5-1-1 Mix and handling 2 dissimilar soils in one pot

tryingtogrowagainJuly 28, 2012

On a post a while ago Al responded to this question "... if a plant has been grown in normal commercial potting soil for awhile, will it adapt well to this kind of mix?"

Al's answer:

"It depends on how you treat it. If you take a plant with collapsed soil and place it in a larger pot with a fast soil, you'll have trouble, no matter what the soils are made from. With two dissimilar soils in the same pot, for a good part of the time, one will be too wet and the other too dry. But there are some things you can do to help remedy this. Ask if you're interested. "


I didn't see in further posts where anyone asked about this further and since I just made my first batch of 5-1-1 mix yesterday I am asking further on this issue. :-) I have about 6 small 'baby' plants(palm, dieffenbachia, philodendron, etc.) in small pots but the soil surrounding their roots was/is saturated. I pulled off as much potting soil as I could from around the roots(trying not to take off too many fragile roots...as these are young plants...unfortunately my Heptapleurum is dropping leaves and not looking good at all b/c many of it's roots were ripped off when I tried to get the mud-like potting soil off) and I put them in my 5-1-1 mix with just fine pine bark mulch and perlite. I didn't put in any peat/potting soil b/c these plants never dried out in over a week so I didn't want to give them too much of a water-retentive soil environment. I watered well yesterday with a lot of water draining from the pot. Today I looked at them and they 'felt' pretty dry down inside(I stuck my finger all the way down to the bottom almost...these are small pots) and watered again today BUT how will the root ball ever get any oxygen and dry out if I have to keep watering to keep the 5-1-1 mix moist?


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Pkhappy(10a SoCal)

Al from reading as many posts that my tired eyes could over the last few days, i would like to say how happy i am that i found GW, you and all the other friendly and knowledgeable people, Al have really got me thinking, and looking at my container garden in a whole new light. Al (tapla), what can be done to remedy the adaption process? I finally found with some substitutions (fir bark not pine) everything needed and plan to make my first 5-1-1 mix tomorrow to test transplant a tomato plant the needs to be potted up. It is my plan to rinse as much potting soil off that will come off. And stick it in the 5-1-1 mix. Can you suggest a way that will minimize the trama of going from a 5 gallon to a ten? Thanks Al.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2012 at 3:10AM
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Dee, I think you may be misunderstanding a couple things about 5:1:1. The 5:1:1 doesn't *need* to dry out in order to have oxygen...that's the whole point. The particles are coarse enough that there's always space for air to diffuse into the soil. In addition, the bottom of the pot will not be saturated with water (or at least very minimally so), as is common with retail potting soils. So don't worry too much about watering every day - if the root ball is dry, you need to water. Unless the root ball is staying dry even when you *do* water, a potting mix that quickly drains is rarely a bad thing.

How did you remove the old potting mix? The most common way is to thoroughly soak the root ball in water, and then use a stream of water to forcefully rinse it away, perhaps with the aid of a bent fork or screwdriver (root hook). What I've learned from this forum is that you don't need to be particularly gentle, and that for most kinds of plants, heavily pruning old, woody roots is very good for their long term health.

However, in the very short term, heavy root pruning can cause problems for the plant in getting enough water to the leaves to maintain turgidity. Water is moving out of the leaves into the air faster than the roots can supply it. When leaves are wilted, they can't photosynthesize.

As I understand it, for woody plants, pruning the top growth to "match" the roots is not as important as commonly thought. But for softer plants like many houseplants, leaving all of the top growth can make it impossible for roots to supply enough water right after repotting. This is especially true because humidity is usually relatively low indoors.

You can help your plant out by keeping it in the shade until it recovers, removing the largest, oldest leaves, and providing it with high humidity just until it is no longer wilting. Humidity can be increased by using a "humidity tent". You can make a simple one using any kind of boxy frame with clear plastic or saran wrap all around it. If you already have a large bell jar or terrarium, that's essentially perfect. You'll be delighted at how quickly this works! Misting and using a humidity "tray" (water and pebbles underneath the plant) is generally a useless gesture, as it has no significant effect on the humidity level. Do NOT put a plant that has a humidity tent in full sun, as it will "cook" the plant. A struggling new transplant should be in the shade anyway. Also, resist the urge to fertilize before the plant has had a chance to recover.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   July 29, 2012 at 11:34AM
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Greentiger, thanks for responding. I was beginning to wonder if anyone reads posts anymore on here. LOL!!!

Anyway, thanks for the info. I thought that once the water leaves the pot(evaporation or being absorbed by the roots) that oxygen enters in but what you shared is good to know.

I also found very helpful about rinsing the rootball with water to remove the old potting soil off the roots. I did not do that. I "took off" as much potting soil with my hands as I could trying not to break ALL the roots. There is still some old potting soil left on the roots but I plunked it down inside of the pot and put my 5-1-1 mix in. I did not rinse them off. That's a good tip though, to rinse the roots...I try that next time. I'm very hesitant about pruning roots. My Heptapleurm has a very small root ball and tiny roots(young plant) so I think it went through major shock by me replacing the old soil with the new. Thanks for helping me understand the effects of root pruning.

I had another question. I didn't put lime in my mix when I made it...can I add it to the pots and sort of work it into the the 1st several layers of mix in the pot or should I just wait until they need to be repotted in another year or so?

Thanks again!


    Bookmark   July 29, 2012 at 9:03PM
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