Gritty mix trials

aseedisapromiseAugust 7, 2012

So, I have always used bagged soils and just took cuttings or potted up when the plants went south on me, and never understood really what was going on. Then two years ago I bought a bay tree. I really wanted it to grow well and live in a container a long time since I can't really have one any other way. I had been reading here and there about gritty mix, some of the l-o-n-g threads about the hows and whys for a while, but never really made some because I had trouble finding the ingredients. ReptiBark at $9 a bag and forty miles away just wasn't in the cards for me. Well. I finally got it together to look out the window and see the woodpile and the pine bark piled around, and there was a chipper that came with our new house so to speak, and I put the two together with floor dry and chicken grit quartzite and I was in business.

So I have repotted some of my plants in the gritty mix, and so far with a lot of them it has been a winner. I don't think I have seen so many root systems before in my life. Most of the roots in the peat were between the soil and the pots. It is really hard for me to change how I water, as before I was watering very minimally, and at first I think I wasn't getting the bark wet enough in my mix, and some of the plants were really unhappy. I really need to have some good drip trays with this mix. My Homolomena was really sulking and wouldn't hold its leaves up for about two weeks. I did kind of trim it up top and bottom, and it wasn't a happy camper. Lately I have been trying watering it more and it is about the first plant that I have ever had that actually gets happier the more I water it. The Sanseveria is like in heaven, and the cacti. The bay tree was in a really bad sulk. It was really hot and I had it on the front porch and forgot it and it got sunburned and really drought stressed. I finally figured out about watering it, and it is finally growing. It just seems like if I water it so often I will kill it, which I would I guess if it was still in peat. It was in peat before and had roots wound around the sides of the pot about a thousand times, and I really didn't know what to do with it when I bare rooted it. This whole idea of bare rooting things to repot is so new to me. It was like the root system of a plant was its own little secret that if I messed with it I would kill it or something. Anyway, I ended up just cutting all the wound up roots off, and then I figured that I had better cut some of the top growth off to balance things out, so I cut a lot of that off too. Probably I cut more off than I needed to, but I really have no clue and am winging it, just trying stuff. Anyway, by now the sunburned leaves fell off mostly, and some of the leaf buds dried up and fell off, but it has three good growing points and I know it will at least survive.

The Hippeastrums are happy, and various regular sort of house plants like spiders. I still use the African violet mix I learned about on that forum for those. The only thing that is really unhappy is the Thanksgiving/Christmas cacti and Easter cacti. They have been dropping segments more than ever before, and I think a lot of them are headed for the compost. A lot of them are ones that I grew from seeds I hybridized myself, and there is a lot of variation in how sturdy they are. Watering more is not helping them like it did the bay tree and the Homolomena.

I have a side-by-side rosemary experiment going, and both the one I left in the peat and the one in gritty mix look okay so far.

The other thing that I've found is it is hard to root cuttings in a barky coarse mix. Well, it works okay for cacti and succulents, but I think for some things a finer mix is in order.

I kind of worried that if I changed to gritty mix it would be problematic where I live since our water is so full of dissolved limestone it is kind of a high pH out of the tap. I didn't need to add the limestone to the mix I figure, but I used to rely on the peat to kind of act as a buffer for the high pH water. Now I just add some vinegar to the water for that.

I still have more things to repot, but I thought I would tell what my results are so far. I will be curious to see what the long term results are. I appreciate the many posts on soils for containers, and the times when folks have shared their experiences. Thanks all.

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I read your post with interest ..... and I still think your name is very clever. It does take a little getting used to, but once you become familiar with your watering and your plants recover from the initial hit, I think you'll be well-pleased.

You did use all conifer bark? What are you doing for fertilizer?

Best luck, and thanks for the observations.


    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 6:25PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

For the jungle cacti, I would highly recommend that you use a bark-based mix....
the 5-1-1 will work great, even bark alone yields tremendous results with these plants.


    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 6:28PM
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All the bark is from pine. Lots of Ponderosa around here. I did read that the hardwood bark isn't good, if I remember, because it didn't have the chemicals in it that keep it from breaking down in a hurry. I haven't done much with fertilizer figuring. I have been using Schulz liquid plant food. I have three different formulations, regular, cacti, and African violet. The cacti formulation is about the same as half strength African violet. I was using all of them full strength, but I quit that and use it half strength in summer and not at all in the winter. With the bark soil I have been sprinkling a bit of Rootblast on according to pot size like they say on the container. I still use the Schulz with this. I have been watering until it comes out the bottom and empty the trays into a bucket and dump the excess on a plant outside because I don't want to waste the fertilizer. On the Homolomena and the bay tree I did start to pour the water through a couple of times, and I think that got the bark finally wet.

I did vary the mixes between plants. The cacti have more floor dry and chicken grit, and the spiders, Homolomena, and jungle cacti have more bark. I wasn't very precise when I was mixing it up. I was kind of wondering if the bay tree needed more bark than I gave it. Also I was wondering if maybe a little smaller particle size would have been good for the jungle cacti. I guess that is what the 5-1-1 is about. It's really kind of fun having all these things you can fiddle with and think about.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 12:39AM
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I just wanted to add that the jungle cacti have more going on than just a change of mix. I moved a year ago to a new house, and while the yard is much larger and full of growing things, the house is much smaller and the light inside is much less than the big old house with the giant windows where we used to live. So it has been hard to get a good position for all the plants that I have. I did scale down some when we moved, but I still have too many. The jungle cacti have been losing out sort of since they aren't blooming and other things are, and being busy with putting in vegetable gardens and perennial gardens I didn't really notice until things were pretty far gone. The place they were in got good sun in the fall and winter, but in the summer when the sun was high they have been kind of in the dark. I don't have the covered porch to summer the cacti and amaryllis on, so I didn't figure out what to do for them to get them outside to make more room at the windows for the other plants like the jungle cacti. I have that figured out now, so maybe things will get better. I feel like I have been going from putting out one fire to putting out another. I don't have a lot of hopes for good blooms this fall and winter, but maybe next year. Anyway, it is a good excuse to cull the weaker plants.

I just noticed the post about fertilizing container plants, so I will read that soon.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 9:08AM
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Just remember those mixes are basically free of nutrients, so you have to supply them including the micros. Also, if your bark is not well composted, you may need to add some extra nitrogen to compensate for the bark decomposing. I find adding some CRF helps with that when my bark is not as composted as I would like.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 9:51AM
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I was hoping that was what the Rootblast would do, offer up micronutrients. It has calcium, magnesium, boron, sulfur, copper, iron, manganese, zinc. I have no idea if these are offered up in correct proportion, or if they are good things for plants, though. Well, I know iron and calcium and magnesium are, anyway. I did put some CRF in some of the pots, I think in the amaryllis. I did want to get away from my past habits of maybe over fertilizing things. I always would have lush growth, but I don't think the plants were really that sturdy as a result. And then there always was that crusty ring of salts around the top of the soil in the pots. I guess I just don't want things to get too big too fast anymore.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 2:25PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I think you're doing well and showing the kind of thinking that's going to ensure some very fast progress on your part. Capoman's advice is well worth considering, and is pretty close to what I'd suggest. My preferred fertilizer for everything I grow is Dyna-Gro's Foliage-Pro 9-3-6. I use it for everything, and only supplement it with Pro-TeKt 0-0-3, or potash for a couple of plants. It takes almost all the guesswork out of fertilizing. Find it on the net or at a hydroponics store. A good second choice would be Miracle-Gro 24-8-16 (box) or 12-4-8 (yellow jug). All the preceding are 3:1:2 ratio fertilizers, the value of which is explained in the post you mentioned.

Good luck!


    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 6:34PM
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I did give your post on fertilizers a quick read, but I have to go back over it again. I know that outside anyway, too much P is a bad thing as it moves in soil and gets in the water table easily. Every soil test I've had has always come up nitrogen is the lacking thing, not the P or the K. I bought the Schultz because it said it had some iron, which none of the others did that I read the label on. I see it's heavy on the P compared to what you recommend.

I can be a thoughtful person, but sometimes I don't measure or count or whatever would be a more thoughtful way to accomplish whatever I am doing. If I have fewer houseplants, then maybe I can pay more attention. Thanks for your long posts and the help they give.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 3:31PM
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Thanks, Capoman for your mentioning of the non-composted bark needing more N. I will keep it in mind.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 3:34PM
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