Best brand of potting mix? Also, easiest varieties of begonias?

bubblpopelectrcMarch 20, 2011

I'm fairly a beginner when it comes to house plants.

I hear a lot of mixed reviews about pre-made potting mixes. Is there any (readily available, e.i. at big box stores) particular brands that are good? I'm OK mixing something like perlite into a potting mix but would like to keep things as simple as possible.

Also, are there any good, easy types of begonias? I really enjoy the cane types but I'm sure some are less fussy than others.


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No experience in Begonias, but as for potting mix, I've always used Miracle Grow. I don't know, or care for that matter, what people might say about it, because I have used it for literally everything, starting with my first plant, a lucky bamboo, 12 years ago. My plants have been good and healthy, although I use only rain water, which I feel is most important.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 10:14PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Soils that have large particles, particularly pine bark, as a significantly larger fraction of the whole (60%+) can be counted on to offer better aeration and drainage, and to be more durable, ensuring that those valued properties will be retained much longer than soils with peat as their primary fraction. Soils with superior drainage and aeration also allow you to water properly - so that you can flush the soil of accumulating salts each time you water w/o risking the root rot that often follows on the heals of soils that remain saturated for extended periods.

Two soils I know of that fit that bill from the bale are Fafard's 51L or their #3 mix. You probably won't find them at big box stores, but nursery/greenhouse ops that sell their products would probably be willing to order them.

If you can't find the Fafard's products and ARE willing to mix pine bark, perlite, and a little lime into bagged soils like Miracle-Gro and others, you can easily make the equivalent of the Fafard products or better.


    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 11:21PM
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Thanks for your responses... I appreciate it.

After doing a little more research, how does something like this look?

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 12:22AM
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I agree with MG. However, I add other ingredients depending on plant type.

Succulents: MG for Cactus, Palm and Citrus, Perlite and Coarse Sand.

Tropicals: MG Potting Mix, Peat, Perlite, a little 'black' potting soil, Bark, and Coarse Sand.

Acidic Plants: African Violet MG, Peat, a little 'black' potting soil, Coarse Sand and Bark.

However, MG Cons:
I don't like MG Moisture Control or the fact fertilizers are now being added. For one thing, I prefer my own fertilizers, second, price increases a couple dollars per bag. Last, who knows the amount and type of fertilizer added.

Although it's stated, after a plant is repotted in fresh soil, fertilizers shouldn't be added anywhere from 3-6 months.

Timing wouldn't work. Plants are best repotted in spring. Let's say Apr or May. A sixth-month wait would land in autumn, Oct-Nov.
I withhold fertilizer from Sept through winter. If I followed these instructions, it'd be nearing a year before plants could be fed.

Begonias...The two easiest Begonias are 1. the types sold in garden centers, used as Accents Plants, called Wax Begonias. The second is Silver-Spot Begonia. Green leaves with silver/white spots.
Neither need a ton of humidity, endure cooler temps, and flower throughout the year.. Toni

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 1:15AM
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I agree with Al, Fafard potting mixes are excellent. I also like Happy Frog and FoxFarm's Ocean Forest.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 8:34AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hi, BPE. Any time you have a soil that has as its primary fraction, peat, coir, compost, or other fine ingredients, it is inherently very water retentive and it absolutely will support a considerable volume of perched water. You can apply some 'tricks' to help you remove it, but its tendency is to remain very soggy. Adding other fine ingredients to this soil, like sand or topsoil, is a step backward. Adding more peat is a lateral move, having little affect on drainage/aeration and actually reducing those properties if it increases the % of small particles in the soil. Adding perlite simply reduces the o/a volume of water the soil is capable of holding.

Because all the soils in the link you provided list compost as their primary fraction, you can draw the conclusion that they will hold a LOT of water - more than is necessary and more than wanted for good root health. When working with heavy soils, you either need to water in small sips, which ensures that the solubles from fertilizers and tap water will build up in the soil, or you take a chance & water correctly, flushing the soil of these salts when you water , but that may cause the soil to remain saturated too long and raise the issue of root rot. Whenever you choose a heavy soil, it always comes with a dilemma re how to approach watering.

OTOH, soils that have larger particulates as their base allow you to water freely and properly without concern for root rot. The added aeration and drainage, as well as the reduced ht of the perched water table make roots very happy. You might put a little more effort into making or finding a soil like I described, but the rewards are much less work 'fixing ills' down the road and the opportunity for much healthier and happy plants.

When it comes to container soils, THE most important thing is their structure and how long that can/will retain that structure. Peaty or compost-based soils are water-retentive from the outset, and collapse quickly after we plant in them. Adding sand or topsoil to them simply increases the amount of compaction and robs the soil of it's air.

The link below, if you're interested, will explain the difference between a good and a poor soil. Even if you decide to go forward using a peat or compost-based soil, the information in the post will undoubtedly help you understand what you're dealing with. There are also some tips on how to deal with a water-retentive soil in another thread if you're interested.

I never really care what people decide, insofar as their soil choice, but I feel that it is good to have accurate information on which to base your decision(s).

The thread below has been active on GW since spring of '05 when I posted it. It has nearly 2,000 posts to it, so you can see that it has proven a valued resource. I'm not saying that because it's my opinion, I'm saying it because of the hundreds & hundreds of others that have made that comment before I ever would. I hope you find it helpful.

Take care.


Here is a link that might be useful: More about container media

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 10:03AM
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Thanks for all the advice!

I think I'm going to either buy something and add a few things or just make my own mix all together based on what Al uses.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 12:26PM
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Bubblpope. Whatever soil or soil-less mixes works for your plants is what's important.
Experimenting is the only way to find out which mediums is easiest and keeps your plants healthy.

Just for the record, I've been using the soils mentioned above over 20 years. In no way, shape or form does my soil hold excess water.

If this other stuff doesn't cause root rot no matter how much water is added, it'd dry way to fast. I can't see watering 300-400 plants daily. It takes 3-4 days to water/fertilizer my plants now..I don't have the time or inclination to water everday.

But again, use the soil that works best for your plants. Good luck, Toni

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 5:23PM
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The responses have sparked my interest, even though I've been a Miracle Grow man since day one. I can say though, that I have NOT tried other mixes, except a catus & succulent mix. I am interested to know now if I might get better results from something other than your run-of-the-mill potting mixes.

My observations with MG are as follows: I have never once had root rot with it, but I suppose that has more to do with my watering correctly. I would suspect that if I were to switch to a more loose, free draining mix, that I'd have to water my plants every other day, versus about once a week. I guess I've never questioned MG, because I've always had great results using it. I would still recommend it to people, but at the same time, I would be open to experimenting with other types as well.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 5:46PM
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Wow, I read that post by Al, and it sheds some light on some things I've wondered about. I've always wondered why after 6 months to a year, the soil in my plants seems to get caked, and eventually pulls away from the pot sides and becomes difficult to water. Now I know. I'm thinking I might go ahead and make Al's custom mix this spring, and do some repotting, as many of my plants are actually due anyway.

Questions for Al though. First, should I switch to your mix, how will root growth compare? Will the roots fill the pot faster and require more frequent repotting?? Am I going to run into the issue of a LACK of water retention, and the need to water my plants a lot more?? I use time release fertilizer so I assume I'll be fine there. Thanks in advance.

PS: I'm not throwing Miracle Grow under the bus, but at the same time, I'm saying it's the best thing either. I'll let you know after I try Al's mix.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 6:13PM
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Hi Joe.

You are right! That is exactly why I do not use Miracle Grow anymore. The limitations I had using that stuff, and lack of knowledge about how the roots to my plants were affected by it and the negative effects, had definatelty limited my growing abilities, experience, and success.

I won't go into all the disavantages of using Miracle Grow for it is writen all over these forums, but I will tell you that having to water more frequently in a much better quaility mix is definately worth the trade off.

I have come to learn that giving the roots to my plants the best possible conditions that can be had, is always going to cause great root growth and in tuen, very vibrant plants for longer than 6 months.
If I did not get my plants out of the compacted stuff as you described within the required amount of time, the roots on my plants would suffocate, fine root growth would be inhibited, and if not die off.

Knowledge and applying it has never hurt anyone, and I am very happy you are starting to understand why so many of us stay away from bagged mixes now. Learning the science behind how good mixes work in containers and how they affect your plants will be a satisfying experience. Keep it up.

You will get it, even more than what you already know as many, many others have already found out..:-)


    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 6:39PM
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I, also, build my own container mediums using larger particulates... fir bark, granite chips, turface, and perlite.

Actually, having access to valid, accurate information is the best way to make an informed choice on what to place your plants in. Just because something is easy doesn't mean it's good, and easy is not always the way people choose. Some, like myself, are more than willing to expend the effort required to grow containerized plants to their maximum potential.

After reading Al's well written article, "Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention", it became obvious that the gardening industry and its retail market does not provide adequate materials or information for maximum plant potential... not surprising, really, when you consider the fact that all industries are similarly profit driven.

I learned a lot reading that article and today, there's no way in heck I'd ever go back to using a bagged soil!

The concept of the Gritty and 511 Mixes is exceptionally sound... especially when the purpose of a container medium is considered. It must anchor the plant, provide for the exchange of oxygen and gases to and from the root zone, and it must be the catalyst for delivery of moisture and nutrition to the plant. Keeping this in mind, and understanding how water moves through soil, it becomes apparent that a silty, fine particled medium cannot work as well as a medium built of larger particulate.

These two durable mixes hold enough moisture to keep roots happy and healthy, and they give growers a much wider margin for error in watering.

I originally began searching for alternatives to bagged soils and cocopeat when my amaryllid collection began to give me issues. I had a lot of problems with root rot, and I actually lost a few bulbs to rot. The lengthy saturation of bagged potting soil allowed for the continual suffocation, drowning and death of fine roots, and the regeneration of roots to replace those lost to suffocation and drowning. It becomes a cycle when the medium remains too wet for long periods of time, and it's stressful to plants. Roots need to "breathe".

To make a long story short, I located the ingredients I needed and built my own medium... and I haven't looked back! The Gritty Mix is exactly what my bulbs needed! I use the mix for everything... bulbs, cacti, orchids, everything!

Al might be my friend, but I wouldn't sing his praises if what he advised was worthless. Al is a very respected and knowledgeable member of the gardening community, not only here at GW, but all over as he's a frequent paid speaker at large garden club meetings and such.

Knowledge is the real key to success... and this is true of anything. Having the knowledge with which to make informed decisions will always net us more success, and therefore, more enjoyment! I urge you to read Al's writings... he takes a lot of logical scientific information on growing and breaks it down into easy to understand layman's terms. It all makes so much sense that I'm a little mad at myself for not learning it all sooner!

Whatever you decide to do, it really does pay to to have the knowledge. Happy Gardening! :-)

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 7:49PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Sometimes what people say and what we KNOW of science are at odds. When someone tells you they use ANY combination of ingredients like peat/peat based soils/sand/topsoil/compost/coir, you can be absolutely certain the soil will be too water-retentive to afford the best opportunity for plants to grow at or near their genetic potential. A huge % (99%?) of the houseplants we grow do not grow in bogs and marshes, yet many of us expect our houseplants to grow in bog-like conditions in containers.

Pots are not gardens. Our gardens drain well & afford lots of air in the soil because the earth acts as a wick, draining excess water from the soil. In container plantings with bagged peaty soils and bagged soils amended with even more peat, sand, topsoil - any other fine particulates, that water 'perches' in the soil and WON'T drain; it raises cain with root health, and thus plant health. It slows growth and limits vitality. There really is no way to start with fine particulates and add more fine particulates and expect to improve aeration and limit the ht of the perched water table. That is a scientific fact. Water retention and aeration are locked in a direct relationship with particle size. That is a given. I can tell you my cow jumped over the moon, but if you have any feeling for how the law of gravity works, you'll likely doubt my assertion. The same is true of many aspects of soil science. There are certain things we absolutely KNOW about soils and soil science, and no matter how hard we might wish some assertions to be true, weighing them against scientific fact is the best way to determine their plausibility.


    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 8:50PM
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It is obvious that people who find bagged mixes wet and bogged down, overwater their plants. Unless a plant is underlit, they have to be overwatering.

I have found grit mixes require constant watering and hold little water and nutrients. Thus, you must get involved with complicated fertilizing and walk around with a watering can daily. Then you have to carry your plants to the sink because the water runs right out. I have a few plants in a modified grit mix and can't wait to repot this spring into bagged mix with bark. It does not work for me at all. I need a more retentive mix.

Grit mix might look good on paper, but the reality is my plants wilt if not watered every 2 days and I have bark mixed in. My house is dry and the mix doesn't hold any water. It runs right through. I have to soak the pots in water for an hour to get the bark wet enough to last a few days. Who has time for this?

My other house plants are in Miracle Gro and small bark and can go a week between waterings; large, floor plants can go over a week. I am getting better growth because they are not drying out constantly.

Actually, the plants in bagged mix/bark look healthier than the plants in gritty mix. I am worried about those and hope the weather warms so I can quickly repot.

Personally, the downside of potting in a grit mix is not discussed. There are pros and cons to both mixes. I would recommend you try both to decide what works for you. You need to decide which works best for your lifestyle.


    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 12:36AM
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Hi Toni:-)

Thanks for the info on Begonias.

I had no idea there were easy types to grow. I shall have to give that a try. I really appreciate that.

Hey Jodik: I Really appreciated what you said, and in fact ALL my fellow co-workers were impressed, and now it is because of you that one of them actually left work and went to get herself a plant at Home Depot and my local nursery that just received citrus, since she has never been able to keep one plant
You have been so instrumental in my quest to take in everything I need to know about how mixes work in containers and what is best for plants along with many others. Thank you:-)
I might even give a begonia suggested by Toni a try thanks to the OP who started this thread.

The women I work with is going to go to the same exact places I go to and buy up some turface, granite chips and bark. You know the stupid thing? I told her where to get the ingredients which leaves me to wonder if there will be any left by the time I get
It is like telling someone the best place to fish and actually get a good catch. Many would prefer to keep that under their hats in secret.

I must say that I can't wait for her to try, since she is going to get a waxy Begonia as Toni suggested and one citrus as I suggested. That is about as well balanced couple of plants as I can think of.

Thanks again for reminding us that knowledge is the real key. Thank God we are free to learn and take in knowledge, not suppressed by some ideology or unproven facts, or some dictatorship like many are in other countries.

I am so happy we have this free country and the freedom to come here and share we have discovered.


    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 1:15PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

On the contrary, I think the pros and cons of both mixes are continually discussed in great detail. As far as these soils only looking good on paper, one only has to consider that there are hundreds upon hundreds of people using these soils in a very wide variety of practical applications, and sharing their very positive experiences with others - that is site-wide, and also extends to other popular forum sites where the thread about Water Movement & Retention in Container Soils has been a 'STICKY', posted to the top of the container gardening forum for years because so many consider both the post and the concept such a valuable resource.

Certainly the concept is valid because even naysayers are embracing it by adding this and that (larger particulates) in an attempt to improve the properties (in their own heavier soils) that are inherently superior in the soils that are formulated specifically to include and embrace those properties. It's difficult to understand how a grower might embrace the concept but fault the scientifically sound implementation of it - especially in view of the overwhelming numbers of people responding favorably.

I think that if a thousand people are having excellent results using a particular soil, and suddenly one person pops up - or two, or three, saying that they are having difficulty, we need to look to why they are having difficulty and not be quite so quick to jump to the conclusion that the soil is somehow lacking. If a person doesn't like the fact that they may have to make the effort water a little more frequently in order to secure the benefits highly aerated soils offer, there's not much to be said. That's a personal decision that isn't of the same consequence to all.

The idea that if you grow in a soils like the gritty mix, you'll need to stand over the plantings with a watering can is greatly exaggerated. I have plants growing under lights, and I grow in smaller containers than most of you would consider. The bulk of my plants get watered every 4 days - a few every 2 days, and a very few in extremely small soil volumes get watered daily. Keep in mind that even though watering frequently may necessitate a few extra minutes of your time each week, having to water frequently is a GOOD thing from your plants' perspective, and the results/dividends are widely viewed well worth it.


    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 2:29PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

I've learned a bit of Begonias by the seat of my pants, also have a friend who's the former President of the NY Begonias Society: A couple of points about Begonias:

There are 3 different types:

rhizomatous, caning & tuberous.

I grow the Rhizomatous, they can be started from leaves (the same way as AVs, or part of leaves even)

Examples are Beefsteak & Art Hodes, both of which I've grown.

Caning get tall & lanky w/ very visible joints, seem to prefer outdoor.

Tuberous, I believe have tubers, but I've never grown them, so don't know about varying growth habits.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 4:50PM
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Karen, are rhizomatous the Begonias that go dormant in winter? I always forget which is which.

Here's a Silver Spot Begonia bought at, Logee's, of all places in the mid 90's. Maybe someone can ID its botanical name.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 5:17PM
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Currently I have 13 plants, but at some times I have had 20 or more. The reason being, is that I raise some from the small, low price cuttings, or my own cuttings, and give them to friends and family. Also, as any plant owner does, I get bored with some, and give them to someone. I do have my favorites that have been with me for years and years, and they aren't going anywhere. I also do plant rehabs for people, although it's pointless because I give them back, and the people ruin them again.

A majority of my success comes from my abundance of natural light in my house, which makes a world of difference. For example, my "money tree" (pachira), which I cut down every winter, grows to around 7 feet each year, for 6 years straight now. I also pay close attention to my plants, cleaning them frequently of dust, checking for bugs, and watering carefully.

Now, on the the soil topic. I will be trying out Al's mix, as it seems very practical. Like I said, I won't throw MG under the bus, because it worked for me for years. However, there are things I've noticed, and wondered about, until reading about soil. Some plants, as you know, don't need repotting but every coupl or few years. When I let one go that long, the rootball turns into a rock, to the point where I have to water via capillary action. I always figured that the roots have filled the pot, causing the hard dirt, but when I go to repot, there isn't all that many roots in the pot. My jade plant is notorious for this. The root ball is a really hard mess, which is difficult to work with when repotting. With that said, to me it seems that there is a problem with the soil hardening, and from my reading of Al's posts, I believe he has the answer. As I said, Miracle Grow has done me good, and I'm not ready to just throw it all out the window, but I'll compare & contrast my results. I'll also let you know that I do a LOT of research on everything I do, and have this weird ability to remember about 95% of everything I read, even latin names of trees, shrubs, and house plants. Enough on that now.

On to the next thing. As far as practicality of what soil to use, well, that is going to vary for each of us. Some people enjoy the time they spend on plants, others like the looks of them, but not the effort in keeping them. So for that matter, those who are willing to put in the time, I can see where Al's mix will most likely be beneficial, but for those that don't want the added effort, something like MG is better. Then there's those like my wife, who buy hanging baskets, easter lilies, etc. and just hang 'em up, or set them on the dining room table, and walk away. I always tell her "you know, those things don't water themselves", and she insists that she takes care of them. For those type of people, the best soil to use is the plastic kind, with a fake plant attached. I'll let you know how I do, but by the time I probably have any results, we'll have long forgotten about this thread, because in order to compare the results of Al's mix, I'll have to put them up against my 13 successful years with Miracle Grow.


PS: Toni, I assume you run a greenhouse or something that you have that many plants??

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 6:02PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Joel, you're absolutely right about the hardening effect of peat moss.
I'm very glad that you'll be trialing some of the more aerated, gritty mixes.
I, too, grow Pachira - one of my absolute favorites - as well as numerous Jades,
which are the plants that really got me into houseplants several years back.

I can assure everyone here that gritty mixes do not need to be watered daily.


    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 7:20PM
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Hey Joe,
13 plants..Hang around here, you'll have a house filled with plants of all types. lol

I remember when I had 13 plants..I was 18-yrs-old, lol.

There are very few plants I dislike, one is the famous ZZ, but it'd be impossible giving up plants. Many times I walked through the house thinking, if I sold 'X' plant/s, to buy new, which would go? Well, Joe, I couldn't find one plant I'd part with.

My oldest plant is a green Spider, purchased 1973/4. Second and third are: bought 5 Clivia Seeds from Parks Seed in 1982. Sowed, they germinated. My Clivia is alive and well to this day..and huge. Another oldie. A friend gave me a E. Crown of Thorn Millii cutting in 1982. It flowers, little pink blooms year round.

I rarely root cuttings because I don't want or need duplicate plants.

Joe, I didn't mean I don't put effort when it comes to soils. You wouldn't believe how much work is involved. Mixing big batches of different mediums, each are placed in labled, plastic containers with lids. Various fertilizers. Superthrive. Epsom Salts. Iron. Watering takes three to four days, fertilizing can take up to a week. Daily misting, weekly showers. Inspecting for bugs. It's like working two full-time jobs, but I enjoy it.

I have a small 8x12 green house that holds Citrus trees, Agaves, and a few larger plants, but all other plants are in the house.
Like yours, this house was 'blessed' with many windows. When we moved here, there were 31 or 32. We replaced w/newer windows.. In rooms where three windows were on one wall, the installers cut and made one big Picture Window. The back room, which faces east and south, has two Picture Windows. The front plant room has five tall, 'standard windows,' almost reaching ceiling to floor. Then there's the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room, hallway, downstairs hallway. In summer, most plants are summered outdoors. Lots of work hauling each plant out, then back in, in autumn. Before coming in, they're hosed, sprayed w/a home-made insecticide I mix up, then brought in. Or sometimes they're hosed outside, a second hosing inside, then sprayed with insecticide.

Plus, in summer, I garden outdoors, too. I dug grass in four large areas, and planted perrenials. Also annuals and veggies.

So, the wife buys plants but doesn't water?? lol. There's a zillion ppl like your wife. I worked at HD and a place called Rentokil Tropical wouldn't believe the number of people who asked, 'what's the easiest house plant to care for, or which requires the least amount of work?' lol. Sometimes I felt like pulling my hair out, a couple times I told them to go across the street where they sold fake plants. lol..if my boss would have heard, oh boy.

BTW, Joe, MG isn't the only soil brand I use. But, no matter which brand I pot up, soil is amended with other mediums such as Perlite, Peat, Bark, Charcoal, Vermiculite etc, depending on type of plant.

Here's some pics of my house..don't laugh looks more like a nursery than a home, but plants are very important to me..

Front North Side

South Plant Room

Back Plant Room

Back Door





There's more, but don't know how many pics Gw holds, lol, Toni

PS: Tell your wife to water those's great exorcise, @ no charge. lol

    Bookmark   March 23, 2011 at 8:39PM
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Wow, I am at a loss for words! I would never have the time for the amount of plants you have. I have 2 daughters, 3 and 5, who command lots of my time, and lord knows I love to give a lot of it to them. Basically my 13 plants are the ones I can't get rid of, and, ironically, one of those 13 favorites is the ZZ plant. I think I would be divorced if I had as many plants as you too, because my wife complains that I have too many as it is now, but of course, it's different when SHE wants one. I'll tell you this though, if I could figure out how to keep a heart leaf homolomena alive, I'll have 14 plants. I just love those, but the 2 times I've tried, they just slowly decline, with a leaf at a time yellowing out, and falling off. I've decided that I don't want to kill anymore until I know the secret, so if you have one, do tell. Also, I see you have a madagascar palm tree, which I used to have. Mine hit 7 feet tall, and got to the point that it was unmanagable. I donated it to a sunny hotel lobby, but man do I miss it, it was the only plant that I ever had that could stand the intense summer sun of my south facing deck. All in all, I commend you on your collection.


PS: I'll be watching the A&E channel, to see if someone named Toni is on an episode of "Hoarders" :)

    Bookmark   March 23, 2011 at 9:59PM
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Toni, all I can say is "WOW!" .... and that your spider plant is almost as old as me.
Its 20 yr HS reunion is coming up :)

    Bookmark   March 23, 2011 at 11:49PM
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Hi Joe...if you don't have the time to care for more plants, it's best to quit while you're ahead. You don't want to feel overwhelmed, end up neglecting.
3 and 5-yr-olds require a LOT of attention..daddy this, daddy that. 'Wet's pway, daddy, ice cweam,, etc. lol.
It's not easy. We have/d one child, two dogs, English Mastiff, Shih pu, and four birds, and a cat who lived 17-yrs. I bred birds, 'Cockatiels' and fish for years. Plus took care of plants and outdoor gardening. Though I admit I had less than 100 plants when our son was a child.
Worked, part-time, cooked, cleaned house, raised two children..son and husband. lol.

There were times I wished we had a maid, gardener, nanny, and pet-sitter. lol.
Still, two little girls are a lot of work. Especially at their ages.

I saw a variegated ZZ on Ebay the other day. The seller is located in Thailand...I would love that plant, but it's way past my budget. But it was very pretty.

Joe, most people love ZZ's. They're discussed often here on Gw.

When your wife complains, just tell her you're beautifying the house, explain they're also cleaning the air? lol.

Do you like your wife's choice of plants? When she buys one, forgets to water, take over. If you have a garden, plant the Easter Lily outside.. They'll pop up in spring..'cold climates. Usually, no longer than two years. However, they will flower.

Sorry, I've never had a Homolomena? However, I read your post earlier, then Googled Homolomena. It doesn't sound too difficult, but there's conflicting care instructions. Some say shade, others say bright light, did you care for yours? Light, soil moisture, etc?

Actually, I have several Pachypodiums/Madagascar Palms. You probably saw the largest. Bought it at HD in the 90's..It was about 7" and over-watered. Same with the second. The third I sowed from seed in 2006.
Two years ago, I found a nursery that sells Pachys and Euphorbias seedlings, fell in love, and ordered several. They're small specimens, but a few have thick trunks. One even flowered.
Wow, a 7' tall Madagascar Palm!! Did it ever bloom? It's too bad you had to give it up. They're such interesting succulents. Repotting had to be fun, It sounds lovely. Have a pic, by chance?

ROFL..a plant hoarder..too funny.

Gravy, thanks. 20 yrs? How about 37/38-yrs-old? lol.
I'm ashamed to say, the Spider has been in the same soil/pot about 10 yrs. One day it'll be repotted. Probably as soon as it warms up outside.

Joe and Gravy..Remember, there's always room for one more. :) Toni

    Bookmark   March 24, 2011 at 2:26AM
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I can assure everyone, also, that the grittier mediums do not require daily watering or any sort of unusual care.

In fact, they make my life easier by ensuring that my pots are all draining properly and freely, that my plants are getting the amount of moisture and nutrition required, not sitting in excess, and that any error margin has been greatly expanded.

Due to the lengthy time peat based mediums remain saturated, one needn't over water to have problems with the health of the plants contained therein. By their very scientific nature, peat based soils have proved to be difficult to grow to potential using, especially when the instructions that come with many plant types are generally off base with tags reading "keep consistently moist". Truthfully, some of those plant types actually prefer to dry out slightly in between waterings.

I'll say it again... possession of accurate knowledge is key to the success of a dedicated grower. One only needs to wade through everything provided by the industry and its constituents with a bit of common sense and a large grain of salt. The extra effort expended in growing plants to their genetic potential, or as closely to the same as we possibly can, is nothing when stacked against the contortions necessary to grow using fallacy and misinformation as guides.

Happy Gardening!

    Bookmark   March 24, 2011 at 1:33PM
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Jodik..about plant labels. Ignore them. 95% of the time, the information is wrong.
Often, customers remove a tag, read, then place in a different plant.
Labels are generically written. Especially plants sold in Big Box Stores like HD, Lowes, etc.

When you talk about a plant potted in Peat, do you mean the entire plant is potted in nothing but Peat?? I don't understand...


    Bookmark   March 24, 2011 at 2:13PM
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I like mixing bagged soil with small bark and perlite. Drains well but holds enough moisture and fertilizer to get through the week for the large plants.

I like sphagnum moss mixed with bark and bagged mix to help keep the mix open and draining, yet it holds moisture and fertilizer.

I believe growing should be practical and fit your life style. No plant does well if it dries out constantly. That has been my experience using grit. I much prefer bark and perlite. I occasionally mix diatomite in to keep my mixes open, but keep it at a minimum. I rarely use bagged mixes alone.

Please keep us updated on your results.


    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 1:13AM
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A quick reread of the words I originally typed, more than once, should clearly explain anything not understood... and those words are: "peat BASED mediums".

Even in my own environment of low humidity and dry indoor conditions, the Gritty Mix does NOT dry out or require watering as often as those not familiar with it think it does. In fact, I only water some plants once a week, and others might need a good soaking every 3 or 4 days, or thereabouts. I never stick to a set watering schedule... I only water as the plants need it, which is proper.

Mediums of larger particulate, containing certain ingredients, have marvelous water retaining properties. The concept is to create the necessary air pockets for the crucial exchange of oxygen and gases to and from the root zone with enough durability that they remain, while considering that enough moisture needs to be present in vapor form for the plants to uptake. Using the right ingredients of the right, comparable sizes accomplishes these tasks.

It's a myth that the Gritty Mix dries out too fast. The truth is, it functions in a very proper and pleasing manner to plants and their roots. It negates a lot of issues that are present, due to simple physics, when using fine, silty particulates and creates a close to perfect root environment for containerized culture.

I suppose I could buy what the industry sells, but I actually enjoy the slight effort it takes to build my own mediums, customized for different plant types, and I enjoy the little bit of extra time I get to spend working with my plants. That's why I have them... to enjoy. I don't consider watering or caring for them a chore. If I did, I'd get myself some silk plants and be done with it, no effort required. But the truth is, I gain too much enjoyment from nurturing my plants to ever consider their proper care, or learning more about them, too much of an effort.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 6:28AM
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Hmmm....I was raised in the Caribbean, and here (New England) growing up.
Recently, I have found that most tropical plants LOVE to get constant rains in well draining soils and/or potting mixes that hold no PWT (Perched Water Table), and that drain very well.

My friends in the Caribbean are having much more success growing everything from orchids to mango trees in containers using gritty mixes, as compared to merely amended bagged mixes that Walmart sells - and that is a fact.

The more often their plants are rained on in any particular day, the better they are!
Their plants respond VERY well to fresh rain, with the benefit of not having to wait days or weeks to produce large fruit and lots of blooms - and this includes Begonia.

To have a well draining mix that holds no PWT allows them/me to grow the most healthy tropicals I've seen - without fear of rot and while exchanging the gases out of the pots more often. Therefore, coming here to these Forums and learning of the gritty mix and the 5.1.1. mix (which contains a small fraction of peat, by the way) has been a God send, allowing me to almost replicate those conditions in my pots at home, despite cooler conditions and a lack of sunlight during the Winter. My tropical plants love it and show it.
I, personally, do not have to water my plants in these mixes everyday - and if so, it was my fault. If I had to, all the better for the plants themselves. Either I put too little peat or turface, left the particles too big, or used too much bark. From experience, not hearsay or guessing, I have only had to water my gritty mix in small containers often if I forgot to soak the bark before using it.
I have to say that my mixes are just what the doctor ordered for any one of my plants that love being watered regulary, as often as I can give it, and for those that like to dry out in a fairly good amount of time. Just perfect!
I have been coming here long enough to see many learning the science and basic principles on how plants, roots, and water behave in poor verses fantastic mixes - whether they realize it or not - so that they do not have to deal with that perched water table (PWT)that can turn your enemy.

This is the reason why ALL the OP's above suggested amended bagged mixes, or their ideas of amending soil mixes, and the reason others have shown us how to make superior mixes on our own. I honestly have to say thanks to the ones that have given me the oppurtunity to work with PWT's in my pots. For those that do not know what PWT means as of yet, you will begin to understand why the one that has taught us about PWT and how to work with it care smuch more about what you grow in than I do.
I could be selfish and just reap the benefits myself, since my plants are much happier than ever before, but I truly want others to reap these benefits as well!

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 3:48PM
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As far as brands go, Fox Farms has some really excellent soils, the most popular being 'ocean forest.' It's an excellent choice right out of the bag and you can generally find it at good gardening centers.

When I was relatively new to keeping houseplants, the default mix was 1:1 perlite and MG african violet soil. Now, instead of peat and peaty mixes, I use coco coir for moisture retention, with one part perlite and another drainage promoting medium.

I agree with the others who've mentioned that a gritty, well draining mix is generally the best option to ensure healthy root development. However, a medium that drains incredibly well isn't always practical for houseplants. It's annoying to have the drainage dish overflow and get water all over the place and it's also a real pain to move all your plants over to the sink for a good soaking.

So you should really just do a bit of experimenting when it comes time to repot and find out what works best for you.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 4:16PM
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That's great for people who have so much time to spend around their plants. There are those of us who work away from home who can't water as frequently. I'd love to have lots of time to fuss over my plants. Actually, my plants at the office get more attention than my houseplants.

For those who feel the need to water constantly, gritty mix would work. For those of us can't water regularly, gritty mix would be a 'death knell.'

BTW, I grew Tuberous Begonias in outdoor containers, which were magnificent. I potted them in Miracle Gro and bark. I'll look for those photos.


    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 5:11PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I think CC touched on a key point, even though it sounds like he hasn't actually used the gritty mix. If I slightly disassemble what he said while still maintaining the integrity of the context, it will illustrate what I mean.

He offered: "I agree with the others who've mentioned that a gritty, well draining mix is generally the best option to ensure healthy root development." This illustrates the perspective so many of us take, that, from the point of view of what's best for the plant, and probably needs no further comment.

He offered further: "However, a medium that drains incredibly well isn't always practical for houseplants. It's annoying to have the drainage dish overflow and get water all over the place and it's also a real pain to move all your plants over to the sink for a good soaking." Which is from the perspective of the grower's convenience, which is usually at odds with what's best for the plant. Most of us have discovered that easy/convenient is rarely best ..... for the plant. And, if it was true that saucers overflow and plants need to be carried to the sink when using either the gritty mix or the 5:1:1 mix, it would have us weighing best root health against addded effort, but I can assure you, after having used the gritty mix for more than 20 years, that the claim of overflowing saucers and transporting heavy plants to the sink for watering is a gross exaggeration. I'm not referring specifically to what he said, as I have a feeling he is taking as true what one or two others have claimed.

My long experience with these soils shows them to be little different than other soils when watered properly. In 20 years of using the gritty mix and watering many thousands of times, I have watered (still do) only 1 plant over the sink (because it sits on fine furniture and my wife won't let me use a saucer under it), and have never once overflowed a drainage saucer - not even a shallow one. It just doesn't happen ...... unless I was to fall asleep with the watering can in my hand.

When I water, I pour water evenly and slowly over the entire soil surface. The gritty mix soaks up water to it's saturation point very quickly, so as soon as water starts to appear in the saucer, I stop watering. A small % of the water I applied will continue to work it's way through the soil, carrying excess soluble salts that have built up with it. My guess is that in pots with a quart of soil in them, I might end up with 2 oz (4 tbsp) of water in the drainage saucer, and if the pot held a gallon of soil I might end up with a cup of water in the drainage saucer.

The soil, as many others have testified, does not dry out that quickly. For most growers, the average interval between required waterings is about 4-5 days, but even that can be stretched by virtue of the fact that the gritty mix is actually adjustable for water retention.

I really think that 9/10 of the growers trying the gritty mix would be perfectly fine with its water retention, based on the basic recipe, but if they are not, all they need to do is reduce the amount of grit in the soil and increase the volume of Turface and you instantly have more water retention, with NO sacrifice in drainage OR aeration. I hope you're getting the feeling that a considerable amount of thought went into how this soil is put together, even though it only has 3 basic ingredients.

To prove a point ..... I grow hundreds of plants, indoors and outdoors in the gritty mix. Hot summers - under lights - healthy plants growing fast and using lots of water. My average interval between waterings is every 3-4 days in winter, and every 2-3 days in summer ..... and I grow in smaller pots and soil volumes that the average grower, making my intervals between waterings shorter than most; and I use pretty much the standard 1:1:1 mix. If I felt at all uncomfortable with the watering frequency, all I'd have to do is, as described, increase the Turface fraction and decrease the grit.

As a person who is very results oriented, if there was anything out there I found that even approached the ease of growing in the gritty mix and it's forgiveness, you can believe I'd be sharing it with you - but I haven't. No one else is proposing that there is something better, they're just telling you why you shouldn't use it because of how they 'feel' it's inconvenient. Maybe it is, a little. I don't notice it too much because practically every effort we make when it comes to our efforts at raising plants COULD be looked at as an inconvenience.

Those that want to work hard will work hard and progress, and those that are happy with what they have are certainly free to continue doing what they're doing. I agree with everyone else - it's VERY good to do a little experimenting and see what works best for you. If I didn't think that these soil discussions represented a very significant opportunity for most growers using bagged soils to take a giant step forward, I'd abandon them and focus on something else. The truth is, that adopting a free-draining and durable soil, or ensuring that your own has these properties, would probably have a bigger impact on most people's ability to consistently produce healthy plants than anything else they have control over.

Practically every person participating in this thread recognizes the issue with bagged soils because they're ALL trying to amend them. It just happens that during the years of study I've devoted to container gardening and soils, I've learned the scientific principles behind why we amend and what the effects of various combinations of ingredients are likely to yield. One thing I can assure you is perched water kills roots quickly, and the less perched water you have in your containers, the better the opportunity your plants have to grow to their full potential. The concept I press is centered around producing an environment as conducive to good root health as I possibly can. It does take an effort, but whether or not the effort is worth it is up to you. I'll always be honest in laying out the science and in my advice, but ultimately, how far growers are willing to go for their plants and the growing experience is up to the individual grower, and not us side-liners.


    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 5:44PM
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Growers who do use a larger particulate medium don't have to constantly fuss over their plants, nor do they stand over them, watering can in hand. The moisture retentive properties completely negate any fussing or perpetual watering. Growers who use this type of medium do not need to stay home, nor is it limited to use by housewives.

I, myself, could not use a medium that required such uninterrupted monitoring, and indeed, a grittier medium does not require it.

What it does allow, however, is for the roots to adequately breathe, as they must for continued good health. It also resists compaction and decomposition, which causes compaction... and as we all know, roots cannot breathe in a compacted medium. It also puts an end to lengthy saturation and suffocation, which causes a continual cycle of root death and regeneration, another thing that isn't healthy for plants, causing undue stress and eventual death.

So far, the pros of using a larger particulate medium would seem to far outnumber any cons that can be imagined or invented.

Still, the choice remains in the hands of the individual grower. The important thing is that accurate, vetted information is made available for those who want a choice.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 5:57PM
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Scientific principals also say plants die if not given water.

I notice gritty mix is frequently amended with bark.

People need to do what works for them and their growing environment. Scientific principals are only worth the paper they are written on. If plants dry out constantly, they die no matter what.

"" Most of us have discovered that easy/convenient is rarely best ..... for the plant.""

What 'convenience??' Work isn't a convenience...its a necessity. To suggest people who can't water every day are somehow lazy, is insulting.


    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 6:16PM
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That is right. It was said:

"Still, the choice remains in the hands of the individual grower. The important thing is that accurate, vetted information is made available for those who want a choice".

If I chose to, I could use the the 1.1.1 mix this way since, it won't break down like fine particle mixes, and yet stay wet just as long as a 'peat' based mix, requiring only a watering a week or less:
1 part bark, (5) parts turface, and 1 part granite or perlite.

If I wanted the 5.1.1 mix to stay wet for my convenience/ an extended period of time as long as peat based fine particulate mixes, I could use:
1 part bark, (5) parts peat, and one part perlite, which seems to be what most bagged mixes are comprised of.
Farfrad for instance: 70% peat,20% bark,10%perlite

But my desire to do what is best for my plants gives me the freedom and added edge to choose what I want, and I am grateful I have learned how to do it, and how certain ingredients/components that one can add to mixes pertane/work in relation to perched water, and (I) am full control, thank God

The pro's of using mixes with larger particulates far outweigh those with smaller ones that compact and decay at a much faster/accelerated pace than what I want for my plants, everyone of my plants that I grow.
It is work well worth it to make sure it does not happen. Talk about work: If one has one to many, no time in a day to even look at their plants but are forced to make sure everyone is ok no matter what they are grown in, then try working at keeping them clean from pest invasion, bringing them outside, keeping the room clean, making sure you don't forget to water, ect,ect....

You know what I dont' get though? Why is it the same people again and again whom themselves use saucers make it sound as if it is bad if 'I' do?
Can someone please answer that for me?
What about this?
Why is the idea that I have to take my plants to the sink, or have to deal with water that runs out of control all over my floors with the plants I grow always brought up?

Saucers are sold for everyone to use in-doors, in no matter what mix grow in. That is why HD is always sold out.

Let the first one that does not use sacuers for their plants be the first to cast a stone.

We are ALL guilty of using them in any mix anyone uses I think?


    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 6:48PM
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Goodness what a long thread! About begonias,what I call 'easy' might not be in your part of the country. I think you might visit your nearest public library or university library if you are a student, and ask them if they can borrow a copy of Begonias, The Complete Reference Guide, by Mildred and Edward Thompson, thru the InterLibrary Loan program. You can borrow a book anywhere in the country thru this program, no charge, just a library card. The Thompson book is full of pictures, listed from Easy to Grow, etc. with instructions on potting the plants, and soil, and where to grow, etc., in New York would be a good place to see what is available for sale. The chain stores usually list begonias as 'Angel Wing' or 'Rex' which have become two of the names most slapped on any kind of begonia, they have become meanngless. Our little nearby town has a small library with a copy of the Thompson, so I think you should be able to track down a copy.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 7:19PM
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Thank you very kindly for your info! I am planning on growing a couple that Toni has suggested and I might give that a tray.

All I need to do is get a library card. It never occurred to me to make use of the library. Wonderful!


    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 7:37PM
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My potted plants are housed either on varnished wooden windowsills, on shelving units, or on plant stands. Every pot sits in a saucer... some plastic, some clay, but all normal saucers that can be had at any outlet that retails garden supplies. In all the time I've used a more free draining medium, I've never had to clean up overflow. I'm not showering or drowning my plants where they sit; I'm watering.

I like to take them to the kitchen sink now and then... so I can clean any dust off the leaves, check for insects closely, and make sure they're leached well.

I wouldn't consider anything I do with my plants to be inconvenient or too time consuming... and in fact, I have time sit down at my computer and read GardenWeb, responding to posts, saying hi to friends, sharing my knowledge and successes, and learning from people like Al.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 1:02PM
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Woe, growing Begonias indoors, takes effort.
It's the same with Ivy and Ferns. They're difficult, often attract mites, so many people won't bother with them.

I'll check to see if our library carries the Begonia book. If not, they can probably order a copy.

Nice website, beautiful Begonias, and other plants. Have you ever ordered from Taylors?
I do quite of bit of online ordering, and often check with Gardenwatchddog, but prefer hearing from someone who bought plants/supplies to get an idea what to expect.

Jodik..who said tending to plants is inconvenient? Toni

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 6:57PM
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Hopeful, I meant to tell you I think your hanging begonia from Logee's is B. albo-picta, it is a small species cane or shrub and my, you have done a class job of growing it!The idea is that you pinch and shape until you do not see
any bare stems and yours is so well grown, it's a great example of what they are ideally supposed to look like. Yes, I have ordered from Taylor's and Mike Kartuz and Michael Breneman, and Violet House, all I can find, especially if it's a lost one and I have lost a lot over the years.I have ferns and other miscellaneous stuff, too much!

    Bookmark   March 29, 2011 at 10:47AM
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Woebegonia, thank you, and thanks for the ID. Wonder if Logee's still sells B. Albo-picta.
Actually, I've pruned the Albo many times, over the years. Cuttings root easily enough..I've given rooted cuttings to friends.

What other Begonias and ferns do you have? If you don't mind me asking.
I like Taylor's, Window-Pane or Glass and Venitian. Wonder how they'd do indoors.

I adore tree-ferns, but they don't like me. lol.

Kartuz has ver nice plants. (when in stock.)
I bought Hoyas and a Hibiscus from Kartuz, and was very impressed.
I Never heard of the other three nurseries, but will do some browsing..Is Violet House the name of the nursery, or are referring to Violet Barn or Rob's Violets? Toni

    Bookmark   March 29, 2011 at 3:19PM
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Toni, it is Rob's Violet House, others I have used are Belisles in Wisconsin, primarily gesmeriads, but begonias too, and Lauray of Salisbury, lots of everything. Both have web sites by those names. I guess I should talk a bit about soil for our site originator: I use JiffyMix for potting up cuttings and seedlings. I wet it and set aside and in a few days I usually have fungus gnats But I still like it very much, I am going to get another sundew because it loved those gnats, I suppose it is better than using a systemic with it?
Also Sunshine brand with perlite or vermiculite and lime added, sometimes Epsom salts. I plan to look for the composted bark fines (what does fines mean?), if I can find it I will go ahead with Al's recipe, I even have made a marker to carry with me to see exactly what l/8" and 3/8" looks like.

I must have 50 begonias about half terr. types,I grow a lot of species tuberous too, I have. B. 'Red Compta', B. 'Pinafore', B. 'Sophie Cecile" who doesn't have it, b. Irene Nuss,maybe six or 7 more canes, I've just cut back 'Orange Rubra' and 'B. Di-Anna, believe it or not I have just bought albo-picta on Ebay!So it was easy to recognize. Some lady in Oregon has first rate begonias there, unusual, pretty well grown, correctly spelled and she even returns the difference from what was paid and what the actual postage was! Forgive me for being so long winded. I have some comments about MiracleGro I will spare you those today, though. Good growing, Bye

    Bookmark   March 30, 2011 at 1:32PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Mike, you must be using either a light weight Fafard or one of their mixes manufactured for the retail trade. Their 'Heavy Weight' mixes have bark as the primary ingredient, not peat. If you want to experiment with it (actually, not really an experiment...they are superior products!) see if one of your favorite garden centers will get it in for you. It's a bit different that what most people expect when they open a bag of potting mix, but that's not a bad thing, right?

I've turned lots of people into believers, professionals included. Try Fafards' commercial quality heavy weight #3 or the Nursery Mix.

I don't consider daily watering at all unusual, in certain times of the year and with certain containers. And it doesn't matter what kind of mix is being used. Why on EARTH would saying so be so offensive?

In the heat of the summer, since most of my outdoor containers are terra cotta, and filled to the brim with seasonal annuals, daily watering is a must, especially after a couple of months when the roots have begin to fill the containers. I also have some woody plants in larger containers; they don't need daily watering, typically. My bonsai (in a standard bonsai mix) sometimes need watering twice a day...or more! It's a feature of the volume of the root system in comparison with the volume of the mix (size of the container).

Remember, good people...there are many smart and viable methods to achieving the same goal. Armed with some good information, we can grow perfectly happy and robust plants in many different kinds of mediums.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2011 at 1:52PM
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Good and helpful information, Rhizo1.

My local nursery sells Farfard #3. They take orders over winter but also order extra.

I'm all for 'convenience!'


    Bookmark   March 30, 2011 at 2:31PM
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Woe..Some of my AV's came from Robs and others, Violet Barn. Check out VB when you get a chance.
I've ordered leaves from a place called Violet Venture.
My AV shelves are packed, however there is one AV I want..don't know its name..leaves are medium green, flowers are bell-shaped, true blue. Not purple, BLUE.

There you go..A hungry Sundew would help, and it sure beats chemicals.

Woe, I haven't the faintest idea what fines are. lol.
I add bark to soil mix, but can't find any under 1". The 1"ers do okay for plants potted in 10" pots or larger, but too big for 2, 4, and 6".

There's a few online nurseries that sell smaller bark pieces, but shipping is outrageous.
I used to use a very coarse sand, but can't find it anymore. Last wkend, we went to 5 different hardware stores, searching for sand or bark: no dice.

You really do have quite a few Begonias..How ironic you just bought an Albo. Too bad we hadn't talked sooner, I'd have sent you a dozen cuttings, last time it got a haircut..don't like tossing cuttings, but sometimes we must let go. I don't want or need duplicate plants. No room. lol.

Does the seller 'woman' in OR sell AV's, too? Wonder if she's the same seller I bought from a couple years ago. I believe she was in OR.

Woe, I haven't any problems discussing soils, as long as it doesn't turn into an arguement.
Battling over which soil to use is fruitless conversation. There are enough problems in the world, arguing over soils is so trivial.

Rhizo, my sentiments exactly. Toni

    Bookmark   March 30, 2011 at 2:38PM
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Hi Rhizo!

Thanks for that information on the 'Farfard' brand!

It is a pleasure to read your offerings as always and I hope you are doing well.

Thank you again Rhizo:-))

    Bookmark   March 30, 2011 at 2:57PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Woebegonia - bark fines are pine bark that has been run through a chipper to break up the large pieces. They are then usually stored in windrows ant turned occasionally while some degree of composting takes place, but bark breaks down so slowly that it will still work well if the bark is fresh. Maybe the picture immediately below will help. The bark at 3,6, and 9 are pine bark taken from the bags of different suppliers, All 3 would work very well for the 5:1;1 mix and could easily be screened for use in the gritty mix.

BTW - I agree (always have) that the Fafard soils that have pine bark as their largest fraction (by far) are very serviceable soils for containers & houseplants, and have been mentioning them frequently for years .... particularly the #3 mix and their 51L mixes if you can find them. The reason these soils work so well is they are comprised primarily of large particles of bark - not peat. These are not peat-based soils with a little bark and perlite added, they are bark-based soils with a little peat and perlite, and very similar to the 5:1:1 mix. If you can find them, there would be very little difference between them and the 5:1:1 mix. Their other, peat-based soils are pretty much the same as most other peat-based soils and have similar water retention.


    Bookmark   March 30, 2011 at 4:40PM
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Thanks Al. I ran out of Sunshine last fall and bought a bag of Miracle Gro to substitute. Since reading your recipes in the 'Clippings' I have been looking harder at the ingriedients in MR., if they are listed in the order of most to least, it loooks like 50-60% sphagnum, composted forest products 35% to 30%, 10% to l5% coir, maybe 5% perlite (you can barely see it) and fertilizer and wetting agent which I do not want. So I h ope to be working with the Sunshine mix again. To get to the point, I have been wondering what 'composted forest products ' are, I suppose anything and everything in a mill? Sawdust?
It tests very acid but then all of them do. . .
Toni,I forgot Glasshouse Works in Ohio, you can spend/waste a lot of time going thru their online catalog.Good growing everyone.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2011 at 11:55AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Forest products can be anything from leaves and forest duff to composted wood chips to ground up pallets - no way to tell. I just hope that even with all the rest of the input, people are understanding that you can't just take a heavy, peat-based soil and add a little bark and perlite and end up with a soil that offers the same aeration and drainage that a soil like one of the bark-based Fafard's, or the 5:1:1 or gritty mix offers. It doesn't work that way. Understanding the concept helps you see the value in the added aeration as well as helping you decide what you want to do about it.

The things I talk about aren't to get you or anyone else to use a particular soil - I don't sell it, so I really don't care what anyone uses. I just want to be sure that the information you USE is reliable, because ALL of what's put forth isn't. If you review the things I've said, you'll find that they make perfect sense and are scientifically sound. I've presented the same information during many dozens of presentations to various groups/clubs/organizations, getting immense satisfaction in seeing 'the light go on' so many times I couldn't count. The same is true here at this forum site, as well as other sites.

I'm not sure if you've read the how/why highly aerated soils work so well, but you can read about it at the link below. What I'm saying isn't conjecture; it's actually quantifiable by assigning numbers and values to things like total porosity, air porosity at container capacity, total water retention, and PWT height if anyone wants to go that far. All that's really necessary to determine relative degrees of usefulness is to determine which soil might be better than others by applying what we already know about two things - the durability of the ingredients making up the soil and the relative distribution of particle sizes. The rest is pretty much moot because container soils are much more about structure than any other consideration.

Good luck, and great growing to you, too.


    Bookmark   March 31, 2011 at 12:22PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Sorry - this time the link IS below. ;o)

Here is a link that might be useful: More here

    Bookmark   March 31, 2011 at 4:56PM
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An easier, cheaper way to get aerated, well-draining soil is to mix some bark and perlite with the bagged soil. Works very well and lasts for a few years.


    Bookmark   March 31, 2011 at 5:17PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

I can guarantee it won't last in Sunny Arizona. Not even 1 season.


    Bookmark   March 31, 2011 at 7:00PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hey, guys and gals! :-)

A great way to make use of bark, perlite, and bagged soil is to mix it in the following ratio:
5 parts bark, 1 part perlite, and 1 part potting soil. It'll drain well, and yet will also
hold enough moisture for a hot Summer.

This mix will last about a year...perfect for annuals.


    Bookmark   March 31, 2011 at 8:01PM
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kemistry(8 - Oregon)

Wow that sounds easy to make, Josh. I was always under the impression that the 511 bark needs to be screened, I'm glad I read it right this time. Living in an apartment I could not do the screening w/o making a big mess. So 5-1-1 sounds doable and easy enough, I'll give it a try.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2011 at 9:28PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

5-1-1 is very doable and cost/time efficient!
I refer to it as my "workhorse" around the yard.


    Bookmark   March 31, 2011 at 10:06PM
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I do the same as Josh explained. Simple and effective.

Good luck,


    Bookmark   March 31, 2011 at 11:55PM
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Jane. I dont understand why you are advocating bagged mixes when you yourself are using a 5-1-1 mix. There is a huge difference between the two.
As far as water retention goes the 5-1-1 and gritty mix are very much almost equal so you might as well take another step and use a gritty mix for your longer lasting plantings ;-)

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 1:18AM
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kemistry(8 - Oregon)

You guys and gals are awesome!! Thanks!!
I just ordered 3 bags of bark fine and cannot wait to start on the 'new' soil mix. :O)

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 2:25AM
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Hi Fredman..

Welcome to the world of successful plant growing in containers by way of science, fact, kindness, and sincere interest in others. It makes for a wonderful experience coming here and to see our plants respond to what we never knew at one time, apply , as we take incrediable information dispensed from many willing to step up to the plate and teach us the science/truth behind it all, against all odds at times..

I hope the GW forums sees this and appreciates that accurate information dispensed here, and the hard work by many to defend the truth is what makes this forum a great, safe place, and UNIQUE one to visit for hundreds if not thousands, including I.
There are HUNDREDS of members here who have expressed themselves privately and in public in deep appreciation, especially over the open mixes, and in particular the concepts about how they work and affect our plants, Begonias included.

Even though a handful here might not choose to use the 5.1.1 and the the 'gritty' mixes, they seem to try and come as close to them in some way by suggesting their own ways using the very concept behind what 'Al' has all along been so graciously continuing to make us aware of.
Some even look for a rare bagged mix that comes as close as to the 5.1.1 mix as possible as in one kind was mentioned.
Some may even amend bagged mixes in which most find eventually do not live up to the 5.1.1 and gritty mixes as has always been explained.

I would question why anyone who would have anything but kind things to say about these great mixes after all that, or to anyone who takes the time to show us how to make/use them in a correct way. Their ulterior motives come into play for me..

I am always seeking truth,science, and facts, and thank God for the few that take the time to care for this, and are here to help me to prevent damage and heartache to my priceless plants!

Nice to meet you Fredman.

Kemistry!I know how you feel, the excitement and all..I wish you great success!

Al: Thank you for the constant timely reminders and patience. I am so grateful for that!

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 11:36AM
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WoeBegonia..I just noticed you mentioned GlassHouseWorks.
I used to order from Glasshouse quite a bit.
About 4 yrs back, their nursery changed..prices increased, but plants got smaller.
Worse, a few friends who ordered from GH, 'large purchases,' received bug-infested plants. Including succulents.
Have you ever ordered from Black Jungle. I stopped buying from them 6 yrs ago. Their customer service is awful, 'depending who you talk to.'
However, 'most' of the plants purchased from BJ are alive..
Those they sent later were cuttings w/o roots..they forgot to mention this in their ads.

I'm still looking for small bark, but so far nothing.
And my plants need repotting. Toni

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 3:55PM
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Toni, I just saw in another forum that Lowe's has something called Greensmix mulch and the average particle size is just right for a gritty or 5-1-1 mix. Of course, I haven't seen it myself, but so the Greensmix company says.

I checked and most of the Lowes locally in Chicago-land have it, except the one closest to me, lol. I may borrow a car to go to The Brickyard as they supposedly have over 50 bags at $3.35 a bag for 2 cu. ft.

Alternately, if you're up for a drive, there's the place Tapla found and recommends...the name eludes me at the moment, but I know Jodi said she was heading there soon - just can't remember which post the name is in...

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 4:46PM
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Oakhill Gardens! In Dundee, IL. Source for bark...Tapla can share the size he gets if he sees this.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 4:53PM
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Lathyrus..We go to Botanical Gardens every so often..Is that around Dundee?
No Lowes anywhere near our

OMG, the Brickyard..that's a word of the past. lol. I heard the Brickyard closed a few years ago..Something about gang problem and a shooting???

I don't know anything about 5-1-1 or gritty mix. I make my own. Thanks..Toni

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 5:05PM
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Dundee is just north of Elgin - so waaaaaaaay out there for you or me. Botanic Gardens is in Northbrook, due north of the city.

Brickyard wouldn't be that far for you, though it's not next door by any means! There is also one at 79th and Cicero, which might be closer. I haven't a clue about a shooting at The Brickyard...but it's certainly possible.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 11:20PM
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Some of the nurseries opened yesterday and I found my Sunshine mix, also learned that Eko-Compost composed of forest products has everything in it but bark. But I haven't really started to look yet. Toni, you asked about the business in Oregon, there were two plant businesses, but they don't seem active now. The one at Eagle Point, Or.
is the one whch is so good on Ebay.
I think the guys who have the Glass House Works have some age on them and it shows. I have always wondered how botanical gardens and these large growers keep their plants insect free, it must take constant watching. Yes, I have AV's, ferns, hoya, orchids, etc., etc. I don't recognize many of your plants, can you name them all? I will look up Black Jungle, never heard of it. I am on the look out for species begonias because I like the challenge of getting the female blooms to show, then I try to set seeds and lately I have returned to donating it to the begonia society seed fund. Good growing to all of you who write so well.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 2:04PM
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Lath, up until a few years ago, 'had knee surgery last summer,' we'd drive north to Caldwell Avenue.
Hopped on our bikes, rode 32 miles to Botanical Gardens greenhouses and gardens.
We'd spend several hours looking at their gardens, (English, Roses, Oriental, Veggie, etc,) and their GORGEOUS green house plants.
If you've ever been there, you'll know how much there is to see.
GH rooms are divided into three sections..Aroids, Succulents and Flowers. Flowers is actually a mixture of plants. Oh, their sooo very nice.
Afterwards, we'd get back on our bikes, ride back to the car, another 32 miles, then drive home.
BTW, this took 12+

So, yes, I am familar with BG's..problem is, the long ride was on a bike, riding through trails. lol..I get lost in the area, plus it's so congested.

I can find the Brickyard, but would get lost on the south side. Thanks..I'll look into it.
Problem is, I don't know bark I'm looking Not exactly..
Do you know if they keep bark, etc, in or outdoors?

Have you ever gone to Garfield Park or Lincoln Park? You should go..Especially Garfield's heavenly..

Woe, congrats finding your soil. How many bags did you end up getting? lol. What sizes do they come in? Also, do you mix other mediums with Sunshine?

Most bagged soils here are similar. Some are a richer, blacker soil, which I use for tropicals, but the main soil is MG.
I'm getting so desparate, small pebbles are looking better everyday. lol.

Maybe you're right about GHW's owners. One owner of Black Jungle should be working in a different dept, lol. He has a terrible attitude.

If you're interested in finding a nursery that sells terrific plants at very reasonable costs, check out accentsforhomeandgarden...don't remember if there's an S after garden, but he has beautiful, healthy, good-sized plants, and shipping is quick.
Accents is located in OR.

Woe, which plants of mine do you not recognize? Name them all? lol..All my plants? Woe, it'd take a week, lol. I have 300-400 plants..lolol..

The last few years I've grown very fond of succulents, so I've added many more the last three years.
Let's see...citrus, clivia, sans, calatheas, schefs, AV's, hoyas, ferns, cissus, desert roses, many Crown of Thorns, ficus, caudex and fat plants...Woe, too many to name. You can view my on my name...the addy is listed. But let me warn you, there's over 1000 pics, lol.

Woe, some time, you'll have to explain how you breed Begonias...Excellent..

I contemplated breeding AV's, but something would come up, and I'd

Lath and WoeBegonia,, thanks for the info..hugs, Toni

In this area, there are very few soils available. As for bark, all is for outdoor use, 'does that make a difference?' 1" or larger.
I've bought small bags of Orchid bark, but I can't go that route..Small bags are 3.99 and up.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 4:06PM
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Toni!! I got my plants from Accents and let me tell you, you were right.

They came nicely wrapped and are just beautiful. Thank you for your suggestion.

Hope your knees are ok today since I know how painful they can be.


    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 5:09PM
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Hey Mike..which plants did you get?? Wowee!!! lol.

I'm expecting an order from Accents, too, but he's waiting for temps to warm up.

Can you post pics, Mike? Toni

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 5:25PM
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"Jane. I dont understand why you are advocating bagged mixes when you yourself are using a 5-1-1 mix. There is a huge difference between the two. "

Hi, Fredman. I do not use 5.1.1 mix. I mix bark with bagged mixes. I always have and continue to. I've written about it many times. I grow orchids and always have bark around. I simply mix some bark into the bagged soil.

Works well and it is what I have always recommended. Nothing has changed.


    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 10:45PM
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Getting back to the original question of "best brands" of potting mix, I honestly don't think there's a readily available, bagged, retail potting mix that even comes close to what a grower can achieve if they take the time to learn a bit about the actual requirements of plants and their roots.

Once a grower knows what a plant needs, and knows the purpose of a medium, it becomes clear that what the retail gardening industry is selling is not what plants really require. I found out the hard way. I had to lose a few plants to root rot before I went in search of a better way.

I used to add a little of this or a little of that to a bagged mix, and I thought I was improving drainage and helping my plants. But in reality, all I was doing was allowing less space for water by volume. The roots were still sitting in the midst of fine particulate, saturated, yearning for the oxygen they required to be healthy... yearning to breathe.

I'd add some bark pieces or some perlite, or maybe some charcoal chunks, but the fine particles of the bagged mix just filled in around the larger pieces, and it really didn't make a difference. The peat based soils still remained waterlogged for too long.

Once I discovered that using a larger particulate to fill the entire pot actually improved drainage, eliminated that perched water, and allowed for the all important exchange of oxygen and gases to and from the root zone, and I saw the results for myself... well, I don't think I'll ever look for a brand of potting mix again. It's too easy and too fun to mix my own mediums, and I can custom mix for specific purposes. All it took was learning a little basic plant science, and remembering basic physics from science class.

No more rotting roots, no more saturated soils, and I have fun doing it, too... and I've become a much more successful grower because of the knowledge I went in search of. I have Al to thank for providing the information, and Mike to thank for his support, along with scores of other growers!

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 8:06PM
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After a week of using both the 5-1-1 mix, and the gritty mix, I am happy. I can't tell anyone that my plants are better...too early to tell, but I can say that both mixes hold moisture plenty. My jade in the gritty mix has made it a week without needing water. Obviously, different plants will use up moisture at different rates. For example, my pachira is still ok after a week, but my schefflera needed water, but it's always thirsty.

To make my point though, both mixes hold enough moisture, and do NOT require daily watering. But, it is a bit scary how fast the water runs through, feeling like you're not really providing enough water to your plant. I watered my snake plant, in the gritty mix, in a 14" pot, and it took about a quart of water before it started running through, so there definately is some water in there.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 10:13PM
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Joe, you won't get a true gauge of how much to water until the plants settle in to the new mix and start making new roots. Takes a few weeks.

Glad all went well and please keep us updated.

Jodik I don't understand why you continue to say a modified potting mix doesn't work. Have you tried adding bark or perlite to bagged mixes? It certainly works for me and many others. No soggy soil, no rotted roots. Drains quickly yet holds enough moisture to prevent drying out quickly. If you have tried it and have been getting soggy soil, you are overwatering.
My plants are healthy and vigorous. I also use a type of bagged soil conditioner, which is sold in all the big-box stores. I add some perlite to that. Outdoor containers should not become a complicated matter to grow flowers.

Why don't you share some photos of your container plants and houseplants? I'm sure people would love to see your plants, I know I would. I remember seeing some bulbs but have not seen any of your container plants...please share.

Here's a few of my outdoor container plants in bagged potting mix mixed with bark. Took little time and nothing was measured. Considering your statements about bagged mixes, what would explain my good results?



Actually, I checked my outdoor pots this morning and all is well. My lilies are all emerging and my parsley and sage are growing. We had a rough winter and I was worried about my lilies being in the containers all winter. I didn't bring them in and thought they would be frozen.

All look well. Looking forward to another rewarding growing season.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 11:20PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

A few houseplants grown in the gritty mix:

If anyone would like to see mixed floral plantings in the 5:1:1 mix, I'd be happy to post those, as well.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 8:31AM
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Absolutely fabulous pictures! . . .Bubblepop, I just found on the Begonia forum someone on "Need Suggestions For Tough Begonia Houseplants' has put pictures with growing advice, and it too is a lovely site.They also mention Pal Hammock Orchid Estate as a retail site (I didn't know they sold by mail, this one has been around for a long time).Also Black Jungle Toni must look better than it is!I also looked up Exotic Angel Plants who supply Lowes to see if anything new could be found there this year, they have an interesting list anyway.

Well, live and learn department.I was checking out Fafard and found their FAQ, one question of which says it takes 3-5 days for limestone to react in their potting mix, it is activated upon watering it in. As the mix ages during storage, a slow increase can occur. All these years I have been complaining about the acidity of pre-mixes, I use a Sudbury soil kit which says dry soil is to be tested . . .Maybe I have been way overdoing the lime. Some garden authority spoke at a grower's convention and his remarks commented on the acidity of sphagnum mixes; however he said a mix should not need as much as 2 T. of lime per gallon and you should not use more. But I didnt find that enough to m ake a difference. Maybe I have learned something from Fafard. Sorry to be so long winded, but the lime business is really on my mind today.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 11:37AM
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To repeat what I wrote, "I used to add a little of this or a little of that to a bagged mix, and I thought I was improving drainage and helping my plants. But in reality, all I was doing was allowing less space for water by volume. The roots were still sitting in the midst of fine particulate, saturated, yearning for the oxygen they required to be healthy... yearning to breathe."

And, "I'd add some bark pieces or some perlite, or maybe some charcoal chunks, but the fine particles of the bagged mix just filled in around the larger pieces, and it really didn't make a difference. The peat based soils still remained waterlogged for too long."

I've posted countless photos of my containerized Amaryllid collection, which makes up the bulk of my containerized plants. And I've posted numerous accounts of how and why I went in search of the knowledge necessary to rise above the commercial gardening industry and its bleak offerings, to move away from continually rotting root systems and bulb flesh, to put an end to rapidly compacting soils lacking the necessary air pockets, to stop the continual cycle of root suffocation, death, and regeneration happening under the surface of a medium, which by volume, contained too much fine, peaty particulate, etc... these accounts span more than one forum and more than a single season.

Surely, anyone following along has read of my journey, from peat based soils to coirs, from one amendment to the next, from top to bottom watering techniques... and surely, they've viewed my pictorials, my documented attempts at saving precious bulbs that have succumbed to rot, beginning at the root zone, traveling through the important basal plate, and ending in the rotted flesh of the bulb, itself... all due to root suffocation, drowning and death through fine, collapsed, decomposed, saturated soil particles that held perched water for inordinate amounts of time.

It wouldn't be fair of me to copy and paste the same old, tired photographs that I've posted before, that everyone has seen countless times on various forums. They all depict the lovely blooms of scores of Hippeastrum varieties, in a rainbow of colors and combinations, and the long, spear shaped leaves that accompany the blooms or appear shortly thereafter. And it's really not fair to make everyone sit through another accounting of my journey, through frustration and bulb loss, desperate attempts at saving various Amaryllids from certain death, to the point of positive discovery, when my eyes were opened and I finally saw the logic and sense in growing containerized plants from the roots up, taking into account what they truly require for health!

It would serve other growers much better if I were to provide new photographs, and perhaps a pictorial depicting the 'before and after', showing what really happens below the soil surface.

Bulbs, when not in bloom, are nothing spectacular to observe. However, I shall endeavor to include new photos of them, if that is the desire. It would be more beneficial to show and talk about the actual science and basic physics of what happens within the confines of containers, under the surface of the soil, beyond what we can see. It would be helpful to share with other growers actual visual aids of what happens when various factors combine, such as gravity, water and soil... or large particles added to minuscule particles... all of which I shall try to capture for the purpose of sharing.

It might take a day or two, so a tad bit of patience will be necessary. I trust that meets with the approval of anyone following along...

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 1:48PM
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What's the sixth plant from the bottom? It looks like a rooted tree branch cutting.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 2:06AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It's one of the 'Fusion' series of impatiens, maybe 'Fusion Glow'. I'm not really sore. I travel each spring about 100 miles to Detroit to buy some of the more unusual plants I use in containers. While there I saw this plant, which was the last straggler of the lot. It's branches were all broken, but it did have one bloom I was enchanted with, so I brought it home, bare rooted, and stuck it in the gritty mix. It was responding inside of a week, and this was one of its first blooms. The backdrop leaves are Ricinus communis (castor bean). I have pictures in which you can see that leaf size approaches 4' across and the plants grew to be nearly 15' tall in one season from seed. Truly a Jack-and-the-beanstalk plant.

Jodi's story is not unique, mine is the same, and there are many hundreds of others that have left heavy, water-retentive soils in their past for the same reasons. There is simply no denying that well-aerated soils out-perform soils that support significant volumes of perched water. Every text that delves into the science behind growing plants in containers devotes a significant fraction of the work to the physical properties of container soils and how to build soils that aren't going to limit plants because of properties related to water-retention.

Granted, there is more than one way to skin a cat, but not all methods of skinning cats are equally effective. Every soil has it's positives and negatives - no free lunch. We just have to weigh the positives against those negatives and decide how much effort we'd like to put into our growing. Personally, I did that many years ago when I found there was something limiting my ability to grow healthy plants in shallow pots, that being the excessive water retention and a high perched water table inherent in bagged soils. Those things don't go away, just because we select a deeper pot. Soils retain exactly the same ht perched water table no matter what the size/shape of the pot, and the anaerobic conditions in PWTs kill roots. We can say, "So what, roots die all the time", but that doesn't mean it's a good thing, especially when it's so easily preventable.

This thread has a LOT of people vying for your attention. Some think you can simply add a little of this or that to a bagged mix and it will offer all the potential of a highly aerated mix. It won't and it can't. Science and the practical experience of those already growing in highly aerated soils, PLUS those leaving heavy soils behind, clearly show that to be true. Yes, you can grow healthy plants in heavy bagged soils; no one ever once said you couldn't, only that there is something much better and much easier.

Sure, you can weigh in the convenience factor. It's more difficult to make your own soils than to simply open a bag, but if those amending bagged soils are already adding things like pine bark, Turface, perlite, calcined DE to their soils ..... how much more difficult would it be to make your own from the same ingredients? I'll answer - not difficult at all. If it's a GOOD thing to amend your bagged soils with ingredients like pine bark and perlite, doesn't it make sense to put science to work FOR you and consider that increasing the pine bark to a large fraction of the soil (80%+) just might be the best way to leave heavy soils behind? Again, both applied science and the practical experience of a large number of others are extremely convincing. Do millions of people grow in soils like MG & others based on peat? Yes. Is that any proof at all that it's the best choice from the plant's perspective? Absolutely not. If your plants could talk, they'd be asking for a soil that holds no perched water, so their entire root mass can breathe ..... even when the soil is completely saturated. There are physical laws that govern when that condition can and can't occur that relate almost entirely to particle size. If you want to make the best decisions about soil brands and choices, be guided by that (particle size and distribution), and you won't go wrong.


    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 9:53AM
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What you say, Al, makes so much sense, and coincides so easily with the basics in science most of us learned as youngsters in school, that I'm surprised it's not deeply embedded as part of the more commonly held knowledge passed around through word of mouth in general growing. However, when we take into consideration the purpose of the gardening industry, which differs little from any other industry, it's not too difficult to understand why retail markets are what they are, and why not much effort is made to change the general thinking that goes against basic physics, basic science, and eventually causes most serious growers to go in search of better answers.

I often hear people say they are results oriented, and they want to actually see results with their own eyes. This is for those people...

In my quest to put together a fresh pictorial on general medium information, it comes to me that the finer/smaller the majority of particles are in a given medium, the less is the aeration that can be held when water is introduced, and gravity takes over.

A simple plastic cup filled loosely with a bagged, commercially sold soil compacts by an inch upon first addition of water... as seen in the following photographs...

If that's the amount of air space lost with only the first bit of water added, imagine the loss and compaction that accompanies consecutive waterings. And we may as well figure in the initial loss that happens when a grower adds a plant and tamps down the soil to remove any overly large air pockets around the roots... as most growers do.

With only a fine, peat based potting soil in use, it's not uncommon to see compaction of several inches within the space of a single season. It's also not unusual to see this sort of clumping going on with a peaty soil as the soil ball is allowed to dry out...

Cocopeat also compacts very quickly, losing needed aeration, as shown in this photograph of dormant bulbs in cocopeat...

This is a very basic depiction of what happens when we add larger particles to a majority portion of fine particles, just so everyone can see. The fine particles settle and fill in around the larger pieces.

And that's only one handful. Imagine what happens when it's an entire pot full. Then, imagine what happens when a grower tamps down that soil around the stem of an added plant. Imagine what happens when water is added, not only the first time, but many consecutive times as the plant requires it.

Without ensuring that a larger particulate is the majority portion in a medium, we cannot ensure that adequate aeration is maintained for the very important exchange of oxygen and gases at the root zone.

This is what can be found under the compacted, suffocating surface of the cocopeat... rotted, dead, decomposing roots.

Notice the discoloration indicating constant saturation...

Here's another soil ball removed from its pot for inspection. This is an Iris rhizome planted in Miracle Gro potting mix... take notice of the dry upper layers of soil, and the still saturated bottom layers, indicating a heck of a perched water table.

What strikes me is the lack of viable roots, even though we see a little green growing from the rhizome, at the top of the soil ball. There is also a mold presence I'm not especially happy with.

Here's the same soil ball broken apart. Take notice of how the finer peat particles have filled in around the perlite bits...

I consider this to be the negative aspect in the use of a medium in which the larger portion is a fine peat base, along with the minuscule particles of more fully composted matter. It has a tendency to compact, to hold a rather large perched water table, to fill in around any larger particles which negates any good they might do, and doesn't allow for a decent exchange of oxygen and gases to and from the root zone... all of which combine to make for a poor environment for the growth of healthy roots.

These are only a few negative observations, and the very reasons I begun taking more a active interest in learning the relationships between soil, plants and water, and why I decided to go back to the basics... the basics of science and physics I learned in school... and how it pertains to optimizing my success as a grower.

Knowledge will always be the key that opens the door to success. That much is indisputable fact. Ultimately, though, it's up to each one of us whether or not we want to pick up that key and use it.

Tune in next time, when I show mediums from a more positive perspective... in the meantime, Happy Gardening!

    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 7:34AM
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I completely agree with Jodik, photos are excellent illustration what bagged mix does to your plants. In my experience ( I grow plant for about 15 years,still consider myself as a begginner) same happens to all my plants even though I used to add 50% of perlite, 10 % bark to MG Cactus Mix. Perlite just flows to the top.I checked my small Jade Gollum plant yesterday(4in pot,watering throughly once in 2-3 wks,western window)roots completely dry,brittle with peat around like small hard dry ball.I had to hose it with water to break. last time I repot it 9 mos ago. Now its drying out before going into Gritty Mix. The only problem I have is to locate Granite grit. If I will order it thru Amazon 5lb bag will cost me $12. Anyone can suggest me where to find in NYC area or cheaper online?
Thanks a lot

    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 11:50AM
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If pictures could speak a thousand words, these would!@!

For me, it's not what is going on above the ground with plants that matters first, but what is going on under!

Since plants can look great for quite a while or a very short time, and then all of a sudden decline and take us by suprise,like an unexpected thunderstorm on a beautiful day, so can the health of our plants.

Using a well structured mix such as one not based on fine particles can continually live up to our expectations .

Thank you Jodik! Beautiful illustrations


    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 11:51AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Elichka - I know that many people don't have their own transportation in NYC - do you? In a pinch, you can use coarse perlite if it's screened, & do well with it. Usually when you use perlite in place of the grit, because perlite holds more water than grit, you need to juggle the ingredients a little to get the same water retention. I honestly find that I really do not want any more water retention than the 1:1:1 mix offers, and I have no trouble keeping plants hydrated at that ratio. But to get back to what I was going to say - to get about the same water retention as the 1:1:1 mix when subbing perlite for granite, try:

3 screened bark
2 screened Turface
4 screened/rinsed perlite
2 tsp-1tbsp gypsum per gallon, unless you use Foliage-Pro 9-3-6. Then you can skip the gypsum because the 9-3-6 contains Ca (most soluble fertilizers don't contain Ca or Mg, but the FP does.

When you decide what way you're going, please look me up and we can talk about your mix and fertilizer supplementation. They're linked, and how you mix or what fertilizer you choose can have an impact on the best way to proceed.


    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 3:04PM
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Thank you, elichka, and Mike. We talk about these things often, but it's a lot different when a person can actually see the evidence, as opposed to just reading about it.

Those of us who have gone in search of a better way didn't do so just to oppose a particular product or method. We did so because conventional methods weren't working for us, and do not work as well as the general gardening world is led to believe. Not many growers think to ask why or how a particular medium works, and it's not information readily offered by the gardening industry.

The information we need is available... we just have to be willing to search for it and sort it out. I'm glad to have run into Al, who has done all the legwork for us, compiling and sorting it out, and making it easy to understand.

All I want to do is grow healthy plants that looks as good as they can. And it's true that it all begins UNDER the soil surface, and not above.

What Mike says is very true... and orchids are a prime example of plants that take a very long time to show above the medium what's actually going on under the medium, at the roots. A Phalaenopsis, for example, can look green and healthy and happy when observing the leaf area, even though the roots are rotting and in terrible distress under the medium surface.

Some plants will show their displeasure of saturated root systems a lot sooner, and some will look ok... but never optimal... as their roots go through bouts of suffocation, death, and regeneration, as the medium at root zone finally dries out enough for new roots to grow and colonize it.

As a grower who just wants healthy plants, it's important that I ask the questions of how a medium works, and why it works. What makes the concept a good one? The answers help to point me in the right direction, and have prompted me to build my own soils... which I'll be photographing very soon, and sharing for your perusal.

Happy Growing!

    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 6:08PM
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Yes Jodi!

I have often wondered why so many people come to these forums!

Other than the fact that some just like to share their pictures and success, come here to make friends, or find a way to spend their time, the majority come here for assistance in helping sick plants and their issues, plants that all of sudden show signs of stress, weakness, and or decline.
Thank God there are a few that come here to teach us how to keep them in better health and avoid the same recurring problems that many of us have had at one time and want to avoid.
Over at the citrus forum, the common question asked there is how to cure yellow leaves, and almost always the two culprits that they find out after asking is either a poor mix causing roots issues, lack of nutrient uptake due to poor root function,and salts that destroy root function due to poor mixes once again.
They come here for information on how to keep them healthy, or better yet, how to protect them from certain death and solve all their plant issues which seems to mostly start with the mix their roots grow in.

It is the very reason I first came here and I thank a few people for showing us the facts and for saving my plants!

Now I am always looking to give my plants the best possible mix I can give them, like ones that you suggested, absorb the facts and science about properly growing in containers, and then share.


    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 9:54PM
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puglvr1(9b central FL)

Hi everyone!!

Al, I too absolutely LOVE your 'fusion' impatient...may I ask how you achieved that tree (trunk) look? Did you remove the leaves below...and I'm sure after a few years, now looks SO fabulous! I also love the pretty pot its in as well...Thanks!


    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 9:06AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Lol - building fat trunks on short plants through various techniques is a staple of the bonsai practitioner, but I'm afraid I can't take any credit for anything but having planted it at an angle purposely to accentuate the natural curve. The picture was taken shortly (3-4 weeks) after I brought a bedraggled plant home and it decided it was happy enough to tease me with a bloom. It's not a profuse bloomer, but the blooms are orchid-like & soo appealing to the eye - well worth waiting for.

I don't have room to over-winter a lot of soft perennials, so I let the frost take it, thinking I'd just buy another next spring. There are lots of plants in the 'Fusion' series, but I've never yet seen another with the same bloom. ;-( It reminds me a little of the flower in Antoine de St-Exupery's The Little Prince (my all-time favorite book) in which the Little Prince thought his flower unique in all the world. ;-)


    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 10:13AM
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puglvr1(9b central FL)

Thanks Al...I was going to tell you after "googling" impatients for hours I have not found one even remotely close to your beautiful flower. I just love the bell shape and how it dangles. Its a beauty!

Hi Toni!

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 2:04PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Thanks, Nance. If I ever find another, guess who's on the shortlist of who to share started cuttings with? ;o) I can email a picture to a couple of hort friends that should be able to offer up a positive ID if you like?


    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 3:06PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

I did the same thing Nancy! The only one close to what you show Al is a peach to yellowish color. :-)...

We have a tree around here with similar flowers, but they smell horrible.

Hi Al...:-)

Great post! I've had plenty of plants in mixes like you show. If the roots weren't rotted, they were a brick hard mess. I'm so glad I chose to look further into container growing, to give me the results the plants need to grow & show their full potential!
Thank you for taking the time to post those pictures, I know it will be a huge help to others that are new.


    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 3:47PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hey, guys! BTW - I did send some pics of that plant off for a better ID. If anyone else can help, here it is again:


    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 4:30PM
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I'm afraid I can't help with a variety name, Al, but I will say that it's quite unusual for a New Guinea Impatien, I believe. A quick Google search turns up the more usual flower shapes and colors, but I did manage to locate an article in Horticulture Magazine that might be able to point you in the right direction, if a name is desired.

Thanks, JoJo... the saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words, and I think most people can more readily identify with "show and tell", as opposed to just "tell".

Here is a link that might be useful: Impatiens Await

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 5:30PM
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Oh Al, I just LOVE that plant! What a gift you have and share to grow such unique things like that.:-)

Hi Nancy and everyone else!


    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 8:44PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Thanks so much, guys - it's easy to see why anyone would fall in love at first sight. It's a gorgeous plant.


    Bookmark   April 8, 2011 at 8:08AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hey, Nance - it's Impatiens morsei 'Velvet Love'.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 12:04AM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

To go along with Jodi's post showing what happens in containers with bagged mixes, I thought I'd share a few pictures of what the roots look like coming from a gritty type mix.

Here are some chives, I planted late last summer. It was only a few blades, a small section taken from another plant. Then the poor thing was forgotten over the winter with just a splash here and there from the hose. (embarrassed to say, but true) They look great considering! I had to do an emergency re pot, the one they were in broke. They were growing in the 5-1-1, and these pictures are how they came out of the mix, VERY nice clean roots! And the mix falls away.

Here is the clump after cutting around it with a shovel to get it out of the pot.

The roots were long and very healthy!

These are the ones that were cut away..

And here are a few of a Amaryllis I've had growing in the gritty mix as a house plant for over a year. They were taken when I bumped it up to a bigger pot. It's blooming now Jodi, right on schedule! :-)

I really can't say there's a bagged mix I'd ever use again. I love the results I get from the gritty mix and the 5-1-1.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 1:49AM
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Gorgeous, JoJo! I'd say the proof is in the pudding, but as we know, pudding is what we're trying to avoid! ;-)

The Chive roots are really healthy looking and numerous, but just check out those Hippeastrum roots, will ya! Wow! Is that amazing, or what?! Evidence that the concept of a more durable, aerated medium for container use helps produce massive, healthy root growth... which in turn, ensures healthy, vital looking plants!

Thanks for sharing that, JoJo... it's a wonderful visual that clearly illustrates the difference in results between a fine particulate of peat majority, and one of greater durability, drainage, and aeration.

As far as I'm concerned, there's no comparison. I simply can't get the same results using a medium that compacts so quickly and holds such a high amount of perched water. I think this proves beyond a doubt that understanding the basics, and applying the science to our own growing, can make a huge difference in our growing experiences.

I hope you have pictures of the blooms on that Hippeastrum to share, JoJo... I'd really love to see!

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 9:09AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Great pictures, JJ - clear illustration of the concept that highly aerated soils produce extremely happy roots (which leads to a happier plant). I think most telling is the picture second from the bottom, the one where you can see the wire mesh you used to cover the drain holes. In heavy soils, you often find the very bottom of the pot entirely devoid of roots because of extended periods of saturation. I think it was Joe that recently commented that even the center of the rootballs of the large number of plants he is repotting into faster soils were devoid of roots. This is because those areas of the pot lack sufficient aeration to support healthy root growth.

Many growers feel that roots grow outward until they reach the pot wall & then start growing in circles, but that is only partially true. Roots don't have the capacity to 'grow toward' moisture or nutrients. They grow only where conditions are favorable. In soils that support soggy areas, roots will make forays into those soggy areas after the plant dries down enough that air returns to the area. When we water next, the areas again become soggy and the roots die. This unseen cycle is extremely taxing to plants in terms of energy outlay. The sad part of the deal is that you don't always actually SEE it happening or you might not be able to see specific symptoms, though our own reasoning and every text that's worth reading about container culture contains whole chapters devoted to telling us how to avoid those conditions. This cyclic death and regeneration of roots is very often visibly manifest in poor growth and vitality, but when it doesn't occur on a level serious enough to make us stand up and say "WOW - I have to DO something", it is made manifest in lost potential - your plants not being all they could be.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 9:36AM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hello Everyone...

I just wanted to say that those pictures are just gorgeous!!! Quite impressive!!!

Al..beautiful pics as always!!!

Jodik...great pics too! Great illustrations of the difference in soils... It is nice to see the results first hand..thanks for sharing them!!!

Hope everyone is having a great day...

Happy Spring to you all!!

Laura in VB

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 5:27PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Thank you for noticing, Laura. Haven't seen you around much lately - how are your Plumies doing, and how are you doing with the gritty mix?


    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 5:50PM
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puglvr1(9b central FL)

Thank You Al for the name!...I've spent all day on the internet and phone trying to locate a vendor,lol...NO luck yet...but I'm determined! Wish me luck!

Hi everyone!

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 7:35PM
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Hi Jojo, Laura, Nancy, Jodik, and Al!!! It always always so good to see you all here.

Jojo: I couldn't wait for you to get your camera back! Fantastic work and pictures. Look at those roots, and all the way to the bottom of the pot..


Mom says hello and thank you too. I will show my sister this thread!


    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 8:01PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hello Everyone...

Thanks Al!!!

I have been working alot lately....way to many long hours...!!! LOL... I need a vacation...

My plumies are doing well..Thanks for asking...Yesterday i noticed some minor damage on the ends do to the temps here in VB changing day the highs are in the 50's then the next into the high 70's...Monday they are expecting 85*!!! So i was a little bummed..but mother nature will repair them...

The trees/plants are having a hard time adjusting to the swinging temps... so today i will focus on covering the tips so they will not burn....UGGGGGGGG!

My mix production line has started quite nicely...Thank You again for all of your help and information...

Last night i repotted 6 all of my DR's will be potted in the gritty mix...along with my Night Blooming Cereus...Plumies will be next week...

Thanks all of you for all of your help....i really enjoy reading your informative post and i especially love the beautiful pictures...I really like the special "velvet love" pug and Mike is just a very unique are lucky to have found this beauty!!

Thanks for all the encouragement that you all give...

I will post some pics soon...

Take care everyone...

Hi Mike!!! Tell Sissy hello for me....Big Hugs!!!

Happy Easter to you all!!!

Laura in VB

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 10:06AM
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puglvr1(9b central FL)

Hi Jodi, remember my Orange Amaryllis from last year...well I decided to plant it in the ground late summer last year and not its in full bloom...just gorgeous and I have another bloom spike coming too. Just wanted to share and thank you for the help you gave me!

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 12:01PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Hi Everyone!

Jodi~ Thanks! I'm glad I had the pictures to share! I think it's important that people can see results from both types of growing mediums. If I were new, and came upon this thread, I'd pick the well aerated mix for sure!
Well, I guess technically I did..:-) I chose to grow with these mixes over bagged after years of having what you posted, now look at the results I get!

That Amaryllis had no roots when I first potted her up.

Al~ Thank you.
That's a great explanation of how roots grow!
It's true, I've found many a plant in the past, and ones I buy, with no roots towards the bottom! And yes, it was Joe, that explained not having any roots towards the center of the root ball, and I've had plants like he explained too.

It was an easy choice to switch from bagged mixes to the well aerated mix. And these pictures we have shared show why.

Laura~ Nancy~ Hello! good to see you!
Nancy, I'm looking for a vendor for the "velvet love' too, so if we find one we'll let the other know! ;-) O.K.
Laura~ our weather has been real flip flopy too. :-) High of 42* yesterday and we are normally near 80* this time of year! I hope your plumies will be O.K.

Laura~ I have about 100 cactus and succulents to move into the gritty mix! Want to come help!! Bring the pups, mine would love some company! But we need to make sure they all have name tags, one of mine looks just like yours, and funny part is they are not the same breed. lol..

Mike~ Hi!!
You were anxious for me to get my camera cord! Imagine how I felt! LOL!
Yes, the roots went all the way to the bottom of the pot! A 10" pot! That's why I cut the plant out, the pot was breaking and I didn't want it all over the patio I had just washed. LOL!
Lots of love to Mom!

Here is the Amaryllis when I first planted it, a year ago This month.

Lemon lime~ Her blooms.


    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 12:08PM
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Puglvr, it was my pleasure to offer help... I'm glad you're enjoying your bulbs! :-) I dearly wish I could plant mine directly in the garden, but that would entail digging every autumn as the weather cooled, and I'm just not up to it, physically speaking. I have so much to do, and only so much energy to expend...

JoJo, now I recall... yes, the Lemon Lime! The green flowered ones are some of my very favorites... I have a thing for green blooms! :-) It's just beautiful, and I can't get over the great amount of root growth it put on! There's definitely something to be said about understanding the basics of soils/mediums and what's happening under the surface in containers.

Laura, and everyone else... my pleasure to share! :-)

In my opinion, visual aids work much better than just telling an informative story, regardless of how factual or scientifically accurate that story is. We've become a society of instant satisfaction/gratification and media/visual influence. We want to see it, and we want to see it now! ;-)

But seriously... we have so much visual stimuli thrown at us, that it seems easier to grasp things when we can see them in action. We talk a lot about soils, their components, how they work... and I knew I had plant material in poor soil that could be used as a perfect example of what we don't see, but what's happening under the surface... and I wanted to share that.

It's still up to the individual grower what method or what soil components he or she chooses, but with only one school of thought, you can't call it a choice. A choice involves more than one idea or object with which to have/make that choice.

I'm glad to be of service in this respect, providing the other "object" so there is a choice. Actually, Al provided the other objects... I'm just helping. :-)

I also wanted to talk a little bit about what Al says in his post above... about un-potting a plant only to find that the roots are not colonized in the center of the soil ball or all the way to the bottom of the pot, like JoJo's are. I've run into this numerous times... where the center of the root ball is essentially decomposed matter, too dense for good root growth. Most of the live roots I found were concentrated around the outside of the soil ball, within the top 2/3, or thereabouts... the only space conducive to decent roots growth in that type of medium.

I've avoided the death and regeneration process of roots, and the scenarios mentioned above, by providing the plant with a good, durable, consistently aerated medium that extends from the top to the bottom of the container.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2011 at 12:04PM
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puglvr1(9b central FL)

Hi Jodi, I absolutely understand! I wouldn't plant them in the ground either if I had to dig them up every year. I've made the decision that once I planted them in the ground...its where they will stay permanently. I have no intention or desire to dig them up every year too. Apparently I'm lucky enough our winter can handle them in the ground all year...I'm okay with that. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   April 11, 2011 at 4:46PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hello Everyone...

Thanks for the invite Jojo!! I really enjoy the warm temps that you usually have and especially all of the varities of palms that you all have in AZ...You are quite lucky to live in such a beautiful area!!!

Sounds like you are having rollercoaster temps like us here on the East Coast...definately doesn't know what it wants to do...I was going to post some pics...but im
having trouble with Photobucket...

My Plumies are all outside..enjoying the sunshine..but are having some trouble..with sunburned tips...I was going to post pics..but ill have to wait...

The dogs would love all of the company!!!!

Good luck with all of your repotting...I thought that i had to many plants...LOL!!! If i could help...i gladly would....

Jodik.....package was sent today...hope you enjoy!!! Thanks again for everything!!! : )

Hope everyone is enjoying the warm temps...

Happy Spring to all...

Take care everyone...

Laura in VB

    Bookmark   April 11, 2011 at 8:27PM
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newgen(9 Central California)

A little off topic, but can you guys offer an opinion on soil for inground planting? I have killed a few avocado plants, upon removal of the remains, I saw rotted roots and just a wet environment overall. I will try to plant the next one in a raised mound. I've been using Kellogg Gro Mulch mixed in 50/50 with existing clay soil. Is there an equivalent to the Gritty mix for inground use? I am hoping that a raised bed with gritty mix equivalent is the answer.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 5:45PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Raised beds are a horse of a different stripe, when it comes to soils. You might start by describing what the underlying substrate is? Clay?

You can achieve excellent results with a mix of sand/topsoil/other mineral ingredients and compost or other organic ingredients in raised beds that would probably be ruinous in containers. More input is required from you, and the best forum to discuss that would be the 'Soils/Composting' forum, or maybe even 'Container Gardening'.


    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 11:28PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Hi Everyone,
Yesterday I tackled one of the many projects I have of getting plants I bought last season potted up in their new mix. I'd like to share what I found.

This shows more of what Jodik explained up thread! It has been a constant battle to keep these plants going . They have been in a peat based mix. The end result , is little to no roots!

After having experienced first hand, the healthy plants and roots from growing in a well draining mix, I will never go back to a bagged. And i've learned the hard way, not to let them stay in the mixes they are in when I buy them.

Here they are right after I had removed soil from one. You'll notice hardly any roots! These came out of a container 6" deep.

Close up of how they looked right out of the pot. No signs of healthy roots.

Sorry bout the glare on these.
Here they are before being rinsed.

After rinsing.

And the soil they were in..As far as I can tell, it is just peat and perlite.

I can honestly say the plants growing in gritty mixes are far easier to care for than those growing in bagged mixes. I can't wait to finish getting them all switched over! Many to go, but it's a good feeling to sit back and see them knowing they will be able to grow and be their best.

Here's a picture of the plants in their new container with gritty mix. I will try to remember to get back later in the season with up dated pictures.

All the others in this are fairly new. And were also missing 90% of their roots.



    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 11:46PM
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Another very good "show and tell" visual... thanks, JoJo! Nice Heucheras... I hope you're able to turn around that root production!

I think what amazed me the most was how fast the peat based soil compacted... losing an inch upon first watering, right before my eyes. This tells me that a season of watering and settling is almost certainly going to cause adverse effects to the root system, which requires oxygen. And basic science tells us that the finer the particles, the more surface for water to adhere... therefore, a soil comprised mainly of tiny particles will most assuredly hold perched water.

And right there, in your photograph, you can see how the finer particles of peat just fill in around those perlite pieces, negating any good they might do, removing any air pockets that its addition was supposed to create.

But by ensuring the majority of particles are somewhat larger, and more comparable in size, we create AND maintain those necessary air pockets that roots need to "breathe".

I can't wait to see how that arrangement looks later in the season! It should fill in nicely! Thanks for sharing, JoJo!

And, thank you, Laura! I'm sorry I didn't see your post here earlier... but we have corresponded through email, so... it's all good! :-)

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 4:56AM
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birdsnblooms reason your roots look the way they do is you over-potted..obviously, you used way too much soil for the amount of Geranium roots.

Also, why did you add Peat with Geraniums? Toni

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 6:20AM
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I don't have time to read everything right at the moment but I do have a thought.

That throws the theory about how more 'light' could fix that problem right out the window. Don't you live in one of the sunniest places on earth?

Fantastic pictures Jojo!!!

Have great day everyone:-)

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 9:21AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I think the plants are Heucheras, and to be clear, JJ did say that the plants were in a peat-based mix, not that she 'added' peat; and I honestly don't see any evidence of over-potting. If a plant grown outdoors in a 6" pot can't colonize the pot with roots in a growth cycle as long as the one JJ enjoys, there is probably a soil issue, as she noted. I do think that what we CAN see evidence of is the plant's reluctance to extend roots into areas of the pot that remain saturated for extended periods - reinforcement for what Jodi mentioned further upthread, and for what many others and I have been pointing out all along, which I suspect is why she offered the pictures.

If, for example, a highly aerated soil like the gritty mix or a soil with a large (75% +) bark fraction had been employed, roots would have happily and entirely colonized the entire root mass. JJ already understands this, as she's worked extensively with these new soils, which is why she's confident that she'll be able to turn things around after correcting what she perceives as the cause of her issues.

I think you made a reasonable and proper diagnosis, JJ.


    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 10:00AM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Hi Jodi!
Thanks! "Show and Tell" works best. :-) I've had MANY plants come out of the pots this way! All of which I bought.
This one is Heuchera 'Harvest'. When I saw yours the other day, I chuckled, thinking mine has some catching up to do, but it will now that it's in a better mix! ;-)
I did some searches on it, and one of the care requirements is 'light' watering! And the grower puts it in Peat! Yikes! no wonder no roots!

If you look close, you can see on the one straight out of the growers pot, that there is debris from the shrub it was sitting under. The peat got too dry on a few occasions causing it to shrink.

In the past i've expierenced the same as you explained about the 1" that settled when you first water. I'd get mad and put more soil in, only for it to happen again.

Obviously, you did not really read my post. Please re read it before making comets that suggest I did something wrong.
I did not "over-pot" anything.
I did not add "peat" to anything.

And I planted a 'Heucheras' not a Geranium. Are they in the same family? I honestly don't know that one.

Hi Mike!
Thanks! ;-) I sure love my camera!
I don't head out the door without it now. lol!
Yep...Bright light! As Gizmo would!


    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 10:47AM
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What JoJo has there is Heuchera, a member of the family Saxifragaceae, native to the United States... some even native to Arizona, such as H. sanguinea, commonly known as Coral Bells.

The fact that they're native to the dry canyons of Arizona would lead me to believe that a water retentive soil that held moisture for a long time would not be to their liking.

Pelargoniums are quite different, and are members of an entirely different plant family... that of Geraniaceae. Species of Pelargonium are evergreen perennials native to Southern Africa. They can tolerate drought and heat, so they don't care for soggy soils, either.

Heuchera has become a very popular plant, with many different hybrid varieties making a public appearance. They're grown mostly for their brightly colored or ruffled leaves, though their flowers are rather nice, and often attract hummingbirds to the garden.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 4:05PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Hi Jodi~
Thanks for answering my question. That's some great information you posted! I didn't think the Heuchera and Geranium were the same family, but haven't had a chance to do much searching today. I did find the info you posted about them being native to Arizona. How cool! Maybe i'll find some down in the river next time I walk! ;-)
So it should be very happy in the gritty mix that is in now, and our warmth and sun!

I'm hoping for blooms! Anything to bring around little flying beauties!


    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 7:17PM
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You're quite welcome, JoJo! I grow several different varieties of Heuchera, myself, mainly for the gorgeous leaf colors... but I also grow the more common Coral Bells and the slightly older variety, Palace Purple, for their flowers. They do, indeed, draw hummingbirds to the gardens!

For some varieties of Heuchera, the flowers aren't very spectacular or even very noticeable, growing tiny white or pink blooms on thin spires... but this is just the sort of bloom that hummingbirds like!

Heucherella is also a noteworthy plant to grow, and is a genetic combination of Heuchera and Tiarella, both sporting similar bloom styles and very pretty leaves. Tiarella is usually thought of as more of a woodland plant... the type I'd not be surprised to find growing in Josh's shady garden!

    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 9:09AM
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That is quite interesting Jodik!

They attract hummingbirds? I just hung a feeder up there for them and I get nothing.

I am on my way to buy them if they sell them locally and they survive my winters!

Thank you so much for enlightening me.


    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 9:32AM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Hi Mike!
There are a lot of nice annuals you could grow to attract humming birds! You wouldn't need a lot, Just one nice pot/plant.

I got my Heuchera at one of the big box stores.


    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 9:45AM
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Don't waste your money, Mike... I have several perennials that will attract hummingbirds for you. Email me your address... I'll send you a care package! :-)

Columbine also attracts hummingbirds, as do many other plant types. Pineapple Sage is a great one, too, though it blooms later in summer in my area.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 4:40PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

I love Pineapple sage , but it's hard to get around here! Salvia's are nice too for hummers.

Is Columbine poisonous? I thought I had read it is, if so, Mike has a cat.. So he'd have to make sure Kitty doesn't nibble. :-)


    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 4:46PM
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Jojo: Kitty never sees the light of day outdoors..He is an indoor depressed That is until I get home!

I think it looks like Jojo may need a few Pinapple sage too Jodik! Your offer is just too kind. I will save my money and take you up on the offer. THANK YOU:--0)))


    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 5:21PM
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My pleasure, Mike... I have a lovely species type Columbine that reseeds itself nicely, though it is a perennial, the mother plant coming back each year larger and with more blooms. It spreads around the garden nicely, and I find new baby plants here and there in spring. The hummingbirds love it!

Pineapple Sage is an annual in my area, but it's definitely worth purchasing each year just to enjoy its beauty! It spends most of summer just putting on size, but as soon as the weather begins to cool in early autumn, it explodes in a riot of red blooms! I think it's an exceptional plant for the garden! I think it could probably be brought indoors and grown in a container over winter.

I believe its native habitat is somewhere in Mexico. There's a blue flowered version of it, as well... but I'm not as impressed with its growth. It grew sparse for me, and though the flowers were nice, it just didn't grow anywhere near as impressively as the red flowered Pineapple Sage.

The plant, itself, gets as big as a shrub, so I save a small area in the front bed for it every year. It has actually reseeded itself and come back after a mild winter... but this spring, I don't see any starting, so we'll have to replace it.

There's a rumor that we may be getting a flat of Pineapple Sage plugs... if we do, I'll try to save a few for special folks. :-)

Mike, another idea is to grow some of the hybrid columbine types from seed... they're easy to start, and depending on where you look, the varieties and colors you could grow are many! Thompson & Morgan has an impressive array of annual and perennial seeds available... and I'm sure there are many other seed catalogs you could obtain.

I'm not one to sing the praises of an annual unless I really, really like it... and I really, really like Pineapple Sage! It's a winner!

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 11:00AM
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Jojo, from the angle, the plant looks like Geranium.
Despite the type of plant, the mention of packaged soil w/peat is baffling.

Everytime bagged soil is discussed, for some reason, a few here assume Peat is added to all packaged soils..It's not.

All one has to do is read the ingredients on the bag. If Peat is added, and it's not needed or liked, then the thing to do is find a different brand.

I buy bagged soils with and without Peat, and use accordingly.

For the record, I'm not trying to promote bagged soils..On the contrary. If you're happy with your mix, so be it.

I just wanted to say, there are different brands of packaged soils; not all contain Peat.

As for over-potting. I made the comment based on your before and after pics. There was way too much soil for so few roots. Definately not suitable for a 6" container.

Over-potting, and too much soil leads to over-watering. I've expressed this concern the last 9 years, here on GW. That is the reason I advise people to go up one to two sizes when they repot.

Bagged soil isn't the problem, it's the people who attempt growing plants, over-pot and over-water who kills them.

Comparable to, guns don't kill people, people this case..soils don't kill plants, people do. Toni

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 5:20PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

FWIW - I have never seen a bagged soil suited to use in containers that doesn't contain peat, and more than 95% are a very high % of peat - 85%+. I've seen plenty of amendments or potential ingredients, but never a soil ready to use from the bag that doesn't have peat in it. .... and it's not the fact that these soils contain large peat fractions that causes the water retention issues, it's the fact that they are comprised almost entirely of fine particulates. ANY combination of peat/compost/coir/topsoil/garden soil or any other ingredients equally fine, will yield a VERY water-retentive soil that shouldn't be expected to be problem-free in containers - far from it. Excess water retention is inherent in their composition, and is the source of a greater % of issues on this forum than any other. If we can't agree on the term 'excess' we can certainly say that there are much better choices with greatly reduced water retention. Plants don't like 'wet' and compacted, they like damp or slightly moist and airy.

I wouldn't hesitate to put the plants JJ had struggling in the soil they came in, into a 12 or 16" pot full of the gritty mix or the 5:1:1 mix. JJ already knows from experience that she can do that and the plants will thrive. We can plant the tiniest seedlings or cuttings in large volumes of soil when using the 5:1:1 mix or the gritty mix and get tremendous growth because of their high degree of aeration, and with no concern for over-potting; but when using heavy, peat-based soils or other soils based on fine particulates, we actually do need to adhere to the protective warning to only pot up a size at a time. That alone is enough to illustrate clearly that there are issues with these heavy soils that you can't resolve by simply keeping plants in small pots. We know that small pots restrict growth and negatively affect vitality, and that begins to occur at about the time the root mass & soil can be lifted from the pot intact. To keep plants in that condition for no other reason than the hope of avoiding root rot, all the while relinquishing potential growth/vitality, is using the gun to shoot yourself in the foot.


    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 11:55PM
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The high percentage of peat used as an ingredient in potting soils sold retail aside, it's the individual particle size that's relevant to the high water retention and the prominence of dead and dying roots. It's a matter of simple physics.

The vast majority of plants sold were started in, and are already potted in mediums of microscopic particulate that remain saturated way longer than is healthy for the root system. Whether of peat, or of some other tiny particulate, it really doesn't matter. Peat is really not the issue. The issue boils down to actual soil particle size. Basic science tells us that the more surface available for water to adhere to on a microscopic level, the wetter the medium will become, the more water it will hold, and the longer it will take for that volume of water to dissipate.

As retail customers of plant materials, we don't get to choose what our purchases come planted in... but we can make a choice of what to change that medium to, post purchase, for the health of the roots involved, and to encourage the growth of more healthy roots. Left in a water retentive medium of fine particulate, it's inevitable that future waterings will compact the medium further, removing any significant presence of necessary air pockets and creating even more of a perched water table. And though we don't see it, it's also inevitable that the root system will go through bouts of suffocation, death, and regeneration as the saturated medium dries out enough to allow new roots to grow and colonize the area. But the next time the microscopic particulate is watered, the same thing will happen again... suffocation, death... and as the water evaporates and/or is used by any healthy roots, and the area once more dries to a consistency the roots can tolerate, they once more grow to colonize it. The downside is that this continual cycle saps the energy of the plants, making it impossible for them to grow to their genetic potential.

The cure is as simple as moving the roots to a more durable medium of larger particulate, as JoJo is doing, where compaction won't be an issue, and oxygen can freely reach the roots. There's less area for water molecules to adhere to, therefore, less perched water and less time for roots to remain saturated. The roots are happy, the plant is happy, and the grower is happy because she, or he, has a plant that is able to grow closer to its genetic potential.

To recap... peat really isn't the issue... particle size is the issue.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2011 at 12:25PM
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A once robust plant plant going BUST!

Since this subject is about Begonia and soil mixes I thought I would show everyone mine.

This plant has been doing nothing but loosing its roots and mass above the soil line each time I go to repot it from one bagged mix to another. Instead of growing, it is declining and continually being downsized. I had kept this one in a pot just big enough for it's roots and then after this past winter, I have had to repot it into a smaller 3 inch pot because I finally found it in my heart to give it the 5.1.1 mix mentioned here because this is one of those plants I finally decided to care about after this thread and such good advice. I guess every plant deserves a second chance.

Upon first examination of the roots, I noticed they were half dead and needed to be trimmed and planted into a smaller pot. Upon todays examination, I noticed that most of the roots were dead and had to be repotted it into a 3 inch pot.
Just how small did I have to go before I realized it was time to give it a much better mix that I make? The 5.1.1 mix mentioned above.
Please keep your fingers crossed and hope it makes it now that I have a new found fondness of it:-)

Before the first transplant last year into another bagged mix, and then the second transplant today. Notice that the mix has compacted and smothered all the roots. Also notice how dead looking and decayed the mix looks only after a year. Also, notice how dry the top inch or two is while the rest of the decayed mix is still damp. Notice too that a pot just right for it's root size did not stop it from a slow decline anyway.

Before the first transplanting last summer.

Now into the second transplanting today, less than a year from the first transplant above. I put it into an amended bagged mix last time by adding more bark, because I did want to take the time to make my own for it.
It seems to me that adding more bark to the bagged mix I used did nothing to stop the progression of compaction and decay of all the finer particles left in it, in particular peat, since the bagged mix had little of anything else except for perlite.

I can't find any white roots, can anyone else?

Here it is now, repotted into a now 3 inch pot in the 5.1.1 mix.

I have to thank all those who have helped me to understand how to do a better job at growing in containers than I have done in the past, and how important provide the best possible mix for my Begonia by understanding how particle size works.


    Bookmark   April 23, 2011 at 6:56PM
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Good pictures, Mike. They depict very well the adverse effects of a fine particulate, the brown coloration and the lack of plentiful roots indicating the difficulties they've experienced.

I'm sure it's a much healthier Begonia now!

    Bookmark   April 24, 2011 at 9:14AM
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Mike, I heard some garden people on the radio the other week - someone called in about hummingbirds & the comment was made that they tend to stick pretty exclusively to their flyways (or "highways" as the radio-garden-person put it) and it can often take quite a while to attract them to a new area.

So, don't give up! It was also recommended that the caller encourage neighbors to plant hummingbird food, so there was more reason to "reroute the highway."

I don't know if any flowering currant is native to your area, but it is an early bloomer here in WA, so a very attractive food source. Any early-blooming red/pink native in your yard should be a draw, eventually.

I rented a room the other summer at a house with tons of crocosmia (lucifer, I think - the flowers were HUGE!) & many, many hummers - they were on that crocosmia all day.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2011 at 2:08PM
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Tapla, you calling me a liar?
If you don't believe there are soils, suitable for house plants, in fact, recommended for house plants, that does NOT contain Peat, I'll give you a list of names..a couple to start off..You can do the rest. Toni

    Bookmark   April 24, 2011 at 7:30PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

I'd like to clear a few things up about the plants I posted about.

1~ I purchased these plants in a 6" container.

2~ I did not pot these plants in the 6" pot. They were bought in the peat mix I show in the picture. I never added peat or changed a thing.

3~ I did not make the mix that is shown. I did not put them in the mix. The nursery that grew them, made the mix and potted them in it. Not me.

5~ The only mix I made is the gritty mix in the very last photo of the post.

6~ I have NOT over potted them.

7~ About peat mixes...If you look at most bags of packaged potting soils, you will find peat moss listed first on the ingredients. In general, this means the majority of the mix is made of peat.

I am fairly new to GW, but not to gardening! I spent 10 years looking for a pre packaged mix, to not find one that worked.

No one is calling you a liar. But based on our own searching, have yet to find a mix that does not contain peat.

I would like to see a list if you can post some. I do have a few friends who insist on bagged mixes. Mainly my best friend who is handicapped and hates to ask me for help! So she uses bagged mixes. Just unloaded several bags for her 2 nights ago. She knows I have a lot going on right now and didn't want to ask me to take the time to make her a mix. If there's a better choice out there for her, and if she's going to be stubborn, I'd at least like to see her have nice plants.

As also stated above in several posts.. Peat set aside, every packaged mix i've seen are still mixes with fine particles that will eventually collapse. I have come across all sorts when re potting plants out of what the grower had them in. And all the plants had very poor root systems!

All of my plants are going into the 5-1-1 and the Gritty this season.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2011 at 9:03PM
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I'd be very interested in seeing a list of brand names, too... mainly so I can compare ingredients, ratios of ingredients to each other, particulate sizing, costs, and other pertinent information. If people are to be offered a choice, then it's only right we lay all the choices on the table so everyone can compare them and make the determination of which soil is best for the level of effort they feel compelled to expend in growing their plants, and how well they expect said plants to grow.

In general, and unless otherwise noted, most soils contain peat ground into minuscule sized particles, which basic physics tells us will allow more water molecules to adhere to all the many surfaces, thereby causing what we know as a perched water table within the container used. With such tiny particles, there's no getting around this fact... unless... the larger ratio of the soil mixture is comprised of bigger particles.

In all my many years as a grower of plants, I have yet to run across a prepackaged soil product sold on the retail market that meets the requirements I have learned to be optimal for the health of my plants' root systems. Profit being the main reason for retail sales, I doubt I ever will come across a prepackaged product that meets my expectations. And so, it falls to me to locate the items individually, and mix them together in order to create a medium that's durable and free draining enough to grow my containerized plantings to their genetic pinnacle... or as close to that mark as is possible, all other factors considered.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 5:10AM
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It doesn't matter who potted your plant..whomever did, doesn't know or doesn't care which soils or pot size was used. The point is, it was over-potted. Done intentionally. The larger the pot, the higher the cost. Nurseries, like most other companies, are out to make money. If your plant had been potted in a 4" pot, they couldn't charge the same price as they did for the 6".

Perhaps you're unaware, but I worked retail. HD is notorius for potting, 1. in huge pots, 2. setting the plant up higher in soil so it looks larger. So high, if a person rubbed against the plant, it'd fall out of the container. Both are done for $ sakes.

I never said packaged soils doesn't contain Peat..I said, you can find bagged soils that do not.

Here's a list of those I use.

Hyponex House Plant Soil.

A rich, black, very fertile soil. I've been using it for years. I do amend, depending on plant.
This soil shouldn't be used with succulents..
FWIW...I discussed Hyponex for years. It was tapla who said it was too heavy..Even though I explained I amended it with other mediums..If one wants to go back a few yrs, you'll see Hyponex House Plant soil was not only discussed, but described. Many many times.

Ace Potting Soil....ingredients...45-55% Aged Pine Bark, Top Soil, Sand and Perlite.

Sun ?
Since I mix soils in plastic containers, I tossed the bag..The name is 'Sun something' or 'something Sun.'
I will be going shopping in a few...If they have it in stock, I will get the name. This soil is sold at Ace, Walmart, Osco, and Walgreens. HD used to carry it, but they deal mostly with MG..However they have a soil, 'would have to find the name,' made for House Plants, that doesn't contain Peat.

Schroader's Materials...
Schroaders House Plant Mix. I can either call in an order, or buy pre-bagged. Pine Bark, Perlite, Sand, rich/black soil..No Peat...if I phone it in, they'll add whatever I ask for.

MG, used to sell a house plant soil w/o Peat. This product was either stopped or I just can't find it here. It was available before they added fertilizer in the new pre-mixed bags.
My dh works for the EPA. He had to go to Hyponex Company, brought home several, huge bags..Some with and others without Peat. I may still have a bag..and yes, it was House Plant Soil.

If anyone takes the time to visit a Landscape company, you can buy pre-packaged soils with or without Peat. Like Schraders.

The soils mentioned are sold in my part of US.
I copied and pasted a thread from a woman who used to visit here..she lives in CA. The link was on GW/houseplants, July 21, 2007.

"just use a 'commercial peat free' mix (not hyponex) and add 1 part each perlite and vermiculite, and 1/2 part of cat litter or aquatic soil for normal plants. C & S and hoyas I add to the above 2 parts"
Jojo, so you're going to repot in gritty mix..And your point is?????
As I stated above, I'm not here to promote bagged soils. It's up to the person to use whatever suits their plants.

Jodik, Ironically, while browsing GW, I came across a post from you boasting about bagged soils..Think it was MG. You were saying how great your plants were doing.

Again, guns don't kill people, people do..Soils don't kill plants, people do...Toni

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 4:00PM
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Went to the store. They had newly-shipped bags of potting soil..Its brand is either 'Home Life' or 'Home Lite'..40lb bags were stocked atop each other, enclosed in plastic, outdoors, so it was impossible to see the name without ripping open the plastic.
The bags were outside, and it was and is raining. I didn't want to play around ripping plastic, while holding a heavy cart filled with groceries.

BTW, I've bought small, 10lb bags of HL in the past. There's yet another soil the store sells, Sun whatever, but it wasn't in stock. Neither contains Peat. Toni

    Bookmark   April 25, 2011 at 10:16PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

1) The finer the particles a soil is made of the greater it's water retention, the taller its perched water table, and the lower the volume of air it holds - none are desirable qualities in a soil, so we should agree that moving toward larger particles (like significant fractions of pine or fir bark) in our soils is a good thing. This is simple science and is governed by the laws of physics and plant physiology.

2) The best soils, from the plant's perspective (growth & vitality being the measuring stick), are those that hold little or no perched water and lots of air to promote healthy roots. We know this to be true because if the plants JJ pictured had been in the gritty mix or the 5:1:1 mix - they would not have been over-potted. This illustrates clearly that as the perched water table disappears, the advice to limit pot size to one size larger is not applicable. The perspective that those growing in highly aerated soils hold is, the reason here plants may have been over-potted from the greenhouse is because the soil was inappropriate for the pot size - not because what came first, the chicken or the egg? She could have grown those small plants in a 20" container if she had transplanted into a well-aerated soil like the 5:1:1 mix or gritty mix.

3) You cannot start with a measure of fine material (like Hyponex soil) and amend it so it drains well and holds favorable volumes of air, unless you're amending with large particles (like pine bark/perlite), and those large particulates are the largest fraction of the soil, by far (75-85% minimum). This means you would actually be adding the Hyponex to the larger particles as an amendment, not amending the Hyponex (or other heavy soil) with larger particulates.

This illustrates the futility of trying to amend fine particles:

Use your mind's eye to picture what happens when you mix sand into a jar filled with marbles. You can fill a jar with a quart of marbles, but still pour a pint of sand into the jar ..... so did you ACTUALLY fit 1-1/2 quarts of material in a 1-quart jar? If you envision this arrangement, sand and marbles, what do you think the drainage characteristics of the soil would be? There's a quart of marbles but only a pint of sand, yet the drainage characteristics AND height of the PWT will be exactly that of the sand; the marbles would have no effect. The only thing that changed by mixing them together is the o/a volume of water the mixture CAN hold.

The same thing happens when trying to amend a fine soil or soil ingredient like peat/coir/compost/Hyponex/or other peat-based soil with large particles (like pine bark or perlite). This is precisely why adding a little bark and perlite to peat or bagged soils like Hyponex cannot achieve the (aeration/drainage) results possible when starting with a large % (75%+)of favorable size bark/perlite when building soils, and why adding a lot of peat or other heavy soils to the larger bark fraction doesn't work well either.
I think this is probably the clearest example (I've offered) as to why particle size is so important to how container soils function.

4) How water behaves in soils is governed by the laws of physics, which don't change because we wish them to. My experience is that it's better to understand these laws and put them to use for us than to fight them and try to grow in soils comprised of fine particulates. It's less work - promises greater rewards - and offers greater margin for error. There's little not to like.

5) We all know that most bagged soils do not offer anything close to the optimum environment for healthy roots, and watering properly in heavy soils is problematic because it carries not only risk of root rot, but causes the cyclic death & regeneration of a considerable fraction of fine rootage every time the soil is saturated. It seems we're all in agreement that these heavy soils are not the best choice because we are all amending them to improve their inherent shortcomings and trying to make them drain better and remain well aerated. I think everyone who looks at the issue with an open mind can see that moving toward more open (well-aerated, better draining) soils is moving in the right direction.

I simply use a scientific approach that defines the problem (water retention), the reason for the problem (fine soil particulates), and offers a solution (soils with a high % of larger particulates that hold water internally instead of between the particles like heavy, water-retentive soils do) based on scientific principles that don't change.

That there are growers by the hundreds (probably thousands) across I don't know how many forums embracing the concept with results exceptional enough they want to share them with their friends and neighbors is pretty good testimony to how valid the concept is and to how well it works.


    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 12:43AM
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I would term anyone who went about the education process and subsequently applied that knowledge and shared it with others, intelligent... not ironic.

I do hope note was taken of the date on any posting I would have made regarding MG potting soil, or any other bagged mix or fine particulate? It would have been dated quite a while ago... I'd guess somewhere around two years in the past, or thereabouts.

Prior to a few years ago, I might have recommended all manner of items... for the simple, yet ignorant idea that they worked for me. Oh, how little I knew.

That was then... this is now.

Today, given what I've learned, I'd never recommend a bagged potting soil of fine particulate. It would be a waste of money, a waste of time, and quite possibly a waste of plant material.

I've actually had the opportunity to see what MG potting soil looks like these days, and I can tell you that any quality it once might have had, plus its consistency, have both deteriorated to the point of no return. I personally looked at the contents of two bags, both purchased at the same store, at the same time, and each bag contained a different consistency of product.

One bag was nothing but dry bits of microscopic sized peat... and the other bag held some larger bits of well decomposed bark along with the peat, but it also held a good amount of mold.

Neither bag contained a large enough ratio of decent sized particulate, and the consistency of product from bag to bag was rather disturbing.

Hyponex soil borders on the same thing I'd dig out of my garden... I've never heard of Shrader's, and neither has Auntie Google... and Fafard products are not available to the greater retail market. So, while a choice or two has been offered, they're not of a particulate that is root healthy, unless they are actually the smaller ratio of a mix made with other ingredients.

Let's face it... there isn't a decent sized, pre-mixed particulate offered to the general public by the retail market. It coincides quite nicely, though, with industry goals.

I must concur with Al... we can't change scientific fact simply because we don't want it to be true. We can certainly hold our own opinions, but we then shouldn't be surprised when people disagree and debate them. Facts will always win out, but as Al also states, there's very little to dislike about the facts laid out. Using a larger particulate does offer a greater margin of error for the grower, is healthier for the growth of roots, and does offer greater rewards.

I, too, think that with the vast amount of offered testimony, the actual science and physics, the great respect Al has has gained through sharing so much, and all the happy growers offering thanks, there's really no way anyone can claim that the concept isn't a valid one.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 12:45PM
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Jodik, you made the comment a couple years ago. For someone who seemed so happy with her 'healthy plants,' who'd think she would want to change?
Not that I care. You can use whatever soils, fertilizers, or anything else you want..

The correct spelling is SCHROEDER Materials.

Also, not that I'm searching for it, but Fafard can be purchased online..Amazon, among other stores has it available.

This thread is a bore.. I've explained my position, numerous times...I'm happy with my plants, and they're happy with me and their care. Fin...Toni

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 5:46PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Well it's obvious why Jodik chose to change. Something better came along! We all have had something we felt was a good thing at one point , until we learned something better was available. Food , clothes, cars we drive... something.. so why should potting mixes be any diff.? Jodik learned of a better way to approach container growing. Like thousands of us have. A scientific approach. No law I know of that states if you happy with something that you cant change your mind at some point and try something new. You almost seem bothered by the fact that someone would want to change.

I looked up some of the products that were listed by you Toni, and several have peat.

I also came across some horror stories right here on GW, concerning how horrible Hyponex is.

Jodik made the comment that there isn't a decent pre-mixed particulate offered to the general public by the retail market. I see a lot of truth in that. One by my own experience, and by all the posts I've read here on GW about how all these mixes need amended.

If I need to take the time to amend a mix , buy ingredients to add to it. I might as well start from scratch and build a good draining, well aerated mix my plants will thrive in.
And have no concerns of over potting, or over watering!

Gosh, I even have seeds sprouting right now in gritty mix in 10 and 14" containers!

I really don't see how the tricks of the trade have much to do with this thread to be honest with you. The thread is about brands.. and the pics I posted were to point out the roots had rotted. They would have done this in time regardless of the pot size.

""Jojo, so you're going to repot in gritty mix..And your point is????? ""

Well, that was just kind of thinking out loud, but it seems to have bothered you.. so if you really want to know..I guess you could say my points have already been made.

But one more time.. I am moving my plants into better mixes so I can plants that will perform at their highest level. :-)


    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 6:21PM
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Jojo, as I said..I don't care what Jodik or anyone else uses. Why would it bother me? The only thing that troubles me is how an innocent thread, once again, turned into a fruitless debate.

Which soils contain Peat?

Horror stories? There are horror stories no matter what medium is used. People forget to water. It happens often. Insects, disease.

Jodik said, 'Fafard' couldn't be purchased retail. I Googled Fafard, and came up with a few places that sell it. Reread her post. There's no debate there!

I haven't any problems amending mixes..been doing it for years; I rather enjoy working with plants.
What you're saying is looking for an expensive item, Turface, and whatever else is used, paying for the product plus shipping, screening and washing, is fun? Not work?
Maybe you like lifting heavy bags to wash and screen, but I can't (physically) nor do I choose to.
My plants are healthy, and I don't have to pay a small fortune or have materials shipped.

As I explained a zillion times, I do NOT use soil straight from the soil is gritty. Plants don't rot.

Regarding large pots..I prefer using small-medium pots.
I have 300-400 plants. If I used large containers for each and every plant, there wouldn't be any room. I repot when necessary. When roots fill pots, plants are potted in larger containers.

I too have sown seeds in 14 and 17" containers..What about it?

It doesn't bother me when you say you're using a certain mix, Jojo..the fact that it's repeated so often, by the same people to boot, makes me wonder if you're trying to convince yourself you're using this mix or just want to start another silly debate???

Maybe I should go from forum to forum saying, I use bagged soils. Who cares?
If asked, that's a different story, but just to come out and say the same old thing, time and time again....I don't get it.

Theoretically, it's like the old cliche, I'm gay opposed to I'm straight. What difference does it make?? None. To come out and say, I'm straight/gay, especially, when the subject isn't being discussed, is absurd.

Therefore, I'm using gritty mix, or I'm using bagged soils, is nothing but a silly cliche.
If someone asks which soils you use, and you say, gritty mix/bagged normal.

Where and who are the thousands who use this mix? I know there are ppl here on GW who use it, but thousands? Or millions?

It's summer, I like to take long walks. Something we've been doing for years.
There are numerous people, gardening, planting annuals and and pots. Guess what they're using? Miracle Gro.
I've never once seen anyone hauling a bag of Turface..Why is that? Toni
PS..Including the city of Chicago, too..

Jojo, I don't want to argue with you..We're adults. If you're satisfied with your mix, so be it..I'm happy with the soils I use..That makes us two, happy people, with happy plants.

BTW, I use bagged soils.. :)

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 7:54PM
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That's exactly what I said... I made those statements at least a couple of years ago, at a time when I wasn't very aware of what actually happened beneath the surface of a medium... before my newly potted bulbs developed rot and rotting root issues... the issues that took me in search of a better way to grow containerized plants... and before I educated myself, instead of simply accepting what the gardening industry had to offer.

I also said... that was then, and this is now. And now, I am fully aware of the science and physics of container growing, and I'm fully aware and knowledgeable of the differences between growing in pots and growing in the ground. I'm now able to give my plants exactly what they require in order to gain the most growing potential from them... and I'm more aware than ever of how the industry perpetuates fallacious information and old wive's tales in order to achieve their goal.

I've come a long way within the space of a couple of years, and I'm rather proud that I've learned so much, and through that knowledge, have had such wonderful successes. I've traded my ignorance for factual information. I no longer accept what passes for common knowledge, no longer buy the old wive's tales, and realize that in order to get what I need for healthy plants, I must expend a tad bit of effort and mix my own mediums.

And the very best part is... I'm now able to share what I've learned so others can reap the same rewards... and because the concept and information offered is fully vetted, I don't need to guess at it... like I once did. I'm very certain of the science and basic physics my information contains, and I can also offer visual aids, like the evidence I offer above in other posts, so people can see that science in action.

If you had asked me two or more years ago why I did what I did, or how the concept of my chosen medium worked... I'd have been hard pressed to answer in an intelligent fashion... this is not the case today, and I have people like Al to thank for pointing me in the right direction.

I'm very glad that I decided to look further, to learn more, not allowing myself to remain stagnated, my poor plants drowning in saturated peaty silt. I'm glad that I wasn't satisfied with average to poor results, but instead, kept searching, reaching for that brass ring.

It's been a fantastic and very positive experience... with several fantastic outcomes... not one of them to be found in a single pre-mixed bag.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 8:32PM
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Thank God I was blessed with fertile, outdoor soils. My bulbs, 18+ yrs, pop up every spring and fall.
Daffs, Tulips, Snow Crocus, and Hyacinths. They've never rotted.. The only problem I had, before adding Daff's, were squirrels..they enjoy bulbs.
After planting Daff's, they no longer bother.

I have lost indoor plants over the years, but who hasn't? Many of my plants are several years old.. For instance, my Spider/Chlorophytum was purchased in 1973/4. I also have a Clivia, I sowed from seed, from 1982 and a E. 'Crown of Thorns, 'milii,' started from a cutting, the same year.

In 1994, while working at a plant store, that's 17-years-ago, I acquired many plants, that are alive and well in the year, 2011. Cissus, Scheff, Calathea, Dracaenas, Variegated Ginger, a few succulents..
Oh, and a rare, Pandanus, started from a cutting in 1994.

The last citrus I purchased was in 2005 or so, when the Canker problem prvented Fl from shipping Citrus out of the prior to 2005, I purchased 18-20 Citrus that are doing fine. So my Citrus are 6-years and older. No rot.

I don't understand why you can't agree plants can be grown, successfuly, in mediums other than the one you deem The One and Only Medium.

Sorry about your dead bulbs....

    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 8:51PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

My question is, why, because hundreds of people arrive at this forum and the Container Gardening forum each year with major issues directly related to soupy soils; and because many hundreds if not thousands are moving to highly aerated soils and reporting excellent results and expressing their enthusiastic appreciation for the information, can it not be agreed that highly aerated soils offer far greater potential for success, reduced effort, and a greater margin for error?

No one cares what someone chooses to grow in, but many of us do care that people are allowed to review the facts and the science. The facts are that amending soils like Hyponex and other extremely heavy soils or ingredients is not going to over significant improvement. In order to reap the benefits of a highly aerated soil, you must start with a large fraction of large particles, otherwise drainage & aeration will not be significantly affected.

The science is in front of anyone who wants to learn and who seeks greater potential for their plants and their growing experience. Thousands of people have attested to the merit of the concept because of their success. I think I would trust the judgment of people who use the soils and understand the concept before I would put too much stock in the opinion of someone who hasn't even tried it. That just seems to make good sense to me.


    Bookmark   April 26, 2011 at 9:46PM
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