Soil mix for dracaena without perlite

fandog(6a)July 24, 2013

Looking for a soil mix to plant my dracaena in that doesnt contain perlite. Any suggestions?

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birdsnblooms

Hey Fandog,

It's difficult finding soils that don't contain Perlite. Of course, the two main soil sellers here are Miracle Gro, Hyponex,, and a few off-brands.

Hyponex has very little Perlite, if any. It's a rich, black soil, that actually needs additional mediums for drainage purposes.

Mind if I ask why you're looking for a non-perlite medium? If you'd rather not explain, it's okay. :)

Which Dracaena do you have? Toni

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 12:32PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

My brother grows a very large Dracaena in pure black Scoria (lava rock).

Josh

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 2:06PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Fandog - Soils that support little to no perched water (water that won't drain from that soggy layer of soil at the bottom of the pot after a good watering) offer significantly facilitate your ability to offer your plants a root environment that allows the plant to grow to its potential. Soils that support significant amounts of perched water are always going to limit the plant's potential - it's unavoidable.

Since the volume of perched water a soil holds is closely correlated to the size of the particles that make up your soil, we can see that chunky soils that are comprised mainly of large particles and large air spaces, and contain few fine particles offer your plants the best opportunities to grow to their potential.

2 parts of screened pine bark
1 part of screened Turface or calcined DE
2 tsp garden lime/gallon of soil

would make an excellent soil. Here is what the pine bark should look like:

After it's made, the soil would look something like this:

except that where you see perlite, there would be Turface or DE in its place.

Trying to amend a soil primarily made of fine particles won't work. Your soil needs to be BASED on large particles, not on small particles. Even if you mixed an equal measure of perlite or other coarse material with peat or other water-retentive soil, the fine particles surround the larger particles, negating the effort insofar as aeration and drainage is concerned. Some materials, when added top soils, can reduce o/a water retention (like perlite), but unless perlite comprises >75% of the o/a soil mix, it is ineffectual at increasing drainage or aeration. To visualize this concept, think about how much aeration there is in a pint of BBs. Add a half pint of sand so the mix is 2 parts BBs and 1 part sand, and you've destroyed aeration and introduced a soggy layer of soil at the bottom of the jar (even if it had a hole in it). That's why you simply can't effectively amend soils comprised primarily of fine particles.

This is what I grow all my houseplants in.

It makes growing super easy, and you don't need to worry about over-watering or the several issues that come as baggage when using water-retentive soils.

Let me know if you're interested in learning more about soils and container growing in general. You can make some significant steps forward in a short time if you'd like to invest a little time to gain an understanding of a few simple concepts.

Al

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 2:46PM
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fandog(6a)

Toni,

I read somwhere that perlite has flouride in it. I have a dracaena marginata that has spots on the leaves and brown tips and my water comes from a well so theres no chlorine or flouride. The cause is either a watering problem, too much sun or a disease. Its not that bad i just have to get to the bottom of this.

Al,

Im very interested. Should have paid more attention in my soil science class years ago that at the time i thought was boring. What are your thoughts on vermiculite? I did start using clay pots almost exclusively to improve aeration and drainage.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 9:48PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Here is an embedded link that will take you to a thread that gives a basic overview of what you can do to make growing a lot easier and avoid the common pitfalls that regularly bring growers to the forum with requests for help reversing the effects of mostly soil-related issues. Most issues can be traced back to an inappropriate soil that has left plants weakened and vulnerable, even to things like insects, diseases, and spoiled foliage. If you can get the soil right and supply light intensity that suits the plant, you're over the hump and on the downhill side.

After getting a look at the basics and a feel for the direction I would nudge you in, you can follow this embedded link to a thread that goes into much greater detail that should help you gain an understanding of the concept that governs things like aeration, drainage, and water retention. Gaining that understanding almost certainly represents the largest single step forward a container gardener can take at any one time. A healthy root system is an essential prerequisite to a healthy plant because a healthy plant is impossible w/o a healthy root system.

Have fun, and ask lots of questions. There are plenty of growers who will be willing to help you, after already having embraced the concept and put it to work for themselves.

Have a good weekend.

Al

    Bookmark   July 26, 2013 at 8:10PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I bought a couple of small bags of vermiculite about 20 years ago. I still have all but 1 or 2 small scoops of it left (that's all I've used of it in 20 years). In most soils, vermiculite increases water retention, and most growers using premade soils that are based on peat, compost, composted forest products, or other similar very small particles and come from a bag 'ready to use', already have much more inherent water retention to deal with than plants prefer.

Technically, you can't improve drainage or aeration by changing pot materials from say plastic to clay. You do potentially improve soil gas exchange, which is a significant plus, and which also helps the soil to dry down faster, which is also a plus. Drainage and aeration are most affected by the sizes and the gradient mix of the sizes of the soil particles.

Al

    Bookmark   July 26, 2013 at 8:31PM
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fandog(6a)

Ok thanks for the info, i look forward to reading it. In your opinion, should perlite not be used in container mixes with plants that are sensitive to flouride, or is the amount of flouride negligible?

    Bookmark   July 26, 2013 at 9:24PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Perlite's fluoride content IS a consideration, but its impact on sensitive plants can be reduced considerably by screening out the fines (over aluminum insect screening) and thoroughly rinsing the perlite before using it. Commercial growers limit the effects of fluoridic compounds in part by making sure media pH is >6.5 to limit its solubility, and by keeping ambient (and thus soil) temperatures below 90*. The higher temperatures increase transpiration rates, and in doing so increase the uptake of potentially toxic compounds.

More often than not, fluoridic compounds are blamed for what more rightly should be laid at the feet of EC/TDS (fertility or dissolved solids levels) levels that are higher than the plant favors (or even boron toxicity). MOST often, these unfavorably high levels are the result of using soils that can't be watered properly w/o risking excessive saturation of the soil and its effect on root function. Watering in sips to guard against a soggy soil leaves the grower in a predicament. Do I water correctly (to flush accumulating salts from the soil) and risk impaired root function or root rot setting in, or do I water in little sips to avoid the root issues and suffer the steady build-up of salts that are very often the real culprit as being causal of spoiled foliage.

You can bring along nice looking plants by using soils that allow you to water freely at will (to regularly flush the soil of accumulating salts) with no concern for adverse effects on root function, and by fertilizing frequently at low doses to keep fertility levels low.

Al

    Bookmark   July 27, 2013 at 12:58AM
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