Question for Al....

thinkstoomuch(6)January 4, 2013

I am quite the novice at container gardening, so bear with me!
I have a small money tree which badly needed to be re-potted. I decided to go foward with your gritty mix. I used turface, grit, bark and vermiculite. I have been watering with foliage pro at 1/4 tsp per gallon.
Since I have repotted, the plant is struggling. At first I thought it was probably just the initial shock. But it has been a couple of months, and it is still struggling. Although there is new growth, many of the existing leaves are yellowing. I upped the foliage pro to 1/2 tsp, with no change. Also, I water about every other day. The plant tends to do "less well" in the winter simply because the house is colder, but it is clear that this isn't the main problem.
Any advice??
Thanks so much,

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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hey, welcome Kim.

Stop watering every other day - cut back to once every 5 - 15 days, depending on container size.
I water my tall Pachira in a 1-gallon container every 7 - 10 days for comparison. During the
Summer, yes you'll increase the frequency of watering (every 2 - 4 days).

Secondly, I hope that was a typo when you wrote 'vermiculite' -
because there is no vermiculite (bad stuff in a container) included in the Gritty Mix.
Vermiculite holds waaaaay too much moisture and develops a sponge-like/clay consistency
with poor structure and durability over time. Even if you weren't watering so heavily,
the mix would still stay saturated longer than desired.

Thirdly, Pachira shed older leaves in the lower-light conditions of Winter.
Therefore, give your plant as much light as possible when indoors during the Winter.
You're in good company, so don't feel down; I've been answering lots of e-mails about
Pachira with yellowing leaves for the past month and a half now.

Continue with the Foliage Pro, but without watering so often.


    Bookmark   January 4, 2013 at 10:37AM
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Thanks for the response,Josh. Hmm. I could have sworn that I read you need to water quite often when using gritty mix. I guess I need to do more reading, and quit watering so much! I feel bad for the poor plant now!!

    Bookmark   January 4, 2013 at 11:21AM
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I believe the concept of the Gritty Mix is that it allows a much wider margin for error when it comes to over watering... and we know that over watering is one of the biggest killers of containerized plants... but we still want to be aware that, due to differences in individual growing environments, among other factors, it's wise to check each plant for moisture already present before adding more. Many of us use the wooden skewer method, which works fairly well. It involves the insertion of a small wooden shish-ka-bob skewer into the soil, pointed at the lower center of the rootball, where any moisture would remain the longest. Upon removal, the skewer will either be cool and damp to the touch, indicating the presence of moisture... or dry and warm, indicating the lack of moisture.

It's my experience that plants respond better when they're watered as needed, and not a schedule... because there are many factors that change in how fast a potted plant is able to use the moisture it's given, and in the normal evaporation that happens due to environmental factors.

Even though the surface of the medium may appear dry and feel dry to the touch, it does not mean that all moisture at root level has been utilized.

So, even though you want to begin with pre-moistened medium when first planting, and there's a much larger margin of error when it comes to possible over watering when using the Gritty Mix or 511, each potted plant will be different in its use of given moisture. It's wise to check each plant... and when you're not certain... my method is to wait a day if I'm uncertain.

Hope this helps a bit.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2013 at 12:34PM
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This does help, JodiK. Stupid question: do you leave the skewer in all the time? Or do you just insert and remove when you check to see of the plant needs watering?

    Bookmark   January 4, 2013 at 1:00PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Yes, there are many misconceptions out there about Gritty Mix.

Thanks to some very uninformed and antagonistic posters at this Forum,
the Gritty Mix has suffered a great deal of misrepresentation;
and the worst of this misrepresentation has come from folks who've never actually
made the mix or grown a plant in it. But hopefully we can correct those misconceptions
by constantly squashing these ill-intended rumors.

One key point that can be an honest source of misunderstanding comes from re-potting:
*newly re-potted* plants (not succulents) must be kept *more consistently moist than established plants*
for the first few weeks in the Gritty Mix. This ensures that the roots in the upper mix don't dry up and die
during the transition.

Kim, you didn't mention whether the 'vermiculite' was a typo or not, but that's a
significant deviation from the Gritty Mix. Therefore, you understand, that you won't
need to water your particular mix as often as one would the Gritty Mix proper.

The skewer method that Jodi mentions is a great means of determining moisture in mixes
that *look* dry on the surface.

Lastly, we need to recognize the specific culture for this plant. In the Winter, treat it
more like a succulent; in the Summer, treat it like the wetland tropical that it is.

But even so, during the Summer, I only water every 2 - 4 days in 1-gallon of Gritty Mix.
Not every day. Not every other day.


    Bookmark   January 4, 2013 at 1:20PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Kim, you can use the skewer either way.
I leave a kabob skewer in one of my Citrus containers all the time, and pull it to check.


    Bookmark   January 4, 2013 at 1:23PM
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I would like to double-check regarding the fertilizer:

*Isn't 1/4 tsp enough in winter?
*If any doubts about health of plant, increasing amount of fertilizer will not help.

Josh, Jodi - I am sure you have correct answer?
Thnx. Rina

    Bookmark   January 4, 2013 at 2:03PM
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That dosage of fertilizer was per the instructions on the bottle. I don't have it in front of me right now, but I'm pretty sure I recall it was 1/4 tsp per gallon for regular watering.

Thanks, everyone, for your input. Much appreciated.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2013 at 2:57PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I guess I'll try one last time: is that actually vermiculite in your mix?

that's a fine dosage. I've been fertilizing my Pachira at 1/2 strength every two weeks.
During the Summer, I fertilize full strength once a week.


    Bookmark   January 4, 2013 at 3:04PM
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Josh -
Its vermiculite.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2013 at 3:38PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Alright, really curtail the watering; use the skewer technique; give it lots of light;
fertilize as you've been doing; and plan to re-pot around the Summer Solstice for fastest recovery.

If the plant continues to decline, an "out of season" re-potting might be in order.


    Bookmark   January 4, 2013 at 3:42PM
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Thanks Josh. I'll follow your plan.
Hopefully this will do the trick.
Thanks so much for your help.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2013 at 4:20PM
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You know, I feel pretty bad about not coming here more often to help others with this superior mix and I must say that I appreciate how much you Josh and Jodik have done for all of use here.

Not only am I proud to say your are my dear friends, but to that of the plant community!

Thank you for carrying on the tradition of the teachings of Al/Tapla and making this the best forum on earth!

I promise to participate more often since holding back all the benefits of these remarkable mixes in which I am a prime user, can be quite selfish of me at times. I have been neglecting this forum lately and for that I am sorry.


    Bookmark   January 4, 2013 at 7:59PM
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Some growers leave skewers in the medium, and some only use them when checking for moisture. I have some pots with skewers in, and some without. I use my finger quite often, shoving it down as far into the medium as I can get it, often wriggling to get deeper.

I once purchased a moisture meter, but found it to be next to useless. I rely heavily on my sense of touch, and I have developed a feel for how light or heavy a pot should be when dry or moist. If I'm unsure, I go to the wooden skewer.

I think a good way to test for moisture with the skewer is to press it gently to your cheek upon removal from the medium. Your cheek is sensitive enough to feel cool and damp versus warm and dry with a better certainty.

There are many factors to keep loosely in mind... your individual gardening zone, climate, time of year, conditions inside and outside your home... or where ever you grow... whether the sun is out or it's overcast... general local weather conditions, etc... the size of the pot, size and type of plant in question and its cultural needs... and when you think about all these factors, you should begin to develop a semi-clear picture of how long a pot can go in between waterings.

It's something you get a feel for over time. This is why I check every pot before watering... so I'm certain I'm not drowning the roots, or allowing it to dry out too much.

Mediums like the Gritty Mix are great in that you have a lot more leeway in making errors. But it's very important to fully understand why you're using such a medium, and how and why it works as it does. The concepts behind the mediums are important to learn.

For my own peace of mind, I copied and pasted Al's article entitled "Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention" and placed it on my desktop in its own file. This way, I can go back and reread any time I need a refresher. It's extremely helpful!

When you first begin to experiment making and using the Gritty Mix, it's important that you not deviate from the intended list of ingredients, the ratios called for, and it's important that you not skip any steps in screening those ingredients, rinsing to remove dust, or pre-moistening prior to potting. The particles all need to be relatively equal in size, give or take... and there should be only one layer of medium used from bottom to top of the pot. Using a wick is an accepted means of ensuring no perched water sits within the pot.

Once you understand the concept of these grittier mixes, and get a feel for how they perform, you can then begin to make any small adjustments necessary to your own situation, your own unique growing environment.

Personally, I dislike vermiculite... it doesn't hold its structure, but does tend to hold too much excess moisture. In my own environment, it's not something I often include.

My basic rendition of the Gritty Mix uses fir bark, coarse perlite, granite chips, turface... and an occasional added ingredient or two for extra moisture retention. It all depends on what I'm growing, how big or small the pot and plant is, and where that plant will be kept. I've learned to make slight adjustments that make things better for my own conditions.

I'd like to feed Foliage Pro, but I have to use up the liquid fertilizer I already have first. I use an All Purpose Plant Food in liquid form, diluted at a 1/4 to half strength almost every time I water. I also make sure I add micro-nutrients that the All Purpose food doesn't contain. This ensures a constant buffet, or supply of nutritionally complete food for my plants. Every once in a while, I water with plain water to ensure there's no buildup of salts or minerals.

I try to obtain my water from a source that bypasses the water softener. In nice weather, I can save rain water... but otherwise, I fill gallon jugs outside from a spigot that doesn't contain softened water. I have well water.

I hope this helps a bit more...

To quickly recap... it's important that the concept of the medium you use is fully understood... the how and why of it. It's also important that no shortcuts are taken in preparing the medium. Check medium before adding more moisture. Ensure food is made available for the plant to uptake. If you follow everything to the best of your ability you'll create a wider window for error, thereby better ensuring the health of your plants... and healthy plants begin with healthy roots.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2013 at 1:06PM
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