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Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
Thu, Mar 17, 11 at 16:06

I first posted this thread back in March of '05. Twelve times it has reached the maximum number of posts GW allows to a single thread, 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 another time comes from the reinforcement of hundreds of participants over the years that the idea some of the information provided in good-spirited collective exchange has made a significant difference in the quality of their growing experience.

I'll provide links to some of the more recent of the previous dozen threads and nearly 1,800 posts at the end of what I have written - just in case you have interest in reviewing them. Thank you for taking the time to examine this topic - I hope that any/all who read it take at least something interesting and helpful from it. I know it's long; my hope 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 ensure 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/compost/coir. 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 I'll 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 in 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:

Container soils are all about structure, and particle size plays the primary role in determining whether a soil is suited or unsuited to the application. 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 a nutrient supply in available form sufficient to sustain plant systems. Gas Exchange - it must be amply porous to allow air to move through the root system and gasses that are the by-product of decomposition to escape. Water - it must retain water enough in liquid and/or vapor form to sustain plants between waterings. Air - it must contain a volume of air sufficient to ensure that root function/metabolism/growth is not impaired. This is extremely important and the primary reason that heavy, water-retentive soils are so limiting in their affect. 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 and retention of water in container 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, water's bond to itself can be stronger than the bond to the object it might be in contact with; cohesion is what makes water form drops. 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 .100 (just under 1/8) inch. Perched water is water that occupies a layer of soil at the bottom of containers or above coarse drainage layers that tends to remain 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 said to be 'perched'. The smaller the size of the particles in a soil, the greater the height of the PWT. Perched water can be tightly held in heavy (comprised of small particles) soils where it perches (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. If 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 and the production of noxious gasses. 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: If using a soil that supports perched water, 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 simply drain better and hold more air. 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?

I already stated I hold as true that the grower's soil choice when establishing a planting for the long term is the most important decision he/she will make. There is no question that the roots are the heart of the plant, and plant vitality is inextricably linked in a hard lock-up with root vitality. In order to get the best from your plants, you absolutely must have happy roots.

If you start with a water-retentive medium, you cannot improve it's aeration or drainage characteristics by adding larger particulates. Sand, perlite, Turface, calcined DE ...... none of them will work. To visualize why sand and perlite can't change drainage/aeration, think of how well a pot full of BBs would drain (perlite), then think of how poorly a pot full of pudding would drain (bagged soil). Even mixing the pudding and perlite/BBs together 1:1 in a third pot yields a mix that retains the drainage characteristics and PWT height of the pudding. It's only after the perlite become the largest fraction of the mix (60-75%) that drainage & PWT height begins to improve. At that point, you're growing in perlite amended with a little potting soil.


You cannot add coarse material to fine material and improve drainage or the ht of the PWT. Use the same example as above & replace the pudding with play sand or peat moss or a peat-based potting soil - same results. The benefit in adding perlite to heavy soils doesn't come from the fact that they drain better. The fine peat or pudding particles simply 'fill in' around the perlite, so drainage & the ht of the PWT remains the same. All perlite does in heavy soils is occupy space that would otherwise be full of water. Perlite simply reduces the amount of water a soil is capable of holding because it is not internally porous. IOW - all it does is take up space. That can be a considerable benefit, but it makes more sense to approach the problem from an angle that also allows us to increase the aeration AND durability of the soil. That is where Pine bark comes in, and I will get to that soon.


If you want to profit from a soil that offers superior drainage and aeration, you need to start with an ingredient as the basis for your soils that already HAVE those properties, by ensuring that the soil is primarily comprised of particles much larger than those in peat/compost/coir.sand/topsoil, which is why the recipes I suggest as starting points all direct readers to START with the foremost fraction of the soil being large particles, to ensure excellent aeration. From there, if you choose, you can add an appropriate volume of finer particles to increase water retention. You do not have that option with a soil that is already extremely water-retentive right out of the bag.

I fully understand that many are happy with the results they get when using commercially prepared soils, and I'm not trying to get anyone to change anything. My intent is to make sure that those who are having trouble with issues related to soil, understand why the issues occur, that there are options, and what they are.

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 added 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 suffer/die because there is insufficient air at the root zone to insure normal root function, so water/nutrient uptake and root metabolism become seriously impaired.

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 have not 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.

Bark fines of pine, fir or hemlock, 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 nature's 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 - it retains its structure.

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 fine and unstable for me to consider using in soils in any significant volume as well. The small amount of micro-nutrients it supplies can easily be delivered by one or more of a number of chemical or organic sources that do not detract from drainage/aeration.

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)

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)

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)

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 they can grow at as close to their genetic potential within the limits of other cultural factors as possible. 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, fine stone, VERY coarse sand (see above - usually no smaller than BB size in containers, please), Haydite, lava rock (pumice), Turface, calcined DE, 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)

I use 1/8 -1/4 tsp Epsom salts (MgSO4) per gallon of fertilizer solution when I fertilize if the fertilizer does not contain Mg (check your fertilizer - if it is soluble, it is probable it does not contain Ca or Mg. If I am using my currently favored fertilizer (I use it on everything), Dyna-Gro's Foliage-Pro in the 9-3-6 formulation, and I don't use gypsum or Epsom salts in the fertilizer solution.

If there is interest, you'll find some of the more recent continuations of the thread at the links below:

Post XII
Post XI
Post X
Post IX
Post VIII
Post VII

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

If you do find yourself using soils you feel are too water-retentive, You'll find some Help Dealing with Water-retentive Soils by following this embedded link.

If you happen to be at all curious about How Plant Gowth is Limited, just click the embedded link.


As always - best luck. Good growing!! Let me know if you think there is anything I might be able to help you with.

Al


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Al, let me be one of the first to congratulate you on this major accomplishment! Thirteen times... wow! What does this tell us?

It tells us that the gardening industry isn't helping us, and we must look for our knowledge to come from elsewhere. It tells us the interest in growing container plants to their potential is definitely there! It tells us that there are a lot of people out there looking to actually learn, and to apply that knowledge, that people want to make the effort, but don't know where to begin.

This is it! This is the beginning! This is where it's at, folks!

Thank you, Al... we are eternally grateful for your unending, tireless work at helping us to understand the basic science of growing plants to their potential in containers. You'll never know the heights to which you've lifted us, how much you've impacted us, or how many people you've affected in such a wonderfully positive way!

I remain your rapt pupil. :-)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

When adding the lime, and CRF (if preferred) to a small batch of 5:1:1 mix in a 5 gal. container, is it suggested to mix it in to the whole batch, or work it in to the surface of the mix in the container? It seems that at the beginning, the lime and CRF would do the most good at the top of the container where the plant is, and eventually work it's way down along with the growth of the roots. Thanks.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

What would the best size screen to use for the bark when making the gritty mix?
Ruth


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

^ If it's uncomposted bark, then you'll need a 3/8" or 10mm sieve I believe.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

I'm bumping this up because it is an awesome post!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Mar 18, 11 at 9:56

Thanks soo very much, Jodi & Julie!!!

Ruth - for the gritty mix, use what does pass through a 3/8" screen but doesn't pass through a 1/4" screen. If you're buying prescreened bark, 1/8-1/4" is best.

Al



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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

So you're saying that wicking systems like the earthbox and bucket gardens are not good ways to garden in containers, is that correct?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Mar 18, 11 at 16:42

No, that is not correct - you'll not find where I've said that anywhere in anything I've ever written, nor should you make the inference based on anything I've ever written.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Wow!! Thirteen times! Congratulations al! NICE JOB. Obviously it works bc we just keep coming back for more
I have started several plants in " gritty mix" and am really impressed with it. The thing I like most is I know exactly how much fertilizer is in mix. I have always just guessed before.
I have a lot of respect for you and all those who use gritty mix and come back to GW to help and encourage all of us who want to try it.
Thank you thank you thank you !!!
Amy


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Hi All~
I too wanted to take a minute and thank Al for all his time he's devoted to teaching us what plants need to thrive, and he we can achieve that! I'm so excited to see this thread continue, and not the least bit surprised either. :-) Amy~
I love what you said, we do keep coming back because it works! :-)
I spent today putting tomato's in 5-1-1 and some other annuals, and my son planted his own a few days ago. I'm looking forward to another season, lots of great reading, and enjoying the great stories and advice shared here!

I'd like to share a container i put together a few weeks ago in the gritty mix, with the hopes it makes someone smile. :-)

Lavender~Sage~Thyme~parsley and chives.

Photobucket

A visitor I didn't see till I soaked the poor guy~
A huge black bee~

Photobucket

And a little color~ Think spring! I hope it's soon coming for you all!

Photobucket

JoJo


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

I'm delighted that this thread continues. I have learned more from Al's posts than I did from the dozens of gardening books I've read over the years or any of the other sources I've consulted. I am convinced that these two basic soil mixes are a godsend to growers and plants alike.

Since I only began using these mixes in the last couple months, I still have left over potting mix along with various soil additives that I'd like to use. For example, I have about 3 cubic feet of good quality bagged mix that I'd like to use in making some 5-1-1 mix for my outdoor plantings. According to the manufacturer, it is composed of the following:
40-50% Select, Composted Pine Bark
25-30% Medium Grade Horticultural Vermiculite
15-20% Choice "Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss
7-20% Patented, Processed Bark Ash

I am thinking of mixing it with 3 cubic feet of partially composted pine bark fines so it would be about 75 percent bark. If I do that, should I add anything else to improve drainage, like perlite? Would I need to add some lime, and if so, how much?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Mar 19, 11 at 22:07

Lookin pretty darn good, JJ - Thank you!

Thank you too, Amy (and you're welcome), and thanks to Robin, too. I appreciate the kind expressions!

Robin - how about maybe one extra part of bark or perlite in the mix. Something like 3-4 bark, 3 your mix, 1 perlite. Since your mix will already be limed, I would add about 2 tsp of lime per gallon of bark used or 1/3 cup/cu ft of added bark. In the end, how you put it together will sort of depend on how much perched water you want or don't want it to support. Less is better, but you need to consider the convenience factor. ;-) Good luck - glad you're pumped!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Nice, JoJo! I could have sworn I posted to this yesterday... proving once again my memory is someplace else! ;-)

Thanks for sharing your photos, JoJo!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Hello!
Al~Jodi~ Thank you! :-)

I feel it still needs something, but haven't figured it out. I just am not to thrilled with the colors. It's the floral designer in me. ;-)
But couldn't be happier as far as the health of the plants!! These are in the gritty mix. I just noticed today new buds on the lavender. I've killed so many lavender plants over the years in commercial mixes!! I'm excited knowing this one will be with me for years to come!

Jodi~ The bee and daisy are why I was thinking we needed a thread for a variety of things. ;-)

JoJo


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Hey Al, I'd just like to add my voice to the chorus of thank yous! I stumbled across your article a few years ago, and it completely changed the way I looked at container gardening. I have had such better luck in my garden since then, both indoor and outdoor. I have a feeling that had things continued going the way they were before I found your article, I would have been so discouraged I would have given up. Today gardening is a huge passion of mine, and I get a great deal of satisfaction out of watching my plants thrive, and I owe a lot of that to you. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

But of course I still have questions! You recommend adding lime, or sometimes gypsum, but why would you choose one over the other? I ask because I have gypsum on hand (which I've always added to the soil for my tomatoes), and I don't have lime, and I'm cheap. :-p But I don't understand the benefits of each. I will be using the soil mainly for vegetables, tomatoes and peppers.

The second question was about the Dyna-Gro fertilizer. I've heard that with peppers, you want to be careful not to give them too much nitrogen, or they won't set fruit. Is that likely to be a problem with the Dyna-Gro?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 22, 11 at 18:36

Oh hey - THANKS, Jenn! What a great testimony to your stick-to-itivness! I'm really glad you hung in there! The compliment was nice, but I think I'm more pleased with your success!! Of course, you have a free lifetime pass for any questions I can answer. ;o)

The short version of gypsum vs lime: Lime does two things - it lowers pH and supplies both Ca and Mg. The 5:1:1 mix comes in at a lower pH than the gritty mix, so lime does what it does in that soil - raises pH, supplies Ca/Mg.

The gritty mix comes in at a little higher pH, so to keep the soil in the ideal range, we use gypsum (it DOESN'T raise pH) to supply Ca (and sulfur). When you add Ca to a soil w/o adding Mg, an imbalance in the Ca:Mg ratio can occur, and the result can be an 'antagonistic' deficiency of Mg. To combat that, when you add gypsum, you need to include some Epsom salts (also does not impact pH) in your fertilizer regimen to keep that Ca:Mg ratio at a favorable level.

Except: when you use Foliage-Pro fertilizer (it supplies both Ca and Mg in a favorable ratio - unusual where soluble fertilizers are concerned) with the gritty mix, you can skip both the gypsum AND Epsom salts.

Too much N can affect the pollen of some plants - tomatoes and peppers included, making it sticky & unwilling to fly around & do its thing. That, though, isn't a function of the fertilizer ratio - it's a function of how much N you actually apply. Properly applied, 3:1:2 ratio fertilizers are no more likely to inhibit pollination than 1:1:1 ratios. The ratio doesn't determine the dose - you do. ;o)

Thanks again!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Hey, Al, huzzah to the re-incarnation of a seminal Thread on container culture!
If I were to list all the folks that these principles have helped...well, I'd be here a while ;-)
I've shared this information with many, many growers - and they shared the information with many
of their friends, who in turn came back to thank them...so those thanks, too, are for you.

Jenn, I've been growing hot peppers for several years now, using these container mix strategies,
as well as the Foliage Pro 9-3-6 fertilizer. I can say that I've never had a pollination problem.
Most commonly, day-time highs and night-time lows are the primary impediments to flower set.


Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 22, 11 at 21:50

Thank you so much, Josh - thanks to all, in fact. I do have a couple of detractors that can always be counted on to disagree with practically everything I say, but by and large, the GW community is a great place to share gardening experiences and information, and to just make friends. This thread has been active for more than 6 years, the better part of that time being spent on the first page of the forum. Reaching people like that, and hearing how the concept I work hard at conveying changes peoples' gardening experience is the best reward I could realize for the effort. I enjoy helping so much that I feel blessed to be in touch with so many good people.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

I was wondering if you have tried the Plant Warrior or Holey Cone Aeration products? My plants have never looked better or been healthier. I have four citrus trees, several flowering plants and a plethora of vegies! I look forward to your thoughts. ~Shonya


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Mar 23, 11 at 16:57

I haven't used those containers specifically, but I've been applying the principles inherent in these containers for years, so I have no doubt about their efficacy for container culture. They'll work very well. I just wish they could come up with a decent WHITE container. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

I concur heartily with Josh and Al... I, too, have shared Al's knowledge and concepts with many other gardeners, and it would take me a while to list everyone I've helped through Al's help!

I highly respect Al for all he's given to the gardening community at large, and I consider him to be a great friend, both on and off the forums.

Thirteen rollovers for one single thread has to be some kind of record... this kind of response does not lie!

There will always be the few, the closed minded, that will try hard to negate everything Al tries to teach, but until someone can actually refute Al's concepts with logical, valid evidence proving otherwise, this thread will continue to gather momentum and roll over again and again, helping hundreds grow better as it moves forward.

It's quite an accomplishment, and Al should be proud. You've earned every kudo, every positive accolade, and all the respect you're given, Al. Keep teaching... because we want to learn more! :-)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Indeed, Jodi!

I wanted to share another story from last year. I have a close friend whom I've gotten into pepper growing.
Anyhow, he's adopted all the techniques and he's spread the good word far and wide. While he was waiting tables,
he struck up a conversation with a couple who were lamenting difficulties growing a variety of vegetables.

So he gave them some tips a la the 5-1-1, Garden Lime, and "Weakly Weekly" fertigation.
Several months later, they happened to see him at the restaurant and they went out of their way to call him over and thank him. He, in turn, thanked me...and I, in turn, thank Al.

There are those who want to grow not just plants but want to grow as gardeners.
It is those whom we are so glad to help!


Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Hi Al, I am in need of some help with outdoor potting mixes for a whiskey barrel planter and a easter basket planter. I never realized that the right potting mix matters. Guess thats why I have the wimpiest plants no matter what I do. I think that the MG i am using is not good. Would you be so kind as to help me have the biggest and prettiest plants using the right soil mix. I have a pitiful chinese evergreen in the house, but my pothos is doing good, thats because they are so easy to grow. Is your potting mix expensive and where do I get the ingr.? Thank you for your help.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Al, is there any reason why leaf mould can't be used to replace peat moss? It retains water well and is low in nutrients, just like peat moss, and apart from the odd problem with weed seeds is there any reason it can't be used as a substitute? I know you don't have issues with the sustainability of peat where you live, but in the UK it's different.

I'm having a lot of trouble finding the bark needed to make the 5-1-1 or the gritty mix. Are there no alternatives to this at all?

Also, apart from the good info you've posted, can you recommend any books that I can buy to read up on the subject of soil science so that I can get a better understanding of all of this?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Mar 25, 11 at 0:09

Thank you soo much, Jodi & Josh. I feel blessed by your friendship & support, and admire all your helpful efforts.

PT - don't take this as me being snippy or unwilling to help, because that's far from the case. I can HELP you climb out of a hole, but you have to be willing to do most of the climbing. I'll stand under you on the ladder & push. ;-)

The 5:1:1 mix isn't expensive, at all - less than bagged mixes. The gritty mix costs me about $6-7 per cubic foot to make, or about $1 - 1.25 /gallon. There are several threads devoted to locating ingredients & discussion about substitutions. After you are familiar with the reasons for using these soils (I'm selling you on a concept - not a recipe) ;o) and understand what's in my original post, I'll answer all your questions that are within my ability. I hope that sounds like a fair deal to you.

OW - You can use the leaf mold as a sub for peat, but try to remember that if you start getting much over 1/6 of your mix devoted to fine particles, you start to negate the reason you're using large particles in the rest of the mix. IOW - it doesn't do much good to mix the bark & leaf mold 50/50, but if you mix it 85/15 or 5:1:1 with bark:mold:perlite, you'll retain the aeration, drainage, and reduced PWT you were eying in the beginning.

I'm sorry you can't find what you need. I can't think of anything that will work as well as conifer bark for the 5:1:1. You CAN make the gritty mix w/o an organic fraction - just a 50/50 mix (starting point) of your Turface & grit substitutes, and it will work very well - if you use the right fertilizers, but I realize that now we're straying quite a way from your organic roots, so I'll hold anything additional until I hear your thoughts on that.

You might want to get the Ball book Water Soil and Nutrition for Greenhouse Crops. If you're serious about studying up on it, Plant Production in Containers II By C Whitcomb PhD is a valuable reference, as is Growing Media for Ornamental Plants and Turf. If you can't easily find them, let me know & I'll post the ISBN numbers. Once you understand how everything is connected, you'll be able to more clearly see how such a large % of the problems we encounter as growers are linked directly to the soil. There are two things that make good growers. They are, knowing how plants work and being willing to work to give them what they want. In that, you'll find your green thumb. This isn't for you - only to encourage you against those that would discourage you: You don't become or remain comparatively proficient through complacency. Those that are happy where they are will stay where they are, while everyone else rushes past them to embrace new ideas and technology. They can't be helped. You can.

Al



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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Very informative! Thanks. My question for Tapla is; which of the aforementioned container soils would you recommend for a lemon tree? The Turface based one or the other which is composed of the pine bark, etc
Thanks,

Mike


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Mar 25, 11 at 18:32

The gritty mix, the one with the Turface, hands down.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Hi Al, I've read through many of your posts, and really appreciate everything you do. This is my first time posting on the container forum.

I've been using the gritty mix for over a year now and I love it. I use Turface All-Sport(screened), grower grit, and repti-bark. The repti-bark isn't optimal for me because it's too big (I think???) and it's expensive. You mentioned using a 50/50 turface/grit mix. Is there any downside to this? I believe I've seen you mention that the main purpose for the bark is a filler, but if it's the most expensive part of the mix for me maybe I should just skip it????

Thanks again for all of your knowledge and patience. I've learned a great deal reading through the thousands of posts you've contributed to.

Dan


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

The ReptiBark fir bark would not be very cost effective if you need to make large batches of the Gritty Mix... but those who only need small amounts might find it to be worth while as it needs no screening and is usable right out of the bag. I only need small amounts right now and it's available locally, so I consider it a bargain.

It's beginning to seem like the larger sized bags of ReptiBark contain a larger product by particle, while the small bags contain exactly the right particle size. I'm not sure why this might be, especially since there is no size distinction made on the bag label.

Orchid growers/greenhouses, bonsai growers, mulch companies... are just a few places you might find a suitable fine grade of fir bark/pine bark fines.

"There are those who want to grow not just plants but want to grow as gardeners."

Well said, Josh! Knowledge is always the key to success. A green thumb IS knowledge! Our thumbs only turn green if we make the effort to learn. Once we learn and apply that knowledge, we become more successful... and that success makes it all very enjoyable! When we're happy, we want to share that success with others!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by dan4279 5 Western Mass (My Page) on
    Sat, Mar 26, 11 at 10:04

Thank you, jodik. I'm not even sure the reptibark I get is too big, it just seems like it might be(the plants I have planted in it don't seem to mind). I'm trying to figure out whether the cost of it is even worth it. For whatever reason the turface and grit have been the easiest for me to get. A good, local bark source has been a challenge. So is there a reason I can't or shouldn't just skip it? Will it have an effect on the PWT of my containers? or is there any other negative effect I'm not thinking of?

I have noticed that some bags of reptibark have different sized particles than others.

Dan


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Mar 26, 11 at 12:12

Yes - if I didn't already mention Josh's observation that "There are those who want to grow not just plants but want to grow as gardeners", I need to. That is an excellent observation, and 'those' are the folks that are so much fun to be around. Thanks, Josh!

Thanks Dan, for the kind words! So glad you're impressed with the gritty mix. You can use a mix of screened Turface and crushed granite if you'd like, but you might want to go heavier on the granite, say maybe 4-5 parts granite to 3 parts Turface - to make up for the added water retention that the fraction of Turface replacing the bark has.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Aside from learning the basic concept of a grittier medium, it's good to learn what each ingredient brings to the medium, making it work as it does. Through this bit of knowledge, we can make the choices necessary, based on the ingredients we can find within our various locations.

It was relatively easy for me to locate the ReptiBark, but finding turface was difficult! I've got it all together now, but it took a little while, and a little searching!

At the moment, grabbing a couple of small bags of the ReptiBark gives me enough for my uses, but later this season I'll need a lot more for potting various items outside that are in large pots. I'll be making the trip north to visit my children, and it just so happens that Oak Hill Gardens orchid growers is in the vicinity! They have a marvelous grade of fir bark I can purchase in bulk, so that will solve the cost issue of larger quantities.

It occurs to me... a person could compare the various ReptiBark particle sizes if they have access to more than one pet store selling it. Now that I think on it, I did notice a very tiny difference in particle size between the small bags I bought at Meijer's, and the medium sized bag I got at PetsMart. I didn't think anything of it, though, realizing that different batches would be packaged at the factory, so there was bound to be a little bit of variation.

It's not enough of a size difference to cause any issues, though. I'm using it with no problems. I will, however, keep an eye on future purchases, and hope I can get up to Oak Hill Gardens soon!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Quick question, that I'm sure I should know the answer to by now, but wanted to double-check:

In the 5-1-1, can I substitute Turface for the perlite? Perlite annoys me, since long before I knew anything about soil. Something about the way it rises to the top just seems wrong. Goofy, I know, but I'd like to avoid it. I'd like my soil to last quite a while, but I will be using a lot of it in 5 gallon buckets this year, and don't want to go with the straight gritty mix (although I'll mix some up for some special uses).

Also, this year I have finally found a local source for Turface, yay!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 28, 11 at 15:25

Yes you can - but because of the added water retention, you might take a close look at reducing the amount of peat you use. I can't be specific because so much depends on how coarse/fine the bark is. Pictures would help, either here or in my email.

Al


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My Experience

Hey guys,

I wanted to share with you my experience switching over my container garden to Al's gritty mix. It was a godsend to find this forum and all of the incredibly generous individuals who have shared their gardening knowledge.

I like many before me was sick of my container plants dying or not growing to their full potential. My situation was a disaster in the making. I live in San Francisco, zone 10, which sounds great right? Year round gardening.

I was a new gardener and tried planting mostly perennials. To make matters more interesting my garden is north facing and generally cool (san fran is always about 60-70 degrees). The containers took forever to dry out with very limited direct sun and no heat.

Then to make it even more interesting, I had no idea that my container soil that I put in 5 years ago had slowly (well actually quickly) degraded into smaller and smaller particles with a higher and higher perched water table.

I'm amazed anything survived to be honest.

And then it happened. Frustrated by the lack of gardening how-to shows (they have 10,000 instructional cooking shows but like 2 instructional gardening shows??) I turned to seek out knowledge on the net. And I found a curious thread called "Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention."

I read as much as I could staying up to the wee hours of the morning and had made it to Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention II. After much more reading and all of the other great posts by Al (Fertilizer Program, Tress in Containers, How Plant Growth is Limited), I was ready to embark on my Gritty adventure.

I think it took me about two months source all of the ingredients. In the end I found that it was easier to call a manufacturer that you knew made the product and then just ask which retailers in your area they sold it to. After sourcing screens of proper size, bonsai tools, buckets and all the other good equipment I was ready to start repotting 50 containers.

I'm through about 8 containers now and thought I would share the progress through pictures. One of the tough things going through this thread is that a picture is truly worth 1,000 words and sometimes all the text was difficult to visualize.

So I tried to document my progress in the hopes that it made the next person that embarked on the gritty gold path a tad bit easier.

Sourcing the granite. Tough for my area as there weren't a lot of feed stores but I ended up finding a landscape supply company that had the 1/8" granite. Had to scoop it up myself.

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I bought five, 5 gallon buckets for the ingredients. One for the turface, one for granite, one for the bark and two for the gritty.

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I constructed my screens myself using some lightweight plastic floor molding and stapling the screen in place. I sift over a plastic kitty litter box.

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Here's all the ingredients and the gritty gold:

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And close up

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I used a measuring cup as my scooper and a small bamboo stick to help get the air pockets out during repotting.

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For bare rooting, I used an adjustable garden spray nozzle, to slowly hose away the dirt from the roots. Here is a shot of some of the newer plants I bare rooted. Ironically, the big Japanese maples were by far the easiest to bare root and sometimes the smaller, fine root/matted plants took a much longer time. Here are some fuchsia's I bare rooted.

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Some more. Before:

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After:

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Here is a Camellia that I did. The first two Camellia's I did I totally bare rooted and they did not like it (dropped all leaves, still hoping after two months they re-leaf out). For this one I did the pie sections (or my best shot).

Before:

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After:

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And into the gritty!

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Here is that pot with everything in it:

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Close up:

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Other pots I've done so far:

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Here are the two camellia that I bare rooted (yikes, hope they recover).

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This one was just a mess. I inherited it from the previous owner and they had planted one of the camellia stems like 6" in the soil. The roots looked horrible. It was actually two camellia that I had split up a little bit. One held on to some of it's leaves, the other dropped them all.

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Here is an abitulon that initially totally lost all leaves, but after 3 months started releafing and now it looks like it will be ok: I had bare rooted it, a perennial, probably should have done the pie sections in retrospect.

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Here is a fuchsia that same thing, bare rooted and lost all leaves, after a few months started leafing out. Hurray.

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All of the Japanese Maples I have done so far have all recovered splendidly and are leafing out now. Here is a close up of two of them:

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And lastly, here is my little inspiration, my 1 year old daughter, holding a camellia bloom from the garden :)

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Thanks again to everyone on the forum for the kind contributions of knowledge. And of course a special call out to Al for which I am in eternal gratitude.

Best,

Bill (Kernul1)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Woops, one of the Japanese Maple pics I included was from a pot that still had the old container soil (didn't get to that one before it leafed out ... next year).

Here is the shot I had intended to include from a JM leafing out that was re-potted in gritty mix:

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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Hmm, I live about an hour away from SF. Can you come over and help me out when you're done? :-p You've done a lot of work, congratulations on getting so many of them into the gritty mix! Thanks for the pictures, too, you're right, they're worth 1,000 words.

Speaking of pictures...

That's a (rather blurry) picture of the bark I picked up today (with Turface and a dime for size comparison). It does have a lot of fine pieces, and I won't be sifting the majority of it. I will when I get around to mixing up some of the gritty, but I have too much to do this year to do that for the bulk of the tomatoes and peppers (new house, and calling it a 'fixer-upper' would be very generous ;-) ).

I picked up some peat, but I'm wondering if I'll even need it, or if the bark & Turface will be enough. We will have a few weeks of really hot weather though, so maybe the extra water-retention will be needed?

What do you think?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Howdy, Bill!
You've done a great job of mixing and posting your progress!
Incredibly helpful and much appreciated by all.

Jenn, you can make a mix of Bark and Turface, and leave out the peat moss.
Infact, I'm trialing a container of 5 parts Bark and 2 parts screened Turface
on a Citrus this Spring. The mix is ready to go...just waiting for warmer weather.
In full disclosure: I did screen my Bark and my Turface, and added Osmocote and
Dolomitic Garden Lime. 1 tablespoon of Lime per gallon.

I also grow a lot of hot peppers. Make sure to add the Garden Lime, or you'll
probably have yellowing leaves. Plus, the Calcium will really help keep the
Blossom End Rot away.


Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

As it looks in the photo, jennq, you may need to add some granite chips or cherrystone to balance out the moisture retentive properties of what you've got, there... turface is quite retentive, and the bark looks like it contains a lot of fines... I could be wrong, though... perhaps Al can give us a more definitive opinion...

Nice photos, kernul... especially the one picturing your inspiration... how sweet! :-)

There is a little effort involved in locating, screening, and doing everything necessary to ensure the best potential for healthy roots, but isn't it also fun and rewarding?!

I'm amazed some of my own plants survived as long as they did, without much oxygen ever reaching the root zone.

I did a quick pot-up last night of a few bareroot perennials that came in, slated for garden planting as soon as frost danger is past. I used a regular soil, because they won't be in it for more than a couple of weeks... I was amazed at how the level sunk at watering, the aeration collapsing before my eyes. My rendition of the Gritty Mix doesn't do that, holding its aeration as watered.

The episode told me again why I use a grittier medium, and cemented my resolve to get EVERY plant I have in it!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Jenn good luck with everything. Since you are in the area here are all the locations where I sourced the gritty mix components. Note the Fir bark that I got is already pre-screened and in the right size. I still screen it anyway but I'd say it's probably fine if you just take it straight out of the bag. If you don't mind traveling to Half Moon Bay to get it you can save a lot of time sifting.

TURFACE MVP:
- Ewing Landscape & Irrigation Supplies (San Francisco)
- 1618 Jerrold Ave, San Francisco, CA 94124-2135, 415-695-9530
- http://www.ewing1.com/general/ews_locationmap.html?branch=86
- Around $13 per 50 pound bag.

CRUSHED GRANITE
- Lyngso Garden Materials
- 19 Seaport Blvd, Redwood City, CA 94063, 650.364.1730
- http://www.lyngsogarden.com/
- What you want is the "1/8" Desert Gold (which is crushed granite).
- Al has verified that this will work in a previous post.
- Notes, this is a bigger landscaping supply store. You have to bag it yourself out of a big pile but it isn't too hard.
- $5 per bag which is about 100 pounds.
- In Al's notes he refers to this as Gran-I-Grit (grower size) or #2 cherrystone.
- For this product you can either go the chicken feed route (feed & grain stores), the roofing gravel route (roofing suppliers) or the lanscape supply route (crushed granite).

UNCOMPOSTED SCREEN PINE OR FIR BARK (1/8" - 1/4")
- In a prevous post of Al's he talked about how Shasta Forest Products was one of the large manufacturers in our area for fir bark. They sell 3 cu ft bags of fir bark in the perfect size "1/8" - 1/4")
- http://shastabark.com/products.htm
- I called Shasta and they told me Nurseymen's Exchange in half moon bay carried the product.
- Nurseymen's Exhange (2651 North Cabrillo Highway, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019, 650-726-6361)
- http://www.bloomrite.com/
- 3' Orchid Bark (1/8" - 1/4") (Mini)
- Note, Nurseymen's Exhange is a massive complex, when you pull in go up a little and to the right and park in the customer parking section. I think this place is for wholesalers but they did sell me.
- 3 cu feet for $15 each.


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Bareroot perennials?

Jodi, where do you get your bareroot perennials? I've been going to local nurseries and have ordered a few things online but outside of roses they always come in media.

I'd love to get them bare root as it would save me the time of cleaning all the old media off before they went into the gritty mix.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

I don't usually do the ordering... my business partner does. A lot of our perennial choices come from various ebay sellers, and a good portion are things like Astilbe, Daylilies, Iris, etc... and the roots are usually packed loosely in peat or damp shredded paper. Most are companion plants for our rose beds or replacements for various areas.

I'm not thrilled when we get items in that need poor medium removed, either. It's time consuming and messy!

I can look into it... see if she can give me some company names... though we've found that most places we order from ship plants either bare root or lightly packed in the soil they were grown in, pots removed.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Can someone tell me how frequently you're supposed to water plants in the 5-1-1 mix? I know plants in smaller pots will need watering more frequently, but what it if it's in a 5" pot for example? Do you just judge by the look of it? Or feel the weight? Or do you water according to a schedule?

I'm not used to using a medium with such much bark and don't know how I should go about watering it.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 1, 11 at 16:27

You can employ any one of a number of methods to determine when to water, Hefting the pot is good, especially if the pot itself is light. You can use a wick as a tell. When the wick feels dry or almost dry, it's time to water. The finger trick works ok, but a wood dowel stuck deep in the soil should come out clean/dry before it's time to water. Skip the moisture meters - they don't work. If your planting is established, and your plant is one that will wilt, you can take note of the interval between watering & wilting to get a feel for how long you should wait.

You can water on a schedule with a well-made 5:1:1 or gritty mix because they hold little or no perched water. As your PWT disappears, so does the reason to water on an 'as-needed' basis. Still, you should use good judgment & not tempt fate, You need to water thoroughly, but also damp is better than wet, so make sure any small amounts of perched water are long gone before you water again. I water everything in both soils on schedules. Not all on the SAME schedule, but everything is on a schedule.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Thanks Tapla. Bit of a basic question I know, but your answer was very helpful.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 1, 11 at 17:52

Sok - you never know who might be lurking & might gain from your question(s). There are a LOT more lurkers than most members think.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

I finally was able to secure all 3 ingrediants for the gritty mix. I went to the local Lowe's earlier today to pick up the supplies I'd need to screen the grit and turface as this thread mentioned that I'd need a 6-8 sized screen. None of the screens had numbers on them designating their size. Any ideas?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 1, 11 at 21:40

For the Turface, use everything that DOESN'T pass through aluminum insect screen. Screen your grit over the same screen to remove the dust - put the dust on your gardens/beds. For the bark, use what passes through a 3/8 screen but what doesn't pass through a 1/8 screen.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

I can't get the peat in the 511 mix to distribute evenly throughout the bark. I just filled a pot from a small batch I made and noticed what seems like a fairly significant amount of peat at the bottom that I couldn't get to go in with the bark and perlite. Should I be worried about this or does some always end up at the bottom of the container, which doesn't end up being used?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 1, 11 at 22:28

I usually mix on a tarp, but I've made small batches in wheel barrows & tubs (shovel) & never had problems getting the ingredients to mix. Strange ......

Al


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RE: Containeir Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

It's only a small amount, but some has unavoidably collected at the bottom. Maybe I'm worrying too much.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

OW
Did you mist/or wet it slightly while mixing it? It should be damp.
JoJo


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

^ Oh, thanks, I'll try and remember to start misting the ingredients before mixing together in future. I've found that using a mixing tray with a large surface area works better than pilling it into a tall bucket.

I need to ask, when the plants actually root through and hit the bottom of the container, by the time it's getting towards the stage where I need to pot up into a larger pot, do the roots actually hold the medium together in the root-ball and stop it from falling apart, facilitating the transfer into a larger pot?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

I find it very beneficial to pre-moisten the mix as I'm making it... this not only helps with a more even particle distribution, but it's better for the roots of the plants when you're potting.

Since I rinse the granite chips for dust removal, and I wet the bark before mixing, some of the ingredients are already damp when I get to the mixing stage. I usually only need small batches at one time, so I use a 4 or 5 gallon bucket, eyeball or measure my ingredients into it, and I use a trowel or large kitchen spoon for mixing.

If the ingredients still won't distribute fairly evenly, there might a particle size discrepancy/issue... where the bark might be a little bit too large, or something along those lines.

As far as watering goes, I can't water on an exact schedule because of all the different plant types and sizes, pot sizes, and the slight variance in the mix I might use for a different plant type. I go by the wooden skewer test. I've found it's the most reliable way to check for interior moisture, other than a wick. If you use wicking, checking for dryness at the wick is very helpful.

Even though the top couple of inches of the Gritty Mix feel bone dry, it doesn't necessarily mean that there's no moisture down around the root ball. Constant saturation in that area is what causes rot and kills so many plants through roots rotting and dying.

Once a grower figures out how long it takes, on average, for a plant to dry to the point it requires watering again, a more set schedule can be maintained, like Al waters.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Apr 2, 11 at 13:05

OW - If you intend to only 'pot up' a size, you should try to 'time it' so you're doing it just as the root and soil mass are approaching the point where they can be lifted from the pot intact. If you go beyond that point and allow the roots to get more congested, you'll end up ensuring issues with growth and vitality in the future. Here's something I wrote that explains it a little better. I think it's written about trees, but it applies to all plants:

Initial symptoms of poor root conditions are progressive diminishing of branch extension and reduced vitality. As rootage becomes continually compressed and restricted, branch extension stops and individual branches might die as water/nutrient translocation is further compromised. Foliage quality may not (important to understand) indicate the tree is struggling until the condition is severe, but if you observe your trees carefully, you will find them increasingly unable to cope with stressful conditions - too much/little water, heat, sun, etc. Trees that are operating under conditions of stress that has progressed to strain, will usually be diagnosed in the end as suffering from attack by insects or other bio-agents while the underlying cause goes unnoticed.

I want to mention that I draw distinct delineation between simply potting up and repotting. Potting up temporarily offers room for fine rootage to grow and do the necessary work of water/nutrient uptake, but these new roots soon lignify, while rootage in the old root mass continues to grow and become increasingly restrictive. The larger and larger containers required for potting-up & the difficulty in handling them also makes us increasingly reluctant to undertake even potting-up, let alone undertake the task of repotting/root-pruning which grows increasingly difficult with each up-potting.

So we are clear on terminology, potting up simply involves moving the plant with its root mass and soil intact, or nearly so, to a larger container and filling in around the root/soil mass with additional soil. Repotting, on the other hand, includes the removal of all or part of the soil and the pruning of roots, with an eye to removing the largest roots, as well as those that would be considered defective. Examples are roots that are dead, those growing back toward the center of the root mass, encircling, girdling or j-hooked roots, and otherwise damaged roots.

I often explain the effects of repotting vs potting up like this:

Let's rate growth/vitality potential on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best. We're going to say that trees in containers can only achieve a growth/vitality rating of 9, due to the somewhat limiting effects of container culture. Lets also imagine that for every year a tree goes w/o repotting or potting up, its measure of growth/vitality slips by 1 number, That is to say you pot a tree and the first year it grows at a level of 9, the next year, an 8, the next year a 7. Lets also imagine we're going to go 3 years between repotting or potting up.

Here's what happens to the tree you repot/root prune:
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
repot
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
repot
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
You can see that a full repotting and root pruning returns the plant to its full potential within the limits of other cultural influences for as long as you care to repot/root prune.

Looking now at how woody plants respond to only potting up:
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
pot up
year 1: 8
year 2: 7
year 3: 6
pot up
year 1: 7
year 2: 6
year 3: 5
pot up
year 1: 6
year 2: 5
year 3: 4
pot up
year 1: 5
year 2: 4
year 3: 3
pot up
year 1: 4
year 2: 3
year 3: 2
pot up
year 1: 3
year 2: 2
year 3: 1

This is a fairly accurate illustration of the influence tight roots have on a woody plant's growth/vitality. You might think of it for a moment in the context of the longevity of bonsai trees vs the life expectancy of most trees grown as houseplants, the difference between 4 years and 400 years, lying primarily in how the roots are treated.

I hope that was useful.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Thank you for posting that tapla. That was very helpful :)_

I asked you if planting peat pellets into the 511 mix would be okay and you told me it would be, however today I planted several tomato plants in 200ml styrofoam cups that contained a mixture of peat moss, silver sand and loam in equal parts with some dolomite lime. I hope this 200ml of medium being planted into a 5" pot filled with he 511 mix won't be a problem, will it?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Now I know the difference between partially composted and 'un'-composted pine bark. I ran across a few bags of this the other day.

http://www.agway.com/catalog/home_and_garden/mulches/pine/10202313_agway_pine_bark_mulch_3_cuft.html

The size was excellent, just about perfect, less than 1/2". But I noticed that there were hardly any fines at all. I grabbed a handful from an open bag, and it looked like a bunch of dried, clean, bright little pieces of pine bark, with no decomposition. I couldn't resist buying a couple of bags just because of the size of the pieces.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

That sounds perfect, Ed!

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Amazing!!!!!!!!!!

These pictures speak volumns everyone! Great work and it is so encouraging to see how many people love this mix and how good their plants are doing.

In can feel the excitement!!.

I have a question for Kurnel1, please?

Where did you find that perfect size bark, and or did you break it up even more.
It looks smaller than the fine size bags I buy, and I love the looks of it. It is much closer to the size of the truface and other ingredients than mine.

Thank you

Mike


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 3, 11 at 15:09

Ed - looks to be perfect for the gritty mix after a quick shake over a 1/8" screen. That is a fantastic find! I'd be buying 2-3 pallets of it if I found it here!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Can someone tell me if it's okay to transplant a plant in a small 200ml cup containing a normal peat/loam/sand-based medium into a pot containing the 511 mix? Or would the different water retention of the two media be a problem?

I don't know whether the fact that I've grown my tomatoes in 200ml cups containing peat, loam and sand will mean that I can't transplant them into the 511 mix without problems?

If someone can give me the go ahead then I'd be really grateful. Thanks, OW.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 3, 11 at 16:00

Go ahead!

Al


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More

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 3, 11 at 16:02

Just joking with the short reply. You're fine - just gently shake out the roots a little or make sure they're loose - not in a tight knot.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

^ no problems. Thanks tapla.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 3, 11 at 21:38

Photobucket Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Just have a few questions:

1) What size Perlite should I buy? At Hydroponics stores you can buy much larger sized particles than what is typically found at a hardware store. Should I be buying the really small stuff that is often found in seed starting mixes?

2) How do I accurately measure out the sphagnum peat? Do I just wet it so that it is damp, and loosely fill the 'portioning container'? Obviously, because peat is so compressible/airy, one can easily push too much into a container.

3) I think I remember reading that you do not reuse/amend a 5-1-1 mix [for container use] after the season is over?! I should just chuck the pots full of 5-1-1 mix into the flower beds and start with a new batch for each container?

Thanks for the help!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Apr 4, 11 at 18:18

Perlite BB-size to about aspirin or a little larger is good.

I screen my peat into a rectangular mason's tub in a wheelbarrow through 1/2" screen to break up all the clumps & separate the big sticks, then I pour it into a 5 gallon bucket as a measure. It's dry & fully lofted when I measure.

You CAN reuse the 5:1:1 mix if you wish, but ALL soils deteriorate at an accelerated pace as they age. For clarity, bark based soils break down at about 1/5-1/4 the rate of peat based soils on a particle size to particle size basis, but just because a soil breaks down at a rate slower than peat isn't reason enough to press it into service beyond it's ideal life.

I'm pretty comfortable leaving plants in the 5:1:1 for 2 years. If I had to reuse, I would add maybe 3 parts of bark to 1 part of old soil, along with 1/2-1 part of perlite and a little lime.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

- MeyerMike, thanks for the kind words! Per your question on the bark below are the details for where I sourced it. I basically found them by calling up Shasta Bark directly and asking them if they shipped to any retailers/wholesalers in my area. Go to the ShastaBark website (url below) and look for their contact info and give them a ring.

They ended up delivering to a place about 45 minutes away from my home but it is well worth the drive. I only lose about 2% of the product when I sift vs maybe 20% for the granite and 50% for the Turface. $15 for the 3 cu ft bag is incredible!

UNCOMPOSTED SCREEN PINE OR FIR BARK (1/8" - 1/4")
- In a prevous post of Al's he talked about how Shasta Forest Products was one of the large manufacturers in our area for fir bark. They sell 3 cu ft bags of fir bark in the perfect size "1/8" - 1/4")
- http://shastabark.com/products.htm
- I called Shasta and they told me Nurseymen's Exchange in half moon bay carried the product.
- Nurseymen's Exhange (2651 North Cabrillo Highway, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019, 650-726-6361)
- http://www.bloomrite.com/
- 3' Orchid Bark (1/8" - 1/4") (Mini)
- Note, Nurseymen's Exhange is a massive complex, when you pull in go up a little and to the right and park in the customer parking section. I think this place is for wholesalers but they did sell me.
- 3 cu feet for $15 each.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII - question

As an update, I've made some good progress and probably have another 20 plants in the gritty mix. Most are small shade plants that I am getting at the nursery. I'll try to post some more pictures up when I get a chance.

Had a quick question for Al or anyone else that would know.

As a backdrop, I'm barerooting all the new plants as Al had mentioned before that they are almost all dynamic mass and it was best to go this route.

Some of the plants that have really fine roots end up losing a decent amount of the overall roots during the bare root process. I'm trying to be delicate here but it is just tricky for some of them. For a few of these when I put them in the gritty mix they are showing significant "droopiness".

Almost all of these recover after a week but I had a question for those that show really severe droopiness. In this scenario, as I understand it, the droopiness is caused by a lack of water pressure because the roots can no longer fully support the foliage.

My question is in this scenario, should you prune maybe 50% more of the leaves/branches so that the roots and leaves are more in equilibrium? I'm thinking that this way the roots can support the smaller leaf footprint and then the plant can focus on building out a new stronger root system.

Or should I just leaves on and hope for the best? I can get a picture of the plants in question if it would help.

Thanks,

Bill


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Apr 5, 11 at 11:16

Hi, Bill - I cover that topic in the 'trees in containers' thread, but basically it's a good thing to think about balancing things in containers, even though it's not conventional wisdom for landscape plantings. 'Balancing' is a particularly good option when reducing either plants that are in leaf or when doing severe root pruning on plants from the nursery to get them to fit into containers.

As you gain experience in repotting, you'll get a feel for how much you can take off (roots) of a plant w/o touching the canopy. When deciduous plants are dormant when you work on them, they tend to only activate buds as they can support them with water, so you catch a break, but evergreens & tropicals require a little more consideration.

Keeping the leaf boundary (air) layer intact by keeping the plant out of the wind & sun immediately after repotting (if in leaf) will help a lot.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Trying to find pine bark fines for the 5:1:1 mix, or even uncomposted pine bark of the right size for the gritty mix has been an absolute nightmare over the last month (I live in Houston , TX). Any advice? I've checked every major nursery and mulch producer in the area, and no one has the right product available. Living Earth, the largest and most reputable mulch producer in the area does produce a variety of different kinds of pine bark products... but they're only available for pickup in a city in the "Pineywoods" of East Texas, almost 4 hours away.

I've settled on using Repti Bark (screen fir bark) for the gritty mix, but I haven't found a substitute for the pine bark fines as of yet.

I know some have suggested "Evergreen Soil Conditioner", but despite being listed as in stock at every nearby location on the Lowe's website, no one at 5 different Lowe's stores I've checked seems to know where it is, including the managers (they acknowledge that their computer system says they have it, but they've otherwise never heard of it and don't know where it actually is).

Others have suggested Nature's Helper, but the ingredients suggest that its a 1:1 mixture of compost and pine bark. Would this work? Wouldn't the large proportion of fine compost essentially defeat the whole purpose?

I've also considered using Scott's Premium Topsoil, which appears to be most very finely shredded pine. It's apparently been screened, resulting in a very consistent texture and particle size - but it's still finer than pictures people have posted of their "pine bark fines."

Sorry for the wall of text, I've avoided posting for as long as possible, hoping to figure it out myself - and my frustration is probably a bit unreasonably concentrated as a result.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Apr 7, 11 at 17:35

I can help - let me get my friend Linda on the line. BRB

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Al, can you tell me if the 511 mix is best for hanging baskets outdoors? Should I use more peat in the mix to help it retain more water so that I don't need to water it so often?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Apr 7, 11 at 23:31

GT - I helped Linda find PBFs in Houston, and I KNOW she purchased them in/near Houston them because she was mailing pictures & we were building her containers & raised beds. I'm just waiting for her to reply to my email.

I would skip the Nature's Helper and the topsoil product if you're wanting to take advantage of the increased aeration & drainage that a soil comprised primarily of larger particles will offer.

Don't wait until you get frustrated to post - just join in the conversation & you'll prolly be surprised at where the help will come from. If I don't hear from Linda by tomo, I'll head over to my D-mail (at another forum site) and see if I can go back through our correspondence & find her # so I can call her.

OW - If I was worried about water retention of the 5:1:1 mix being inadequate, I'd probably add Turface or calcined DE (CDE) instead of perlite & up that fraction to 2 parts (5:2:1, PBF:Turface or CDE:peat. Do everything you can to protect aeration when trying to increase water retention or you reduce the benefits of a highly aerated soil. You can increase the water retention by doing what I suggested, with no backward step in aeration or PWT height. No need to screen the Turface or DE either, for the 5:1:1 mix.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Al,
These suggestions are great. Thank you! I wanted to try something different with my Elephant ears this season. One actually survived the winter. I forgot to lift the bulb and figured the hard freeze would have did it in.. But the little stinker put up a few leaves the other day.

It did well in the 5-1-1, but it's such a thirsty plant, I wanted to try something a little different.

I also appreciate the info up thread on re using the 5-1-1. I was planning on trying it for very short term plantings, like lettuce and small simple plants that the whole thing will be harvested in just a few weeks.

JoJo


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Thanks for all your incredible knowledge and advice Al, I sincerely appreciate it.

If you mean Gymgirl at D-garden, that's where I got the idea to try to find Evergreen Organic Soil Conditioner...which was the beginning of the invisible in-stock product debacle :D Perhaps I need to push the issue a little more, as Linda seems to have done.

Thanks again for your help,
Jay


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Brilliant, thaks Al. Originally I was going to use water retaining crystals but I guess the turface will be better now that I'm using the 511 type medium.

Can someone tell me what the best way to make the hanging basket would be? It's a wire-type that's 12" in diameter and I have sphagnum moss available (the green stuff that absorbs water). What I was planning on doing was lining the basket with the sphagnum moss and then just filling the basket with the medium. However I also have a coir insert and I was wondering whether I should insert it into the basket after I've lined it with the sphagnum moss, or if I should just use the coir insert on it's own without the sphagnum moss?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

TG, it takes FIVE months of futile searching for PBFs in Houston. And, in the end, it's Al who finds it for yah! And he doesn't even live here!

Timber Solutions -Jimmy Quinn
14022 S. Gessner
Missouri City, Texas 77479
281-208-2373

The yard is located right off the Beltway on S. Gessner
Ask for double grind pine bark. 1/2 yard is $18. One full yard is $30. They deliver. If you pay for it, they'll let you pick it up in small batches.

Since I'm strictly growing in eBuckets and 10 gallon containers, I lined the bed of the truck before they dumped the load. 1/2 yard filled 22 buckets and an 18 gallons tub.

In the past, I used straight MG potting mix for the self-watering eBuckets and my patented Earthboxes. One lg. bag of MG potting mix (2.65 cu.ft.) fills 3 five-gallon eBuckets. It takes 1.5 bags to fill one of my Earthboxes.

This season I relocated and took the opportunity to start from scratch. I wanted to try Al's 511 container mix. Upon his recommendation for the wicking properties of my containers, I modified the mix to a 311. Aside from the phenominal growth I'm experiencing, here's the icing on my cake: to date, I've sifted out the too large pieces thru 1/2" hardware cloth. Out of the 22 buckets, I"ll end up with 6 buckets of pcs. too large for my containers. But, I can either keep these chunks to add to my raised bed recipe or I can run 'em thru a wood chipper. Either way, I won't lose any material.

So far, I've use only one lg bag of MG potting mix ($13) and one 4 cu.ft bag of coarse perlite ($20). I've filled 18 containers and still have about 5 buckets and that 18 gallon tub of PBFs left.

You do the math. Al's mix is saving me $$$!

Here' a growth testimonial: I hate to kill a perfectly good seedling, so as I was potting up my bell pepper seedlings instead of just tossing the "runts" I just grabbed a handful of the 311, refilled the 4" pot, made a hole, sunk the seedling up to its cotyledons, and watered. Must of the separated runts had lost most of the starter mix, so they were basically "bare-rooted.". I put these back under the fluorescent lights and, I tell you, these seedlings seemed to grow faster in the next 3 days than they had in 10 weeks! You should see them now. Matter of fact, as I think about it, the "runts" have caught up to the seedlings that were set out two weeks ago. And, since they haven't gotten beaten up by the Texas windstorms going on here, there are more bloosoms on the runts inside!

'Nuff said?

How do you post pics here?

Linda

Godspeed and Good Harvest
^^_^^
^^^


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 8, 11 at 9:32

Lol - is that teamwork or what!?

More later - I'm at work now, but this is GREAT!

Still smiling.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Hi Linda!
I had a similar experience with a tomato last season. It struggled, then I put it in a new mix and it took off!

To post pictures here you need to first up load them to a free online hosting web. Alot of of use photobucket, and picasa.

Once you have them there, you copy and paste the html code right here into the text. It will look strange, but will show your picture in the preview if it was done right.

Hope to see some soon! We always love pictures around here!
JoJo


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

I think I might be in love with you guys. He even sells it by the bag! So people without trucks (like me) aren't out of luck.

Thanks SO much! I promise to post some follow-up and pictures.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Hi Al and everyone,

For the 5-1-1 mix, I use 5 parts bark fine (sized 0-3/8"), 2 parts un-screened perlite, and I skip on the peat. My reason is that, the fine particles in the unscreened perlite can replace the peat and since I'm growing my plants indoor I don't need peat for its water-retentive property. What do you think of this 5-1-1 version? (Well, technically, it's 5-2 ;).. Any cons I should watch out for? Thanks!!! :o)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 8, 11 at 17:54

This thread is moving fast this week - hard to keep up. Thatsa GOOD thing. ;o)

Thanks, Linda. That was quite a testimonial. ;-) I really appreciate you sharing the name of the source for PBFs! I'd have had to go through it all over again, so I really appreciate you saving me the effort. ;o)

Hey, JJ - always glad when I can help you, and always appreciate your contributions & support.

It's always a good feeling to see everyone pulling together to help their fellow gardeners. Number XIII might end up being the best thread of the lot!
Photobucket
AL


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tomncath St.Pete-Z10A-Heat 10 (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 8, 11 at 19:58

And, since I'm an advocate of the 5:1:1 mix and I have not seen pictures of it being made in previous post here's a few pictures of my process...hat's off to Master Al, from grasshopper ;-)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Great photo spread, Tom! Thanks for sharing it!

All this enthusiasm is contagious... I can't wait to get up to Oak Hill Gardens this season to pick up a load of their fir bark for orchids, which is perfect size for the 511 and Gritty Mix! I'm not satisfied with small batches of medium any longer... I need to expand and do all my growing using this concept!

It's really exciting to see Al's Mixes mentioned and discussed on other forums, and hearing all the success stories really cements the concept as good, solid science! I'm confident of this, the 13th thread on the subject, going on to become a staple at GW and throughout the container gardening world!

Mere words don't seem like enough to thank Al for his generosity in sharing such great concepts, and his patience in ensuring the positive growing experiences of so many people... but knowing Al, the real reward is in all the happy gardeners who share their joy at having such great success! I'm one of those gardeners! :-)

The teamwork, the shared enthusiasm, the speed at which this thread is filling up... it's all so awesome! :-)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Apr 9, 11 at 10:10

Awww - I don't know what to say, guys. I try to keep my feet firmly on the ground, and I don't let myself bask in the attention or the kind words, but it does really feel good when the efforts I make are appreciated, so thank you very much. How kind!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

tapla, would you mind telling me which you would recommend that I use for my hanging basket - a coir insert or sphagnum moss (the green stuff that retains lots of moisture)? I have both so I have to use one of them with the 511 mix (but with turface instead of perlite, to retain more water).

If the medium retains a lot of water naturally, as it will hopefully do, then does this mean the coir insert is more appropriate than the sphagnum moss?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Apr 9, 11 at 11:41

I'm thinking it doesn't matter which you'll use because you'll probably be adding a plastic liner between the moss/coir and the soil so you can keep it watered. If you plant directly in either, you'll have a LOT of surface area exposed to the air, and that will very quickly such the moisture out of even the heaviest soils.

If I had my druthers & was going to go w/o the liner, I'd go with the sphagnum.

Take good care!!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Thanks. I've never grown in a hanging basket so I didn't know that.

I guess I'll go for the coir liner with a plastic lining. I'm guessing you can buy special hanging basket liner. If not hopefully I'll be able to improvise.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Modvement & Retention XIII

^ sorry, I mean't 'buy a special plastic hanging basket liner'.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

So... I got the ground pine bark, made some soil screens / sifters, and got to work this past weekend, and here's some pictures of my results.

soil sifter (insect screen size)
Photobucket

soil sifter (1/2 inch screen size)

Photobucket

pieces of pine bark screened out by 1/2" sifter - starting material is "ground pine bark" from the source Linda recommended in Houston
Photobucket

what fell through the insect screen, starting material is "ground pine bark" from the source Linda recommended in Houston
Photobucket

pieces screened out by 1/2" sifter, starting material is "Nature's Helper Soil Conditioner" from Home Depot
Photobucket

what fell through the insect screen sifter, starting material is "Nature's Helper Soil Conditioner" from Home Depot
Photobucket

final "pine bark fines" that I used in my first batch of 5:1:1 mix - what was excluded by the 1/2" sifter, but retained by the insect screen sifter, starting material is "pine bark mulch" from the source Linda recommended in Houston
Photobucket

questionable alternate final product, starting material is "Natures Helper Soil Conditioner" from Home Depot
Photobucket

Guava tree seedling I rescued from my mother's unfortunate decision to cut down a beautiful, bountifully producing, rare type of sweet pink guava (while I was away at college).
Photobucket

I have another seedling in a super-premium potting mix from a regional organic product company (LadyBug, from Austin)... but the wet soil seems very cement-like and doesn't seem to hold much air. But, everyone swears by this "Vortex" potting soil, so we'll see. I just potted both Monday evening, so they're definitely still recovering from the trauma.

So, my question here is.. am i doing it right? Does my final product seem like a good fit for the 5:1:1, and am I correct to screen out the very small particles with the insect screen sifter to get the final "pine bark fines"? What's left behind by the insect screen has such a great, rich texture... it'll make a great top dressing for my in-ground garden if I can't use it for my containers.

Am I right to think that Nature's Helper Soil Conditioner as a starting material is a waste? It seems they use most or all of the pine, rather than just the bark. Both starting materials contain some sapwood, but the Nature's Helper product seems to have a lot more. Also, the pine seems to have been shredded, rather than ground (I'm not clear on the actual difference).. resulting in a very different, more fibrous texture to the finished product. I'm assuming this is bad, but is it really? Both products end up similarly priced, and Nature's Helper is much more available.

Thanks, hope the pictures help some people. Btw, if anyone in the Houston, TX area would like some simple soil sifters, I'm considering making more and selling them at very close to cost, since I have lots of extra material. I haven't calculated the cost per sifter yet, but it's definitely less than $10 each, and very likely more like $5 each. Just a thought, as I know some people aren't good at DIY carpentry, and the rest of the hardware cloth will likely languish in my garage till I find another use for it.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

^ I can't really help with your questions but all I can say is that last photo looks good to me :)

I have one question of my own I was hoping I could quickly ask. I have a whole greenhouse full of tomatoes etc that NEED to be potted up ASAP. Basically, I don't have time to make up the 5-1-1 mix and let it react for two weeks. Would it be okay if I just made up the mix and potted up the plants? I know it's not ideal, but I don't have much of a choice (well I could use a commercial medium, but I'd rather not).


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Organic, yes you can pot immediately.
It's best to let the mix "rest" for up to 2 weeks, but there's no harm in potting right away.

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

^thanks for the quick reply - I was worried nobody would reply in time for when I do it! That's a relief then, thanks.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Glad I could help! ;-)

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Greentiger:

You asked: "am I correct to screen out the very small particles with the insect screen sifter to get the final "pine bark fines"? What's left behind by the insect screen has such a great, rich texture... it'll make a great top dressing for my in-ground garden if I can't use it for my containers."

My answer would be no. I don't screen out the finest particles in either the pine bark "fines" or the coarse perlite I use for the 511 mix. I think Al has said several times that you only need to screen materials for the gritty mix, but I hope he will correct me if I'm wrong.

I have read hundreds of the messages about Al's mix in various GW forums and learned so much. But, I have noticed that, probably due to the nature of the forum, people often seem to mix up the gritty mix and the 511 mix. They'll answer a question about one with a response more appropriate to the other mix. This can scare off newbies by making them think they have to screen every ingredient in either mix through at least two different sets of screens. The 511 mix -- primarily for seasonal plants like veegetables and flowering baskets -- couldn't be easier to put together. The gritty mix -- primarily for house plants and trees that may only be repotted every two years -- requires a little more precision and some screening.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Apr 13, 11 at 14:42

I haven't been around much the last couple of days - been repotting late into the night & coming in cold, pretty beat & hungry. ;-) The upside is, I've been sleeping like a log!

Robin is right, GT ...... also about it being common for people to get mixed up when giving advice about making the soils. There is no need to screen the fines out for the 5:1:1 mix. If you DO happen to get a LOT of fines, you'll want to reduce the amount of peat you use.

Your soil looks very good. How long has the seedling been in the 5:1:1? You'll want to b sure to fertilize soon, if you haven't already. Unless it's the light, it looks like the seedling wants some N.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

I need to go away from the 12th May until the 16h May and won't be able to water my plants. I've bought some capillary matting and was wondering if I could use this to water the plants as a temporary stopgap measure whilst I'm away with the 5-1-1 medium? Or is this not suitable with this medium?

From what I've read about the 5-1-1 I see no reason why this would not work, but I just thought I'd ask just in case.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 15, 11 at 13:59

It's difficult for me to guess at what might be appropriate intervals between watering. It sort of depends on several factors - soil volume:plant mass, water retention of the soil, weather/temperature/ RH ......

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Repotting Meyer Lemon

I am about to perform my first repot with Al's gritty mix. I have a 10 year old meyer lemon tree that is going to be the recipient of this kindness. Is there anything special in terms of technique(s) when doing so. I have read on this forum that I need to pay special attention to preventing air pockets. Anything else. Thanks


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Prevent air pockets, keep the roots moist while working, try to work in the shade,
and keep the tree protected from direct sun and wind for a couple weeks after re-potting.
Also, if you stake or secure the tree in place, the roots will take purchase sooner.
Wait a couple weeks to fertilize.

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Should we also wait to fertilize simple annuals after we move them into one of the gritty type mixes. Like the 6 packs from big box stores.?

JoJo


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Apr 16, 11 at 14:51

I generally wait until I see some initial new growth emerging before I fertilize. While I understand that a full compliment of nutrients in the soil is required for normal growth, there is enough evidence out there that suggests that withholding fertilizer for a short period after repotting helps the plant colonize the entire root mass more rapidly. Is it a make or break kind of deal? NO, not at all - just another way to gain a little edge by getting the entire soil mass colonized w/roots asap. Since the gritty mix should hold almost no perched water, allowing roots to easily colonize the entire soil mass, the practice would probably be most beneficial in the 5:1:1 mix or in heavier soils, but I still wait a week or two before starting regular applications of fertilizer, even when using the gritty mix.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Hi Al~
Thanks! :-)
I did withhold the fertilizer on the few containers I have already done. The plants are growing good now! In both the 5-1-1 and the gritty. So I went ahead and fed them today.

It was just something I was curious about, not seeing the smaller plants talked about much.

I will try and post a few pictures a little later.
JJ


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

But tapla, am I right in saying that if watering them just before I leave won't be enough, using capillary matting will with a small reservoir will keep them alive whilst I'm away?

Also, more importantly, can I use the 5-1-1 mix with the amount of dolomite lime you recommend in the first post in this thread to grow strawberries? Or should I use less dolomite?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Thanks Ohiofem and Al for the the clarification, I think I've got my head wrapped around it now. I wish I could edit that post so that it doesn't confuse other people though :(

I've been making a lot of the gritty mix lately, as I have a lot of houseplants. I've held off on buying new plants this year until I got all the ingredients for it, so I have a lot of shopping to make up for. So far, my transplants are really loving the mix! Little or no transplant shock, which is remarkable considering the leaf drop I usually see. I'm using decomposed granite with the largest pieces screened out and the smallest particles sifted out with insect screening and washed away with water. This makes it a little more water retentive than the proper mix would be - but it's working great for my purposes.

A couple of things that I think might add some more clarity to the original post:

1) explicitly title the "5:1:1 Mix" and the "Gritty Mix" as such and spell out the part ratios with a brief description of their function

Something like:

-----------------------------------------------------------

5:1:1 Mix
For short term plantings of 1- 2 years, cheap and relatively easy to find ingredients

5 parts pine fines
1 part perlite
1 part peat moss
1 tbs dolomitic lime per gallon of mixture

Pine Fines - physical support for roots, relatively large particle size increases aeration and decreases the PWT, still retains some water and makes nutrients available to plants, cheap and light material that makes up the bulk of the soil mixture

Perlite - prevents compaction upon decomposition of peat and bark, increases drainage, retains some air and water internally, large particle size increases aeration and decreases PWT

Peat Moss - retains both moisture and nutrients extremely well, drains well when "fresh", but decomposes fairly quickly

Dolomitic Lime - raises and buffers the acidic pH of pine bark and peat moss to a level appropriate for most plants, provides Mg and Ca that are often absent from average fertilizers

------------------------------------------------------------

My "functions" are just guesses, but you get the idea

The "batch" information is just confusing, IMHO. When the ratio is clearly stated, the need for the specific recipes is obviated.

2) Be more clear about particle sizes for each material. What "pine fines" are, in terms of what the ideal material. For example, I know in another thread, Al stated that "pine fines" should be anything from dust to 3/8 inch, but I still got turned around because it wasn't in the original post.

Something like: (perhaps combined with the above)
-----------------------------------------------------------
Pine Fines - Ideally, this should be composted pine bark with a particle size from dust to 3/8 inch, with a fairly even distribution. Larger particle sizes will provide even better drainage, but require more frequent watering. Smaller particle sizes will increase water retention, but also promote compaction and a higher PWT. Very large pieces of bark should be screened out, ideally using a 3/8 inch screen, or a 1/2 inch screen if the former is not available.

Perlite: Coarse perlite is best, but some dust is generally unavoidable. Screening out this dust is unnecessary, but you could do so to even further promote drainage.

Peat Moss: Particle size is irrelevant, no screening is necessary.

----------------------------------------------------------
Again, just guessing from my understanding.

3) Put the just the titles of the soil mixtures and the ratios of ingredients at the top of the post, before the discussion. This both lets people know where things are going, and helps when people come back and just need that information.

Just my humble suggestions... I know the post has lasted a long time and informed a lot of people, so I totally understand if you'd rather leave it alone.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Apr 19, 11 at 15:19

OW - I can't answer your question w/o some indication of what kind of conditions they'll be left in, and some sort of feel for how much water retention you've built into the soil. I CAN say that if you want to extend the length of time your soil will support growth, putting the plants in a cool/dark garage or shed, out of any wind, will go a long way toward stretching out the length of time the soil will hold an adequate volume of water.

Thanks for the suggestions, GT. I'll try to remember to revisit your post as I consider any revisions .... if I'm lucky enough for it to go to 14 reposts w/o fizzling. ;-)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Lol, Al - your struggle to be modest in the face of well-deserved praise is quite endearing. With more and more people getting into urban gardening, I highly doubt this post will be fizzling any time soon...

organic_wonderful, how big are your pots? There are too many variables for anyone to give you a concrete answer... you'll just have to try it and see. I've used ollas in the past to great success for irrigation while I'm away - google it, quite an interesting and simple concept that works spendidly. Try Hobby Lobby for cheap terra cotta wine coolers that are very close to an ideal shape - long/deep, relatively narrow, and no drainage holes. Fill with water and bury in the ground, cover with something heavy enough to prevent evaporation.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by filix z5 maine (My Page) on
    Thu, Apr 21, 11 at 12:03

Five yards of uncomposted pine bark. Now all I need is someone to help me sift this! This thread has been a god sent for me. Im going to grow some tomatos in containers this year for the first time, as I left my raised beds at the old house. Do I skip the lime and add just gypsum to the 5.1.1? Many thanks A1!

Photobucket


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Hey, Filix, nice pile ;-)
Add the Lime - not the gypsum.

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Apr 21, 11 at 16:35

Agree .....

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by filix z5 maine (My Page) on
    Thu, Apr 21, 11 at 19:09

You would think I would know that by now. After making this stuff for six years now. :) Thankyou. I will think of you both when I eat my salad! filix.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by jenn 9/19 (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 22, 11 at 18:09

I have been hanging out at GardenWeb for many years and just now caught these discussions about Al's gritty mix for container gardening. I do mostly in-ground planting but have a dozen or so outdoor plants and always used commercial potting mix with some perlite. I'm always seeking the "best" method to keep our plants happy and thriving for as long as possible.

I just found a very local resource for the Turface (yay!) and called to verify they have some in stock.

Anyhoo......... I'm wondering about the statements made by some who use the gritty mix (1:1:1) and say they use it for "all" their container plants with great results. Does this mean all those plants have the same type of soil requirement, or is the gritty mix simply the base into which a variety of nutrients (seaweed emulsion, CRF, iron, etc.) are added and other variables (pot size/type, watering) changed based on the needs of each plant?

EXAMPLE:
Say I want to grow southwest Agastache, Lavender, and Penstemon in the gritty mix. Since we have a very long growing season, they will live over into the following year and I'd like to not have to plant them again each year. The Agastache and Lavender like lean fast-draining soil, but the Salvia (not all of them, but this one) likes a richer (but well-draining) soil. Would I use the 1:1:1 mix for all of them, but add more nutrients for the Salvia? Or, would I use, say a 3:1:1 mix for the Salvia?

For tomatoes (short-term seasonal plant) wouldn't I use the 5:1:1 mix?

And what about succulents? I don't understand how succulents and, say, geraniums would be equally as happy in the same mix --- unless other factors are involved including pot type (clay vs. plastic), mulch type, additional nutrients, frequency of watering, etc.

Can someone explain this, or point me to an existing link that explains it for me?

Thank you...


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 22, 11 at 21:09

It's important to understand that many of the recommendations offered for particular plant's root wants/needs aren't based on the assumption that you'll be using a peaty, water-retentive soil. You can toss out the idea 'likes to be root bound' if you use a fast soil because 'likes to be root bound' is code-speak for 'doesn't tolerate wet feet. A plant in a small volume of soil uses the water in that volume of soil faster, so air returns to the soil faster and roots don't rot. The problem is, tight roots are an impediment to growth and reduce vitality; so why not use a really big pot, put the plant in the gritty mix, and let the plant grow to it's full potential (within the limits effects of other cultural factors)?

What does 'a richer' soil mean? Blacker? - like 'good' garden soil? ...... another commonly held belief that needs debunking. If you were willing to do the watering it required, you could grow healthier/larger plants in a bucket of broken glass than you can in a heavy peat soil like Miracle-Gro. It's true. I'll explain why if anyone doubts.

The thing is, Jenn, almost all plants do best in a damp, highly aerated medium that contains enough nutrients to prevent deficiencies, but not enough that toxicity becomes an issue or that an excess inhibits water uptake. The growers that have the greatest success don't depend on the soil to supply nutrition for their plants. They shoulder the burden of ensuring their plants have all the essential elements available at all times. The must efficient and productive way of doing this is with regular doses of soluble fertilizers.

I don't choose a soil based on what I think the plant will prefer - they pretty much all prefer the gritty mix over anything else I've ever used - I choose the soil based on how long I thing that planting will remain in that soil. All my mixed display containers & veggies go in the 5:1:1 because I turn it into the compost pile at the end of the year. That's my preference - it can be pressed into longer service & even amended so it remains useful into the 3rd & subsequent years if required. Everything I know will be in the same soil for 2 years or longer goes in the gritty mix.

Keep in mind that just because you use a long lasting gritty mix, it doesn't release you from having to keep up with your repotting & root work to keep plants happy. If you hang around for a while, you'll come away with a broader perspective of managing your container plantings, one that looks at container culture in a more holistic manner.

More questions?

Al


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  • Posted by arkf 4-5 CO (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 22, 11 at 21:26

So I looked a bit but didn't see an answer to this question. With pine bark for the gritty mix, is there an acceptable amount of wood that can be mixed in with the bark?

I can't seem to find any bark without at least some wood in it. I found some Permagreen brand bark mulch, which looked like good sized particles but it had maybe 10-15% wood, roughly speaking. Even the Repti-bark at the pet store had wood chips mixed in, again maybe 10%.

Will that work, or should I keep looking? Or try to pick out the wood by hand, which doesn't sound fun.

Thanks,
Noah


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by jenn 9/19 (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 22, 11 at 22:12

Al, thank you SO MUCH for your very informative reply. Boy oh boy, the things I have learned today -- including how much I did not know!

So then, whether a plant tag calls for "porous" or "peat-based" or "rich" medium (using the industry terms), all would do equally well in the same gritty mix as long as soluble fertilizer is applied according to the needs of each plant -- correct?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Apr 23, 11 at 0:29

Noah - I think that most bark products have at least 5% sapwood in them, and I'm sure some have more, You're probably fine as long as it doesn't get excessive - like you might have to call it wood chips instead of pine bark. The less sapwood you have the better, but if you find something that has a good particle size distribution - use it.

Jen - I'm laughing because I just came from a thread where kind Mr Sam said exactly the same thing - now you're being kind, too. What a good day it is when we're all kind to each other, eh?

Yes - you have it. I don't know if I said it when I replied to you, but you'll do much, much better as a container gardener if you set your focus on 'structure' and soil longevity and forget about depending on the soil for any nutrition. 'Rich' and 'black' are nice and desirable in the garden, but they mean nothing as adjectives for container media, and in fact can be detrimental if they are accompanied by excessive water retention, and they very often are. I hope you come away wanting a soil that will remain well aerated for the intended life of the planting. That is always my focus when I establish a planting, and IMO is the issue that your effort:reward quotient is most likely to pivot on.

Thank you for the kind words.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by jenn 9/19 (My Page) on
    Sat, Apr 23, 11 at 0:42

What a good day it is when we're all kind to each other, eh?

Yes, it sure is. :)

I hope you come away wanting a soil that will remain well aerated for the intended life of the planting.

I already do! I'm excited to read more and get started, first with the Nagami Kumquat (see new post in Citrus forum) that needs re-potting.

I'm having some health issues that I hope to be resolved soon, and may not be able to start re-potting other plants until next month, maybe early summer. I hope it won't be too late.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by jenn 9/19 (My Page) on
    Sat, Apr 23, 11 at 0:43

And thanks for graciously answering a question that's probably already been answered a billion times somewhere in this forum. :)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Apr 23, 11 at 10:20

I don't mind the repeat questions, Jenn. It keeps the information in front of people, and I realize it's difficult to sift through reams of random conversation to find answers to all your questions ..... and your ample enthusiasm is cause enough in itself to make people want to help you. Almost everyone comes here willing to put forth a good part of the effort to do the lion's share of what it takes to understand container gardening. The very few that occasionally pop up, wanting it all spoon fed to them stand out (none of that lately, though), and bring to mind what my mom would tell me when I would ask her to do something for me I had the time and ability to do myself. She would say, "God helps those that help themselves". I'm sure I didn't like it much way back when, but I'm also sure it helped me become a more self-reliant adult.

This is all fun for me. I enjoy sharing what I know, and look at my time here as a natural extension of my quest to learn how to grow things better. That the things I've learned along the way have proven helpful to you & others is a win/win deal, the way I look at it. ;o)

Again, your kind words are appreciated.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by jenn 9/19 (My Page) on
    Sat, Apr 23, 11 at 11:48

Al, I really appreciate your taking the time and allowing repeat questions -- you're right, it would be difficult to sift through all the information already posted. I have bookmarked several pages about soil and container gardening to read on the side. I'm inclined to be very inquisitive, my favorite question usually being "why?" -- i.e. why is the gritty mix better, or why is liquid seaweed a good fertilizer -- so I can make informed choices and explain why to others who might ask.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Apr 23, 11 at 18:26

Lol - I've always been very careful about not operating at beyond the limits of my knowledge. IOW, I know what I DON'T know. If there is a topic being discussed and I don't think I have all my ducks in a row, I just don't say anything. When I DO enter a discussion, it's either because I think I can contribute something helpful, or because I think someone has offered advice that might be harmful to someone's growing experience & it needs to be examined a little more carefully. In many cases, this later proclivity has hurriedly 'unendeared' me to a few, but that brings us full circle to the thought that just repeating something you heard, read, or have been doing for 100 years may not be the best advice, or even good advice, when examined in the light of other options.

Getting back to your comment about "why", I think that it doesn't hurt my credibility at all that I'm usually always able to answer the "whys" resultant of follow-up questions to my posts. If I didn't know 'why', the fact that I make it a point to abstain from posting at beyond the limits of my knowledge would have prevented me from posting anything in the first place.

Curiosity and enthusiasm, with a liberal measure of ambition, is the stuff that not only propels budding gardeners, but makes them fun to interact with. Your questions are welcome. If I don't know the answers with certainty, I'll say so before I make anything up, but more likely I'd go looking in a trusted source for the answer - because NOT knowing would bug me. ;o)

AL


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

I'm so confused. How do you guys get the ingredients? I have 2 citrus trees, 10 years old, grown from seed. I'm concerned about their long term life span. I live in the northeast, so I have to move them constantly between inside to outside during the spring and fall. So I can't do pots more than say 16 inches.

I've tried the largest - and they're big - gardening stores around here, as well as the local home depots and lowes'. When I ask for pine bark fines, or turface, I not only get blank looks, they tell me no one has ever heard of such a thing, and I must have misunderstood. I tried once asking for orchid mix, and they showed me bark that was about 4 inches by 2 inches in size. Try putting that through a screen!

It seems the best I can do right now, after speaking to the manager of the largest gardening store in our area (4 - 5 acres of plants) would be a plastic bag of cactis/palm/citrus soil, with added perlite or something. Anything else would cost about $500 (i.e, the cost of a plane ticket to California), according to this guy.

I live in the northeast, where citrus growing in containers is not really common.

Any ideas? Thanks.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by jenn 9/19 (My Page) on
    Sat, Apr 23, 11 at 19:08

Words to live by, Al! I often jump to give an answer, and then don't because I'm not 100% certain it's 100% correct, or complete (and I'm sure I'm not 100% correct about that either, LOL) and I don't want to mislead anyone. But if I know the answer then I love to share it, to help and give back some of what I've learned at GW and in my own experience over the years.

I've done primarily in-ground gardening for the past 15+ years, but have added pots here and there for decoration, or when there isn't room in the garden for a particular plant that I just have to have or it won't tolerate our heavy rich clay soil -- everything form a dwarf Kumquat, to succulents, perennials and herbs, and a handful of houseplants. I'll slowly convert them in some order of priority to one of these mixes. I may even experiment with a pair of identical plants -- 1 grown in gritty, and 1 grown in good bagged commercial mix w/ a handful of perlite mixed in -- just for the sake of comparison.

If nothing else, I've seen the photos of the gritty mix and it is gorgeous! Like a beautiful multi-color mulch.


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 24, 11 at 0:23

Hayden - sometimes you just have to lay down some tracks to find the bark. What you want will look like what you see at 12,3,6 or 9. At 12 is a prescreened fir bark in 1/8-1/4" that is perfect for the gritty. The other 3 pictured are from different suppliers, but show bark that could be used 'as is' for the 5:1:1 mix or be screened for use in the gritty mix. @ the middle you'll see what the 5:1:1 mix looks like when dry.

Photobucket

If we knew where you lived, we might be able to help you find the Turface MVP or Allsport (same product). For the grit, you'll probably have to call around to feed stores or elevators that cater to rural populations that would be raising fowl livestock. Ask for Gran-I-Grit in grower size or #2 cherrystone. If you get a "huh?", tell them you're looking for crushed granite chicken grit, and ask if they have suggestions as to who might have it if they don't.

Jenn - If you decide to experiment, please keep us posted. I started out by trying to 'improve' bagged mixes by first adding more perlite to try to get them to drain better. I found it didn't work well. Then I discovered pine bark because I was getting trees from the nurseries in bark mixes. I soon discovered that it took a really large bark fraction for the bark to make a difference - at least 75% is about the tipping point. About the time I figured that out (almost 20 years ago, I was gaining an understanding of the physical properties that determined water behavior in soils. From there, I started researching various ingredients & discovered some of the ingredients bonsai practitioners were using in their soils (dozens of ingredients). I settled eventually on the Turface & granite, along with the pine bark as the best choices of ingredients to perform a particular job in the soil. Even though I've been listening to others talk about soil ingredients and tinkering with soils myself, it's been more than 15 years since I started using the gritty mix & haven't yet found anything that even held the promise of being a healthier root medium.

It IS important to understand that the recipes I offer are only the best ways I have found to implement the CONCEPT that a highly aerated soil that supports little or no perched water will be much easier to produce healthy plants in. Many will point out there is more than one way to skin a cat, to which we can reply, "Yes, but there are still good ways and bad ways, easier ways and more difficult ways to skin that cat."

Al


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 24, 11 at 11:49

Happy Easter Everyone!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by jenn 9/19 (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 24, 11 at 12:47

Happy Easter to you, Al.

The photo above is very helpful in presenting the correct size for the bark pieces. Thanks!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by newgen 9 Central California (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 24, 11 at 13:04

Al (or anyone else growing container citrus): with the gritty mix, do you use only the Foliage Pro as fertilizer, and nothing else?

Thanks,


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Al, thank you. Your answers may be harder than "oh, just go to X store and buy Y", but you are so practical and common sensical, I really appreciate it. I'll give it a shot. Where I live, people are more apt to know the best deli than to know chicken grit, however !! And in the country side closest to here, they are more inclined to cook livestock in some fancy french recipe, than to raise it. But we'll see, someone might surprise me.

PS - Happy Easter to all who celebrate!!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 24, 11 at 22:33

Foliage-Pro is all you need, but I do include a little ProTeKt 0-0-3 each time I fertilize.

Hayden - I understand the issues associated with finding anything in a rural setting where you live are particularly difficult. I've helped a lot of folks find ingredients by getting on the phone myself (Houston & Virginia Beach being a couple of the more recent), but I don't know where I'd even begin in New York. One thing you might try is contacting a local bonsai club and asking them about these ingredients. If you get a live person to talk to, you might ask for the email address of the club's most knowledgeable 'soil' person. EVERY club has one. ;o)

Thanks Jenn, and Hayden - for the Easter wishes. I'm not only the gardener around here; I'm the cook, too. We had a houseful of extended family today - even including my wife's X and his mother - Lol. Not many people can say that, I bet. ;-) Everyone just cleared out a little while ago - looooooong day, but fun.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Bump! :-)

Can't allow this one to slip into obscurity! It's very important! :-)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, May 2, 11 at 21:32

Thanks, Jodi. ;-)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

I have two questions:

1. For the gritty mix, I've found a supplier that sells 'turkey flint grit'. Will this be okay to use for the gritty mix?

2. I'm growing a variety of fig called Califfo Blue. Will it grow well in the gritty mix or would you make any alterations to the mix?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

I have done a look at home depot for some pine bark fines and could not find. They had multch, pink bark but not fine. Should I check my local garden center?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Yes, check your garden center.

I often use "Orchid Bark" in *fine* grade, which still requires screening.
E.B. Stone also packages a product called Greenall Micro Bark that is essentially
the same as their Orchid Bark (fir), but in a larger bag and costing much less.

Availability of proper bark is often a regional/seasonal thing. In California,
we're quite spoiled with the massive amount of Douglas Fir.

Where do you live, Master Gardener?
There are many Threads devoted to sourcing ingredients.


Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, May 4, 11 at 10:21

OW - 1) If the mix is inert (with no added solubles) and in the right size range (both important considerations), it should be fine.

2) I haven't yet seen any plant in the Ficus genus (or any other tree or woody plant) that didn't LOVE the gritty mix.

MG - what Josh said. Your user info doesn't give a clue to where you live (would be helpful), but the PBFs are sort of where you find them. I can sometimes find them at big box stores, but I have other reliable sources I've ferreted out that I can rely on to always come through. It sometimes takes a little initial effort, but don't give up, and please don't just 'settle' for something you're not sure will work.

AL


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I understand why the Gritty Mix is preferred over the 5:1:1 when it comes to perennials (doesn't break down as quickly). Is there an advantage to using the 5:1:1 over the Gritty Mix when it comes to annuals? Is it just a matter of convenience and cost? Or is there something about annuals to where they perform better in the 5:1:1?

Paul


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, May 6, 11 at 22:30

It's not a question of performance, as I've only found 1 fairly obscure plant that, for some unknown reason, seems to be happier in the 5:1:1 than in the gritty mix. The only advantages in using the 5:1:1 mix is it's easier to make and the ingredients are usually easier to locate. All but the 1 plant (a Scilla) I've found that prefers the 5:1:1 mix do better in the gritty mix ...... but you DO need to stay on top of your fertilizing game. ;-)

AL


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Bump! :-)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Very big... BUMP!!!

(How the heck did this important bit of information get buried on the fourth page?!)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, May 25, 11 at 21:36

Lol - it happens ...... then someone stumbles on it & it ends up back on the face page. ;-) Thanks, Jodi.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Hi Al,

I haven't seen this discussed before, at least in this fashion. My questions are ONLY about the particles size.

I understand the generic version as:
    Turface, Floor-Dry, Gran-I-Grit size ranges from 1/16 to 1/4 inch
    Fir Bark size ranges from 1/8 to 1/4 inch
    Pine Bark size ranges from 1/8 to 3/8 inch
with Turface & Floor-Dry; Fir Bark & Pine Bark interchangeable

I got the following sizes available: more details here
    Turface 1/16 to 1/8 inch
    Turface 1/8 to 1/4 inch
    Gran-I-Grit 1/16 to 1/8 inch
    Gran-I-Grit 1/8 to 1/4 inch

I am wondering, Is there any scope to improve Gritty mix by *narrowing* down the particles size?

With Turface (& Gran-I-Grit), I noticed the ratio of individual particles size (1/16 to 1/8) : (1/8 to 1/4) is not exactly 1:1 out of the bag.

Does consistent particles size improves the quality of mix?

Would you recommend to go with ONLY 1/8 to 1/4 inch particles size of Turface (& Gran-I-Grit) instead of 1/16 to 1/4? In that way it would be similar to Fir Bark size.

/or/

Would you recommend to go with 1:1 ratio particles size (1/16 to 1/8) : (1/8 to 1/4) for Turface (& Gran-I-Grit) instead of out-of-the-bag ratio?

/or/

Would you recommend different ratio of particles size (1/16 to 1/8) : (1/8 to 1/4) for Turface (& Gran-I-Grit)?

Irrelevant of ratio of individual particles size I will be sticking to 1:1:1 ratio of overall mix.

In the interest of plants, I am not considering the following:
In case if any of the following changes because of specific ratio of particles size.
    Final mix being expensive
    Wastage after screening
    Labour on screening
    Keeping up with fertigation
    Weight of the final mix

I am going to use the ratio of 1:1:1 = Turface : Gran-I-Grit : Fir Bark, though I understand it can be tailored.

For now, I am planning to use one kind of Gritty mix for all of my plants.

The following are taken "out of context", so it is not to support/disprove anything, but just to say that there is too much info on particles size to read and understand.

<copy>
A particle size of just under 1/8 (3/32) to 3/16 would be ideal.
You want the aggregate size to be in the 1/16 - 3/16 size, with most of the particulates favoring the 1/16 - 1/8 size range.
The trick is to get as many of the soil particles in that 1/16-3/32 range as possible. Just be sure the particle size is 1/16 inch +.
As soil particulate size approaches 1/8", the level of perched water in the container approaches 0.
crushed granite in a 1/16 - 3/16" size range in its stead.
We know that there is an inverse relationship between soil particle size and the height of the PWT in containers. As particle size increases, the height of the PWT decreases, until at about a particle size of just under 1/8 inch, soils will no longer hold perched water.
The soils I grow in are all comprised of particles in roughly the 1/16 to 1/4" size, (if the bark is between 1/16 - 1/4") with the largest measure occupying a range from about 3/32 - 3/16".
'ideal' bark size would be 1/8-1/4"
1/8-3/8 is best for the gritty mix.
inorganic fraction of the gritty mix would be in the 1/10-1/8" size range
You could actually use everything that goes through a 3/8 or even a 1/2" screen.
fir bark, which is 'chunkier' than pine bark, use 1/8-1/4" if you can. pine bark, which is flatter than fir bark, use what passes through 3/8 but not 1/8".
</paste>

Thanks
Ganesh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

And another bumpity-bump-bump! :-)

I wish there were a way to make this a permanent part of page 1... I think it would be incredibly helpful to so many gardeners!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by rdak z5MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Jun 5, 11 at 9:26

I have used Al's mixes for a few years now and they are great.

But, I notice ALOT of mention is made about getting the PROPER sized pine bark.

I have always used pine bark mulch with some pieces in the bag that are larger than optimal (because it is hard for me to find the small sizes).

Yet, I have never had any problems with pine bark, even if it is "too" big.

Why is it so important to use small sized pine bark. Most of the bags I use are a mix of larger than optimal sized bark with chunks that are optimal sizes.

(Those types of pine bark mulch bags are everywhere where I live......so I use those. And, I assume, these types of "mixed" sized pine bark bags are available for all of us here.) )

I don't screen them, yet the mix always performs very well.

Are we making too much of a fuss on the exact sized pine bark that is needed?

(Just don't use the big nuggets though.)

I've always been a bit puzzled on this area of the proper pine bark size.

For me, as long as you don't use the nugget size and just buy the typical pine bark mulch bags.......they work REAL WELL.

Like I said, I've always been a little puzzled on this one?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

I am new to this thread and have been reading and learning a lot for the last few days. Al, your 2 soil recipes sound scientific and logically make perfect sense that they would help with aeration and good drainage and I can't wait to mix my own. I have been trying to read as many of these threads as possible in a short time and I see how generous and more importantly patient you are with all who are interested and willing to learn your proven methods. I am trying to locate the ingredients here in NEPA and the only question that I have is the size of the pine for 5.1.1. and the gritty mix. Are they the same size or the gritty mix needs to be smaller. I know you and other generous members have answered this question in many other ways and I apologize to ask again. You have renewed my interest in plants and planting with your soils and success stories I have been reading in these threads. Your generosity in sharing your immense knowledge is unbelievable and your patience in helping others and answering questions is even more admirable. I hope I can learn more from you and the rest of the members here.
Thanks
Emmanuel


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Hello Al - thanks again for all of your posts and the fruits of your research. I am growing four heirloom tomato plants in containers using your 5-1-1 mix. Here in Raleigh the closest thing I could find to pine bark fines was a product by Timberline called "Soil Conditioner" which seems to be close to the ideal size.

But I wanted to ask you two questions, which I hope you have the time to answer (and patience, if you've already answered them - I looked and could not find your thoughts on these):

1. I used a run of the mill mulch to top off my 5-1-1 mixes in the pots and to my dismay discovered the mulch was full of fungus gnats. I will try Gnatrol to get rid of them, but it brings up my question - what do you use for mulch for the 5-1-1? Maybe pine bark nuggets instead of this buggy shredded hardwood I'm using? (large size might help to avoid insect eggs or other stuff hiding inside?) Or do you not mulch?

2. And secondly, what do you use for day to day pest control? I'm spraying insecticidal soap almost daily to kill the whiteflies/thrips/aphids that I see on the leaves but I wonder if there's anything better I can do instead of using the toxic stuff (Sevin, etc).

Thanks!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

greentiger87 - you posted a suggestion back in April of a way to present Al's basic info that's awesome! It's EXACTLY what I've been looking for. I've spent lots and lots of time reading thru these posts - starting w/ the original one - and I realized when I went to bed at 2 am "last night" (just can't quit reading this stuff) that I still didn't understand all the particulars of Al's recommentations. Your summary is immensely helpful, so a big, big thank you.

Ironically, the day after you posted this (unbeknowst to me) I started a post asking which of the two choices I've been able to locate - Garden Pro Soil Conditioner w/ Gypsum or Nature's Helper Soil Conditioner - would be preferable. (I tried searching for the answer before asking; but I've found that the search function isn't always reliable). Between the responses I got and the info I've found elsewhere on this forum I think NH is maybe better (altho on this thread Al recommended against it) - but neither are great.

So does anyone know of anywhere in the Knoxville area I could get the right kind of fines?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

On pine bark fines: not many retailers in my part of the world use the term pine bark fines, but many of them sell them under different names. I've found pine bark mulch that is suitable for the 5-1-1 mix from big box stores, hardware stores and independently owned garden centers. You just need to get your eyes on what's in the bag. The only place I've found in central Ohio that sells pbf as fines is Ohio Mulch. I've been using Tatman's Southern Line, which is labeled decorative ground cover in large letters across the front and pine bark mulch in smaller letters on the side. It seems perfect to me, with most particles under 1/4 inch in size.

There is along thread with lots of info on where to find ingredients for Al's mixes by state that I'll link below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Where to find ingredients, by state


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Nice sieves

greentiger87, Those are nice sieves that you posted pictures of uptread. Did you make them yourself? What are the dimensions if you don't mind sharing..
Thanks


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Jun 5, 11 at 22:25

Rdak - it's more important to have the "right size bark for the gritty mix than the 5:1:1 mix, but sizes that are too large reduce the volume in the container available for root colonization.

Emmanuel - thank you for your kindness. ;-)

NRG - I don't mulch anything - I like my containers to dry out quickly. What I use for insect control would be very dependant on the pest and whether or not what I was growing was table fare.

Take care, guys.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

Ohiofem - thanx for the link. Unfortunately there's nothing on there for TN, Tennessee, or Knoxville. I realize most people - retailers included - have no idea what "pine fines" are; I usually ask first for soil conditioners. I lucked out w/ both the Natures' Helper and the Garden Pro when knowledgeable "kids" at Lowe's and Home Depot knew what they were composed of. But those are the only options I've been able to find.

Lrvjim gave me some very helpful info on my "Which Soil Conditioner?" post: it looks like the NH will work! So hopefully I'm set, altho I always appreciate any recommendations.

Thanx again.


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Thread continued - see below

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Jun 5, 11 at 22:28

You will find the thread continued (part XIV) if you follow the link below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Click me and I'll take you to the continuation


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