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Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
Sun, Mar 22, 09 at 20:29

I first posted this thread back in March of 05. Six times, it has reached the maximum number of posts to a single thread (150), which is much more attention than I ever imagined it would garner. I have reposted it, in no small part, because it has been 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 hopefully, the exchanges provide helpful information. Most of the motivation for posting this thread again comes from the participants reinforcement of the idea that some of the information provided in good-spirited collective exchange will make some degree of difference in the level of satisfaction of many readers growing experience.

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


Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention - A Discussion About Soils

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

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

Since there are many questions about soils appropriate for use in containers, I'll post basic mix recipes later, in case any would like to try the soil. It will follow the Water Movement information.
Consider this if you will:
Soil fills only a few needs in container culture. Among them are: Anchorage - A place for roots to extend, securing the plant and preventing it from toppling. Nutrient Retention - It must retain enough nutrients in available form to sustain plant systems. Gas Exchange - It must be sufficiently porous to allow air to move through the root system and by-product gasses to escape. Water - It must retain water enough in liquid and/or vapor form to sustain plants between waterings. Most plants can be grown without soil as long as we can provide air, nutrients, and water, (witness hydroponics). Here, I will concentrate primarily on the movement of water in soil(s).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 part uncomposted pine or fir bark
1 part Turface
1 part crushed granite
1 Tbsp gypsum per gallon of soil
CRF (if desired)
Source of micro-nutrients or use a fertilizer that contains all essentials
I use 1/8 -1/4 tsp Epsom salts per gallon of fertilizer solution when I fertilize (check your fertilizer - if it is soluble, it is probable it does not contain Ca or Mg.

Thank you for your interest.

If there is additional interest, please review previous contributions to this thread here:

Post VI
Post V
Post IV
Post III
Post II
Post I

Al


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Tapla,
Thanks for the prompt response.
Can pine bark fines be purchased or must they be chopped by the individual.
Steve


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

In using the above formula I was wondering when I should start to feed with a liquid fertilizer. Do I do this immediately even though the slow release fertilizer was added to the mix?

I purchased some Multicote 18-6-12 which has all the recommended trace elements except for copper.

Amanda


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by filix z5 maine (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 23, 09 at 6:41

Finding pine bark all ground up the perfect size is kind of hard for some of us. So for me I either buy pine,fur,hemlock,or spruce bark mulch at local nurserys or from lowes/home depot. Then I just sift it through a 1/4 inch screen. Use the big pieces that don't go through the screen for your garden beds. Simple. filix.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 23, 09 at 8:53

Steve - I have no trouble here locating them from any one of a number of sources, but I've been paying attention to what the various places that are likely to carry them have for a good number of years. That makes a difference.

So, you can either find them or use a chipper and make them.

Amanda - IF you feed depends on how much CRF you added to the mix. If you only added it as a back-up, I would wait a week or two, simply because there is often a considerable amount of fertilizer that has 'leaked' through the CRF walls & it would be especially easy to over-fertilize because of that.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

I am going to add the two cups you recommended for the big batch. I have it all mixed in my wheelbarrow, just need to add the fertilizer and lime today.

I'm not sure what you mean by badding it as a back up. Will the amount you suggested in the big batch above last for some time?

Thanks.

Amanda


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by alys Zone 5/6 - MO (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 23, 09 at 10:29

Al, How "fine" should those "pine bark fines" be? I found some at a nursery that tells me they use them for their own container potting mix, they mix theirs with peat and sand. But it isn't composted and it isn't THAT small. The pieces looked to be about 1/8" wide by 1/2" long.

Is that fine enough?

Alys


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

CRF releases according to temperature. On the package it should say how long it lasts and then if you look at the fine print it will say based on a soil temp of 70F(common) or another temp.

If the temp in the container is cooler, it releases more slowly and if it is warmer then more quickly.

I have stopped using CRF precisely because I can never know how much of the total product is available to my plants at any given time. For indoor plants or plants that are in a temperature controlled environment I could make some assumptions, but for outdoor plants where there could be a 40F swing within 24 hours I really can't.

Here is part 3 of a 6 part article explaining CRF and release rates/temperature.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 23, 09 at 11:20

Amanda - sometimes folks just toss a little CRF in the soil because they KNOW in advance they're bad a fertilizing & will forget or have other priorities. That's what I meant about 'back-up'. I like total control over my nutrient program - want to know what my plants are getting and when, so I only occasionally use a CRF. I add it to the ingredient list to help cover those who are plant nutritionally challenged. ;o)

Alys - You can, and I have, use(d) bark that size, but I prefer something finer for the 5:1:1 mix.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by alys Zone 5/6 - MO (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 23, 09 at 11:51

Thanks Al. If it looks too big when I get it this week, I might try running it thru my chipper/shredder with a couple of screens to break it down more.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Tapla & Filix,
Thanks for the response.
Steve


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

I've had good luck looking for "soil conditioner" rather than pine bark fines mulch. But I have to check on the exact composition on the bag, from the nursery, from the manufacturer... Sells as "clay buster soil conditioner" around here, and it is much more common than I originally thought.

Alice


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by jodik 5 Central IL (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 24, 09 at 10:17

Al, thanks for keeping this thread alive! The shared knowledge contained within is priceless! I've gone from a so-so gardener with constant rot problems, to a very proud gardener with healthy potted bulbs and plants!

In fact, many of my bulbs have bloomed, and I did not expect that to happen this year! I owe you quite a debt of gratitude for your generosity in sharing your container expertise!

So, thank you, Al... from the bottom of my bulbs! :-)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 24, 09 at 14:44

Lol - you're very welcome, Jodi.

YPA


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

To any and all who want to respond:
Hopefully this will be my last question to you nice folks and you can all get back to gardening.
I found a source of Pine bark fines. However, when using the 5:1:1 mixture, is that by volume or weight? How about using 5 buckets of fines, 1 bucket of peat, and one bucket of perlite in a wheelboro and then saying to wife "Please mix"
Please respond quickly, I am very eager to get started with this project.
Thanks to all,
Steve


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 24, 09 at 17:05

By volume.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Al, thanks for the 13 minute response.
I am now headed for the back yard.
Steve


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

I also want to say thank you to al and everyone who has helped me try to understand this technique. I am hoping to teach it to my grandmother (although she is just now discovering the aww of microwaves.._) so we will see how that works!

Again thank you everyone for your wealth of knowledge


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by anney Georgia 8 (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 26, 09 at 7:47

If this has already been addressed, I apologize. Just point me in the right direction and I'll go find what I need to know!

Is there any way to calculate or estimate where the PWT is in a container when you have its dimensions?

I want to construct some more self-watering containers with substantial water chambers and don't know how deep to make the soil layer or the wicking chamber to fool the PWT into migrating South if I change the model of the containers I already constructed.

How do I do this? Is there any easy way instead of trial and error?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 26, 09 at 9:18

"Is there any way to calculate or estimate where the PWT is in a container when you have its dimensions?"

Yes - but it doesn't involve your container. Fill a clear cup with your soil and fill it with water. Allow it to rest until the soil is totally saturated. Poke a hole in the bottom & allow it to drain. Observe through the walls how high the PWT is. This is exactly how high it will be in your container because container shape or dimensions don't affect the height of the PWT. Just for kicks - after it stops draining, push a toothpick through the drain hole (a wick) and observe how much additional water drains from the PWT - showing how effective wicks can be as a tool to improve drainage.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by anney Georgia 8 (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 26, 09 at 9:43

Al

I've been going nuts trying to understand perched water tables and draining golf courses, but if there are any correlations between golf courses and containers, I couldn't find them!

It depends on the soil... Is my understanding correct -- if I use the same soil in a large container with drainage holes that I use in my small test container with drainage holes, then the PWT is likely to be proportionally at the same spot?

Example: if my planting mix in the small container shows a PWT 66% below the soil surface, I can expect the same mix's PWT to be 66% below the soil surface in a much larger container as well? IOW, if the PWT in a 3"-deep cup is 2 inches deep, does that mean, with the same soil, the PWT in a 30"-deep container will be 20 inches deep?

If that's how easily you can check it, that's great! Thank you!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

It's the reverse, Anney. If the PWT is 2" high (from the bottom) it will be 2" high regardless of container height.

If your soil supports a 2" PWT and your container is 6" high you have 4" of drained mix and 2" of PWT. If your container is 12" tall you have 10" of drained mix and 2" of PWT at the bottom.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by anney Georgia 8 (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 26, 09 at 10:45

JAG

Okay, so the PWT level is the same regardless of container depth if the soils are the same?

That's also a principle easy enough to conceptualize and remember, just have to keep in mind the right one!

Maybe I'll get it right one of these days.


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RE-: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Okay, so the PWT level is the same regardless of container depth if the soils are the same?

Correct.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 26, 09 at 10:52

It has nothing to do with %s. If you have a 2" PWT in container A, and you use the same soil in containers B-Z, you will have a 2" PWT in every container, no matter what their size or shape. PWTs are determined by the size of soil particles and have nothing to do with the container. There ARE ways we can use container shapes and other tricks to MANIPULATE PWTs, but that's something for another day. ;o)

The clear cup thing? It's THAT easy. I think the ideal situation would be to use a soil that does support a small amount of perched water, but to use a wick to drain it early - when the planting is immature and roots haven't colonized the entire soil mass. After the planting has matured, and the planting is quickly utilizing water in the soil, simply remove the wick that was draining the perched water, and suddenly your water retention is greater and more closely matches the planting's water usage ... additionally, the interval between waterings can be extended. It's like making the soil mass do double duty.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by anney Georgia 8 (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 26, 09 at 11:11

JAG & AL

Thank you both. I am embarrassed to see that I missed the very clear explanation of the PWT height given earlier. Sorry you guys had to repeat it.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

I hope this is the correct place to post this if not please correct me...

I just recently replanted my fukien tea tree into the gritty 1:1:1 mix. It seems like it works great, I put a whole cup of water in it and the turface turned colors from light to dark and most of it came out of the bottom which is great.I only have a few questions.

With it draining so quickly is it best to water once or twice a day?

also, I found some fir bark( as stated pine or fir bark) and used it in the mix. There were not many small pieces but I did have to break up several of the big pieces (dime to at most nickle size). several of the piece (when I planted my plant)seemed to lay on top though. im sure theres some pieces underneath but will this affect the overall affectiveness of the soil? hopefully i did nothing wrong!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 26, 09 at 20:29

"With it draining so quickly is it best to water once or twice a day?"

It's best to water when the plant needs it, and not on a schedule. It's very unlikely that your plant would need water more than once/day, and probably not even once per day. Most of my plants in the gritty mix, unless the container is VERY small, get watered every 2-3 days.

If the soil is still rather moist under the surface, don't water. Wait until you can barely feel moisture in the soil to water again. The gritty mix holds more water than you think.

It would be best if the bark was the same size as, or only a little larger than the Turface and grit, but the size of the bark is less important in the gritty mix than it is in the 5:1:1 mix because it is only 1/3 of end product. It sounds like you did just fine. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Hi all - I'm a newbie jumping into the fray here. I know absolutely Nothing about gardening except what I've read here in the past few days. I recently bought an areca palm, which didn't seem to be doing well in its soil, and 3 succulents. Being short on money and time and wanting to repot as soon as possible, here's what I used. For the succulents, I repotted in a mix of 1 part cactus mix, 1 part fine grade fir bark, and 4 parts pumice. I repotted the palm in 1 part cactus mix, 1 part bark, and 2 parts pumice.

Do you think my plants will do okay in these mixes, if I water the succulents once a week and the palm every other day or so? I've also read your fertilizer suggestions, and I'm thinking of fertilizing the palm once every two weeks. Do the succulents need fertilizer at all?

Last question - I hope to also grow some tomatoes in the near future. Would some combination of these same ingredients work for the tomatoes? I live in the LA area if that makes a difference.

Thanks for the help!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Mar 28, 09 at 19:51

How large are the pumice particles? Size is important.

If the pumice size is appropriate, they should do ok. Water when the plants need it, not on a schedule. You could use a sharpened dowel rod or pencil stuck in the soil to test for moisture content. If it comes out damp/cool, don't water. You could also leave a short wick sticking out of the bottom of the container. Water only when the wick feels dry.

Palms will like a fertilizer with a 3:1:3 ratio, or a little extra K added to a 3:1:2 ratio. Alternately, you could add 1 tbsp of potash to each gallon of palm soil. Yes, succulents need to be fertilized. If you're going to fertilize every two weeks you should do so at reduced rates & be sure you're watering profusely - so plenty of water exits the drain hole when you water.

Tomatoes: Look for partially composted pine, fir, redwood bark & use that as the base for your soil. If you find it, the only other things you need are a little peat & some perlite, and those are easy. I/we can help you with more specifics once we know what you have & how you are going to grow - SWC, conventional container .....

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Hi Al, thanks for the quick response. The pumice particles are between 1/8" and 1/4". Okay, 3:1:3 fertilizer for the palm - what about for the succulents? And how often should I fertilize both palm and succulents if I'd rather fertilize at the rate given on the package?

I guess I'll ask more about the tomatoes when I'm ready to tackle them!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Mar 28, 09 at 20:33

How often you fertilize depends on how you water. If the soil allows you to water profusely at each watering - and you DO, then fertilize at full strength every 3-4 wks when the palms/succulents are actively growing. When they get sleepy during the winter (you will have sort of a winter, as far as the plants are concerned), fertilize every other month, or monthly @ 1/2 strength.

Why not just add the potash, or get some ProTeKt 0-0-3 for the palms and just use one of the MG fertilizers or FP 9-3-6?

I have to ask - sorry: Do you know the difference between a fertilizer 'ratio' and the %s of the NPK? The 3:1:2 RATIO fertilizers you might use would be MG 24-8-16 or 12-4-8, or Foliage-Pro 9-3-6. The 9-3-6 is a better choice because it has all the essential elements (nutrients).

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

No, of course I don't know the difference between a ratio and a %, I'm a complete newbie - this was the first time I've ever touched plant roots! :) Thanks for clearing that up. Okay - so if I use the MG or the FP, are you saying that I ALSO have to add potash or this ProTeKt stuff? And is that just for the palm or for the succulents as well?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Okay - so if I use the MG or the FP, are you saying that I ALSO have to add potash or this ProTeKt stuff?

If you use any of the products that Al listed, you will want a source of potassium as well for the palms.

What Al is saying is that palms use NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) in a 3:1:3 ratio. The ferts Al listed are a 3:1:2 ratio.

By adding a potassium source you can make the fert a 3:1:3 ratio. It works like this:

If the FP is a 9-3-6 (a 3:1:2 ratio) and PT is 0-0-3 then by using both at the same dilution/strength the palm is getting a 9-3-9 fert which is a 3:1:3 ratio.

Most plants use nutrients in a 3:1:2 ratio which is what makes the FP a good choice, but unlike most other products on the market FP contains *all* plant nutrients, virtually all others leave one or more out. By having a soluble source of potassium on hand we have the ability to adjust the FP for those plants that use nutrients in a 3:1:3 or 3:1:4 ratio.

Clear as mud? :)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Mar 28, 09 at 22:22

The palms like a little extra K (potassium), and you can either buy another fertilizer with a 3:1:3 ratio ***** or use a 3:1:2 ratio fertilizer and add the potash to the palm's soil ***** or use the ProTeKt 0-0-3 whenever you fertilize with the 3:1:2 ratio fertilizer. Choose only one option. ;o)

The succulents should be ok with the 3:1:2 ratio.

To be truthful, this really is kind of splitting hairs. You're not really going to HURT anything if you don't go to the trouble of following these directions to the letter. Plants tend to take what they need and leave the rest, so as long as you fertilize reasonably, you'll be just fine. I should save the explicit fertilizing suggestions for the more experienced growers & not worry you so much. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Ive been reading thru everyones posts to see if anyone has mentioned using aquarium rocks for any of the mixes or just in soil in general? I found that some use the natural stones but not anything with color. They dont seem to harm anything in an aquarium so I would think that they are safe for container usage. If I am wrong please corect me. The pet store I worked at closed and I have a large bucket of small green gravel just sitting around and I would like to be able to use them for something.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Mar 29, 09 at 20:49

If they were ok in an aquarium, I have to believe they could cause no harm in a soil. How big/small are the particles & how will you use them?

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Alright thanks for up the fertilizer situation, guys. And you're not really worrying me Al, I just like to learn to do things the right way right from the start if possible. :) And your explanation is very clear, so I'm not confused. How do you guys know which plants like which ratio of fertilizer, is it just from experience?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

How do you guys know which plants like which ratio of fertilizer, is it just from experience?

There is testing done to determine this. One common way is tissue analysis. By determining the amount/ratio of nutrients in plant tissue it can be determined what the plant actually uses.

The majority of plants use NPK in a 3:1:2 ratio or close to that (most use less P, the 1 is rounded up.).

This isn't to imply that the hobby grower needs to have their plant's tested, rather the fact that others have done the testing has revealed the information. Finding a comprehensive source of this information rather than finding it piecemeal is challenging though.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 30, 09 at 5:18

I've done the research for the range in which 'your average plant' is pretty likely to lie, and I'll show a chart I made to illustrate how plants use nutrients based on tissue analysis.

I gave Nitrogen, because it's the largest nutrient component, the value of 100. Other nutrients are listed as a weight percentage of N.
N 100
P 13-19 (16) 1/6
K 45-80 (62) 3/5
S 6-9 (8) 1/12
Mg 5-15 (10) 1/10
Ca 5-15 (10) 1/10
Fe 0.7
Mn 0.4
B(oron) 0.2
Zn 0.06
Cu 0.03
Cl 0.03
M(olybden) 0.003

The first set of numbers is how many parts of an element plants use for every 100 parts of N. Plants use 13-19 parts of P for every 100 parts of N. The second is the average - they AVERAGE 16 parts of P for every 100 parts of N. The third number is the fractional amount based on the average - The average plant uses 1/6 as much P as N.

The best way to supply a fertilizer is to supply it at adequate levels in the same ratio as plants use. Since the level of salts in the soil affects water (and the nutrients dissolved in it) uptake, supplying a fertilizer with more of a single or multiple nutrients than a plant can use is counter-productive. Fertilizers like 10-52-10 "bloom boosters" supply more than 30 times as much P as the plant can possibly use (in relation to N). Even popular fertilizers like 20-20-20 supply 6 times the amount of P as the plant can use.

Most of us won't take the time to learn about every plant and take the care to insure we're providing nutrients at low levels in the right ratios. We'll take the shotgun approach and trust that plants will take what they need and leave the rest. They will, but 'the rest' does have impact on the plant in more than one area.

If what I said is just so much technical blather, then take one thing from the conversation - that fertilizers with a 3:1:2 ratio are probably the best 'all-purpose' blend for gardening in containers because they supply nutrients in very close to the ratio plants actually assimilate them at.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Al,

MG 24:8:16 conforms to the 3:1:2 ratio - and from what I have gleaned from these threads - half strength weekly or even 1/4 or 1/8 strength each time you water is a safer and better way to apply it than full strength fortnightly.

However, if you live in a locality where a summers day is seldom above the mid 70sF, a more frequent application of much diluted fertiliser may mean that your container soil will reach the almost dry stage for watering with gas exchange less often. In these conditions, would it be better to just work out the appropriate amount of dilution relative to the time the containers need to be watered?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Would it be possible for the aquarium rocks to take the place of the "Grit". the rocks are what I believe to be the smallest aquarium rocks which look on average about the same size as the chicken grit.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 30, 09 at 9:02

I'm sorry, Kevin, but I don't understand your question. Might you rephrase or help me out with more details?

Abunari - If you're using them in the gritty mix in place of the grit - size is important. If it's the same size as 'grower' grit (around 1/8" pieces), it should work fine. If it's the same size as 'starter' grit, it will work, but is on the smallish side.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Sorry about the vagueness, Al,

You emphasise the need for free draining container soil which may require daily watering in warm weather. In the climate around here, summer days are relatively cool (very seldom above 75F) so the watering intervals would be a lot longer. I am just wondering should I forgo very dilute applictions of fertilizer at short intervals between watering and only apply the appropriate dilution after watering is needed?

Kevin


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Okay, so giving the plants many more nutrients than they can use would actually end up with the nutrients "clogging" the soil and affecting correct water intake? Or am I reading that wrong? Also, I've heard what you say about fertilizing at dilute strengths so that plants get "adequate" rather than "luxury" levels of nutrients. Is this because the plants will actually become weaker if they get used to living at such luxury levels of nutrients all the time, or some other reason?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 30, 09 at 15:15

Kevin - If you fertilize with a weak solution every time you water (not between waterings), you're not going to hurt anything. Plants use less water and nutrients when they're not growing at their max, so watering as needed is still very in sync with the plants nutritional needs. When the plant's metabolism picks up, you'll be supplying more water AND nutrients, so having water/nutrients tied together is a GOOD thing. You can't over-fertilize at 1/8 doses if you are watering properly - so the soil is fully saturated and a good portion of the water applied exits the drain hole. To save effort - why not try 1 - 1/4 dose weekly & see how it goes? I'm not sure if I answered your question - if not - keep after me until you get the answer you need - ok? ;o)

Aariel - (sounds a lot like my favorite name - Alielle. When my daughter mentioned they were going to name my granddaughter after me, I petitioned for Alielle, but I ended up having to be happy with Allison) ;o)

Extra nutrients don't really clog the soil. They contribute to the TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) in the soil - they add unnecessary salts. Too much salt in the soil can actually reverse the flow of water so it is being pulled out of cells instead of it passing into cells by normal osmosis. If you think of how salt pulls water out of the cells of ham and bacon - you've got it. A little salt (fertilizer) in the soil solution allows water to pass freely into cells because the level of solutes in the cell is higher than in the fertilizer solution, but too much fertilizer makes it more difficult or actually reverses normal osmosis and kills cells/tissue (fertilizer burn). That's why fertilizing at low rates at close to the same ratio plants use is best.

Plants fertilized at rates well into the luxury range often produce weak, spindly growth that is very succulent and attractive to insects. It makes water uptake more difficult as well. Another interesting fact is that plants fertilized at luxury levels will often exhibit deficiency symptoms when nutrient levels are allowed to fall back to the adequacy levels, even though soil nutrient levels are ........ well ........ adequate. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Thanks, Al,

That reply, and the one to Aariel, answers my query quite concisely - as always.

Kevin


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Okay, cool. I kind of guessed that second part of your answer, that they might show signs of deficiency if you stopped giving them the luxury levels. Great, thanks for the answers. So is it going to be fine for me to do what we talked about - fertilize at full strength once a month, or would it really be much better to go the more frequent but diluted route? And glad to know you approve of my nickname! :)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 30, 09 at 16:21

You can do either. I like more frequently with the weaker solution, but it isn't going to make a huge difference.

Good luck!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

/home/libby/Desktop/lessthanonemegplayball.jpg

Hi! I'm a newbie to this forum (though I used That Home Site to great advantage when looking for a wahsher and dryer a few years ago) and a patio gardener. I am intrigued by Al's mixes, and am trying to gather the ingredients for the gritty mix so I don't have to repot. I live in PA, and am having a hard time finding Playball. After speaking with a Playball rep in Pittsburgh, I phoned Northern Nurseries. They were strictly wholesale. I phoned another place, and was directed to Martin's Quarry in Bechtelsville PA. I asked the secretary who answered the phone, "Do you have Playball?"
"Yes, we do."
"Do you sell it retail?"
"Yes."
It being a sunny day and not having anything else pressing to do, I drove out there. It's a real quarry! I had to go to an Agway and buy containers! They weighed my car and gave me a hardhat. "Don't you have a shovel?" asked the secretary.
"No; I'll improvise," I said. I was in too deep; I didn't want to lose face. I managed to fill my containers by using one of the lids as a shovel. It rained yesterday, and the stuff was very heavy, but I think I got my four cubic feet.They weighed my car again and charged me three bucks.My question now is, since quarries don't have labels on their piles of stuff, is this really PLayBall or just wet tan sand? I am trying to upload a photo but I don't know how to do it.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 30, 09 at 20:05

Hi, Libby. Cute story, but it might take you a while to see the same humor in it we find. ;o) The address you left is incomplete or not working. I hope you got the right thing, but if you think it just looks like wet, tan sand, it's probably not. It's been a while since I used Axis or Play Ball, but you want the larger of the two. If you find you don't have the right stuff ...... what's wrong with Turface or NAPA's 'floor-dry'?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

My two cents. Finally found all the components of gritty mix and made my batch 2-3 weeks ago. I am using it on tomatoes at the moment. So far things are looking good.

I was using timberline potting soil (i know, to thick) but it was cost effective and I can tell you it put a hurting on my plants. Everything is stunted.

I did the math and the gritty mix was around $2.50 sq foot on average (I do not remember exact price). Timberline is $2.99 sq ft. MG was a round $4.44 per sq ft.

The gritty mix tomatoes are a dark green and just having a good time growing. :) As a comparison, I had two identical tomato plants in timberline soil that were about 2 weeks old. I pulled one and retransplanted in gritty mix. Needless to say, it is blowing away the other. Timberline soil tomato is light green, gritty mix is dark green and twice the size of the other, after being transplanted.

What is the point? :) If your looking for good economics in soil for containers, making your own is the best. It is cheaper and as good (as far as I can tell) as MG or anything else that costs $10 a bag. Used the same mix in starter pots, and my okra seeds peaked out and said hello in 3 days.

This is my second year into a serious container garden, so I am sure I am preaching to the choir mostly here. I am happy to have found the gritty mix on pricing alone, and if it continues to serve my plants well, doubly whammy. Great plants cheap price.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 31, 09 at 8:48

Are you really talking about the gritty mix (Turface, grit, bark) or the 5:1:1 mix (bark, peat, perlite)?

I'm really glad you're having such a good time. ;o) You sound excited. Thanks for the plug!

Take care.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

No, Al, I do think it's funny. I do things like that. I sent a photo of it to the Playball rep, and he said it's tan sand.The incomplete address was the photo; I don't know how to load it. My husband made the photo (tan sand on a paper towel with a dime on it) my log-in image, so I see it every time I log in now! I just don't know how to get rid of the sand!

Since it is a long-lived mix, I wanted to optimize it. I get very enthusiastic about gardening every spring (but unlike the diehards, the excitement wanes a little as summer waxes). I wasn't able to do anything with my containers last year because I had a weeks-long cold that was going around, and one of our cats was dying of lymphoma. This year I'm feeling fine, thank God, and I found some really nice containers on Amazon that look like Terrazzolite but are less expensive. Since the mix is so heavy, I thought this is my now-or-never opportunity to get PLayball, but now that I have a bunch of useless sand, I'll probably go to NAPA and get the oil absorbent stuff.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 31, 09 at 9:49

;o) We're pulling for you!!!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII- Gran-I-Grit

Thank you, Al! I also have a question about the Gran-I-Grit (at first I thought of breaking up my countertops and using that...just kidding!). Somewhere in this forum it was mentioned that a 50-lb bag contains six gallons. Is that correct? The stuff is dense, and the bags are fairly small. I am trying to figure out how many bags would make four cubic feet. I am assuming 7.5 gal/cubic foot.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Apr 1, 09 at 0:47

I know that when I pour a bag into a 5 gallon bucket, there is some left over, so I'd guess it's just under 6 gallons, so you could figure about .75 cu ft per bag and be very close. That means it would take 5.33 bags = 4 cu ft. If you are making 4 cu ft of soil, it would take 1.75 bags of grit.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

"Are you really talking about the gritty mix (Turface, grit, bark) or the 5:1:1 mix (bark, peat, perlite)?

I'm really glad you're having such a good time. ;o) You sound excited. Thanks for the plug!

Al

Sorry about that, should of clarified, it is the 511 Mix that I am using.

Somethings did fine in the timberline soil, peppers and zukes. But tomatoe's are visibly horrible.


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RE: Reply.Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

My message disappeared in the above post. Picture 1 is what both plants looked like. Picture 2 shows plant transplanted to 511 mix and in a matter of a week and a half I guess it now looks like picture 2.

All the tomato plants look like pic 1, different varieties. The stuff either plant or transplanted in 511 mix look like pic 2. It is either a testament to 511 mix or a testament to not use bad soil in the first place.

At 2.50 a bag making 511 and the results, just say it is a testament to good soil.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Apr 1, 09 at 8:35

Good job! ;o) .... and what we're seeing at the top of the container soil is mulch - right?

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Thank you, Al! I'll try to get the Gran-I-Grit today. My containers haven't arrived yet; I may make up a small amount of gritty and repot a coral bells plant to see how it goes. I managed to find Playball yesterday. I bought it for cash at a wholesale nursery; they were very nice (will I get them in trouble if I mention their name?). I am buying 4 cubic feet of everything, because I need a little over five for my new containers, and my neighbor wants to try it, too. She saved my sanity yesterday by saying she could use some of the sand; the rest can be spread on our courtyard plantings.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Apr 1, 09 at 15:26

I'm sure you won't get in trouble, Libby. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

No, I know I won't get in trouble, but mightn't the wholesale place get in trouble for selling to me retail?

I was able to get a few bags of Gran-I-Grit at an Agway today, enough to get started. One of my other neighbors saw me schlepping the bags on a handtruck; she asked what it was for and I told her. She asked for the link to this forum; the more the merrier!

I ordered some plants today, an Asian herb mix including Thai basil and lemongrass, a catnip mix for the cats, plus some Purple Ruffles basil that I want to grow with dark-purple-and-white nasturtiums and some striking bronze fennel. I'll repot my Heuchera and Monarda and chives. I want to go to a native plant place and maybe buy an ornamental grass or something. I love running outside when I'm cooking and grabbing a handful of herbs, rinsing them off, and throwing them into the pan!

I was looking at Tatiana's Tomatobase last night. Wow, what wonderful plants! It's too late to start tomatoes from seed this year. Would it work to get some very early varieties (like 60 days) and sow the seeds directly?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Apr 1, 09 at 19:01

Ohhh - I don't know. I'm not big into sowing seeds, and if I knew where you lived, I forgot. You probably should sow seeds about 6 weeks before your last frost, if you're north of Mason/Dixon. If you're not, I guess you'll have to hope for someone better versed than I. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Good job! ;o) .... and what we're seeing at the top of the container soil is mulch - right?

Al

Ummmm... Oh shooootttt..... Did I do something wrong? :) April fools, but of course!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Hello! I am delighted to join this cult--er, thread :) Today I picked up some pine mulch that looked like it had bark in it and seemed to fit the particle size bill, and I have the other elements for the 5:1:1 mix.

I'm gardening on a rooftop, and there are weight limits for my plantings. The previous occupant used styrofoam packing peanuts to make a drainage layer, which is a trick I've heard of from some other city gardeners. It got me thinking that if the particle size were right (i.e. if I broke them apart), maybe I could mix in some styrofoam with my soil mix to lighten it. It would certainly not lose its structure over time. What do you think?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Apr 1, 09 at 20:12

If it's layered on the bottom, it WILL take up space, make the planting lighter, and reduce the volume of soil required to fill a container, but it won't improve drainage.

Mixed into the soil, there is no way to tell if it will be an effective part of the soil or improve drainage w/o knowing the size of the soil particles (should be around 1/8") and the % of peanuts in the mix.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Thanks Al. You really do respond fast! I might do a little experimentation on this if it's not too laborious to crush up the peanuts.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Any body use cocoa shells in the soil? Lowes or Menards do not have composted bark but they do have plan bark and cocoa bean shells. Just curious.

Ok I think I have the current thread now :*)

Tnx


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 3, 09 at 14:44

They are ok for VERY short term plantings, but you should NOT rely on them for any kind of soil structure for a whole growing season. They break down much too quickly.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

I was very happy to find what I thought was ideal pine bark this week. I bought it in bulk- a cubic yard for $42. It all fit through a 1/2 inch screen.
My plan was to screen through 1/4 inch. What fell through I would make into 5:1:1 mix (which I need more of) and what was 1/4 to 1/2 inch in size I would put into gritty mix.
Well, I spent 2 hours screening and only got through about 1-2 cubic foot. I am frustrated with the process considering I still have a truck load to go through. Part of the problem is that only about 25% of the material is the smaller size. Screening is easier if most material falls through. It would likely be a little easier if I had a 3/8 inch screen but that appears to be a hard size of hardware cloth to find around here.
Al- would it be a problem to use this material unsifted for a 5:1:1 mix? Would you alter the formula considering some larger particles?
I realize this has likely been addressed before and I apologize. After 6 threads of 150 posts each plus all the related threads, it becomes hard to research a specific question. I quess that makes another good reason for you to write a book (with an index).

Kyle


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by filix z5 maine (My Page) on
    Sat, Apr 4, 09 at 19:41

Kylew how dry is the bark your screening? I spread out a wheel barrow of bark on my blacktop in the sun. The its dry as a bone. Screens much easier. Wear a mask. filix.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

This is the first night I have run across this thread. I usually lurk on the perennial and shrub forum. I am confused as to which mixture should be used for Big Heavy glazed flower pots. Should the Gritty mix be used or the
5 1 1 mix? Thanks


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Apr 4, 09 at 20:23

Kylew - If the bark is REALLY coarse, try doubling the peat to 5:2:1, bark:peat:perlite.

Margay - I use the gritty mix for long term plantings like woody plants - trees, shrubs - and for houseplants - things I'll be leaving in the soil for more than a single growth cycle. I use the 5:1:1 mix for all the short term plantings like veggies & floral display containers for the gardens & decks.

That help?

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Thanks for the quick response.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Filix-
Thanks for the suggestion but it was fairly dry- I do not think moisture contributed much to my problem.
Al-
I do not know if it is "REALLY" coarse or not (75% between 1/4 to 1/2 inch and the remainder smaller) but I am certainly willing to try doubling the peat in an effort to save myself from 12 more hours of sifting.

Kyle


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Apr 4, 09 at 23:26

Good luck. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Al,
Your eloquent summary of water movement and retention in containers has been often celebrated. With the growing popularity of self-watering containers, have you ever posted or will you post information on them regarding water properties?

Most depend on a portion of the container mix to sit in water 100% of the time. Does the water rise to the same PWT level above the surface of the water, as if one would top water the container?

For example, a 10" container might have a PWT of 2", leaving 8" of growing area when top watered. If the container were no longer top watered but placed over a container of water with a wick suspended from the container into the water, would the water climb up and saturate the soil covering the bottom 2" of the container still? Or, are there other dynamics affecting the water movement and retention?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Apr 6, 09 at 16:26

Good question, but there's no one answer.

Let me use an illustration that might answer your question:

Soils lose their ability to hold perched water in soil pores as the size of soil particulates approaches 1/8". There are though, other forces at work.

If soil particles are coarse (>1/8") with no internal porosity, there is still a tendency for water to want to coat the surface of the particles, especially if the particles have surface porosity or highly irregular surfaces (crushed granite, perlite), but there should be no water in the pore space between particles.

If the particles have lots of internal porosity with open pores (a sponge has open pores, while Styrofoam has closed pores), like pine bark, Turface, and calcined DE, then water will move from large particle to large particle, filling the internal pores, but will still not occupy the large pores between particles - so still no perched water table.

Change the soil to one of fine particles or one with large particles mixed with a predominant volume of fine particles, and the wick WILL pull enough water upward so a perched water table is created.

The wicking column of soil in a SWC is designed to be somewhere near the estimated height of the PWT most container soils support. If a soil supports a 3" PWT, and the main body of soil is situated 3" above the water line, there would be no perched water in the main body of soil. If though, the main body of soil was situated 2" above the water line, there would be 1" of perched water. Sort of.

There is one more factor at play. If you imagine two pieces of fine wire hanging side by side. Wet the pieces so they are coated with water. Move them together so they touch. The water will come together as a cohesive unit. Move the wires apart now. The water will form a bridge, a film between the two pieces of wire and be 'reluctant' to separate. The same thing happens in soils. If you water with a wick, fewer of the small soil pores get filled with water. If you water from above, at some point, all of the soil pores are filled with water and some of the pores exhibit a reluctance to give up their water for the same reason that the water between the wires did. In short, when wick watering, some % of the pores that would have remained filled had you watered from above, do not fill.

Does that cover your question?

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Al, I liked your response. Apparently, self-watering containers are good for persons reluctant or unable to water their containers regularly. The hope is that the roots will quickly grow down through moisture-poor soil to reach the moisture-rich soil. Because of the aeration bench or screen that holds most of the soil above the water, there is enough aeration to avoid dead roots sitting in stagnant water at the bottom of the container mix. The container is then divided into three distinct zones consisting top down of 1.) too dry for roots to thrive; 2.) properly moist for roots; and 3.) overly moist but inhabited by roots to get the moisture they need.

An open pore container mix creates a more consistently ideal environment throughout the container, but because water does not stay present between particles, the downside is possibly not getting enough water to the plants. This makes watering the more open mix more critical and not for the inconsistent gardener. I believe part of the reason for extensive root systems in these containers is the plant's ability to increase root mass in search of water to make up for the lack of water availability in the mix within the pores between watering.

An automated outdoor watering system and mulch layer on the container surface is one possible compromise. Since most irrigation is never perfect in its water delivery, the best way to water an open pore system is to flood and drain it as needed. The 'as needed' part is the guess as the gardener tries to average factors like: container volume, wind, heat, plant use, humidity, etc. Flood and drain does a great job of increasing air exchanges in addition to providing water throughout the container, but makes keeping nutrients available a challenge. This is not as problematic in the SWC.

The next evolution in grow boxes may resemble more of a hydroponics system with hydroponic nutrients in the water. However, I hope there is a point on the development timeline that allows container gardens to get better without bringing the complications of hydroponics into gardeners' lives. For me, I am left thinking about Choice A.) where a self-watering container is modified to make a more aerated environment without negatively impacting water or nutrients; and Choice B.) which is to automate an open mix like yours to provide enough water and nutrients to support intensive planting in a grow box.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Apr 6, 09 at 17:50

If you knew all that - then why'd you ask? ;o)

I think your statement "The container is then divided into three distinct zones consisting top down of 1.) too dry for roots to thrive; 2.) properly moist for roots; and 3.) Overly moist but inhabited by roots to get the moisture they need." depends greatly on the soil. The challenge for SWC growers is to build an economically feasible soil that wicks (at least nearly) all the way to the top, but doesn't hold perched water in the main body of the soil. Initially, it's important for the upper level of the soil to hold ample water, but subsequent to plant establishment, the importance of that is diminished because the roots located there are happy serving primarily as organs of anchorage and hydraulic transport.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Why did I ask...? I have learned much about container mixes from you, but personally did not understand the dynamics of the SWC container mix related to moisture. Most of what I said following was in response to your comment about whether your response covered my question. I took what you said and combined it with other understandings.

Regarding the 'tuning' of the container mix in self-watering containers, that topic could take a life of its own. I agree with you on building a container mix that wicks water to the top, yet does not have a perched water table that resides way up into the container. This could come, as you refer, to mixes that wick better. Peat moss comes to mind, unless it has dried out. I have read that raybo of the earthtainer threads has found that Miracle Grow's exta moisture-retentive mix is too wet for his SWC. Consequently, there is a least a range from which to try.

I am also thinking about the water-delivery in SWC's. Maybe some additional synthetic wicks could carry the water further toward the surface of the container. Another idea is to line the inside of the container wall with capillary mat to allow the water to wick up the container wall from where the moisture could reach higher into the container mix. Maybe a wide and flat wick material could lay on the surface of the container with its ends draped down the left and right sides of the container into the standing water. With electricity, another idea is to use a small water pump and timer that could periodically water the upper container mix in a deeper SWC container.

So, how soon are you releasing your online plans for an Al's intensive-planted SWC garden box design?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Apr 6, 09 at 19:58

I hope you realize that when I said "If you knew all that - then why'd you ask? ;o)" there was no annoyance or negative connotations associated with it. If anything, you should have taken it as a compliment. I hoped the ;o) would be clear enough.

No plans to get involved with the SWCs. I have enough going on with a family, a business to run, pets, around 200 containerized plants (not including those I'll plant up for the gardens and decks - then there're those gardens I just mentioned, and my evening commitments + my email and GW duties ....... Get the idea? ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Al,
You have demonstrated the personality for which I automatically assume nothing negative would be implied. I am just learning from others in order to ramp up more quickly and avoid the time and inputs needed to have learned many lessons myself. Regarding your miscellaneous other duties..., I feel your pain. For the first summer, I am looking at my gardens, ponds, and flower / ornamental grass islands in order to eliminate some of the overload. I could set you up with several ornamental grass varieties that will be thinned or eliminated.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Another newbie here, and like Kyle, am having trouble finding an answer in all the parts I, II, etc. of these very long threads!! No negative connotation meant of course - this stuff is fantastic and I'm learning so much!!

Anyway, the one thing I can't seem to locate is, what is "Turface"?

Another is this - it's been asked a thousand times and I apologize, but I still don't understand about bark "fines". I can buy shredded bark, small nuggets, and large nuggets (all pine or cedar mostly). I'm assuming I need the smallest, but it sounds like the shredded isn't the way to go. The smallest nuggets will still be too large if I'm reading correctly. So until I can buy some small nuggets and let them sit for a season in order to break down a bit, what do you do to get these "fines"? I have no ability to grind anything up myself. Or am I wrong and I can use the shredded mulch?

I'm starting a brand new inground veggie garden and since it's going to take so long to dig the sod and prepare the soil, I plan on growing mini eggplants, hot peppers, and some herbs in pots on my deck. I was going to concentrate on putting the asparagus, tomatoes, string beans, lettuce, & spinach in the ground and I have 4' x 3' boxes with trellis' for the cukes and musk melons. I might try a few of the tomatoes in containers, however, if I can figure out this mix! I would like to use the 5:1:1 mix for the containers, but don't think I'll be able to locate the fines here in the Boston area - in the city I'm confined to what Home Depot or Lowes sells by the bag.

Thanks so much and sorry to ask you the same question for the 1,001st time!! I do much better with visuals! A picture of what you're talking about would probably answer a ton of questions if anyone has one!

Lisa


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Apr 7, 09 at 15:14

Turface is calcined (baked at very high temps until it's ceramic-like) clay. It's extremely porous & holds nutrients reasonably well. Use the Turface Locater to find it near you, or contact any John Deere Landscaping supply near you and ask about Profile Allsport. It's the same product.

Pine bark doesn't shred. Look for things like pine bark 'soil conditioner,'clay buster', 'mulch', etc. It's sold under a variety of names. I've found fines at Home Depot several times, so it might be worth another look.

What you see at the top is ideal for the 5:1:1 mix. The other two bark components would be just right in the gritty mix.
Photobucket

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Great! A picture paints a thousand words! Now I know exactly what you're talking about.

One more question, if you don't mind. I use what sounds like a similar product to grow my orchids in - it's irregular "balls" of clay that are fired hard and are very porous. They remind me of a rice crispy - riddled with lots of air holes and kind of "puffed". They're not solid balls. The orchid roots cling to them to anchor them in the pot and they wick up moisture from a reservoir at the bottom of the pot and the theory is the roots can grow to whatever level of moisture they prefer - drier towards the top and wetter at the bottom. It's inert material so all the nutrients are delivered via the water. They're about the size of a pea at the largest, most being a bit smaller.

Would that be a similar product or am I completely off the mark?

Lisa


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Apr 7, 09 at 17:08

That product (Hydroton?) sounds closest to Turface, but in soils, size of the particles is very important. Pea-sized particles, unless the other 2/3 of the particles are around 1/8" or a little smaller, are too large - unless you have LOTS of free time to spend watering. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

No, they're mostly the pea sized. But at least I understand what it is now. I think the two materials are probably pretty much the same thing, but the stuff I use for my orchids is much larger. I've been using it for years so you would think I could remember what it's called, but of course I'm pulling up a blank on it!!

Thanks for the info - what you've put forth makes so much sense I don't understand why it's not put out there more. You really should write a book! Every time I'm watching a show now and they're putting a layer of "drainage" at the bottom of the pot, I just chuckle!

And from growing orchids, first in bark, and now in that clay media, your mixes do make sense. You start to think about plants and roots a little differently when dealing with orchids so I've definitely broadened my knowledge of the mechanics of how plants grow, and your advice has taken me much further. Thanks teach!

Lisa


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Apr 8, 09 at 9:57

To broaden people's understanding of container soils and how water behaves in soils, and hopefully improve the growing experience was my original intent, so I'm very happy to see that's what you've taken from what I've shared. Thank you, Lisa. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Found one of these threads awhile back and it got me mixing my own soils instead of buying that same crap that never gave me good results. I gave up on container gardening awhile ago, but have been back into it for a few months now. The mixes have done very well for me, (I know what size of bark to use,it's just not always pure pine, usually mixed with some fir) and have consistently out preformed any other premix I've bought. Just wanted to say thanks Al. I hope this keeps getting re posted so others can see it in the future,


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 10, 09 at 8:27

Thanks for the kind words, PW. I hope that interest remains high so I can JUSTIFY reposting. ;o) I'm really glad your growing experience is more rewarding. THAT, is what makes me happiest!

Al


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RE: Grit Size

Hi folks,

The #10 crushed Granite I have is looking like 10% is 1/8" size, 75% is 1/16"-1/8" size, and 15% waste (< 1/16").


Siftings of Granite next to Playball
and Same pic but closeup.

Since the #10 granite is mostly 1/16"-1/8" sizes, does that contain more smaller particles than Gran-I-grit? I assume it does. Would my granite product negatively affect aeration/PWT beyond usefulness for the gritty mix (I'd need to order next size up).

If the answer is No, Gran-I-Grit is ballpark the same particle size by mixture as your #10 grit -- then no further reading is required and you've answered my question! I can adjust my ratio from here.

Before measuring the granite, I WAS going to change the ratio to more Turface vs less Granite, for a slightly more water retentive product. However, if the granite is smaller than Gran-I-Grit but NOT unreasonably different, would that accomplish the same thing? I would ONLY insect screen both granite and turface and mix at 1:1:1 with Wonderbark (plus the other "additives" like crf,gypsum,etc).

Thanks!
Chris

Background Information - Skip this Unless It's Needed


I know this has been asked before, but a picture is worth a thousand words and since I'm spending several hundred dollars on this soil (need to fill several 26" containers plus MANY medium size containers) I would be grateful knowing I have the right stuff.

I'm making Gritty 1:1:1 mix for various fruit/nut trees and live in hot and dry Fresno, CA. Our extremes: summers are dry 100+ and winters have only handful of days under 32 and avg about 10" rain/year. I protect all my containers during the three extremes (heat,rain,frost) with a simple frost-blanket mounted from my roof to the fence.

My Grit ProductI don't have Gran-I-Grit brand but I have pre-screened "Crushed Granite Grit". I bought size #10, which is right under the 1/4" size. Here is the link: A1 Crushed Granite Grit #10 Hopefully this is the correct size and may help others in the future.

Searching Tapla comments say:
1) the granite should be about the same size as the Turface,
2)inorganic particles 1/16 - 1/8 size are ideal, while larger 1/8 - 5/16 are better for the bark,
3)silica sand in 1/2 BB to BB size as replacement for the 'gritty mixes'.

I used a large sifter I built a few years back for compost. Since I was already 1/16" (insect screening) the Turface products to remove the "dusty" stuff, it was simple to add double-sift screens and simultaneously grab anything above 1/8".

Size Facts: The various Clay/DE products sift to about 30% (on top of 1/8" screen), 45% (between 1/16"-1/8" screens), and 25% waste (fall thru <1/16" insect mesh) by weight (I sifted and weighed after each of them). By far, Turface MVP had the smallest particles and the most waste compared to Axis,Playball, and Floor-Dry.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

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

"Since the #10 granite is mostly 1/16"-1/8" sizes, does that contain more smaller particles than Gran-I-grit?" It does, yes. I think that Gran-I-Grit 'Grower' size is mostly 1/8" particles. "Would my granite product negatively affect aeration/PWT beyond usefulness for the gritty mix?" No. The size profile you describe is very good - right on the border between supporting a PWT and not supporting one.

"... if the granite is smaller than Gran-I-Grit but NOT unreasonably different, would that accomplish the same thing?" Yes. I would leave the mix at equal parts and see how it goes.

I'm anxious to learn how you fare.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Thanks,Al for the reposting. I've really learned a great deal and I hope I'm starting to understand more.

There are 5 sizes of Gran-I-Grit it is quarried locally in NC. I'm not real sure how to post a link, but here's the one to NC Granite's gritmailer showing the different products they offer and there approx. sizes.

http://www.ncgranite.com/uploadimages/listings/gritmailer.pdf

Which of these do you feel would be best for gritty mix? The local F&G store can any of them for me but they only stock starter and grower which I think may be a bit to small.

Thanks again for the post and for your patience with all of us!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Al,

Excellent and thanks for the fast reply. I'm so glad my assumption is correct, that made everything so simple.

Being the anal retentive I am, I keep pictures at most stages and take copious notes; especially how much it will cost per volume (not weight). I'll post a detailed thread showing what I did for further reference in case anyone else needs it.

Now that I type that, I hate to think how long a detailed thread will be considering how my simple questions are wordy. I fault easily in this area since I type 90-100wpm. /sigh

Thanks again!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 10, 09 at 21:49

The only two sizes I use in soils are 'starter' and 'grower', and I use grower about 10 bags to 1 over starter, so 'Grower' is definitely the better (just about perfect) size.

Al


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RE: Container Soils -- Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 10, 09 at 21:54

Take it easy on me!! ;o) I tell the truth when I say I can't type. I type every reply with only my right index finger. I do use my left index finger to operate the 'Tab' and 'Shift' keys, which really speeds things up to (I'm guessing) somewhere around 15-20 wpm. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Thanks Al. I looked at both in the store and I was not sure.

Also, JD Landscape in Greensboro, NC just got in a good sized shipment of Turface"Allsport", if anyone in the area is interested. They were out for awhile but it came in this week.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Another question about the fertilizer. I'm using the Foliage Pro, and I know you said to use diluted strength (or full strength only once a month) - except I'm not sure which of their measurements I'm supposed to be diluting. The 1 tsp/gallon "production" strength, or the 1/4 tsp/gallon "maintenance" strength?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Apr 13, 09 at 15:18

The 'hand-watering' directions say "1-2 tsp every 2-4 weeks", which gives you quite a bit of latitude. If you're using a fast soil, you can use 1/2 tsp/gallon weekly, or 1 tsp/gallon every other week when plants are growing well. If you see signs of N deficiency (usually yellowing of the oldest leaves) then up the solution strength a little.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

I've been busy on the sunny days the past week and a half making up Gritty Mix. I made enough to fill my new black fiberglass square containers and a couple of pots, plus I filled up two trash cans with it for my neighbor. I used the Playball, the Gran-I-Grit Grower size, and pine bark that looks, size-wise, like a mixture of the stuff at twelve and three o'clock in your photo (I'll go to a quarry and dig sand, but I don't have the patience to sift four cubic feet of mulch!). I added the gypsum. I have already transplanted a Monarda. It is a tiny plant, but it seems to be already sending up more shoots. I had to maim my chives to get them out of their old pot, but they are doing fine in the Gritty Mix. Ditto the transplanted Coral Bells. I am using Miracle Gro Organic Choice dry plant food (7-1-2); I didn't want to waste the bag I had already bought, and I am going to grow some herbs and nasturtiums that I know need less food. I just received the shipment notice for the plants I ordered online; it's exciting! I'll probably have to keep them indoors a couple of weeks before transplanting. We'll see how it goes.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Apr 15, 09 at 21:16

;o) Good luck, Libby!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by filix z5 maine (My Page) on
    Thu, Apr 16, 09 at 7:23

Hello Al. If you were looking for bark fines, and you had a choice to have the real fine bark that passes through an insect screen in there. Or get it with the very fine stuff removed. Which would you prefer? Thanks. filix.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Apr 16, 09 at 9:33

For the 5:1:1 mix, I'd prefer no more than a 10% presence of extremely fine material if I'm using peat. If I eliminate the peat, I think up to 20% is a good guess.

I never measure these things any longer. I just look at a handful of the bark & know by instinct how much peat to add, or if I should add any at all. It's not that technical. As long as you proceed with the thought in mind that your goal is to provide and protect aeration for the life of the planting, you'll be fine.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by filix z5 maine (My Page) on
    Thu, Apr 16, 09 at 19:14

Thankyou Al. I bought 3 yards of a mixture of composted bark and uncomposted. The Guy mixed it. After I sifted alot of it through 1/4 inch screen, there seemed to be alot of very fine stuff in it. And I was right. about 30 to 40 percent. So I made a screen gage. It has a wooden hatch. It's about the size of a moniter heater. It holds about 15 gallons of bark. Then I use my leaf blower to just blow the fines out. Thats when I noticed after blowing the fine stuff out through the insect screen there was about 1/3 gone. filix.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Located gran-i-grit at $5.25 for 50 lbs and turface all-sport at $13.70 for 50 lbs. Too bad this stuff isn't lighter. Just thinking about the 50 lb large container that I am considering. ;)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by kimcoco Zone 5, Wisconsin (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 17, 09 at 0:47

So fine bark pines is really nothing more than shredded mulch? If so, I have to sit here and laugh at myself hysterically as I was thinking this was some specialty item. I look at it every time I go to the darn garden store, for crying out loud. I SHOULD have read these (long) threads sooner. Tell me if I am wrong.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by filix z5 maine (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 17, 09 at 7:05

Your not alone kimcoco. It's the way it's worded. When you talk about sand that's fine, you don't say sand fines you say fine sand. for this stuff, it's bark fines. I'm so grateful for Al teaching me how to make this dynamite soil. filix.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 17, 09 at 8:38

KC - It might be a fine point, but I don't like the word shredded, because there are many other bark products out there that ARE shredded that are inappropriate. I think pine bark is chipped or ground if it's fine enough, but yes, pine fines are either chipped fresh pieces of large mulch or the same pieces that have been windrowed and partially composted.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Hello again - I've just acquired some bromeliads, and am wondering about what type of fertilization they like.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Pine Fines sizes?

I know it has been posted here but I could not search to find it. I picked up soil conditioner (pine) and the sizes are fairly small. Their is no "chunks" in the soil. I would say the pine are more like really light organic soil. Fluffy is the best description :) Probably around 1/8 inch in size for the most part.

I have tomato's in the mix right now (5:1:1) that are doing OUTSTANDING! I should repost the pictures that I posted to this forum earlier as the pictured tomato plants in 511 vs the pictured tomato plants in alternat soil have probably tripled in size and a ton more leaves.

So the plant appears healthy and loving it. Ultimately, are smaller pines OK or will it cause problems in the container?

Thanks.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Apr 21, 09 at 9:17

Aariel - as I understand broms, there is a wide variety of nutritional needs that varies by species within the genus. Some plants like only occasional doses of N along with a fairly steady diet of 0-10-10, and others are perfectly happy with any 3:1:2 or 2:1:2 ratio fertilizer. Sometimes the fertilizing strategy takes into consideration plant shape/color, etc, and not just maximizing growth. I think I don't know enough about it to give specific advice, and it's probably outside the scope of the thread subject. ;o)

Linchat - It sounds like you have a source for your bark that is just perfect. ;o) I'm glad your plants are doing so well, too! Way to go!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by kimcoco Zone 5, Wisconsin (My Page) on
    Wed, Apr 22, 09 at 1:18

Al, I feel like I'm beating a dead horse here, but here goes...

I have the formula for your gritty mix and your basic mix. Is there a general rule to know which mix to use?

So the gritty mix, equal parts, I'm using for my houseplants. Correct me if I'm wrong.

I have a rubber tree plant, not sure of the scientific name, but would you recommend the gritty mix for that as well?

And the other basic mix 5:1:1 I'm using for my outdoor container plants - mostly annuals - and my outdoor flower window boxes?

What mix do I use for my tomato plants (in containers)?

I'm putting in a new hosta bad up front this year, in full shade, do I amend the soil up there too? It's clay maybe 18 inches down, full shade, maybe a little on the dry side because all the mature maple & elm trees on our street.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Apr 22, 09 at 8:43

Basically, I use the gritty mix for my woody material I'm growing on in containers (mostly for bonsai & I want rapid growth), houseplants (especially good for succulents and cacti/bulbs), and anything else I know will be in the same soil for more than a year.

I use the 5:1:1 mix for plantings intended to last only a year or two - veggies and the dozens of herbaceous floral display containers I place about the decks & gardens each year.

I use the 5:1:1 mix for tomatoes & all veggies (herbs go in the gritty mix).

Rubber tree/plant is prolly Ficus elastica, though there are other plants with the common name 'rubber plant' or 'rubber tree'.

I wouldn't amend the clay unless you can drain the water away to avoid the 'bathtub effect'. You might build a raised bed atop the clay, but again, I wouldn't double dig or incorporate 'drainage material' in the clay for fear of creating a 'bowl' that will fill with water each time it rains or you irrigate heavily. Hostas are pretty hardy & I've often seen them doing well in clay.

If the clay is 18" under the topsoil, go ahead and amend your heart out. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

OK....I have made a 'big batch' of this mix because I have a couple of pots where my plants have rotted due to moisture retention. But, I also have lots of 'self-watering' containers. I'm thinking I should NOT use a 'rapidly' draining mix in the SWC???? Could I use it there also???? (If not, what DO I use???) Advice please....
Thanks,
Linda


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Apr 23, 09 at 9:10

Just increase the peat to 2-3 parts (5:2-3:1, PB fines:peat:perlite) or add a little vermiculite (5:2:1:.5, PB fines:peat:perlite:vermiculite). Note the decimal point before the vermiculite (.5) - that's a half part.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

I'm thinking I should NOT use a 'rapidly' draining mix in the SWC???? Could I use it there also????

Linda,

If you are using 'official' Earthbox methodology where you have a fertilizer strip on the surface, or just barely under the surface of the potting mix and you have a cover over the top then you may need to use more peat or some vermiculite in the 5:1:1 mix to have the water wick fast enough to the surface and keep the fert strip moist. Same thing applies if you are direct sowing seeds into the container instead of transplants. The idea is that using EB methods, it is important that the top inch or two not stay dry.

If you are not following EB methodology and simply have a plant in a SWC and are fertilizing by incorporating a fert into the planting mix or using water soluble ferts in the reservoir or top watering them in then the 5:1:1 mix will work just fine.

If the bark you are using is fairly large and not at all composted you may still wish to increase the peat slightly. If it is somewhat composted you likely won't need to.

These days there are a lot of SWC designs on the market, some of which I have no idea how they even work. One design seems to expect the reservoir water to evaporate and the vapors soak into the bottom of the mix. Others use wicks or capillary mats. Others use wicking chambers where a small portion mix is in direct contact with the water.

Because of this some experimentation will be necessary to determine what works best.

Personally I only use SWCs where a portion of the mix is in water and wicking occurs from there. In my Wisconsin climate I use 4 parts pine bark (partially composted) and 1 part Turface MVP. No peat at all. I don't use EB methodology so I don't care that the top inch or so of the mix will be bone dry in the summer. In the past I have used the 5:1:1 mix with bark that was very fresh and not at all composted and did follow the EB methodology. I needed to increase the peat by 1 part or so for that to work.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by filix z5 maine (My Page) on
    Thu, Apr 23, 09 at 20:05

Al I have a 15 gallon container with the gritty mix. The clem is doing well, but the pot is very heavy. I was going to try bark,DE, and perlite. For the weight. Will this be ok. is that too much perlite? filix.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Apr 23, 09 at 21:58

It should be ok, Filix. The DE holds LOTS of water.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Thank you Al & justaguy2 for your responses...you both say to add vermiculite so I guess I will do that...maybe a little peat (the only pine bark fines I could find was partially composted)...As far as my containers, I have 1 'official' Earthbox...2 cont. from Gardenweb (all 3 rely on 'moisture wicking soil'), and 1 that has 'wicking material' on the bottom (plus I plan on making a few that I have seen on GW...they will be the 'soil wicking' type. Last year, I had 'forgotten' about the 'fertilizer strip' and had mixed it into the soil instead. Which way would work better for the container mix. Thanks so much for your responses!
Linda


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Last year, I had 'forgotten' about the 'fertilizer strip' and had mixed it into the soil instead. Which way would work better for the container mix. Thanks so much for your responses!

If you can put the strip of fert where it stays moist and away from roots that would be best (minimizes potential for root damage from high salt concentrations near the root), but the official EB methodology used to be mixing it in years ago as I understand from another poster.

I haven't done any kind of testing or comparisons between the two approaches so can't really help any further in that area.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

I am unable to find two of my post from 2 days ago.
I asked questions about inverted soft drink containers for watering my 5 gallon containers. I got two wonderful answewrs that really "saved my bacon".
This note is to thank the two that responded.
Steve


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 24, 09 at 14:14

That's cuz you're lost.

Al

Here is a link that might be useful: Follow me - I'll save you!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

I'm running low on the bark fines but haven't seen them anyplace local. Does anyone in New York City (inclusive of Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan & Bronx) know of a place where I can get them? Or someplace local enough that delivers to NYC? Mail order?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

I have got tomatos in 511 mix right now that were doing fantastic. They were fertilized with Espoma Tomato Tone. Long story short, they have started to take a turn for the worst. I suspected possible Magnesium deficiency.

Wandering what others are using for fertilizer? Do other people have Problem with Mg or Calcium deficiency in 511 and is it something generally need to stay on top of?

Symptoms are dried flowers, brown crumbing leaves, green veins with light color in between. Leaves seem kind of small and leathery. This is happening on two different varieties and at about the same time. Planted in 15 gallon containers. Happening to Better Bush and Better Boy variety.

Also, have been giving them Seaweed Emulsion / Fish Emulsion mix every couple of weeks. Is it possible heat problem?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Did you add dolomitic lime to the mix? If so you aren't likely seeing a deficiency of Ca or Mg.

How much Espoma Tomato tone did you give and is this a top watered container or self watering container?

The Seaweed/Fish Emulsions aren't good choices in containers.

Please provide more specifics and if you can a pic.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Will send pic this evening. I do not remember how much, but it was something like 1:25 as package recommended. I probably needed to fertilize again, I am over a month and the package recommends fertilizing again after 1 month.

Also, it is top watered via drip system.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Here is 1 pic and 4 links to other pictures.I linked them in, did not want to display the pics and slow this LONG forum down. :)

This was to tomato in 511 which WAS doing stellar until its quick descent. I know it is something I have done, some kind of definiecy, but what?

And I did add dolimitic lime to the 511.

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

In the soil recipy, it calls for micro-nutrients.
In one post, Al mentioned Micromax, is that a Miracle-Gro product? If so, I can't find it in any of our local big box stores or in any of the local nurserys. Scott's still haven't answered my e-mail. I have checked into Earth Juice' Microblast..nothing local and the shipping cost will be prohibitive.
Does anyone have any ideas what I can do to get the needed Ca,Mg and S
Thanks again, this is a wonderful group.
Steve


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Apr 29, 09 at 19:59

Linchat - it looks like too much fertilizer to me. What did you use? How much? How often?

Steve - if all you're looking for is Ca, Mg, and S, you can get that with dolomitic (garden) lime + elemental S or gypsum + Epsom salts - (CaSO4 + MgSO4).

Contact me off forum about a micro-nutrient source.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Well stated off with Espoma tomato tone. I might have come buy and gave them some seaweed emulsion / fish emulsion. Anyhow, I just game them some miracle grow, well I probably just killed them.

I have two other plants in same mix with 9 month fertilizer, they are actually flowering nicely. I might have used garden tone on these plants and not tomato tone.

Oh well, try try again.

AL:
When you are talking about a Micro Nutrient source, the ferts I am using Mg, Ca, Copper and so forth. Is this what you mean instead of just NPK?

Or some with trace minerals as well? Is this what Micromax supplies? I am in the same boat as esteban_2009 none of these items are available in my area.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Apr 30, 09 at 8:57

First. it wasn't a trace element problem that caused your plants to collapse. It was probably over-watering or fertilizing.

Most soluble fertilizers contain NPK, Z, Fe, Mn, and sometimes Cu. Primarily lacking are Ca, Mg, and S. Sometimes B(oron) or Mo(lybdenum) deficiencies will show up.

You cover the Ca and Mg with dolomitic lime when you make the soil. MG fertilizer & most solubles contain at lease the ingredients I listed above. S is usually very low in bark or peat based soils, so it can be a problem. To be on the safe side, I either add Micromax to my soil when I make it, or if the planting is in it's second or third year, I'll include STEM in the fertilizer solution.

The easy fix is to lime your soils when you make them and use Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 and forget the micro-nutrients. It contains everything essential to plant growth. For the gritty mix, you use gypsum instead of lime & then include a small amount of Epsom salts every time you fertilize.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

There is no frost in the ten-day forecast in my area, so I decided to pot some replaceable plants in my big 22" square container: purple basil, bronze fennel, and nasturtium seeds. I'm holding the Thai basil, Vietnamese coriander , and lemongrass until after the frost date, but the cats love the lemongrass, so it's a race to see if the cats get it before frost might. Although the purple basil was a little dried-out when I set it in, it perked right up and looks good. I sprinkled a very small amount of the chicken poop fertilizer on the mix, because I know it isn't the right ratio and the nasturtiums won't flower if treated too well. I have some 3-1-2 alfalfa meal on order.
Bee balm doesn't like being transplanted at all! My first sprig did nothing; the second bigger one promptly died. I think I have enough plants already anyway.
One coralbells bud drooped and died, but the other three look good. I'm thinking of getting a tall narrow trough-like container to put behind the herbs this fall, and growing beets in it in the cold weather and small eggplants in the summer. Hubby doesn't care for eggplant, so every time I buy a big one it goes bad in the fridge. I like the idea of picking a small one every now and then and enjoying it myself.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Hi Al,

Well, here I am- finally ready to mix up the 5:1:1. After much hunting, I have the products, though I am going to have to make some modifications.

My first purchase of fines is a Microbark, which turned out to be a little more coarse than I would like and appears to be uncomposted (the bag does not say). I then found a thoroughly composted product, Turf-N-Tee, and after picking it up today, it looks almost like it's a bit too fine. SO, in making do with what I have, I figure I will make a mixture of the two to comprise my pine fines component, and I've got the perlite, peat moss and Agricultural lime for the rest.

Here is a pic of the two ingredients.
5:1:1 ingredients for pine fines

Do you think that the smaller particle size material is too fine, and if so, would my idea of mixing these two mediums work? I need approximately 10 gallons of the pine fines per container, so I'm thinking perhaps 4 gallons of the larger pieces mixed with 6 gallons of the finer mix. (No science there, I just pulled that ratio from thin air.)

Thanks!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Oh, and one more question- Can I use a layer of the microbark on top as mulch in the container or should I get something larger that resembles more of a shredded type of bark?

Thanks!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Al or JAG - when adding gypsum to the gritty mix, does it need to be pelletized? I'm assuming yes, the powder form would just leach out? TIA


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

The lime/gypsum does not have to be pelletized. It will turn to powder as soon as you water anyways. You can observe this by just dropping a few pellets in a glass of water. The pellets just allow the material to be thrown more predictably when used outdoors and with spreaders.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Al

I have been reading to the point of being cross eyed. I have read the first 5 threads and half of 7. I have felt like this has been a boot camp on the subject. I just wanted to say thank you for your time and trouble. I started using your mix about two weeks ago and I have been amazed! The toms, peppers, squash and corn just seemed to have jump up a foot. Even the melons seem to love it. I modified the mix a touch by adding 1 part MG mix reg. to finish off the MG. Even with the rain here in central Va this weekend, the front steps has about 12 small pots with the mix for some more cucs corn and toms ready to go in the containers and the mix drained really well.

Sorry for the rambling, but I am really excited about this years plants. My grandfather has been gone for over twenty years he would have loved this. We had over an acre of garden when I was a kid and the good ole Al boy that he was, I can see him shaking his head and smiling.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Woe is me!
After mixing three 5 gallon containers of the 5:1:1: mix I realized I was using medium peat, NOT sphagnum peat. The peat I used this morning was very fine, like sawdust.
Would you folks recomment dumping all three containers out and starting new or is there a way to salvage my mistake.
Thanks,
Steve


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

I think the earlier problems I was having with the 5-1-1 was that a decent part of the pine fines contained larger pieces. I have a different brand of pine fines in an unopened bag.

Since I've got a large amount of pre-mixed potting mix with the larger stuff, is there any way to screen it out after the fact?

And what would you recommend using for a cheap sifter? Don't really want to go out and buy a thing of hardware cloth. I've been looking at the Dollar stores to see what kind of strainers they carry.

I've found a couple decorative baskets with painted mesh. Are those completely unsuitable?

Something I tried earlier with my potting soil comparison may be relevant to this discussion.

I was short on the commercial potting soil I used for my comparison, so I ended up covering the top with part seed-starting mix, part regular ingredients.

Since that stuff holds moisture pretty well, why not use it when planting seeds in the pine fines mixture?

If you have a 10 inch container, why not mix a little seed starter mix into the top inch of the 5-1-1. If you are top watering, at short intervals, that should keep the top layer relatively moist.

I'd add the caveat that I am doing this for veggies that I am growing from seed.

My unscientific take is that depending on the temperatures and soil moisture, some things (mostly observed lettuce) germinate quickly but don't take off growing rapidly in a loose mix like Al's mix.

I think I'm getting better results for plants that are in larger containers, grow relatively big and handle periods of drought better.

I still haven't figured out the right way to water with Al's mix. I'm used to sticking my finger into the plant, and if the top inch or so seems dry, I water. Plants that are physically harder to get to get watered less too. Particularly when I have a lot of them to water.

When my mom was really into gardening, she would get up to around 100 houseplants before she started killing them or giving them away. I think my limit of container plants might be more around 10 or 20. Depending how thirsty, fussy about water and fertilizer, and whether they are small and located next to each other. Such is the life of an apartment dweller with a demanding job.

Alice


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, May 17, 09 at 11:26

Sorry guys - I've been 'away'. ;o)

I think I answered some of these questions via email, but if I missed you & you need an answer, please ask again. I know I didn't answer Alice, so:

You can buy small pieces of hardware cloth and insect screen at most good (real) hardware stores. If you have someone to make a frame from 1x4s for you, you can staple it to the bottom of the frame. You can sometimes find wire mesh waste-baskets & letter boxes (like for your in and out trays on your desk) at dollar stores or office supply stores/depts. They will be somewhat useful.

Seed mixes need to A) be sterile B) hold enough water w/o being soggy C) hold LOTS of air. If you can find any material that isn't toxic and meets these three requirements, it will work well as a seed starter. I use screened Turface, then layer the seeds and cover them with about 1/4" of Turface fines. If you have really important seeds & want to get them off to a REALLY goods start, mix a fraction of chopped sphagnum moss (not peat) into the Turface & it will REALLY give the seedlings a boost.

"My unscientific take is that depending on the temperatures and soil moisture, some things (mostly observed lettuce) germinate quickly but don't take off growing rapidly in a loose mix like Al's mix."

I find the opposite. There is no substitute for a very well-aerated mix to promote rampant growth in seedlings. Aeration is a key consideration in EVERY commercial from-seed operation.

From another thread, Les asked:

"If you would so kind as to answer a couple of questions for me - will orchid bark work in your 5-1-1 mix? Also, what would be the best way to water? it should be very hard to over-water in your mix - right? How and when to fertilize and at what p.p.m.?"

Orchid (fir) bark is generally too large and is uncomposted, but if it is ground fairly fine (1/16 - 3/16 is best) it will work. I usually use it in <1/4" in the gritty mix because it's much more expensive than pine bark.

Water when plants need it - just before you think they will show signs of wilting. You need to water newly established plantings a little more often because roots are in the top part of the container, but once the planting is established & roots have colonized the soil mass, you can feel the soil at the drain most plants) and water when it feels dry. Alternately, stick a wick in the drain hole & water when the wick feels dry. You're right though; if the mix is made the way I make mine, it is very hard to over-water; but you CAN do it .... if you work hard enough at it. ;o)

Fertilizing is difficult to advise on, unless I know what you're using. If a soluble product like MG or others, there are a number of ways to fertilize. You should base application rates & intervals on temperatures & how fast the plant is growing. If you fertilize at 1/4 recommended strength every other time or every third time you water, while the plant is growing strongly, you will be in good shape. Alternately, you can half the recommended dosage and interval suggested on the container, or fertilize according to directions. If you have more fertilizer questions,l follow the link I left below.

Al


Here is a link that might be useful: Click me for more about fertilizing plants in containers


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

It must be getting near time for VIII! I've read this one, and most of I. still a lot of reading to go through, but have on ? for Al.

In some of your comments you state that your containers are very quick draining and need watering daily.

Do you really water daily? Or is it just well drained? I find it a chore to water weekly, and I know you have a lot of trees in containers.

For my inground tomatoes (Open bottom SFG) weekly watering is supposed to be optimum. I get so much rain I don't know if I'll even water them at all this summer. If at day 7 rain is forecasted in a day or two I'd probably just hold off. I realize gritty mix isn't ideal for toms but wonder how often container gardeners are watering them.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, May 24, 09 at 20:28

When I pot a plant something in the gritty mix, I consider how much it will mature before I repot and how large the container is. I then guess at about how fast the soil needs to be so that the planting will go 2 days between waterings if it has to, once it has matured. This is really kind of automatic by now, but that's how I judge how to make the soil, and I do water ALL of these plants every day. Sometimes it's only a splash to get them through until the next day (commonly with the pines & junipers I'm growing on for bonsai, and cacti/succulents, which often go quite a bit longer than a day between drinks.

Stuff in the 5:1:1 mix gets watered as needed, but by the time summer is getting old and the plantings are mature, they almost ALL need a drink-a-day, too.

The short version is I come much. much closer to watering everything every day than I do to watering every other day or at longer intervals.

I actually start out with the basic gritty mix & amend it for each individual planting. The 5:1:1 mix is usually pretty consistent, but IU sometimes add a little something to that for particular plants, too.

I have found that the soils/plantings in containers that need more frequent watering are almost certain to grow at closer to their potential genetic vigor than those combinations that see extended intervals between waterings ....... as long as you don't forget to water and kill them. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Al, for the big and small batches for which you provided the 'recipes', what is the total volume that results (in cubic feet or gallons)? Thanks.

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

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

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


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by pat_123 10/SF Bay Area 17 (My Page) on
    Tue, May 26, 09 at 3:26

I'm not Al, but the small batch recipe above totals approx 4 gallons and for me will fit in one 5-gallon bucket.

HTH


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, May 26, 09 at 9:14

The big batch makes from 3.0 - 4.5 cu ft of soil, or 25-35 gallons, depending on whether you start with 2 or 3 cu ft of bark.

The small batch, as Pat noted, makes about .5 cu ft or 4 gallons.

The Red Wings rock! ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

Thanks Al and HTH!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

HTH = hope that helps 8~)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, May 26, 09 at 18:43

I'm going to repost the thread later tonight & will want to leave links in the last (150th) post. I would appreciate it if you would refrain from posting until the new thread is up. Thanks. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VII

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, May 26, 09 at 21:18

Thanks for being patient, you can find the continuation of this thread by following the link below.

Thank you all very much for participating & making the thread such fun.

Al

Here is a link that might be useful: Click me to go to the new thread


 o Post a Follow-Up

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