Balance Between Water Retention and Drainage for Container Mix

yumtomatoes(10a/FLA)August 28, 2011

It seems like the problem with peat-based potting mixes if they have too much peat is that they not only compact but retain too much water if it rains alot, like it can where I live in the early fall. However, if you don't get a lot of rain and it is very hot, like it can be where I live in the spring, the peat helps to keep the moisture level more consistent.

I can't get the true nursery mixes that have more composted conifer bark in them and the orchid bark I can get looks too chunky/uncomposted to me. I have read that composted pine bark fines are sometimes labeled as soil amendments, but I haven't seen them in the big box stores and nurseries around me.

What I have available to me are the retail mixes like Miracle Gro, Fafard (not the nursery mixes) and Jungle Growth. I am concerned that if I try to amend these retail mixes I will make them worse. I take it that most are anti-Miracle Gro so I am deciding between Fafard Professional Mix and Jungle Growth Grower's Mix and Jungle Growth Flower and Vegetable Mix. Are any of these better than the others for growing container tomatoes?

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I ended up buying Timberline Pine Mulch at WalMart and sifted it thru a fish basket....the holes are a little too big but I am satisfied with the tomatoes and peppers I grew in the end product.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2011 at 12:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

If you were a wholesale grower of nursery plants to supply all the retail nurseries, where do you think you would buy your potting mix to fill all those pots? Unless you are big enough to ship to the whole country, in which case you might have your own mixing plant, you would buy from a landscape supply. Some will only sell in 20 yard minimums, but many others will sell any amount. I have yet to find a wholesale grower using anything but a bark based mix. Look around in your area and see if you can find a good landscape supply, and get away from those bagged peat based mixes. Al

    Bookmark   August 28, 2011 at 2:07PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If the bark-based mix is so good, why is the peat-based mix sold to retail consumers? Is it cheaper?

    Bookmark   August 28, 2011 at 2:35PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Profit margin. Consumer ignorance.


    Bookmark   August 28, 2011 at 3:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"If the bark-based mix is so good, why is the peat-based mix sold to retail consumers?"

Peat is the most "brown thumb proof" mix there is.

It might not provide the optimal growing conditions, but it does work under a wide range of conditions.

In hot weather, fast draining mixes need to be watered every day. That's more than most home gardeners would do, so a bark based mix would probably get a lot of negative reviews by brown-thumb gardeners, who are the majority of the market.

I've been going around in circles for years (decades) trying different container & mix systems to see which is ideal for my situation. How often you're willing to water and how much time your willing to set up a system are key determinants to the best system. For someone who won't water daily and doesn't want to set up some automatic type system, peat's a good choice.

I set up a drip system which waters my containers daily, but with a fast draining mix, dry spots still occur, even with 12 emitters for one 18-gallon tub. So it becomes necessary to hand water, in order to fully wet the entire mix. Since I want to use mixes with no store bought materials, I'm actually going to introduce some clay dirt next year to help overcome the dry spot problem.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2011 at 5:42PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I just addressed a group of specialty growers at Matthaei Botanic Gardens in Ann Arbor, MI last Wed. One of the points I made was that you can ALMOST say that the better the aeration and drainage your soil has, the better will be the likelihood of your getting your plants to grow to their genetic potential. I emphasized the 'ALMOST', because there is a balancing act here. If you go too far toward increasing aeration and drainage, you make it less convenient for yourself, because you need to water more. This isn't to say the plants wouldn't love it - they will. It's just that you need to consider not so much balancing water retention and drainage as what you're willing to do for more robust plants.

Some will say that MG and other soils are good enough, and that they are able to manage watering so they're satisfied with their results .... and that's perfectly fine. If they're happy, we're all happy, but that doesn't mean they aren't leaving something significant in the way of growth and vitality lying on the table.

Some will argue that point, but scientific evidence and practical current convention illustrates otherwise. It's just plain easier, and there is a wider margin for grower error if you're growing in a highly aerated medium.

I've been carrying this message for years, here at GW and other forum sites, along with many other messages associated with growing in containers. One of the results is that I'm invited to address groups far less often in other areas (like pruning, propagating, bonsai talks .....) and much more often in areas related to container growing - specifically soil science - how water behaves in soils and its effect on our success/satisfaction. IOW - more and more people who are serious about improving their growing skills are taking note of the fact that aeration and drainage are at least one of the cornerstones, if not the keystone, of our container growing endeavors, and they want to understand that relationship.

Like josh mentioned - the peat-based mixes are sold because there is a market for them and a profit to be made. That they're sold doesn't make them the best choice for growing, any more than that an automobile is sold makes it the best way to traverse the country. That sounded clumsy, but the point is valid. ;-)

If you're guided by how much aeration a soil has and will hold over the long term (durability), and ensure that it's considerably more than that offered by peat-based mixes, you'll be increasing the likelihood your plants will do well and increasing your margin for error by default. It's not water retention per se that is the limiting factor, it's how the water is distributed in the soil - the perched water is the culprit that is limiting. Do what you can to eliminate the perched water (there are several tricks I've written about) and you'll improve your chances for success.


    Bookmark   August 28, 2011 at 6:22PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tomncath(St Pete Z10a Heat 10)

Yum, when I was using JG F&V it was 55% fines, not 55% peat, roughly a 4:2:1 mix and in our heat as we moved into the dry season it's just like I stated, not optimal initially when we still got a fair amount of rain, but once plants had some maturity and the roots could absorb more water it was ideal as we moved into the dry season here in Florida....


    Bookmark   August 29, 2011 at 5:49PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I like to use different mixed based on how important something is. For example, for all of my long lived indoor plants, I use gritty mix, or will be putting them in gritty mix from the 5-1-1 mix I started with. I am however not using pine bark anymore in my gritty mix, using only turface and grit. I vary the mix ratio depending on the plant's water tendancies too. Anyway, for things like hanging baskets and outdoor annual flower arrangements that go on our deck, I pot them up in Miracle Grow, because I just can't dedicate the time needed to water everyday. They do just fine for our short summers here in Wisconsin, and I just toss the whole thing in the city compost pile in fall. I started some peppers in large containers this spring, with the 5-1-1 mix. Once the heat of summer rolled in, I was having to water twice a day, which is too much. This prompted me to start a vegetable garden, which I transplanted my peppers to though, so it was a blessing.

With all that said, and like Al said, it comes down to how much effort you are willing to give into your plants. Some have all day to putz around with their plants, so the well drained mixes are an excellent choice. Some people have little time to putz with plants, so they use peat based mixes, which work, although not to the plant's fullest potential. It's a trade off. Me, I have the time to putz with my prized plants, but not enough time to putz with everything my wife decides would look good on the deck, so I use both types of mixes. My wife can't even keep things alive in peat mixes, and I have to remind her time and time again that these plants don't water themselves.


    Bookmark   August 29, 2011 at 6:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Indeed, all gardening is local.

In my area, the temps have been in the upper 90F's to a little over 100F for a month at least.
I do have a pepper in gritty mix in a 1-gallon container on my blazing hot back deck, and that
particular plant requires watering once a day. But I knew it would when I selected the container.

However, my other peppers in 5-1-1 in 5-gallon containers are only watered every 2 - 3 days.
It should probably be noted that I use Fir bark exclusively. I haven't dealt with Pine before.


    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 10:13AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Certainly NOT an expert here but the whole "time vs results" idea sounds about right. For those people who only want to toss some dirt in a container, add a plant, then water ever week or so, the MG and similar mixes make sense.

I have several friends like this. They don't want to drive all over town looking for pine bark, granite, etc., then screen them, mix them, add lime or gypsum. That's just too much work and time involved, and I understand and appreciate that. They want a simple solution with no real maintenance, and for them the bagged soils are a good choice.

I think that Al is right, it all comes down to how you look at it. What might be best for the plant is not necessarily best for the grower. It is a trade off. How much time, effort, and money do you want to put into your plants?

I think this is why many people just buy premade peat-based soil, it's quick and simple. Whether this is what is best for your plants and trees might be a different story.


    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 12:32PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I just love though how my friends and family who grow plants of some sort, always ask how mine always look so good. This is especially true with long term plants like houseplants. They constantly ask what they can do to get theirs to look good and last forever like mine, but when I tell them how, they show no interest in trying. They are too lazy to hunt down the ingredients and spend more time watering, but yet they complain when their plants look like butt and don't last long. Oh well, whudduya do?


    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 6:38PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I think we all need to evaluate our priorities once we get to the point we consider ourselves determined to rise above the mean in our ability to consistently produce healthy plants and yields. Usually that goal comes with an expenditure of additional effort in the way of educating ourselves, as well as the additional physical effort associated with the added attention we offer our vegetative pals. We've run into problems before on the forum with people who think that all the analysis and discussion about various aspects of container culture (particularly soils) is unnecessary - that to achieve optimal results all that is necessary is a bag of 'Any Brand' soil and hope. What those folks lack is an understanding of the fact that every one's priorities aren't ordered in the same manner.

E.g., I'm perfectly fine with the idea that Jill might not want to make an effort beyond opening a bag of soil and planting in it because of her prioritization, while Jack and I are willing to go to great lengths to make true the idea we did the best we knew how to do, while all the while looking for methods better still. There is certainly nothing to be ashamed of if someone can't/won't go the extra mile, but it is important to realize that all growing methods/procedures are not created equal, and there is often a direct relationship between grower convenience and grower satisfaction that leans heavily in the direction of their being mutually exclusive.

I'm all for discussing what is likely to work best, or how a grower's efforts might better be spent, based on our practical experience and knowledge, and then letting the grower decide for him/herself whether or not they're up to making it happen.

I will say too, that in many cases the total expended effort it takes to produce superior plants isn't that much more than the basic effort associated with the common use of peaty soils. I say that because I spend a lot of time on the forums trying to help people with plants performing poorly as a result of insects/disease and other problems associated with poor soils. If you add the time spent fixing problems that probably never would have occurred if a little extra effort was made to get it right (as good as it could be) from the outset, the grower would prolly find him/herself with extra time to devote to other things.

It's kind of like a front-loaded investment vehicle. You pay a little interest in the beginning (get the soil/watering/light/fertilizing right ....... if you don't, you know you'll be paying for it in the end.


    Bookmark   August 31, 2011 at 7:32PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

This is my first year of doing container plants outdoors, although I have gardened in soil outdoors for years. My wife has always had container plants outdoors and has 30 years experiencing doing it. She has always used peat based mixes, usually MG.

She was very skeptical when I discussed mixing my own potting mix (especially first year of doing outdoor containers). She basically said that if I was doing that, I was on my own. 5-1-1 is what I am using.

Well, a couple months later, it was an eye opener for her. My plants grew much faster, looked healthier, and had no pest problems (she was having whitefly problems). She also was moving her plants out of the rain so they wouldn't get flooded, meanwhile, I always left mine out in the rain. All in all, I probably didn't have to water any more then she did in peat (due to rain), and I never had to move my containers. I also had much less problem with up potting plants as well. My roots looked much healthier.

It didn't take her long to start asking me "mix me up a batch of that stuff". She is now sold as well, and next year we will probably get off MG mix completely.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 8:54AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I potted my seedlings initially in peat-based Farfard and then when I potted them up, I switched to the bark-based Jungle Growth. They are not yet in their final homes, which will be considerably larger pots.

I can tell the Jungle Growth bark-based mix is going to require frequent waterings, at least once a day. For that reason, I am not sure that it is the best choice for growing container tomatoes here in south florida. It will be too difficult to keep the mix consistently moist when it is so hot here.

Granted, it will be easier when my plants are in larger containers, but it will still be a lot of work for me and I am not sure I am up for it.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 9:16PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Affordable but Good Looking Containers?
I have a few areas of my garden that are just container...
Reusing infested soil
Last year, my outdoor container-grown kale suffered...
What to plant in 4 1/4 Gallon Food Grade Buckets?
I was recently given about 20 4 1/4 gallon food grade...
fertilizing cuttings ?
Hello - I have some fig cuttings in 60% perlite/40%...
container mixture
hi, Can someone give tips on how to choose composting...
Sponsored Products
George Kovacs Earring Collection 18" Wide Pendant Light
Euro Style Lighting
WP RGBDW 5050 ColorPlus LED Strip Light 60/m 12mm wide 5m Reel
Indoor Ceiling Fans: Hunter Royal Oak 60 in. Antique Pewter Ceiling Fan 23685
Home Depot
Ainsley modern accent chair
Interior Define
SunStopper Sun Haven 10 x 8-ft. Manual Retractable Awning - SUNHAV-10X8-MANUAL-D
Opus Ceiling Fan by Ellington Fans
$89.95 | Lumens
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™