Ready to plant, but still have a few questions

terratoma(7a)May 9, 2013

I have prepared Al's Gritty Mix according to my interpretation of the many threads on this subject. If it's ok, I'd like to list the steps I've taken, as well as those remaining.It would be most helpful if anyone would chime in where I've taken a wrong step or where there may be a better way to achieve a good mix.
So far, I've screened the fir bark, Turface and grit using 1/4"-1/8" screens. (I've read that the 1/8" screen can be replaced with a 1/16" one for Turface in order to make it go further ...right?) I've rinsed the Turface and grit and will be soaking all three parts in water overnight. (If I use pine bark instead of the fir, I can use 3/8"-1/8". Is this acceptable? I still can't find a 3/8" screen or sieve. If nothing else, I'll try pounding those pine bark pieces that are larger than 1/2" to get them smaller.)
Next I'll use drywall tape with an adhesive backing to cover the drain holes. I recall seeing a pic of 1/16" hardware cloth cut in a circle; it looked to be about 2" larger in diameter than that of the bottom of the container. It was placed in the bottom with the edges bent up to prevent the mix from escaping. Does this work as well as the tape? And would 1/16" be the right size for this?
I'd like to place a wick in the bottom; I've read that strands from a mophead would be fine. Am I correct in this?
The final step will be the mixing of the ingredients and the root pruning which, when I contemplate it, is terrifying!
(I have a question regarding "composted" pine bark and how to differentiate it from uncomposted but that can wait til later.)
Thanks so much.

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Terra, don't forget to add gypsum.
All else re: the mix sounds good.

But what is drywall tape? Regarding the drain holes, all you need to do is cut out something that will prevent the small mix bits from falling out of the bottom each time you water or move it, etc. Perhaps this tape has holes, but if not, then I wouldn't use it. I use leftover window screens on some and those plastic needlepoint sheets on others. I got the idea for the latter on this forum and easily found large sheets for pennies on the dollar at the crafts store.

Re: the wick, I think I read somewhere Al recommending the mop strands but in rayon rather than cotton. I don't use one so I'm not certain...

I switched back in March for many of my plants and could not love it more! Good luck to you! Post photos! :-)


    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 8:00AM
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drywall tape has holes similar to window screens maybe a little bit bigger so it might work not sure how it would stand up to water and fertilizer though.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 10:22AM
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Hi Grace and bitzppa
Thanks for your responses and encouragement!
I read about the drywall tape in several threads about drainage for the gritty (and 5-1-1) mixes. It contains small holes that allow water to pass through. It was recommended by at least on individual to get the fiberglass mesh variety_ perhaps it holds up better to water and fertilizer_ and to get the type that has an adhesive backing for easy attachment to the container. Perhaps the hardware cloth (insect screen) is best; it might have less of a tendency, if any, to get clogged.. But one individual mentioned that using fiberglass insect screen was preferable to the traditional wire screen. Why??
Grace, I like your idea about the plastic needlepoint sheets. Guess I'll experiment and try both.
Grace: After reading all the wonderful results growers have had using Foliage Pro 9-3-6, I've purchased a supply. I was under the impression that if I used FP, nothing additional would be needed. Please let me know if this is incorrect.
The wick: I probably shouldn't be concerned. it could be that this mix is going to drain so freely that I won't need one.
It's exciting to be ready to take the last steps of mixing, root pruning and planting. But, call me crazy, I also find it scary. It's mostly just fear of failure that can, and has, created a near paralysis in my efforts to forge ahead.
Let me repeat: thank you for the advice and encouragement.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 8:30PM
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no such thing as failure :) only learning read learning then do learning, I have been growing in ground sense I was a kid to long LOL and stumbled upon this site and thought I would have a go at pots, I have never seen anyone grow things successfully in pots and then I read Al's and others posts and thought I would have a go as it all made sense to me and the reasons why it works.

I have some nice winter veggies growing in my bark mix (Australia) time will tell but all looking good so far, I did have fear at 1st that I wouldn't do it right, but I did the best I could with what I could find and so far so good :) enjoy the experience and I am sure learning will come with time how to do the best for each type of plant, I guess we all do this because we love watching things grow.

so I am sure you will be doing that real soon :) have fun and keep us updated as you go I think that helps others too :)

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 9:25PM
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Thanks bitzppa
I appreciate your kind words. You are one of many whose posts I have read and have felt encouraged by your stories. I've gotten the impression that many others, like you, discovered a new way to garden thanks to Al and others. And what's most impressive is that you're willing to share your experiences with beginners like me.
Unfortunately the day started badly and it had nothing to do with container gardening. I had hired a crew to take down an old 8' wooden fence around the perimeter of the property and put up a new one. They were also taking down a 50' pine.. My 'Sango kaku' Japanese maple which I had planted last fall and was doing beautifully, with a full flush of new foliage, was smack dad on the landing site of one of the largest limbs. On the other hand, the tree only lost about two-thirds of its limbs (it's only about 7'-8' tall) so I'm sure, if I find out how to properly prune it, it can be salvaged.
Again, much obliged for your advice and encouragement.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 4:46PM
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Hi Gary

sorry to hear about your Maple, don't know much about trees or how you would need help it but I am sure someone somewhere on here will :)

I am only a beginner as well with the bark mix so I followed instructions best I could in making the mix and have planted some veggies and flowers and all are growing today and that's all we can do hey do the best we can and take it day by day and see what happens.

I love playing with fertilizers and seeing what happens so its right up my ally containers, I am in Australia so I don't have the same products here so I have to do a bit more research and find micro nutrients etc here that have different names than people use in the US, but I am learning that's all part of the fun :)

heading in to winter here and am trying some tomatoes in containers in a cheapo hothouse , so far so good but if I have learnt one thing from years of in ground growing things can change fast so have to be willing to change course or make adjustments, but with all the resources on this forum there is plenty of good advice to be found.

I guess being human and having different experience with things makes forums like this work.

I looked on the US zone chart and I would be in 11 so I put that up so others can see what conditions I am in and maybe that helps.

but I am just starting out on this container journey and its exciting to have new hope for growing in containers and something new to learn about.

so at the end of the day its about being outside having fun and getting some sun and maybe we get to see the fruits of our labour :) then that makes it all worth while :)

I am always on the look out for better materials and seems like that's half the fun ?? from what I have been reading.

hope your tree makes it :)


    Bookmark   May 12, 2013 at 9:31AM
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After a long winter and sometimes warm, sometimes very cold, spring, I am looking forward to "being outside, having fun and getting some sun, too!" :o) I just hope that I'm as successful as you with your labors. And I agree, a degree of success will make it all worth while.
If the trees (Japanese maples) do well, I'd like to try my hand with something I've never considered: houseplants. Everything I've grown in the past has been in-ground: redbud, red-twigged dogwood, viburnums, ornamental grasses, all sorts of perennials ... but never any houseplants. (I hope that's the proper term.) But after seeing the many pics on this forum and others of these plants, they are really beauties

I really think a big part of the fun/enjoyment is going to be experimenting a bit with the three components of the mix in order to alter water retention. I think that would be a major point for growers who, like you, live in the warmer areas.
But, that's then, this is now. I gotta keep my eye on the ball and concentrate on those containers.
Be well.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 7:18PM
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That's the way Gary its all in the name of experimenting that's what I tell myself and its true and fun !

but from what I have seen is it has addictive qualities :) or is that me LOL

which ever is true its fun and nobody's getting hurt well not that I know of if we can add some of natures colour to the world then I think its a great thing :)

yes I think that is true getting to know the plants needs better more than the mix and giving them what they need.

hope you get off and running soon with the house plants :)


    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 11:12PM
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Terra, I've read that, too, re: gypsum not being needed if using FP. I think it was Josh's post, but not sure right now. I'm new to this, too, so I really couldn't tell you yay or nay, but FWIW, I added gypsum when I made my mixes. I using FP right now but who knows what I'll try in the future and mixing it into the gritty mix afterwards is rather difficult to do properly without uprooting the whole plant. :-)

Did you do it? Photos of the whole experience? :-)
The freakout thread where I took on gritty mix is below. (To be accurate, it was into both gritty mix and 5:1:1...depending on plant.) Even with serious root pruning, all did really well with a couple requiring help or see babying (my own fault). Well, I did have one whopping failure: the azalea. But that one wasn't well to begin with and historically, azaleas don't like me much anyhow. (And frankly, I don't much like them, haha.)

Don't be apprehensive, though: thanks to Al and the folks on this forum, taking on containers has become a whole new experience. I used to think houseplants just despised me, but as it turned out -- I was just doing it wrong and treating them like my yard plants without understanding the fundamental difference between in-ground soil and container soil. Rather embarrassing when I think back to all the poor things I have killed for a decade lol.


Here is a link that might be useful: Taking on Gritty Mix

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 4:09PM
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Hi Grace and BZ
OK, with only a few hundred interruptions (some of them welcome, actually), I've gotten three of the Japanese maples in containers. Notice that I said "in containers" as opposed to "growing with vigor and immeasurable vitality in containers" because, short of inviting a shaman to say a few words, the plants' life spans are very much in doubt.. (Actually, I've probably committed three homicides or gotten incredibly lucky! :) I now understand what Al meant about root pruning taking more time that you'd guess, at least for the first couple or twelve times around. Those roots were tougher than some steaks I've eaten. I was surprised at the near total absence of anything that resembled peat moss/potting soil in the plants' original containers. It seemed to be primarily bark and some perlite, both of which seemed to multiply the more I dug and flushed with water.
My granddaughter just arrived. (Sorry, nothing is more important!) Will get back soon with my continuing tale of woe.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2013 at 4:54PM
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Just an update on my first venture with the gritty mix.
The Japanese maples are going on day three of their new life in containers. So far, no leaves have dropped and I'm seeing no signs of distress, although I feel sure that some signs are not so obvious. So I'm not ready to call out the rescue squad ... yet.
A poster who provided a great running commentary, together with pics, about his root pruning and repotting said that Jms were among the easiest of plants to root prune. If that's the case, I've erred badly. Each of mine had at least three large roots (3/8" - 1/2" in diameter) together with a huge mass of small, tough, wiry roots. Are these feeder roots? (I had the idea that feeder roots were supple.) So I removed the large roots with a pruning saw and used a small garden hand rake (?) to remove every bit of the previous mix. In the process, some of these small wiry roots came off. I also removed all roots that had "hooked around" and were growing upwards, as well as roots growing directly beneath the root mass. When placing them in their containers (6-7 gallon), I kept the mix at the same level they had originally been in. (It's said that this is critical when planting in-ground. Is it critical for container planted trees also?)
My biggest obstacle is keeping the trees solidly upright in the containers. One in particular, 'Shaina', is about 3 1/2' tall and in dire need of pruning (read top-heavy). I bought the trees last fall and kept them in their original containers. In removing the large roots, it now seems wobbly; I've placed four bamboo poles around it and will affix them to the trunk with string. I don't dare move it! In time, as feeder roots develop, will they help stabllize the tree in the mix or should I expect to continue with the bamboo supports. (For sure, any additional Jms I purchase will be much smaller!)
Sorry to be running on and on. I have more questions and need suggestions. If I should start a new thread, please let me know.
Grace: Loved your pics and commentary! They're beautiful!! I feel so dumb; I don't know how to pronounce many of them. Perhaps you'll give me some (lots) of pointers with houseplants when I get there! BTW, do you root prune these plants?

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 8:46AM
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not sure about tree's Gary.

I did some thyme yesterday it was really balled up root bound in the pot so I just cut 70 % roots off they haven't keeled over so maybe its ok to get stuck in to the roots some one will come along who knows more than me I am sure, but we are all students here I think and that's why I like it here there are no guru's only people farther along.

I start to worry when I hear people who know everything :)

your having a go mate and that's all we are asked to do in this life :)


    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 12:38PM
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Hi Gary,

Heh, thank you -- but I'm not the one to ask re: houseplants. I daresay these are all thriving ONLY because of Al's mix, and I know Al has like a bazillion houseplants.

It reads like you did an awesome job, though. Sounds like a harsh root pruning job you did, which I do, too. And yes, without the bogged down soil around it and much less roots, it should be hard to keep upright for a little while. I haven't done any official trees in GM as of yet -- I don't have room for trees! :-) But I have had this problem with taller trees even in new, loose soil outside so it's not surprising. Even now, with plants I prune heavily due to messed up roots, they require some time to establish into the mix. Like my cacti -- tall and growing new taller offsets, they are wobbly for a little while but a month or two later, do not budge at all.

I'm sure Al or Josh or someone who has transplanted trees will comment, but my answer is YES: with time and watering, the pieces on GM will settle around what is left of the roots, and the roots will grow into the mix. What I do not know is how long -- I'd say at least 2-3 months and stakes will not be required. But with strong, strong winds -- as you know, all bets are off. That would apply in any mix and with 7 gallon containers full of GM, the likelihood of the tree flying out is greater than the pot toppling over. That must be HEAVY, lol. But otherwise, I find that all of my plants have settled strongly into gritty mix.

Should you lose leaves -- don't be alarmed. Just keep it in shade for the time being and slowly reintroduce into light later. With that kind of root pruning, it's expected. Below is a thread where that one Croton drooped completely after I repotted (and pruned too hard). It took Marguerite and Al to save it, haha. Like I said, I am not your houseplant expert! :-D

Great job, Gary!!

Here is a link that might be useful: Mammy thread

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 3:09PM
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Hi Grace and BZ
Well, BZ, if your thyme is hanging in there after that much pruning, maybe I'll be okay! I certainly beheaded a lot of roots. :) And it's always a good thing to hear something positive: be assured, I'm dedicated to giving it a go! I'm wishing all three of us (am definitely including Grace) good fortune in planting _ and life.
Grace, I couldn't resist picking up several (I hope five still qualifies as "several") Jms at the local nursery. I did, however, purchase them in a significantly smaller size than the ones recently put into containers. I'd like to eliminate that "toppling over" potential with which I'm currently dealing. Plus I'm slowly discovering that a big part of the enjoyment of planting is watching the plant not just grow taller and wider but, more importantly, "develop" and "mature" (perhaps, even, "evolve"). Hey, maybe I'm maturing (from old to older) and realizing the downside of immediate gratification. :)
Sorry to get off topic.
Love your succulents and cacti. And, like you, I'm really not bothered by the need to water more frequently. So I'll be using the larger pieces of Reptibark (1/4" - 1/2") that I didn't use in the original gritty mix (1/8" - 1/4"). Given the cost and (at least with mine) the fact that only about one third met the size requirements, I really hated the idea of discarding so much.
One more question for both of you. Down the road, I might begin using pine bark in the gritty mix. Al recommends using uncomposted bark. How do you differentiate between composted and uncomposted pine bark? The packaging I've looked at makes no reference to it.
Best to you both.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 3:21PM
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Hi Gary

thyme is still going well :) so must have done something right and have put that in the memory bank.

composted bark will be blackish looking and uncomposted will be that tan colour.

I am thinking of getting a grafted fruit tree for a pot so will need to start looking for some new ingredients for gritty mix.

I have used different size bark in test pots and see what does the best here, all part of the fun I guess.

I brought a blower vac to make bark smaller if I have to and it works pretty well :)


    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 8:50AM
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BK and Grace
Believe it or not, BK, that leaf blower had crossed my mind a few times. Saw one advertised that blows, vacuums and mulches. Drove to Lowe's to take a look at it and got a shock: the blades that were supposed to do the mulching/grinding were made of plastic! Now I know that plastic is hard and can take a beating but, considering the grinding it will be expected to do, I was a bit leery. It just so happened that I saw another leaf vac there, made by a different manufacturer, that has metal blades. I think I just might give it a try. If I can chop up all that leftover ReptiBark, I'll feel a lot happier.
FYI I just put up a new post on this forum: it concerns watering and the correct amounts to use. I hope both of you will add your advice and comments.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2013 at 4:52PM
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Hey terratoma, I definitely do recommend you only use the large reptibark pieces after getting them to a smaller size. Out of laziness I initially didn't exclude chunks larger than 1/4 inch. Now that I've done it right in this most recent batch time, I'm pretty sure the stuff with larger chunks has a noticeably harder time staying moist. Granted I'm basing this mainly off of a couple of passion vines that share a pot and are pretty thirsty, active growers, but it's consistent with less total surface area holding less water.

Since I saw some comments about gypsum and Epsom salt, I'll point out that you only need these if you aren't supplying via fertilizer. I have a useless bag of gypsum I shouldn't have opened myself--the confusion arises from some older threads I believe, because Al was using both prior to becoming more comfortable with foliage pro, which supplies both Ca and Mg.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2013 at 2:09AM
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Hi Gary

the blower vac mulcher on mine has a plastic round thing like a jet engine seems to work ok on bark, the problem I have had is the bag not handling the bark hitting it they are like little bombs going off, so I duct taped the bag can fix anything with duct tape :)

if the steal blade is the same price then I would get that one but the plastic seems pretty good so far, pretty good tool for braking the bark down and it comes out about the right size too for 5.1.1 :)

hope the tree is hanging in there:)


    Bookmark   May 24, 2013 at 6:38AM
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