Gritty mix problems

rlk237April 27, 2013

Hello all, thanks in advance for reading this.

I have been caring for plants for years and have recently been utterly convinced that my plants would benefit from Al's gritty mix (I'm a scientist, it all makes perfect, lovely sense). I posted my issues below elsewhere, and it was suggested I start a new thread and that I include many details, so here we go.

I went and bought all three ingredients. I used cherrystone poultry grit, Napa Oil Dry (there's no Turface to be found around here), and bark fines (Reptibark from a pet store). I screened all three components as per Al's instructions, and rinsed them all very well once they were mixed together. I also bought Foliage Pro to use for fertilization.

I moved my large 10-year old jade into the gritty mix along with about 10 Christmas cacti (all are fairly small, about 10-leaf starters), and a big lemon dracaena. Only one of these transplants has not suffered immensely.

I planted the jade in barely moist gritty mix and watered it about a week after transplant. Please note, I did a decent amount of root clipping to get the root ball healthier and break out the old compacted soil. About two weeks after moving it, it started looking very droopy and when I went over to look at it the big branches fell off with the slightest touch. I quickly dumped out the mix to check out the plant roots and the bottom 1/2 of the plant was all mush. I have never had a problem with this jade before; it has always given me new healthy growth, and I used to use a regular cactus soil mix and water it once every 4-5 weeks or so.

The Christmas cacti are a weird story. As they were immature starters (plants of only about 10-12 leaves in size) I did not have to do any root clipping. I moved them into slightly damp gritty mix, and watered them a bit almost immediately since I know they need more water. About a week after transplant I watered them with some Foliage Pro added in to give them nutrients. Shortly after that, all leaves that were under the gritty mix soil line became almost liquified... they turned a deep green color, and when you squeezed them green pus oozed out.

I have now lost all but about 3 Christmas cacti leaves; all the rest of the plants died. My large jade is now down to about 20 leaves and about 4 3-inch segments. They are the only pieces that have not turned into mush.

The lemon dracaena is doing well and has a new roots growing in (I checked it after that other plants had collapsed to see if I might need to intervene here).

Anyone have any clue what is going on? I whole-heartedly believe that the gritty mix works, and that I can get past this stumble, but seeing my jade that's been with me for 1/3 of my life almost completely die has scared me a bit. Could this be an issue with the fertilizer? I did not directly fertilize the jade, but I did use the same watering can... so maybe it contaminated - I know jades can't handle strong fertilizer.

Anyway, any help would be great. Or encouragement to stick with the gritty mix. I'm so disheartened by the loss of about 4/5 of my plants :(

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sutremaine(UK S.Wales 9)

That does sound pretty odd. Do you have any photos of the mix?

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 1:25PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Sounds like your Jade rotted from the roots. Cut roots are typically re-potted dry - and unwatered - for 3 - 5 days to allow any wounds to callous. Secondly, how large was the container?

As for the Christmas Cacti, I would use a bark-based mix - something like the 5-1-1. These plants do so much better in bark.


    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 1:39PM
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Could a jade rot that quickly? The whole thing rotted in the course of about a week. I don't currently have pictures of the mix but can take one and post it soon.

The Christmas cacti leaves that survived are in a more organic mix now, so I'm hoping I can have a few survivors from that.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 2:32PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Yeah, a Jade could rot that quickly.
Please take a pic of the container and the mix.


    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 3:21PM
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This first picture is a close-up of the gritty mix in with my lemon dracaena. The second is a picture of my large jade pot that is now only holding the leaves/cuttings I was able to save before the whole plant rotted away.

Any other ideas as to what killed my plants (although I know the answer is likely me).

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 3:56PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

The mix looks pretty good, and the container not too large from what I can tell. If you screened the bark to 1/16 - 1/4 inch, then the usual problem of large bark and small grit migration isn't an issue, either.

The only hard evidence we have is that the lower roots were mush. Either the roots were already rotting, or the rot entered after the trimming and was faciliated by the moisture in the mix.

Napa product does hold slightly more moisture than Turface, so perhaps a modification would be a bit less bark and Napa, and a little more of the non-porous grit.


    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 4:21PM
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sutremaine(UK S.Wales 9)

Is that 1:1:1 for each ingredient? There seems to be way more Napa than bark or grit visible in the first pic.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 8:01PM
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Unfortunately since the top of the soil is dry it's hard to tell the color difference. The bark is definitely is a slight minority to the other two, but not significantly so. I tried to be pretty accurate is my measurements of 1:1:1, but I know its not perfect! Could less bark cause some major issues?

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 8:05PM
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newgen(9 Central California)

Sorry to hear about your problem. Like you, I wholeheartedly believe in the theory of the gritty mix. I've killed my fair share of plants, transplanting them from a conventional mix to the gritty. At this time, I'm just gonna test some disposable plants to see what is wrong with my techniques. So many other people are having success with the gritty mix, that I'm just pissed at myself for not being able to provide my plants with this "superior" growing medium. I'm still in mourning over losing a Michelia alba, was jambu, and an ambarella in the gritty mix. I guess you can say I'm pretty gun shy now.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 1:13PM
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newgen, what a bummer. I'm pissed at myself, too, for somehow failing my plants on this (what seems to be) fool-proof soil. After doing a lot of digging around on the site here, it seems like there is definitely a learning curve for using this soil. For now I'm going to try to keep my already-transplanted plants in the gritty mix so as not to shock them anymore than necessary, and maybe hope that the rest will survive and thrive (survival of the fittest?).

    Bookmark   April 30, 2013 at 8:32AM
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