Water/gritty mix question

tcleigh(6)September 17, 2011

I have a seemingly simple question: How do I maintain moisture levels in my gritty mix??

I know it's supposed to be a quick-draining mix that allows oxygen to get to the roots. That's all fine a good, and that's why I gave it a shot in the first place, but I can't figure out a practical way to keep things well-watered.

So far I've repotted a small fig and a small bald cypress in the gritty mix, both of which stay indoors. I have to water each of them at least once a day, which I don't mind at all. My problem is not the fact that I have to water daily, but the way in which I have to water daily. I've been having to haul these two relatively large containers to the sink to thoroughly water them before returning them to their locations in the house.

I'm planning on repotting several other houseplants in the gritty mix in the near future, so many, in fact, that hauling all of them to the sink once a day is just not going to be feasible. If I hand water with a can, the water just goes straight through and my drip plates fill up without having properly soaked the mix.

Is there any better way to this apart from keeping all my plants in the bath tub?? :)

I'm not giving up on gritty mix, but I have to figure out a better watering system...

Any help greatly appreciated.

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penfold2(4b, MN)

I think this is just the price you pay for proper soil conditions.

Gritty soils are not as easily wetted because they do not wick water as effectively as fine soils. But this same property is also why they maintain such good porosity and have no perched water.

Also, thoroughly flushing pots prevents mineral accumulation. So minimizing water runoff is not a good idea unless you can also minimize mineral input from tap water and fertilizer, and still give the plants an occasional flushing.

One solution would be to build some trays that drain into a bucket which can be emptied, but that requires some extra space and ingenuity.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2011 at 10:35AM
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The method I use is to have a plastic tray underneath, the cheap ones you can buy pretty much anywhere. I use a turkey baster and squirt water around somehwat evenly on top of the mix. As the tray fills, I'll just suck up the water and keep reapplying it. You'll know that the mix is getting wetter as less water comes out into the tray. There won't be any excessive salt accumulation because a fair amount of water will end up being dumped out of the tray when you're done.

On to my next bit of info. If you let your gritty mix get a bit too dry, the pine bark portion of it will become severely hydrophobic. Then, the pine bark pieces will repel water, and will do so to the mix immediately around it, especially if you have several pine bark pieces next to one another. Some may argue that this shouldn't happen, and that it's probably me, but I know first hand because I have 2 small jades in clear containers. I have went so far as to actually submerge these containers in an attempt to wet the entire mix. In certain spots, especially near the edges of the container, the mix never got wet, even after an hour of being submerged. I also tried soaking it down with the sprayer in the sink; no dice. So, you may think you're watering good, but you may not be. For this reason, I have abandoned the pine bark, and use only turface and grit.

Just so you know, I am not bashing the gritty mix, because without the pine bark, I LOVE it, and use it for everything now. I would still recommend it to anyone, with my pine bark disclaimer though. I've not used fir bark, so I can't speak on if that does the same thing. Also, I'm not the only one who has had issues with the pine bark either.


    Bookmark   September 18, 2011 at 11:31AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I have gritty mix made with fir bark (reptibark) and some made with pine bark fines. For large pots I prefer using pine fines because it seems to soak up and hold water better. I use the mix with fir bark on succulents and plants in small containers, including orchids. The perched water table is more of a concern in smaller containers, in my opinion.

I find that if the mix is well soaked before adding it to the pot, it really doesn't need to be watered as often as you think. Although the top inch or two seems very dry, if I use a chopstick or wood dowel to check for moisture deep in the pot, I find it is still moist. I had many large houseplants in gritty mix outside this summer, and only a few growing in full sun during the heat wave, like bougainvillea, needed to be watered every other day. My clivias, plumerias, and ficuses in gritty mix could go 5-7 days between waterings.

As for watering indoors, I have experienced a similar problem with my many large houseplants. For the largest ones, I used the turkey baster method. For the rest, I rigged up a combination of an old oven rack and a large kitty litter box. I put the rack on top of the box and place the plants on that to water them. I pour a lot of water through making sure to get the whole surface wet. Then I wait 15 minutes and do it a second time. This is a lot of work, but I only need to do it once a week. Some of my largest plants can go two weeks between waterings in the low light of winter indoors.

I suggest you try waiting longer, maybe until the plant shows signs of wilting, before watering. Then in the future, you can water one day before the plant is likely to wilt.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2011 at 1:11PM
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susan2010(6 Massachusetts)

This is going to sound heretical, but it works for me. I only water/feed my indoor plants once a week by hauling them to the sink for a thorough watering. Between waterings, every morning I scatter a few ice cubes over the surface. They melt slowly and seem to provide enough moisture to keep my plants from wilting between "real" watering. If the cold bothers them, I haven't noticed any signs. I only use two or three cubes per plant.

I water my outdoor plants pretty much daily.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 11:12AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Susan, how have your plants responded to the Gritty Mix?


    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 2:52PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

TC - if in fact you really do need to water daily indoors, there is probably something amiss. As a bonsai grower, I have a lot of plants with a skewed plant mass:soil volume ratio (I grow big plants in small volumes of soil), and I still don't need to water these plants indoors under bright lights more often than every 3 days.

My instincts tell me that either you used particulates much larger than ideal for the mix, or you're over-watering.


    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 3:31PM
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susan2010(6 Massachusetts)

I think I must have misled a bit with my explanation. The plants that I'm watering daily are those I've only recently got/transplanted and have not really established root systems yet. Given the summer heat, watering daily just made sense. When I skipped a day, they would look stressed. Now that it's gotten cooler, I haven't watered in several days and they look fine.

Ditto with the plant inside. It's the coffee plant I just got. It didn't have much of a root system when I transplanted it, so I have been careful to water it frequently. The ice cubes just seem to do a good job between real waterings. (I started doing that last winter with my indoor plants when the dry winter air of my house seemed to be stressing them. I can't safely run a humidifier all day when I'm at work.)

FWIW, they are all doing great. Or at least they seem to be. I followed the formula for GM pretty carefully, screening all ingredients, so I think I'm okay there. It's really that the plants are immature and need the more constant watering. My avocado, for instance, that is a few years old now only needs to be watered weekly.

I just find using the icecubes, for supplemental watering, to be more effective than sprinkling the top of the mix. That seems to go right through and have no good effect. And I don't really enjoy empying all those overfilled saucers.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2011 at 2:42PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Susan - just in case you thought I was addressing you ...... I was talking to the OP (TC), but what you said makes perfect sense - I do the same.


    Bookmark   September 24, 2011 at 9:53PM
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thanks for the feedback, everyone. i am able to to go about three days without watering now. i guess the fig in question needed some time to get acclimated to its new growing medium.

to avoid hauling everything to the sink, i think i will give the turkey baster method a shot. hadnt thought of that. the ice cube trick sounds effective as well.

thanks again!

    Bookmark   September 25, 2011 at 4:34PM
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Since it's on topic here, has anyone rigged up a good in-place type drainage system? I may have to try the turkey baster method for the sake of simplicity, but I've been thinking about setting up some kind of drainage trays now that I've got all of my plants on a single long table.

Might look at hydroponics equipment or else random hardware (possibly gutters?). I also think a cut, waterproof material like linoleum also seems like a possibility if I can turn it into a very shallow trough.

Any other ideas would be appreciated, especially if they've been used successfully before.


    Bookmark   September 30, 2011 at 2:05AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

My growing tables under lights consist of 2 - 4x8 sheets of OSB supported by framework only at the perimeter. This causes the OSB to sag, which was intended. I then covered the OSB with 4x8 sheets of white FRP (Fiberglas reinforced panel) It's waterproof & reflects light well.

I have a 4" hole drilled in the geometric center of the OSB, ans a 2" hole in the center of the FRP. Any water that is spilled or flushed from the pots runs to the center hole & drains into a tub with a hose that runs to the basement drain.

I rarely have water running to the holes because my plants are set ABOVE plastic dinner plates. They rest on 1-1/2' long pieces of 1x1x1 plastic channel used in vinyl siding applications. Excess water is isolated from the pot bottoms as it collects in the plates. I just leave it there to evaporate, which it usually does i 1-2 days in the winter. I find this a help as I try to keep humidity levels just under 60%.


    Bookmark   September 30, 2011 at 3:54PM
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Thanks for the info, Al! That gives me a few new ideas for materials to use, particularly that wire shelving in the second pic.

Love the P. afra in the pic btw, makes me think I need to go find one again! (Lost my home depot clearance find afra when I failed to repot for too long and assumed it was as tough as a jade.)

    Bookmark   September 30, 2011 at 7:35PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I have some real fat starts (cuttings) I potted after I pruned one of mine hard. Actually, it was the one in the picture only many years later.

They're any one's for the asking & will just freeze soon unless they're wanted. I don't have room for them. All it will cost is postage. I'm sure I have other plants I can include, too. I just gave away about 10 succulent starts today & have lots more.


    Bookmark   September 30, 2011 at 9:11PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Wonderful, Al! I never grow tired of seeing these Port's!
I can only hope to shape such beauties one day.

Hexalm, I, too, have found that these don't like to dry out as much as Jades.
I also fertilize these more often than I do the Jades.


    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 12:02AM
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Drying out was definitely a problem, and if I recalll I even put them in gritty mix, and either my novice repotting/rooting skills killed it, or else it was just too far gone (a jade in the same situation could have still grown into several new plants but I wasn't as careful as I was with most other plants--at the time I didn't have the hang of rooting jaes either, though).

Al, I don't know if you've seen my message yet (I assume it sent as it didn't say you can't be contacted--hopefully it didn't land in your spam folder or something), but I'm definitely interested. You can email me about the other succulent cuttings you have if you like so we can avoid cluttering this thread with more OT postings, I may just stick to the Portulacarias though. (My address is this username at gmail if that makes it simpler)



    Bookmark   October 3, 2011 at 7:19PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I didn't see anything come through, and I just sent out a large batch of plants to a half dozen people today. I'll try to contact you so you can send me your addy.


Sorry - please forgive the cross talk, Tcleigh.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2011 at 9:04PM
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