Thyme plant from Lowes came in mucky soil...

peterk312July 10, 2014

I bought a nice lemon scented thyme plant from Lowes -- a good looking plant but when I pulled it out of the pot to place in a new container I noticed the potting mix smelled a bit like sewage. There was a lot of mucky organic material. The plant was rootbound but had both brown and white roots. What I did was remove as much of the original potting mix as possible without damaging the upper roots, but I pulled off most of the lower brown roots. Is the plant likely to die if the smell means bad bacteria? I think thyme is a tough herb but all plants have limits...

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Thyme, like most herbs, appreciates very good drainage, lots of aeration in the soil, and a damp - not wet - soil. Keep it not dry, but on the drier side for a while & it should recover quickly. Genetically, it's naturally quite vigorous.


    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 1:29AM
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I've noticed the same thing. Plants and trees bought at big box stores (BBS) often have very bad soil. That's one reason I decided to make my own soils.

I know the BBS do not grow their own plants but instead buy them from other nurseries. Sad to think that any reputable nursery would sell plants with that nasty soil.


    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 7:39AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Altruism as a part of the MO of production nurseries is pretty much always blocked by their focus on the bottom line, so if they can get plants to a saleable size in the least expensive soil, that's what they will do, after which, the plant's destiny is in your hands. They even weigh the cost of potting up (would never dream of repotting because of the time involved ..... and time is money) against the monetary benefits rather than its impact on plant health/vitality.


    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 8:41AM
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Al that is very true. I think about building very productive soils for my plants while nurseries must make profits to survive. For them it's cheaper to toss a plant into peat or sand mix and not worry about plant health. That's why you see so many large plants growing in very small containers. As you said Al, many nurseries don't want to take the time to repot older plants so you end up with a 6 foot tall tree growing rootbound in a 1 gallon container.


    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 9:00AM
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So then, if it's going to make it, let the container dry out and water more sparingly? I couldn't get the bulk of the bad soil because I would have to pull all the roots. It's very hot and I want the plant to make it through the summer. I thought maybe the smell indicates bad bacteria is already damaging roots. If it doesn't survive, at least the plant has a 1 year return guarantee, but I don't see this thyme available often in my area. So, I'd rather save the plant.

This post was edited by peterk312 on Fri, Jul 11, 14 at 16:24

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 1:27PM
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I have been in this situation before with trees and shrubs from big box stores (BBS) and understand what you are talking about. Some plants I've purchased at BBS have been growing in fairy decent soils, but others have been growing in pure sand, or sticky mud, or solid clay, etc. Usually this is a reflection on the nursery that grew the plants to begin with and not HD, Lowes, etc. since the BBS did not grow or pot up the plant in question.

If this was my plant and I wanted to keep it healthy I would consider moving it to a different soil mix and getting rid of that nasty smelling soil its in now. You could buy a good quality, well-draining potting soil or you could make your own soil mix if you prefer. Either option would probably be better than what the plant is growing in now.

If you decide to move the plant to a new soil mix, be sure to keep the plant out of direct sun and give it some shade for the first few weeks. It will need some time to adjust to the new soil and it's best to do this while the plant is in shade. If it's very hot and you have no shaded areas then you might want to keep the plant in the current soil and just be careful with watering.

Just my opinions.


    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 8:05AM
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How much of the roots need to be retained to not kill the plant?

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 4:56PM
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That's a difficult question to answer. I'm not an expert in this area, but I did some root pruning of trees earlier this year. Basically I removed dead roots, and any roots that were circling inside the container. I think I might have removed about 1/4 to 1/3 of the roots but since I'm new at it I didn't want to make a mistake and cut off too many roots. If you decide to repot your plant you may not even need to do any root pruning at all.

Also, from what I've read on here the best time to root prune most plants is when they are not actively growing. Late winter or early spring are ideal. Middle of summer with lots of heat is not a good time to do this. If it was my plant I'd wait until spring to do any root work unless you are in an emergency situation.


    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 7:27AM
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