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Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
Fri, Feb 5, 10 at 14:16

I first posted this thread back in March of 05. Nine times, it has reached the maximum number of posts GW allows to a single thread (150), which is much more attention than I ever imagined it would garner. I have reposted it, in no small part, because it has been great fun, and a wonderful catalyst in the forging of new friendships and in increasing my list of acquaintances with similar growing interests. The forum and email exchanges that stem so often from the subject are, in themselves, enough to make me hope the subject continues to pique interest and the exchanges provide helpful information. Most of the motivation for posting this thread again comes from the participants reinforcement of the idea that some of the information provided in good-spirited collective exchange will make some degree of difference in the level of satisfaction of many readers growing experience.

I'll provide links to the previous nine threads and nearly 1,500 posts at the end of what I have written - in case you have interest in reviewing them. Thank you for taking the time to look into this subject - I hope that any/all who read it take at least something interesting and helpful from it. I know it's long; my wish is that you find it worth the read.


Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention
A Discussion About Soils

As container gardeners, our first priority should be to insure the soils we use are adequately aerated for the life of the planting, or in the case of perennial material (trees, shrubs, garden perennials), from repot to repot. Soil aeration/drainage is the most important consideration in any container planting. Soils are the foundation that all container plantings are built on, and aeration is the very cornerstone of that foundation. Since aeration and drainage are inversely linked to soil particle size, it makes good sense to try to find and use soils or primary components with particles larger than peat. Durability and stability of soil components so they contribute to the retention of soil structure for extended periods is also extremely important. Pine and some other types of conifer bark fit the bill nicely, but Ill talk more about various components later.

What I will write also hits pretty hard against the futility in using a drainage layer of coarse materials as an attempt to improve drainage. It just doesn't work. All it does is reduce the total volume of soil available for root colonization. A wick can be employed to remove water from the saturated layer of soil at the container bottom, but a drainage layer is not effective. A wick can be made to work in reverse of the self-watering pots widely being discussed on this forum now.

Since there are many questions about soils appropriate for use in containers, I'll post basic mix recipes later, in case any would like to try the soil. It will follow the Water Movement information.

Consider this if you will:
Soil fills only a few needs in container culture. Among them are: Anchorage - A place for roots to extend, securing the plant and preventing it from toppling. Nutrient Retention - It must retain enough nutrients in available form to sustain plant systems. Gas Exchange - It must be sufficiently porous to allow air to move through the root system and by-product gasses to escape. Water - It must retain water enough in liquid and/or vapor form to sustain plants between waterings. Most plants can be grown without soil as long as we can provide air, nutrients, and water, (witness hydroponics). Here, I will concentrate primarily on the movement of water in soil(s).

There are two forces that cause water to move through soil - one is gravity, the other capillary action. Gravity needs little explanation, but for this writing I would like to note: Gravitational flow potential (GFP) is greater for water at the top of the container than it is for water at the bottom. I'll return to that later. Capillarity is a function of the natural forces of adhesion and cohesion. Adhesion is water's tendency to stick to solid objects like soil particles and the sides of the pot. Cohesion is the tendency for water to stick to itself. Cohesion is why we often find water in droplet form - because cohesion is at times stronger than adhesion; in other words, waters bond to itself can be stronger than the bond to the object it might be in contact with; in this condition it forms a drop. Capillary action is in evidence when we dip a paper towel in water. The water will soak into the towel and rise several inches above the surface of the water. It will not drain back into the source, and it will stop rising when the GFP equals the capillary attraction of the fibers in the paper.

There will be a naturally occurring "perched water table" (PWT) in containers when soil particulate size is under about .125 (1/8) inch.. This is water that occupies a layer of soil that is always saturated & will not drain from the portion of the pot it occupies. It can evaporate or be used by the plant, but physical forces will not allow it to drain. It is there because the capillary pull of the soil at some point will surpass the GFP; therefore, the water does not drain, it is perched. The smaller the size of the particles in a soil, the greater the height of the PWT. This water can be tightly held in heavy (comprised of small particles) soils and perch (think of a bird on a perch) just above the container bottom where it will not drain; or, it can perch in a layer of heavy soil on top of a coarse drainage layer, where it will not drain.

Imagine that we have five cylinders of varying heights, shapes, and diameters, each with drain holes, and we fill them all with the same soil mix, then saturate the soil. The PWT will be exactly the same height in each container. This saturated area of the container is where roots initially seldom penetrate & where root problems frequently begin due to a lack of aeration. Water and nutrient uptake are also compromised by lack of air in the root zone. Keeping in mind the fact that the PWT height is dependent on soil particle size and has nothing to do with height or shape of the container, we can draw the conclusion that: Tall growing containers will always have a higher percentage of unsaturated soil than squat containers when using the same soil mix. The reason: The level of the PWT will be the same in each container, with the taller container providing more usable, air holding soil above the PWT. From this, we could make a good case that taller containers are easier to grow in.

A given volume of large soil particles has less overall surface area when compared to the same volume of small particles and therefore less overall adhesive attraction to water. So, in soils with large particles, GFP more readily overcomes capillary attraction. They drain better. We all know this, but the reason, often unclear, is that the height of the PWT is lower in coarse soils than in fine soils. The key to good drainage is size and uniformity of soil particles. Mixing large particles with small is often very ineffective because the smaller particles fit between the large, increasing surface area which increases the capillary attraction and thus the water holding potential. An illustrative question: How much perlite do we need to add to pudding to make it drain well?

We have seen that adding a coarse drainage layer at the container bottom does not improve drainage. It does though, reduce the volume of soil required to fill a container, making the container lighter. When we employ a drainage layer in an attempt to improve drainage, what we are actually doing is moving the level of the PWT higher in the pot. This simply reduces the volume of soil available for roots to colonize. Containers with uniform soil particle size from top of container to bottom will yield better and more uniform drainage and have a lower PWT than containers using the same soil with drainage layers.

The coarser the drainage layer, the more detrimental to drainage it is because water is more (for lack of a better scientific word) reluctant to make the downward transition because the capillary pull of the soil above the drainage layer is stronger than the GFP. The reason for this is there is far more surface area on soil particles for water to be attracted to in the soil above the drainage layer than there is in the drainage layer, so the water perches. I know this goes against what most have thought to be true, but the principle is scientifically sound, and experiments have shown it as so. Many nurserymen employ the pot-in-pot or the pot-in-trench method of growing to capitalize on the science.

If you discover you need to increase drainage, you can simply insert an absorbent wick into a drainage hole & allow it to extend from the saturated soil in the container to a few inches below the bottom of the pot, or allow it to contact soil below the container where the earth acts as a giant wick and will absorb all or most of the perched water in the container, in most cases. Eliminating the PWT has much the same effect as providing your plants much more soil to grow in, as well as allowing more, much needed air in the root zone.

In simple terms: Plants that expire because of drainage problems either die of thirst because the roots have rotted and can no longer take up water, or they starve/"suffocate" because there is insufficient air at the root zone to insure normal water/nutrient uptake and root function.

Bark fines of fir, hemlock or pine, are excellent as the primary component of your soils. The lignin contained in bark keeps it rigid and the rigidity provides air-holding pockets in the root zone far longer than peat or compost mixes that too quickly break down to a soup-like consistency. Conifer bark also contains suberin, a lipid sometimes referred to as natures preservative. Suberin, more scarce as a presence in sapwood products and hardwood bark, dramatically slows the decomposition of conifer bark-based soils. It contains highly varied hydrocarbon chains and the microorganisms that turn peat to soup have great difficulty cleaving these chains.

To confirm the existence of the PWT and how effective a wick is at removing it, try this experiment: Fill a soft drink cup nearly full of garden soil. Add enough water to fill to the top, being sure all soil is saturated. Punch a drain hole in the bottom of the cup and allow the water to drain. When drainage has stopped, insert a wick into the drain hole . Take note of how much additional water drains. Even touching the soil with a toothpick through the drain hole will cause substantial additional water to drain. The water that drains is water that occupied the PWT. A greatly simplified explanation of what occurs is: The wick or toothpick "fools" the water into thinking the pot is deeper than it is, so water begins to move downward seeking the "new" bottom of the pot, pulling the rest of the water in the PWT along with it. If there is interest, there are other simple and interesting experiments you can perform to confirm the existence of a PWT in container soils. I can expand later in the thread.

I always remain cognizant of these physical principles whenever I build a soil. I havent used a commercially prepared soil in many years, preferring to build a soil or amend one of my 2 basic mixes to suit individual plantings. I keep many ingredients at the ready for building soils, but the basic building process usually starts with conifer bark and perlite. Sphagnum peat plays a secondary role in my container soils because it breaks down too quickly to suit me, and when it does, it impedes drainage and reduces aeration. Size matters. Partially composted conifer bark fines (pine is easiest to find and least expensive) works best in the following recipes, followed by uncomposted bark in the <3/8" range.

Note that there is no sand or compost in the soils I use. Sand, as most of you think of it, can improve drainage in some cases, but it reduces aeration by filling valuable macro-pores in soils. Unless sand particle size is fairly uniform and/or larger than about BB size I leave it out of soils. Compost is too unstable for me to consider using in soils. The small amount of micro-nutrients it supplies can easily be delivered by one or more of a number of chemical or organic sources.

My Basic Soils
5 parts pine bark fines (partially composted fines are best)
1 part sphagnum peat (not reed or sedge peat please)
1-2 parts perlite
garden lime (or gypsum in some cases)
controlled release fertilizer (if preferred)
micro-nutrient powder, other continued source of micro-nutrients, or fertilizer with all nutrients - including minors

Big batch:
2-3 cu ft pine bark fines
5 gallons peat
5 gallons perlite
2 cups dolomitic (garden) lime (or gypsum in some cases)
2 cups CRF (if preferred)
1/2 cup micro-nutrient powder (or other source of the minors - provided in some fertilizers)

Small batch:
3 gallons pine bark
1/2 gallon peat
1/2 gallon perlite
4 tbsp lime (or gypsum in some cases)
1/4 cup CRF (if preferred)
micro-nutrient powder (or other source of the minors)

I have seen advice that some highly organic (practically speaking - almost all container soils are highly organic) container soils are productive for up to 5 years or more. I disagree and will explain why if there is interest. Even if you were to substitute fir bark for pine bark in this recipe (and this recipe will long outlast any peat based soil) you should only expect a maximum of two to three years life before a repot is in order. Usually perennials, including trees (they're perennials too) should be repotted more frequently to insure vigor closer to their genetic potential. If a soil is desired that will retain structure for long periods, we need to look more to inorganic components. Some examples are crushed granite, pea stone, coarse sand (see above - usually no smaller than BB size in containers, please), Haydite, lava rock (pumice), Turface or Schultz soil conditioner, and others.

For long term (especially woody) plantings and houseplants, I use a superb soil that is extremely durable and structurally sound. The basic mix is equal parts of pine bark, Turface, and crushed granite.

1 part uncomposted screened pine or fir bark (1/8-1/4")
1 part screened Turface
1 part crushed Gran-I-Grit (grower size) or #2 cherrystone
1 Tbsp gypsum per gallon of soil
CRF (if desired)
Source of micro-nutrients or use a fertilizer that contains all essentials

I use 1/8 -1/4 tsp Epsom salts per gallon of fertilizer solution when I fertilize (check your fertilizer - if it is soluble, it is probable it does not contain Ca or Mg.

Thank you for your interest.

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If you were benefited by having read this offering, you might also find this thread about Fertilizing Containerized Plants helpful, as well.

Al


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Could you make it any easier for us Al..?

We know you appreciate our gratefullness, just as much as we appreciate you!!

Jojo,
Isn't this just getting exciting and very fun? I wish I had known all this stuff years ago before I killed hundreds of some very expensive plants! I am in agreement with Josh, and I am sure many others!

How much do you think we would pay for this priceless info in easy format, or in book form at a book store? Look at how the thread has been layed out..It is a labor of love! And that coming from an author not looking to make a good buck, that easily could, for all this information he so fevershly worked on just to dispense it to us because he cares for us, our plants out of generousity! It is no wonder so many, the majority, beg for him to stay.

Imagine if we had a gritty convention! lol. We should all have a big meet a Jodiks house since we all surround her in local..One big educational barbecue this summer, with guest speaker, Dr. Al, and co- speaker, hum..Maybe, we can even get a few Bonsai tips at the same time...

Mike..:-)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by jodik 5 Central IL (My Page) on
    Sat, Feb 6, 10 at 15:42

You'll have to wait until I HAVE my own house! I'm only renting at the moment.

But when I do, I'd be thrilled to host a "Gritty Get Together"! Put it on your calendars, folks... sometime in the future... probably in a year, or thereabouts!

That would be fun... we'd plan it for early summer, after gardens were planted... everyone could bring a dish to pass, and a cooler filled with their favorite beverage... we could all bring plants to trade or show off... and anyone could camp out or stay locally... we could even plan for some of our esteemed teachers/members to give talks, and we could take up a donation for raffle prizes...

Yes... that would be a fun time! :-) I could dig it... how about you?! What a party it would be!

Something to keep in mind for the future... we've hosted weekend long dog shows with camping and bonfires and all sorts of interesting things to do... this would be no different... except for the obvious lack of Bulldogs... ;-)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Hi Guys!
A party does sound awsome, but who would bail us out...ROFL!!

Al~ DH says congrats on this continuation.. He's impressed and doesnt even garden! He also said you must be a master of copy paste by now..LOL!

Looking forward to continuing to learn from you Al.

JoJo


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al, I'm going to use axis in place of turface. In past posts you have told me to use 40/60 axis/granite because of the higher water retention. My question is that my pine bark is much bigger than the axis and I'm wondering if I need to chop it up more? The axis is about 1/4 in and the pine bark is 3/8 to 1/2 in.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Feb 6, 10 at 21:01

Yes - 1/8-1/4" is about the best size for the bark fraction. With pieces as large as yours, the mix won't want to remain homogeneous. Are you sure about the axis being that large? What I've seen has always been smaller than 3/16".

Photobucket

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Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

You are right, it is probably closer to 1/8 in. I will do some chopping on the bark to make it more uniform. Also, I realize this is a fertilizer question, but can I get by for a month using fish water for fertilizer until I can pick up some FP on my next trip?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Feb 7, 10 at 10:23

What else do you have, other than the FW? I wrote this as a reply to a similar question over at houseplants recently. It was about using guinea pig poo as fertilizer, but most of it would apply to aquarium water. It's probably not going to hurt anything, and it's better than nothing, but you can decide for yourself. #4 is probably what would influence my decision most:

I might end up feeling like a salmon swimming upstream here, but here's why I wouldn't use it, except as a last resort:
1) You have no idea what you're supplying to your plants. How much of what nutrients. NPK, Ca, Mg, S, Fe ......?
2) The odds are very high that, because you have no idea of what a proper dosage might be, you'll either be applying too much or too little. Since your post infers you'll be careful, let's assume you'll be applying too little. (copy/paste job, remember?)
3) Because you'll be trying to remain on the safe side and will apply too little, nutritional deficiencies will develop. Any deficiency stalls growth, but it's unlikely you'll know which nutrient(s) is/are deficient, so you'll need to apply fertilizer anyway, if you wish to correct.
4) It's unlikely that the poo tea (FW) will contain a proper balance of nutrients, that certain nutrients will be well represented and some will be absent, or nearly so. If you then add a properly balanced fertilizer that is necessary, the additional nutrients in the soil from the poo tea are superfluous and only contribute unnecessarily to the level of total dissolved solids in the soil, which makes it more difficult for the plant to take up water and nutrients.
5) You're much better off to use a fertilizer that you can control the dosage of and that you KNOW has the right balance of nutrients, than you are to try to play a guessing game with a fertilizer that is high in some nutrients and low in or lacking others, and then try to correct the imbalance with a balanced fertilizer.
6) Organic forms of fertilizers (like poo tea and fish emulsions) rely on micro-organism populations in the soil to break down organic molecules into an elemental form that plants can use. These micro-organisms experience boom/bust cycles in container culture and cannot be relied upon to deliver the nutrients just because they are present in soils. If they are locked in organic hydrocarbon chains, they are unavailable until those chains are cleaved by soil organisms.
7) Organic fertilizers used on container media tend to form hydrophobic algal caps on exposed soil surfaces and encourage the proliferation of fungus gnats.

So, while it's better than no fertilizer, I think most soluble fertilizers would be a better choice.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Alright. I will get whatever is available locally to get me by until I can get some FP then. Those are the problems that were going through my mind too. I just wasn't sure if you knew if it had appropriate levels for plants or not.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

4 " It's unlikely that the poo tea (FW) will contain a proper balance of nutrients, that certain nutrients will be well represented and some will be absent, or nearly so. If you then add a properly balanced fertilizer that is necessary, the additional nutrients in the soil from the poo tea are superfluous and only contribute unnecessarily to the level of total dissolved solids in the soil, which makes it more difficult for the plant to take up water and nutrients."

Neptune Harvest fish and aquarium fish poo were all that I use to use for months at one time, and at first it did wonders for my plants, especially in blooming and color..After that, the lack of certain nutrients made it's day view in a huge way on my plants,not that I want to remember it. But from experience, at first, it did help my plants.
Did you know that salt build up from these fish emulsions and fish water can be just as bad as regular fertilzers over time, but not within the amount of time you want to get FP. I assume in a month or two?..Goodluck..

Fyi..:-)

At first, I see no harm...


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Holy cow, we've now gone to 10 editions of this thread! This is the best thread that I've ever read on container gardening by far. There's so much information here that I think Al and the other senior members could write a book on this topic. Thanks to everyone who made this such a great topic. :)

I have a question that might be a bit off topic, but I'd like to ask it anyways. I'm thinking of propagating a few maples and junipers from cuttings wondering what kind of container "soil" is best for this purpose? I've read a few web articles on this and most authors suggest using sand or a sand/perlite or sand/peat mix.

I've read that Al and most other members of this forum do not recommend using sand in containers so I'm wondering if anyone has suggestions about what kind of soil mixes might be good for starting maple and juniper cuttings.

I'm thinking of moving the cuttings to the 5/1/1 mix after they get a good root system going but not sure what might be the best container soil mix to start them in.

Any ideas or suggestions?

Thanks everyone.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Hi, Kerwee, I've rooted a Trident Maple cutting in the gritty mix. Basically, I stuck a pruned tip into the same container as the parent Maple. When I yanked it, the cutting had begun to root.

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Josh, thanks for the info. I never considered using the grit mix but it's great to know that its an option too. How long did it take your maple to root in the grit mix? Weeks, months?

All the propagation sites I've found recommend using some type of sand (I'm assuming this means the fine-grained "play sand" and not silica sand?) as the base soil and adding perlite, peat, etc. None of the sites mentioned using anything like turface, granite or bark and I believe that fine sand like this is a no-no in container mixes.

I could try mixing up some grit mix and using that as a soil for cuttings. Just wondered what others on this list have used or if fine sand is the way to go for starting cuttings.

I've included a link that is typical of what I've read for plant propagation via cuttings and they recommend using fine sand.

Thank you.

Here is a link that might be useful: juniper cuttings


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Feb 8, 10 at 10:14

Thanks for the nice comments, Kerwee. ;o)

I have a few questions - like: What kind of maples? How many cuttings? Where do you live (state/USDA zone - could you include that in your user info?) and Do you have a garden or flower beds? You might as well let me know what kind of juniper(s), too. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

No problem, Kerwee!
My experience is limited, but I wanted to share that it can be done. My cutting rooted in less than two months, during the summer, as I recall.

I looked at the link, and the "sand" is fine pumice, which is different than play sand or large-grained silica (which is great stuff). I assume that volcanic sand won't compact as much, but will still hold moisture.

Al will be by to give even better pointers on adapting the basic mixes, or making new ones.


Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Thanks Al and Josh.

I've never used or seen pumice/volcanic sand so I assumed it was fine like play sand. Must not be the case. I have seen silica sand for pool filters but not tried that either. That web link mentioned compacting the soil well so that seems like that goes against the grit mix concept of open and fast draining soil. I have lots of turface and that NAPA DE as well but none of the sites mention using them for cuttings.

Al, I'm in zone5, northeast Indiana here. Ground is still frozen solid and lots more winter to come. I'm thinking of trying just a few silver and sugar maples and "Blue Rug" and "Grey Owl" junipers. Maybe 5 or 6 cuttings of each type. I was thinking of also trying an upright juniper but most sites say that most upright junipers are hard to propagate with cuttings. Maybe this (mid-winter) is a bad time of year to try them?

Thanks


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Feb 8, 10 at 18:37

I do lots of maple (Acer palmatum, circinatum, buergeranum, campestra) & several species of juniper cuttings with a heavy leaning toward J chinensis 'Sargentii' (Shimpaku juniper) for bonsai. I usually take the maple cuttings in spring as soon as the frost is out of the ground and stick them in my raised beds where they nearly all root. I grow them on for a year or more, and lift/pot them in the spring. You could take the cuttings now and stick them in a sterile medium and put them in the garage. They will root in the spring as temperatures warm.

A pretty fool-proof method of propagating most maples (other than the A. palmatum dissectums) is to take internodal cuttings of the same length (6" is good), and bundle them together so the polarity is all the same. Bury the cuttings vertically, with the proximal end up and about 3" below the soil surface. When you see the buds moving on maples in the landscape, lift the cuttings and plant/pot them with the distal end up (part farthest from the roots). They will root readily.

Junipers, I take cuttings of half old wood & half summer wood (half of the cutting id brown & lignified & the other half is new growth) & simply stick in the beds outdoors and forget them. I get about a 90% strike rate. You can do the same thing if you stick them now (in a pot) and leave them in the garage until danger of freeze is past.

I too, have started lots of cuttings in the gritty mix. I generally don't suggest it though, the reason being that I prefer a sterile medium for starting cuttings. In my experience, the maples will probably be just fine in it because they root quickly, but I would stick to something sterile for the junipers, which will take considerably longer - maybe perlite, screened Turface, or a 50/50 mix of screened Turface and either perlite or granite. Coarse silica sand will work ok, but it will be difficult to keep hydrated if you do junipers in it.

That should give you enough to chew on for a while. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Hi Al. Wow that's quite a reply! Much info to absorb for sure haha.

So most maples are fairly easy to grow from cuttings and they can grow in gritty mix or even raised beds? That's great to know. I'll take some cuttings and place them in containers over the next few days and wait until spring for them to root.

Junipers in containers are different so I'll take more care with them. I'll try the 50/50 mix of screened turface and granite, leave them in the unheated garage and see what happens. Can I use the NAPA DE or only use turface? Do I need to keep them damp as well? The soil will be frozen in the garage I'm sure so hope that's OK.

Oh should I use rooting hormones with maples or junipers?

Thanks a lot Al!


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Feb 8, 10 at 22:35

You can use the NAPA DE if you wish. Perhaps 1 part of DE and 2 parts granite would be good. You don't want the basal end of the cutting to me soggy - just damp. For the junipers, you'll find rooting aids that contain 3,000-6,000 ppm IBA helpful. I've never used hormones on the maples (and don't usually bother with them on the junipers, as I have more than I can use).

You do need to keep the cuttings from dehydrating, so while cold is no problem, it's best if you can keep the soil from freezing solid and turning the soil solution to ice. Also - no fertilizer necessary or recommended until you're sure the cuttings have struck. Maples leafing out is not necessarily a sign the cuttings have rooted, but the plant moving toward a second generation of leaves, is.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Thanks for all the great suggestions Al.

I took your advice and made up a small amount of DE and granite "soil" (1:2 ratio) without fertilizer and soaked it overnight. I took a couple of Blue Rug juniper cuttings and placed them in the mix using Rootone hormone as well. I packed the DE/granite "soil" around the cuttings and misted them well. The DE/granite soil mix should be sterile so we'll see what happens. I'll try to keep the soil damp but not soaked. Should I keep them in a plastic bag? Some sites suggest doing that.

I assume the junipers are dormant this time of year so it may take a while (months) for them to wake up and begin to send out roots.

I have a few options for storage of the cuttings. The soil mix will probably freeze solid in the garage and you suggested to avoid freezing. Our basement is between 55 and 65 F but has no natural light and is usually completely dark. The house is warm, maybe 65 to 75F. Which option do you think would work best for the cuttings and the soil mix?

Do you know if the above soil mix (DE and granite) can be used for cuttings of Oregon Blue Falsecypress? My brother has a beautiful tree in his yard and I'd like to try a few cuttings from it if you think it might work.

Thanks very much Al. Sorry to hijack your thread!!


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Feb 9, 10 at 13:46

No need to mist or keep them in a plastic bag. The junipers aren't technically dormant, and will take some time to root. Cuttings I stick in in beds in fall often do not root until well into the following summer.

If you have a propagation mat, you could really hasten rooting by setting the container of cuttings on the mat in the garage. Otherwise, I would set them on the garage floor & cover them with a cardboard box. They won't freeze (unless you leave it open wide) - especially if the garage is attached.

Yes - the instructions above should work for almost all woody material.

Al


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Al-
Thanks again for not only the great info but your perseverance in a sometimes challenging environment (no, I do not mean your USDA zone).
I understand you grow figs.
How do you compare gritty to the 5-1-1 mix with figs? I am fairly sure you would use lime rather than gypsum with the 5-1-1. Other caveats?

Kyle


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al, how does this look for turface? I found a bag of it, looks pretty good...label "Mound Clay"

Here is a link that might be useful: Mound Clay


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Further info

MAR-CO MOUND CLAY - is a virgin raw, unfired red clay, crushed and screened to less than 3/16". Available dry or moisturized in bags or bulk. Moisturized mound clay becomes tough and 'dough like', working well to build, form and shape pitching mounds and batter's boxes where firmness, durability and shape are crucial. Because it binds well to existing clay surfaces, it is a great asset to your maintenance program. Mound clay in the dry form is used to firm up a surface by amending it in and then adding water to bind things together. Comes bagged, bulk and in super sacks.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Feb 11, 10 at 17:00

Hi, Kyle. This is usually a pretty calm and positive place to hang out, with the only challenges being your questions. ;o) Hopefully, we're back to the way things used to be. Thanks for your notation.

I would use gypsum in the gritty mix for figs because, unlike dolomitic lime, it has (practically speaking) no impact on media or soil solution pH. Because it supplies Ca and no Mg, I would also include some Epsom salts in my fertilizer solution (1/4-1/2 tsp/gal) each time I fertilize, to help maintain a favorable Ca:Mg ratio.

c00rdb - I wouldn't use that product in any soils. It isn't calcined (baked) and it won't retain its structure. It's more like bentonite or clumping kitty litter.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

First off is a huge THANK YOU! to Al. The amount of information you have provided is incredible.

I have spent about 10 hrs the last 4 days reading over your 5:1:1 and 1:1:1 mix.

I went out and bought a dwarf washington naval tree and a "wonderful" pomegranate tree. The orange tree is currently in a 5gallon container and the pomegranate tree is bareroot.

1. You mention "Usually perennials, including trees (they're perennials too) should be repotted more frequently to insure vigor closer to their genetic potential." Would it be more beneficial to use a 5:1:1 mix and repot annually or to go with the gritty mix and repot every 3 years?

2. Using this mix, will I need to use nutrients every watering? (NPK 3-1-2 w/ Epsom for the MG)?

3. I'm rather new with growing trees in general and figured i'd just throw this question out there. Should I plant my two trees into slightly larger containers, or just the final super large container using this mix?

Thank you in advance for any help.


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Feb 12, 10 at 8:48

You're very welcome, Stan. I'm glad you found something useful in what I've shared.

1) You'll see a considerable advantage in using the gritty mix at repot time. It is much easier to remove from roots & doesn't harden or solidify like more traditional soils do. I've worked on plants where the peaty soil had actually become harder than the roots of the plant I was working on. It's also better for tree health and more durable than the 5:1:1 mix or any of the peat-based soils.

2) You don't have to. I fertilize the tropical/subtropical plants I over-winter indoors (under lights in basement) at every watering. It's easy to mix a dozen drops of fertilizer i a gallon of water and pour it into the watering can. Outdoors is a different story. I have about 300 containers (total) that I tend, and I can't afford the time it would take to water daily from a watering can, so I use the hose. So, in summer, plants get fertilized at 1/2 to full doses every 1-2 weeks, depending on the temperatures. I do include Epsom salts for the Mg if I'm using the gritty mix, but since there is lime (contains the Mg) in the 5:1:1 mix (and there would be in almost all commercially prepared soils) I don't use it (for the 5:1:1).

3) As the particle size of a soil increases, the ht of the PWT decreases, until at around a particle size of just under 1/8" it disappears altogether. At this point, 'over-potting' is not a consideration. Properly made, a 100 gallon container of the gritty mix will serve a single tiny seedling perfectly well.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Thanks Al,

The answers you gave are perfect.

On another post there was a list of suppliers for the gritty mix. One of the posters listed a store that had the following:

pumice, perlite, and fir bark.

I'm assuming the pumice is a substitute for Gran-I-grit, and the perlite is for Turface.

1) If this is the case, assuming both the pumice and perlite are the proper size would it still be a 1:1:1 ratio?

2) Also I do have a source for Turface, but it would require me to visit a 2nd location. Is the Turface preferred over the perlite?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Feb 12, 10 at 11:59

The Turface and crushed granite were chosen as ingredients because of their size and the stark difference in water retention. They lend adjustability to the soil in that by +/- the amount of Turface and granite in the mix while keeping the organic fraction (bark) at 1/3 or less of the o/a volume, you can adjust how much water the soil holds. Since perlite holds more water than granite and considerably less than Turface, and pumice holds more water than than granite but less than Turface, neither are substitutes for either Turface or granite.

Pumice has about the same water retention as the average between Turface and granite, so if you were to use it, the logical place to start would probably be 2 parts of (appropriate size) pumice and 1 part bark. In doing this, you're sort of at the mercy of the water retention level of the pumice, because you've lost the ability to adjust anything in the way of water retention.

I don't play around with making mixes of various other ingredients because all the ingredients for the gritty mix are on hand and it works so well. If you need to substitute other ingredients, I can give you some guidance, but you'll end up proceeding on a trial and error basis to come up with what works best for you.

Turface is an excellent soil ingredient because it holds lots of water at the same time it promotes drainage. It's has a favorable particle size and pH, and it has a very good CEC (holds nutrients well). Perlite is actually closer to granite in it's physical/chemical properties. If you really want the best soil you can make and are willing to go through the extra effort to make it, Turface is worth it. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

I'm a firm believer that if your going to do something, just do it right the first time. So I sourced out the Turface, and the Bark. I'm calling around for the Gran-I-Grit.

Questions:
1. At OSH hardware they had a product called "mini nuggets" and the size of the bark seemed to be about the same size as the picture with the dime. However the ingredients only read "forest product". No mention of Pine or Fir. Will that be ok?

2. One feed store near me carries #10 and #16 gran-i-grit. Will either of those work?

Thanks again for all your help Al.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Feb 12, 10 at 14:47

I wouldn't use it. 'Forest products' usually signals a well-composted product, not well suited to the gritty mix. One of the biggest producers of fir bark in the country is located in northern CA (Shasta Forest Products in Yreka), so it shouldn't be all that difficult to locate. I bet if you find businesses that cater to the orchid growers, you'll find it in 3 cu ft bags, prescreened, in a perfect size, at a very reasonable price.

I've never heard of Gran-I-Grit referred to by mesh size, so be cautious about what the material actually is. I usually don't use anything that passes through a #10 screen, so that would make the 10 mesh product marginal on the fine side.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Whoo hoo finally!!! I was able to find turface all-sport pro at a john deere dealership for 10 per 50 lbs. The only thing that confused me is that the guy first said it was $23 dollars then said "your in luck, you get it for $10." Have no idea what that meant but moving on...Time to make some soil!!


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Hi Phoeix,
I too found my turface through John deere. When he looked it up on the computer he said.. kinda mumbled to himself... $19.99.. na...that's too much and asked me how $13 sounded..LOL!

Kinda like what you are saying. I also found my pine bark fines through them.

Good luck with your soil!
JoJo


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Isn't it like finding a treasure? lol

Now if our plants could be just as excited...lol

Mike..:-)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Feb 13, 10 at 10:59

I don't want to turn the conversation away from soils or turn it philosophical, but it's funny that some people can't understand the excitement generated when you find a sometimes difficult to locate ingredient for a soil you're anxious to incorporate into the way you tend your plants, while the somewhat larger crowd understands your enthusiasm perfectly and smiles right along with you. I know I'm happy to be included among the larger group who gets a very satisfying vibe from your enthusiasm and tales of success. It's refreshing to be a part of something so upbeat and positive.

Good luck to all. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Well I went out and did it. Drove about 110miles to three different stores but I got everything.

Turface MVP
Fir Bark Fines
Gran I Grit Grower size

I took the Naval Orange Tree out of the 5gallon container and washed off as much of the old soil as I could. And transplanted into a 8gallon container with the new mix.

Watered everything down and placed the Orange Tree in a Full Shade area. It will get direct sun from 4pm to sunset.

My only question is if I am missing anything and also when can I start giving it some weak nutrients. I want to start with some B1 root stimulants to help it get settled in asap.


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Feb 13, 10 at 18:44

Strong work!! ;o)

Wait about 2 weeks to fertilize. If you want to apply root stimulator, you can do it now. Did you add the gypsum to the soil? What are you using for fertilizer?

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

I must also say, I AM VERY PROUD OF YOU!

Wait till you see how your plant will embrace you with love soon! Possibly the roots too!

"Epsom salts", and the fertilizer Al will soon help you with will be two of your best friends!

Mike


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Ahhh shoot knew I forgot something.. thats what happen when I don't make a list of things to get and do.

Yup forgot the Gypsum. Can I just add it to the top, or should I pick up some liquid CalMg.

Originally I was going to use CNS17 Coco/soil Grow by Botanicare, but after reading your post about fertilizers and minor elements I decided to go with the Dyna-Gro Foliage Pro.

Here is the sad part. There are literally 9 different hydroponic stores that carry the Dyna-Gro lines within a 10 minute drive from me. Yet none of them have the Foliage Pro. Guess I will need to see if they can order some for me or maybe i'll just order it online.

The main reason I like Al's mix is that it is VERY hard to over water. When I started my whole fascination with gardening I always had a problem with over or under watering. I then decided to experiment with a Ebb and Flow setup. I have had amazing success with the hydroponic gardening, but it doesn't lend itself very well for trees.


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Feb 14, 10 at 10:26

It's better incorporated into the soil when you make it, but you can broadcast it on top of the soil and scratch it in. Why don't you try growing w/o the gypsum if you're using the FP? Let us know how it works? I was going to try a variety of plants in the gritty mix w/o gypsum using FP this year anyway, because I have a feeling the gypsum might not be necessary when using those few soluble fertilizers that contain both Ca and Mg.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Boy I wish that Shasta Forest Products place was closer to me. They have a product that would be perfect for the 5-1-1 for growing veggies. The best thing I've been able to find at a reasonable price is 1/8- fir bark with 'forest product' as a secondary ingredient.

Damon


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by filix z5 maine (My Page) on
    Sun, Feb 14, 10 at 16:43

Al you said on another thread, if you were screening for the gritty you would retain what passes through a 3/8 screen but doesn't pass through a 1/8 screen. Would the stuff that passes through the 1/8 screen be ok for the 5.1.1 ? Too small? I have been screening alot of uncomposted bark lately. Thanks. filix.


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Feb 14, 10 at 17:29

Oh sure - use it in the 5:1:1 mix. You might wish to reduce the peat fraction commensurately if you use much of it.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Its isnt so much excitement but definitely relief. It just seems kind of a pain that oil-dry, dryz-it, and other "calcined clay" products arent up to par. Its a shame too because I can find those in a heartbeat


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by filix z5 maine (My Page) on
    Mon, Feb 15, 10 at 5:43

The floor-dry I bought from Nappa auto parts worked great.filix.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Feb 15, 10 at 8:18

Their part number is #8822.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Would you recommend sterilizing the gritty mix if I'm going to reuse it? I had some stuff in it for about 3 months that I no long want. The gritty mix isn't cheap, but I justify it by saying it'll last forever. All Sport was $18 a bag here, $10 for gran-i-grit, and reptibark was $10 for a 20qt bag.

-Greg


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Feb 20, 10 at 15:09

After thinking about it for a minute, I decided that personally, if I reused it, I would never go through the trouble of sterilizing it. I would dry it and screen all the fines out of it. I might try drying it thoroughly and floating the bark fraction off the top, because the composting process will surely have left it in a state where the rate of collapse/break down will be accelerated. IOW - I would try to figure out a way to eliminate the organic fraction & salvage the mineral fraction, starting over with fresh bark.

I would probably discard any of the mix in which a plant had died - just in case it was pathogen/insect-related.

Al


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Al-
I live in Hemet,Ca which is east of Los Angeles and west of Palm Springs. We're in a little valley here about 1000 ft above sea level but is often referred to as high desert. I am a first time poster to your forum and have learned so much by reading and rereading things here. It has taken me a few days to assimilate all the information.
I grow Heirloom Tomatoes and this is not the most ideal location due to summer heat. However, I have invested in shade cloth and built hoop houses and a 10" x 12" greenhouse. Over the winter I have had a consistent supply of tomatoes and I have about 50 seedlings that I have raised from seed and am transplanting them into 15 gal pots as they reach 18 to 24 inches. I bury them deep. I have been using a coir/Kellogg's Nrich/Perlite mixture with a timer controlled drip irrigation system using 1/2 gal/hr drippers with some success. But now I know why I am not getting the crops I should from reading this forum.

I have a local source for 3/8" minus fir bark at $20/cu yard. Using your 5:1:1 mix I can get about 15 pots/cu. yard and not break the bank.

Will this particle size suffice and can I use the Coir(I have several 3cu ft compressed bags left)or should I just bite the bullet and buy peat? I can get perlite for about $20/3 cu ft bags and have about a bag left.

I would like to express my appreciation for your time and effort in making all this information available. Being basically ignorant about these subjects but having a desire to grow tomatoes, your information has made a tremendous difference in approaching these issues with some confidence and knowledge; all gleaned from your writings.


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Feb 22, 10 at 16:26

"But now I know why I am not getting the crops I should from reading this forum."

I'm interested in hearing your reasoning - to see how close it comes to my first impression.

Yes, the <3/8" bark should work well - especially if it is partially composted. I'm not sure what you meant about "bite the bullet". I normally hear that term used when expense is being considered, but peat should be considerably less expensive than coir on a per volume basis. Coir also has a high pH (compared to peat), so lime doesn't fit the program well as a Ca/Mg source when your soil has more than a minor fraction of coir. I have tried coir as a substitute for peat, and CHCs as a substitute for pine bark, but have never been satisfied with the results using either - just my personal experience.

Thank you for your very kind words, Marcos. If some of the things I've shared do indeed make a favorable difference in your growing experience, it will make me very happy.

Take care.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

My feeling is that the perching of water about 8 inches below the soil top in my 15 gal pots explains a great many of my problems. In using a moisture meter, I consistently get dry readings in the top 8 or so inches and then wet as I push the meter probe deeper. When I have allowed the soil to dry out further and then water, it immediately runs out the bottom holes of the pots. I have had a lot of yellowing of leaves toward the top of the plants and am fighting blight and other fungus problems which require weekly treatments of Daconil, Serenade, Maneb and Mancozeb, on a rotating basis. My older plants look like tomato trees because of all the foliage loss to wilt, yellowing and fungus on the lower portions of the plant. I get small tomatoes due to the stress these poor plants have suffered from my stop/start watering behavior.

In addition, I have had no idea how to fertilize properly and have used 24-8-16, 20-7-20 and 15-30-15 without any micro-nutrients. Reading your information about a 3-1-2 based fertilizer and ablility to water/fertilize regularly with Foliage Pro 9-3-6 combined with the properly constructed soil leads me to understand that I can have much healthier plants that have all the nutrients they need in the right combinations so they can utilize them instead of bouncing all over the place, wondering what the hell I am doing wrong.

Oddly the ph meter is showing that the ph in my pots is between 7 and 8. I don't know if I have dropped it too many times and need a new one or what. When I first put this soil together last year it read between 6 and 6.5.

Anyway, you have given me a map to follow and I understand the science and logic behind it. I can't tell you what a great relief that is to me. BTW, my comment about buying peat was in reference to cost. I believe I paid $23/3 cu ft compressed bale for this coir and still have a couple of bales left. I'll just get the peat and spread the coir over the seeds I cast when reseeding the holes the gophers have made in my lawn. Thank you again!! And any other tips or words of wisdom are greatly appreciated.


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  • Posted by filix z5 maine (My Page) on
    Tue, Feb 23, 10 at 18:28

Whats the most sapwood there should be in the 5.1.1. and the gritty? Thankyou. filix


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Feb 23, 10 at 19:37

Your moisture meter doesn't really read moisture levels, it reads electrical conductivity of the soil solution. If you insert the probe into a cup of distilled water, the meter will read 'DRY', but if you add a little salt or fertilizer, it will read wet. Your finger is a better instrument for testing, and a sharpened dowel about the thickness of a pencil or a little thicker stuck deep in the root mass is better still.

You're right in thinking that saturated soil can/will cause you plenty of woe, but the high pH associated with significant %s of coir in container media can make nutrient assimilation - particularly micro-nutrients - a problem. I'm a firm believer in the thought that if you can eliminate light as a source of problems, your choice of media is the single most likely source of trouble - including pathogens and insect issues. This, due to the plants growing weakly under continuing stress. Plants with depressed metabolism due to poor soils are usually unable to produce enough of the bio-compounds they need for their defense.

FWIW - there is nothing you can do to manage pH w/o an assortment of chemicals, very frequent testing, and lots of effort or the sophisticated equipment (injection system) required, so don't worry about it. Shoot for what you think is a media pH in the 5.0-6.0 range, make sure you're supplying all nutrients in a ratio favorable to each other, and call it good. You can help keep pH down (if required) by using urea-based fertilizers and/or adding acids (vinegar) to your irrigation solution.

Filix - if sapwood makes up more than 10% of the bark fraction, I'd be thinking about a different source. It's not quite as important in the gritty mix as the 5:1:1 mix though, because the gritty mix is only 1/3 bark, while the 5:1:1 mix is around 3/4 bark.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al,

Again, I thank you for getting me headed in the right direction. Once, I get the new soil made and the plants into it, watered and fertilized properly, I will be very happy. Question: I have transplanted about 20 varieties of Heirloom tomatoes into the 15 gal pots already. They are 3 to 4 ft tall, have been lush green but now are starting to show the yellowing of lower leaves and blight. Would you recommend that I try to transplant them into the new soil mixture, carefully remove them from their pots, try to remove as much of the coir based mixture as possible and replant them in the new 5:1:1 or just feed and water them more frequently with the diluted fertilizer(1/4 strength Foliage Pro 9-3-6). I have another batch of about 20 varieties in 4" pots that will be ready for transplant in a couple of weeks and those will definitely go into the new soil. I think I will start some more plants just in case. Thanks again!! Maybe I can FedEX you a box of Heirlooms in a few months to show my appreciation!!


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Feb 23, 10 at 21:53

It really does sound like the soil is the major culprit working against you. I couldn't find out much about the Kellogg Nrich, but it sounds like it's some sort of compost primarily intended to be used as mulch. If so, when mixed with the coir, I think you are probably dealing with pH issues, water retention, and possibly even high levels of soluble salts from the coir, if it is a major fraction of the soil.

Getting back to the blight/fungal issues - they're much easier to prevent than eradicate, so if building new soil and replacing the plants that are infected isn't too much of a chore, I believe I would go that route, given your predicament.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Wow this thread is amazing, such great info!!

Al, you have the skill and knowledge to write a book on soils and container growing for sure but I know you probably don't have time for such a thing. How about the next best thing, making a couple of instructional home videos like the ones on YouTube?

A short video showing you mixing up some grit or 5-1-1 mix would be great! Maybe one on root pruning too!

Just an idea but it would be cool.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al,

Maybe I missed something but can you please explain the two photos you have in this thread dated Feb. 6? I am not sure what they are meant to be illustrating? Can you please give some more explanation? Thanks for the help!

Taruvara


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Top image = gritty mix

Bottom image = various bark products


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Thank you Al,

I'll hold a little burial ceremony when I get back from a short road trip. Clean the pots with a little clorox solution, rinse them well and then transplant my next batch in 5:1:1. I hate to lose the 2-1/2 months I have into these plants but I don't want to go through another year with sickly, weak plants the don't produce well. And quite frankly, I am beginning to see the exact same symptoms: stalled growth at about 3 ft, yellowing of lower leaves and then indications of Blight, first flowers dying and not setting fruit. Very much appreciate this guidance!!


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Feb 24, 10 at 14:23

IF you feel you'll need to enlist the help of a fungicide to help thwart the blights or other fungal issues, it's best to use them prophylactically, rather than remedially.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al,

I have been spraying these plants every 7 to 10 days since they were in 4" pots. I have alternated along Daconil, Seranade, Maneb and Mancozeb.

I visited Southern California Mulch Co. today. They are a wholesale mulch, soil conditioner, ground cover outfit. They supply most of the nurseries in the area. They have several products available: A Forest blend which has fir, pine and citrus bark along with other stuff at $20/cu yard, a Fir Bark product < 3/8" for $70/cu yard and a primarily Pine Bark <3/8" product that I think he will give me for $30 -$35/cu yard. It has been sitting out in a big pile and been rained on but that is the extent of composting. It is not green though, I looked at it, felt it and it is pretty dry. I mentioned your research and writings and he seemed very interested in it. He is a younger guy and doesn't seem set in his ways. If you wouldn't mind I would like to give him a copy of your paper of container mix. It seems to me although I have used your mix yet, that with the growth in container gardening, at least from what I have heard from the Heirloom seed companies, you should be able to team up with someone that will bag your mixes out here and provide a quality product that people can use with confidence and make some money too. I would say this is a growth market(pun intended)!!

How do these prices compare to your area, just curious? I think I will go for the $30-$35/cu yard pine bark as that will give me a cost per 15 gal pot of about #3.00 and is most faithful to your recipe. Sound OK? Thank you!


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  • Posted by filix z5 maine (My Page) on
    Wed, Feb 24, 10 at 19:11

Does the shape of the bark mean anything? Reason why I ask is I have been making some of my own bark fines. A friend of mine owns a saw mill. He gave me some slabs of pine and hemlock, with the bark still on it. I put in a large bit in my drill press and mad a good size pile of 100% bark fines in short order. And 0 sap wood. Most of the pieces are more flat than the ones you get from a chipper. They look good to me. filix.


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Feb 24, 10 at 21:52

The pine bark does sound best. I can't get it in bulk here, so I've been buying it bu the 2 cu ft bag for around $4, so that would make it around $56/yd, considerably more than you pay for the bulk product.

I get lots of requests to reprint parts or all of the OP, and I always permit the use of anything I've shared, but I would appreciate credit.

Al


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Feb 24, 10 at 21:56

Filix - if you scroll way upthread to the pic, you'll see the 5:1:1 soil I make in the middle of the lower pic. Pine bark is usually scaly, so I'm sure yours is fine.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al,

I am so grateful for your numerous threads on the gritty mix.

I grow Japanese maples in containers in my Manhattan NYC
backyard and greenhouse them there in the winter (snow now!)
Many need repotting now, and they are going into the gritty
mix thanks to you with Turface MVP and Growers Gran-i-grit,
pine/fir bark, gypsum, and will be fertilized with Foliage
Pro.

I have located all the ingredients except for the pine bark.
I have sifted through your references and am wondering
if Shasta Forest Products's Vita-bark “Fir bark for orchids”
1/8-1/4” would be good for this. (I can't easily seem to
locate anything local except Reptibark which seems bigger
in pieces than 1/8-1/4".) I would really appreciate your
thoughts and ideas on sources.

Thanks for your immense generosity with your immense
container knowledge!

Taruvara


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  • Posted by filix z5 maine (My Page) on
    Fri, Feb 26, 10 at 6:25

Thanks Al. After useing the 5.1.1 for over four years, you think I would know the answer.:) But I still like experimenting. Searching for the Holy Grail of bark fines! You got me going on this great stuff. And for that I'm very grateful. Taruvara you can use pine,fur,hemlock,spruce ect.. Just stay away from stuff like cedar and cypress. Home D and Lowes sell alot of bark mulch up here in maine. Good luck. filix.


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Feb 26, 10 at 9:45

Taruvara - thank you for offering the very kind words. I really appreciate it. ;o)

The Shasta product you mentioned is what I drive from the mid-east coast of MI all the way to NW CHI for (375 miles), for the gritty mix. Does that answer your question? ;o) It's as close to perfect for the gritty mix as anything I've found or seen so far. You're saying you have access to it, right? If so, I hope Liz is listening in! Let us know?

FWIW - I hate to say it, but I still use MG 24-8-16 for my Acers in containers - one of the few plants I don't use FP on. It is urea-based and the urea tends to acidify as it breaks down and the maples like it, but I'm sure they will do very well on the FP, too. If you see any issues that you suspect might be micro-nutrient (deficiency) related, adding a little vinegar (1 tbsp per gallon of irrigation water) should straighten things out.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by filix z5 maine (My Page) on
    Fri, Feb 26, 10 at 11:39

I have learned that if you have all bark and no sapwood, you don't have to worry about a nitrogen problem. But since I'm useing un composted bark and there is some sapwood, what kind of extra nitrogen fertilizer would be good. I know it can't be organnic. filix.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Feb 26, 10 at 13:50

If I was concerned about N immobilization due to something like sawdust or sapwood in my mix, I would probably go to something like a 30-10-10 fertilizer, or mix a small amount of urea into the fertigation water, along with my 3:1:2 ratio fertilizer.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Just an Update and a follow up question.

*update
Its been 2 weeks since i've transplanted my navel orange tree to its new home with Gritty Mix. I'm really enjoying how well the mix seems to dry out but still maintain a nice moisture level. The good news is i'm seeing new growth already. I will be starting a weekly weak fertilizing regiment with FP this weekend, so I can't wait to see what happens. The pomegranate tree is still dormant, so nothing new to report there.

*question
I will be setting up my tomatoes in containers soon and wanted to know how quickly does the 5:1:1 mix dry in comparison to the gritty mix?

Hope everyone has a great weekend.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Feb 26, 10 at 14:36

The 5:1:1 mix usually retains a little more moisture than the gritty mix, but soo much depends on how you make it.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

whats the absolute easiest way to screen? it looks like it'll take me 10 years to do an entire bag at the rate i'm going...i took a plastic storage container and cut out the top and replaced it with screen...too slow to do.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al,

In constant search for cheapest 1/8-1/4" bark pieces for
gritty mix, does it make sense to just buy a $119 electric
chipper/shredder Harborfreight.com has one, and just chip
bigger fir orchid bark pieces into the ideal size as above?
Wonder if the chipper could be controlled to get this ideal
size?

Thanks always,
Taruvara


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al,

I must have pissed off the posting God as a rather detailed post I wrote last night was gone this morning. Anyway, I purchased a cubic yard of something that is not pine bark fines. It is more of a wood and fine particulate matter product. I used it to transplant 3 tomato plants but will screen out some of the small stuff and see what I come up with. I have attached a picture.

As I mentioned previously I have close to 20 Heirloom tomato plants that are between 3.5' and 4'. They are planted in a coir based mix I made last year. Rather than destroy these plants I was wondering if I can 1) wick the pots 2) treat the potting mix with vinegar to reduce the pH and begin a watering/fertilizing regime with Foliage Pro, the result being a fairly normal harvest?

I am going back to the mulch company and buy their Mini Bark product screened to <3/8. It is more than twice as expensive but I want the right stuff for the 5:1:1 mix

Thanks again


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Forgot my pictures

Here is a link that might be useful: Potting Material and Projects


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 1, 10 at 17:13

C0 - I screen by using several different mesh sieves I made from various size mesh nailed to 1x4s I nailed together & put handles on. Actually, that's not entirely true - I have my guys at work do it when they'd rather be sitting on their hands. ;o)

Taruva - I answered via email because I mistook the notice of your post for an email. Sorry for the goof! Sorry I'm a goof? You choose. ;o)

Marcos - You can try what you suggested & see how it works out. I know commercial ops usually try ti limit the coir fraction of their media to around 10% because of pH and sometimes soluble salts issues. Hopefully, the wicking will help with water retention issues. You'll probably find that after the plantings mature, you'll want to remove the wicks.

Even though you'll be using vinegar, if you see what you suspect are micro-nutrient deficiencies, switch to a urea based fertilizer like MG, Peters, others right away as they will also help keep pH down. You're kind of in a tight spot because you shouldn't use lime if you have a large coir fraction as part of the soil, so you'll probably want to use gypsum and Epsom salts to help keep pH down.

Pictures looking good. Whatever the bark is - it does have a lot of sapwood in it, though.

Good luck!!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Someone was asking about using granite grit that is #10 is size. Al is much more careful about sifting than I, so the particle size of his mix is probably more close and uniform, thus 'homogeneous' as he said.

I use a specific #10 grit from A1Grit Company (you can google it), also known as poultry or roofing grit, that is prescreened and has very very little of anything smaller than #10. The website below shows 'pigeon' grit as the #10 size, but the bags I have are clearly marked #10 chicken/roofing grit.

I don't know if it would pass the "Al's #10 mesh test". I do not own a #10 mesh sift screen (and I've looked at lots of local hardware stores) but when I alum insect screen the stuff next to nothing passes through.

The #10 grit is *slightly* on the small side as Al has suggested. But it will work if that's all you can get. Using it will slightly reduce the aeration and hold a bit more water. But you'll want to be sure the other Turface and bark components ARE the correct size (or slightly smaller) b/c if you don't, the grit will have a tendency to start sinking to the bottom from significant movement (mixing, water, etc). It doesn't sink that much in my mixes, b/c I do sift the bark and turface pretty well. But there is always a small layer of #10 granite at the bottom of every batch when I mix using a bucket.

Here is a link that might be useful: A1 Poultry Grit


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

cebury~
Great info..
I was all day on the phone looking for grit, and all I could find is # 10. I am looking to plant large containers for trees, so I think i'm going to pass on the #10 and get some granite from landscape companies.

I haven't been able to find the # 10 screen either! The closest I came is a # 8 so far.
The guys at Lowes looked at me like I was nuts when I asked, so I'm on my own to run around town and "look" myself. It just doesnt do any good to ask, no one cares about their jobs anymore.

JoJo


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al,

Spent most of the last few days screening the woody potting mix I purchased. It supposedly is what was left when everything larger than 3/8ths of an inch was screened off. I went the other way and used a 1/4" screen and kept everything that didn't fall through the screen. In the entire cubic yard about 1/2 was a fine peat like material and the other half was chunky wood and bark. The finer material looks to be very similar to peat and I took a picture of them side by side. This brings forth a question: Can I use this material instead of peat?

The pots I use are 15 gal, but that must be a liquid measure because I can only get about 8 gals of the chunky wood/bark material in them. So I am mixing literally 5:1:1. I am going to use the Foliage Pro so I do not intend to use a CRF but now the question is do I use garden lime or gypsum. If using gypsum, I will also have to add epsom salts. How much assuming a small batch recipe? I see that you suggest adding epsom salts at the rate of 1/8 -1/4 tsp per gal of fertilizer water but will this react unfavorably with the vinegar that I am also adding?

Anyway you have some pictures here to look at and my seedlings in 4" pots have just taken off since applying the FP and vinegar water. In a week they have doubled in size and not just tall but stocky, sturdy plants.

Here is a link that might be useful: Gardening2


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Mar 5, 10 at 22:48

You're sure what you're using is pine bark?

Use garden lime in the 5:1:1 mix and don't worry about adding Epsom salts unless you use the soil in the second year. The reason for that is the Mg in the lime is much more soluble than the Ca (about 125x), and is depleted first.

If you were mixing Epsom salts in a vinegar solution, there wouldn't be any unfavorable reaction to be concerned about.

So glad to hear your plants are doing well! Stories of success tend to get everyone pumped up for the upcoming year. Strong work!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

I have a question about the pine bark size for the 5:1:1 mix as opposed to the pine bark size for the gritty mix:

Do both types of mixes need pine bark particles that are 1/8 inch-1/4 inch in size? Or should the pine bark particles for the 5:1:1 mix be even smaller than those for the gritty mix?

Just wondering, because in the info at the top of this thread, it says "pine bark fines" for the 5:1:1 mix, but then for the gritty mix it says "pine or fir bark (1/8-1/4")" without the word "fines".

Yesterday I talked on the phone to someone at a local nursery who told me pine bark fines were shredded pine needles, not bark, which was weird.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al,
I think what I got was called Forest Products Mulch, screened so that everything over 3/8th inch was removed. There are twigs and a huge amount of sapwood chopped, shredded and torn. I don't know if the guy at the mulch place was trying to do me a favor or just saw me coming. It has been alot of work but I have enjoyed it and learned more about this process. I will get the Mini Bark <3/8" at $70/cubic ft and try to convince the guy to take out all the particulate matter and dust.
See enclosed pictures of tomatoes on the older plants. Have to get moving though as I have another 30 plants to transplant over the next few weeks.

Here is a link that might be useful: Gardening3


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Mar 6, 10 at 13:37

Topie - 4-5 posts down from the top of this thread, you'll see a picture of the gritty mix, and one of several bark products from different sources. In the middle of the picture with bark, you'll see an example of what the 5:1:1 I make looks like.

A partially composted product with particles from dust top 3/8 works very well for the 5:1:1 mix. To some degree, you can alter aeration and drainage by using perlite or peat. The gritty mix is best if the bark used is uncomposted and fairly uniform in size. 1/8-1/4" seems best because the smaller the pieces the faster it breaks down (greater mass:surface area ratio). If you go too much larger than 1/4" when using Turface and grower grit, the bark tends to want to separate from the mineral fraction of the soil.

There is a great deal of thought that went into these mixes, and there is a lot more science involved than what is readily discernible - especially for the gritty mix.

I'm not sure how anyone could think pine bark fines are made of pine needles, but I think the statement illustrates a rather tenuous grasp of the obvious. ;o)

Marcos - looking good - keep us posted on how you fare.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Yes, please keep us posted..;-)

Mike..;-)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

"...a rather tenuous grasp of the obvious", LOL! I tried explaining to the person on the phone that I was asking about bark, but then realized it was futile.

Still on a bark search.

More pine bark questions:

Is there any risk of getting unwanted insects along with the pine bark fines? For instance, if it ends up I can get pine bark fines from the Carolinas, is there any danger of somehow importing the southern pine beetle/Dendroctonus frontalis, or other pests, along with the pine bark fines, if the fines are from southern yellow pine? We have mostly Eastern white pine/Pinus strobus up here which I think is somewhat resistant to the southern pine beetle, but I still wonder about this.

Are the pine fines normally treated in some way to prevent this? Or is this normally not an issue with pine bark fines?

The fir bark I've been checking out looks pretty sanitized...but I've yet to actually see "partially composted pine bark fines" in real life.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Mar 6, 10 at 21:57

I suppose there is always risk of bugs in the bags. All I can say is I've never encountered a noticeable problem. Keep in mind that if you're not using a few of the thousands of bags the big box stores sell, it's likely someone near you is. I'm sure the bark isn't treated with an insecticide, though it's possible that the heat generated from wind-rowing the bark is enough to kill most insect pests.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

OK, thanks Al...I'll continue my bark search.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al,

Am ready to make potting mix and using the Small Batch recipe, I see: 3 gals pine bark fines, 1/2 gal Perlite, 1/2 gal Peat and 4 tbsps of garden lime.

I use 15 gal pots which must be a liquid measurement because I can only get about 8 gals of potting mix into them comprised as follows: 24 qts of pine bark fines, 4 qts of Perlite and 4 qts of Peat. In other words, I just converted everything to quarts and doubled it so each batch fills a pot. I also doubled the garden lime to 8 tbsps. See any problems here?

Have enough potting mix to transplant 15 or so plants that are ready now. Still have another 15 or so that will need another 2 or 3 weeks before they have to be transplanted in the big pots. I'm going to go see the mulch guy and see what I can get for $70/cubic ft. Supposed to be Mini Bark <3/8th inch. But I don't want to have to screen all the little stuff out myself. I just takes too long.

Thanks for you help and guidance, AL.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 8, 10 at 14:09

Everything looks/sounds good.

Good luck!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al,

Have mixed all the 5:1:1 potting mix and am storing it in 2 rubbermaid garbage cans and 5 -15 gal pots. I have read in other threads that you believe I should allow the mix 2 weeks for the Garden Lime to do its reaction thing. I wet each container down a little with water. Of course the garbage cans don't have drain holes so i was pretty conservative. What is the absolute shortest time necessary before I transplant my seedlings?

Again Thank you for your help and guidance!!

Here is a link that might be useful: Gardening4


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 9, 10 at 10:26

I often make my soils and plant same day. I sometimes notice some BER on the very first fruits of my tomatoes though, which I attribute to the Ca still being in the reactive phase.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al...I was wondering what I would do with this soil if I wanna grow azaleas, gardenias, hydrangeas, blueberries etc...acidic growers. Do I leave the lime out or is the gritty mix with lime still acidic enough for these acid lovers?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 11, 10 at 8:50

The pH of the media is much less important in container culture than when growing in the earth. If you do want to keep media pH lower, use gypsum instead of lime as a Ca source (in the 5:1:1 mix, too) and then use Epsom salts as your Mg source whenever you fertilize.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Hi Al,

I went back to the mulch place and got Small Fir Bark. there is a picture attached. I added this 12 quarts to the potting mix that I made of the Forest Product, a couple qts of Perlite and Peat and also 2 tbsps of Garden lime to maintain the purportions. Didn't much care for the consistency of that mix but I transplanted 15 Heirloom Tomato plants into it yesterday. Today I got a wood chipper and ran the Small Fir Bark through it. (See picture). It is quite ground up, probably more than I would like but it feels better and when mixed with Peat and Perlite will support the plants roots better. I have also included shots of yesterday's tranplants that don't look as well as they normally do. They seem to dry out pretty fast and I am wondering if the mix needs more Peat of something?

What can you tell me from these pictures, if you would be so kind>

My best,

Here is a link that might be useful: Gardening4


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 11, 10 at 19:34

It looks like the material you ran through the chipper is much closer to appropriate for the 5:1:1 mix, and I'm thinking you could easily stand another part of peat (5:2:1).

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Hi Al,

I am pretty new to this forum. I recently purchased a meyer lemon tree which i'd like to have in a container. I am wondering if your 5:1:1 (pine bark, perlite, peat) mix would be suitable for citrus in containers, also a brown turkey fig tree in a container. Thank you for your help AL.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Mar 12, 10 at 20:44

Both would do VERY well in the 5:1:1 mix, but would probably do even better in the gritty mix. I have more than 200 trees & woody plants in the gritty mix and have been using it for all my trees and long term plantings for more than 15 years.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Thanks for the response Al. I am not very familiar with the gritty mix, sounds like i have some reading to do. If i go with the 5:1:1,would you recommend using garden lime or gypsum for the meyer lemon and the brown turkey fig in a container? And what is the ratio you would recommend for those?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Mar 13, 10 at 10:04

Lime in the 5:1:1 mix and gypsum in the gritty mix. If you use the gritty mix with gypsum, you'll want to include a little Epsom salts in the fertilizer solution each time you fertilize.

I'm unclear if you're asking about a ratio for soil ingredients or the ratio of lime/gypsum to use in the soils.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Hey Al,

I was reading through the forums today and came across one of your response (see below);

. . . substitute for Turface?

NO - the balls are just 'prills' of powdered calcium sulfate. Adding gypsum to container soils at anything other than small amounts (1 tbsp/gallon of soil) will raise the EC and TDS levels so high it will cause plasmolysis (fertilizer burn), or leave you unable to supply any amount of fertilizer w/o causing burn, the former being the more likely. It's a nutritional supplement, not a soil component ....... and you should use some form of dolomitic (garden) lime (as a source of Ca & Mg) in soils for figs - not gypsum.

Pine bark doesn't usually come shredded. If you read the thread I linked you to above, you'll find pictures of suitable size bark.

Al

You are suggesting lime for figs not gypsum. I will be using the gritty mix to pot my fig tree in a container and per your suggestion, I will be adding gypsum since I will be using turface and crushed granite. So is that ok?
Also, do you see a problem with using pea gravel instead of crushed granite? I found a product called Manna Pro (granite based grit) at a local feed store but it's $7 for 5 lbs bag. Also what other alternatives that could easily be found would you suggest in place of crushed granite.

Your responses are always appreciated


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 16, 10 at 13:35

Ficus carica (hardy figs) seem to prefer/tolerate a slightly higher pH than most plants, so I reason that lime in the gritty mix for them should work well, and they have been responding well to the treatment, though I can't say it's any better/worse than a gypsum/Epsom salts regimen would be.

Pea gravel would be ok if it was screened so it was uniform in a size very close to 1/8" or slightly smaller. The Manna Pro looks like the right stuff, but there isn't enough info. If it's all granite (no shells or salt) and in that 1/8" size, it should work great.

I wrote the manufacturer for more specific info, so when I get a reply, I'll share the info.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al,

I got the cubic yard of small fir bark crunched down using a electric wood chipper. A picture of the finished product is attached. I think it is a little big but running it through the chipper also created a dust or particulate matter that is sort of soft and fluffy and may make up a bit for the larger sized bark bits.

So far I have transplanted 5 plants into a soil mix I made by screening a product that called Forrest Blend. A whole lot of sap wood and garbage that was 3/8 " minus that I subsuquently screened off everything less than 1/4". The plants seem to be doing OK in this mix, which I initially saturated with water than then added a gallon with 1/4 cup vinegar and 1/2 tsp of FP/ I didn't have any Garden Lime when I made these. The second 10 plants I transplanted into a soil mix that was about 1/2 fir bark crunched through a wood chipper and half the screened Forrest Blend adding proportionate Peat and Perlite as well as Garden lime. I am using the FP, vinegar solution after fully saturating. In one of these latter 10 I installed two towel wicks. In 4 days the plant showed that all the water had been wicked out, the plant was wilty. The other 9 plants with no wicks still appear to have sufficient water. In the pictures supplied, the one through the door of my greenhouse shows the oldest transplants against the fall wall with the newer 10 between them,in the foreground. I transplanted one plant today into just fir bark wood chopped with Peat and Perlite and Garden Lime. Again I saturated and then fertilized with FP and vinegar, 1 gal.

The large plants with the tomatoes in my hoophouse were all planted into year old Coir based mix with Perlite and N'Rich Kellogg's Mulch mixed in potting soil. I am fertilizing with FP and using the vinegar and so far the results are very good. The healthier plants seem much more able to fight the Blight and other fungus issues and I have the 15 gal pots sitting in a 3 ft by 10 ft planter with the same soil mixture up about 3 or 4 inches around the pots hoping to get a wicking action from this.
Yesterday the weather changed. It hit 76 degrees but the sun was very hot. While there is still cool breezes I will be taking the plastic off the hoop house soon and installing my shade cloth.

That's my update for now

Here is a link that might be useful: gardening5


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al and others,

I'm new to this thread, so if my questions are repititous, apologies in advance. I plan to place several Japanese maples in containers this spring, so a couple of questions about planting media:

Why would you need both granite and Turface in the gritty mix? Both are inert materials which will not break down readily, so I am puzzled about the need for both.

If you're using bark fines which are largely uncomposted, how do you avoid the problem of nitogen starvation as this component breaks down? I realize the microbial activity would be much less in the mix than in the ground, but wouldn't it take place eventually?

A commercial Japanese maple grower of my acquaintence uses Premier Pro-Mix BRK exclusively for potting. This is, according to the manufacturer, 45% peat, 45% composted bark and 10% perlite. This product is not available to me, but he has suggested adding composted bark and extra perlite or Turface to the widely available Pro-Mix BX. I'd be interested in your reaction to this mix and the concept that a fairly large proportion of peat is needed to provide the acidity for JMs.

Thanks!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Mar 17, 10 at 10:14

Marcos - just a couple of observations: If you're growing in a home-made soil you didn't lime, you should probably expect to be faced with BER on the tomatoes. Also, if you didn't add lime to the soil, there is no need for vinegar, especially not 1/4 cup/gallon. If you think it's working - no need to change anything, but I see those areas as potential problems.

Good luck! Have fun! ;o)

Mainegrower asks: "Why would you need both granite and Turface in the gritty mix? Both are inert materials which will not break down readily, so I am puzzled about the need for both." As the inorganic fraction of the soil, all Turface would hold too much water for some plants during parts of the growth cycle. All granite would hold no water internally, so would find you watering more than once per day during periods of active growth. Turface has great water retention and granite has poor water retention. By combining them, we get a soil with good water retention that holds no perched water. If we increase the Turface fraction and decrease the granite, we get more water retention. The converse is also true, so combining the two ingredients offers adjustability for water retention with only 3 primary ingredients in the medium as a whole.

There was a lot of thought that went into selecting what I consider to be ideal ingredients for the gritty mix, but you can alter it however you want. The important lesson has always been to work toward a durable, well-aerated soil that holds a ratio of air:water that is as favorable as you can make it with what you have to work with.

"If you're using bark fines which are largely uncomposted, how do you avoid the problem of nitrogen starvation as this component breaks down? You fertilize. I know it sounds simplistic, but you fertilize frequently in these mixes, and soil biota doesn't suddenly "suck" all the N from the soil solution. More importantly, I explain in the OP why pine/fir bark is a very good choice (probably the best?) as the organic fraction of the soils I talk about.

Bark fines of fir, hemlock or pine, are excellent as the primary component of your soils. The lignin contained in bark keeps it rigid and the rigidity provides air-holding pockets in the root zone far longer than peat or compost mixes that too quickly break down to a soup-like consistency. Conifer bark also contains suberin, a lipid sometimes referred to as natures preservative. Suberin, more scarce as a presence in sapwood products and hardwood bark, dramatically slows the decomposition of conifer bark-based soils. It contains highly varied hydrocarbon chains and the microorganisms that turn peat to soup have great difficulty cleaving these chains.

I realize the microbial activity would be much less in the mix than in the ground, but wouldn't it take place eventually? Yes, it does; but because of the low rate at which bark breaks down and the cultural conditions in these soils are generally inhospitable to large populations of soil biota, it occurs very slowly, which returns full circle to your question about N immobilization.

"A commercial Japanese maple grower uses Premier Pro-Mix BRK exclusively for potting. This is 45% peat, 45% composted bark and 10% perlite. This product is not available to me, but he has suggested adding composted bark and extra perlite or Turface to the widely available Pro-Mix BX. I'd be interested in your reaction to this mix and the concept that a fairly large proportion of peat is needed to provide the acidity for JMs." I think there are several holes in the argument. First, it's fallacy that you need any peat in the mix. I just repotted 5 Jap maples last night. I'm off today & will work through at least another dozen - all perfectly healthy and all in a mix with no peat (gritty mix). To further illustrate my point - all those peat soils are limed to provide Ca/Mg, so the pH rises to something just north of 6.0 anyway. Additionally, when the subject is container media, you'll find widespread references that support the fact that media (soil) pH is MUCH less important in container culture than when gardening and mineral soils are the topic. Container culture is much closer to hydroponics than it is to gardening, and it's the media solution pH that is much more important.

If you want low pH (I never give pH much consideration, other than to take a few steps to keep it from rising too much) simply use a fertilizer with urea as it's base (MG, Peters, Schultz ......) or add a little vinegar to your tapwater to help neutralize alkalinity and stop the normal upward creep in pH of aging media.

Finally, if you start with a peat-based mix like you described and add a large pine bark fraction and some Turface (which would just be a substitute for less expensive perlite) then you would pretty much end up with a slight variation of the 5:1:1 mix described in the OP, so YES - go for it. However, you'll find the gritty mix will work better, and it makes things MUCH easier at repot time if you're properly attending to the roots of your trees - fodder for another discussion. ;o)

Al



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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Thank you, Al, for your detailed answers to my questions. All that you wrote makes perfect sense, especially your noting that the natural acidity of peat in commercial mixes has already been neutralized.

One further question. I've used Turface for quite some time and I've always assumed that it mostly retains water on the surfaces of the individual particles. Now that I think about it, it's obvious that it also absorbs a good deal of water internally. Under what conditions in a mix does it re-release the water?

Finally, (and again apologies if this has already been mentioned), if anyone is having trouble locating Turface two excellent sources are companies which specialize in athletic field and/or golf course maintainence. Your local rec department, school system, or golf course can probably give you with the name of their supplier. I've found these companies very willing to sell a few bags to an individual gardener.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Mar 17, 10 at 19:39

Plants absorb water a molecule at a time from the surface of Turface and other particulates. They also absorb the water Turface gives up in vapor form. Turface gives up its water to roots, and via diffusion, to other nearby particles with low moisture content.

One of the nice things about The gritty mix is - even if the bark gets dry enough to become hydrophobic, the Turface still absorbs water immediately, which allows water to diffuse into the bark and 'break' any hydrophobic tendency.

Thanks for the tip on finding Turface.

I just finished 11 straight hours of repotting deciduous bonsai material - many were maples ........ and my tail's draggin'. Now I get to make another batch of soil after I eat so I can do it again tomo. ;o)

Take care.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al,

If i use perlite in the gritty mix instead of crushed granite, do i still need to use gypsum? Also, do you recommend washing the perlite before mixing in with turface and bark?

Thank you


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 18, 10 at 10:06

Yes - use gypsum ...... and it's helpful if you rinse the perlite if you suspect or know the plants you'll be growing are intolerant of fluorides.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al,

I finally got my gritty mix prepared. All i have to add in is gypsum (which i have) and slow release fertilizer.

My question is if i add in the gypsum, do i use epsom salt with the first watering or the next time i use fertilizer which will be couple of months out.

Also, do you recommend using epsom salt for a citrus tree in the ground (no gypsum used).

And my final question is, would it be ok if i did not add the fertilizer into the mix right now and used on on the surface in a couple of days, and i could add the epsom salt at the same time.

Thank you for your help AL.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Mar 20, 10 at 11:42

Add it with the first watering, then each time you fertilize after that.

I'm not an advocate of using soil amendments or fertilizers that target 1 or 2 specific nutrients unless you know from a soil test that those nutrients are the only ones that are deficient. Unless you know Mg to be deficient it cannot do your plant any good, and in excess, it can cause (antagonistic) deficiencies of other elements, Ca being the primary concern.

CRFs are better if incorporated rather than broadcast. The reason is, they are almost entirely dependent on temperature for release and any direct exposure to sunlight will cause them to release much more fertilizer than the would if incorporated.

Why not skip the CRF altogether and establish a regular regimen of applying soluble fertilizers.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Hey AL:

Wondering if you might be able to help with some recommendations into drip irrigation.

Current setup.
Citrus trees planted in 15 gallon containers with gritty 1:1:1 mix.
15" diameter
17.5" deep

What kind of GPH do you think would be adequate and what type of Drippers or sprayers?

Hmm also the number of Drippers or sprayers?

Thanks in advance for any help.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 23, 10 at 9:47

I don't use drip irrigation, so I'm certainly no expert, but it would seem that the GPH rating wouldn't matter much if you have a time(r) setting. If I was setting mine up, I would probably try using the lowest GPH spray fitting (1 or 2) and adjust the time. Water diffuses laterally quite well in the gritty mix.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al, I finally located all of the gritty mix ingredients (phew!), I am very excited about making my first batch but I have a couple of questions:

1) you said the first picture above was gritty mix so I am aiming to make something that looks like that but it looks like it has vermiculite or something else in it, is there anything else besides pine bark, turface and gran i grit? I haven't looked at the gypsum yet, is that what I am seeing in that pic?

2)now that I have a clearer idea of how big these bags are and what they cost, I am concerned that my planters (don't laugh) may be too big! I have 4 planters that are 30" tall and 24" diameter, I plan to use them at the posts of my pergola (which sits on top of a paved patio) and grow clematis vines in them to cover the pergola. I thought the height of the planters would give the clematis a nice head start to the top of the pergola but now I am thinking that's a lot of space to fill with a costly mix if it isn't necessary (I don't know how deep clematis roots really get, so maybe it is necessary?) I thought about filling the bottoms of the containers with 1" stones - would that screw things up? What would you recommend?

3) given the size of my containers, do I have more flexibility in the size of the pine bark?

Thanks!
Nik


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 23, 10 at 20:33

That's a batch I made for someone else, and it did have a small fraction of vermiculite in it because she was worried about there not being enough water retention. I added it only to assuage her apprehension. ;o) Don't tell her I said that! I don't use anything in mine other than the 3 primary ingredients + gypsum.

Have you bought the clematis yet? If you do some research on the plant, you'll find that they generally don't tolerate warm soil temperatures well. I usually even suggest that when planting them in the ground, they should be planted where their roots are shaded - often suggesting that a bush or shrub should be planted on the south side of the clematis to help keep the roots cool. I guess what I'm saying is you may wish to rethink the plant material if there will be any sun load on the containers or on the pavement in the near area of the containers.

There is no reason you can't use something like the 5:1:1 mix if you wish. If you're going to use a very large pot and a small plant, it's pretty important that you use a well-aerated soil, though. The roots of even plants that are noted for their normally shallow root systems will fully colonize even the deepest container, as long as there is a favorable ratio of air:water in the lower parts of the container soil. You might want to fill a couple of gallon jugs with screw-on caps with water and using them for ballast in the bottom of your containers. I assume you'll leave them in place over winter? If so, leave some air space in the container to allow for expansion when the water freezes.

Anything else I can try to answer for you? ;o)

Al



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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Thanks Al,

yes, I already have the plants and really no back up plan :-(.

I posted to the clematis forum a while back asking for container companion plant ideas for shading the clematis roots (that's actually how I wound up here thanks to gardengal :-)).

I never got any plant suggestions, but I was told that it isn't actually the heat that bothers their roots - its drying out. Mine will all be on a drip irrigation system so I thought I would be okay there. Please let me know if that is not correct.

Re: the gallon jugs, would that be preferable to say 5-7 inches of 3/4-1" stones? I was going to use the gritty mix because I thought it would a)last longer in the container without having to re-pot, b) be more helpful in preventing over/under-watering and c)help keep the soil cooler. Are you recommending the 5:1:1 mix for these large containers instead?

I sifted one bag of the pine bark mulch with a 1/4" screen and about half went through it - the rest is dime to quarter size but breaks fairly easily. I have a window screen to sift the 1/4" stuff and will probably end up with only 1/4 of the bag being between 1/8" and 1/4".

Can I use some of the dime to quarter inch pieces in the gritty mix?

I have a ton of this mulch, and I will be making both mixes and using the left overs for new beds in my yard so nothing will be wasted, I am willing to do whatever is necessary to get a perfect mix - I just don't want to do anything unnecessary as my time is short.

Since you ask, why yes, there is something else! In all my reading I saw somewhere way back where you were helping someone with decorative container plant combo suggestions for shade - do you have any for sun?, I would love to see some of those pics and or get your suggestions. I have the 4 huge planters and 4 large hanging baskets all will be on an adjustable drip and 1/2 will have 50% shade the other half about 30% shade

Thanks in advance for your patience with my ignorant self!!!!
Nik

I want to use the gritty mix


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

oops, disregard the last sentence - poor editing (or maybe subliminal?)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al, I used your 5.1.1 mix for re-potting all my seedlings after they sprouted. I now am re-potting most of my house plants and my new outdoor potted plants with it. So far it is working great. Two questions: I want to use this mix for cactus plants too is that acceptable? Also, I want to use the mix when I plant my tomatoes in the garden. I want to "backfill" or cover the plants with this mix too. Any problems with that plan?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Mar 24, 10 at 14:13

GBFG - From an OSU article about growing clematis. You can find the entire text HERE

"Site Requirements

Clematis have a reputation for being difficult to grow, however, like any other plant, if their needs can be met by the site and proper care, they will thrive. Clematis require full sun to grow best (6+ hours direct sun per day) though some dappled shade during the heat of the day is beneficial. Flowers of some red and blue large-flowered hybrids and the bicolors fade badly if they get too much sun (such as 'Nelly Moser,' 'Hagley Hybrid' and 'Hybrida Sieboldiana') and these should be planted in eastern exposures or partial shade. The site should be open enough to allow for air movement around the plants. Soil should be rich and well-draining with a pH close to neutral (7.0). Though the plant's stems and foliage should be in sun, the roots like a cool, moist environment. With the exception of C. montana, clematis do not compete well with large tree roots. Most clematis will require staking so the twining leaf petioles can cling and climb upward, though some gardeners choose to let the plants sprawl over the ground, over woodpiles, other plants, etc."

So do whatever you can to keep roots as cool as you can.

Either the jugs or stones, even packing peanuts will work as ballast, though the peanuts are a nightmare to remove from roots @ repot time. The gritty mix IS a better choice, but I thought you were balking at it because of expense or perhaps the extra effort it can take ..... You can use some of the larger pieces in the gritty mix if you wish. I was just trying to keep you from using large pieces like the nuggets & mini-nuggets that are readily available.

You can find some pictures of a few containers HERE. I use a LOT of different plants in my containers. For group plantings, I usually try to follow the Thriller/Spiller/Filler philosophy. I select a 'main' plant as the focal point. Often, it's something upright and large. There is an upright variegated oregano that is spectacular in containers for its height and nice foliage ...... and its willingness to grow like mad! ;o) I usually plant 1 very upright plant (cordeline, e.g.) then 1 or more cascading plants, depending on the size of the pot, and lots of fillers. Over the years, I've learned what poops out and what is durable. Also, how you treat the plants as far as pruning/cutting back and dead-heading has a significant impact on longevity and appearance as summer progresses. I had a Master Gardener bus load from a neighboring county tour the gardens last early fall, and they were all very amazed at how full & florific (is that a word?) the containers were in early Sep, when most containers would be ready for the compost pile.

Let me know if you have more ?s after you review the pics at the thread I linked to.

Grow-anything asked: "I want to use this mix (5:1:1) for cactus plants too - is that acceptable?" The gritty mix would be better, but if you screened the fines out of it, and added some very coarse sand (1/2 bb size or larger) it would work well for cacti and succulents. The 5:1:1 mix will hold a little perched water because of the peat and fine bark, so it's better to screen it for cacti.

Also: "I want to "backfill" or cover the plants with this mix too. Any problems with that plan?"

No problem, but save yourself some effort and just use pine bark. If you incorporate it into the soil, you may see some N immobilization, so you might need to use a fertilizer a little higher in N than normal.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al, that is great. Thanks for the help!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Mar 24, 10 at 17:55

You're very welcome. I do hope you found it helpful.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Hey Al, I am wondering which mix would work best for growing tomatoes and peppers in 18 gallon containers(2 plants in each container). They will be cycled with a timer on a drip system.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Hi Al,

I have 15 Heirloom Tomato seedlings that I have transplanted into 15 gal pots over the last several weeks. The potting mix is based upon your 5:1:1 mix but I haven't gotten the exact pine bark fines unfortunately. The first batch was made from Forest Blend mulch screened down to particle size >1/4", <3/8". This had a large percentage of sapwood. The second batch was small fir bark run through an electric wood chipper. I liked the latter much better than the former. What I did was use the Forest Blend screening for the first 5 transplants, a 50-50 mixture of the Forest Blend and chipped Fir Bark for 5 transplants and then the last batch of 5 transplants 100% chipped fir bark. I have been using 8 tbsps of Garden Lime in each 15 gal pot, a total of 24 qts of bark mix, 4 qts of Peat and 4 qts of Perlite. To this I have added 1/2 tsp of Foliage Pro and 1/4 cup of vinegar everytime I have watered. Something is not right. The plants are pale green and are not growing robustly. They are beginning to look leggy. The little greenhouse I have them in is heated so it rarely falls below 60 degrees at night and during the day I have a fan that keeps the temperature below 90 degrees.
Some of the pots have wicks others are without. So I am confused. What would you suggest? I have Miracle Grow 24-8-16 and I bought 50 lbs of the MicroMax micronutrients. So I can switch to that. The MG is applied at 1 tbsp/gal and since I am fertilizing every time I water I can cut that in half but I am not sure at what strength to add the MicroMax. I am including a few pictures of the plants for you to see. Any other suggestions you can think of or am I just overreacting here?
I am also attaching some pictures of the much older plants that I planted in last year's coir based potting mix. I do not add these because I am considering using this mix ever again, just to show the plants I started in November/December before I found this forum. I am going to be eating tomatoes in a month!! I put wicks in these last week and so far they are doing very well, lot of fruit set particularly on the Cherokee Purple, Beefsteak and Brandywine OTV. I do have to monitor them more frequently to see the moisture level thorughout the pot. The little plant is a Manitoba. I have had a great deal of Blight lately on the lower leaves and have to start spraying more frequently. I have been spraying these plants since they were little seedlings but in the last month have reduced the frequency a bit. I also think this could be an indication of the plants inability to take up nutrients in the coir soil readily because of the perched water.

Here is a link that might be useful: Gardening7


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 25, 10 at 15:11

UGF - I use the 5:1:1 mix for tomatoes and other veggies. I usually only use the gritty mix for long term plantings.

Marcos - I had some trouble understanding exactly what you are saying, and I don't think you're over-reacting. I watch the color of my tomato leaves carefully, and when they are not dark green, I fertilize - especially if I see the older leaves are a little less green than those more recent. My thought is they are probably under-fertilized.

Are you able to water copiously enough that the soil is being flushed each time you water? If so, I would double the fertilizer dose and see if that helps.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Thanks for the quick reply Al! Could I substitute mushroom compost for the peat?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al,

I water so that it runs out of the drain holes in the pots. When I initially transplanted I really saturated each pot. Subsequently, I have been giving them a gal of water with 1/2 tsp of FP and 1/4 cup of vinegar each time. When I do this the water runs out the drain holes at the bottom.

I will go to 1 full tsp of FP/gal of water in my next watering. I am watering every 4 to 5 days now.

Thanks for the information. I guess I was a little verbose in my post but I wanted to give you all the info. Once previously you mentioned something about going to a urea based fertilizer if I was worried about a salt buildup. If I do, should I also top dress with MicroMax Microneutrients and add Miracle Gro to the water 1 tbsp/gal?

Thank you again for all your help and guidance.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 25, 10 at 21:09

UGF - You can if you want, but I wouldn't be tempted to go beyond using it as the '1' fraction of 5:1:1, and it really doesn't offer any advantage over peat that would be significant enough that you'd notice. Remember - container soils are more about structure (a durable mix that holds favorable amounts of air and water) than they are about nutrients.

Marcos - No worry about being wordy - it's much better to have too much info than to have to squeeze you for it. ;o)

I don't think I would have mentioned any advantage in soluble salt levels for a urea-based fertilizer vs a fertilizer weighted toward nitrates, but I might have given it the nod for its ability to acidify the soil solution. Is that what you're thinking of?

I usually incorporate Micromax, rather than broadcast it, but a cup is enough to treat 64 gallons of soil, so the math works out to about 3/4 tsp/gallon of soil.

I don't remember right off hand what the MG dosage is, but you should be able to use half strength each time you water if you're flushing the soil well.

Is the chlorosis more prevalent in the mix that has a larger fraction of sapwood? Did you mention what your soil temperatures are - a guess? - above 55*?

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Okay, here goes... I've been perusing this site for a couple weeks now, but just joined today! I have never been able to keep plants alive, I even manage to kill Aloe Vera plants!!! But after years of wanting to do so, I have ordered 3 (18"-24") blueberry plants! This site makes me quite optimistic.

First, let me say that $ is a HUGE problem on this project. If the plants die, I'll probably never try another plant again, lol. I went shopping today and acquired the following: 2 cu ft Miracle Grow garden soil (couldn't find plain "dirt" lol), 2 cu ft pine bark mulch (I plan to sift out the smaller parts to use in my mix and use the bigger parts as... mulch), 3 cu ft peat (sphagnum) moss, 8 qts perlite, and 8 oz Miracid. I need to fill a 45 qt pot and a planter that I estimate to be about twice that size. I would like the soil mix to last 2 years.

I am planning to use 1/4 dose of the Miracid weekly with epsom salt. Add vinegar to the water as needed. And it looks like I still need to find gypsum!

So, a few lingering questions:

Is all gypsum pelletized?
I need a lot more perlite, don't I?
Is this going to work, or am I way too far off base?
And, should I get the mycchorizal stuff?
How do I know when they need to be watered?
Do I add vinegar to the water every time I water?
How do I know when the ground is remaining above 55 degrees? Stick a thermometer in it???
Am I missing anything???

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my ramblings!

Steph


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

oh crud, I'm dumb, why did I buy dirt at all? Okay, so obviously that's got to go back...


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al,
I just want to thank you for your very informative and helpful response, the clematis info was very informative, I think/hope I will be okay given the size of the containers, their light color and dappled afternoon shade once my October Glory Maple leafs out.

What great pics!!!! The planters are incredible and gave me some ideas -I would especially love to copy your yellow planter if you'll share whats in it (and if those will handle my zone). Your yard is incredible! Even the grass looks fabulous (what kind is it and what's your secret there?). Are those Thujas in the background?

I will be back begging for more advice as soon as I am done with all of my sifting (should it take 2 hours to sift a bag of turface?).

I'm thinking I should really just sift in my bikini on and get my tan while I am out there! Kill two birds with one stone ;-)
THANKS!!!!!
Nik


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Mar 26, 10 at 10:52

Steph - with those ingredients, you don't need gypsum, you need dolomitic (garden) lime. If you're going to need (about) 40 gallons of soil, you're going to need about 2 - 2 cu ft bags of bark and about 6 gallons of perlite. Your best bet would be to find it in a 3-4 cu ft bag at a greenhouse/nursery op. It will be a fraction of the cost of smaller bags on a per volume basis.

I never use mychorrizal inoculations, but I see much evidence of the fungi's normal presence in spring and fall when soils are cool - none in the summer, however. Some people feel the inoculations do make a difference, so I'll let you decide on your own.

You can tell if established plantings need water when a stick (sharpened dowel) comes out dry or the soil feels dry at the drain hole. You'll soon become familiar with the 'rhythm'. Newly established plantings need to be watered more frequently until roots colonize the lower parts of the container because the top of the soil drys out first, so keep that in mind.

For the 55* thing, sort of take an average of day/night high/low temps. If the average is consistently above 55*, go ahead and fertilize.

I'm sure there are things you're missing (questions left out), but that's what the forums are for. Stick around - as you think of them, just raise your hand & someone will call on you. ;o)

Nik - I laughed about the bikini thing as I puzzled through how you signed off.

Thanks for the kind comments about the yard. I do have a long row of about 50 Thujas separating me from the neighbor on the east.

It takes about 15-20 minutes for me to screen 50 lbs of Turface, but I have done so much of it that I'm pretty organized .... & have built screens that make the job easier.

Good luck with the tan. I've been spending so much time outdoors, in spite of the weather, that everyone is wondering if I just got back from a vacation a little more exotic than my front gardens. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Thank you so much! One bit of clarification, if you don't mind. I thought I needed the gypsum instead of the lime for blueberries because of their "desire" for acidic soil???

Oh, and (raises hand) I'm also wondering, when I screen the mulch, is it important to separate out the tiny bits as well? I mean, blueberries have shallow roots and the containers are fairly deep, so would the little stuff just filter down to the bottom and not really create a problem because of the shallow root/deep container situation?

Thanks again!
Steph


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al,

If I didn't know for sure, I do now about the urea based fertilizer. So it helps to acidify the soil! Got it.

I fed and watered yesterday so I didn't want to try to take temperatures of the soil. I have a temperature probe that is sitting on about 65 degrees this morning. But these plants are inside a temperature control greenhouse that was 66 degrees when I went in this morning. It gets as high as 95 or so during the day even though I installed a thermostatically controlled attic vent fan and have 50% shade cloth covering the film of the roof. As soon as I am secure enough in no further frost, I will take the film off and just cover with shade cloth, like my hoop house.

Yes, the plants in the highest percentage of sapwood are the palest. The color is poorer on the Potate Leaf varieties that Regular Leaf. The color is best on the last batch which was the fir bark chopped in a wood chipper. Is this the Nitrogen immobilization you talked about? I have Miracle Gro that is 24-8-16 that I can use on these earlier transplantings along with the MicroMax, if you think that will help. After I read you email yesterday, I went out and gave everything a full strength feeding of Foliage Pro, about half and the other Miracle Gro + a tbsp on Micromax(according to directions on bag). Did this on the big plants too.

What do you think? Any further instructions?

I'll tell you what Al. Gardening is fun even when you don't have a clue what you are doing. But it is so much more interesting to have a resourse such as yourself, that can expose the science and chemistry of plant biology etc.

Thank you so much!!!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

The following quote is pretty much a horticultural myth (not a rarity in horticulture) and misuses the hydrological term "perched water table" and indeed even the term "water table." It's no big deal, horticulturists view soil water differently than hydrologists or soils physicists and can use less precise conceptual views. But in any case, particles slightly smaller than 1/8 inch in no way can support saturation against gravity, whether or not located above a layer of coarser material. Downward drainage simply slows down at that boundary (plausibly even enough to have some horticultural significance in extremely sensitive plants) but it by no means stops to support a perched saturated zone. Imagine a layer of BB's (about 1/8 inch diameter) above gravel. Could a saturated zone persist in the BB's? Much finer materials (silts, clays), though, can in fact hold a bit of saturated zone by capillarity above an actual water table. (Water table is defined by equality to atmospheric pressure not saturation; the capillary zone is actually under less than atmospheric pressure.)

This would hardly be worth mentioning if the notion of a "perched water table" in containers had not been repeated and pointed to so many times. I think you will find that soil water specialists have a different view of the matter.

"There will be a naturally occurring "perched water table" (PWT) in containers when soil particulate size is under about .125 (1/8) inch.. This is water that occupies a layer of soil that is always saturated & will not drain from the portion of the pot it occupies. It can evaporate or be used by the plant, but physical forces will not allow it to drain. It is there because the capillary pull of the soil at some point will surpass the GFP; therefore, the water does not drain, it is perched."


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Mar 28, 10 at 1:44

Steph - You can use either gypsum or lime with the 5:1:1 mix for blueberries. You might find more helpful info if you click this link.

Marcos - it sounds like you're on the right track. Nothing more to add at this point. Keep us posted.

GB - It's easy to illustrate the statement I've used hundreds of times that goes something like, "The ht of the PWT is inversely related to particle size. As particle size increases, the height of the PWT decreases until at a particle size of just under 1/8" (around .110") it disappears entirely." You can illustrate it very easily in a practical application by noting a properly made gritty mix will hold no perched water, but the same soil made with unscreened Turface will.

You can SEE it in a clear plastic cup. Turface screened over insect screen will hold perched water, as will crushed granite in starter size. Crushed granite in grower size holds no perched water; neither does screened Turface mixed in equal portions with grower grit.

A BB is .177", almost half again as large as .125 (1/8)" and practically speaking we are discussing irregularly shaped particulates of a much smaller size that tend to nest with each other and produce smaller pore sizes than perfectly shaped large spheres like BBs.

Common soil materials with an 'average' particle size of 1/8" (say an even distribution of 1/16-3/16") will hold some measure of perched water, while common soil materials with a uniform particle size of 1/8" will not.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Hi Al,
About six weeks ago (about the same time I started reading about your gritty mix), I purchased 18 various succulents from an older lady who at one time sold to the public, but apparently now she has trouble keeping up with the care of the plants and greenhouse. She sold me the plants for between 50 cents and $2 each - nice plants - but in TERRIBLE need of repotting and attention. The soil was so old and compacted that some of the plants had very few roots left - I was surprised they looked as good as they did. Anyway, I wanted to repot them into your gritty mix, but none of the suppliers in my area had ever heard of Turface, and I was unable to locate any crushed granite. Or the pine bark fines, for that matter! However, I was able to locate a product called "Haydite" in bulk, so I sifted that and mixed it 2:1 with store bought cactus soil. It is amazing how much better the plants look since they have been repotted! My question is, will this mixture be OK for awhile, or should I try to find the "real" ingredients and repot them again at the end of the summer?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

WOOHOO!!! I did it! Okay, so my mixture is actually 4:1:1, but I'm still pleased and excited! Mixing it was MUCH harder than anticipated, lol! (made about 51 gallons!!!) But, definitely gratifying! Now, I wish my blueberries would HURRY UP and get here!!!

Thanks everyone!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Mar 28, 10 at 12:03

Haydite is a brick-like material that has quite a bit less internal porosity than Turface, but more than crushed granite, so it sort of has the o/a porosity of the average between Turface and granite. The main issue I've always had with Haydite is finding it in an appropriate size.

Don't take this reply as terse, please, but you'll need to decide how hard you want to look for the ingredients. Some people think it's well worth the effort, and others won't be bothered to go out of their way. We're all different. ;o) It would give me/us a better idea of how available these products are in your area, or what substitutes might be available if you included your state/USDA zone in your user info (like my z5b-6a MI) or what large city might be near you. Often you'll find someone following the thread who knows exactly where to find the material, and I usually poke around on the behalf of others to try to find the ingredients.

FWIW - I have grown & propagated lots & lots of cacti/succulents in the gritty mix, .........

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....... often in containers so shallow they would present problems when using heavier soils, and have find them incredibly easy to grow and keep healthy in it.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Al,
The Haydite is the proper size after sifting; if it is the average porosity of Turface and granite, would it be OK to use 2 parts haydite to one part bark fines? I could probably find the bark fines now that the stores are getting their new shipments in, but when I was looking for it before, the stores mostly only had last year's (frozen) leftovers. And these succulents were in desperate need of repotting! But I don't mind re-doing it if you think it would help. Your cacti and succulents are beautiful, btw!
Thanks,
Nancy


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Mar 28, 10 at 15:04

I think you should be in good shape with the Haydite at 2:1. Just take note of what the water retention is like. You might even wish to mix a small fraction of vermiculite into the next batch if you find it isn't sufficient. The only disadvantage of using Haydite + bark instead of Turface:bark:grit is that you lose ability to adjust water retention by varying the volume of Turface:grit. Other than that, it pretty much boils down to settling on an appropriate particle size for your needs.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

AL, that last picture is amazing! It looks like there's more plant mass then root mass! I've gone against the mushroom compost. I'm sticking with your recommendations.

I was wondering if anyone has used these nutrients before? I'm thinking of using them to grow my tomatoes and peppers in containers.

Here is a link that might be useful: Hi brix gardening


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Hi Al,

I am new here, and I spent several hours reading through these posts. I am going with gritty mix. Hopefully, I will find them this week. I have a few questions and your help is appreciated.

1) In one thread, you mentioned, dolomite is the most preferred (compared to garden lime and gypsum) because it contains Ca and Mg. If that is the case, why does the main article mention gypsum instead of dolomite ?

2) Assuming I go with dolomite, can I use Foliage pro 9-3-6? Is that a "safe" combination ?

3) How often do I need to add dolomite and FP ? Every week ? Every month ?

Thanks.

Jake


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 29, 10 at 9:36

1) I suggest gypsum when making the gritty mix because of the gritty mix's higher (pre-lime/pre-gypsum) starting pH. Dolomite raises soil pH, but gypsum's effect is so minor as to be virtually unnoticeable. Generally, the 5:1:1 mix can benefit from the lime's function of both raising pH and supplying Ca/Mg.

2) Yes - I and lots of others do it as a matter of course.

3) Use dolomite or gypsum when you make the soil, and the FP as needed. I generally fertilize the plants I over-winter under lights every time I water with weak doses (12 drops/gallon) and weekly at 1/2 strength or stronger for plants growing outdoors. I would follow the same every watering program outdoors if it wasn't so time consuming. I tend more than 300 containers each year and I just can't find the time to mix and fertilize from a water can each time I water - which is daily.

You'll find that the Mg fraction of dolomite is much more soluble (approx 125x) than the Ca fraction, so you probably wouldn't need to increase the Ca supply in the second growth cycle of plants remaining in the same soil, but you may need to supplement the Mg supply w/Epsom salts.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

I will soon be planting some roses in 20" terracotta pots on my deck. I would like to use something like the gritty mix, but lighter. The pots themselves are already so heavy. I found large bags of pumice locally, which I think seems a heck of a lot lighter than the granite would be. I read in another thread that pumice retains less water than Turface, but more than granite. Could I use 2:1 pumice:bark? What level of water retention would be best for the roses?

I am excited about how I think the gritty mix (or similar) will solve so many problems I had in the past, but I am a little scared of the watering frequency.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 29, 10 at 21:08

You can try the 2:1, pumice:bark. I can't predict what water retention will be like, but you could always have on hand a bag of Turface or NAPA floor dry to up the water retention if you find it necessary. A small fraction of vermiculite would do the same thing, if you need it.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

So, I got all the ingredients. But, the Turface MVC looks very fine, compared to the granite and the bark. If the size is comparable, then I am doing something wrong. Can someone please confirm if the turface size is much smaller than 1/4 inch.

Thanks


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 30, 10 at 17:04

It is.

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It's about 1/8" and smaller - 1/16-1/8 if you screen it over insect screen.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

Hey Al,

Question about the gritty mix. How diligent do I need to keep up with the fertilizer regiment?

I have my nice Washington Navel Orange growing in the gritty mix for about 6 weeks now. It had a nice flush of new growth and lots of blossoms. However a hand full of leaves are now showing Nitrogen deficiency.

My normal water schedule is Saturday I water with 1 gallon of water mixed in with 1 tsp FP. then I water again on Wednesday with plain water. My suspicion is that I might be washing out the FP with my mid week watering.


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Al,

Thank you very much for your help. I have repotted the plants on gritty mix.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Mar 31, 10 at 8:54

Scuba - You need to be reasonably diligent. During the summer, I usually water most of my plants daily or every other day. I normally fertilize weekly or every other week (depending mostly on temperatures), adding a tbsp of FP to each 2-1/2 gallons of water. You could reduce the dosage and increase the frequency if you wish. When I water, I usually try to evenly wet the surface of the soil with my watering wand, and I stop watering as soon as water starts exiting the drain. This is sufficient to adequately flush the soil of accumulating salts.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Mar 31, 10 at 9:36

I forgot you for a second, Gwox. You're welcome, and good luck. Let us know how you fare, please. ;o)

Al


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Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention X

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Mar 31, 10 at 9:40

The thread has reached 150 posts, so if there is interest, you can find the continuation at the link I've left below. Thanks to everyone for participating and for helping us all to learn.

Al

Here is a link that might be useful: Click me to go to the continuation of this thread.


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