Gritty Mix Questions

Waryap(5a CO)May 4, 2011

Last November, I received 10 young trees for joining the National Arbor Day Foundation. As I was potting them, I began contemplating something which I had thought about numerous times before, but only in passing. Namely, "This potting soil can't be the best for my trees." I don't know a lot about horticulture, but I know enough to know that plants don't like constantly being in soggy soil and they do like air reaching their roots. Regular potting soil just didn't seem right for containers. I thought about various alternatives, including simply planting in coarse sand or small gravel. But alas, I knew very little about things like pH and fertilizing and how plants take up nutrients and biota, and I was sure there were plenty of other things I didn't know and didn't know I needed to know them.

But this time I was prompted to jump onto my computer and search. Someone, somewhere on the World Wide Web surely has thoughts on a planting medium that would make more sense to me. It took very little time at all before I found the Gardenweb site and specifically "Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention". I was SO pleased to find someone who not only had the same basic idea I had, but actually had the knowledge to explain why it works and how to make it work best.

So, thank you, thank you, thank you, Al, for all that I have learned over the past several months. And thank you, too, to the countless others on here who have also shared their knowledge and experiences and, just as importantly, have asked the questions. I have read so many posts, some going back 5 or more years. It was pretty exciting to become familiar with some of the names of people answering questions today and then reading questions from a while back being asked by these same people.

Despite the 100's of posts I've read, many more than once, I do have a few questions. I made my first batch of the Gritty and, as per the instructions, added gypsum to the mix. I have 3 of my trees repotted in the mix. A couple of days later (of course) I came across a qualifier: if your fertilizer includes calcium and magnesium, you can forgo the gypsum and Epsom salt. I'll be fertigating with the Dyna-Gro Foliage-Pro. I'd really rather avoid having to dump my first batch and I'd also rather not have to make separate batches of fertilizer. Assuming ANY of the following are OK, which would be best?.....

A) Add gypsum to the new batch and include Epsom in the fertigation (despite using Foliage-Pro),

B) Don't add gypsum to the new batch and don't include Epsom in the fertigation (despite the old batch having gypsum added),

C) Don't add gypsum to the new batch, but do include Epsom in the fertigation (despite the new batch not having gypsum).

I'd like some clarification on when to begin adding fertilizer. I've read "2 weeks" and "once there are signs of new growth". 8 of the trees are deciduous and came to me as 8-12 inch sticks with roots attached. Some are showing what I think would be termed "bud swell" and some (hopefully still alive) are not. Is bud swell my sign of new growth or should I be waiting for branches to emerge or should I just wait about 2 weeks and leave it at that?

Thanks again.


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Not being the tree expert Al is, I can't answer your questions, but I did want to extend a welcome to GW... which also includes others I have yet to welcome... and to just say... isn't it great to finally find the answers we've searched for?! Isn't it fabulous to have the knowledge of what's happening under the soil surface, and to learn how to apply that knowledge in our own growing?!

When I first stumbled onto the article you mention above, "Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention", it was like a lightening bolt hit me! I'd been asleep at the wheel of gardening for so long, and I didn't even know it! Al reached out with his wonderfully written words and woke me up!

So... even though I can't offer words of wisdom where your trees are concerned, I can offer a welcome, which goes for everyone joining us lately, and I can offer support as part of the group effort we've got going on here! :-)

Happy Gardening!

    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 9:52AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hi, Paul - and welcome to the forum(s). I'm sure that we all appreciate your kind expression, I know I do, so thank you very much.

If you can keep the trees in the soil with gypsum added separate from the others, I think I would leave things as they are and include a small amount of Epsom salts in your fertilizer solution each time you fertilize - this not so much for it's nutritional content, but to help balance the available Ca:Mg ratio to prevent the possibility of a Ca antagonism inhibiting uptake of Mg. I think I would probably only do this for the first growth cycle if you're using the 9-3-6.

Having grown a few varied plants for a couple of years using FP 9-3-6 sans the gypsum & Epsom salts, I feel pretty confident saying that you can forgo these compounds if you're using FP, so option 'B' would be what I would adhere to.

Budswell & the emergence of the first generation of leaves isn't necessarily an indication of new growth. There is a starch deposit at the base of each bud that contains enough energy (after the starch is metabolized) to open the bud & produce the first leaf or pair of leaves (depending on leaf arrangement) - all that's needed is for the plant to have the ability to keep the leaves hydrated - even roots are unnecessary. I would look at 'new' growth as the second generation of leaves after dormancy or a newly forming leaf or leaf set after a procedure, like a hard pruning or repotting of an evergreen.

You sound like a budding bonsaiist. ;-)


    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 10:09AM
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Waryap(5a CO)

Thanks for the welcome, Jodi. You're one of those I mentioned who I've noticed answering questions more recently and then found when I'm looking at posts from a few years ago, you're asking the questions. So congratulations to you! Hopefully that'll be me in a few years.

Al, either you misunderstood what I was asking or else you have an answer I wasn't looking for, so I just want to clarify. I was hoping to NOT keep the gypsum added trees separated so that I wouldn't have to make separate fertilizer batches. For that scenario, I was asking which of the 3 options would be best. OR you did understand me and you're saying I really ought to keep them separated. I guess it wouldn't be a huge deal since it'd only be for the first year.

In the meantime though, don't bother with the fertilizer until the 2nd generation of leaves emerge and just use plain water until then?

Bonsai trees fascinate me. I'm not sure I have the patience for it, but I already know so much more about plant physiology than I did a few months ago, that maybe I'll give it a go at some point.

For future reference, when it comes to root pruning, I understand I should remove the roots beneath the trunk and keep those that are going laterally. Does that include removing the tap root?

    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 3:17PM
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Thank you, Waryap! It's amazing how much we think we know when we begin... and then, when we're lucky enough to find the information that makes perfect sense, "we didn't know that we didn't know so much", as one gardener recently put it!

I think a lot of the more complicated scientific writings and books on some of the issues are a little intimidating, so we tend to shy away from the science and physics, but Al has done all the heavy lifting for us, so to speak, breaking it all down into easy to understand information!

I began searching for more information in the hopes of figuring out why my Hippeastrum bulbs kept rotting, and along the way, I've learned so much! I'll probably never be at Al's level, but I do think I've learned enough to share a little of it, and try to help others.

Stick around... the folks here are great, and so supportive! There's something about nurturing plants that makes most people who do so very nice, generous, helpful souls... don't be afraid to ask questions, and feel free to share your plant and garden photos! We'd love to see the results of your growing efforts! :-)

    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 4:18PM
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Waryap(5a CO)

I thought I was about done with past posts, but have now come across "Trees in Containers". What a wealth of information! I've stayed up WAY past my bedtime, but read through part I. Two parts yet to go! I know what I'm doing this weekend. And I found the answer to my tap root question....

"Root pruning can start immediately with year-old seedlings by removing the taproot just below the basal flare of dormant material, repotting, and treating the plant as a cutting. This will produce a plant with flat rootage that radiates outward from the base and that will be easy to care for in the future."

I've also learned 2 new vocabulary words: basal flare and internodes.

Jodi, I totally agree with what you said about Al. What he says is scientific enough to have merit, yet simple enough to not go over my head.

I think gardening, and nature in general, tends to not attract the overly aggressive types, which makes things pleasant. I've seen a few exceptions on here, but not many.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 6:28AM
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Well put, Waryap... I agree. I don't think it's gardening that attracts those few exceptions, either... I think it's more a message board thing. You'll find that every message board has its typical, recognizable players. But that aside, the majority of folks are simply wonderful. Most are not only plant lovers, but pet lovers, too, the ratio being interestingly high.

I await each of Al's articles with bated breath, knowing there will be a wealth of information contained therein. And I don't have to worry that it will be too technical or scientifically complicated for me to grasp. I know that each writing will have meritorious information that I can use... and whether I grow bonsai or not, a good portion of it will translate nicely to the plants I do grow and the trees and shrubs in my yard.

Some of the ideas are so common sense that I'm surprised they didn't occur to me long ago, proving how filled with misinformation and wive's tales the world of gardening really is! I don't know... maybe I just thought some of it was a lot more complicated than it is. Take fertilizer, as example... the store shelves are loaded with different formulas. But when it comes right down to it, most plants require basically the same things, so why would we need so many different mixtures? We don't!

Al has become my mentor, and the work he's done and shared has opened up the world of growing for me exponentially. My previous failures have become today's successes, and learning what I have has made gardening all that much more enjoyable!

Anyway... we're glad to have you join us. To tell you the truth, I've been thinking about trying bonsai, myself... Al makes it look and sound a lot less complicated than I had originally thought... plus, I have a gorgeous little Japanese Maple that I'm not sure what to do with... a candidate for bonsai, perhaps? Hmmm!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 7:47AM
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You certainly have a way of expression how I feel about such a most educated and generous man that has been there for my success too

Thank You


    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 9:29AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Waryap - I read your follow-up question late at night & must have thought I answered it, but as I looked at all the kindness offered in the last few posts (thank you all very much!)I realize I didn't.

If you want to treat all the containers in similar fashion by applying FP 9-3-6 only (to everything) - go ahead. The very worst that could happen is you might notice symptoms of a MG deficiency due to the extra Ca in the soil, but I doubt it would be significant ..... and you probably wouldn't even notice it. So - it's option 'B' that I'd choose.


    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 3:42PM
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Waryap(5a CO)

Sweet. Thank you.

I have 3 more questions, but 1 has to do with fertilizing and 1 has to do with soil, so I'll ask those in "Fertilizer Program III" and "Container Soils XIII".

As for the 3rd question, someone had asked somewhere at some time about the practice of using skewers to test the soil's moisture. He or she had a concern about trauma to the roots and breaking down the soil. Their question was never addressed, so I thought I'd bring it up again here. I'm not so much concerned about the soil, but I too was wondering about any problems this practice could cause the roots. It seems like right after repotting is when checking the moisture would be done most often (until you get a sense of a plant's needs), and this I'd think is when roots would be most susceptible to being disturbed.

I assume that since so many people use this practice, it's not a problem, but just to assuage my concern for my poor baby plants, someone please confirm that I have nothing to worry about.


    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 4:40PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Most people are phobic about disturbing roots, but if you were around while I was repotting or putting together mixed display containers, you'd lose that fear in wide-eyed wonderment at the madman ripping the bottom half of the roots off of all his cell packs & 3 or 4" potted plants, then working his fingers up into the center of the root mass & spreading the roots apart unceremoniously. ;o)

It's pretty hard to do any significant damage to roots with a skewer, since breaking a root is probably a good thing because smaller roots will be generated at and proximal to the break.


    Bookmark   May 6, 2011 at 10:49PM
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Waryap(5a CO)

Awesome, then I'll jab away at will! Thanks for answering this and my other questions.

The 8 deciduous trees I got last fall (3 maples, 2 oaks, birch, dogwood, and redbud) came to me bare rooted and all looked like sticks with a tap root and very few other roots. I don't know how old they are, but not including the tap root, range from 12 to 20 inches in length. My question is, since root pruning wasn't necessary, should I still keep them in the shade for a couple of weeks after repotting from regular potting soil into the Gritty Mix or is that only recommended because of the root pruning?

I'm done with "Trees in Containers II". One part to go.


    Bookmark   May 7, 2011 at 4:08AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It's better to keep them (deciduous) from full sun and a lot of wind for a couple of weeks until they start getting their feet back under them.


    Bookmark   May 7, 2011 at 11:30AM
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