Did I make a mistake? (Do I need to repot?)

goddess9(7b)February 22, 2012

I'm a new gardener (not necessarily new TO gardening, as my grandmother made me plant with her in the spring but more so new to having my own plants) and I have a few questions about houseplants and soil. I tried searching for this beforehand.

Anyway, I have a ficus benjamina and a kalanchoe blossfieldiana that I repotted in September. I'm not asking for specific care req. as I have researched it. I'm more concerned about the soil I potted it in, which is going to make me seem like a total goob.

I repotted them using solely spaghnum peat moss. I know better now! However, they seem to be doing fine in it. The ficus hasn't dropped one leaf an the kalanchoe has grown a full 4 inches in about as many months. Do I have to repot them in a better mix or will this suffice until the next repot (I'm assuming in about another year and a half of so)? I don't want to stress them with an unnecessary repot but will do so if the soil just won't cut it. I can never really tell when it's truly appropriately watered because the soil just sucks it up and never drains. Help?

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Obviously, if doom is not impending, there is no need to do anything immediate. ;-) It's a less than ideal situation if all the dissolved solids (salts) in your tap water and fertilizer solution remain in the soil. Eventually, that will catch up to you, so you might want to at least put a plan in place temporarily that will allow you to water copiously enough to flush accumulating salts from the soil when you water - at least on a monthly basis. Let me know if you'd like to entertain that idea.

Generally, if you get a full growth cycle out of a peaty soil before it breaks down, you're doing better than average. If you're doing well with your plants, and happy with the results, there is no need to change. We do know though, that soils that are made of mostly all small particles hold too much water to offer your plants the best potential for growth and vitality. Lost potential is something of an abstract or intangible concept, in that it's often there w/o you knowing it, and it doesn't always manifest itself in the form of lost leaves or other forms of lost potential not readily noticed by the new grower. Still, if you're happy with your plants, that's what is most important.

Repotting isn't the trauma you might think. There's a difference between repotting and potting up, too. Repotting has a considerable rejuvenating effect on plants. I have no idea how much you know, or how much you WANT to know. I would suggest that you hang around for a while and learn a little about soils and repotting, with an eye to maybe embarking on that adventure in the early summer, which is the best time to repot houseplants because their (stored) energy levels will be very high and the summer recovery period still long.

If you have other questions, ask away.


    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 3:27PM
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Hello Al,

Sure, I'd entertain that idea. I have read up on individual plant needs but I'm still pretty clueless about working with the soil!

I am happy with the plants and would like to keep them alive for however long they wish to be alive. However, I don't want to put them in less than ideal conditions. Both plants came in a 4" pot and I re-potted in 6" containers. I'm willing to absorb anything you want to share! I like constructive criticism and since these are my most senior plants, I want to keep them alive the most.

Thank you for your input. :-)

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 5:51PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I just left a good part of the following today on a thread about a waterlogged Meyer lemon. It describes how to deal with excess water retention. First, the next time your plants need water, flush the soil thoroughly and repeatedly with a volume of water equal to at least that of the size of the container the plants are in. Do it at least 5-10 times. After you're done flushing the salts from the soil, stuffing a wick through the drain hole will help a LOT of the excess water to drain. If you only have a couple of plants, and they're small enough, the following will very effectively remove almost all the excess water from your soil:
Hold the plant over the sink at about shoulder height. Move the plant downward quickly; then, just before it hits the sink, reverse the direction of the pot and move it smartly upward. The water in the pot wants to keep moving down, so when you lift the pot, the water moves downward and out of the drain hole. After a few tries, you'll find the rhythm that works best.

I'll leave you a link to an overview that should help you get past most of the aspects of container growing that usually present obstacles, soil being one of the most significant. After you've read that, if you're up for more I'll link you to another thread that discusses soils and soil/water relationships in much more detail. Understanding the concept in that thread probably represents the largest forward step you're likely to make at any one time insofar as your ability to bring along healthy plants over the long term. There's a lot you can learn; with the only limitation being how much effort you want to put into it. ;-)


Here is a link that might be useful: An overview if you click me.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 8:55PM
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Thank you, Al, for all of your help! I really appreciate this.

I was scared to every really "flush" them because of their particular needs. I always thought I would be drowning them! Especially the ficus, which is a spearmint, and is apparently notorious for defoliating if it doesn't like what you did to it.

For reference, I have several more plants:
Pothos, marble queen
Crassula ovata
Elephant bush
Hypoestes Phyllostachya (polka dot plant?)
Crassula tetragona

All with different needs. I'm afraid to do what you said to the succulents. :( I will try with those in the peat moss first to see how it goes. Any links you want to send out will be read!

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 9:44AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Here's a big surprise for you ....... you only THINK your plants all have different needs, but actually, they all pretty much want the same thing. Most people interpret the fact that because your pothos & polka dot plant tolerate wet feet a little better than the succulents that they prefer a more water retentive medium, when in actuality, they only endure it (a little better than the succulents).

For background, not to boast: I've posted hundreds of pictures of houseplants, succulents, cacti, bonsai, mixed display plantings, all of them perfectly healthy and with unblemished foliage, and I treat them all the same way. I have 2 soils I make and one fertilizer.

Fully 90% of the issues that container growers come to these forums seeking remedial advice for are related directly or indirectly to the effects of their soil choice. Even insect predation and disease are usually the result of a plant's having been weakened by issues related to root health.

Most of the growers that frequent these forums are much more knowledgeable about growing in containers than the average hobbyist. The reason is, the average hobbyist has little clue how plants work or what they want, and would have no idea how to implement the information if they were told. Still, every day I see growers on these forums that see the value in amending commercially prepared soils based on large fractions of small particles that don't fully understand how to take advantage of the science that removes almost all potential limitations related to soil.

To be sure, there are some that cannot take advantage because they lead busy lives or have commitments that require long intervals between waterings, others aren't that interested in how their plants fair, and having weighed the decision aren't interested in making the effort. A large % of growers are very interested in how to put some simple science to work for them AND more than willing to make the effort to put it into practice. Those are the growers I'm most interested in - the ones with open minds and lots of enthusiasm.

Here is one of my elephant bushes (P. afra)

one of the kids

A willow leaf ficus (F. salicifolia/nerifolia)

Notice the soil these plants are in .....

I'll leave a link to a thread that should give you a good understanding of how soils work and how you can put then to work so they work for you, instead of against you. The knowledge has only the potential to help you. What you decide to do with it is up to you. If you have questions, please voice them.


    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 12:32PM
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They're just gorgeous. :) I only hope my P. Afra looks like that!

My grandmother was moreso a flower person when she did garden. I have realized through my own plant picks that I prefer a little color but not necessarily flowers. I knew what to do when they were in the ground, but I am somewhat clueless when it comes to keeping them alive in pots.

You have a good point there. I'm considering mixing up the cactus soil I have so that my future cacti/succulents will have a more appropriate soil. Is Miraclegro so bad? Would I be better off with a basic potting soil as a base and working from there?

Should I "flush" them the next time they need watering? They should be due for one in about a week. They all sit on eastern facing sills which are the only available windows I have. Thank you again for your guidance, as I know you really don't have to be helping. :) As I look around this site, the more I learn.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 1:57PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

There are upright and prostrate forms of P afra, and only the upright lends itself willingly to the formation of a heavy trunk. If you don't have the upright form, remind me come May, and I'll make sure you get started cuttings if you'd like them.

Determining whether a soil is good or bad depends on what you're contrasting them with. MG isn't so bad when compared to all the other commercially prepared soils as a group, and that are commonly available and used for houseplants; but, on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being perfect and 1 being almost unusable, I'd rate it at about a 3-4 - LOTS of room for improvement.

When you think of potting soils and what to use as your base, think of larger particles, like pine bark or other inorganic particles much larger than peat particles. In your mind's eye, picture a soil made of particles the size of BBs, and see all the healthy air spaces between the BBs. No matter how much water you pour on the soil, those air spaces won't fill with water.

Now imagine a soil based on peat, compost, topsoil, sand ..... The air spaces between particles are very small and tend to fill up with water when you water - like you said the peat your plants are in does. If you mix the peat and BBs 50/50, the peat just fills in around the BBs, robbing the BBs of their air space, so a soil that has mostly larger particles and very few fine particles so the air spaces stay open is going to be much healthier for roots than a soil with all the little air pores filled with water.

The primary difference between these two types of soils is that because the more open soils hold less water, you need to water more frequently. You'll need to decide if the extra effort is worth greater promise for your plants to grow to the potential they were genetically programmed for. There are 2 sides to that coin. Some feel the soils that I and many others grow in hold too little water, and robs them of the convenience of longer intervals between waterings, but since we build these soils with the plant's well being in mind, I know without doubt that soils that offer extended intervals between waterings hold too much water to NOT be limiting in their effect on growth and vitality.

One of the most important considerations is that well-aerated and fast-draining soils are far more forgiving and much easier to grow in. They forgive your watering mistakes readily, as long as you don't FORGET to water, and make fertilizing easy. Because they promote such healthy root systems, they have the potential to produce much healthier plants with robust metabolisms that make the plant better able to resist insects and diseases.

I'll leave you a link below to some information that explains the soil/water relationship. An understanding of the concept it defines almost automatically puts you far ahead of other container gardeners as a group. It shouldn't be too difficult to see what other growers that have read and applied it think. There are other threads similar to that one about other aspects of container culture, like nutritional supplementation, when/if you're ready to move on ..... or you can just not respond & I'll take that as a 'not interested'.

The comments I left on YM's thread today might also be of interest.

What my houseplant's feet are in:


Here is a link that might be useful: I'd like to see you put this in your tool box!

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 5:53PM
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Lots of reading I must get to!

My P. afra has a Y shape. It has a sucker (I guess that's an appropriate term) that is also Y shaped. I don't know how this will end up with this shape. I don't mind it this way and it has plenty of new growth even though it apparently did not like me while I was re-potting (it was root bound).

So should I just chuck the soil? I hate to waste. Maybe I can add some larger particles to the mix?

I did just do some looking around and I don't think I'm watering my plants thoroughly enough. It looks like everyone gives them a good soaking, and I do not do this! I'm more afraid of killing the plants by way of overwatering. I lost a beautiful Brazilian firecracker this way. I told myself not to do that again.

I'm going to read these links - they're in my bookmarks.


    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 10:27PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Good idea (reading the links). I think that not only will you find answers to many of your questions, but you'll gain a sense of direction that will help you ask questions the answers to which will be more meaningful in helping you get to where you want to be. TTYL


    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 11:36PM
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