Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)July 11, 2014

If you find value in the information I've set down in this post and feel there is anything pertaining to the topic that should be added or gone into in more detail, please contribute your suggestions. My goal was to offer soil-related information with the potential to help you increase the reward you get in return for your efforts. What might I do to increase the value of this offering?

Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XXcolor>size>
I first posted this thread back in March of '05. So far, it has reached the maximum number of posts GW allows to a single thread nineteen times, which is much more attention than I ever imagined it would garner. I have reposted it in no small part because it has been great fun, and a wonderful catalyst in the forging of new friendships and in increasing the length of my list of acquaintances with similar growing interests. The forum and email exchanges that stem so often from the subject are in themselves enough to make me hope the subject continues to pique interest, and the exchanges provide helpful information. Most of the motivation for posting this thread another time comes from the reinforcement of hundreds of participants over the years that strongly suggests the information provided in good-spirited collective exchange has made a significant difference in the quality of their growing experience. I'll provide links to some of the more recent of the previous dozen threads and nearly 3,000 posts at the end of what I have written - just in case you have interest in reviewing some of the excellent conversations we've had on the subject. Thank you for taking the time to examine this topic - I hope that any/all who read it, take at least something interesting and helpful from it. I know it's long. My hope is that you find it worth the read, and the time you invest results in a significantly improved growing experience. Since there are many questions about soils appropriate for use in containers, I'll post basic mix recipes later, in case any would like to try the soil. The recipes will follow information that explains a concept that almost certainly represents the largest step forward a conventional container grower can take at any one time. The most important thing you can take from what I've written is an understanding of the concept explained here. I'm sure I'll stress that point more than once, and hope that as you start reading, you'll work toward attaining the ability to make your soils work FOR you, instead of against you.

Before we get started, I'd like to mention that I wrote a reply and posted it to a thread recently, and I think it is well worth considering. It not only sets a minimum standard for what constitutes a 'GOOD' soil, but also points to the fact that not all growers look at container soils from the same perspective, which is why growers so often disagree on what makes a 'good' soil. I hope you find it thought provoking:

Is Soil X a 'Good' Soil?size>color>

I think any discussion on this topic must largely center around the word "GOOD", and we can broaden the term 'good' so it also includes 'quality' or 'suitable', as in "Is soil X a quality or suitable soil?"

How do we determine if soil A or soil B is a good soil? and before we do that, we'd better decide if we are going to look at it from the plant's perspective or from the grower's perspective, because often there is a considerable amount of conflict to be found in the overlap - so much so that one can often be mutually exclusive of the other.

We can imagine that grower A might not be happy or satisfied unless knows he is squeezing every bit of potential from his plants, and grower Z might not be happy or content unless he can water his plants before leaving on a 2-week jaunt, and still have a weeks worth of not having to water when he returns. Everyone else is somewhere between A and Z; with B, D, F, H, J, L, N, P, R, T, V, X, and Y either unaware of how much difference soil choice can make, or they understand but don't care.

I said all that to illustrate the large measure of futility in trying to establish any sort of standard as to what makes a good soil from the individual grower's perspective; but let's change our focus from the pointless to the possible.

We're only interested in the comparative degrees of 'good' and 'better' here. It would be presumptive to label any soil "best". 'Best I've found' or 'best I've used' CAN sometimes be useful for comparative purposes, but that's a very subjective judgment. Let's tackle 'good', then move on to 'better', and finally see what we can do about qualifying these descriptors so they can apply to all growers.

I would like to think that everyone would prefer to use a soil that can be described as 'good' from the plant's perspective. How do we determine what a plant wants? Surprisingly, we can use %s established by truly scientific studies that are widely accepted in the greenhouse and nursery trades to determine if a soil is good or not good - from the plant's perspective, that is. Rather than use confusing numbers that mean nothing to the hobby grower, I can suggest that our standard for a good soil should be, at a minimum, that you can water that soil properly. That means, that at any time during the growth cycle, you can water your plantings to beyond the point of saturation (so excess water is draining from the pot) without the fear of root rot or compromised root function or metabolism due to (take your pick) too much water or too little air in the root zone.

I think it's very reasonable to withhold the comparative basic descriptor, 'GOOD', from soils that can't be watered properly without compromising root function, or worse, suffering one of the fungaluglies that cause root rot. I also think anyone wishing to make the case from the plant's perspective that a soil that can't be watered to beyond saturation w/o compromising root health can be called 'good', is fighting on the UP side logic hill.

So I contend that 'good' soils are soils we can water correctly; that is, we can flush the soil when we water without concern for compromising root health/function/metabolism. If you ask yourself, "Can I water correctly if I use this soil?" and the answer is 'NO' ... it's not a good soil ... for the reasons stated above.

Can you water correctly using most of the bagged soils readily available? 'NO', I don't think I need to point to a conclusion.

What about 'BETTER'? Can we determine what might make a better soil? Yes, we can. If we start with a soil that meets the minimum standard of 'good', and improve either the physical and/or chemical properties of that soil, or make it last longer, then we have 'better'. Even if we cannot agree on how low we wish to set the bar for what constitutes 'good', we should be able to agree that any soil that reduces excess water retention, increases aeration, ensures increased potential for optimal root health, and lasts longer than soils that only meet some one's individual and arbitrary standard of 'good', is a 'better' soil.

All the plants we grow, unless grown from seed, have the genetic potential to be beautiful specimens. It's easy to say, and easy to see the absolute truth in the idea that if you give a plant everything it wants it will flourish and grow; after all, plants are programmed to grow just that way. Our growing skills are defined by our ability to give plants what they want. The better we are at it, the better our plants will grow. But we all know it's not that easy. Lifetimes are spent in careful study, trying to determine just exactly what it is that plants want and need to make them grow best.

Since this is a soil discussion, let's see what the plant wants from its soil. The plant wants a soil in which we have endeavored to provide in available form, all the essential nutrients, in the ratio in at which the plant uses them, and at a concentration high enough to prevent deficiencies yet low enough to make it easy to take up water (and the nutrients dissolved in the water). First and foremost, though, the plant wants a container soil that is evenly damp, never wet or soggy. Giving a plant what it wants, to flourish and grow, doesn't include a soil that is half saturated for a week before aeration returns to the entire soil mass, even if you only water in small sips. Plants might do 'ok' in some soils, but to actually flourish, like they are genetically programmed to do, they would need to be unencumbered by wet, soggy soils.

We become better growers by improving our ability to reduce the effects of limiting factors, or by eliminating those limiting factors entirely; in other words, by clearing out those influences that stand in the way of the plant reaching its genetic potential. Even if we are able to make every other factor that influences plant growth/vitality absolutely perfect, it could not make up for a substandard soil. For a plant to grow to its genetic potential, every factor has to be perfect, including the soil. Of course, we'll never manage to get to that point, but the good news is that as we get closer and closer, our plants get better and better; and hopefully, we'll get more from our growing experience.

In my travels, I've discovered it almost always ends up being that one little factor that we willingly or unwittingly overlooked that limits us in our abilities, and our plants in their potential.

Food for thought:
A 2-bit plant in a $10 soil has a future full of potential, where a $10 plant in a 2-bit soil has only a future filled with limitations. ~ Al

Container Soils - Water Movement & Retentionsize>color>

As container gardeners, our first priority should be to ensure the soils we use are adequately aerated for the life of the planting, or in the case of perennial material (trees, shrubs, garden perennials), from repot to repot. Soil aeration/drainage is the most important consideration in any container planting. Soils are the foundation that all container plantings are built on, and aeration is the very cornerstone of that foundation. Since aeration and drainage are inversely linked to soil particle size, it makes good sense to try to find and use soils or primary components with particles larger than peat/compost/coir. Durability and stability of soil components so they contribute to the retention of soil structure for extended periods is also extremely important. Pine and some other types of conifer bark fit the bill nicely, but I'll talk more about various components later.

What I will write also hits pretty hard against the futility in using a drainage layer of coarse materials in attempt to improve drainage. It just doesn't work. All it does is reduce the total volume of soil available for root colonization. A wick can be employed to remove water from the saturated layer of soil at the container bottom, but a drainage layer is not effective. A wick can be made to work in reverse of the self-watering pots widely being discussed on this forum now.

Consider this if you will:

Container soils are all about structure, and particle size plays the primary role in determining whether a soil is suited or unsuited to the application. Soil fills only a few needs in container culture. Among them are: Anchorage - a place for roots to extend, securing the plant and preventing it from toppling. Nutrient Retention - it must retain a nutrient supply in available form sufficient to sustain plant systems. Gas Exchange - it must be amply porous to allow air to move through the root system and gasses that are the by-product of decomposition to escape. Water - it must retain water enough in liquid and/or vapor form to sustain plants between waterings. Air - it must contain a volume of air sufficient to ensure that root function/metabolism/growth is not impaired. This is extremely important and the primary reason that heavy, water-retentive soils are so limiting in their affect. Most plants can be grown without soil as long as we can provide air, nutrients, and water, (witness hydroponics). Here, I will concentrate primarily on the movement and retention of water in container soil(s).

There are two forces that cause water to move through soil - one is gravity, the other capillary action. Gravity needs little explanation, but for this writing I would like to note: Gravitational flow potential (GFP) is greater for water at the top of the container than it is for water at the bottom. I'll return to that later.

Capillarity is a function of the natural forces of adhesion and cohesion. Adhesion is water's tendency to stick to solid objects like soil particles and the sides of the pot. Cohesion is the tendency for water to stick to itself. Cohesion is why we often find water in droplet form - because cohesion is at times stronger than adhesion; in other words, water's bond to itself can be stronger than the bond to the object it might be in contact with; cohesion is what makes water form drops. Capillary action is in evidence when we dip a paper towel in water. The water will soak into the towel and rise several inches above the surface of the water. It will not drain back into the source, and it will stop rising when the GFP equals the capillary attraction of the fibers in the paper.

There will be a naturally occurring "perched water table" (PWT) in containers when soil particulate size is under about .100 (just under 1/8) inch. Perched water is water that occupies a layer of soil at the bottom of containers or above coarse drainage layers that tends to remain saturated & will not drain from the portion of the pot it occupies. It can evaporate or be used by the plant, but physical forces will not allow it to drain. It is there because the capillary pull of the soil at some point will surpass the GFP; therefore, the water does not drain, it is said to be 'perched'. The smaller the size of the particles in a soil, the greater the height of the PWT. Perched water can be tightly held in heavy (comprised of small particles) soils where it perches (think of a bird on a perch) just above the container bottom where it will not drain; or, it can perch in a layer of heavy soil on top of a coarse drainage layer, where it will not drain.

Imagine that we have five cylinders of varying heights, shapes, and diameters, each with drain holes. If we fill them all with the same soil mix, then saturate the soil, the PWT will be exactly the same height in each container. This saturated area of the container is where roots initially seldom penetrate & where root problems frequently begin due to a lack of aeration and the production of noxious gasses. Water and nutrient uptake are also compromised by lack of air in the root zone. Keeping in mind the fact that the PWT height is dependent on soil particle size and has nothing to do with height or shape of the container, we can draw the conclusion that: If using a soil that supports perched water, tall growing containers will always have a higher percentage of unsaturated soil than squat containers when using the same soil mix. The reason: The level of the PWT will be the same in each container, with the taller container providing more usable, air holding soil above the PWT. From this, we could make a good case that taller containers are easier to grow in.

A given volume of large soil particles has less overall surface area when compared to the same volume of small particles and therefore less overall adhesive attraction to water. So, in soils with large particles, GFP more readily overcomes capillary attraction. They simply drain better and hold more air. We all know this, but the reason, often unclear, is that the height of the PWT is lower in coarse soils than in fine soils. The key to good drainage is size and uniformity of soil particles. Mixing large particles with small is often very ineffective because the smaller particles fit between the large, increasing surface area which increases the capillary attraction and thus the water holding potential. An illustrative question: How much perlite do we need to add to pudding to make it drain well?

I already stated I hold as true that the grower's soil choice when establishing a planting for the long term is the most important decision he/she will make. There is no question that the roots are the heart of the plant, and plant vitality is inextricably linked in a hard lock-up with root vitality. In order to get the best from your plants, you absolutely must have happy roots.

If you start with a water-retentive medium, you cannot effectively amend it to improve aeration or drainage characteristics by adding larger particulates. Sand, perlite, Turface, calcined DE ...... none of them will work effectively. To visualize why sand and perlite can't change drainage/aeration, think of how well a pot full of BBs would drain (perlite); then think of how poorly a pot full of pudding would drain (bagged soil). Even mixing the pudding and perlite/BBs together 1:1 in a third pot yields a mix that retains the drainage characteristics and PWT height of the pudding. It's only after the perlite become the largest fraction of the mix (60-75%) that drainage & PWT height begins to improve. At that point, you're growing in perlite amended with a little potting soil.

You cannot add coarse material to fine material and improve drainage or the ht of the PWT. Use the same example as above & replace the pudding with play sand or peat moss or a peat-based potting soil - same results. The benefit in adding perlite to heavy soils doesn't come from the fact that they drain better. The fine peat or pudding particles simply 'fill in' around the perlite, so drainage & the ht of the PWT remains the same. All perlite does in heavy soils is occupy space that would otherwise be full of water. Perlite simply reduces the amount of water a soil is capable of holding because it is not internally porous. IOW - all it does is take up space. That can be a considerable benefit, but it makes more sense to approach the problem from an angle that also allows us to increase the aeration AND durability of the soil. That is where Pine bark comes in, and I will get to that soon.

If you want to profit from a soil that offers superior drainage and aeration, you need to start with an ingredient as the basis for your soils that already HAVE those properties, by ensuring that the soil is primarily comprised of particles much larger than those in peat/compost/coir/sand/topsoil, which is why the recipes I suggest as starting points all direct readers to START with the foremost fraction of the soil being large particles, to ensure excellent aeration. From there, if you choose, you can add an appropriate volume of finer particles to increase water retention. You do not have that option with a soil that is already extremely water-retentive right out of the bag.

I fully understand that many are happy with the results they get when using commercially prepared soils, and I'm not trying to get anyone to change anything. My intent is to make sure that those who are having trouble with issues related to soil, understand why the issues occur, that there are options, and what they are.

We have seen that adding a coarse drainage layer at the container bottom does not improve drainage. It does though, reduce the volume of soil required to fill a container, making the container lighter. When we employ a drainage layer in an attempt to improve drainage, what we are actually doing is moving the level of the PWT higher in the pot. This simply reduces the volume of soil available for roots to colonize. Containers with uniform soil particle size from top of container to bottom will yield better and more uniform drainage and have a lower PWT than containers using the same soil with added drainage layers.

The coarser the drainage layer, the more detrimental to drainage it is because water is more (for lack of a better scientific word) reluctant to make the downward transition because the capillary pull of the soil above the drainage layer is stronger than the GFP. The reason for this is there is far more surface area on soil particles for water to be attracted to in the soil above the drainage layer than there is in the drainage layer, so the water perches. I know this goes against what most have thought to be true, but the principle is scientifically sound, and experiments have shown it as so. Many nurserymen employ the pot-in-pot or the pot-in-trench method of growing to capitalize on the science.

If you discover you need to increase drainage, you can simply insert an absorbent wick into a drainage hole & allow it to extend from the saturated soil in the container to a few inches below the bottom of the pot, or allow it to contact soil below the container where the earth acts as a giant wick and will absorb all or most of the perched water in the container, in most cases. Eliminating the PWT has much the same effect as providing your plants much more soil to grow in, as well as allowing more, much needed air in the root zone.

In simple terms: Plants that expire because of drainage problems either die of thirst because the roots have rotted and can no longer take up water, or they suffer/die because there is insufficient air at the root zone to insure normal root function, so water/nutrient uptake and root metabolism become seriously impaired.

To confirm the existence of the PWT and how effective a wick is at removing it, try this experiment: Fill a soft drink cup nearly full of garden soil. Add enough water to fill to the top, being sure all soil is saturated. Punch a drain hole in the bottom of the cup and allow the water to drain. When drainage has stopped, insert a wick into the drain hole . Take note of how much additional water drains. Even touching the soil with a toothpick through the drain hole will cause substantial additional water to drain. The water that drains is water that occupied the PWT. A greatly simplified explanation of what occurs is: The wick or toothpick "fools" the water into thinking the pot is deeper than it is, so water begins to move downward seeking the "new" bottom of the pot, pulling the rest of the water in the PWT along with it. If there is interest, there are other simple and interesting experiments you can perform to confirm the existence of a PWT in container soils. I can expand later in the thread.

I always remain cognizant of these physical principles whenever I build a soil. I have not used a commercially prepared soil in many years, preferring to build a soil or amend one of my 2 basic mixes to suit individual plantings. I keep many ingredients at the ready for building soils, but the basic building process usually starts with conifer bark and perlite. Sphagnum peat plays a secondary role in my container soils because it breaks down too quickly to suit me, and when it does, it impedes drainage and reduces aeration. Size matters. Partially composted conifer bark fines (pine is easiest to find and least expensive) works best in the following recipes, followed by uncomposted bark in the Bark fines of pine, fir or hemlock, are excellent as the primary component of your soils. The lignin contained in bark keeps it rigid and the rigidity provides air-holding pockets in the root zone far longer than peat or compost mixes that too quickly break down to a soup-like consistency. Conifer bark also contains suberin, a lipid sometimes referred to as nature's preservative. Suberin, more scarce as a presence in sapwood products and hardwood bark, dramatically slows the decomposition of conifer bark-based soils. It contains highly varied hydrocarbon chains and the microorganisms that turn peat to soup have great difficulty cleaving these chains - it retains its structure.

Note that there is no sand or compost in the soils I use. Sand, as most of you think of it, can improve drainage in some cases, but it reduces aeration by filling valuable macro-pores in soils. Unless sand particle size is fairly uniform and/or larger than about BB size, I leave it out of soils. Compost is too fine and unstable for me to consider using in soils in any significant volume as well. The small amount of micro-nutrients it supplies can easily be delivered by one or more of a number of chemical or organic sources that do not detract from drainage/aeration.

The basic soils I use ....

The 5:1:1 mix:

5 parts pine bark fines, dust - 3/8 (size is important
1 part sphagnum peat (not reed or sedge peat please)
1-2 parts perlite (coarse, if you can get it)
garden lime (or gypsum in some cases)
controlled release fertilizer (if preferred)

Big batch:
2-3 cu ft pine bark fines
5 gallons peat
5 gallons perlite
2 cups dolomitic (garden) lime (or gypsum in some cases)
2 cups CRF (if preferred)

Small batch:
3 gallons pine bark
1/2 gallon peat
1/2 gallon perlite
4 tbsp lime (or gypsum in some cases)
1/4 cup CRF (if preferred)

I have seen advice that some highly organic (practically speaking - almost all container soils are highly organic) container soils are productive for up to 5 years or more. I disagree and will explain why if there is interest. Even if you were to substitute fir bark for pine bark in this recipe (and this recipe will long outlast any peat based soil) you should only expect a maximum of two to three years life before a repot is in order. Usually perennials, including trees (they're perennials too) should be repotted more frequently to insure they can grow at as close to their genetic potential within the limits of other cultural factors as possible. If a soil is desired that will retain structure for long periods, we need to look more to inorganic components. Some examples are crushed granite, fine stone, VERY coarse sand (see above - usually no smaller than BB size in containers, please), Haydite, lava rock (pumice), Turface, calcined DE, and others.

For long term (especially woody) plantings and houseplants, I use a superb soil that is extremely durable and structurally sound. The basic mix is equal parts of screened pine bark, Turface, and crushed granite.

The gritty mix:

1 part uncomposted screened pine or fir bark (1/8-1/4")
1 part screened Turface
1 part crushed Gran-I-Grit (grower size) or #2 cherrystone
1 Tbsp gypsum per gallon of soil (eliminate if your fertilizer has Ca)
CRF (if desired)

I use 1/8 -1/4 tsp Epsom salts (MgSO4) per gallon of fertilizer solution when I fertilize if the fertilizer does not contain Mg (check your fertilizer - if it is soluble, it is probable it does not contain Ca or Mg. If I am using my currently favored fertilizer (I use it on everything), Dyna-Gro's Foliage-Pro in the 9-3-6 formulation, and I don't use gypsum or Epsom salts in the fertilizer solution.

If there is interest, you'll find some of the more recent continuations of the thread at the links below:

Post XIX

Post XVIII

Post XVII

Post XVI

Post XV

Post XIV

If you feel you were benefited by having read this offering, you might also find this thread about Fertilizing Containerized Plants helpful.

If you do find yourself using soils you feel are too water-retentive, you'll find some Help Dealing with Water Retentive Soils by following this embedded link.

If you happen to be at all curious about How Plant Growth is Limited, just click the embedded link.

Finally, if you are primarily into houseplants, you can find an Overview of the Basics that should provide help in avoiding the most common pitfalls.

As always - best luck. Good growing!! Let me know if you think there is anything I might be able to help you with.

Al

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the_yard_guy(6A)

Al and everyone: Congratulations on starting thread #20! There is so much info in these 20 threads that Al has basically written a book on the subject. I think for my "winter reading" this year I'll be reviewing all 20 threads.

Thanks again to Al and all the experts here who make these threads possible.

TYG

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 7:24AM
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fidgety(9a)

Hello Al,

Some of us who grow plants in containers long-term are also growing from seed. It seems like a lot of commercial sowing mixes are too heavy, leading to the seeds rotting. Please could you give us your thoughts on soil mixtures for sowing ? What, if anything, would you change compared to your "standard" mix and your gritty mix ? Thanks!

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 9:45AM
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vance2804ibr(8a)

but I'm not supposed to cut them all off initially am I? Leave like 2 or 3?

I've got 2 plants that I did last year and did again this year. I didn't really chop them down but they look gorgeous. It's the new ones that look terrible. Sorry I'm not trying to be aggravating.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 10:17AM
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spaceman13(6b)

I start seeds in 5-1-1 and seed starter. I fill a cup with the 5-1-1, then use a dibble (it's actually one of those wine bottle cork replacement stoppers) to make a pit which I put in seed starter mix. When the seeds sprout, the roots go down through the starter mix and down into the 5-1-1. No re-potting necessary!

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 10:22AM
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spaceman13(6b)

A BIT OF ADVICE ON FINDING PINE BARK "FINES".

One tip in finding a suitable PBF is do not get hung up on the term "Fines"

I asked big box stores and nurseries and all said they never heard of it, and a few looked at me as if I had sprouted an EYESTALK out of the top of my head!

Even when I described what I wanted it for, they said they they didn't have it or know any place to get it!. I actually found suitable material at all most every one of those places! (the exception being primarily the big box stores)

Get to know what you are looking for, and look for it yourself instead of asking the store or garden center employee!

Look for "Pine Bark Mulch" (NOT nuggets or mini muggets)
flip the bag over and read the small print on the back or side of the bag. If it says "can be used as a soil conditioner" or particle size "1/2 inch to dust" or "100% pine bark" it is probably at least 65% useable product.

My current source, AGWAY Pine Bark Mulch, approaches 90% usable material, and nowhere on the bag will you find the term "fines"

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 12:17PM
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warpiper(8 Charleston, SC)

What is the best way to water plants in the 1-1-1 or succulent mix and how much of the water actually gets absorbed? The succulents seem to be happy in their mix but I'm a little concerned for the purple passion and peace lilys I have in the 1-1-1 mix. When I water (pour water over the top) it looks it goes right through and out the bottom almost immediately. I'm concerned that there might not be enough water/moisture remaining in the mix for the plant. Thanks.

Chris

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 2:22PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Thanks, YG!

Fidgety - I don't do much from seed, but I start a lot of woody cuttings. For that, I use the gritty mix almost exclusively. Seeds and cuttings like good aeration in the soil. In neither case would they do well if the seed or the proximal end of the cutting was immersed in the soggy layer of soil heavy soils support.

I wouldn't modify the gritty mix or the 5:1:1 mix - at least I wouldn't, given how I make them. What I might do is cover fine seeds with a thin layer of peat after they're situated on top of the soil, and use a Fogg-It hose nozzle or a hand spritzer to keep the top of the soil moist through germination.

Vance - I'd chop all the leaves off and make sure the soil that roots and crown are in can be watered appropriately, then just keep the soil damp and wait until it starts to push growth, at which time I'd start fertilizing.

WP - particle size is important. If too small, the soil will support perched water and you won't be able to get everything a soil with slightly larger particles can offer. Going the other direction, if particles are too large, you can still derive all the soil has to offer plants, but you'll suffer some inconvenience for having to water more often than if soil particles were of an ideal size.

It's not uncommon for even a perfectly made gritty mix to produce some angst in growers not used to it. The soil is designed to hold as much water as possible as intra-particulate (inside of soil particles) and as little as possible as inter-particulate water (between soil particles). Depending on what you're using for ingredients, you might find you need to change a ratio to get the water retention you need.

For now though, I'd suggest you try getting used to the 1:1:1 screened mix of Turface:bark:grit and make sure you're watering enough to keep the soil fraction occupied by roots of new transplants moist.

The best way to water is to water before the soil becomes hydrophobic. Water just enough so water barely starts to trickle out of the drain hole. Wait 10 minutes and water again - so at least 15-20% of the total volume of water applied in both applications exits the drain hole.

Do I water that way? Nope, but if I had more time and fewer plants I would.

Al

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 5:22PM
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vance2804ibr(8a)

Thanks Al that helps a lot. I did trim some of the leaves before I read your comment. They actually look a little better today, but I'm going to cut all the leaves.

Vance

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 6:15PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Al: You are very welcome. Thanks for sharing all of this knowledge with us. We and our plants thank you for this knowledge!

I wanted to share this with the group. Right now I'm running a very non-scientific experiment with a couple of 2-year old white spruce seedlings in a mix of 2 parts screened pine bark and 1 part diatomaceous earth (DE), plus 1 Tbsp Osmocote Plus CRF per gallon. No grit, perlite, gypsum or lime. They are in small plastic containers, about 1/2 gallon in size. These two sample trees had nice, healthy root structures when they went in this bark/DE mix about a month ago. So far everything above the soil line looks good. Nice green growth with no sign of any problems that I can detect. I believe the pH of this soil should be around 5.6 ((5+5+7)/3).

Since I know bark retains a fair amount of water, and DE retains quite a bit of water, and this mix contains no grit or perlite for drainage, I have been careful about watering. I'm using a wooden kebob skewer in the soil so I can monitor the moisture in the bottom of the container. We've had a lot of rain this year, and our daily temps have generally been low to mid 80's, so no really hot periods yet. The soil down in the root zone is staying fairly moist, at least according to the damp skewer. The top half of the container feels fairly dry to the touch. I water heavily about once per week and saturate the container.

So has anyone tried using DE and pine bark only? If so, what were your results? If I use a CRF like Osmocote plus, which contains major and minor elements, plus weak MG 24-8-16 every other week, do I need to add gypsum or lime to this 2-1 bark/DE soil mix?

I can take photos of the soil mix if anyone is interested.

Thanks.

TYG

This post was edited by the_yard_guy on Sat, Jul 12, 14 at 7:41

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 6:23PM
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warpiper(8 Charleston, SC)

Thanks Al,

I'll keep playing with the gritty mix. It's the first time I've used it so I do need to get used to it. Definite like the explanation/physics behind it. I'll change up my watering to. I've made several batches of the 5-1-1 mix and love it. It has been working well with my citrus trees and some of my wife's mini roses too.

Chris

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 10:29AM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Chris: Glad you are liking that 5-1-1 mix. It's really good, and the plants I have seem to be doing very well in it. How's your supply of pine bark holding up?

TYG

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 2:22PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Yard Guy,
the closest I have to bark and DE is the mix for my Avocado....which is a mix of mostly fir bark, then Turface, and then a lesser amount of red lava rock. When I first re-potted the plant, I didn't water properly, and thus the tree lost most of its leaves. Now, however, I've got the hang of it. The pot is small and the tree so root-bound that I water every other day in this 100F+ heat. I think I have some pics from back when I was screening and assembling this "experimental" mix. I got the idea from a past Gardenweb member who went by Justaguy.

Chris, if you don't have a bonsai watering can or a hose sprayer with a fine setting, I really recommend one. Watering the Gritty Mix, or gritty mixes more generally, should be done slowly and thoroughly, as Al mentioned. When you get the timing right, you'll notice that the mix absorbs moisture quite well. Also, as the roots become established in the mix, the flow-through rates won't be as dramatic.

Fir bark on the bottom, then the turface, and the lava rock.

Josh

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 1:09AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

"So has anyone tried using DE and pine bark only"

No, but it sounds like a good mix to me. Peat just holds even more moisture. Myself I might go back to the mud, as my pots are still drying way too fast. I need to set up a drip system I guess. It's the darn tomatoes, you can watch the soil dry as they just suck up so much water. My plants are near 7 feet now. The other plants are not as bad. I can leave them a few days in direct all day sun and they are fine. But not the tomatoes.
I myself am moving toward a live mix with compost, bacteria and fungi for vegetables. Results are excellent.
Mycorrhizal fungi just work so well, I'll always use them.
For non vegetables the soilless mixes are fine. I myself like Fafrad 55 mix, it's a 3-1-1 mix. I find that ratio a lot better, holds more moisture, is all around excellent.
Fafard did a lot of research , and a 5-1-1 would be cheaper to offer, but they found 3-1-1 to be a better ratio, I agree.
Vegetables work in these mixes too. I'm just not as impressed with the results. Acceptable, but not outstanding. i want outstanding.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 2:44AM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Josh and Drew: Thanks for the replies. Appreciate the info. So far the pine bark and DE soil experiment seems to be going quite well. The two white spruce seedlings are growing well in that mix.

Based on what I can observe the soil mix (2 parts bark, 1 part DE) seems to be holding enough moisture down in the root zone and provides good drainage without grit or perlite.

The pH of this mix should be about 5.5 or so without any amendments. I think that's a good number for many plants, but some might like it a bit higher.

This experiment is not scientific since the soil mix is only being tried on two very young trees. I have no idea how this would work with vegetables or flowering annuals. The thing I like about this mix is that it's only 2 ingredients and both can be reused a couple of seasons at least. If fir bark is used in place of pine bark then the soil might last for years.

I'll post a few photos of the mix this week.

Thanks.

TYG

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 7:42AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Fafard also offers a Heavyweight line of mixes - with two of those mixes, notably the "nursery" mix and the 51L, being quite good for "off the shelf" purchases. Both of those are approximately 5-1-1 mixes, although I think Fafard uses a little more bark actually.

Josh

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 11:02AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

It is also very important to note that Drew hasn't used these mixes, and his criticisms of the soil are really antagonisms directed at Al with whom he disagrees. He'll throw around terms like "dead mix," et cetera, but he doesn't have a personal understanding of these mixes. So be aware of that when evaluating his advice.

Josh

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 11:08AM
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warpiper(8 Charleston, SC)

Hi Yard Guy,

The pine bark is holding out. I picked up a yard of the stuff so its going to last a while. I have a sapphire shower that should be here today that I'm going to put into the 5-1-1 mix. I'm looking for other plants to get so I can make up more mix! Was going to do a 4-2-1 mix for the blueberry bushes I have but got side tracked and then it rained for most of the weekend. Might have to hit a few nurseries and craig's list to see if I can find some more plants to collect and pot up. :)

Chris

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 11:52AM
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fidgety(9a)

Hi Al,

Thanks very much for getting back to me on the seed mix question, that's really helpful.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 12:08PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Chris: Glad the mix is working well for you and that you are enjoying using it. Your plants should perform very well in that mix.

Josh: I've heard lots of good things about the Fafard mixes. Many professional growers speak highly of them. I've never found any nurseries in my area that carry the Fafard product line, mostly ProMix in this area. I wouldn't mind trying some Fafard mixes some day, but I know they are quite expensive. Wow, it's over 100F out there? Ha, I'm glad I'm here in the soggy Midwest. High in upper 60's tomorrow and rain.

TYG

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 6:14PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Drew talks about his experiments and how he's going to do this or that, and contradicts himself regularly. He often rethinks things without any experience in what he's rethinking.

In his recent post he delineates between vegetables and non vegetables, which makes no sense to me at all.

For non vegetables the soilless mixes are fine. Really? So you prefer a mix with mineral soil in it for vegetables, hmm?I myself like Fafrad [sic] 55 mix, it's a 3-1-1 mix. You know this how? I'm sure Fafard (recently acquired by SunGro) shared that info with you, yes? I find that ratio a lot better, holds more moisture, is all around excellent.
Fafard did a lot of research , and a 5-1-1 would be cheaper to offer, Sure they did ..... but they found 3-1-1 to be a better ratio, I agree. So why do they make so many different soils (dozens) if 3:1:1 is the way to go?

The truth is, the PBFs that Fafard uses are aged and very fine, even in their mixes that are predominantly bark. They might be a suitable medium for growers who can't or don't want to make their own soils, but they are structurally much different than soils you might make from uncomposted or partially composted pine bark.

Hey Drew - how about showing us a picture of the bag of Fafard 55 mix so we can see what to look for? I'll bet big you can't - the reason being, Fafard doesn't MAKE a mix numbered 55. Caught again. When you do this sort of thing in thread after thread, you completely destroy your own credibility. I don't get it. Is it really that much fun to stir the pot?

Al

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 6:19PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Hello All.

So far the pine park/DE experiment is going well. The two small seedling trees I have growing in that mix seem to be doing very well. The mix stays damp (not soggy) for long periods of time. Granted we've had lots of rain here recently and normal to slightly below-normal temps here for the last few weeks, so the soil really has not been put to any serious test in terms of hot, dry weather. I will keep you all posted on how this turns out.

In case anyone is interested in this mix, I'll share some photos.

The first photo is screened pine bark with both the very fine dusty material and the 1/2" and larger material removed. There is some sapwood in this mix, but I simply remove what I can by hand.

Next photo is the screened diatomaceous earth (DE). This is the OptiSorb brand of DE and is generally similar to the NAPA Floor Dry, but I believe OptiSorb has slightly larger particle sizes compared to NAPA Floor Dry.

Next photo is the 3 parts pine bark and 1 part DE soil mix. This mix has a very loose texture, similar to some bonsai soils. Again, some sapwood is included but I try to remove what I can by hand. Osmocote Plus CRF has not been added at this point.

Next photo shows one of the test trees, a 2-year old white spruce seedling. The seedling is about 10" tall in this photo and is planted in a typical nursery container. I added a few extra holes in the side to allow more air into the root zone.

Finally, 2 close up photos of the soil inside the container. You can see the loose soil texture and the yellow Osmocote Plus CRF in these photos. When wet, the DE turns a medium gray color, but when dry it turns to a very light gray/white color, as shown here.

Thanks.

TYG

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 8:44AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Did you add any dolomitic lime to the mix?

Al

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 10:36PM
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vance2804ibr(8a)

Hey Al. Just wanted to let you know they are starting to show growth. It's pretty awesome.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 11:05PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Al, thanks for the reply. For this experimental soil mix I did not add lime. I do add it to my standard 5-1-1 mix. In this experiment I figured that between the MG 24-8-16 water soluble fertilizer and the Osmocote Plus CRF with minors that I might not need to add lime.

Should I have included it in this pine bark/DE soil mix ?

Thanks.

TYG

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 8:58AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Ck the CRF label to see if it supplies Ca/Mg, because the MG doesn't.

Al

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 10:45AM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Al, I believe the Osmocote Plus CRF does contain all of the majors and minors but I will confirm this tonight. If not then I certainly would need to add lime.

Just curious, if I added lime to this 3-1 pine bark/ DE mix how much would the pH increase? I'm thinking the pH of this soil is around 5.5 without lime.

Thanks

TYG

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 11:33AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

The DE has no buffering capacity, so the pH of the soil is whatever the bark is - prolly in the 4.5-5.0 range unless it's undergone some anaerobic composting while windrowed, in which case it could be considerably lower.

Al

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 12:59PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Al,

Interesting. I was thinking the pine bark had pH of about 5, and DE pH of about 7, and therefore the pH of this mix would be about 5.5 ((5+5+5+7)/4).

So the DE does not raise the soil pH?

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 1:22PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

No - it's inert. Example - glass doesn't make vinegar more or less acidic.

Al

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 2:16PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Thanks for the basic soil pH lesson Al !

So just to help clarify this in my mind, the "buffering capacity" of a soil ingredient is the ability of that ingredient to change the existing soil pH. In this case, pine bark is very acidic ( roughly 3.5 to 5.5) and DE has a pH of about 7. My mistake was thinking that the pH of the DE would increase the overall pH of the soil mix. However, if the DE has no buffering capacity then it will have no effect on the pH of the soil, regardless of how much DE is used. Is that correct? If no buffering capacity then the material has no impact on the soil pH.

When making a soil mix, how can we tell if a particular ingredient has a buffering capacity? Lime obviously raises pH, sulfur lowers pH, but what about granite, perlite, Turface, etc ? All of those materials have a pH but do not necessarily have any buffering capacity, correct?

Thanks.

TYG

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 2:42PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Al,

This is the label from the Osmocote Plus that I use. This is the old formulation which, I believe, is no longer being made. I used about 1.5 Tbsp of this per gallon for the pine bark/DE soil mix.

TYG

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 6:58PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Al,

This morning I added some dolomitic lime to the two trees growing in the experimental pine bark/DE soil mix. I just scratched it into the surface and top several inches of the soil with my fingers as best as I could. This should help raise the pH and also add the missing Ca/Mg over the next week or two.

So my mistake here was to assume (I know, dangerous to do) that ALL components used in a soil mix impact the pH. Based on the "buffering capacity" of ingredients this is not true.

So for example, let's say that pine bark has a pH of 4, and that DE has a pH of 7. My original thinking was that when mixed at a 1:1 ratio that the final soil mix pH would be about 5.5, the average pH of the two ingredients. However, since you pointed out that the DE has no buffering capacity, then the DE is essentially inert and cannot change the pH of the pine bark. This means that the final soil pH of the pine bark/DE soil mix is still 4, not 5.5.

Do I have all of this correct?

Thanks.

TYG

    Bookmark   July 19, 2014 at 8:08AM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Great info ...

Been off of this forum for a while...

Great to see it roll over again!!!

Just wanted to say. "Great job, Al!! "

Josh. Love the look of your mix!!!

Laura

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 1:08AM
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jodik_gw

Just a quick bump!

Hey, People! How is everyone? How's the gardens lookin' this season?!

:-)

    Bookmark   July 23, 2014 at 9:18AM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Jodi: Thanks for the bump!

Update: The 2 white spruce seedlings growing in pine bark and DE as a soil experiment are doing well. They both show lots of new growth over the last few weeks.

As reported earlier, I did scratch in some lime to provide the missing Mg/Ca and help raise the pH a bit. The Osmocote CRF (label shown in earlier post) supplies both Ca and Mg, but it won't help with soil pH so I added the lime. Also, the well water I use for irrigation is fairly alkaline (I can't recall the exact number at the moment) but that may have helped keep the pH in a reasonable range for these trees.

So far I'm impressed how the 3-1 pine bark/DE mix holds moisture for roots without holding significant perched water. Even after a heavy rain very little water drips out of the container when tipped on edge. I'm in Zone 5b/6a so I don't have extremely hot weather like many other growers do, but so far I only have to water once or twice a week. I'm sure in the hotter zones I'd have to water more often, especially if I was growing veggies or flowering plants. White spruce tree seedlings probably need minimal water compared to tomatoes and the like.

TYG

    Bookmark   July 23, 2014 at 7:13PM
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jodik_gw

I'm glad to hear the mix is working so good for your trees!

I'm currently in zone 5... actually, we sit right in a little tail of zone 4b that curls down into northern IL from southern WI, but for all intents and purposes, it's zone 5.

For the majority of my potted plants, which include mainly amaryllids and a few other plant types, I use a close rendition of the Gritty Mix. I use fir bark, coarse perlite, granite chips... and I sometimes throw in a handful or two of a high quality potting soil just to give certain plant types that little extra moisture retention they require.

I kind of eyeball ratios when mixing batches of mediums... but I don't need that much, so a batch fits into a 2 gallon covered tupperware-like container.

With the addition of that handful of extra soil, certain pots retain exactly the kind of moisture they need and like... and I don't have to worry that they'll dry out too soon.

For my orchids and some other plant types, I omit the quality potting soil, and stick with the fir bark, perlite and granite as the mix. They're doing wonderfully!

Earlier, we mixed tractor bucket loads of composting wood mulch right into our vegetable garden... to help give it a little aeration... and it seems to be working! The vegetable plants are going nuts! My husband does the food preservation, and he's incredibly busy pickling and canning right now!

The only issue we seem to have are some beetles on the zucchini plants, but he spread a little food grade DE dust on them, so we'll see what happens.

Knock on wood, but it's looking to be a great season for growing food items this year! The apple tree is loaded, the raspberries were plentiful, and with luck, we'll be able to stock up on jars of veggies and have plenty to eat as we pick them, too!

What's been extremely helpful, in both the garden and container growing, is understanding the concepts Tapla shared, and putting them to work for us!

Happy Gardening!

    Bookmark   July 25, 2014 at 11:37AM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Jodi : For some reason I always assumed you lived out west near Josh for some reason.

So in your gritty mix you use the ReptiBark, granite, and perlite, but no Turface or DE, correct? Just add a bit of potting soil when needed ? Does your mix retain much water or do you water often?

TYG

    Bookmark   July 25, 2014 at 11:53AM
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Rickster88(USDA14)

Warpiper,
I've never used the gritty mix myself but I've used an amended 5-1-1 mix where water pretty much drains out instantly. Because I use it in a small pot I usually drench it for 1-2 minutes and let the water flow out after. You could give that a try.
For my bigger pots they are all outside and I water them daily so no issues on the drying out.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 9:53PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

I just wanted to provide a quick update on those 2 white spruce trees growing in a mix of pine bark (PB) and diatomaceous earth (DE ). Out of curiosity I briefly removed one of the seedlings out of the container to inspect the roots. The roots appeared very healthy with lots of long, white new growth. The new roots were covered with white fuzzy material which, I assume, are delicate new feeder roots. I should have taken a photo but forgot to do so. I will take one next time.

Overall I'd say that these little trees are happy in that PB and DE soil mix.

TYG

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 7:44AM
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jodik_gw

Been a Midwesterner all my life, TYG, except for a year or so here and there... when I either did more traveling in a tractor-trailer than sitting still, as a co-driver/owner-operator... and when I moved out of state following a difficult divorce. And you know, I spent time trying to figure out how to keep a plant or two alive and well in my truck! And even when I did move my home base eastward for a while, I somehow ended up with another plant collection!

No matter where I've lived, I've always managed to end up with a sizable collection of potted plants! Don't ask me where they all come from... I think they follow me home from stores and garden centers, plant sales, and they even arrive in packages from online locations! But how can I say 'no' to keeping just one more... and then just one more? And how can I say 'no' when friends offer cuttings or divisions? :-)

My favorite plants are those that have been given to me by special people as gifts. I have some very treasured bulbs and other plants from very dear friends.

Since most of my plants are amaryllids (bulbs), they do wonderfully in the Gritty Mix... but I do have a Ledebouria that seems to require more moisture retention, so I decided to change up the Gritty Mix a bit to give the Silver Squill what it wanted. At the time, I didn't have access to many different ingredients... I had ReptiBark, perlite, and granite chips... that was it. I was having a hard time locating what I needed back then.

But I also had access to tons of very good quality, consistent potting soil... bags and bags of it... because I was part of a small own-root rose business... so I simply utilized what I had available, throwing a handful of the bagged stuff into a bit of Gritty Mix specifically for the Ledebouria.

In fact, Al is the one who helped me save that plant. It was looking pretty poorly at the time... and Al's advice really helped me.

This particular plant can't tolerate drying out for some reason, and prefers to retain a bit more moisture on a more consistent basis... so believe it or not, that little bit of finer particles in the mix did the trick.

Now, I completely understand the concept of using a medium with larger particles of a rather consistent size... and I realize that it seems like a handful of finer particles would go against the very concept of the Gritty Mix... and to a certain degree, it does. The smaller particles eventually settle in the lower part of the container... it's basic physics; they can't do otherwise.

But for this particular plant, it seems to work out for me, given the other environmental variables I deal with. And I'm careful to re-pot or refresh the plant's medium just about annually, so... it seems to work out to this plant's advantage.

I do believe that key in this issue is a clear understanding of the concept of mediums of larger particulate. Once we understand HOW they work, and WHY they work... and what the actual purpose of soil is from a plant's perspective, we can play around with them a bit, taking into consideration our individual climates, environments and micro-environments, ingredients available to us, and other variables we have to contend with.

We can mix up a medium that best serves our plants' needs, and from a very individual standpoint.

When it comes to watering... I water each of my potted plants on an "as needed" basis.

Now, keep in mind that all of my plants are considered "house plants", given that they spend nicer weather outdoors if possible, and winters indoors... either packed as close to an east or south window as I can get them, or with the help of a few lights to get them through until spring. Some of my amaryllids take this time to rest, or go dormant... and some keep growing...

I don't like moisture meters because they're not accurate. Haven't found one yet that I can trust. I use the tried and true method of sticking my finger down into the medium as far as I can get it... and I wait a few seconds to see if I can feel any moisture or the coolness that tells me moisture is present to a degree.

Depending on sunlight, wind, and other weather phenomenon, I might have to water some pots every day, some every other day, or some not for several days or a week, even... it really depends on many different variables... and it changes depending on those variables.

But the beauty of using such a medium is that if I mess up and water too soon, I can be assured that the plant won't drown! It won't die because it's sitting in too much moisture! The Gritty Mix really extends the margin for error where watering, or over-watering is concerned.

So, let's say I have to go out of town for a week... and I have to ask someone to help take care of my plants. They can water every day or every other day, and nothing untoward will happen.

Of course, if they neglect to water at all, we may have a slight problem... again, though, it would depend on the weather and other variables... and I'd most likely group my plants somewhere shady and protected if I were to ask someone else to help with their care... to make it as easy as possible, and as safe for my plants as possible... just in case. Not everyone feels the same way about plants and growing as we do! And not everyone has an understanding of what plants need, or why... or how to care for them.

Where was I? Oh, yes... watering. (I'm only on my first cup of coffee, so I'm not at the top of my game quite yet!)

Just about every time I water, I mix in a tiny bit of liquid plant food and a bit of micro-nutrients, making a rather weak solution... and about one out of four times, I water with plain, clear water... to help flush out anything that might be left behind, like excess salts or the like.

This way, my plants get fed on a very regular basis without getting overloaded... there's enough nutrition present for them to use, but not too much.

I do believe a lot of growers that use the 511 or Gritty types of mediums water/feed this way... weakly, but more often... so nutrition is always available for the plant, but not in too high of a dose.

I even have a Dendrobium and an Ansellia, which are orchids, planted in the Gritty Mix... and they've never looked better! Their mix consists of a greater ratio of bark, with a little coarse perlite and granite chips.

No, I don't have any turface or DE to work with at the moment, so I have to improvise depending on a particular plant's needs. The only other medium ingredient I do have is akadama, and I don't know if I want to mix it in with other ingredients... I'd have to retrieve it when it came time to re-pot or refresh the soil... it was too expensive to just throw away! I actually bought some because I want to try a semi-hydro project with an orchid or two... one of these days.

Anyway... I really need more coffee, and I need to check my plants for the day, see who needs what and all that! And besides, I've rambled on quite enough! I'm sure you don't want to read an entire novel just to find the answer to a question, and I do go on sometimes! ;-)

So... have a nice day, TYG, and everyone!

Happy Growing!

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 9:38AM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Hey Jodi. Wow I admit that I never have heard of anyone growing plants in a truck before! It sounds like you have been growing many plants in a small area for a number of years. Kudos for keeping them all alive and healthy, including the several moves you've made.

I have never tried growing the same plants that you have but they sound really interesting. It must be a real feat moving those plants around based on available space and outdoor weather conditions. I marvel at people like yourself and Al, Ohiofem, Josh, and others that have so many plants to deal with. By comparison I'm a slacker, having only a dozen or so trees growing outdoors in plastic nursery containers. I wish I could do more plants but I just do not have the time right now.

I have never used a soil moisture meter either, although I have read many people on here swear by them. I prefer the same method you do, sticking my finger deep in the soil or using a wooden stick to check soil moisture.

BTW, didn't you say your son(?) worked at an auto parts store? If so, I bet he could find you some DE if you ever wanted to try it. I personally like the OptiSorb brand from CarQuest but I think every auto store would have some kind of DE if you wanted to experiment.

Thanks and have a great evening.

TYG

    Bookmark   July 29, 2014 at 7:24PM
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jodik_gw

Well, it was more difficult than I thought it would be to keep anything alive in the cab of a Kenworth T600B Aerocab... but I managed to keep a tiny 3" pot of cacti going for a while. The trick was making a tiny macrame' hanger that could dangle from the ceiling in front of the windshield. It worked out fairly well... except the changing temperatures with the constant opening and closing of the doors, and the continually changing locations and their climates... the poor little guy just couldn't deal with it... and he ended up rotting and dying.

I've been interested in gardening and plants ever since I can remember... I still recall following my Grandma around as she tended her Old Fashioned Bleeding Hearts, Peonies, and Iris... so lovely! And I was only about 3 years old at the time.

Anyway...

Yes, my son works for O'Reilly's... so I should be able to get some DE... I just haven't had the time to ask him about it... but i will, for sure!

I can totally understand not having the time to grow the plants you want... when I was younger, I was too busy working all the time. But now that I'm older, and have health issues that keep me from working a regular type of job, I have more time to devote to puttering around, growing a menagerie of potted plants.

But I don't recommend being diagnosed and dealing with lupus, or suffering from chronic back and neck pain from injury just to gain that time! ;-)

Well... I just made a fresh pot of flavored coffee, so...

Have a nice evening!

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 6:46PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Jodi : Your travel adventure with the cacti sounds interesting. You deserved an award for such gardening interest and dedication while on the road.

Sorry to hear about your health issues. The good news is that you can enjoy family and continue to garden.

Some day you will have to post a few photos of what you are growing. I bet you have quite a collection of plants.

If you do decide to experiment with DE in your soil mix just be careful when screening it. I always screen DE outdoors and have no problem. Depending on brand it could be quite dusty, like screening perlite. You could try rinsing the DE to help minimize dust but your DE will obviously absorb water during rinsing.

What kind of flavored coffee did you make?

TYG

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 8:08AM
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jodik_gw

I actually do have a camera loaded with photos that needs to be uploaded... I'm waiting for my husband to help me with them... the easy to use cord I had broke, or has a short in it... and I'm not that familiar with this laptop I'm currently using... so as soon as I can, I'll get some photos uploaded and post a few.

Actually, Al deserves the award! He's the one who shared the information that changed me from an average gardener... into one who understands where true growing success comes from, and how to accomplish it! Without the information in this very thread, I'd still be struggling along, killing more plants without knowing why, and never really reaching the potential I know we can attain!

My normal coffee of choice is any Free Trade, strong, dark coffee bean that I can grind myself, but in lieu of that, I'll take regular Folgers, strong and plain...

I just happened to have a couple small packages of flavored stuff, already ground... I think it was Caramel Mocha or Chocolate Nirvana something or other... something like that... that I was drinking last night. I'm a chocolate addict, so anything flavored thus is fair game!

Health issues... (sigh)... you learn to live with certain things, and you try not to over think it too much. I know the disease, the symptoms of lupus, the risks associated... and the permanence of the injuries I also received in a bad accident... and I've done my time as a pharmaceutical guinea pig. But through it all, I discovered that the medications that are supposed to help actually do more damage than good. Factor in the side effects, and it can be a painful nightmare.

Today, I take only one medication... a pain mask to take the edge off, so I can live a more normal life. Everything else I control through organic eating, and a more natural lifestyle. I simply have to admit to myself that I can't do the same things I used to, can't work the same way, can't move as fast or lift as much, and I always have to be careful, etc... it's very frustrating, when your body fails you, and you feel so... inadequate. It's depressing... if you let it be depressing.

But I have the best husband, the greatest kids, the most wonderful grandchildren, the best friends... and even the greatest dogs... and I get the privilege of working with Mother Nature, growing organic foods, and the joy of growing the tender plants and bulbs I love... and sharing what I've learned with others... so, life is good! What more could I possibly ask for or want?

I do enjoy my family, and my close friends... so very much. They're the most important things in my life... top of the priority list. Nothing else means anything in comparison.

I will be careful when sifting any DE I get... it's pretty much the same as sifting perlite, or granite chips/grower grit... there's a lot of dust you don't want to breathe or get in your eyes. We have dust masks and safety glasses, so I'm all hooked up!

Well... time to start my day... I'm still sipping coffee, still in my pj's! I'm one of those casual, laid back, don't mind wearing my slippers to the supermarket kind of people! I set my own schedule, and do my own thing. I'm the only Grandma I know who is tattooed, pierced, a dyed platinum blonde, leather-wearing, refuses to grow up and dress my age (according to the edicts of society) kind of person... I'm a non-conformist, liberal thinker, who likes to hunt for fresh game (venison is awesome)... I'm stubborn, outspoken, and I've been known to swear like a trucker! And my nickname, given me by my husband and used lovingly is... The Hag! I'm unique, an anomaly, even unto myself! But I don't think I'd trade my life for anyone else's, truth be told. Some things aside, I'm just having way too much fun on this journey called life! :-)

Have a wonderful day!

Commune with something green and alive! :-)

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 11:37AM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Morning all. Just wanted to give this thread a bump since it's full of important and useful info.

Also have noted that many of the garden centers in my area are closing out their garden merchandise, including mulches, for the season. The place I bought my pine bark mulch for containers is closing their garden center this weekend for the season.

For my garden beds I needed some chunky pine bark mulch "nuggets". At a different retailer I asked what mulch they had left. The worker seemed surprised my my question and indicated that their mulch was completely gone and was placed on sale/clearance the week after the July 4th holiday.

So for those of us in the Upper Midwest who need bark or mulch for ANY project you might want to look around now. Fairly soon the big box stores will have their holiday lights and gift wrap on display!

TYG

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 8:17AM
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jodik_gw

I'm happy to report that I just received a shipment of small ReptiBark bags... my husband was kind enough to pick some up before heading north with another load of our packed items, as we are moving, slowly... or should I say, slowly moving... about 3 hours north to be with our son and his family.

Imagine this, if you will... we have 2 veggie gardens in full swing! One here, at my son's house... and one a few hours south, where we're moving from! My husband is in the middle of pickling everything he can get his hands on, from green beans to actual pickle sized cucumbers... dill, sweet, bread & butter, and a plethora of different recipes...

And he's also helping care for the few houseplants I have left to move... and helping pack everything and move it!

I do notice, though, that stores are beginning to change summer stock for autumn ware... so, now's the time to stock up, and if you're lucky, you will find some needed medium ingredients on sale!

I can't wait until the fall planted bulbs are put on display... and then, for the Amaryllis to hit the stores for Christmas blooms!

Happy Gardening!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 1:03PM
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vance2804ibr(8a)

just giving this a friendly bump.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2014 at 3:00PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Thanks for the bump Vance. This thread deserves to be bumped or posted to on a regular basis.

I recall reading this and other threads where members have suggested that Al write a book about plants and soils. I also think that would be a great idea, but in reality he already HAS written a book, just in 20 parts. This "Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention" topic, all 20 parts, is really an interactive book of sorts.

This winter, when it's -15F outdoors and I'm stocked up on coffee, I plan to start at the beginning and re-read all 20 parts of this topic. I'm sure just about every question most container gardeners would typically ask is contained somewhere within these 20 parts.

TYG

    Bookmark   August 16, 2014 at 4:30PM
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gregbradley(Upland, CA USDA 9b Sunset 19)

First, let me thank everyone that posted lots of good info in this thread, particularly Al for starting it.

I'm in one of the hot/dry interior valleys of SoCal. I really like the idea of Gritty Mix lasting a long time but it dries out too fast for many of my potted plants.

This one is in a 24" square concrete planter in full sun. It is about 5' tall overall. In our typical summer, it must be watered every morning and is drooping badly in late afternoon. On the hottest/driest days, it required coming home at lunch to water - so watering at 6AM, Noon, and 6PM.

I removed the rock on top. I removed as much of the Gritty Mix that would easily come off the top, about 2" near the trunk and about 8" near the planter. I made another small batch of "Semi-Gritty". I used no granite, replacing all of it with pumice. I filled the pot back up and covered it with bark. It will now make it all day without water on the hottest days.

Thinking I might want a bit more water retention but don't want to damage the drainage of the Gritty Mix. Any ideas?

I have 20+ citrus in large TerraCotta planters and the only ones that make it all day in the hot sun are in 26" planters where the tree is full enough to shade the planter.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 4:45PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hi Greg !!

You can always add more Turface as in a 4-3-2 ratio. ( 4 parts turface, 3 parts fir bark, 2 parts granite ) ratio which would make it more water retentive.

Just a thought.... Or. Make a 5-1-1 mix which would have more bark and small peat fraction and perlite. Both are awesome.. Gritty would last longer though.. Both are fast draining and gives the roots the aeration which makes them healthy.

Good luck.

Beautiful tree!!!

Laura

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 5:10PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Hey Greg: As Laura said, you can increase Turface (or DE if you prefer) to hold a bit more water in your soil. Her other suggestion of 5-1-1 is also a good one since I believe the 5-1-1 holds more moisture than the gritty mix.

This summer I've been experimenting with different variants of both the gritty and 5-1-1 mixes. The great thing about both mixes is that they can be adjusted to hold more, or less water, depending on your needs and local growing conditions. In the gritty mix, using more Turface/DE will allow your soils to hold more moisture. In the 5-1-1, more peat or pine bark fine material (Hope that helps.

TYG

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 6:38PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

What they said.

Al

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 8:10PM
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Oxboy555(Las Vegas)

I don't get how you guys have your containers on bare patio. Mine would be permanently stained with ugly water marks after just a few waterings.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 9:30PM
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gregbradley(Upland, CA USDA 9b Sunset 19)

Oxboy,
What is staining the patio? I can't imagine what would stain a patio and wouldn't also be a problem for the plants in the containers? If you are on municipal water, they should be able to tell you what is in it.

That container has been on that walkway for a year when that pic was taken. An here I was concerned about high temperatures and low humidity.........

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 11:51PM
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Oxboy555(Las Vegas)

Don't know, but gotta be related to minerals, fertilizer, tannins and/or peat particles from 5-1-1. I don't think Gritty would stain much if at all, but I don't use Gritty outdoors.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 2:24AM
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alan_oz

Greg, suggest you move to white or pale coloured containers. They keep the root zone much cooler

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 6:47AM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Bump!!!

Laura

    Bookmark   September 15, 2014 at 11:10AM
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AndrewRaz(5-6)

I'm amazed that everyone has been so quiet for so long!

Ok, a couple questions about materials. Practically speaking, is there any effective difference between Turface, pumice, and scoria (lava rock) in terms of water retention? Are they about the same in terms of how much water they retain and how much air they allow? I'm talking about small size scoria/pumice (popular among some for potting plants), not the big lawn chunks.

Also, I'm still confused about what is meant about peat in the 5-1-1 mix.
"1 part sphagnum peat" is the line Al uses.
Does that mean the kind of peat that is in potting mix or available in big compressed bags at garden centers for soil amendments, as "sphagnum peat moss"? Or is it the long-strand peat moss that is more common among orchids and such? And if it's the long strand, how fine should it be chopped?

    Bookmark   September 16, 2014 at 7:06PM
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aurorawa(8B)

What about additions such as mychorrhizae? Would potted plants benefit? Just curious.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2014 at 7:19PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

The 'air' that's valuable in soils is primarily the air between soil particles, which is mainly determined by particle size and uniformity in size. Turface holds more water than pumice and scoria, but pumice is better than Turface at holding nutrients. The scoria's CEC is highly variable, but generally lower than Turface or pumice.

Sphagnum peat is different than sphagnum moss.
Sphagnum moss:

Peat is what's used in the 5:1:1 mix - the stuff that comes in big bales for a few bucks. The New Zealand moss pictured is about $25/lb. I use it for air layers and specialized bonsai plantings, as well as a wound dressing after trunk chops.

Al

    Bookmark   September 16, 2014 at 7:30PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Andrew and Al: thanks for the good questions and answers on Turface, scoria, and pumice. I have sampled Turface before but have not found any sources of scoria or pumice in my area. All I can find along these lines locally are those big, dark red lava rocks used in grills and so forth.

One reason I elected to try diatomaceous earth (DE) this year is it's availability. For me it's easier to find than Turface and is priced about the same. DE holds a lot of water, so it's good in soils for a bit extra water retention.

NOTE: A couple of members recently indicated problems with the NAPA 8822 version of DE breaking down during a water soaking test, so I'm not sure what to make of that. Until this report came in I had not heard of any DE product breaking down in water. The DE material I have (OptiSorb) has been soaked and does NOT break down after being under water for 4 days. So some conflicting data there for sure.

Al: Have you heard any similar reports about DE breaking down after being soaked?

Thanks.

TYG

    Bookmark   September 16, 2014 at 8:10PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Not until I read the same thing you did. I guess we have to remember that for the makers of floor dry, their focus is on how well the product soaks up spills - oil, antifreeze, brake fluid ....., not on how well it performs as a fraction of media. Turface is manufactured with properties like stability, water retention, and drainage at the forefront.

Al

    Bookmark   September 16, 2014 at 9:51PM
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AndrewRaz(5-6)

Thanks Al, that helps a lot.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2014 at 10:04PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Missed your post, Aurora. Sorry.

There's often a downside to things that appear to only have upsides. In the case of michorrhizae, we need to consider the fact that plants that form symbiotic relationships with fungi have smaller root systems than plants that don't. If anything happens to the relationship, the plant cannot supply the roots are suddenly unable to supply the top with the water and nutrients it needs to grow and keep its systems orderly, so the plant, shedding organism that it is, starts shedding parts. Are there conditions that upset the symbiosis? Yes, many. Media temperatures, pH, fertility level, amount of air and moisture in the soil are only some of the factors that impact fungal populations in container media. And heaven forbid that you actually use a fungicide up top to combat a fungal pathogen on the foliage - say on your tomatoes. That's a real deal breaker.

Personally, I don't bother using that type of inoculation for a simple reason. When temperatures are cool, in spring and fall, I always find naturally occurring mychorrhizae in both the gritty mix and the 5:1:1 mix. They disappear from the containers in the summer - and I attribute that disappearance to soil temps that are often 20* or more above ambient temps. I'm just not buying into the idea that inoculating with mychorrhizal strains of fungi are a benefit. Also, I recently read in Greenhouse Grower that at least 60% of the mychorrhizae purchased over the counter for use in inoculating soils is DOA when it comes time to use it - due to exposure to lethally high temps even before it leaves the container.

I'm not suggesting you DON'T use it - just saying that I can think of better uses for my $. YMMV

Al

    Bookmark   September 16, 2014 at 10:10PM
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zensojourner

As to Napa 8822 breaking down in water - the stuff is probably manufactured to a fairly wide tolerance, given that its purpose is for soaking up messes so you can more easily dispose of them. For many people it seems to work just fine; for a few it just turns to mush; and some have reported what sounds like a kind of in-between state where it may not break down immediately but doesn't seem to hold up well over time. It seems to be the luck of the draw.

Because its ability to hold its shape in water is not necessarily vital to the purpose for which it is manufactured, the manufacturer most likely doesn't see the need for maintaining tight tolerances for characteristics that would lead to longevity - which would require more expense in manufacturing it.

It's like flour, I imagine. If you buy the typical Gold Medal all purpose flour, its protein content could be anywhere from 9.5 to 12% . But if you buy King Arthur All Purpose Flour, its protein content is guaranteed to be between 11.6% and 11.8% (nominally 11.7% with .2% tolerance).

GM flour is milled all over the country from whatever wheat is grown in that area. Different types of wheat vary in protein content (as well as other aspects, but lets ignore them and just look at protein content). If they tried to impose a tighter tolerance (less variability) they would be more limited in the grain they could use to start with, and would have to discard more flour and spend more time making sure it meets the higher standards - all of which would make it cost more. Also, higher protein wheat commands a higher price - so raw material costs would be more. And by their definition of "all-purpose", none of the extra expense or trouble is merited - so they don't do it, and thus can sell their flour cheaply.

King Arthur Flour, on the other hand, while nominally labeled "All Purpose", is on most practical fronts really a bread flour. Flour used to make bread needs to be higher protein than flour used to make, say, pie crust or cake.

So if you get hold of a batch of GM flour that is at the lower end of their range of tolerance - mostly 10.5% protein or lower - it makes lousy bread. But if you get GM flour that happens to be at the higher end of their range of tolerance - 11.5% or higher - it'll make pretty good bread. But you can never be sure which type you'll get, because the tolerances are so wide.

Unless you pay the extra money for the product that is manufactured to tighter tolerance and less variability (from King Arthur). Ditto cake flour; the tolerances for the pertinent properties are tighter, meeting those tolerances is more expensive, so it costs more than all-purpose flour. And all-purpose flour could be anything from cake-flour-like to bread-flour-like, depending on where it was grown and milled.

Turface is manufactured to be a soil amendment. If it were to break down in water, it would be useless as a soil amendment. Therefore it is reasonable to surmise that the manufacturer is motivated to make sure the tolerance for the manufacturing process that makes it less susceptible to breakdown is fairly tight.

However, Napa 8822 is basically a granular sponge that you throw on the floor to soak up something messy or icky, and then dispose of. If it breaks down to a certain extent in that process, it really doesn't matter that much - because you're just going to use it once and throw it away. It doesn't need to hold up over time, so they don't have tight tolerances on the processes that would support that.

I think that calcined DE COULD be even better than Turface for a potting soil mix; but the problem is, it isn't (to my knowledge) ever manufactured with that in mind, and the most easily available form of calcined DE (Napa 8822 and its kin) isn't intended for long-term permanent use, it isn't manufactured to tight tolerances that would improve its longevity, so you can't be sure of whether you're getting cake flour or bread flour when you buy it.

I've wondered if some of the calcined DE manufactured for filtering mightn't be a better potting mix ingredient. They ARE expected to last for a long time. But I've never come across one that had a large enough particle size, nor is there an easy source - like running down to the car parts store to get some version or other of floor dry stuff.

This post was edited by zensojourner on Thu, Sep 18, 14 at 16:30

    Bookmark   September 18, 2014 at 4:27PM
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AndrewRaz(5-6)

I just took the plunge and potted a couple small plants in gritty mix last night. Less than 24 hours later, the mix is almost completely dry.
Is that indicative of what is in store for the future? I don't have the time to water every day. :(

This post was edited by AndrewRaz on Thu, Sep 18, 14 at 16:28

    Bookmark   September 18, 2014 at 4:27PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

AR - if the mix really IS dry already and not just dry near the surface, you used particles much too large for the mix. You DO need to make sure the soil the roots occupy is moist after planting, which means if the roots are all near the top of the soil you need to water daily so they don't dry out, but at this time of year in your zone, the lower reaches of the pot should still be moist after 3-6 days, depending on cultural conditions and assuming you used ingredients that were size appropriate. The gritty mix holds much more water than most people think. The bad rap it gets is a carry over from people who never used it, or didn't understand the concept behind it, or were more interested in deprecating the soil than working toward realizing the benefits it offers. That still goes on, even today.

If you tell us how you made it, and with what ingredients, I can pretty much tell you approximately what intervals you should be able to expect between waterings.

Al

    Bookmark   September 18, 2014 at 4:52PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Al and Zensojourner, your comments regarding DE seem to make sense. I suppose every manufacturing company is under pressure to increase profits and make money in any way possible, so if Moltan (manufacturer of OptiSorb brand DE) can save some money and cut some corners on making their oil absorbent products, then it's not a big deal to them. If the DE absorbs oil and other chemicals then it's still doing what the product was intended for.

As pointed out, DE was not intended as a gardening product so it may not be manufactured to specific tolerances in terms of absorbing moisture and retaining structure in container soil use.

I will say again that this was my first growing season using OptiSorb brand DE, and I noticed none of it breaking down in containers. Just like pine bark, the quality could change from bag to bag, or year to year, so there's no guarantee that the next bag I use won't break down in water.

I like the results it gave me this season so I will likely use it again next year unless I find during early spring repotting that the DE at the bottom of the containers broke down into mush over winter.

Time will tell.

TYG

    Bookmark   September 18, 2014 at 6:53PM
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AndrewRaz(5-6)

Thanks, Al. The gritty mix is 1 part each of screened Manna Pro chicken grit (granite), Turface, and pine bark (edit: and about 1/2 part scoria for color). They were each screened with a 1/8" mesh, and any bark larger than 1/4" was screened out also. The two pots were a 4" and 3" pot, each with a 3/4" drainage hole with mesh over the bottom. the roots were buried about midway to give room to grow. They are in a south facing window, about 12-18 inches away, and it wasn't too hot (same weather as you, actually).
I re-potted them last night, and today at about 4 a bamboo stick inserted in 2 inches down for over a minute came out dry. They were also significantly lighter than they were last night.

This post was edited by AndrewRaz on Fri, Sep 19, 14 at 8:34

    Bookmark   September 18, 2014 at 9:59PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Soak those pots again, Andrew.
Was the bark moist when you assembled the mix?

Josh

    Bookmark   September 18, 2014 at 10:35PM
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AndrewRaz(5-6)

I assembled the mix and soaked it for about 3 hours before I did the actual potting.
"Soak the pots" meaning submerge the pots?

    Bookmark   September 19, 2014 at 8:36AM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Hello All. After all of this talk about the possibility of certain brands of diatomaceous earth (DE) breaking down in container soils I wanted to do a quick check on one of my trees. September is not a good time of year to be disturbing roots, but I was curious to see how the OptiSorb DE was holding up in one of my containers. Did I have a bunch of mush in the bottom of a container or was all OK? I selected one tree, a 2 year old Picea glauca seedling, as a test and had a look. The photos below show the process.

Photo #1 shows the tree before repotting. It's about 18 - 20" tall for a reference, and has been growing in a 4-1 mix of pine bark and OptiSorb DE. Osmocote Plus CRF and lime were added at time of planting (late March, 2014). The pine bark was screened with 1/2" hardware cloth, with all fine material retained.

Photo #2 shows the root system of the tree after removal from the container. Lots of healthy, white roots. Root length probably about 8 to 10". With roots actively growing I did not prune any roots, but I misted them several times with a spray bottle during the repotting. As you can see, the DE is the photo is intact, with no mush to be seen. The soil looks very dry in this photo, but in my hands it was fairly damp. I had not watered this tree in nearly a week.

Photo #3 shows a closeup of the soil mix in my hand. The DE was both damp and firm when squeezed. If you squeezed it very hard the DE could be crushed but that can also be done right out of the bag when new. In my opinion the DE held up all season with no significant breaking down.

Photo #4 is the 1 gallon of soil mix being soaked in water before potting up the tree. Some members are mentioning how their bark and soils are becoming hydrophobic, so this is how I handle that problem. Normally I soak the new soil mix overnight like this, and the next day it is completely saturated. Once saturated it should not become hydrophobic during the season.

So to sum it up, the OptiSorb DE did show any signs of breaking down during one growing season. This soil mix remained loose and well formed, and I would not hesitate to reuse this soil again next season, with fresh Osmocote Plus and lime added to freshen it up.

I hope others may find this helpful.

TYG

    Bookmark   September 19, 2014 at 1:01PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Looks great!
I don't think you'll need to add Lime next season, though. I've had plants in 5-1-1, and in bark and perlite, for more than two seasons, and I haven't added Lime. The pH stabilizes as the mix ages, I believe, and most of our water brings Calcium with it.

Josh

    Bookmark   September 19, 2014 at 1:27PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Turface isn't and will never be hydrophobic, nor will the gritty mix ever be hydrophobic. The seeming exception to that statement might be when the surface of The Turface particles become coated and the pores clogged with algae that has dried. THEN, it's the algae coating the Turface that repels water, and that is usually a byproduct of using organic forms of nutrition like fish/ seaweed emulsions and/or various 'meals', like fish/ cottonseed/ alfalfa/ feather/ horn/ ..... meals.

If you were to start with a COMPLETELY dry gritty mix and use a watering can to water the soil, you can actually HEAR the Turface absorbing water. It sucks up water almost like it's in a vacuum. After the Turface soaks up water, diffusion of that water will break any hydrophobic tendencies of the bark as water diffuses out of the Turface into the bark and interparticular air spaces. At that point, after 10 minutes to 1/2 hr after the initial watering, the soil will absorb another measure of water that will be absorbed by previously hydrophobic bark particles. So, even though there can/will be hydrophobic bark particles in a dry gritty mix, the soil proper won't be hydrophobic because of how readily Turface absorbs water ..... again - unless it gets coated with algae, or has certain types of moss/ liverwort ..... growing on the soil surface, in which case it's not the Turface that's hydrophobic.

Al

    Bookmark   September 19, 2014 at 1:39PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Josh: Thanks for the feedback. I didn't want to disturb the roots of that small tree at this time of year but I was curious what might be going on at the bottom of the container. All looks well from what I can see. no breakdown of bark or DE at all. Hopefully the roots were not damaged by my repotting.

Regarding lime, you suggest I don't need to add any next year, correct? I'm good with not adding lime next spring if I can remember not to do it. However, if I forget about this over the winter and do add lime next spring during root pruning and potting up, will the new added lime cause any problems to the plants or the soil mix?

For some reason I thought you needed to replace lime each year, that it somehow gets "used up" by the plant or it breaks down over the course of a year, just like the CRF does. Maybe this is not true?

Thanks

TYG

    Bookmark   September 21, 2014 at 8:16AM
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zensojourner

Instead of just automatically adding lime, why not make it a habit to always do a pH test, and only add lime when indicated and in measured amounts?

pH tests are cheap, quick and easy.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2014 at 3:24PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Hey Zensojourner, early this year I tried one of those inexpensive soil and pH testing kits. I did a pH test but I don't think the reading was right since the test was designed for garden soil and not bark based growing mix.

Maybe I need a different type of test kit.

TYG

    Bookmark   September 27, 2014 at 3:35PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Soak the mix itself in distilled water, then take a reading of the water drained from the mix. I think that's how someone suggested it be done for the mixes we use.

Josh

    Bookmark   September 27, 2014 at 3:46PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Thanks Josh. I'll try that method. The kit I have is very small so it was difficult to get bark - based soil in that small tube for testing.

Much appreciated.

TYG

    Bookmark   September 29, 2014 at 2:37PM
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zensojourner

Sorry, I missed that posting. I should have been specific about how to pH test a soil-less mix. That's basically how you do it anyway, you put some soil in the test tube and add water, shake it up, then test. So you're really testing the water anyway and not the soil itself.

See this is where that chemistry set you got for Christmas when you were 8 would come in handy! Bigger test tubes! LOL!

I got one of those one year. My mother bought it for me. Then she put it away and wouldn't let me use it because she was afraid I'd blow up the house. I wonder if its still sitting on top of the cistern under the floor boards ...

    Bookmark   September 29, 2014 at 3:17PM
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Oxboy555(Las Vegas)

I do the pour-thru test on both 5-1-1 and Gritty and it's always the same water qualities as the distilled water going in. I guess that's a good thing.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2014 at 5:49PM
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jodik_gw

Bump! I really wish GW would pin this to the top of this forum, as they did with some gathered information over at the Hippeastrum Forum...

Anyway... just pushing the info back to the top for anyone looking.

Happy Gardening!

    Bookmark   October 20, 2014 at 7:10AM
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iris_gal(z9 CA)

Thanks. Or put it in a FAQ

    Bookmark   October 21, 2014 at 1:35AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hi, Guys. I have a number of sticky threads at another garden forum site. I'm pretty sure admin didn't just make 'em sticky threads by way of their own volition, and I didn't ask. I'm guessing that if you want a thread to be a sticky (if they'll even do it), you'll need to send a note to admin.

I know on the other site, this same thread has just under 50,000 views. GW gets a LOT more traffic, and the thread has been active here for a couple of years longer, so I can't even imagine how many views the threads have had here.

Thanks, guys.

Al

    Bookmark   October 21, 2014 at 2:45PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Bump. Just asked admin for a " sticky"

Laura

    Bookmark   October 25, 2014 at 2:53PM
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cdnanon

Bump!

Best knowledge I have come across in a long time

Thank you so much everyone & special thanks to Al for being so generous with us and willing to help ;)

I have also asked for this to be made into a sticky post

Cheers,

    Bookmark   October 27, 2014 at 9:55PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Hello All. I posted this information in a different thread but thought I should also post here since this is a very popular thread read by many avid GW members.

Today is November 1, and about a week ago I found some Golden Trophy "bark mini nuggets" at my local Menard's store (see photo). This pine bark would be great right out of the bag for 5-1-1 soil use and for gritty mix after screening. I believe this may be the same bark that Ohiofem uses and has great success with. They had a pallet of this bark in stock for about $3.50 per 2CF bag.

Where this pallet of bark came from and when Menard's put it on sale I don't know. I looked for mulch at Menard's several times this year and between April and July this bark was not on display during that time.

The garden center worker I spoke with didn't know anything about this mulch.

When you visit the Menard's website this pine bark mulch is not listed so unless you actually visit the store and look around you would have no idea it even existed.

I just wanted to pass this along in case anyone else in the upper Midwest is in need of pine bark and has a Menard's nearby. It might be worth taking a quick look in their garden center just in case. You might get lucky and find some.

Hope this info is useful.

TYG

    Bookmark   November 1, 2014 at 7:59AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

A quick thanks to those who assign the topic of this thread value enough they would ask the thread be made a 'sticky'. I appreciate the appreciation! ;-)

YG - I've used Golden Trophy Premium Pine Bark Landscape Mulch as a source of bark for both the gritty mix and 5:1:1 mix on a number of occasions. I sometimes find it to be close to perfect for use in soils, and sometimes not quite so perfect. They must have more than one supplier packaging it, otherwise the size variability would be less noticeable.

Al

    Bookmark   November 1, 2014 at 10:20AM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Al.. My pleasure. I do think it deserves to be up top so others can see.. It's to good of a thread to keep dropping.. Great information for all of us....

I hope they listen to some of us that have written admin... ;-)

TYG. Hi!! Happy weekend!! Looks like you found a great product!!
Score !!! Love this.. I'll have to check the computer to see if its available in my area.

Take care everyone!!!

Laura's

    Bookmark   November 1, 2014 at 3:00PM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Al: Yes you are correct about the mulch. I've found that mulch quality and size can vary greatly between bags. In mulching landscape beds for many years I've noted some bags are very dusty, others not. Same is true for the bags of pine bark for container use. Bags of mulch on the same palette at the same store can vary considerably.

Laura: Good to see you on here. Regarding this Golden Trophy at Menard's, you might have to go to the actual store and have a look. My local Menard's has a full palette of the mulch but the Menard's website did not show that mulch at all. I've noted with the big box stores that sometimes what the websites say they have in stock and what they actually have in stock are two different things.

So if anyone is looking for this mulch you might have to take a drive and look for yourself. The website search may or may not be accurate.

Thanks.

TYG

    Bookmark   November 2, 2014 at 7:56AM
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cdnanon

Hi! everyone,

I've been trying to put together a gritty mix and can not find crushed granite ATM, and was wondering if "white dolomite stone/marble chips" would be a suitable substitute?

Edit:

1. found a source for "growers" poultry grit (granite)
2. still looking for MVP/AllSport, for now will be using D.E.
3. Repti-bark for the win! (already use it for my lizard so...)

off to make my gritty mix! (and screening: 1/4, 1/8, 1/16)

Thanks again for all the info throughout the forums

This post was edited by Anon-Cdn on Sun, Nov 9, 14 at 0:00

    Bookmark   November 7, 2014 at 9:40PM
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wisconsitom

Quite a good thread here. While I can't support or refute very much of it, I would like to offer some comments on mycorrhyzae: Al said: Plants which form associations with such fungi typically have smaller root systems. I think that is just a slight distortion of the reality that amongst plants which do form these associations, the mycorrhyzae ARE in effect, the root system. Especially in forest systems, where mycorrhizal associates are best understood, it is thought that these associations magnify the total functional root mass many times over what would otherwise be the case. Yes, I know I'm equating the fungal mycelia with the roots themselves, but that is the reality of it, at least from that functional standpoint. This does not mean I disagree with his decision not to use such products in his mixes. There. we're in agreement, and for largely the same reasons-the vitality of these preparations is in doubt, they may not survive in the new environment into which they are placed, and most important to my way of thinking, it is probable that with the apparent ubiquity of these organisms in nature, if they're needed, they're probably already there. Some speculation holds too that simply introducing a new organism into a system may be counterproductive, if that organism outcompetes the "native" versions which may already be present, or if that native version is indeed present, than the new guys are not needed.

I believe that such associations will be much more important in future cropping systems............when we learn how to better work with them. Nature is already doing this pretty much everywhere, and I don't think we can simply discount the importance of such a massive process out in nature. But I do agree, this technology is in its infancy and I don't think we know enough to commercialize it to a very large degree......yet.

Even all that being said, there have been some notable success with mycorrhyzae, most importantly, in soils that are essentially sterile-pure sands, mining spoils, etc. But in any other system where actual soil is present, or where the plant production takes place in less than a year's time such as most greenhouse plant production, research results have so far been disappointing.

+oM

    Bookmark   November 13, 2014 at 3:07PM
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rina_

Anon-Cdn

Where in Canada are you?
(If in Ontario-did you find turface yet?)

Rina

    Bookmark   November 13, 2014 at 3:16PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Technically they are not the roots - they are fungi that interact symbiotically with the roots.

I'm usually careful about qualifying what I say, so I'm thinking it was made clear (or obvious because of the forum we're on) that I was talking about container media and not about mycorrhizal relationships with plants growing in the earth. To be sure, if it sounded like I was discounting the potential upside of mycorrhizal relationships with plants growing in the earth, it wasn't by design.

Al

    Bookmark   November 13, 2014 at 3:27PM
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cdnanon

@Rina: Yes, I'm in Ontario, west of Ottawa.
As for turface… only one source if your close to Ottawa
that I'm aware of is, "Ritchie Feed & Seed Inc"
they have two locations.
I can verify the Stittsville location does carry MVP.

Cheers,

    Bookmark   November 13, 2014 at 5:33PM
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rina_

Anon-Cdn

Sorry I didn't explain...I am not looking for any but you mentioned (your post above on Nov. 7) that you are.
I was to point you at the source, but it is very close to Toronto so it won't work for you anyway.

Thnx. Rina

    Bookmark   November 13, 2014 at 7:01PM
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cdnanon

Lol, no worries :) Thanks anyways

Just nice to know people are willing to help a person out!

PS: same store also carries crushed granite (poultry grit) growers size available.
for anyone interested in looking for a source in Ottawa.

This post was edited by Anon-Cdn on Thu, Nov 13, 14 at 21:17

    Bookmark   November 13, 2014 at 8:39PM
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fortyonenorth(6b)

Fidgety -

I grow from seed on a semi-commercial scale and everything I do is done in the 5:1:1 mix. The only adjustments I make are in the top dressings. For most seeds, I top dress with a thin layer of Turface. For fine seeds, I top with starter grit (smaller than the Grani-grit specified in the gritty mix) and then surface sow. For very, very fine seeds, I top dress with Turface and then starter grit and then surface sow.

I grew about 4000 plants from seed this past year, fertilized exclusively with Dyna-Gro and had fantastic results. I'm growing outdoors in unprotected conditions and this setup works very well for me. I just love the mix because it's so hard to overwater. We had a very wet (and cold) spring, yet I had virtually no losses.

In the past, I've challenged Al's formulas. However, with experience, I've come to appreciate just how excellent, flexible and forging they are. I use the 5:1:1 for native plants, all my containerized vegetables, ornamentals, etc. The gritty mix I use for all my containerized woodys (including Japanese maples) as well as my succulents.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2014 at 10:13PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Al said: Plants which form associations with such fungi typically have smaller root systems

Well if Al said it it must be true.. I guess those thousands of photos of giant roots from fungi associations are just BS.
Must be about 10 thousand photos out there.
I have never seen any reference that roots are smaller, at least give some reference please.

Some speculation holds too that simply introducing a new organism into a system may be counterproductive, if that organism outcompetes the "native" versions which may already be present

I love speculation! As far as mycorrhizal, they are host specific, so not like different species attach to the same plant, no competition there. Plus I don't mind when an introduced beneficial bacteria outcompetes a pathogenic one already present. Same with fungi.

I'm extremely happy using it, it it costs 5 bucks for 250 plants. Where I really see a difference is with blueberries. As our local area has none so the associated blueberry fungi are non-existent in this area, Introducing them to my plants made a huge difference. Growth of young plants increased quite noticeably. As I have grown them without the fungi for sometime. When I added the fungi to recently purchased plants they soon caught up to 3 year old plants in one year. it was remarkable. Although here the needed fungi are expensive. Most sellers were wholesale only for blueberry farmers. Smaller backyard grower products was lacking until recently.
I'm into edibles and my goal is production. it's a great way to quantify results too. As one can easily measure production. Increased production with the fungi is too great to ignore. I agree with some plants, association form on their own, but not all. And it's not just Fungi, many bacteria help breakdown organic molecules also. Keeping the inoculate high is a good idea.
Soon you will not be able to buy a fertilizer without beneficials added. Well the chemical heads will still have the free of any life chemicals to add to their plants. For now anyway.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2014 at 10:50AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Posted by Drew51 6a SE MI (My Page) on Tue, Oct 1, 13 at 15:10

"I'm fairly new to growing tomatoes, and was wondering what is used to prevent/treat early and late blight?"

2 days later - same thread:
•Posted by Drew51 6a SE MI (My Page) on Thu, Oct 3, 13 at 10:10

"Another great product that is organic and is probably the most effective against late blight is Agri-fos."

Interesting how someone can progress from not even knowing what might be used for tomato blight diseases to a two-day-later expert on what is best for same, with absolutely no chance that it might have been from actually USING the product, but I guess it must be true .....

.... same way he arrived at the conclusion that Turface was inappropriate as a fraction of any soil.
Doesn't it make sense that root systems with mycorrhizal 'helpers' wouldn't need to be as large as root systems w/o the helpers? If you had 6 people helping you around the house, you wouldn't need to work as much, hmm? Doesn't it also make sense that whenever something happens to suddenly reduce the volume of mycorrhizal populations associated with root masses that didn't need to be as large because of the symbiosis with those populations, the root mass will have a more difficult time moving nutrients to the rest of the plant than they would have had the populations not have occurred?

Fungi and bacteria do indeed break down container media and make nutrients available to plants. I don't view sacrificing a medium's structure on the altar of nutrition in order to extract an unknown ratio of nutrients from the components as a plus, especially when one can so easily manage a well balanced and extremely reliable supplementation program through the use of 1 quality fertilizer.

Drew SAYS he gets very good results from his mycorrhizal inoculations for containerized plants, but I sincerely doubt that to actually be the case. Given the soils he purports to use and his free use of phosphorous in his nutritional supplementation, he CAN'T be getting anywhere near the boost from mycorrhizal fungi. They simply cannot perform well in soils that get soggy after watering and when the P supply is in the adequate to luxury range.

"Soon you will not be able to buy a fertilizer without beneficials added. Do tell. Perhaps you might tell us how these vague 'beneficials' are going to be mixed with urea, or even MG 20-20-20, for that matter"?

Al

    Bookmark   November 14, 2014 at 2:39PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

And just to corroborate....this Jade is growing in nothing but Turface MVP (screened). I just don't know how the roots are getting water at all!

Josh

    Bookmark   November 14, 2014 at 6:52PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a
    Bookmark   November 14, 2014 at 9:24PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I'm afraid you've fallen back into the habit of asking us to accept someone's advertising hype as a form of truth. Do you remember how often you were reminded that advertising takes a lot of liberty with the truth? It's as likely someone contacted the growers and paid them to endorse the product as it is the growers actually USED the product. Keep in mind that this IS the container gardening forum, and these gourds weren't grown in a pot. No one disputes there is the potential for mycorrhizal partnerships to be of value when growing in the ground. No one is really actively disagreeing there is no value in containers, though I choose not to use them for reasons I've outlined.

Al

    Bookmark   November 14, 2014 at 9:51PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

This how important fungi are. I dare you to watch it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAw_Zzge49c#t=450

Here is a link that might be useful: For the chemical heads here

    Bookmark   November 15, 2014 at 4:36AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Took the dare. Wasn't impressed. You're drifting from the topic. How was the video pertinent in any way to the topic? What, in that video, can we use to make us better container gardeners? It's very obvious that MANY container growers who pay no heed whatsoever to courting 'the microherd' are able to regularly produce beautiful and productive containerized plants. I've decided that depending on or trying to utilize mycorrhizal fungi doesn't offer me any advantage that I can see. When conditions are right, they appear with no help from me. When they aren't right, they go away. I'm judicious about making sure my soil structure will provide an environment that supports healthy root systems, and I don't worry about nutrition - monkey easy - I've got that covered. My plants have no trouble getting the P they need because I FERTILIZE. When we DO fertilize, mycorrhizal populations lose much of their effectiveness. This is a chemical thing. The plant knows, through its own chemical messengers, when it's to the plants benefit to form symbiotic relationships with the fungi and when it's not. (Read the literature - it's there).

You fertilize. You fertilize with P. You use a soil that isn't conducive to maintaining an established mycorrhizal population; therefore, I doubt you get anywhere near the advantage you claim as reward for your efforts, if you even made the efforts.

Al

    Bookmark   November 15, 2014 at 11:19AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Took the dare. Wasn't impressed. You're drifting from the topic. How was the video pertinent in any way to the topic? What, in that video, can we use to make us better container gardeners? It's very obvious that MANY container growers who pay no heed whatsoever to courting 'the microherd' are able to regularly produce beautiful and productive containerized plants. I've decided that depending on or trying to utilize mycorrhizal fungi doesn't offer me any advantage that I can see. When conditions are right, they appear with no help from me. When they aren't right, they go away. I'm judicious about making sure my soil structure will provide an environment that supports healthy root systems, and I don't worry about nutrition - monkey easy - I've got that covered. My plants have no trouble getting the P they need because I FERTILIZE. When we DO fertilize, mycorrhizal populations lose much of their effectiveness. This is a chemical thing. The plant knows, through its own chemical messengers, when it's to the plants benefit to form symbiotic relationships with the fungi and when it's not. (Read the literature - it's there).

You fertilize. You fertilize with P. You use a soil that isn't conducive to maintaining an established mycorrhizal population; therefore, I doubt you get anywhere near the advantage you claim as reward for your efforts, if you even made the efforts.

Al

    Bookmark   November 15, 2014 at 11:21AM
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andrew1981

Hello everyone ,my name is Andrew I just joined this site today in reference to Al's gritty mix. I did purchase all of the ingredients and have mixed them already in 5 gallon Home Depot buckets. My question is
1. I want to maybe go the route of more water retention with a 3 4 2, but I already mixed it is there a way to add some more to the already mixed 1 1 1. Is there a certain ratio pertaining to already mixed version to make it 3 4 2.
2. Also in regards to fertilizing I have the foliage pro is it better to fertilize every watering or every week. I would rather do once a week do I do 1/8 a gallon or 1/4 if I chose once a week.

So sorry for the noob questions.mostly I will be doing bonsai plants only indoors under grow lights. Al if you would be so kind to chime in or anyone else with experience in bonsai only plants.
Thank you so much all.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2014 at 6:16PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hi, Andrew ..... and welcome to GW. I'm guessing you've been lurking for at least a little while - I think I can speak for everyone when I say it's good to see you join in.

First, don't worry about questions you might feel are simple. I guarantee there are others probably wondering the same things you wonder about, and are just waiting for someone brave enough to ask. FWIW - setting aside the concern about being embarrassed makes others want to help. We were all beginners once, and most of aren't afraid to remind those that forget about that fact.

First, you can fix the water retention issue by adding a little more Turface and about half as much bark as Turface. You can also simply add a little more screened Turface. You did screen the ingredients?

I'm wondering where you live, and what makes you feel you need the extra water retention? I grow about 200 plants in a 1:1:1 ratio. Any deviation from that ratio is in the direction opposite of more water retention.

In the winter, I fertilize everything I water with 1/4-1/2 tsp/gallon of water. I'm guessing only because I dilute the FP in its storage container with a little distilled water so everything stays in solution when it gets cool. I also overflow a 1/4 tsp measuring spoon by about half when I add it to the water. Not all plants get watered on exactly the same schedule, so fertilizing every timer I water is easiest for me. You can do it whatever way is easiest for you.

I can't really tell you exactly how much fertilizer to use if you water once weekly. If a plant only needs a 1/wk watering, you'll want to use more fertilizer for that than a plant that gets watered 2/wk. That's why I use the same strength for everything and fertilize with every watering for my plants indoors under lights.

You'll find the gritty mix an excellent medium for bonsai. Bonsai is my focus, and practically all I've learned about plants is an outgrowth of my pursuit of proficiency at bonsai. I've been using the gritty mix and experimenting with other soil formulations for 20+ years. If I'd found something better during that time, I'd be touting whatever I thought was better, but so far the gritty mix is the most productive soil I've grown in.

Al

    Bookmark   November 15, 2014 at 7:23PM
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andrew1981

Ty so much for the quick response Al. I live I New Jersey. As you say the 1 1 1 mix I will stay with. I have screened everything and I have been reading very post like a madman heheh.im actually starting my bonsai experiments with chilie peppers. They are called bonchis.you get a quicker growth out of them so I can practice my bonsai pruning methods before taking on more expensive type of plants hehe.in regards to fertilizing I meant that I would water just normally but fetilize let's say every Saturday. I am just not sure considering the draining if I fetilize with every watering that I will be wasting a lot of ferts.not sure if that is a better route or to do it as you do.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2014 at 8:08PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hi, Andrew, I began growing peppers in 2008, shortly after I saw the excellent bonchi page by Fatalii. When I learned that all peppers are perennial, I thought it would be a great challenge to see how long I could keep a pepper alive. I still have the first pepper I ever grew, a Hungarian Wax that is going into its 7th year.

Anyhow, over the Winter I fertilize once every 1 - 2 weeks, typically at 1/2 strength. As March comes around and the plants increase vitality, I begin increasing the strength of the Foliage Pro.

Josh

    Bookmark   November 16, 2014 at 4:10AM
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andrew1981

Hey Josh, that's the same page I read about the bonchi. Seems like a cool idea since they grow a lot faster and it seems those are great to practice some skills on for bonsai. Do you have your peppers in the 1 1 1 gritty mix also? So I am assuming you just water when needed then fertilize like you said weekly or bi-weekly in the winter then increase after March.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2014 at 8:11AM
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the_yard_guy(6A)

Hello Andrew. Welcome to the group.

As for watering/fertilizing container plants I'm not in the same league knowledge-wise as Al and Josh, so I'd follow their advice on this subject. I grow small trees in containers and they are now dormant for the season. I stopped fertilizing them in early October.

Here in the upper Midwest we're in a very early cold period, with snow and temps well below normal. It was 15F here yesterday morning. Knowing this cold spell was coming, and not knowing what weather was coming after it, I decided to water all of my container trees heavily. They were completely saturated a few days before the cold arrived. Now the container soils are beginning to freeze. Unless we get a period of warm weather after this cold I won't be actually watering them again until spring.

During the winter I do what Al suggested, namely bring the trees inside an unheated garage and simply toss some snow on them every few weeks. Trying to add liquid water or fertilizer to frozen containers is useless.

Best of luck in your soil building and watering/fertilizing.

TYG

    Bookmark   November 16, 2014 at 8:18AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I use a 5-1-1 mix for my peppers, actually. Cheaper, easier, and gets replaced twice a season, basically.

Josh

    Bookmark   November 16, 2014 at 12:35PM
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andrew1981

Do you believe the bonchi peepers would be okay in the 1 1 1 mix. As my previous post I asked all about moisture retention I am not too sure if peepers prefer more moisture and if I should alter the mix.whats your take on it josh.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2014 at 12:46PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

They'll be fine in either 1 1 1 or 5 1 1 mix.
Consider the size of the container, which is very important. I downsize my peppers to .71-gallon (#1 nursery can) containers, which means that the volume of mix is sure to dry out in timely fashion. It also makes it easier to keep the root-zone warm. Peppers don't mind moisture, as long as the roots aren't cold.

Also consider how actively the plants are growing. If you're doing legit bonchi, then you'll have supplemental lights on the plants and you'll keep them in a vital state throughout the Winter.

Josh

    Bookmark   November 16, 2014 at 1:22PM
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andrew1981

Hey josh one more question if you don't mind. The 5 1 1 mix you are doing, does that use the peAt or the turface, I noticed some people were using turface instead of peat. Also do you use osmocote in your peppers and supplement with FP. If you use osmocote which version and NpK ratio. Thank you for all your help.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2014 at 7:01AM
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andrew1981

I think I ran into another problem I'm germinating some pepper seeds.i have seedling mat for heAt I decided to test the temp in the soil it was about. 102 degrees.im buying a temp regulator for the mat but my question is are all those seeds now dead or cooked?

    Bookmark   November 17, 2014 at 7:50PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hello! I typed out a long response this morning, but lost it....

My 5-1-1 is a "gritty 5-1-1" - instead of the straight peat, I use a quality potting mix (which is peat-based). I also like to incorporate additional grit for structure, durability, drainage, and aeration - grit like red lava rock, Turface, pumice, or additional perlite.

Yes, I add Osmocote 19-6-12 in the 4-month slow release, and then I supplement every 1 - 2 weeks with Foliage Pro.

I just whacked my Hungarian Wax down yesterday. I hope she survives another Winter.

Josh

    Bookmark   November 17, 2014 at 8:01PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

After the pruning:

    Bookmark   November 17, 2014 at 8:02PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

And then root-pruned and re-potted:

    Bookmark   November 17, 2014 at 8:07PM
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rina_

Josh

Ouch! Such a nice plant....I understand that it needs to be cut for winter....I will start a thread to ask few questions - don't want to do it on this one since it is not about soil.

Rina

ps: looks good pruned & repotted!

This post was edited by rina_ on Mon, Nov 17, 14 at 20:29

    Bookmark   November 17, 2014 at 8:09PM
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AndrewRaz(5-6)

This topic has been quiet for a while. Time for a question to prompt some discussion.

On a more theoretical level than practical, would ground up pine cones be something that could be used in place of pine bark itself? It wouldn't be very practical because of the amount of work it would take, I think, to produce 'pine cone fines.' Notwithstanding the processing considerations, would they work as well as bark?

    Bookmark   December 2, 2014 at 7:00PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I don't think they would work.
Not only do they break down sooner, but they have a fibrous structure on the inside. But more importantly, I think the cone might have chemical properties that wouldn't be good for potting mix. I have no evidence of that....just a hunch.

Josh

    Bookmark   December 3, 2014 at 1:00PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I have no evidence of that....just a hunch.

Well that tells us nothing at all, wow!
The dangerous compounds(to plants) in pine are all water soluble, so wash them first.
I used a pine product yesterday on my blackberry vines "Pinene" it is found in pine resin. I use it to stop desiccation of my bramble canes. it I also one of the best stickers-surfactants you can use for pest sprays. Fungicides and insecticides will stay on plant wind, rain or shine. Works great with BT. I use Nu Film 17 100% pinene.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2014 at 8:35AM
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AndrewRaz(5-6)

Josh, thank you for your response. I just wondered if the cones would have a similar makeup as bark, and might have comparable amount of tannins in it (or whatever the chemical is that slows pine bark decomposition). It's merely theoretical, as I think it would take a lot of effort to get a workable amount.

Drew: Thank you for your response. I'll look into those.
As a friend, I need to say that your initial sarcastic comment was just unkind and rude. Humbly regard others as more important than yourself, and do nothing out of selfishness or vainglory. Your kindness will win friends and allies; rudeness will will only make enemies.
Blessings upon you, my friend.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2014 at 1:15PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Andrew - I know your comments were directed elsewhere, but I wanted to add that I didn't think anything of Josh's "hunch comment" because the hunches of knowledgeable gardeners more often than not turn out to be valid, even while statements presented as fact by less informed gardeners turn out to be invalid. I think the important thing to note about how Josh worded his reply is, he made sure you knew it was a hunch. IOW, he is smart enough to qualify his answers so he doesn't damage his own credibility. That type of reply, as far as I'm concerned, is preferable to the error filled statements presented as fact we often see here and there on the forums. People tend naturally to trust growers who don't carelessly operate at beyond the limits of their knowledge, and who know how and when to qualify their answers.

Al

    Bookmark   December 4, 2014 at 1:36PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Andrew - I know your comments were directed elsewhere, but I wanted to add that I didn't think anything of Josh's "hunch comment" because the hunches of knowledgeable gardeners more often than not turn out to be valid, even while statements presented as fact by less informed gardeners turn out to be invalid. I think the important thing to note about how Josh worded his reply is, he made sure you knew it was a hunch. IOW, he is smart enough to qualify his answers so he doesn't damage his own credibility. That type of reply, as far as I'm concerned, is preferable to the error filled statements presented as fact we often see here and there on the forums. People tend naturally to trust growers who don't carelessly operate at beyond the limits of their knowledge, and who know how and when to qualify their answers.

Al

    Bookmark   December 4, 2014 at 1:38PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Thanks, Andrew and Al.

Apart from the possibility of essential oils or other compounds that might be deleterious to roots, the structure of the pinecone scale isn't suited to function the way bark functions in a mix. Cone scales are hard and smooth on the outer surface, but have a fibrous structure inside.

Josh

    Bookmark   December 6, 2014 at 8:25PM
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lunarsolarpower

Hi All,

Been lurking here awhile. Mixed up my first batch of gritty mix about a year and a half ago. Used pumice, pine bark, turface, dolomite, Azomite. Grow mainly succulents - Euphorbia Milii, Euphorbia Trigona, Crassula, Echeveria. Almost everything is in unglazed German terracotta. Been using Miracle Gro 12-4-8, 1/8 tsp/gal every watering.

Been using SaferGro pH Down (40% B-Hydroxytricarballylic acid) for pH adjustment of the water/fertilizer batches. I test each batch, keeping things about pH 6.0 lately. I like the idea the plants can use the stuff in the Krebs cycle, and that the organic acid helps with mineral chelation.

Had some gritty mix issues. The plants seemed to do well initially, then, not so much. The pots got mineral build-up. That's when I began pH testing, using liquid pH testing solution. I found my growing medium pH was high, and my tap water varied, from low to high 8's pH - also high.

My (ongoing) investigations have been quite engaging. Hope I can save someone else some headaches, with some of my findings/opinions.

Initially, I figured I'd simply messed up with the garden lime. Turns out, there was more to the picture.

Turface is rather acidic. Sure, it's a high-fired clay, but it's NOT inert. Porcelain is inert, but Turface isn't even close to this. I tested my screened and rinsed All sport/MVP, soaked some in good ol' filtered Chicago 8.3 pH tap water, and the result was pH 4.0.

Figured I should resolve the Turface pH, by soaking it in water, with garden lime or gypsum, before making the gritty mix. Settled on garden lime/dolomite, after seeing information that gypsum has little effect on soil pH. Did some research, found Al's recommendations on garden lime/dolomite, as a starting point. During this sojourn, contacted the technical folks at Turface, looking for a reserve acidity value. Figured this would help me hit a pH target more accurately, when treating a batch of AllSport/MVP. They could tell me the CEC is 33, but not any value for reserve acidity.

The acidity of the product directly relates to the aluminum in the base clay - which varies from one clay deposit to another. Seems Turface doesn't need to determine the reserve acidity of their finished product, so the info isn't available, not even for the base clay.

So, I made an educated guess, and ended up with a batch of buffered Turface that fit what I was after. Which turned out to be too high.

I figured the pine bark was fairly acidic, and the pumice was supposedly neutral, so I guessed the Turface could max out at 6.5 pH. Wrong.

I use Azomite for trace minerals. Well, Azomite is quite alkaline. Oops, used too much. Also didn't understand the effect of dissolved solids, at the time.

I didn't test the pumice. That first batch of pumice turned everything alkaline. A percentage of it also deteriorated into finer, sandy material. Even fresh, I easily split/crushed it with a thumbnail.

Folks like to say pumice is neutral, and doesn't break down in a pot. That's a blanket statement, and is false. Pumice characteristics vary by deposit.

My second source of pumice was far better, in terms of size, cleanliness, hardness. The stuff looked great, was stable and hard, little waste. However, it also turned my gritty mix alkaline. Why? Because - pumice is basically an alkaline feldspar foam.

So far, Hess Pumice is the only source I've found, that has a pumice that, on paper, is nearly neutral at 7.2 pH - but I gave up finding their horticultural product locally. If I choose to try pumice in the future, it will only be from their deposit.

Gran-i-grit Grower's Mix is my preference now.

I get pine bark from Bonsai Jack, online. Quality product.

I would advise folks having issues with their plants not thriving in gritty mix, to be sure to let the mix rest for a month before using it, to pay closer attention to the pH of the overall mix, and monitor/adjust the pH of their water.

I screen everything with one of those round screen sets found online. I'm glad I have it, but the wires vary a bit, with some lines wider apart than others. The average spacing is 10 wires per inch, square openings. Insect screen is 13 x 17 wires per inch, rectangular openings.

Questions: My aggregate is a bit coarse, compared to sifting through insect screen. I would think a finer grit would help slow/diffuse the water stream a bit. I would also think the plants would be more stable in their pots while the roots settle back in. So, am I being silly at 10 wires per inch? Beyond less "wasted" aggregate, is there any advantage to sifting with insect screen?

Great thread, Al. Can't thank you enough, for what you've done for my understanding of how to grow healthy plants.

Phil

    Bookmark   December 24, 2014 at 9:31PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Phil I grow blueberries so I have to monitor PH a lot. I also grow cacti. I have found cacti love low PH. Also I found other problems in mineral mixes and any soil for cacti. I usually let cacti get dry between watering. So this kills bacteria. Bacteria are needed to break urea down to a form the plants can use. They provide the enzyme urease.
So this was a problem with cacti. I discovered using ammonium forms of nitrogen worked better. Especially in mineral mixes. But if you're PH is high it still was just washed out along with urea, as the plant could not utilize the nitrogen due to high PH. So for myself I use battery acid. I would not have bothered trying to buffer turface or pumice or the like, the tap water would have taken care of that. Using lime with cacti too, big no no. You don't want that in there at all.

Succulents may respond like cacti. try using ammonium fertilizers, and also your water should be down to 5.0-5.5.
You can use vinegar too to knock PH down. I myself do not like using it as it is not permanent. Bacteria often release the carbonates back into the soil. With sulfuric acid the carbonates are turned to gypsum and are much more stable. I consider them removed!
Anyway you seem to be the experimental type, if you wish to see an explosion of growth try using 1/2 tsp of ammonium sulfate per gallon, along with your regular fertilizer regime, in 5.0 water. I have mentioned this before, and others seen it as some kind of attack on Al, no, it's just what works for me, try it if your results are not satisfactory. If you're happy with current results fine. I just think urea fertilizers are a waste for cacti, the soil is too dry to be effective. Works fine for regular houseplants, I suspect the same is true for many other succulents. Maybe not all, but I bet many will benefit from this change.
I really have no comment on the screening. You're working too hard buffering soil worrying about low PH,which I guess you soon discovered! High PH is much more of an issue. Low PH can be solved just by using straight tap water long enough! Also I use azomite but only a small amount. That stuff too takes years to really give back. It's better for garden beds, and raised beds. I would use a balanced fertilizer for the trace minerals. Although I do add it to my pots too. But I suspect it does not do much. Eventually all my potting soils end up recycled in raised beds, so the addition of Azomite is really for when I recycle it will be working well after a few years of breaking down.
Plus I only use about 2 tbsp per 5-8 gallons of soil, I doubt that is going to do much to change the PH, all I feel I need of the stuff. Sounds like you're using way too much!
In conclusion your plants are showing signs of stress probably from low nitrogen. Try the ammonium you're going to be amazed. Some use as much as 1 tsp per gallon, but I'm conservative and use 1/2. You may want to play with dose to see what works best for you. They can handle more, but for every watering that is plenty. In general I don't use inorganic fertilizers but for cacti and succulents it works better for me. My other plants depend on bacteria to feed them, I just feed the soil.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2014 at 9:09AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Some further comments PH down is fine to use, but try lowering the pH even more. 5.5. Also battery acid is pure, if it was not batteries would explode, big law suits etc, Battery acid content is regulated!
Often I hear myths about battery acid. Most universities suggest using battery acid over pure acid as it is safer to work with. Pure acid can be obtained from Amazon if you had hundreds of plants, that might make more sense. I just find the battery acid easier to work with less chance of burn, but wear eye protection when using always. Not optional. I have a golf cart, long story, but need to use battery acid for the cart's batteries anyway. I have used the product for 30 years, so just found it worked well with my plants too!
Vinegar is easier, very safe etc. PH down again is fine too.

I was amazed at the growth my cacti put on when I switched to ammonium fertilizers. What took 3 years was taking one season. It's not weak sickly growth either. it's strong, firm, healthy growth. The plants were suffering, and I had no idea. Growth was OK before, I didn't even realize I had a problem, but when I saw the potential of using ammonium I realized I was not growing them very efficiently before. Also the amount of blooms I get are unreal. I used to get one of two blooms off the cacti, now I was getting five to 7 flowers, it is so cool! Also no signs of any ammonium toxicity issues in 4 years. I really do not use that much.

I only fertilize when actively growing otherwise no. Also I use rainwater, even throughout the winter. I store about 150 gallons for winter use. The PH of my rainwater is 7.0 so I do knock it back when actively growing. When they are not I just give them pure rainwater. This would help with the deposits you're seeing. You may want to consider collecting rainwater. Saves on water usage too! I have over 50 pots, so they take a lot of water!!

This post was edited by Drew51 on Fri, Dec 26, 14 at 10:02

    Bookmark   December 26, 2014 at 9:25AM
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lunarsolarpower

Hi Drew,

Those are some lovely cacti.

I started off using phosphoric acid for pH adjustment, experimented with sulfuric acid, and yes, it works. My rationale for moving away from phosphoric and sulfuric was, since I was taking the time to adjust the pH of the water/fertigation anyway, might as well give the plants some flexibility, in terms of Krebs cycle, and maybe give the beneficial microbes some support at the same time. The pine bark in the gritty mix supplies some organic acids to the roots so I'm thinking the molasses-based organic acid used in the Safer-Gro product (B-Hydroxytricarballylic acid) is just additional support for the chelation picture, and for any beneficial microbes. The plants are reacting well, so far.

My first preference was citric acid, but I found the SaferGro product, thought it was worth a shot. Citric acid would be great for adjusting water pH.

For a number of months I was targeting my water/fertigation to 5.0-5.5 pH. I still tend to err on the lower side of 6.0, color interpretation can vary, but changed my target to 6.0 as my plants were changed into gritty mix of a lower pH (No pumice). If I start to see any issues, I can easily adjust.

Can't say I've seen any nitrogen issues, and the Euphorbia Miliis have been prolific with the flowers. These also tend to keep the leaves more than we expected. Growth has been quite good. My two Euphorbia Trigona Rubras have grown three feet, one a little more, one a little less - in a year and a half - and amazingly, have retained most of their leaves. I intentionally drought stressed them early on, trying to figure out their needs, accounting for the lost leaves. The mix is not strict gritty mix. I experimented, using coco coir along with the pine bark. Still soilless, but 60% turface/pumice, 20% each coir and pine bark.

I'll repot those into a true gritty mix, possibly all inorganic, soon. These are going to be tall, heavy, spiny plants, in small pots. I don't want to be bare rooting these things if I don't have to, as they get bigger. This is one reason I want to know if the finer insect screened aggregate is really okay, because I suspect the finer grit will firm up the pot better, for a more stable footing for tall succulents.

The plants will get regular organic acid doses as B-Hydroxytricarballylic Acid, used for pH correction. Or, perhaps better still, citric acid.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2014 at 1:05AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I often count on microbes to make the sulfuric acid, just by adding sulfur. I really only use acid on occasion that the PH is drifting up. Citric acid does work, but here again the problem of breakdown and re-release of carbonates, like what happens with acetic acid. My comments on nitrogen were based on your observations which sound different in this 2nd post. Often PH is blamed, and it is not the underlying problem. Again it sounds over thought out to me. But if results are good, keep on doing what you're doing. Sounds like you got it under control. Plus cacti are different. For example I water them now every 30 days or so. Anything in the soil is quite dead. Often the soil is dry a few days after watering, but go 25 more days or more with no water.I have not had much success the organic route. With my other plants I rely on organic methods. Just does not work well with cacti. So the ammonium seems to really make all the difference in the world. I guess I could reestablish flora in the summer. I water them like regular plants at that time.
Cacti will quickly rot if given too much water. I managed to rot a few, and even save part of them after rotting. But that has not happened for years. I have been doing this for 41 years. Those cacti pictured are well over 30 years old.
I have numerous others that I removed or broke off by accident from those plants. The first pictured is a Gymnocalcium, and rather slow growing. You will not see many with that many suckers or near that big.
I also have tropical trees that are over 30 years old, some are almost 40 years old. I have been getting into edibles the last 5 years or so, so am contemplating selling them off. Except maybe the 2 cacti pictured. They are my favorites. I use to have about 50 of them, but sold them. I still have a few others that I like, and will probably keep.
Like this brain cacti, I at last found a good pot for it! I used to plant it out in a bird bath, and just keep it out of the ground all winter.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2014 at 2:02AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I don't use Al's mixes btw, I use my own. They vary a lot depending on plant species. I'm still experimenting with them too. Currently my cacti mix is river rock, pumice, DE, lava rock (other than pumice), and pine bark. I use a mix of finer pine bark and a coarse bark too, so I don't add peat. So far I like it. I might add perlite in the future. Still playing with amounts to use. I don't really need it, but some of my other mixes do,. I'll probably always adjust mixes. Just to learn more.
I think Al's mixes are fine for most people, I just like to experiment. Some of the amendments too I find not very good, but to each his own. You have discovered that yourself too, like with pumice. I doubt I will use it much longer. Too expensive. DE works better. I just would like to find larger pieces of DE. I still like Pumice and DE though. Just not always the ideal size, or type as you mentioned.
Turface to me has too small of pores for roots to utilize water, so I don't like that either. Peat has a number of problems as does pine, just finding good pine is difficult!
So nothing is perfect! I would love to play around with horticultural cork (in place of grit), but it is way too expensive. I use river rock myself. I have a good local source for just the right size for me.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2014 at 2:30AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Turface works wonderfully and the pores allow roots to utilize water just fine. I have several plants growing in pure screened Turface and they've thrived for over three years now.

Josh

    Bookmark   December 28, 2014 at 12:01PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Glad it works for you. I have had no luck with it at all. The
0.045 micron pore size is the main problem. Zeolite is another with even a smaller pore size. Pore size needs to be about .25 microns for roots to be able to utilize held water. They might get it as it is drawn out by osmotic action.
But at that point the soil is too dry.
I encourage people to try it themselves. Im my area under my condtions it just fails to perform well.
I tested the same plants (cacti) in 4 gritty type mixes this summer and the turface one finshed dead last in one year. That was enough for me. I used the rest of the bag to fill some low spots in my yard. Wow it works great for that! Not one drop of puddled water all year! What was interesting is one mix was a 3-1-1 mix, and the cacti performed really well in it. I'm not the only one. who dislikes it, as documented in this forum. A famous Bonsai author goes on and on about how bad it was for him. But if it works for you, that's great! Seems to work for many, but I can only go on what it has done for me, nothing good I'm afraid. My results are not scientific in any way. i wanted to water them the same, but found I could not. The turface product was super dry, and other mixes were too. It was interesting to try different materials. The results surprised me. I was surprised how well the peat-pine mix performed. it was a control of sorts.
I suggest people try themselves. All gardening is local.
My results, you're results help nobody. Too many confounding factors to draw good conclusions off of any of this info. Why I like formal studies. I wish more would be done.
Any good gardener is going to learn for themselves. We can only point to a general direction. I suggest comparing horticultural sand, not rounded beach sand, DE, and turface yourself. Builder's sand is a good sand.

This post was edited by Drew51 on Sun, Dec 28, 14 at 14:55

    Bookmark   December 28, 2014 at 2:40PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

FWIW - I've been using Turface for many years and have never found it to hold water tightly. A single Turface particle has pores ranging in size from very small to very large, so to suggest that the pore size of Turface particles is .045 is inaccurate and misleading. The variance in pore size can be verified with the eye or a magnifying class. Too, since I never allow my soils to dry out completely, even if Turface DID hold water tightly it wouldn't be an issue.

Al

    Bookmark   December 28, 2014 at 3:20PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I probably need to try again. You know it could have been the product I used. Where it is made, where it was mined all play a role. As noted about the different grades of pumice. Some are terrible! Same with DE too! So my results no doubt are inconclusive. Enough people have had success with it to give it a try. You know it's like eating at a great restaurant, but you happen to get a bad meal, you're not going back no matter what the reviews say. Kinda how I feel.
That is one thing about making your own soil is every ingredient can range from great to garbage. You really have to know your amendments to make your own soil.
You need to know what pine is good, and what is bad. And the same with everything you use. With results decent with pine and peat, I'm probably not going to make anymore mineral mixes anyway. Although I have a lot of it made right now.

In a way this discussion is funny as nobody came out to defend pumice, Not sure why anyone even cares what I think about turface? If I was the only one, OK, it makes sense, but many people do not like it. Even formal experts for that matter. Not sure why people care? I have no desire to guide anybody in what they use, just expressing my experiences. Do you guys own stock or something?
Just kidding! Take it easy!

    Bookmark   December 28, 2014 at 3:52PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Drew - I guess where I'm coming from is the position that I know with certainty that the 5:1:1 and gritty mixes are excellent places for beginning gardeners or even experienced gardeners who have been troubled by water retention issues to put some faith and start turning their growing experience around. Part of the proof can be seen here on the for a, but I also get a LOT of emails that are sent specifically to say 'thanks for helping me turn things around'.

We both know that science is truth, and truth is what it is, so when I see something that is misleading or can be taken more than one way, I want to offer clarification and reassurance where I can. My reply doesn't have anything to do with someone slighting or putting 'Al's Soils' in a bad light; rather, it's meant to downplay something I know to be a nonissue - so people don't simply bypass the concept behind the soils or scrap it entirely.

I'm just interested in seeing that people have enough good information to make informed decisions, and I don't believe it's in someone's best interest to believe that Turface holds water tightly - my only reason for the comments.

I mean it when I say I hope you have a prosperous and fruitful 2015.

Al

    Bookmark   December 28, 2014 at 4:19PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Hey no problem Al, you too have a good year. Last year was great for me, it was a good year, it's going to be hard to get better, if I get some peaches and plums, it will be better!
I guess we just have to disagree, I'm only saying what I'm saying to help people, really, no other reasons. We want the same thing, and there are many roads to get there.
Your reasons you mention for responding are the exact reasons I post. When I see something wrong, I have to speak up.
If you're having problems, it's one thing to look at. All I'm saying. One of the best quotes of gardener's I like is from Farmer Fred, he has 10 rules of gardening. All are good! But I especially like a few of them.

1) All gardening is local
7) Everything you know is wrong
8) If it works for you, fine, but keep an open mind

Number 8 is all I'm asking. Glad it works for you but keep an open mind. I myself would change the gritty mix formula, but hey that's me. (along with many other experts).
The amount of aluminum in it is not good either. And that varies widely depending on where it is mined. That's what I don't like about any of the amendments, they vary greatly.
So if you see failure, you might want to check the PH of your turface. The lower it is the more aluminum. I prefer to keep heavy metals out of my mixes. But you won't know unless you test PH. The company even admits the metal problem. I'm just trying to inform people, nothing againt you and your mixes. It never was about that ever. It was about correct information. I'm not really worried about the metal in the mix. Most likely it is not available to the plants. Sifting it without a mask is probably not a good idea. That goes for anything though. PH can be corrected easily enough too. I want an acidic environment anyway. It's tough to keep one, easy for mixes to get too basic.
I would consider why turface was made, to keep water off of sports fields. To keep it away. I'm more worried about keeping pots wet, not dry. If you like to water a lot, it's perfect.

I'm extremely tired of this discussion, but you will never shut me down. I will express my opinon time and time again. You always want the last word, so feel free. It is clear, you don't believe the documented pore size. The Bonsai author and artist Michael Hagedorn
is wrong. The study done by Claudia Calonje, Chad Husby, and Michael Calonje is wrong too. You have made that clear. Evidence otherwise is only by members here, nothing documented, no studies, only emails by newbie gardeners, etc. I feel extremely confident in my position on the subject. Other can draw their own conclusions.
If anybody wishes to try alternatives I would suggest DE (holds more water than turface, yet has a larger pore size .36 microns) or sharp sand (outperformed turface in the Claudia Calonje, Chad Husby, and Michael Calonje study).

This post was edited by Drew51 on Mon, Dec 29, 14 at 3:03

    Bookmark   December 28, 2014 at 6:07PM
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lunarsolarpower

Hi guys,

Drew, aluminum is the most abundant mineral on Earth. As I understand it, it plays a primary role in the pH of soils worldwide. I avoid cooking on it, drinking from it, but it's really everywhere in agriculture. In my conversation with the technical rep, the aluminum in Turface was never characterized as a "problem", because it isn't. It's just the component of clay soils primarily responsible for reserve acidity.

My "day job" is working with natural stone and ceramic and porcelain - fabricating, installing, maintaining. I deal daily with porosity and pH issues of natural stone and fired clay products. I have to agree with Al, the pores in fired clay do vary, both in size and density.

Pumice is just rock blown out of a volcano, under certain conditions. The word "pumice" describes a stone structure - not the mineral composition. Pumice tends to be alkaline feldspar, with a rather high pH - and no available calcium.

I'm still wondering if the insect screen method is less preferable to my 10 wire/inch soil sieve.

Regarding Turface's affinity for water, I've tested Turface vs. pumice, and found water would perch higher in pure Turface, than in pure pumice. I just perforated the bottom edge of a clear plastic (polypropylene) round quart food container, filled it with Turface, flooded it with water, let it drain, measured the height of the perched water. Repeated the process with the same screen sized pumice.

I haven't run this test on an actual gritty mix yet. I'd have to screen some material with insect screen. Was hoping to hear from Al, regarding my insect screen question.

In my pots, the issue is uniformly wetting the growing medium. My secondary issue, is stability for tall succulents in small pots. Is the insect screen recommendation a matter of tooling pragmatism? I'm thinking the finer mix would help slow/disperse the water flow, and reduce the looseness of the mix, to help the plants' stability.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2014 at 3:01AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Yes, I stated that I'm not worried about the aluminum, all the same I won't use aluminum sulfate either. Although it may be safe, I worry about toxic levels. Just because lead is in all soils doesn't mean it's a good idea to add more. Same with aluminum.
And if you mix turface without a mask, you will be exposed to it.
As far as water absorption Axis noted that turface holds
95% of it's weight in water. Pumice only holds 15% and DE holds 142%
Try diatomaceous earth in your tests. Optisorb is about the largest size available to home gardeners. Axis makes an excellent size, but is for commercial use only. Numerous studies document it's use as superior to most other amendments.
Such as
" Effects of diatomite on soil consistency limits and soil compactibility" by Ekrem Lutfi Aksakala, Ilker Anginb, , ,
and Taskin Oztasa
Or
"Effects of diatomite on soil physical properties" by the same authors.
Also
"Sustainable effects of diatomite on the growth criteria and phytochemical contents of Vicia faba plants."
Mona M. Abdalla*
Department of Botany, Faculty of Science, Ain Shams University, Cairo, Egypt.
The Axis company also has great info on all amendments.

As far as particle size, do a test. Fill a pot with sand, and one with gravel. Stick a pole in, and see which one gives more resistance. It seems to me gravel would. But I might be wrong? I don't know physics well enough to figure it out on paper.

Ah and pumice is further dashed to the ground and called a fake, not a single user rises to defend.

Well we can agree to disagree, my day job is a laboratory researcher,or was, I'm retired. If turface has various pore sizes then it is not very well made. Thanks for pointing that out. So you do not believe the manufacturer? Controlling pore size in fired clays is often accomplished with the use of polymers such as Polyethylene glycol. This process is extremely important to control how well purifiers work, or how well they hold up with the addition of salts. You are incorrect about the pore size. Yes pore sizes differs, but that process is used to make different products, and is very controlled. Turface is meant to have small pores size or it would ineffective in it's intended use. The porosity of fired clays is extremely important to have a consistent product such as fired brick used to built houses. Varying pore sizes will compromise the strength of the brick.
Selling a product and manufacturing one are very different things.
The pore size I reported is for calcinated clay. Range of pore sizes is from .1 -.01 microns. Median is .045 . Plants need a .2 micron minimum pore size to utilize. This info is from a study by Andreas Kalytta-Mewes, Kathrin Mattern, and Armin Reller
University of Augsburg, Chair of Solid Body Chemistry
Georg Armbruster Soil Laboratory.

The pore analysis in the study was conducted by Quantachrome,Bavarian Institute of Applied Environmental Research and Applied Technology.

Of course it appears none of these sources trump Al.
Who has not provided any data at all to back his claims.
Please prove to me that pore size is bigger, thinking Al is right because you sell clay products is not proof.

After saying all this will turface work? Yes, it will. Works pretty good! Is it ideal? No, it's not, but what is? It's still worth trying for sure. It didn't work for me, but that means nothing. it has worked well for others. It would be nice if it allowed easier access to stored water, but it does store water, and air, and it lasts a long time, maybe 20 years. That's decent. It's a decent product, or appears to be. It would not be on the market if it didn't work. I know it's not meant for potted plants, but it is meant for grass. DE seems a better product, it has it's own problems. it is marketed though for plants more than ball fields, although it is marketed for that too. It's marketed for large commercial gardens. I use it in my garden. I use turface too for my grass, works well. Just not that well in pots for me.
All i said that it didn't work for me. Sorry blame me, it's what you usually do when the mixes fail, you blame the poster. Many have said DE doesn't work for them. I actually believe them. All gardening is local.

This post was edited by Drew51 on Mon, Dec 29, 14 at 15:33

    Bookmark   December 29, 2014 at 3:45AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I've used Pumice varieties in the past, but found the fine foamy white Pumice to be a bit damp in the mix - and thus I can imagine other growers having problems with perched water and soggy layers. So I switched to Scoria (red and grey lava rock) which holds less moisture and has much larger pores. I also prefer the texture, and the aesthetics. My mixes are a bit faster as a result, but if I water regularly, I have no issues with mixes drying out excessively or becoming hydrophobic.

We all know that DE holds more water (and has a slightly better CEC). However, its often flake/flat shape, color, and hardness make it *less* desirable for me to go out and source it. Turface, on the other hand, is readily available from a local Turf & Supply yard. It is easy to screen, has favorable aesthetics, and I know how to use it and how it will perform in my containers under my conditions.

Lunar, about the screening of the Turface; the insect screen removes only the finest particles. You really don't want those in a mix for a large container - the reason being that the finest pieces migrate deeper into the mix, lodging between larger bark and grit particles, and impeding drainage. After a while, this results in a sodden, perched layer in the lower inches of the container.

Uniformity is key, from top to bottom. You do not want the ingredients separating in the container.

Josh

    Bookmark   December 29, 2014 at 12:26PM
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lunarsolarpower

Wow Drew. You sure have an odd way of trying to win folks over to your point of view.

Turface. You didn't cite the pore size as a mean value. You cited a pore size of .045. I just said that pores in fired clay products actually do vary in size. For this, you attacked me personally and professionally, twisted what I said about myself, and called my integrity, and intellectual capacity, into question. The evidence you presented, as proof of my flawed character, and intellectual limitations: The published range of pore sizes for calcined clay - proof that pores in fired clay products actually do vary in size.

I did read the balance of your post with some interest, and while there would appear to be merit in things you post, I find your approach has gotten in the way of my perception of your positions.

FWIW, porosity and pH really are things I deal with all the time, on a professional level. Among other things, I work with sealers on a range of applications. NOT topical coatings, but chemicals that work with material porosity. One application involves glass laboratory slides. Most applications involve interior and exterior veneer - stone, porcelain, ceramic, terra cotta. It's mainly about keeping salts, oils, and/or water out of the materials, without closing off gas exchange. I've been doing this about 25 years.

Greenman,

Thanks for the feedback. I'm quite interested in calcined DE. Looks like folks have had inconsistently fired product, but that when it's good, it would be the aggregate of choice. I appreciate the heads-up on the particle profile issue.

On Turface, yes, I understand the fines are to be discarded, and finer aggregate will migrate. Most of my mixes have been screened @ 10 wires/inch. From your reply, I guess you aren't a fan of screening with insect screen. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   December 30, 2014 at 6:00AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

My pleasure!
I do screen with insect screen for smaller batches.
For the larger batches, I actually use a pond-basket with 1/16 and 1/8 inch perforations all around the bottom and sides. I shake out the fines vigorously, and then rinse out the dust. I lose more material, but I get a larger particle size on average.

Josh

    Bookmark   December 30, 2014 at 12:51PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

LSP - I'm sorry - wasn't trying to avoid you. It's been a busy Christmas Season this year, and my mail is backed up, so I haven't been spending a lot of time on the forums. I read your comments with much interest. Thank you very much for the kind comments in your initial post - good to see you posting instead of lurking. It sounds like you have the potential to be very helpful if you decide to hang with us - thanks for your contributions!

In a perfect world, 10 mesh is better than insect screen because it leaves you with a larger product to use in your media, and reduces the likelihood of perched water issues. The problem with preferring Turface in a larger size is how fast the waste fraction increases as the screen openings increase. I accept a Turface component smaller than ideal to reduce the fraction of unused fines. I WISH Profile could the average size of ALL the particles in a bag of Turface MVP or Allsport could be increased by somewhere around .060 to .100. It still works fine at the smaller size because the bark and grit fraction is much larger than the Turface fraction, at 1:1:1 ratios.

Take care and have a Happy New Year.


Al

    Bookmark   December 30, 2014 at 3:52PM
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lunarsolarpower

Hi Al, and a very Happy New Year to you, to!

I appreciate your help, and kind words. Of course, this is the holiday season, and perfectly reasonable that you would focus your time on family and friends. I never felt ignored, figured you'd be around eventually.

All the best to you and yours, for 2015, and beyond.

Phil

    Bookmark   January 1, 2015 at 10:51PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Bump. This is such an important post that must be 10 years old. Please don't let it fade away.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2015 at 5:32PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Thanks, Robin. It often drops off the first or second page, but someone always seems to stumble on it and resurrect it by asking a question or providing something helpful.

I'm not sure that I got a chance to wish you a Happy New Year, other than collectively. I hope it's a good one for you!!

Al

    Bookmark   January 19, 2015 at 5:53PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I'd like to thank everyone who contributed to this thread and invite you to follow the link to its continuation.

If you click me I'll take you to the new thread!

    Bookmark   January 22, 2015 at 2:53PM
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