Hand Holding Needed for Elderly Semi-handicapped Woman (Long)

marliz(5)April 13, 2011

I used to landscape our homes, several large areas over a forty year period. My back and hips gave out and I am now too weak to even get down on the floor, bend much, or walk far.

When my father died eleven years ago, I took a large planter home from the funeral home. A couple of years later I divided the group and kept a nice sheflera (SP?) and Norfolk Island Pine. The Pine grew too large and I gave it to someone with higher ceilings. I still have the sheflera in the same rather large pot. It has seen a fair amount of neglect in it's place near a shaded window, often not watered often enough, rarely fed. But it keeps on growing and I keep trimming it back. I don't know what I used for potting soil but likely added per-lite since I had lots left from my landscaping days. It is rarely fertilized.

Four years ago I brought another planter home from my mother's funeral and put it also in a place where it wasn't in plain sight. It desperately needs to be separated and plants potted separately: a peace lily that was neglected until I would notice the leaves limply crying for water; a boston fern which seems to be doing well, and what is, I think, a dracena. The ivy died long ago. There is a volunteer shefflera - looks like the smaller leaved kind, that is small. I cut it off at the base and stuck it in some soil recently (can't remember where I got the soil) and it is sending out new leaves. Now I discovered that the bit of stalk left in the pot is sending up new growth. This container has been fertilized once in four years.

We moved recently to a house with more windows and those plants are in a place where they are much more noticeable so I am enjoying and giving them more attention - picking off dead leaves, clearing the top of the soil, etc. And I found an urge to start growing houseplants. So I bought a half dozen different kinds that are supposed to be fairly easy: several small pothus, a diffenbachia, dracena, spider plant with babies attached, snake plant. Another one that was recommended and I forget the name.

They came from a couple of reputable nurseries, and walmart. I am careful to not over water, though the pothus are small in two inch pots, and I think they like moisture, so I do give them a drink more often. The soils from each place are not ideal, even from the nurseries, and they vary. One would not hold the water at all. It ran right through. I had to leave water in the saucer to let it soak it up. The spider plant (large) held so much water it went from light to heavy. It's just now getting a little lighter so I'll start checking it again. I would like to start the babies in pots. None of the plants seem to distribute water evenly like the ones I have had for years. The pothus seems to be in ok soil, but will need larger pots soon.

I also have an orchid given me on Christmas and it seemed to do well. I followed instructions, two tablespoons of water a week. Last week it displayed sudden distress. All the flowers withered. My husband helped me get the inner plastic holder out of the pot and I discovered that the lower third of the soil was waterlogged. I found a larger container and put some rinsed gravel from decorative gravel around the house on the bottom of the pot, wrapped the clear plastic inner pot in tinfoil to shield the roots from light, and put it on the gravel, hoping it would air out and dry the lower soil. I watered it a few drops today since the bottom looked dry. I'm not partial to orchids since I like more foliage, but since it was a gift I would like to save it if possible.

I have moved all the plants into larger outside pots on gravel to catch over drainage and hopefully keep things from getting water logged.

Hopefully you are still with me. It seemed I needed you to know where I'm starting from. With all this, I do not have enough places with good light. We have a lot of windows, but because of the setup there is little room for plants near the windows, just at the sides and further into the house. The snake plant and pothus are in low light, but so far seem to be doing well. I haven't watered the snake plant yet because I heard it needs to stay fairly dry.

Potting soil. I have read so much in your forum on potting soil, so many ideas, that my aging brain is "waterlogged" and it's all leaking out. The idea of screening soil sounds like a major undertaking for me. I can't handle large bags of material. I could put a table in the garage to use to mix ingredients from smaller bags.

I like the idea of a gritty mix, but am totally overwhelmed by all that I'm reading about it.

So now to my request for advice:

Are there a few simple ingredients that would likely be available in smaller bags in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area? Is there a way to make or buy a set up for screening on a small scale? Small screens? I don't mind using clay pots (used to grow a large number of african violets under lights in clay pots; twenty years ago.) But I like the idea of putting them in larger decorative pots (air around them, not tight) and on gravel to be sure water drains out if necessary. Besides that would add humidity in our dry winters.

I know much of the advice is for people who are using large bags of ingredients, wheel barrows, etc. which I can no longer do. Would you offer advice that is workable within my limitations?

If you read all this post, I thank you. And thank you for any help.


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You wrote a book, so I'm going to write one back.

Last year, I made my first batch of gritty mix, and while it was rather difficult to get all the ingredients, it was totally worth it. Homebrewers have a saying that goes something like this: "Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew". This saying is supposed to be a mantra for any problem you will run into while producing a batch of beer. As long as you keep the main ideas in mind (sterilization, order of steps), you really can't mess up beer too badly.

As far as making gritty mix would go, I think the same mindset applies. The idea is to make a mostly inorganic, fast draining mix. The three main components are some kind of stone, pine bark, and turface, which is a water-retentive soil additive used in baseball fields. The first time I made a gritty mix, I grabbed handfuls of bark mulch from outside my apartment, used some perlite, asked a herd of children at recess to collect tiny pebbles (I'm a teacher btw) and added some regular potting soil. I used this mix to save a dying pachira. I plan on repotting it into some real gritty mix in the next few weeks.

Turface is probably going to be the hardest thing to find. I could not find any myself. As a replacement I used NAPA floor dry. You need to screen away the fine dust particles and save the larger particles.

Appropriately sized pine bark can also be a problem. You need stuff that has really been ground finely. You'll want to exclude the biggest chunks of bark.

As far as stone is concerned, I used rice stone. You don't want to use sand or anything that will compact and retain water. I've heard of people using crushed granite or chicken grit.

While you say that you want to buy small bags of ingredients, I think that after you see how well your plants respond, you will want to make more. Besides, I don't think it's possible to get small amounts of some ingredients. You don't have to mix huge batches at a time though. Just make as much as you need.

I'm pretty sure I've got everything mostly right. I'm sure Al (tapla) will correct anything I've got wrong. As long as you remember that you're trying to create a mostly inorganic, fast draining soil, you can't go wrong. Do your homework about your recipe, and the availability of ingredients and take your time. Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew. :)

Good luck on your gritty mix adventure. Once you see the results, you'll become a tapla disciple like me.


    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 8:29PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Peggy - I'm seriously tied up doing bonsai repots now until late into the evenings & haven't been able to spend much time on the forums, but if you really want to try a gritty mix or a soil that drains freely, I'll be back as soon as I get caught up. I'll also be in Grand Rapids for the All State Bonsai show in mid-May, and I'd be happy to bring you a bag of Turface (and you can buy it in GR at Commerce Corp, just off 28th), some cherrystone grit, and some pine bark fines. There are also small screen systems with interchangeable screens you can purchase that will do a good job for the screening, if you would like to get set up on a small scale.

I'll be back to check on you soon. ;o)


    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 9:09PM
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Peggy, although many of the components come in large quantities, some - such as perlite, floor dry & bark - are surprisingly lightweight; others, like granite or pumice are certainly NOT! All of the ingredients are relatively affordable, even though they come in those large quantities.

If your husband is not able to help, do you have a capable family member nearby or a young neighbor that might be willing to haul a few bags in from the car to your (potential)garage potting bench? The merchant should be able to get the material into your car :) Call & see if they'd be willing to deliver - the worst they can say is "no" & they'll still put it in your car for you when you show up!

Once the materials are inside, smaller bins of material might be set up on your bench so you could easily scoop out small portions to make your mix up in manageable batches, while the large bags remain out of the way.

A cat litter pan is useful for mixing; petfood bins or some other type of inexpensive bin or even small trash cans can likely be picked up at a BigBox store in your area. A handled bottle with a wide neck - such as a bleach bottle - with the bottom cut out makes a good scoop/funnel for directing mix into smaller pots. Inexpensive ,esj collanders can be used for screening, in a pinch.

Would a small rolling table/cart (I'm imagining something like a tea cart or microwave cart) be helpful to move potted plants to & from the work area? You might check your local craigslist or a gardening supply website for something like that... maybe even your local college? I see bunches of old overhead projector carts surplussed at my school... Of course, there's rugs/carpets & thresholds to consider too. Hm.

It sounds like your biggest challenge is getting a system set up that meets your needs - and an extra hand every once-in-a-while to refill your smaller containers from the big bags. The potential for a dedicated area, such as a table or bench in the garage, makes the rest of the system a cinch!


    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 9:40PM
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Peggy, you said you landscaped homes 40 yrs. I imagine you kept your own indoor plants??? Did you use a particular soil, and if so, were you satified with the results?

If so, what type of soils did you use over the years? Toni

    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 2:40AM
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I want to thank everyone for the responses!
Just a few comments. I promise I'll try to be brief. ;)

"I think that after you see how well your plants respond, you will want to make more."

I'm sure I will, but what I have will keep me busy for awhile!

Al, how cool that you will be in Grand Rapids in mid may. Thank you so much for your offer. When you have time, maybe you could let me know where to get the small screen system?

"do you have a capable family member nearby or a young neighbor that might be willing to haul a few bags in from the car to your (potential)garage potting bench?"

I could get help, but my husband would rebel at storing the large bags. We used to have an old garage (stabled a horse once, goats, and kept rabbits there for awhile. It was a great place to keep my stuff way back then. Alas, we now live in one of those subdivisions with rules. Neighbors are great but I don't think they'd be happy looking at bags and bins in our back yard. So what I have will have to live in the garage. Don't I wish I'd saved the gazillion pots etc I once had!

As for the rolling cart, there would be no room, but I do have a folding table I'm planning on using and I can have someone move my two large plants out there. I have a ramp and railing so I won't have much problem carrying the smaller plants out myself. I can walk. Just not far.

Our weather should be warm enough soon. I'm thinking I should probably repot my eleven year old sheflera but it's scary since it's still going strong.

"hopefulauthor" I grew the African Violets under lights, starting a lot of my own; other houseplants too but I don't remember what they were. And this old brain, afflicted with fibromyagia fog, can't remember what I used for potting soil other than I likely just brewed up something starting from a ready mix.

I look at these new plants now and it's kind of scary. That maternal sense of responsibilty, you know. :-)

Thank you again for all the ideas. I will re-read and wait for more info from Al.


    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 12:34PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I just split a pallet of Turface with a friend, so I have 20 bags, and I'm getting a half pallet (25 bags) of cherrystone next week. I can bring as much as you want, if you decide that you have the will & wherewithal to get started & maintain the supply of ingredients to make your own soils. If not, you could try looking for someone who would have or order one of the Fafard's Heavyweight bark-based mixes. One of the 'Flowerland' stores near GR would be a good place to ask.

I'd be willing to come over a day early for the show if you need help getting set up or help repotting your scheff. My daughter is principal of the HS in Stanton & I can stay with her. I also have other friends in the area I can hang with, so it isn't like I'd be putting myself out to help a little. I'm pretty flexible, so just let me know what your thoughts are. It would have to be on Fri the 13th, as I'll be tied up Sat & Sun.

For screens, copy paste to your browser: http://www.dallasbonsai.com/store/soil_sieves_screens.html


    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 3:14PM
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Hello, Al. We had some electrical stuff going on here and my power conditioner was going nuts. Today I had to chkdsk my drives and just got back online.

I'm not sure yet what it takes to get started. No idea how much of anything I need, though I know I'm not ready to make large quantities yet.

I would be mixing in small amounts since I would need to use a container that fit on my rather small table in the garage. If I only need three ingredients, I suppose I could talk my husband into storing three large bags, though I'm not sure what large means since fifty pounds of a lightweight material would be a lot larger bag than fifty pounds of stone.

Would the T67 Soil Sieves at $17.97 be sufficient? They don't seem like they would be heavy. Someone mentioned esj collanders. If that's like the one I drain pasta or greens in, it sounds managable. I'm thinking a dishpan to mix the ingredients would be easier than something larger.

Mid May seems so close! I know you say it wouldn't be a hardship to come early, but it feels like it would be such an imposition. At the same time it sounds so promising.

I could check with my daughter (who has offered to help me) and see if she could be here to work with us and keep my brain less scattered. Since the fibro has gotten worse I get overwhelmed easily. Frustrating because I used to be easy going.

I would need to get started now to have things here that we need, especially if I have to order them. Would you give me a better idea of what I would need to have ready and set up? Meantime, I'll check with Mary (my daughter) and see if she would be free on the 13th.

Please, if anything comes up that makes it inconvenient, don't hesitate to let me know!

Just a side note. One or two of the plants I bought seems to be planted in some kind of bark. The water just runs down the side of the pot and doesn't absorb at all. Is this a danger with bark or did they use the wrong kind/not enough other things mixed in. I don't usually let plants sit in water, but it seems the only way these can get a drink.

I don't mind watering often; in fact it would be better because I would be less apt to forget if it was a more regular routine. Reminds me, I need to have pots also.

So much to think about. Will wait to hear from you.

I don't manage to get online every day but will try and check often.

Bless you so much for your willingness to help, Al.


    Bookmark   April 17, 2011 at 12:27AM
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Al, I have two fairly large containers that a landscaper used to add "curb appeal" when we were selling our home last fall. They had mums in them and I am hoping to use them on our back deck for a couple of tomato plants.

They are about 3/4 full of some soil mix now. Would the gritty mix be used for this situation, or something else entirely? When I was able to work a vegetable garden (In the Upper Peninsula of MI), it was with raised beds, mulch, and organic all the way. Would an organic mix work in containers for this?

Sorry, this is off topic. I don't know if it's in your area of expertize. I can always ask on the Container Plants forum, but wondered what your thoughts were.



    Bookmark   April 17, 2011 at 12:51AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Peggy - why don't we do this: I'll screen a bag of Turface and screen the dust out of a bag of cherrystone for you, and put them back in the bags they came in. Together, they would fill up about the same volume of 2 milk crates; you know - the ones that are roughly cubical? I'll bring my screens, and we can screen a bag of pine bark right there. Then, all you'd need to do is mix the ingredients together 1:1:1 as you need them. You'll then have plenty of time to decide later if you want to buy the screens. I'll even bring you some Foliage-Pro fertilizer and anything else I can think of that will help you. We can repot some of the harder plants so you can see how to if they're in good enough shape to tolerate it, or we can get them back on the road to recovery. It'll be fun! Lol - if you want character references before inviting me into your home, I'm sure I can dig up a person or two who will vouch for me. ;o)

I'd be there around mid-morning 13th, and you can have me until mid-late afternoon when I'll scoot over to my daughters to terrorize my grandkids & prolly get conned into accompanying them on some adventure - that'll be 2 adventures for me in one day. ;o) Basically, I guess I'm saying is I'll put myself at your disposal for a good part of the day & we can work together on whatever you think is important. If your daughter is a 'plant person' - all the better. We don't want her bored & rolling her eyes at our enthusiasm, so if she's not into plants, you prolly won't need her. I can move anything that needs to be moved & clean up any messes we make - I'll let you work that out.

How large are the planters you want to do tomatoes in? I can bring a bag of 5:1:1 mix & share that with you, too. Please don't feel like you're putting me out - you're not. I'm coming to GR anyway, and if I looked at the offer as anything other than fun, or an opportunity to do a kindness for someone who could use the help, I wouldn't have mentioned it.


    Bookmark   April 17, 2011 at 11:27AM
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Al, I'm not trusting by nature, but I've read enough on the forum to know that you have a heart the size of a mountain. It's nice to know you have grandchildren in the area. Mine are two boys (7 and 11, and a girl, thirteen. You sound like my husband, he loves to "terrorize" them.

Mary says she kills every plant she tries, but wants to try again. She has to be careful of poisonous plants because she has two cats (not to mention rabbits, snake, dog, toads, etc etc. (roll eyes)

I think a spider plant is not toxic so I am hoping I can get one of the babies started for her. Small ones seem impossible to find. Maybe she will have better luck with the gritty mix.

I hope I can learn to do this! There is a place in the house (low light) where I'm hoping to put a container tree. Have to be careful I don't get carried away. But right now my main activity is working with photos and Photoshop. It would be good to have another interest again.

The containers I have for tomatoes are around 12 diameter and 12 inches deep, narrowing at the bottom.

I used to be annoyed when my mother wouldn't accept help, so I will accept yours with gratitude, but will pay for whatever it costs you monetarily. Wish there were bigger words for "thank you!"


    Bookmark   April 17, 2011 at 4:56PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Ok - we have a date then. ;-) I'll look forward to it. It'll be fun! Thank you for the kind words, btw ..... more than thanks enough. You can fill me in on the details (like address) through the email link on my user page.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2011 at 7:11PM
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