Question for Al

silverlily(4)August 18, 2010


I have been a member here for some time now and have read just about every post you have made about soils, watering, fertilizer and such. First off, I would love to sit with you and pick your brain, you are a HUGE fountain of knowledge. Since we are not even remotely close, I will have to settle to try and pick your brain here.

For years, I had lived in a wonderful house with a room that was perfect for my plants. Floor to ceiling windows on the east, south and west side. I had a huge collection of the "easier" plants. Pothos, spiders, split leaf philo, two variations of dracena, swiss cheese, chestnut vine... etc etc.

Last year, my mother needed full time care, so my family (including all my green children) moved into her home. The light is not as ideal as it was, so I had a few causalities. Unfortunately. -sigh- The rest have adapted as best they can, but they are not as lush and perky as they used to be.

I water them when the soil is dry, every other watering, I use half strength Schultz 10-15-10 fertilizer and use distilled water. Is there something else you would recommend?

Your topic on soil absolutely intrigues me. When you have a plant that has been growing in soil for years (I have a spider plant that is close to 20 year) does it transition well into a soil-less mix? Do you rinse all the soil off the root system and then pot it in the soil-less mix? Do all plants prefer this kind of mix? Last question, if I paid you for it, would you be willing to send me a sample of your mix so I can see the consistency of it?



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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

How kind you are, Lilly. Thank you very much for the lovely compliment. I'm sorry to hear that your growing conditions aren't as favorable as they were, but we know mom comes first. ;o) Lack of sufficient light to keep plants happy, as you know, is a very common problem. There are 6 factors that affect plant growth and yield; they are: air, water, light, temperature, soil/media, nutrients. Liebig's Law of Limiting Factors states the most deficient factor limits plant growth and increasing the supply of, or improving non-limiting factors will not increase plant growth. Only by increasing the most deficient factor will the plant growth increase. There is also an optimum combination of the factors and increasing them, individually or in combinations, can lead to issues of excess for the plant (like toxicities), which can be as harmful as a deficiency.

When the issue of low light is the most limiting factor, there is nothing we can do to 'make up' for it unless we increase the amount of light. Even if all 5 other cultural conditions were perfect, they couldn't make up for the limiting effects of low light on growth .....

Sorry I'm off track. Your questions:

I water them when the soil is dry - every other watering, I use half strength Schultz 10-15-10 fertilizer and use distilled water. Is there something else you would recommend? From reading my comments, you probably realize how important it is to keep soluble salt build-up from occurring in the soil. So I would try to make it a point to thoroughly flush the soil several times with tap water about every 3-4 months. I'm, assuming you're not flushing the soil each time you water. I would have suggested much more frequently (monthly) if you weren't using distilled water.

I'd like to try to talk you into abandoning the 10-15-10, or at least setting it aside so you can evaluate a different ratio fertilizer. No plant uses more P than N. In fact, on average, plants use about 6x more N than P, so it would be extremely difficult for a fertilizer manufacturer to justify suggesting any product with a middle number (P) higher than either the first or last (N or K) numbers. The excess P just makes it more difficult for plants to absorb water and the nutrients dissolved in water, raises pH unnecessarily, and makes it more difficult for plants to assimilate the micro-nutrients, particularly Fe & Mn (iron/manganese).

I'd really love to learn you've decided to try Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 as your 'all-purpose' fertilizer. It has ALL the essential elements (that don't come from the air) in a very favorable NPK ratio (3:1:2) and in a favorable ratio to each other. It even has Ca & Mg, which most soluble fertilizers (including yours) do not have. It's hard to beat on paper, but more importantly, I've been using it for about 3 years after being impressed with it's on-paper stats, and the real, practical results are such that I can say I've found nothing better. I use it on about 98% of my plants.

When you have a plant that has been growing in soil for years (I have a spider plant that is close to 20 year) does it transition well into a soil-less mix? They do for me, but I have a LOT of experience working on roots, repotting up to 200 plants each year. That is 'full repots' - bare rooting and root pruning. If you have a problem plant that is struggling and needs emergency help, then take charge & get right after it, but if you have a plant that is old and growing well, I'd hate for you to move forward aggressively and have the plant fail because you are unfamiliar with the soil or the procedure. Maybe starting a plantlet in the new soil, or trying a plant you have duplicates of, or making a guinea pig of one that isn't really all that special to you .... There are more & more folks getting into managing roots that will hopefully speak up with their view on how root management affects the long view in terms of both longevity and vitality. Do you rinse all the soil off the root system and then pot it in the soil-less mix? I use different tools, including a jet of water to bare-root the plants, but a dowel sharpened in a pencil sharpener is a really good tool for removing stubborn soil. The first time you repot a plant will be, by far, the most difficult - but don't let that deter you. ;o) Do all plants prefer this kind of mix? I suppose I shouldn't say yes, but I haven't yet found a plant that doesn't grow extremely well in either the 5:1:1 soil or the gritty mix. Others have, but I suspect it's not the soil. One person who posts frequently was having some difficulty with AVs in the gritty mix. I'd grown them before in it, but I started a couple in it last year anyway, just so I could take pictures of the happy plants in that soil, which I did, and posted.

Growing in containers - especially using the highly aerated soils I use, is MUCH more like hydroponics than gardening. What the medium is made of isn't important, beyond that it anchors the plant, holds favorable volumes of water/air, and isn't toxic. When you KNOW these physical properties are favorable, you can say with a fair degree of certainty that when plants fail, it's likely due to grower error, rather than the soil.

Of course, not everyone just starting out embraces the concept, rather than the recipe. Often, they do embrace the recipe, and often too, wind up substituting this or that and end up with something completely different than the concept soil. I never named anything as 'my soil', or even started calling the two recipe I used as guidelines the 5:1:1 mix or the gritty mix. I was pushing an idea - not the soils. Others named the soils and started the recommendation ball rolling. I STILL recommend "a well-aerated and durable soil", though I often suggest those I know don't understand the reasoning read the thread about container soils. ;o)

Contact me off forum about the soil. You can always call if you feel like visiting, or if you feel you have questions I might be able to help with. It's not unusual for me to get several calls each week about 'this and that' - plant stuff. Another would just add to the fun. ;o)

Take care Lilly. Thanks again, for the kind words.


Here is a link that might be useful: To the thread about container soils

    Bookmark   August 18, 2010 at 4:58PM
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