Port. Afra Jade. Losing leaves.

cardarlin(5)February 5, 2011

I have a fairly big Port. Afra. It went strong this spring and summer and was very full. Since bringing it inside for the winter it has dropped almost all of its leaves. I have a few cuttings in the kitchen windowsill that havent lost leaves and are doing well. Is it the light and not enough or is it something else? My other jade is suffering from Powdry mildew but I don't see anything like that on my "baby jade". What are some things that could cause this type of jade to drop leaves? I'll try and post a picture later.

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Diminished light is a very strong candidate (ask if you want a thechnical explanatuion), followed closely by over-watering and/or a high level of soluble salts in the soil. (Ask if you want to know what to do about it)

Honestly, thse plants do exceptionally well in the gritty mix. I'm not saying that to promote the soil, they are just exceptional in this soil; and even though I water mine all winter on a 4 day rotation (not recommending watering on a schedule OR tyhat frequently with other, heavier soils), I've never had any evidence of root problems. .... no salt build-up, to worry about either.

The little jade cutting (Crassula) Mike sent me is growing very nicely in it, too.

recently pruned


    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 10:43AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

This is one of the most finnicky plants over Winter.

Just in the past week, I've started receiving calls and e-mails from those to whom I gave
cuttings and established plants. I advised them that light is going to be the main factor,
and I advised them (a la Al's advice) to use a toothpick, skewer, chop-stick, or other dowel to
push into the soil mix to determine when to water.

Mine loses most of its leaves, as well, but as soon as the light increases they begin to grow back.

Mine will lose leaves from both over and under-watering, so I feel it's best to keep them moist -
which is why I like the gritty mix so well. Available moisture, always in balance with oxygen.

If you don't have a light set-up, you'll have to limp your plant along in the brightest window possible.
Even then, expect a rather raggedy specimen.


    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 11:38AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

This can be a problem plant because it reacts very quickly and in a negative way to wet feet. Over-watered, the first symptom is often the plant toppling over completely when the pot is jarred, or just on it's own, because the roots anchoring the plant have rotted off entirely because of an overly heavy (water retentive) soil. This is particularly true when you attempt the plant in shallow containers.

Complicating this issue somewhat, is the fact that unlike common advice, this plant doesn't appreciate drying down until its leaves become wrinkled and lose turgidity (go soft) as an indication it needs water. It wants water before it is drought-stressed, which by the way assuredly contributes to leaf loss. Drought stress can arise from either not enough water, or too much water, as well as an accumulation of salts in the soil.

The best way to treat this plant is to grow it in very fast draining soils so you can water as it likes with no fear of root rot. Alternately, you would need to monitor the moisture level of the soil carefully to prevent the symptoms described above, and include a regular flushing of the soil to keep salt levels low. If you cannot flush a soil 'too heavy' w/o fear of root rot, you will find some tips at the link below that will offer tips to help you deal with a heavy soil.

The plant you see above, picture taken several years ago, was grown from a cutting (prolly 12-15 years old). Feb in MI is usually not a great time to display Portulacaria, but I recently used this particular plant as one of the display plants I took with me to use in a presentation to a MG group in a neighboring city. It's in pretty nice shape right now, so if you're interested in seeing its progress I can snap a pic.


Here is a link that might be useful: Dealing with water-retentive soils

    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 1:19PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

You know I'm always down for an update! ;-)
I love these plants...super vigorous, interesting leaves, excellent bark and trunk texture.

By the way, Cardarlin, this plant is not a Jade - not the same genus, not the same family.
As Al mentioned, it should not be treated the same as Crassula ovata (Jade) - meaning,
it should not be allowed to go as dry between waterings.


    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 1:53PM
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Cardarlin..since your Afra started losing leaves after being brought indoors, IMO, it's a light and possibly watering issue.

Afra's need sun, a hearty drink of water, then soil needs to dry between waterings.
Since your Jade has powdery mildew, soil is staying too wet. You're probably over-watering both succulents. Reduce watering, place in the brightest light, preferably south or west; you'll notice a difference..
Which direction does your kitchen window face? Toni

    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 6:43PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Al mentioned: Diminished light is a very strong candidate (ask if you want a technical explanation), followed closely by over-watering and/or a high level of soluble salts in the soil.

Cardalin - it's probably not important because you were talking about another plant suffering from PM, but that a plant contracts PM is not any indication that the soil was too wet. If it was, more than half of our houseplants would suffer the disease. The fleshy roots of Portulacaria rot very quickly & the plant usually topples from the pot when the soil is kept wet. The usual suspects that get the wrap for PM are the presence of the spores + cool night temperatures with high humidity and warm day temperatures (about 80 F) with humidity of 40-70%. Lack of sufficient air movement contributes significantly to the ability of the disease to take hold. Because the spores are so easily dislodged and mobile, PM is one of the fungal infections that is readily spread by wetting foliage on outdoor plants (spraying with the hose) when you water and by misting of indoor plants.

Picture taken a few minutes ago. Try to disregard the little stem emerging from the back of the plant. I'll remove it at some point when it gets large enough so that letting it get larger would leave a significant scar. It's only there to help fatten the trunk and root base.


    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 8:45PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

It's Beautiful Al!
I love the trunk! Very rustic looking!
I haven't had much luck with this plant.
May try it again after reading this thread. :-)

    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 9:21PM
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Toni is asking the correct questions. Sounds like a light issue with possible over watering. Photos of bonsi growing under strong lights, in a controlled growing situation, does nothing to help address a plant grown in a zone 5 living room. Please don't assume you can get those results growing in a typical home. You can't. I'm not sure why those photos are included in this thread.

You need to concentrate on the conditions you are dealt. Increase light and air circulation. Poor air circulation is the cause of powdery mildew. If the plant is not taking up water, then cut back.

I suspect the seedlings are doing better because they are getting higher light and better air movement.

Try to post a photo, if possible.


    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 10:42PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Cardarlin - the truth is that you can easily grow plants like that in a typical home (I live in a typical home). You may not understand how to keep them compact and nicely pruned, but as far as the health of the tree, it's very doable. That jade is the very same houseplant you are growing, except mine is growing under a shop light you can buy, bulbs & all, for under $20. The only other difference in the 'controlled environment' that Jane refers to is that I run a humidifier to keep the humidity up to around 50%, but Portulacaria really doesn't mind lower humidity as long as it's roots can function properly. I'm at a further disadvantage because of the very small volume of soil it's in, so my job is actually more difficult than that of the average grower with a shoplight (cool white bulbs).

I included the pictures for two reasons, to show you that you CAN grow this plant well with a little guidance, and to illustrate that I'm not just talking through my hat.

Poor air circulation is really not the cause of PM either, nor is it the single cultural condition required for it's spread/establishment. It's caused by any one of a number of fungi, and the cultural conditions that help it get a foothold are listed in my post above. If it was true that poor air circulation caused PM, practically ALL our houseplants would be afflicted because air circulation is so poor indoors.


    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 11:49PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Thanks for the update photo, Al! It's much appreciated.
The leaves look like green satin...fantastic and smooth.
I wish mine looked as good right now.

My Port. afra's look much better this year than last, however, now that I water regularly.
I made the mistake of treating these like an actual Jade over the winter, and I couldn't figure
out why the leaves were dropping. So I withheld water further...only to lose more leaves.

When I committed to maintaining proper levels of moisture, I found the leaves lasting longer.
My variegated Port's are in strong condition right now.


    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 1:53AM
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If you're interested, here's a home-made recepie I found for PM.
1 tablespoon Baking Soda
1/2 teas liquid soap
1 gallon of water.

First, water a couple days before spraying. After applying, don't put plant in full sun.


'Discard unused portion.'
Therefore, divide ingredients by 1/4, test, discard portion. If the Baking Soda mix works without harming leaves, prepare a new batch and spray your entire Jade.

Or, they sell chemical fungicides.

3 reasons plants get PM.

dampness or high humidity
crowded plants
poor air cirulation

If your Jade is over-watered, surrounded by other plants, humidity increases.
The number 1 reason plants get PM is high humidity.
2. When plants are grouped, again, humidity increases. Reason 3. Air circulation is important for all indoor plants. When air is stuffy, it causes many problems, 'moreso when air is dry and soil constantly wet...fungus gnats is one example.'

It's suggested: Remove and Destroy infected parts of plant
Improve air by thinning and/or pruning, opening a window or running a fan a hour or so per day.
Do not fertilize..it's also advised to water from the bottom, which makes sense.

Jades and Afras are succulent plants. Since succulents are thick-leafed they retain moisture. Therefore, soil should dry between waterings. Toni

    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 2:26AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hey, Toni!
If you let the Port. afra get as dry as an actual Jade, there will be problems.
Port. afras have thinner, less durable leaves and more delicate root-tissue.
Not all succulents are created equal... ;-)


    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 12:25PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Having lived with these plants for many years and, as you can see, being intimately familiar with their care, I can confirm that you do not want these plants to dry out to the point you can see it in the foliage. It is not good for the plant, and they react poorly to drought stress during any part of their growth cycle. There should always be enough moisture in the soil to keep the foliage turgid (plumped up), but never so much (soggy) to impair root function/metabolism. The soil and how much water it holds is a key factor in the health of this plant.

Toni/Jane - what I said about PM really was a pretty good assessment of what leads to it's getting established, and pretty thorough. Toni is trying to qualify her original statement now, which puts us close enough to being in agreement so maybe we can let that issue rest?


    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 1:10PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I find myself wondering what a Ficus has to do with a Portulacaria afra?

Since I grow this particular plant (as well as numerous Jades) in less than optimum conditions,
and without any supplemental lighting, I'm sure my advice and experience match closely with the
experiences of many growers out there. My Port. afras don't even have the luxury of window-sills...
they're at best a foot from the nearest windows.

So let me re-iterate: Winter, with low light, is tough for Port. afras. Underwatering and overwatering
will lead to foliage drop and potential root-loss. In order to maintain foliage in sub-optimum conditions,
one must maintain adequate moisture for the roots. That's as clear as it gets.

My plants don't live in a basement, and my house is quite dry...infact, I make zero effort to increase
humidity. Since my advice is in line with Al's, I'd have to observe that proper culture for Port. afra
is the same whether one grows under lights or on a less-than-perfect window-sill.

The absolutely worst piece of advice that I've read in this Thread has been telling an experienced
grower to Go Elsewhere.


    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 9:32PM
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Hey everyone. Thanks so much for all the responses. It's a bit overwhelming. I think I didn't do right by the Port.Afra when it comes to light. Im going to have to try and figure out how to position it to get the best possible light. Living in Michigan and having that nasty storm last week there hasnt been a lot of sun these couple of days. I've tried researching alternative lighting but I get so confused. I also was watering the Port Afra. with the Jade as well so about once a week at best. Perhaps I should step it up from the sounds of it.

The link is to the photo of the larger clump Port. Afra. I have. You can see the leaves have mostly fallen off. There is another picture of some cuttings from the same plant Ive been rooting since July. They are in a north facing window. Also there is a picture of my poor Jade plant that is suffering from PM

Here is a link that might be useful: Port Afra lost leaves

    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 12:36PM
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I also wanted to add. I'm new to gardening and house plants. I only started collecting plants this past year and tending to my flowerbeds as well. Any advice I can get including a picture of a bonsai I am thrilled with. In fact, when I purchased my Port. Afra. I did so with the intent to trim it down into a bonsai. Al, I appreciate your photos and I would like to talk to you more to pick your brain of knowledge and maybe you can get me where I would like to be with my plant. After I nurture it back to health of course.

Jane- You might be right about the cuttings. They also probably get watered more frequently and I probably don't notice. Whenever I do the dishes since they sit on the window above the sink I always check the water level. I need to get more organized in my watering routines.

Toni- Thanks for the PM recipe. I will try that out.

Josh- Thanks for the advice as well.

Al - Perhaps I could email you and you can tell me how you made your Port. Afra. so beautiful? :)

    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 1:01PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Hi cardarlin,
With a little help from these guys, you'll get your plant back on track.

Al and Josh are always more than happy to share a picture or two, and there's so much we can learn from them!

From looking at your photo's it seems the soil mix they are growing in could be part of your problem. You haven't mentioned it.. What are they growing in? It looks very heavy.
That may be where you need to start to get the plant back on track.

The plant I lost was still in the peat/and who knows what else, mix that they came from Lowes in.

Al states~ "The best way to treat this plant is to grow it in very fast draining soils so you can water as it likes with no fear of root rot"

Succulents need a fast draining mix.

One of them will be along to help soon, so don't be afraid to ask questions. ;-)

I know Josh has been working on a lovely Port Afra, in a very open design.

I'm sure Al and Josh would be more than happy to help you with pointers on shaping down the road.

For now your concerns are going to be getting it in a better mix, and then find it some good light. ;-)


    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 2:16PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Cardarlin - You can email me if you like, but it really isn't difficult for you to grow a plant as healthy as those in the pictures in your own home - honest.

You can see in the top picture it is under fluorescent light. The plant's canopy (leafy part) is narrower than the light hood, so really, there is only one light needed, the others aren't doing much more than casting light on the pot and the trunk. All my succulents, houseplants and bonsai trees are as healthy as the jade. Anyone who thinks a shop light or shop lights are the key to healthy plants, or that being able to keep humidity above 45% is mistaken. Both are helpful, but it is the SUM of their care that makes the difference, along with attention paid to important details like watering habits & fertilizing.

Understanding how plants work and how they react to their environment and cultural conditions is critical. Making them look pretty, or like bonsai, actually has very little to do with their health or your/my ability as a grower. That's a skill separate from being able to produce healthy plants. Health first, pretty later.

In a forum setting, and with you being fairly new to plants, you're actually looking for mentoring/guidance. The problem with that, as you can see, is you'll get advice that conflicts, and you'll probably end up chasing your tail for a while like a friend of mine (Meyermike) who was in the same place you are now when he joined Garden Web. He ran from pillar to post, trying to implement every piece of advice he received from every corner of the forums before he settled down to a very simple way of churning out perfectly lovely plants.

When I first started trying to grow bonsai about 25 years ago - I failed. I didn't give up, didn't say "I can't". I realized that it was the soil that was holding me back. I couldn't keep plants alive, let alone healthy, so I started to learn about plant physiology and about what kinds of soils would improve my chances as a grower. After about 4 years of learning as much as I could, I tried again. I discovered I could now keep my trees alive, and decided to see if what I learned about soils applied to other plants. Bingo - I could also grow very healthy veggies in containers, my mixed containers suddenly were looking great all summer long, and the same treatment these other plants were getting also made my houseplants thrive. This was all long before I built the growing area in my basement.

I honestly give 90% of the credit for the turnaround in my plants to my increased understanding of soils and soil science (to the soils I use). It really was the soils I was using that limited me, so I didn't keep fighting a losing battle - I learned how to fix it. I had also worked out my own homemade fertilizer based on MG 12-4-8, supplemented with a micro-nutrient fertilizer, but a few years ago, I discovered Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 fertilizer, and now use it for nearly every plant I grow.

I have no doubt that I can help you take a giant step forward in your ability to maintain your plants in good vitality. Light assuredly can be a limiting factor, but there are many other things with the same potential to limit your endeavors that have to be made as close to optimal as possible in order for it to all come together. It's silly to focus on one issue only, when there are many with the same potential to limit your plants' growth/vitality.

The thing is, when you don't have enough light, it's even MORE important to use faster (draining) soils to ensure air returns to the entire soil mass asap. Low light combined with water retentive soils are extremely hard on plants because low light impedes growth and the amount of water plants use - soils remain soggy for extended periods - roots can't 'breath', so they die or suffer impaired function, which slows growth even further. It's kind of like always being on the outer edge of a vortex that's ready to suck you under if you don't swim like crazy. I'm saying you can easily eliminate the vortex any time you wish, and do away with all the unnecessary gnashing of teeth. ;o)

So, in looking specifically at the realities of growing under low light conditions, it's actually very easy to see why soils that drain very freely are even more important for plants grown in less than ideal light than they are for plants grown in perfect light.

To make your job easier, and to give you the widest margin for grower error, you should concentrate on learning about soils. I can definitely help you there. Contact me off forum, and I'll also help you with exactly what to do about the PM issue (if you still look at it as an issue) so you won't need to worry about whether a homemade spray will cause problems. Sodium bicarbonate is a salt and while a little sodium is needed for growth, there is, as there is in all micro-nutrients, a narrow range between 'adequate' and 'toxic' levels, and the bicarbonate anion is something we want to avoid in our soils if we can.

If you would like to invest in a shop light or two, that's fine and it would help you quite a bit. We all work within limits and wish our circumstances were better, but you can't change the way the sun shines. That is what it is and we either supplement our lighting or deal with what we have - end of story.

All of the information you need to be a skilled grower fits together like a jigsaw puzzle under assembly. Each of the pieces are somehow connected to the other pieces - some directly, and some a little more extraneously, but they ARE all connected. If ever you've put a jigsaw puzzle together, you probably remember that it's easier when you try to get the outer 'frame' together first. This outer frame is representative of the basic knowledge needed for success, like how soils work & how the individual components interact to make the whole, how fertilizers work, a little about how different cultural conditions affect plant growth/performance, how plants work (physiology) . . . things like that. Just like the puzzle, after you have the basic framework completed, assembling the rest of the pieces will occur at a rate exponentially faster than the rate at which you first progressed at the outset.

So how enthusiastic are you? ;o)

Let me take a stab in the dark - do you live near GR, MI, and did you buy the plant at a store called Plantworld (or something similar) on 28th? Just a totally wild guess .....


    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 5:51PM
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Really fascinating info! Can you tell us more?

    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 6:43PM
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Well, you all know I just had to say something!

I do have expereience with these plants!

I have always loved them and tried for years to grow them, but they died, that is until I met Josh and and potted my recent one, well from last spring into a much better mix.

Now, mine has always done very well, in fact terrific. It was the last one to be brought inside in the month of October because I forgot about it! It was covered with bushes and grass, basically hidden until I raked and my mother spotted it out! It was doing awsome in that kind of light. It is a varigated one.
In fact, my mother put a clain on it since she spotted it out, and now it is her favorite plant. It grew, long horizontly wise and looked cute to her, not to me though.

We put it in the window with the least amount of light we had room for, an eastern exposure where the sun is just starting to hit it and it has been thriving, being watered regulary, with the mix never drying out.

Well one day 2 weeks ago, I acccidently forgot to water it since it and the mix completely dried out. Within days, the leaves looked kind of funny and withered, and a few fell off.
I vowed I would never again let it get to that point.
Now it is coming back and starting to look great again.

I will post a pic soon, but I don't care too much for the shape and will ask the ones experienced here with this plant, on advice to prune come spring.

Great discussion and I appreciate this thread very much.

I am so happy my cutting is doing great Al! I knew it would.
If that's it in the acorn, sheesh, I really did send you a tiny one..lol!

Al: Your Por Afra is just amazing! I hope I can get mine to look as nice as that some day. Look at the beautiful trunk. It looks weathered and masculine!

Thanks everyone!


    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 7:07PM
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Ok. Here is my mom's baby.

It definitely needs some work in the shaping department, but at least it's growing and holding on to it's leaves, a big feat for me!

The lighting is not that great, but I wanted to show you that they can grow just fine in minimal sunlight without letting the mix ever dry out completely. It is coming back strong now.:-) It definitely needs shaping and I haven't got a clue how to begin. lol

    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 9:09PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

The green one or the furry one? lol!

It is an interesting shape, and i'm looking forward to what your told you can do with it.


    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 9:12PM
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puglvr1(9b central FL)

Wow Al...that is one gorgeous Bonsai port. afra!! Just fantastic! I absolutely love it!

Mike yours is so cute...

    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 9:23PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It depends on how you want to grow it. If you want a pot full of lots of stems & lots of leaves - just a bushy plant, draw imaginary lines straight up from the pot rim & prune all the branches where they cross that line - like dropping a soup can on it from above & prune off anything that is wider than the soup can. If you want a plant with a single trunk (or a twin trunk), you should pick your main trunk line(s) & remove all the branches that join it/them under the soil line when you repot next, then let it grow wild for a year or two to fatten up the trunk. "Growing wild" doesn't necessarily preclude tip pruning, which can be employed to keep branches from getting too long, and it will also force lots of branches so you have some movement in the branches when it comes time to prune it.

When I say this, it's not because I'm trying to teach bonsai; I'm looking into the future & letting you know what you can do today that will leave you with the framework for a great plant in a year or two.

If you're happy just letting a plant grow into whatever shape it wants to, that's fine too; but if you learn to take a hand in how your plants are developing, and learn to prune them a little, you'll almost always end up with something more pleasing to the eye.

For myself, I'm not satisfied if I only get a plant to grow fast and stay green. I want it to be interesting and nicely shaped.

snapdragon before pruning

and after

There's no reason you guys can't stick a snapdragon or other fast growing plant in a pot outdoors & play around with it. Practice pruning it so when it comes time to shape your houseplants a little, you have a feel for what will happen and the confidence to take off what spoils the appearance of the plant. You CAN take charge if you want to.

This Aeonium WANTS to grow one long single stem with an occasional branch jutting off of it at a right angle, then turning upward. I didn't like that growth habit, so after it got long & rangy, I chopped it off an inch or so above the soil & sealed the wound with waterproof wood glue so it wouldn't dry out. A bunch of buds/stems emerged from the cambium where I chopped it off, so I saved the ones that made the plant look most even & came up with this plant by the year following:

You guys I shared this plant with, take note. ;o)

Everyone always says growing is supposed to be fun, so ..... have some fun.

Windeaux - yes, there's more, but it would be better if you had specific questions. Thanks - to you & the others who had kind comments about the pics & the info. I posted hoping the pics would be enjoyed & the info put to good use.


    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 10:03PM
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Thanks for the response. I'm not even going to pretend that I completely comprehend everything that you wrote. It might take me a few times reading over. However, I wanted to atleast state that the soil I was using was a "Moisture Control" soil from Home Depot. It was probably miracle gro. Now I feel like a dud for not thinking the soil part through enough.
As far as how enthusiastic am I? Well I've pretty muched lived and breathed plants since early last spring when I "accidently" rooted a kalanchoe cutting that broke off my one and only house plant while I was watering. Since then I have been eagerly trying to bury my nose in any article, magazine, book, and website that has anything to do with Gardening. I've just registered to go back to school for Landscape Design and Horticulture. However, I must admit that I have fallen short on learning about soil. I have tended to skip over it because it gets too complicated for me. Now I know I need to slow down, go back, and start there first. Thanks for the heads up.

Btw, I grew up near Grand Rapids in Hastings. I purchased the plant in Walmart there. I now live near Ann Arbor. What is this Plantworld you speak of? :) Is it a good place?

    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 11:02PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

First - don't feel like a dud. If you don't know there are options, you go with what's available, and that is certainly what the mainstream does. I think you can really do yourself some good if you take the time to read through the thread I'll link to below. If you have any questions, just ask there & I'll clarify. A lot of people, and several who responded on this thread, have said many times that it changed their approach to growing, considerably for the better; but if you scroll through the thread you'll get a pretty good consensus of what others thought of the info.

From there, you can have all the help you want/need. Living in MI, I'll be able to direct you to any ingredients you might need to make your own soils, if you choose; and, if you're willing to drive up to Bay City, I'll even help you make them or show you how to prune or repot when you need to.


Here is a link that might be useful: About container soils

    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 11:57PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Al's right. There's no reason to feel like a dud. Your not alone in your situation, and there's plenty of help here to get you on the right track.

I'm a good example of "not knowing" there was a better, healthier way to growing!

I'm in Tucson, Arizona. Cactus grow everywhere, so hey, just put them in a pot with dirt. Wrong..
So then I grabbed a bag of a cactus and palm mix from home depot..I was typical of so many that just went with what was there.
That only made my plants worse!

So I started to look for better ways. I found GardenWeb, Met Meyermike.. and that's where it all changed for me. He encouraged me to try these mixes. I met Al, Josh, Jodi, and saw all their wonderful plants (mikes too!) and decided without a doubt, I was changing to these mixes. :-)

I now use both the gritty mix and the 5-1-1 and me and my plants have never been happier.

Many of those using the well aerated, fast draining mixes are because they had plants in decline and looked for a better way of growing.

I hope you do read the link Al provided. It is full of helpful information. He share's it with all of us when were new to this way of growing.
I teased him about how long it was and giving me 'homework', but the reason it is so long, is so many people have taken an interest in better growing!

And many of us have had to read it more than once.So no worries there either. ;-)

Some of the things I love about these mixes is anything and everything can grow in them, and it's adjustable for different plants needs!


    Bookmark   February 8, 2011 at 9:38AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Cardarlin - I forgot to answer your question about Plant World (or whatever the name of it is) on 28th in GR. If you're really interested, I'll look it up for you. It's sort of like Telly's in Troy, but a little larger. Lol - if you're not familiar with Telly's - there's another thing to get excited about. ;o)

Best luck!


    Bookmark   February 8, 2011 at 11:39AM
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I actually copied and pasted Al's article on "Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention" into a text file that I keep on my desktop. I refer to it every once in a while when I need a little reminder.

It took me a few times reading it through before the light bulb came on, and I had that "Aha!" moment! Once it clicked, though, there was no stopping me! I finally realized several things of great importance...

1. Container growing is very different than growing in the ground.

2. A drainage layer within a container is detrimental, and actually defeats the purpose it was intended for.

3. Plants' roots need to "breathe", and most plants hate "wet feet", or to remain soggy for lengthy periods of time.

4. The gardening industry is like any other... it lives to make a profit. It can only do that if people consistently buy products.

With those things in mind, and taking into consideration the contents of Al's article, it becomes obvious that a more durable, aerated, inorganic medium will work better for containerized plants.

For me, it began when I couldn't figure out why my bulbs kept rotting, and when I'd re-pot them, all the roots were either dead or quite rotted. I was doing everything right... or so I thought. They were suffering because the soil was too compacted and stayed too wet for long periods of time. The roots couldn't breathe... they were literally suffocating and drowning.

I went in search of the ingredients to build the gritty mix, and I haven't looked back! My plants are happy, healthier, and I have total control over moisture and nutrition. I like that. I'm able to water thoroughly, keep them fed as they need to be, and I'm able to easily keep any accumulated salts at bay. It's a much healthier way to grow containerized plants, in my opinion. And I'm not the only one who sees this.

And the real beauty of this is, it's all supported by science... the how and the why... by the basics of plant growth. And Al makes it all so easy to understand. And no matter what problems or questions I have, there's a great network of people at the ready to offer help... Al, Mike, Josh, JoJo, Nancy, myself, and many more... and the group keeps growing!

At the very least, there's nothing to lose by reading the information and giving it a try. But it's all so logical, and it works so great, I know I'll be growing in a better medium that I build myself for the remainder of my gardening years! I'm just sorry I didn't learn this all from the beginning!

    Bookmark   February 8, 2011 at 3:21PM
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You can increase your lighting by using a few CFL's in a lamp. I use a octopus-type floor lamp to supplement light over winter. They are inexpensive. I look for sales in Home Depot, Lowes or Target. They are handy because you can move and point the bulbs in various directions.

Here's a photo of what I do over the dark days of winter. Sometimes, this is all that is needed.

Feel free to email me with any questions.


    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 12:03PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

..... something I forgot to mention - you guys (Cardarlin/Mike) are growing the prostrate form of this plant. It can be trained to grow more upright by following the suggestions I left upthread, but if you want the plant to grow more like a bush, the upright form (like the cutting I started last summer, seen in all the pictures I posted of the P afras) is a better choice. The plant you guys have would actually respond better to being pinched so it grows in mound form, or pinched until you have LOTS of stems, which can then be left to trail. Let me know if you don't understand the term 'pinching'.

Let me know too, if you want me to start cuttings of the upright plant & get them to you. As soon as I have something to prune off, I can get them started, or I can just send you cuttings (when the weather permits) & some soil (in Cardarlin's case) and you can start them yourselves. It's pretty foolproof if you start them in screened perlite or a similar well-aerated medium (gritty mix). I'm sure too, that I could hook you up for cuttings through one of the botanists or horticulturalists at Matthaei Botanical Gardens near you, and Telly's is likely to have both the upright and the prostrate cultivars. There is even a very unusual 'cork bark' variety that is curiously interesting.

Best luck.


    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 1:37PM
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Beautiful plants, Al... your attention to detail and form is so artistic... and, of course, your generosity knows no bounds! :-)

Liebig's Law applies... light is only a limiting factor if it's the factor in shortest supply. Have we determined this to be the case?

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 3:16PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Yes - it's true. Maybe I can explain it better with numbers:
Let's assign numbers to 5 potential limiting factors numbers that represent their potential to limit growth. 5 means the factor is perfect, 1 means its horrid

Let's say that it's 50 *, so temperature rates - a 1
There is a little too much P in the soil - a 4
There is a slight N deficiency - a 3
the soil is compacted and wet - a 2
Light is perfect - 5

What on this list is going to limit growth? - Temperature, Right? Even though there are other potentially limiting factors that are less than ideal, it is actually temperature that is THE limiting factor. So let's make temperature perfect. We then have

Temperature 5
Light 5
P toxicity - 4
Soil compacted & wet - 2
N deficiency - 3

and the plant can only grow as well as the most limiting factor, which is now a 2.

What do we have above as the factor that is now limiting growth? The compacted/soggy soil - right. Lets give it a perfect soil:

Temperature 5
Light 5
Soil 5
P toxicity - 4
N deficiency - 3

Oops - now the N deficiency is limiting growth - but the plant is now growing better. It is now growing at a 3 level, where before it was at a 1

Add a little urea or other N source so the N supply is perfect, and we have

Temperature 5
Light 5
Soil 5
N supply 5
P toxicity - 4

and the plant has improved it's growth rate to a 4. But plantings are never static, so let's say that the P level stays at a 4, but somehow the light supply is altered to a level of 3. Light had never been a limiting factor until that point, but as you see below it is now the most limiting factor. Flip the switch for your supplemental lighting, and the P toxicity once again becomes the culprit limiting growth.

Temperature 5
Soil 5
N supply 5
P toxicity - 4
Light 3

In most cases, nothing is going to be absolutely perfect, but you can see why it's important to focus on all the potentially limiting factors as a part of the whole, and not on just making one factor perfect. It's not the perfect or close to perfect factors that will trip you up, and that are most in need our attention. It's by improving the most imperfect influences that you can improve growth.

To move forward intensely focused on one issue at the expense of ignoring other issues, or to think that raising even 4 of the 5 issues to a level of 5 will improve growth when you still have issues in the 1 to 2 to 3 range doesn't jibe with science or logic.

If you go up to the very first example I offered where temperature was at the level of 1 and limiting growth, even if you brought EVERY other limiting factor up to a 5, temperature, at a level of 1, would still limit growth to that level.

We need to look at the factors that determine our own health holistically. We're only going to be able to keep our bodies 'just so healthy', and HOW healthy depends on the limiting effects of things like our diet, amount of exercise, nutrition, weight, medications ..... Plants are made of cells that grow, divide and die at varying rates, depending on many of the same influences that affect our own bodies' cells. Like us, we optimize plant growth and health by doing our best to eliminate all the factors that might be detrimental. No one thinks that eating only vitamins can do the job - or that taking just the right amount of vitamins can compensate for an unhealthy diet or cure every ill.

Potentially limiting factors are called that because they have the potential to limit. We ignore them, any/all at peril of our plants' growth/vitality.


    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 4:58PM
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Al: Thank you for such awesome ideas in pruning. If I could only get mine to even come close to yours.;-)
I would love that. I will take you on your offer too. Thanks a million:-)

So as you say, I will wait till summer and then come back and read this again or just print it out for further reference. I really appreciate all the info and support!


    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 5:18PM
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Great explanation, Al, thank you. It makes understanding the "law of the minimum", as it relates to growing plants, so much easier.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 7:19PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

I'm with Jodi on this one! ;-) That's a great break down and way of explaining it! I'll be printing it to show to Carol.

All the pruning tips are great too! Thanks!

I have a snapdragon, I wanted to work with, but at a glance yesterday, it seems she doesn't have a main stem! lol! more like a bush. So I'll need to take a better look. The plant is going on 3 yrs old now.


    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 10:28AM
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Considering that we grow them as annuals in the north, JoJo, that's a long time to keep a Snapdragon! I've had them reseed out in the gardens, which I didn't think was possible, but I've never brought one inside for the winter. Where would I put it?! ;-)

I love Al's little Snapdragon bonsai! It really shows what's possible!

    Bookmark   February 11, 2011 at 10:47AM
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