a mine. He explained he’d had surgery after being diagnosed a year ago with a glioblastoma. The tumor is in his central brain, and can’t be removed without leaving him speech-impaired or worse (paralyzed). The doctors gave him three to five years if untreated. “It’s not what you want to hear at age 25,” he told me. I asked why he was so calm about it. “Whether I live or die,” Austin said matter-of-factly, “I know I’m going to end up in the same place.” He credits his Christian faith for sustaining him through a difficult year and giving him the assurance of heaven.

Chemotherapy and radiation made it challenging for Austin to run General Pumice, so Lexi took care of her brother and helped with the business, which she continues to do as co-owner. Austin had a checkup yesterday. “The results are good,” he texted me. “The tumor is the same size which means it hasn’t grown at all!” Yet he wasn’t surprised. He knows he looks and feels far better than most cancer patients. Whatever made the difference—perhaps a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and prayer—doctors now give him 20 years.


As for your own garden, no worries. There’s an unlimited supply of pumice, which will soon be in nurseries and garden centers in reasonably priced, 25- and  40-pound bags. If you want it delivered to your door, right now the cost of shipping is greater than the cost of the product itself. But Lexi and Austin are working on that. “We’ll find a way to get it to anyone who wants it,” he says. I don’t doubt it.

Contact: [email protected], 760/403-4718
Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified, all Timber Press bestsellers. Her goal is to enhance others' enjoyment and awareness of waterwise plants and gardens by showcasing the beauty and design potential of succulents via books, articles, newsletters, photos, videos, social media and more. Debra and husband Jeff live in the foothills north of San Diego. She grew up in Southern California on an avocado ranch, speaks conversational Spanish, and at age 18 graduated magna cum laude from USIU with a degree in English Literature. Her hobbies include thrifting, birding and watercolor painting. Debra's YouTube channel has had over 3,000,000 views.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin
4 comments… add one

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jenny October 22, 2015, 10:17 am

I’m glad for Austin that his tumor has not grown and wish him well. I do hope that they send some pumice out to Austin, Texas. Our feed store used to carry it but the supply had dried up. Please tell them to ship to Callaghan’s general store. We really need their product.

Duly noted, Jenny. Will do! — Debra

CBell October 22, 2015, 10:44 am

What a beautiful story. Thank you for bringing it to us Debra. I think it’s safe to assume that very shortly Austin will have a small army of prayers added on his behalf!

Thank you for the lovely comment! I have no doubt Austin will be delighted. — Debra

Ed Morrow October 24, 2015, 10:15 am

Thanks for the info on the pumice. Your recommended recipe was excellent, but I had a grand time finding a supplier. I had never been in a tack and feed store before, it was a real revelation. I’ve written to General Pumice Products, and hope to be able to place an order though a local nursery. Again, thanks for the information.
Ed Morrow
Carmel Valley, CA

Hi, Ed — LOL about the revelation. The last time I was at the local feed store, I could barely hear what the employees were saying for the cheeping. They’d just gotten several dozen newly hatched chicks. — Debra

Joe Adams May 29, 2017, 3:00 pm

Thank you for that info on Austin. I just recently started buying pumice from them and lexi has been really helpful. their product is first class and I’m spreading the word about them here in naples, fl. I build fairy gardens literally from the ground up. Fairy houses of wood and clay, succulents of course, and trolls and elves. I also just started teaching a class at our botanical gardens on the above. lexi and austin’s pumice is used in all. I’ll be sure to let austin know he’s in my prayers.
Thanks again

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