Time to try Al's mix, but questions

littleluey(Zone 9)January 21, 2011

Hello everyone, it is time for me to jump in and try Al's mix in my container trees.

I do have a question, for the Turface, i have read some comments about being just like kitty litter and/or oil dry. Well, I do have cats at home and i also have access to an oil dry stuff we have at work. I read something about a water test but i can't seem to remember/find that post.

can someone tell me how to test this products before i try them and find out they are not suitable please?

thanks

Luey

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littleluey(Zone 9)

another question,
at this time my fruit trees are in 20" and 24" round plastic pots. The trees are citrus, peaches and apples, all dwarf or semi-dwarf. Are the 24" too big or are they ok as long as I repot them every couple of years?

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 7:42PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I think one of the commonly used subs for screened Turface is screened floor dry, part #8822, available at NAPA Auto Parts stores. Test it by putting it in a plastic cup & filling the cup with water. Freeze it overnight, then thaw. If the product is still structurally stable, it's usable.

Stay away from kitty litter with perfumes or anything 'added' to encourage 'clumping', like bentonite.

The size of the product is important to getting the most from the mix, You want to discard (or use it somewhere else) anything that passes through aluminum insect screening. Use particles from about 1/10" up to 3/16", but ideal are particles in the just under to just over 1/8" size.

Good luck. I hope you stick around and ask lots of questions so you get the most out of your new venture.

Take care.

Al

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 9:36PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It depends on the size of the plant and the root mass. Ideally, you'll learn to root prune, & you'll bare-root your trees before putting them into the new mix. A 24" pot is VERY large, and with proper root-pruning should hold a tree for a very long time. FWIW - you cannot over-pot a tree or other plant in a properly made gritty mix. You could put the smallest seedling or even plant a seed in your large pots and there should be no symptoms indicating the plant is over-potted. You can only over-pot in soils that are heavy and hold perched water. Soils that are well-aerated from top to bottom, even after a thorough soaking, do not provide an environment that favors expanding populations of the organisms that cause root rot.

Al

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 9:45PM
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littleluey(Zone 9)

Thanks Al for commenting.
I will test this stuff I have on hand.
I do have a book on root pruning and pruning in general, I have yet to done it but I have read the "how to" so experimentation should come.

You bet I will stick around and ask lots of questions, here is one more:

My peaches and apples are dormant right now, it would seem like the best time to re-pot them in to the gritty soil mix, with proper root pruning of course.
Is this what you mean by bare root the trees? if not, could you expand on that please?

I also have a couple of 4x4 raised beds, could I use Al's mix on them as well?

    Bookmark   January 22, 2011 at 9:07AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I'm going to use this embedded link to take you to a thread about Growing Trees in Containers. It will give you a good overview of how to repot, which includes root pruning, as opposed to simply potting up, which doesn't. If you have more questions, I SHOULD be able to answer them. Repotting season starts for me in about 6 weeks, but I'm really going to be stressed - already am - this year. My brother is going to New Zealand for 3 weeks, which means I'll have to work well beyond the 1-2PM I'm used to, so I'll be repotting most of the 150 (or so) trees that will need repotting during that time at night in the garage. I hope he has fun! ;o)

Best time to repot apples/peaches is just before you see buds move in the spring. I know - "How in the world do I determine when 'just before buds move' is?" Be ready, and do it right at the onset of bud movement this year. Take notes! next time you root prune/repot, do it a week earlier than your notes indicate when the onset of budswell was.

Bare root means bare root means take ALL the soil off the roots. Never let the roots dry when you're working on them. There's more in the thread I linked you to. Ask your questions here or there.

Best luck! TTYL

Al

    Bookmark   January 22, 2011 at 12:58PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Darn - missed the question about raised beds. I would use a soil in my RBs that was at least 75% mineral content. It could be native topsoil if it's good, or fine sand. Mix it with things like composted manure, reed/sedge peat, pine bark.

Here is a picture of the soil in my raised beds:

It's a very productive soil and abundant with all the tiny denizens that make up soil life. You can see it also has excellent tilth. It drains well yet still holds lots of moisture. The soil is comprised (originally) of approx
5 parts partially composted pine bark fines
2 parts sphagnum peat (could also use 2 parts Michigan or reed/sedge peat, leaving out the sphagnum)
1-3 parts Turface (you can use a Turface product finer than MVP/Allsport in RBs
1-2 parts builders sand or native topsoil
dolomitic lime
but I could easily have used more sand or other mineral ingredients in this soil.

For the first year, you may need to use quite a bit of N if your organic fraction is high - to make up for N being immobilized, but after that, little fertilizer should be required.

Al

    Bookmark   January 22, 2011 at 1:16PM
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littleluey(Zone 9)

thanks Al for your help and patiance with this newbie.

i drove around town today looking for the ingredients, and found a "sand and gravel store", i am not sure what they are called. there i can get the gravel/rock for only a couple of dollars for a 5 gal bucket, so i am happy. i also have the oil dry stuff in the freezer right now and should find out if it is suitable tomorrow. I have a good lead to where i can get the pine bark as well.

Thanks for the link, i definatly will be reading and learning the reasoning behind this idea. i printed out some threads for me to read during the weekend.

I will update later on.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2011 at 8:12PM
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littleluey(Zone 9)

well, my oil-dry (Turface substitute) passed the freeze test, i can use it.

I wish i could go help you al to repot those 150 trees so i could learn from you. that would be like going to gardening school.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2011 at 9:14PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Don;t forget to screen.

I could use a helper. It's gonna be a rough year on me, it appears. I need one of those 'wax on wax off' Danielsons!! ;o)

Al

    Bookmark   January 23, 2011 at 9:31PM
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jodik_gw

Gosh, Al... I really wish you lived a little bit closer... I'd be more than happy to road trip up and offer my potting services! I know I'd get more out of such a trip than you would! What a great learning experience that would be for me. Unfortunately, I think the drive would put poor Old Guy, as we affectionately call him, out of commission... just the 3 hour drive to see Doc about kills him every few months.

How long do you think it will take you to complete the job of re-potting all your trees? How long does it take with a helper?

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 7:45AM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

The other Jodi feels the same way. ;-).

I'd love to help and learn! I wish I was closer to both of you!
I could be all day in your roses Jodi!

Al~
My friend, Carol , asked about raised beds last night. We were a few hours going over this . :-)
She's really thinking about raised beds.
She asked where to get the "dirt" I laughed and said you don't! you make it. ;-)
She's considering it.

JJ

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 8:24AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Thanks, guys. It would be so much fun to work together on ANY project - not just trees. ;o)

It probably takes an average of about 60-90 minutes/tree for repots. The little ones a half hr & the bigger trees & 1st time repots a little longer, but there's always the little extra time for each repotting session getting everything together & then cleaning up. As it is, most years, some trees that NEED repotting are neglected because I couldn't get to them in time. I try to take those that need it most & the best trees first. Yes - there is a pecking order. ;o)
Repotting is kind of sequential. I do the deciduous trees first, concentrating first on the ones that leaf out early. By the time the deciduous stuff is done, I move on to the conifers other than pine. Larch get repotted with the deciduous because of course, they're deciduous. ;o) I have garden duties to attend to during this time, too.

When that part is done, it'd mid-May and I'm concentrating hard on the garden & getting the containers put together - my goal being by memorial day. Then I get a little break until the middle of Jun when I start repotting tropicals, of which I have more than 100. By the end of July, I'm done with most of the hard stuff & life is easier. In Mid Sep the tropicals come in & by Nov 1 the gardens are pretty much put to bed & I'm just waiting for the REALLY cold snap that forces me to bring in the hardy trees.

I really enjoy my winters 'off'. I'd have to reduce my bonsai collection by half because I couldn't keep up with the pressure if I lived where it was warmer. ;o)

Al

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 9:50AM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Do you think we'd actually get any work done? lol!

That is alot, but I'm just the opposite. The month or two we take off here drives me nuts. lol.
Starting seeds now.

Al~, if you lived where it was warmer, you'd have help. ;-)

littleluey, what part of zone 9 are you? I'm in Arizona.

Going to start tackling projects this week. :-)
I hope my guava's come back. They dried out while being protected from the frost.

JJ

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 11:38AM
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jodik_gw

Wow! That's not quite how I pictured it all going, Al! I figured since you have so many, you begin it like any other project, working at it for a few days until it's done. I had no idea it took months! Yes, it would be great to work on any project with you, though, bonsai or otherwise... I know I'd get quite an education... like school for growing!

And, I, JoJo, would really enjoy some downtime in a warmer climate... oh, like Arizona, for instance! :-)

I do enjoy the roses... a lot! Most mornings during the growing seasons, I go out first thing in the morning... after coffee, of course... and I take the camera for a stroll around the yards. It's peaceful and nice, with birds singing, the rat-a-tat-tat of woodpeckers in the trees, doves cooing, roses in bloom everywhere... the scent is heavenly!

It would appear that bonsai is a year 'round job in itself... almost! You put hundreds and hundreds of hours into it. I guess I do the same with the roses and beds here, though. It's a labor of love.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 11:38AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I'm planning to try a slightly modified Al's 5-1-1 mix on my container grown vegetables this year and have some more questions. I've had pretty good results for many years growing mostly tomatoes, peppers & eggplants in 20 to 25 gallon Smart Pots using a mix of 3 parts Metro Mix 500 (predominately pine bark fines) to 1 part my own yard waste compost with Osmocote Plus 15-9-12 with all micros. I've fertilized every 3-4 weeks with Tomatotone. Main problem has been keeping them hydrated in mid- to late summer when temps are in the 90s. This year I'd like to make the plunge. I found a mulch company where I can purchase pine bark fines for less than $2 a cubic foot. My question: I need 42 cu. ft. mix and will have about 12 cu. ft. of compost. Could I use a mix of my compost (instead of peat), 26 cu. ft. Pine fines and 4 cu. ft. perlite? I like to use the Osmocote because early summer is so wet here that I usually don't water until July. After that I often have to water 2-4 times a week. My budget and available hand watering time are tight, but I could switch to a liquid feed instead of granular in July. (I am worried about water retention, hence the compost.) what do you think of my plan?

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 11:41AM
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littleluey(Zone 9)

Wow Al, that sure is a lot of work, but i am guessing that is what you do for a living, right?
I need to find the screen to screen, looks like a weekend project for me.
Hi Jojo, i live in the SW most corner of the state, in Yuma; I saw in another thread you are in Tucson, right? i was there a couple of years a go with my wife for her job and I got to see a monsoon rain, we don't get that out here, at least not in the 5 years i've been here.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 4:54PM
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filix

Guess again littleluey :) Wow Al! You will love making your own potting soil littleluey! I made literally thousands of gallons of a version of the gritty for many raised beds for my blueberries.That's why I bought a cement mixer. Good luck! Happy gardening. filix.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 7:44PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Hi littleluey :)

So your in Arizona too. :) Yes, I'm in Tucson. No monsoons where your at? wow! I just figured everyone got them. I wish we didn't , i'm terrified of storms and we get some rough ones. LOL!

Filix is right. Guess again. ;-) lol!
Al does all his tree's after work!

You will love making your own soil, and using it. ;-) I have been for about a year now.
I make small batches at a time.
Filix, great idea, the mixer! My dad used to have one, wonder if he still does? hmmmm...? :-)

I hope everyone is having a great evening!

Jodik~
If you ever decide to relocate.. would love to have you here! :-)
JoJo

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 8:06PM
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littleluey(Zone 9)

man, i am impressed, all those trees to take care of and still have a day job.

Another question here, i went to buy the bug screen and i saw one with bigger openings, maybe 2x the size of the regular bug screen, which i think will give me gravel closer to the 1/8 of an inch Al mentions the best size is.
My first reaction was to buy that one, but took the regular bug screen instead. any thoughts on that?

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 8:57PM
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littleluey(Zone 9)

hi Filix, question for you on your blueberries.

I have read BB like low ph soil, how do you keep the ph low on the gritty mix?

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 8:59PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

LL - you manage your pH by managing the pH of your irrigation/fertigation water. Determine what pH you want, then add enough white vinegar or citric acid to bring the pH a little lower than you actually want. E.g., if you want your pH to be 5.5, add enough acid to lower the pH of your irrigation water to 5.0-5.2. The reason is that there is dissolved CO2 in the irrigation water that lowers pH. As the CO2 leaves the water, pH rises naturally; so, if you want the end result to be a particular pH, you need to go a little lower.

Don't use cheap pH meters - they don't work. They especially don't work when you just stick them into the soil to get a reading, but they don't work even if you test a solution, unless they are regularly calibrated, and the cheap meters cannot be calibrated.

Sorry - can't keep up with how fast this thread's moving. I'm giving a talk Wed night to the Saginaw County (MI) Master Gardeners, and I've been busy with last minute preparations. It's the first time I've addressed this particular group, and it's a big one - with about 250 members, but I know a lot of the gardeners through other clubs I belong to or I've spoken to, so I'm looking forward to a fun night.

LL - Gardening is my hobby. I make coffee and empty waste baskets, sometimes I act grumpy or hand out the pay checks at a glazing contracting business (glass company) I sort of work at. ;o)

I trust everyone is having a good day?

Al

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 9:26PM
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filix

LL I added elemental sulfur and iron sulfate. And didn't add lime. Keep in mind these are raised beds not containers. filix.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 10:10PM
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jodik_gw

Well, JoJo... I have to expect we'd get our work done first, THEN go off to cause havoc! ;-)

I'd relocate in a flash if it weren't for the children and grandchildren... I'd have a very difficult time living too far away to visit them on a regular basis. And "Old Guy", as we affectionately call him, is right... cold weather is necessary to kill off certain bacterias, the weak and ill in nature, and other harmful things. He actually likes winter. He's weird. ;-)

I agree... building your own soil is rewarding, in more ways than one! It's a great learning experience, and the results are excellent!

Even now, I have a large bucket of spent soil and gritty mix, old orchid bark and other spent soil ingredients ready to dump into the raised beds. I'll mix it in and add the usual items I add each spring... more compost, more broken down mulch, more soil from pots of things that didn't make it through winter... I end up with a nice aerated mix that grows good veggies.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 4:54AM
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littleluey(Zone 9)

I just repeat my last question:

I found screen that has openings (mesh size) maybe 2x the size of the regular bug screen, i think this will give me a size closer to the 1/8" for the turface product.
Should i use that screen or regular bug screen.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 3:01PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If you use the larger size, you won't have any Turface left. ;o)

Al

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 3:18PM
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littleluey(Zone 9)

lol, ok, i will use the bug screen.

Just reading some of the other threads now and i found someone mentioned "aged pine bark", i did a search and found a Bonsai store in Dallas with what seems like a good deal, i wish the picture was bigger but please see if this could work for the mix.

Here is a link that might be useful: aged pine bark, Dallas store

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 4:16PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It would work for the 5:1:1 mix, but it's too fine for the gritty mix .... and SUPER expensive.

Al

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 6:04PM
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littleluey(Zone 9)

ok, time for an update an a couple more questions.

I screened my turface substitute, worked out fine, not a lot of dust, definatly not as much as the kitty litter for the cats. the fines stuff will go to the cat's box. Or, is there another use for it in the garden?

i also got the bark, i could not find "fine" so i got the "small" size, in this i have pieces that are about 1" long. i started breaking them in 3-4 pcs. i did screened that but i have not rinse them. Is there a reason I should rinse? I saw a few comments where members talked about rinsing the bark, what is the purpose of that? i would think that if there was anything on them it would come of after i start watering the plants in the pot, am I missing anything?

I still need to find the gravel, the sand & gravel store was closed by the time i got out of work and i only found rock that was too big, seem like up to 1/2 inch and that seem too big for this.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2011 at 10:43PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Size IS important, so keep that in mind as you shop for the nonabsorbent fraction of the mix.

I don't rinse anything, but I do screen the fines out of the Turface, and the dust out of everything (through insect screen) else. I think there was a recent conversation in which rinsing through a kitchen strainer was an option for someone who was going to make the soil in the kitchen.

Rinsing will help a very little bit if you want to do it, but I would limit rinsing mainly to the granite & maybe the Turface, but I wouldn't bother with the bark.

Al

    Bookmark   January 31, 2011 at 9:09AM
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littleluey(Zone 9)

thanks Al for your help. I will search some for the granite.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2011 at 9:41PM
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littleluey(Zone 9)

ok, here is an update.

I was able to find the ingredients for the mix and since i live in the desert south west i am mixing the recipie for the high desert heat as follows:

4 parts turface
3 parts bark
2 parts crushed granite

but i completly overlooked the 1 part vermiculite and did not noticed until i had already root pruned and repoted one of my citrus trees. I won't be able to buy the vermiculite until next payday (this friday).
should i mix it in once i get it or will it be too much stress on my tree to be repoted in a few days again. I almost prefer to leave it alone until next spring, the area where i live is a good citrus growing area so i think it may just be fine. I will wait until i get the vermiculite to do the rest of the trees.
what are your thoughts on that?

has anyone kept tropical fruit trees in the gritty mix? i am trying to grow mexican papaya. I have read they don't get very big so i can kep them in containers but they don't like too much water because they can have root problems. I do have the seeds of a papaya i ate and i can experiment with a few different mixes combinations. Any ideas/sugestions for me?

thanks for reading

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 8:37PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I think you'll be ok with that mix w/o any vermiculite. Do try to make sure you use a light colored container and/or double pot your plants with something absorbent you can wet between the pots to keep root temperatures down.

Al

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 9:29PM
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jodik_gw

I agree with Al... I think adding vermiculite might actually make the mix too moisture retentive. Plus, doesn't vermiculite break down relatively fast?

I think the turface will hold enough moisture for the mix.

I've been known to use vermiculite in my mixes, but that was before I got my hands on turface. The turface holds an amazing amount of moisture.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 11:35AM
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littleluey(Zone 9)

thanks Al and Jodi for commenting.

so you mean i can do without the vermiculite altogether?
i actually went to lowe's to look for it and when the employee pointed it out to me i realized i had used the stuff for my raised beds and it is very small and light, i think it will go thru the bug screen with no problem, let alone go out of the pot from the bottom holes.
So i am thinking that it may not be the right size for the mix. I saw some perlite that is bigger granules but now i am not sure if i should get it based on your comments.

I also noticed last night how the one citrus tree i repoted on the mix looked drier than the rest of my pots with soil and they all were watered at the same time on sunday afternoon. So it seems like i will have to modify my watering times after a while.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 8:37PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Yes - you'll probably need to water more frequently, but reduced water retention comes part & parcel with better aeration and drainage. Still, you might be surprised at how moist the gritty mix remains a couple of inches below the surface - especially the way you made it .... with the extra Turface. Good luck - keep us posted.

Al

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 9:30PM
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