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Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
Tue, Apr 29, 14 at 18:37

I guess I wasn't paying close enough attention to the last thread. I like to leave a link at the end of the previous to the new thread, which would be this one.

Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX
I first posted this thread back in March of '05. So far, it has reached the maximum number of posts GW allows to a single thread eighteen times, which is much more attention than I ever imagined it would garner. I have reposted it in no small part because it has been great fun, and a wonderful catalyst in the forging of new friendships and in increasing my list of acquaintances with similar growing interests. The forum and email exchanges that stem so often from the subject are in themselves enough to make me hope the subject continues to pique interest, and the exchanges provide helpful information. Most of the motivation for posting this thread another time comes from the reinforcement of hundreds of participants over the years that strongly suggests the information provided in good-spirited collective exchange has made a significant difference in the quality of their growing experience. I'll provide links to some of the more recent of the previous dozen threads and nearly 2,500 posts at the end of what I have written - just in case you have interest in reviewing them. Thank you for taking the time to examine this topic - I hope that any/all who read it take at least something interesting and helpful from it. I know it's long. My hope is that you find it worth the read, and the time you invest results in a significantly improved growing experience.
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 information.

Before we get started, I'd like to mention that I wrote a reply and posted it to a thread recently, and I think it is well worth considering. It not only sets a minimum standard for what constitutes a 'GOOD' soil, but also points to the fact that not all growers look at container soils from the same perspective, which is why growers so often disagree on what makes a 'good' soil. I hope you find it thought provoking:

Is Soil X a 'Good' Soil?

I think any discussion on this topic must largely center around the word "GOOD", and we can broaden the term 'good' so it also includes 'quality' or 'suitable', as in "Is soil X a quality or suitable soil?"

How do we determine if soil A or soil B is a good soil? and before we do that, we'd better decide if we are going to look at it from the plant's perspective or from the grower's perspective, because often there is a considerable amount of conflict to be found in the overlap - so much so that one can often be mutually exclusive of the other.

We can imagine that grower A might not be happy or satisfied unless knows he is squeezing every bit of potential from his plants, and grower Z might not be happy or content unless he can water his plants before leaving on a 2-week jaunt, and still have a weeks worth of not having to water when he returns. Everyone else is somewhere between A and Z; with B, D, F, H, J, L, N, P, R, T, V, X, and Y either unaware of how much difference soil choice can make, or they understand but don't care.

I said all that to illustrate the large measure of futility in trying to establish any sort of standard as to what makes a good soil from the individual grower's perspective; but let's change our focus from the pointless to the possible.

We're only interested in the comparative degrees of 'good' and 'better' here. It would be presumptive to label any soil "best". 'Best I've found' or 'best I've used' CAN sometimes be useful for comparative purposes, but that's a very subjective judgment. Let's tackle 'good', then move on to 'better', and finally see what we can do about qualifying these descriptors so they can apply to all growers.

I would like to think that everyone would prefer to use a soil that can be described as 'good' from the plant's perspective. How do we determine what a plant wants? Surprisingly, we can use %s established by truly scientific studies that are widely accepted in the greenhouse and nursery trades to determine if a soil is good or not good - from the plant's perspective, that is. Rather than use confusing numbers that mean nothing to the hobby grower, I can suggest that our standard for a good soil should be, at a minimum, that you can water that soil properly. That means, that at any time during the growth cycle, you can water your plantings to beyond the point of saturation (so excess water is draining from the pot) without the fear of root rot or compromised root function or metabolism due to (take your pick) too much water or too little air in the root zone.

I think it's very reasonable to withhold the comparative basic descriptor, 'GOOD', from soils that can't be watered properly without compromising root function, or worse, suffering one of the fungaluglies that cause root rot. I also think anyone wishing to make the case from the plant's perspective that a soil that can't be watered to beyond saturation w/o compromising root health can be called 'good', is fighting on the UP side logic hill.

So I contend that 'good' soils are soils we can water correctly; that is, we can flush the soil when we water without concern for compromising root health/function/metabolism. If you ask yourself, "Can I water correctly if I use this soil?" and the answer is 'NO' ... it's not a good soil ... for the reasons stated above.

Can you water correctly using most of the bagged soils readily available? 'NO', I don't think I need to point to a conclusion.

What about 'BETTER'? Can we determine what might make a better soil? Yes, we can. If we start with a soil that meets the minimum standard of 'good', and improve either the physical and/or chemical properties of that soil, or make it last longer, then we have 'better'. Even if we cannot agree on how low we wish to set the bar for what constitutes 'good', we should be able to agree that any soil that reduces excess water retention, increases aeration, ensures increased potential for optimal root health, and lasts longer than soils that only meet some one's individual and arbitrary standard of 'good', is a 'better' soil.

All the plants we grow, unless grown from seed, have the genetic potential to be beautiful specimens. It's easy to say, and easy to see the absolute truth in the idea that if you give a plant everything it wants it will flourish and grow; after all, plants are programmed to grow just that way. Our growing skills are defined by our ability to give plants what they want. The better we are at it, the better our plants will grow. But we all know it's not that easy. Lifetimes are spent in careful study, trying to determine just exactly what it is that plants want and need to make them grow best.

Since this is a soil discussion, let's see what the plant wants from its soil. The plant wants a soil in which we have endeavored to provide in available form, all the essential nutrients, in the ratio in at which the plant uses them, and at a concentration high enough to prevent deficiencies yet low enough to make it easy to take up water (and the nutrients dissolved in the water). First and foremost, though, the plant wants a container soil that is evenly damp, never wet or soggy. Giving a plant what it wants, to flourish and grow, doesn't include a soil that is half saturated for a week before aeration returns to the entire soil mass, even if you only water in small sips. Plants might do 'ok' in some soils, but to actually flourish, like they are genetically programmed to do, they would need to be unencumbered by wet, soggy soils.

We become better growers by improving our ability to reduce the effects of limiting factors, or by eliminating those limiting factors entirely; in other words, by clearing out those influences that stand in the way of the plant reaching its genetic potential. Even if we are able to make every other factor that influences plant growth/vitality absolutely perfect, it could not make up for a substandard soil. For a plant to grow to its genetic potential, every factor has to be perfect, including the soil. Of course, we'll never manage to get to that point, but the good news is that as we get closer and closer, our plants get better and better; and hopefully, we'll get more from our growing experience.

In my travels, I've discovered it almost always ends up being that one little factor that we willingly or unwittingly overlooked that limits us in our abilities, and our plants in their potential.

Food for thought:
A 2-bit plant in a $10 soil has a future full of potential, where a $10 plant in a 2-bit soil has only a future filled with limitations. ~ Al

Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention

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

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

Consider this if you will:

Container soils are all about structure, and particle size plays the primary role in determining whether a soil is suited or unsuited to the application. Soil fills only a few needs in container culture. Among them are: Anchorage - a place for roots to extend, securing the plant and preventing it from toppling. Nutrient Retention - it must retain a nutrient supply in available form sufficient to sustain plant systems. Gas Exchange - it must be amply porous to allow air to move through the root system and gasses that are the by-product of decomposition to escape. Water - it must retain water enough in liquid and/or vapor form to sustain plants between waterings. Air - it must contain a volume of air sufficient to ensure that root function/metabolism/growth is not impaired. This is extremely important and the primary reason that heavy, water-retentive soils are so limiting in their affect. Most plants can be grown without soil as long as we can provide air, nutrients, and water, (witness hydroponics). Here, I will concentrate primarily on the movement and retention of water in container soil(s).

There are two forces that cause water to move through soil - one is gravity, the other capillary action. Gravity needs little explanation, but for this writing I would like to note: Gravitational flow potential (GFP) is greater for water at the top of the container than it is for water at the bottom. I'll return to that later.

Capillarity is a function of the natural forces of adhesion and cohesion. Adhesion is water's tendency to stick to solid objects like soil particles and the sides of the pot. Cohesion is the tendency for water to stick to itself. Cohesion is why we often find water in droplet form - because cohesion is at times stronger than adhesion; in other words, water's bond to itself can be stronger than the bond to the object it might be in contact with; cohesion is what makes water form drops. Capillary action is in evidence when we dip a paper towel in water. The water will soak into the towel and rise several inches above the surface of the water. It will not drain back into the source, and it will stop rising when the GFP equals the capillary attraction of the fibers in the paper.

There will be a naturally occurring "perched water table" (PWT) in containers when soil particulate size is under about .100 (just under 1/8) inch. Perched water is water that occupies a layer of soil at the bottom of containers or above coarse drainage layers that tends to remain saturated & will not drain from the portion of the pot it occupies. It can evaporate or be used by the plant, but physical forces will not allow it to drain. It is there because the capillary pull of the soil at some point will surpass the GFP; therefore, the water does not drain, it is said to be 'perched'. The smaller the size of the particles in a soil, the greater the height of the PWT. Perched water can be tightly held in heavy (comprised of small particles) soils where it perches (think of a bird on a perch) just above the container bottom where it will not drain; or, it can perch in a layer of heavy soil on top of a coarse drainage layer, where it will not drain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I always remain cognizant of these physical principles whenever I build a soil. I have not used a commercially prepared soil in many years, preferring to build a soil or amend one of my 2 basic mixes to suit individual plantings. I keep many ingredients at the ready for building soils, but the basic building process usually starts with conifer bark and perlite. Sphagnum peat plays a secondary role in my container soils because it breaks down too quickly to suit me, and when it does, it impedes drainage and reduces aeration. Size matters. Partially composted conifer bark fines (pine is easiest to find and least expensive) works best in the following recipes, followed by uncomposted bark in the <3/8" range.

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

Note that there is no sand or compost in the soils I use. Sand, as most of you think of it, can improve drainage in some cases, but it reduces aeration by filling valuable macro-pores in soils. Unless sand particle size is fairly uniform and/or larger than about BB size, I leave it out of soils. Compost is too fine and unstable for me to consider using in soils in any significant volume as well. The small amount of micro-nutrients it supplies can easily be delivered by one or more of a number of chemical or organic sources that do not detract from drainage/aeration.

The basic soils I use ....

The 5:1:1 mix:

5 parts pine bark fines, dust - 3/8 (size is important
1 part sphagnum peat (not reed or sedge peat please)
1-2 parts perlite (coarse, if you can get it)
garden lime (or gypsum in some cases)
controlled release fertilizer (if preferred)

Big batch:
2-3 cu ft pine bark fines
5 gallons peat
5 gallons perlite
2 cups dolomitic (garden) lime (or gypsum in some cases)
2 cups CRF (if preferred)

Small batch:
3 gallons pine bark
1/2 gallon peat
1/2 gallon perlite
4 tbsp lime (or gypsum in some cases)
1/4 cup CRF (if preferred)

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

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

The gritty mix:

1 part uncomposted screened pine or fir bark (1/8-1/4")
1 part screened Turface
1 part crushed Gran-I-Grit (grower size) or #2 cherrystone
1 Tbsp gypsum per gallon of soil (eliminate if your fertilizer has Ca)
CRF (if desired)

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

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

Post XVIII

Post XVII

Post XVI

Post XV

Post XIV

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

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

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

Finally, if you are primarily into houseplants, you can find an Overview of the Basics that should provide help in avoiding the most common pitfalls.

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

Al

This post was edited by tapla on Tue, Apr 29, 14 at 23:23


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hi Al,

I just wanted to congratulate you on another transition to your thread here on the Container forum. Can you believe.. XIX? It is just a way to prove to all of us and the new people that are looking for help with all of your wonderful guidance and information, that there is a place where we can come and find
Help and see that others are willing to share their knowledge.

We all appreciate everything that you do for us and I personally want to thank you for adding so much to my growing abilities. It makes me feel so confident to just know that I understand the basics and can build from there and continue to learn because of you. So, Thank you for all that you do for me, for all of the regulars and especially for the new gardeners looking for the special guidance that is so freely given by such a generous person.

I truly am thankful for all that you do...

Have a wonderful continuous thread full of questions and answers. It is a wealth of information and a thread that will never stop giving... ;-)

Thank you so much my friend!!!

Laura

This post was edited by loveplants2 on Wed, Apr 30, 14 at 9:35


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Apr 29, 14 at 23:22

Thank you for the very kind words, Laura. Whenever we consider committing to something, we usually weigh the potential for reward against the expected effort. The reward of meeting friends like you and all the other great people who have come and gone, or stayed, is more than enough to keep me hanging around. I appreciate everything you expressed. Thank you for being so helpful and positive on this thread and all the others to which you contribute.

There are a good number of others who deserve praise for all their regular and helpful contributions, too. Lots of good folks pulling together have really helped keep this thread active for so long. Thanks!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Question: It has rained every day for a while.

I have Osmocote Plus CRF worked into the upper few inches of the pots but, I haven't watered, so I haven't given them their fertilization in water soluable form.

Since the 5-1-1 makes it harder to overwater, should I still add water with the fertilizer mixed in even though it is raining?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Apr 30, 14 at 14:39

That's sort of a judgment call, but I think I'd tend to wait until the plant needs water to fertigate - especially since you do have some CRF on board. The 5:1:1 mix IS hard to overwater if you effectively reduced the amount of excess water the soil can hold, but there is still no sense in tempting fate. What have the temps been like there? - the CRF is primarily temperature controlled.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

The temps have been in the upper 70s F the previous 5 days. But it cooldown due to all the rain. Today's high is 63.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Enjoy your read everyone

This post was edited by meyermike_1micha on Sun, May 4, 14 at 22:09


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by neuf 5 Indy (My Page) on
    Fri, May 2, 14 at 7:03

I am a bit concerned about the concept of flush watering houseplants that are in large pots on a frequent basis. I can put many of the plants in the sink or tub, but some of them are too big too be moving around that much. How do you handle watering those plants?

Jeff


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, May 2, 14 at 20:43

Set large pots up on blocks with a collection saucer under the planting. Water until the soil is completely saturated, and at least 15-20% of the total volume of water provided exits the drain hole(s). The soil in the pot should be totally divorced from the effluent in the collection saucer, so salts flushed from the soil can't find their way back into the soil. Isotonicity (balance in salt concentration) between the soil solution and the effluent happens very quickly, so the best way to keep it from happening is by not providing the bridge between soil and effluent. If the water in the collection saucer doesn't evaporate quickly enough, or there is so much water collected in the saucer that it simply can't evaporate between waterings, use a turkey baster or something similar to remove it from the saucer.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Al, I also want to thank you for all your knowledge and help. Last year I tried, to the best of my ability, to grow my tomatoes in your 5-1-1 mix. It wasn't perfect, but I had decent results, considering the weather conditions. I hope to improve on it this year, having learned a few things, and gaining more knowledge and confidence. I can't understand all the technical stuff about growing conditions, but as long as I can get the basic facts and it works, I'm happy! So thanks to both you and Dave (digdirt), growing tomatoes has become a passion for me and I'm sure for many people! I just love watching those seeds germinate and grow and produce fruit!
Sharon


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Good morning Everyone. Based on Al's reply in a different thread as well as several posts by other veteran members, I made a batch of 5-1-1 mix this morning. I customized it a bit, so it's really a 6-1 mix of pine bark and granite.

I found some bagged pine bark at a local Kmart store. The bark was mostly 1/2" or less in size with only a few larger pieces removed during screening. It also contained a significant amount of fines (1/8" to dust). Since the bark contained so much fine material I decided NOT to add any peat to the mix.

I also had a large bag of poultry grit (granite) on hand that I wanted to use up. Al indicated that the granite would work as an acceptable substitute for perlite, so I added it to the mix. Substituting granite for perlite in the mix helped me use up the granite and added a bit of extra weight to the mix, which might come in handy in windy areas.

So basically what I ended up with is a "6-1" mix (6 parts pine bark mulch and 1 part granite) plus 1 tablespoon of lime per gallon. This mix is very easy and in my case eliminated the need for perlite and peat. I'm attaching a photo of the final product for reference.

If I want a soil mix that holds less water with better drainage I can increase the amount of granite in the mix. Since most pine trees like a fairly dry soil I would add more granite to the mix and add less bark for something like a 3-1 mix.

I've planted a couple of small white spruce trees in this mix and will keep an eye on their progress.

Thanks.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

This will be my fourth year using the 5-1-1 and gritty mixes. I really love how well my container vegetables and annual flowers grow in the 5-1-1. And I probably have almost 50 house plants in gritty mix that are thriving as well. This time of year, when I'm moving my house plants outdoors and starting my vegetables, we can get heavy rains and fluctuating temperatures, and the value of having fast draining mixes really shows. I use controlled release fertilizers in my mixes so I don't need to worry about having to fertilize with soluble fertilizers when it's so wet. But once summer starts in earnest with high temperatures and less rain, I agree with Mike that it's very important to fertigate regularly.

Thank you Al for giving us the knowledge to succeed in this wonderful endeavor. You've also created a fellowship of wonderful people who help each other and learn together. I am having so much fun!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Can I use a commercial potting mix (Miracle Gro and the like) and pumice in place of peat and perlite in the 5-1-1?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, May 3, 14 at 21:51

DHL ... - Yes you can.

Hello, Robin - Thank you! ..... you too, Sharon!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Thanks, Al.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Al,

I wanted to echo Ohiofem's note above. Appreciate all the guidance and information you have provided in these posts. Your 5-1-1 and grit mix formulas are famous and discussed all over the GW forums and many other places on the internet.

The modified 5-1-1 mix (aka the "6-1 mix") I made by using pine bark and pine bark fines, along with grower sized granite I mentioned above in an earlier post turned out very well. It seems to hold a fair amount of water thanks to the pine bark fines but I think it will also drain well.

For my next batch I might go with a 3-1 ratio (three parts pine bark and fines to 1 part granite) as a further test. Plus the 1 tablespoon lime per gallon of soil mix of course.

I'm assuming the pH of this pine bark/granite soil would be quite low so the lime will help raise it a bit as well as providing the missing Ca & Mg from the MG 24-8-16 fertilizer I'm using.

Thanks again everyone.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, May 4, 14 at 11:25

I think the gritty mix requires more attention to detail than the 5:1:1 mix, mainly because one of the goals we keep in mind when we make the gritty mix is to eliminate as much inter-particulate (perched) water as possible, and control the amount of intra-particulate water retention by varying the ratio of the ingredients or the ingredients themselves. You'll quickly be able to discard the 'recipe' for the 5:1:1 mix because you'll develop the same 'feel' for making the soil as my grandmother had for baking bread - no recipe - add the right stuff until it looks like what you want.

The important part is understanding why water stays in the soil or finds its way out of the pot, so you can more effectively deal with it. That alone is a significant step forward.

Thank you for the kind expression. ;-)

Best luck!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Ah! I had my first wilt emergency over the weekend. I stepped out of my house in the morning and saw that the soil was still moist beneath the surface and continued on my way, when I came back the more moisture sensitive plant, a fern, was wilting! (the other less sensitive plants were fine.)

It's fine now, but I made sure to give them a deep drink last night and as well as this morning. It was the first hot day of the year, and I should have known better. This isn't peat pudding!

I have 10 more plants coming in the mail this week. this could get interesting!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

When I read about "food grade DE," the manufacturer or seller's website tend to note that processed/calcined DE like those made for pool filter is toxic. So, is there any concern with stuff like NAPA part #8822/Floor Dry being toxic?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

I got online to research a better soil mix before I start growing a mango and meyer's lemon tree from seed. I am very impressed with the amount of research Al has done before. thank you! I will be using the gritty mix for both of the trees, but I have read elsewhere that the mango is very sensitive to over-fertilizing. The one article suggested 1-1-1. Any thoughts? Is CRF okay?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

I am a new convert here after months of studying the concept . This year I am using 5-1-1 as my potting mix. Now I have a question (to Al or anybody who is willing to answer it).

One Of the things that Al talked about is PWT. He mentions that it would depend on the structure of the soil. And understandably, one of the advantages of 5-1-1 it to reduce it :
Now here is my question:

WHAT IS THE "PWT" HEIGHT OF A TYPICAL 5-1-1 MIX (or what to expect to be) ?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

I've got a couple citrus trees in MG's Citrus/Palm mix, I desperately want to change the soil due to gnats in the soil.

I've also gotten a couple tomatoes and peppers, and before I pot them I want to make sure I have a good mix, gnat free.

I'm doing all my plants indoors in containers. Is there any special changes I should make to the 5-1-1 mix to make it more suitable for indoor container gardening? I read on different threads that the gritty mix would be better for the citrus trees, any changes I should make to that for indoors?

These are the pots I am currently using with my Citrus trees and will probably use with my veggies, http://www.lowes.com/pd_485012-30138-81314_4294612575__?productId=50054413&Ns=p_product_price:0&pl=1¤tURL=%3FNs%3Dp_product_price%7C0%26page%3D5&facetInfo=

Thanks!!!
Natasha


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

My plants are really happy!

It's my first time growing in such a shady spot, I'm still sad about not having any tomatoes :(

I've seen people grow annual begonias on porches with success before so, I planted my 1st container with these, a fern and creeping Jenny to start out. I picked as small of a plant I could in tiny pint containers at the Big Box Store.

The plants have grown about an inch a week, the Fern puts out multiple new branches per week. The begonias are full of blossoms, the smallest of which is 1 inch across. These are the biggest blossoms I've ever seen on an annual shade begonia. See attached photo. This plant started out about 3 and a half inches across and now is twice that size.

5-1-1 mix as well as the helpful advice for watering and fertilizing has really been a success.

Thanks everyone!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Okay, I think I'm finished collecting the ingredients for the gritty mix. I couldn't find any Turface, so picked up some floor dry made of diatomaceous earth and montmorillonite clay. Is this a good substitute? I think it might be after looking them up on the internet, but am not sure how this affects the PWT. Thanks in advance!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, May 18, 14 at 16:13

Sorry guys - I've been really, REALLY busy with work and trying to get bonsai repots behind me.

PSG - 1:1:1 ratio fertilizers can be used if you wish, but we know that plants don't use nutrients in a 1:1:1 ratio. NPK usage in plants averages out to be about 10 (N):1.5 (P):6 or 7 (K). After the calculating is done for how P and K are reported on fertilizer labels, 3:1:2 fertilizers come closest to providing nutrients in the same ratio as that at which they are used.

Fortunately, since you're using a soil you can flush at will, the fertilizer ratio in the soil won't quickly become skewed. For example, if your squirrel eats 3 kernels of corn, one walnut, and 2 acorns per day, and you buy a mix of equal parts of each, in order to feed him 3 kernels of corn, you'll be supplying him 3 walnuts and 6 acorns. At that rate, it won't take long for his cage to fill up with acorns and walnuts ..... unless you empty it regularly. Nutrients in soil are the same. Unless you flush accumulating nutrients out of the soil, sort of like hitting the fertilizer concentration reset button, you'll soon be dealing with the effects of the accumulating salts and the trappings of antagonistic deficiencies (an excess of 1 nutrients affecting the uptake of others).

If you understand the original post above, you'll know that particle size is a consideration, as is the stability of the particles. If your calcined DE/clay screens out ok, and the product is stable, it's fine to use.

Seysonn - Particle size has a significant impact on the ht of the PWT, so it's difficult to say how high the PWT might be in your soil. The way I make mine, the PWT is very low - less than 1". I can tell by looking at the bark how much peat I can add and still keep the PWT that low - one of the plusses derived from working with the same ingredients (other than a size variation) year after year.

Natasha - no need to alter the 5:1:1 or gritty mix for houseplants. They both guarantee superiority in the areas of drainage and aeration when compared to soils based on fine particulates. Because I have the choice, all my houseplants are in the gritty mix.

Couldn't get the pot link to work - sorry.

Woodland - glad you're having fun. It's always my hope that the info in these threads helps others get more from the gardening experience. Obviously, we love success stories! ;-)

Some begonias:

 photo begonia002_zpsa6dbfec2.jpg
 photo workbench062.jpg
 photo workbench058.jpg

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Excellent! Thanks!!!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Seysonn - Particle size has a significant impact on the ht of the PWT, so it's difficult to say how high the PWT might be in your soil. The way I make mine, the PWT is very low - less than 1". I can tell by looking at the bark how much peat I can add and still keep the PWT that low - one of the plusses derived from working with the same ingredients (other than a size variation) year after year. (tapla)
%%%%%%%%%%%
Thanks Al.
My mixture is pretty consistent. Mostly between 1/8" to 3/8" (plus some very fine + some peat moss) So anything under 2" PWT should not be a problem IMO.
I cannot speak for the others here, but 5-1-1 is a good choice for me. I don't know if I could use it in South Central Texas, eg, but it is a perfect potting medium in my PNW climate And I am thank you for that.

Have a nice 2014 grow season !


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hey Al and everyone,

Quick question on potting up to the 5-1-1.

I started my peppers in the winter in a soggy peat mix (lucky I started WAY early...). I am going to pot them up into the 5-1-1 and am unsure as to whether I need to just put them in as they are or if I should wash off the garbage mix and put them into 5-1-1 bare-root?

Also, I read this on page 15 (slowly working my way back) and it concerns me a little since I've started these babies in the pudding and bb mix--

"Almost NO plants in containers like wet feet. Most thrive when the soil is about as damp as a wrung out sponge. Why? Because that water:air ratio MAXIMIZES air retention while ensuring enough moisture for the plant. Even bog plants don't like wet feet in containers. This has to do with the type of tissue formed in roots. The plant in wet soil develops a root type that allows the plant to get the O2 needed for root function/metabolism through the top of the plant (aerenchyma instead of the normal parenchyma). When the soil dries down a little, these roots are then very inefficient at absorbing water and nutrients. IOW, the plant cannot handily make the transition from the less desirable wet soil to the more desirable damp soil; nor can it readily make the reverse adaptation." (Tapla)

Does this mean my plant's are going to have a tough time crossing over?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

NewContainer,
remove a good amount of the peat-based potting mix, but try to maintain the integrity of the roots. After transplanting, be sure to keep the upper inches of the 5-1-1 mix moist for at least the first week of transition. After that, you can allow the mix to dry down more between waterings (once the roots have colonized the mix).

Seysonn,
you could certainly use the 5-1-1 if you were gardening in Texas.....but you would want to use larger containers to allow for temperature and moisture buffering. As many folks have reported, even the heaviest and muckiest peat pudding mixes need to be watered daily in Texas.....if the containers are small.

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Thanks for the quick reply Josh! I will give it a go.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hey Al and everyone,

Quick question on potting up to the 5-1-1.

I started my peppers in the winter in a soggy peat mix (lucky I started WAY early...). I am going to pot them up into the 5-1-1 and am unsure as to whether I need to just put them in as they are or if I should wash off the garbage mix and put them into 5-1-1 bare-root?

Also, I read this on page 15 (slowly working my way back) and it concerns me a little since I've started these babies in the pudding and bb mix--

"Almost NO plants in containers like wet feet. Most thrive when the soil is about as damp as a wrung out sponge. Why? Because that water:air ratio MAXIMIZES air retention while ensuring enough moisture for the plant. Even bog plants don't like wet feet in containers. This has to do with the type of tissue formed in roots. The plant in wet soil develops a root type that allows the plant to get the O2 needed for root function/metabolism through the top of the plant (aerenchyma instead of the normal parenchyma). When the soil dries down a little, these roots are then very inefficient at absorbing water and nutrients. IOW, the plant cannot handily make the transition from the less desirable wet soil to the more desirable damp soil; nor can it readily make the reverse adaptation." (Tapla)

Does this mean my plant's are going to have a tough time crossing over?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

So this is what I found at Lowes/HD this morning, the same purple bag at both locations. "Pink Bark Mulch"


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

So I made a little test mix using pine bark I found at my local garden center today...I mixed it in with the Fafard's potting mix I had. While mixing I noticed a small bug crawling around, an ant or a spider or something. Should I be concerned? The bag of pine was outside in a pile.

Thanks!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

nmr82 - probably nothing to worry about. Spiders are good guys. That ant would be far from home if it were an ant. Insects for the most part aren't bad guys, there are just a select few that cause problems.

A question of my own:

Do I have to wait two full weeks after mixing in the dolomite to plant my peppers in the 5-1-1? If possible I'd like to put them in this Thurs due to my work schedule and that would be at the one week mark. Would this cause a lot of problems?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

nmr82 - probably nothing to worry about. Spiders are good guys. That ant would be far from home if it were an ant. Insects for the most part aren't bad guys, there are just a select few that cause problems.

A question of my own:

Do I have to wait two full weeks after mixing in the dolomite to plant my peppers in the 5-1-1? If possible I'd like to put them in this Thurs due to my work schedule and that would be at the one week mark. Would this cause a lot of problems?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

I would not bare root them. These are edibles that you want production on this season. Bare rooting would set them back too much, and could stress them beyond recovery.

Just tease out and circling roots gently when you transplant them.

I think you are over thinking things a bit.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

New container grower: one week of allowing the lime to do its work is enough. Two weeks would be a little better, if you have the time. But I have planted in the first 24 hours and so have many others without encountering significant problems.

Nmr82: I agree that the bug is very unlikely to be a problem. But I am a little concerned about how many big pieces there are in your pine bark. The lighter colored stuff is sapwood and many pieces of the darker colored stuff look well over 1/2 inch wide. It would be better if everything was under 3/8 inch wide. Can you screen and pick the sapwood and larger pieces out?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

How fine is too fine?

With my chipper I can take pine bark mulch and turn it into *very* fine particles. I don't know how to describe it well but I expect it would all easily fit through a 1/8" mesh. My chipper makes this when the bark is wet; if it's dry the particle size is larger.

What I did was took pine bark mulch, screened it with a 1/2 hardware cloth, then ground up the large pieces (about half the total) while wet. Then I then mixed the two back together. Seems to be working okay so far.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Ohiofem--I can definitely do that :)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Bump!

Hey, Al and company! :-)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Another bump to add to Jodi.. ;-)

Nice to see you, Jodi!!!

Take care,

Laura


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hey, Laura! :-)

Nice to see you, too! You wouldn't believe the growth on my Plumeria, and it's still sitting inside by a window! I'm impressed this year! :-)

I'll be taking it with me northward... we're going home, finally! :-)

We're getting too old, and are too worn down to continue laboring so hard, so far from home. We're moving back to be with the kids and grandkids! I'm so excited! I'll keep in touch, with new emails, etc...


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How big is too big for growing in containers?

Before I noticed that there were quite a few stores near by that sold turface, I picked up a package of hydrocorn.

I believe the hydrocorn is also arcillite (sp?) like turface, but the particles are really large maybe 1/2 inch or so. Is it possible to use this in the gritty mix?

How big is too big?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

1/2 inch might be a bit too large, depending on the size of the other ingredients used... it's fairly important that all ingredients be approximately similar in size for best results, though perhaps someone a little more familiar can throw in more information... anyone?

But the good news is... according to Wikipedia, "Montmorillonite can be calcined to produce arcillite, a porous, calcined clay sold as a soil conditioner for playing fields and other soil products such as for use as bonsai soil as an alternative to akadama."

So, there is that. Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Arcillite


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Jodi... I'm so happy for you!! Good luck in your travels home!! I know that is where you want to be, so I'm pleased for you!! Time to relax and enjoy your family!! You deserve this. Glad to hear the Plumeria is doing well, means a lot to know you are taking her home with you.. Xo. Stay in touch...

Laura

Interesting about the Arcillite!! Thank you.., Sounds to large for the gritty. Could you take it back since you found the Turface? Maybe they will?

Good luck!!!

Laura


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Thanks, Laura! I wouldn't think of leaving my gifted plants behind... they each remind me of a friendship. I certainly will stay in touch! :-)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hey all,

Long time lurker, first time poster (I have read more about container soils that i thought possible for one person). However, in the last few weeks I messed up and re-potted most of my plants and all my container veggies before I was truly aware of the 5-1-1 mix and all it's glowing reviews. I have since gone out and purchased too much pine bark fines and am going to repot my remaining plans (aloe, jades, etc) in 5-1-1 this weekend. With the tomatoes and peppers, i am going to leave well enough alone for this season. However, should i repot my Scheffs, fiddle leaf fig, succulents, etc immediately, or wait? If so, do i need to wait a whole year. Time is right now so i don't want to miss a potential window. None actually (seem) stressed from the re-pot, but I think i just applied the law of diminishing returns Al often describes, especially with my aging scheffs.

Also, if anyone would like to trade some gritty mix components for 5-1-1, please PM me. I am in Cambridge MA

PS, i would like to congratulate all members of this forum on one of the most negativity and trolling free forums i have ever come across.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Welcome to the forum HotTomato.

Just so you know, I'm not an expert like Al and many of the other veteran members here so please consider my advice with that in mind. Hopefully others with more experience will add their opinions here before too long.

Now, having said that, if you are only potting up your plants into the new 5-1-1 mix and NOT planning on doing any root pruning, then my opinion would be that you could do this with only minimal risk to your plants. If you have all the necessary ingredients for making the 5-1-1 mix then, personally, I would try it.

I grow trees in containers so obviously not the same kind of plants you are asking about, but if some of my trees were growing in soggy peat-based potting mix or some other bad soil mix then I would probably go ahead and move them to the 5-1-1.

I would suggest that you try to do this when the weather is fairly cool, not during a week of 90-degree temps. Also, you might try and keep the plants out of strong sunlight for the first week or two until they recover a bit.

Those are just my suggestions, but hopefully a few others will add their thoughts and give you some good advice.

Hope that helps.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Thanks so much for your reply! Yes, for a few that need it and don't seem upset from the initial repot, i think i will try. I actually did mix up a batch of 511 last night. However, i encountered an interesting problem.

I followed the recipe EXACTLY with the exception of adding a very small amount of compost for micros. I made about two gallons of mix and added about 1 cup of compost. Everything looked great. I potted my aloe and a jade. Then i went to water them.

The containers initially drained very well. Then they saturated and the whole container filled with water. only about 1/4 to 1/2 of the water actually drained out of the pot! I picked up the pot (they were standard terracotta 6" pots) and a bit more water would drain. Then i would stick my finger in the drainage hole and almost all the water would drain out. It was like my finger broke the surface tension adhesion cohesion of the water in the container, but it wouldn't do it on its own. This was all really weird. Photo of my PBFs, which i thought were perfect if not a bit big.

I was watering outside with a shower wand type attachment.

Was it the compost? Do i need to strain those PBFs? The containers?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hello HotTomato,

Glad to hear that you mixed up some 5-1-1 and gave it a try. I think your plants will enjoy being in a good mix like the 5-1-1. My trees sure love it and are growing extremely well this season. My most recent batch of "5-1-1" was really a "5-2" mix, composed of 5 parts pine bark and 2 parts screened granite, no perlite or peat added. My pine bark has a lot of fine material (1/8" and smaller) in the bag so I simply keep the fine pine material and do not add any peat. I also have a lot of granite on hand so I use that in place of the perlite. Same effect, just a heavier container. I also add 1 Tbsp of both lime and Osmocote Plus to the soil mix. The lime adds the missing minor elements in the Miracle Gro 24-8-16 water-soluble fertilizer that I use and helps raise the soil pH of the acidic pine bark and neutral granite.

Regarding your water retention issue, I have not experienced this with my containers. When I initially mix my soils I place the dry ingredients in a container and then soak the container in a bucket of water overnight. This helps the somewhat hydrophobic pine bark to absorb water. The next day I remove the container and let it drain for an hour or so before planting in it.

I have a couple of suggestions that might help your issue.

First, I would screen your pine bark through a 1/2" screen. The pine bark you are using looks good in the photos but a few of the pieces are a bit too large. Basically for 5-1-1 you screen out and remove anything larger than 1/2". Anything smaller than 1/2" is usable and should be retained. Based on your photo your pine bark doesn't have much "fine material" (1/8" and smaller) so you should probably add a small amount of peat to your mix to help retain water. As I mentioned, the pine bark I use this season has a lot of fine material so I don't add any peat.

Another suggestion is to possibly use a wick in the drain hole area of your container. This wick will help draw out excess water from the perched water area (the bottom) of your container. It will basically do what your finger did, break the surface tension of the water, and allow excess water to drain. You can hold the wick in place with a piece of drywall tape I believe. I have never used this method since my containers drain well but Al mentions this technique frequently. In fact I believe Al talks about using wicks in the first post of this thread.

As a test, I suggest you mix a small (1 gallon) batch of 5-1-1 and mix it exactly as the recipe suggests (peat, pine bark and perlite). Try to screen the pine bark and do not add compost. I would be interested to see how that drains.

I use black plastic nursery containers for my trees instead of terracotta and I often drill extra holes in the sides of the container to allow extra water drainage and more air to get to the roots. This can't happen in a terracotta pot but I believe Al and other said terracotta "breathes" and allows water/oxygen exchange where plastic does not. If your terracotta has a large drain hole you should be OK.

Hope these ideas help. Keep us posted.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Holy moly great response. Yes, I think soaking, screening and possibly wicking is the way to go. I just don't think I was used to how you need to water the 511 differently than potting soil. Any further advice on watering technique would be helpful. When I watered the few I potted again the next day, things seemed to "flow" much better. Thanks for all the advice already. This is all really helpful.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Yes, Hot Tomato, welcome!
The 5-1-1 really does need to bind and settle before the wetting, drying, and flow through rates even out. A couple good waterings, and then consistent waterings thereafter are the key to keeping the mix functioning at its best.

One caveat is that the 5-1-1 holds quite a bit of moisture for a Jade. I don't think it'll be a problem, but do keep an eye on the plant and make sure that it doesn't begin to yellow and drop leaves.

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Yes watering pre-made peat-based potting soils and watering custom 5-1-1 mixes are totally different. That's why I suggest you soak your 5-1-1 mix at least overnight to make sure all of the ingredients are completely soaked. Once that hydrophobic issue is eliminated the bark will retain quite a bit of water.

As Josh mentioned, some plants require a LOT of moisture and others much less. The 5-1-1 is perfect for this since you can customize it to the plant you are potting up. For example, I grow white pines and concolor fir trees in 5-1-1 mix. The firs like more moisture so I use lots of bark and cut back a bit on the perlite (or granite in my case). White pines like much drier soil, so I simply add more granite to the mix, which increases drainage.

That's why I suggested you begin with the 'standard' 5-1-1 mix. you can observe how your plants do in the standard mix, then customize future batches of mix according to the needs of the specific plant.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

I'm all about customizing mediums depending on variables, including plant type, location, environment, pot type and size, etc... some plants do exceedingly well in the basic recipes as is, while others require a little custom mixing to get the right moisture retention... in my opinion.

For example, I use a lot of Gritty Mix for my indoor plants... but I have a few that require more moisture on a consistent basis, given that my indoor environment is so dry. I can't always be there to water more than once per day, so I adjust the medium to account for that.

Once you understand the concept of the mediums, it becomes very easy to adjust them to your individual needs.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Jodi,

Well said. I agree that different plants may need slightly different soils and water retention, and both the gritty and 5-1-1 mixes allow for that customization.

Someone mentioned in another thread that making these soil mixes is like cooking or baking in way. You take a new recipe and the first time you make it as close as possible to the original recipe. After making it the first time then you adjust the recipe to your own taste.

These soil mixes are the same way. You make the basic 5-1-1 or grit mix and then later customize it to what you want or what your plants require. The basic 5-1-1 and grit mixes as posted by Al have been proven to be successful soil mixes by many people on these forums so I use them as a good starting point, then adjust as needed.

Hope that helps.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hello TYG and Jodi!!! ;-)

You are right, it's all about understanding the basics and knowing why and how your trees and plants respond because of the needs of the roots to breath and have that ability to grow to the best of their ability.

Once you understand the concept, you can adjust to suit your environmental needs knowing why and how.. It s all about understanding how it works...when you understand, you can relax and know you have the best mix for your trees as well as understanding how to water and fertigate.

Let the show begin!!

Happy growing!!!

Laura


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hey Laura,

Yes that is exactly right. I start with the basics, make mental (or paper) notes about what works and what does not work for my plants, and make adjustments accordingly.

Once you understand the basics of these soils then you can make adjustments with confidence, not just guesswork.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

This is all really helpful! Yes very steep learning curve right now. Speaking of finding out what doesn't work, when you know you have gone awry, do you just repot right away, or is there an advantage in letting a plant destress so too speak before making another change. Even if it is in a sub optimal mix?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Glad you are enjoying the thread HotTomato.

Its really not that big of a learning curve. Many people who try 5-1-1 or grit mix and have only used pre-made potting soil end up having a lot of fun with this, and making all these changes and experiments with their soil mixes. The way I learned was to spend some free time during the winter months reading the many posts on this forum. There is a lot of reading involved, but slowly for me the info began to sink in and Al's advice began to make sense. I'm not a chemistry or biology major so some of the heavy science goes over my head, but I get the basics and the reasons for doing this.

I have to admit that so far I have not had any soil-related failures with my trees in containers up to this point. If you mix your soils correctly, you learn to water correctly, and know when to do these things, you probably won't have problems either. But if a plant dies because it was root pruned in the hot weather, or a plant yellows and dies because it likes dry soil and it was overwatered and the roots rotted, then you just learn from your mistakes and move on.

One thing I do is that any time I remove a plant/tree from a container I make sure I am either indoors, or at least in the shade, and check out the roots. If I see fresh new roots growing then I know the plant is doing OK. Just be sure to keep the roots moist with a spray bottle of water and out of direct sunlight if you take a plant out of the container for any reason.

If you know that a container plant is in bad soil, like rock-hard clay or soaking wet peat-based soil, then in my opinion I think it's OK to move the plant to a better soil mix. You may have to monitor the plant for a couple of weeks as it recovers but it will soon be doing much better in the new bark-based soil than if you leave it in the mucky and waterlogged soil. Quite often plants from the "big box" stores, especially their trees, are in really bad soil.

Hope that helps.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Bump... Forgot to say hi Josh!! Lol. ;-)

Have fun HotTomato99... Sounds like you are on your way to a better way of growing..

Lots of great people to help you.. Relax and enjoy, your plants will benefit and then you will too!!!

Great advise from the above posters....

Take care,

Laura


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hello, Laura! ;-)

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Bump!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Jodi, thanks for the bump lol. This is a fantastic thread and deserves to be at least on the first page of this forum.

BTW, anyone heard from Al in a while? I don't see him posting as much as he used to. He might be up to his neck in pine bark and Turface these days, lol.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Jun 5, 14 at 21:42

Been working on a deck project and soon some landscaping + moving all the tropical bonsai outdoors and getting them repotted. We're super busy at work, too, so all I've got left by the time it gets dark is just enough to get me through a shower & into bed, which is exactly what I'm going to do now. Besides, you guys are doing a darn good job of getting everyone the help they need/ask for, and in many cases the help they don't know they need or how to ask for it.

Al - ttyl


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

I'm sorry if this has been asked before but what size screen do folks use when screening the turface and the crushed granite? I've seen 1/8-1/4" and dust to 1/2" for the pine bark. Would that be the same for the the other ingredients? Thanks.

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Chris, the turface and granite can be screened with 1/16 inch aluminum window/insect screen to remove the smallest particles. A rinsing of the dust is also advised.

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hi Chris!

I use a kitchen strainer that you can find at Walmart or Target . It works great for the Turface. ( keep it dry when sifting ) The Granigrit and Cherystone can be used in this strainer, but I just use the hose to rinse the particles from the stone.

Hope this helps !!

Take care ,

Laura


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Nice strainer, Laura!! :-)

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Laura,

That's a cool strainer! Nice find. :)

Chris,

For the 5-1-1 mix you can use all pine bark that passes through a 1/2" screen.

I don't use the gritty mix too much but if I remember reading this correctly all gritty mix ingredients should be between 1/8 and 3/8".

Josh and Laura gave some good options on how to remove the fine dusty material for gritty mix.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by neuf 5 Indy (My Page) on
    Sat, Jun 7, 14 at 14:18

I've been using the 5-1-1 mix, but am not sure that I am doing it correctly. I put five parts of the pine mulch into a 1/2" hardware cloth straining frame, 1 part Perlite, 1 part Sphagnum peat, and Hi-Yield Agricultural dolomite lime. Quite a bit of the 5 parts of mulch ends up on the bottom of pots as filler or on the top as a mulch. It seems like a good mix?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Are you mixing all the ingredients together well and moistening them well before putting them in your container? Your formula sounds fine. How do you know that the pine bark is migrating to the top and bottom of your container? The bark and peat can be a bit hydrophobic in the beginning, so it's worthwhile to really soak them before putting the mix in the pot and adding your plants.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by neuf 5 Indy (My Page) on
    Sat, Jun 7, 14 at 15:02

The pine bark mulch is fairly wet, so it mixes well with the peat, Perlite, and lime in a wheelbarrow. I drench the mix in the container prior to planting. I have been using the larger pieces of pine bark from the screening as filler in the bottom of larger pots and mulch on the top as a mulch dressing that looks very nice.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hi Josh, Laura, and TYG,

Thanks, I appreciate the help and the pointers. I'm planing on making both the 511 and the 111 mixes and play with them and see what works best for me. :)

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

I think either Ohiofem or Josh made a video on how to make the 5-1-1 mix. It's a great video, very informative. You simply screen your ingredients for 5-1-1 over a wheelbarrow or a large plastic tub, then mix everything together.

It's quite easy once you see how it's done.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Thanks TYG,

I'll see if I can find the video. Its nice to see how others do it, it makes it easier to replicate. I must be tired from my karate test today because I just re read everyone's response to my earlier question and it just occurred to me that folks are screening the turface and granite to remove the dust instead of screening for size. LOL!!

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

I did, indeed, Yard Guy!
Here's the video, for those who haven't seen:
Making the 5-1-1 potting mix

Howdy, Warpiper. I think you'll enjoy either mix :-)

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Thanks Josh. It was last year when I found that link so I couldn't recall if you or Ohiofem made that video. It was very good and really shows how simple it was to make a standard 5-1-1 mix. You can make large quantities of it in a very short time with minimal effort and without all kinds of custom-built or bonsai-specific soil screens.

Thanks!

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Thanks Al, Josh, et al. --

My 5-1-1 pepper pots are doing incredibly well!

I had leftover starts of a few varieties and potted them in some promix and a few in my own mix. They are getting a ton more sun on the deck. Still, the 5-1-1 pots with 5-6hrs of sun are double pushing triple the size of their peat-based counterparts. Crazy!

Very pleased that I chose this mix so far. Wishing I put the tomatoes in it now, too.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Yard Guy: I'm very flattered that you thought I might have made that video. Josh has been one of the most gifted teachers on this forum and has a lot of garden wisdom to share. I think I've seen more than one teaching video of his. And his long threads about Avocados as Houseplants and, in the Hot Peppers Forum, Greenman's Peppers, are as valuable as college courses on growing techniques.

Neuf: You said: I have been using the larger pieces of pine bark from the screening as filler in the bottom of larger pots and mulch on the top as a mulch dressing that looks very nice. I would be a little concerned about having layers of different sized materials in your pot. The mix with smaller particles will hold on to moisture if there is a drainage layer with larger absorbent particles under it. If you want a filler in a very large pot, it may be better to use inert things like upturned plastic pots or empty liter-size beverage containers.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Jen, thank you for such kind words. You sure make a person feel appreciated. I wish the majority of my students responded similarly to my in-class teaching...but I suppose gardening is more interesting than grammar ;-)

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Ohiofem: I saw that video about a year ago and couldn't remember if you or Josh did it. I viewed it again and clearly it's Josh lol. I'm sure you could do a video on your garden as well. it sounds really nice. Anyway, you both are great supporters on here so thanks to both of you for sharing the wisdom while Al builds his new deck.

Josh: That video is very well done. When I first found this forum and read Al's posts on screening soils I thought I'd have to buy all kinds of screens and materials to make the soils. But your video was simple, clear, and to the point. Large plastic tub, hardware cloth, and you are good to go. Because of your video I can mix a season's worth of 5-1-1 in less than an hour.

Thanks.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Right on!
When I'm making larger batches, I usually fill three of those #5 containers with bark, then I add three #1 containers of Perlite, then three #1 containers of potting mix/compost, et cetera, and dump it all into the wheelbarrow. I have a larger piece of hardware cloth that fits over the entire bed of the wheelbarrow, too, which is handy when I'm working quickly.

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Great job, Josh!!!

Robin.. Great info as well!! ;-)

Glad everyone is finding this information helpful!!!

Hi Al.. Sounds like you are working to hard!! Have a wonderful summer!!

Take care, everyone!!!

Laura


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hello All. While responding to a question in a different thread regarding heat absorption of 5-1-1 mix I wondered about the possibility of making a container soil using only perlite and Turface (or DE). Would this be possible or practical? Maybe some thing like 3 parts Turface/DE to 1 part perlite?

The Turface/DE and perlite mix might not retain as much water as the 5-1-1 mix I currently use so anyone using such a mix would probably have to water and fertilize more often.

Has anyone tried a mixture of Turface/DE and perlite? if so, what were the results? Just curious.

TYG.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Good question! I have been wondering the same thing. It seems those are basically the two functional components of the Gritty mix (sort of?).


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hi All,

I found bags of Evergreen potting soil at Lowes and it's

"Derived from Pine Bark Fines, Hardwood Fines, Fly Ash, and Perlite".

Would this work for the 511 or the 111 mix? It's been the only thing I've been able to find that has pine bark fines in it.

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

I just wanted to say how much I enjoy reading and re-reading Al's amazing
" Never Ending Thread "
The wealth of knowledge and experience being joyfully shared among all contributors to this tomb is as refreshing as a dip in a snow-fed mountain stream on a hot day!

Thank you ALL so much for the continued education, thought provoking discussions, and willingness to share your own experiences.

Most of all, Thank You, Al , for your patient persistence and the countless hours of time you have given to these pages. You are a precious resource indeed!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Chris,

I haven't seen any photos of this soil so I can't tell what the texture is like. The "pine bark fines" part sounds good, but the rest of the ingredients make me a cautious. How much of the soil is made up of "hardwood fines"? I'm not even sure what "Fly Ash" is.

You really want pine or fir bark, with nothing else added. You can always add ingredients yourself, but you can't remove what the manufacturer added.

Based on what little information we have to go on I would probably not want to use this for bark-based soil. However, I have a source in my area that I can get pine bark for $3.00 per bag so it's easy for me to dismiss this Evergreen potting soil.

If this really is the only thing you can find, then I suppose you could always purchase one bag of this soil and make a test batch of 5-1-1 or grit mix. You could also post a few photos of the Evergreen soil so we could see the texture. I certainly would not purchase more than 1 bag until I knew what I was getting.

Just seems strange that there are no places in your area that sell pine bark. I would think the Southeaster US would be the pine bark capital of the world.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hi TYG,

Thanks, It looks like a some dirt with small pine bark pieces in it that may be the right size. I'd post a picture but I haven't figured out how to do that yet. From what I understand, fly ash is ash from burning coal. Don't know it that makes a good soil amendment or not. If its from coal, I'm thinking not. I'll probably pick up a bag this weekend and play with it but I'm not sure what to expect because I've never used the 511 or 111 mix so I'll have no comparison. There is a lot of pine bark around but it's either shredded or in nugget form. I've seen bags of mini nuggets but they are bigger bigger than a dime. Now if there is a way to make the nuggets into usable piece, I'd be filling to try that. I have some hard wire cloth in 1/2" and 1/4" so I can do some screening. Couldn't find any in the 3/8" range though.

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hey Chris, I think the name of the product is the tip-off here: potting soil. This is not what you want.

I bought the larger nuggets (all I could find as well) and ran them through my leaf sucker/mulcher and that ground them down to a mostly usable size. Was a pain but definitely worth it.

Be careful of shredded products as well... from my hunting experience this year I've noticed most shredded "bark" is mostly sapwood with a little bark. ymmv.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hi NCG,

Thanks, I'll have to give that a try. We have a leaf sucker/mulcher that we haven't used in years. I'll have to pull it out and give it a try on a bag of small nuggets and see what happens. It has a bag on it so I shouldn't make too much of a mess. :)

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Woo hoo!!! Just found some pine bark fines at Low Country Mulch. I had called several days ago and they didn't know what I was talking about but I happened to go to a business near by and saw them so I stopped in and asked. The gentleman I spoke with said they do have some, showed me the pill and it looked like a lot of the pictures. $30 a yard. I'll be picking some up on the way home on Friday! Oh, and I heard them refer to it as double cut or triple cut.

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Chris,

That's great news that you found a good local source of pine bark for your soil mixes. From your description it sure sounds like the right stuff. If you get a chance, can you post a couple of photos of the bark so we can all see what you found? Might help someone else in your area in the future.

Have fun and enjoy your soil building!

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hi TYG,

Thanks. I'll get some pictures of it this weekend when I bring it home. I also found some 1/16", 1/8", and some 1/4" screen that I'll use to make some screening boxes. Trying to find some 3/8" screen but that may have to be mail order.

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Chris,

The 1/4 inch screen will take care of your needs for the gritty mix. . I use it instead of the 3/8... You are only off 1/8 of an inch, so it ill be fine ...

My hubby made my screens and I use the1/4 inch all of the time as well as the 1/2 inch.. The other screen that I use for Turface Is from the Walmart ot target. ( strainer as shown above)

Just trying to let you know it's fine with what you have already !!

Good luck!!

Laura


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

I only have 2 sizes of soil screens, a 1/2" and a 1/4". I agree with Laura that the 1/8" difference might not be a big deal so you might not even need a 3/8" screen.

I do have a small insect screen, similar to what Laura posted above. It's useful for removing fine dust material from granite or DE/Turface.

Have fun working with your new soil.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hi Laura and TYG,

Thank you for the advice, I appreciate it. I'll keep what I have and not worry about the 3/8" screen. If all goes well and the skys don't open up I should have some 511 and 111 mix by Sunday!! I'm going to put my citrus trees in the 511 and some house plants in the 111. Can't wait to get started. :)

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Sounds Wonderful, Chris!!!

Here is a picture of one of my screens that my hubby made after seeing Al's screens. Now.. Mine were made with 2x4 and Al' s were made with smaller pieces of wood.. I can't remember the size. Mine are heavy, but I have used them quite a bit and I love them!!! I just had to figure out a way to place them on something so I could spread the bark over the screen.. I couldn't shake these!!! Lol.. I would need to eat spinach!!!

Have fun and good luck!!

Laura


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hi Laura,

Thanks for sharing your picture, I like how your husband made it. That's awesome, I'll be getting the wood tomorrow on the way home. They look pretty straight forward to make. If all goes well, I'll be sifting pine bark by tomorrow evening. :)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Thanks warpiper!

Don't use 2x4s. Lol. Use smaller wood. Can't remember what Al used.. But mine are really heavy.

Have fun!!

Laura


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Jun 13, 14 at 21:50

I used 1x4s and half-lapped + glued the corners.
 photo SoilSieves003.jpg
 photo summer11001.jpg

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by neuf 5 Indy (My Page) on
    Sat, Jun 14, 14 at 7:09

Hah! This will surely be the only time I can correct Al...those are "rabbet" or "dado" joints and they are PERFECT for the application.

After making a small one that I can use indoors, I strongly recommend and I am going to build a larger one with it sized so at least the short sides of a rectangle fit into a wheelbarrow. This, unless your are doing a lot larger batch each time.

Thanks for all you do for us Al!!!

Jeff

This post was edited by neuf on Sat, Jun 14, 14 at 7:21


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Thanks Laura, Al, and Jeff,

1"x4" it is. I'll pick them up today and use rabbit joints to put them together with glue and screw. I already have the screens in 1/16", 1/8", 1/4", and 1/2. That should meet my needs. I was looking at making the screen 2'x2' and either use them over a wheel barrel or a tarp. I hadn't considered using handles on them but it looks like you all have. Does having them make a difference? Thanks, and thanks for the pictures, those are worth a 1000 words. :)

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Jun 14, 14 at 10:32

I guess I went crazzy there for a minute. For accuracy's sake, I'll forever desist from naming it a half lap joint and name it a dado or rabbet joint. ;-) Good catch.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Ok, here are some pictures of the pine bark fines or triple cut that I picked up today. $30 for a yard. Don't know if that is a good price or not but I have enough to keep me busy for a while. I picked it up at Low Country Mulch in Mt. Pleasant, SC.

pine bark fines photo IMG_0572_zps3b622436.jpg

pine bark fines photo IMG_0574_zps9eca0f10.jpg


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Good lookin' bark!
Certainly remove as much of the sapwood as possible, but it's not too bad overall.

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by neuf 5 Indy (My Page) on
    Sun, Jun 15, 14 at 7:31

I have been removing as much sapwood as possible when screening, but please explain to me again why it is such an important thing.

Thanks!

Jeff


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

That looks like great bark! Glad you found the right type of bark in your area. I'm guessing you are making a batch of 5-1-1 or grit mix as I type this. :)

FWIW, that pine bark looks exactly the same as what I buy up here in 2CF bags for $3.00 each. Very similar stuff. I agree with Josh about removing some of the sapwood (the long thin white-colored pieces). My bark also has a fair amount of sapwood, and I just pick out what I can when I make the soils. No need to remove every little piece, just remove what you can with your fingers. Your finished soils should be great for your plants.

Congratulations on your discovery!

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Jeff, sapwood decomposes much faster than bark, which may contribute to the following:
1) compaction due to decomposition;
2) Nitrogen binding or immobilization as the wood decomposes;
3) Heat spikes in the root-zone as the wood decomposes.

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hi Josh and TYG,

Thanks for the tips on picking out the sap wood, I'll removed as much as I can. I'm planning on making mostly 5-1-1 mix for my citrus trees I've been collecting lately and for some figs I want to get. And as of yesterday, I have 2 blueberry bushes (father's day present from my wife) I want to put into bigger pots with the 5-1-1 mix. I'm going to make some 1-1-1 mix for the house plants and may make some for some succulents I want to get. I have everything I need and I was able to make my screening boxes but ran out of time to make the mix. I should be able to make some tonight though.

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by neuf 5 Indy (My Page) on
    Mon, Jun 16, 14 at 10:26

Thanks Josh!

Jeff


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Chris,

How did your screening and soil mixing work out? Did you get the results you expected?

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hi TYG,

It didn't. We've been dealing with a family emergency and I haven't been home long enough to play. Things are winding down so I should have time this weekend. I have all the screens made and all the ingredients, so I'm ready to go.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Yea!!! Just made my first batch of 5-1-1!! Of course it started raining so its soaking up some water. I'll make more tomorrow and get my citrus trees re potted. Here are some pictures.

Here is the pine bark after it was run through a 1/2" screen.

pine bark screened photo IMG_0575_zpsfedcd56c.jpg

Here is what was bigger than 1/2" that was screened out. This is what's left after screening a 55 gallon drum of pine bark triple cut.

pine bark bigger than 1/2


And here is my 5-1-1 mix. I forgot to add the lime but I'll do that tomorrow. I'll also add the citustone tomorrow too.

511 mix photo IMG_0577_zps252c2690.jpg

I'm looking forward to see how my trees like it.

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Looks good! Turn it a few times to get the moisture even, then add a little Lime, turn, add a little Lime, turn, et cetera. After potting the Citrus, put a stake toward the edge of the container (not against the trunk) and tie off to one of the branches. Stabilizing the roots in relation to the mix will encourage faster recovery / root establishment.

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Your 5-1-1 looks really good. Glad you finally found all the necessary materials to make it. I think your plants will enjoy it very much.

In looking at your photos I noticed that your pine bark has remarkably few large pieces in it. That's a good thing. I usually get at least that many large pieces from a single 2CF bag of bark. The bark you found is probably a much higher quality than what I have available.

Remember that at first the bark can be slightly hydrophobic. What I do to overcome this is to fill up a black plastic container with your bark mix and soak it in a bucket or tub of water overnight. (Just add enough water to reach the top of the container to avoid the perlite from floating out.) This allows water to completely saturate the mix. After soaking I allow the soil mix to drain for a couple of hours, then I add the plant. After planting you can gently water once more with a hose or watering can just to make sure the soil is settled.

Have fun and keep us posted.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Jun 22, 14 at 10:43

WP - what does "I'll also add the citustone tomorrow too" mean?

When I make 5:1:1. I do it on a tarp spread out on the driveway. I put down 2 or 3 cu ft of bark (depending on the size of the bag it comes in) and wet it with a hose. Not so much that water puddles, but enough to make the bark moist - maybe about a half gallon to 2-3 cu ft. After that, I add the peat over the bark without trying to wet it because it's going to be hydrophobic anyway, + the lime and any other additives I might be using on top of that. Then I add the perlite and wet that. I finish by mixing everything thoroughly with a garden rake with the tines up. If I have help, we can mix everything by lifting alternate sides of the tarp so the mixture rolls over itself as you pull. Within an hr or so, all the water has been absorbed by the soil particles and 'broken' any tendency toward hydrophobia, so the soil absorbs water readily.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hi greenman and TYG,

Thanks for the tips. I only have the metal rod that came with the trees and they are buried into the root ball. I'll get some stakes and stick them in the side and tie off to a branch. That sounds a lot more stable.

I think I lucked out with the pine bark. The gentleman called it triple cut but the size is right. There was hardly any big pieces. I was surprised with the sphagnum peat moss though. I ran it through the 1/8" screen and got a lot of twigs, roots and a pebble or 2.

And thank you for the tip on watering the bark. The first batch got rained on all last night and when I compared it to a new batch I made this morning, you can tell the first one had some hydration to it. I'll make sure I soak the next one.

I potted up a couple of citrus trees earlier this morning and I like how it came out. I moved the trees under the shade of a bigger tree so they won't get too much sun and I'll move them to full sun in a week or so. I want the trees to recover from the re potting.

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hi Al,

Sorry, my bad. It should have read citrus-tone. I forgot to add it and the lime when I mixed up the first batch. And thank you for the details on how you do it. I'll pay more attention to wetting the pine bark on my next batch. The first 2 batches I made, I used a 1 gallon pot as a measure and added 5 of the bark, one peat moss, and one perlite to a 16 gallon plastic tot and mixed it all together.

I already have the trees in the pots but I can submerse them into a bigger container holding water and let them soak for a few minutes. Would that help hydrate the bark? Thanks.

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Jun 22, 14 at 15:50

Wetting a soil when the peat and bark are both dry presents a challenge. Even if you let water run over a pot for 15 minutes, it often forms channels through the soil and all the soil doesn't get moist. Trying to soak the pot so it gets wet from the bottom up often causes most of the dry soil to float and spill out of the pot. Not to mention how fast fine roots dry out when you pot into a dry soil.

It's best to pot in a soil that's already moist. If you didn't moisten it when you made it, and the soil is very dry, add about half as much soil as you'll need to a container and add water. Stir until it's soaking wet, then add dry soil and stir again. The result will be a soil you can pot in w/o worry the roots will dry out. The water will diffuse into the dry particles so they are no longer hydrophobic, and you'll be able to water normally a few minutes after the planting is established.

Do whatever you need to do to avoid potting into a dry soil and trying to fix it after the fact. I wouldn't make such a point of it if I wasn't sure it's a critical consideration.

Best luck!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hi Al,

Thanks again for your help, I greatly appreciate it. I'll be wetting the bark before mixing and using from now on. I'm new to container gardening and I want to make sure I have the best chance of success that I can. With yours and everyone else's help here, I think I'm off to a good start. :)

Thanks,

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Jun 22, 14 at 17:19

Keep in mind that container media are all about their structure - how long they can supply a favorable mix of water and air to offer the opportunity for excellent root health. Most prepared soils hold much too much water at container capacity (after being fully saturated and draining has just stopped). Nutrition is not the responsibility of the soil, that's entirely on the grower. Problems start when growers try to bring the garden to the container, losing or lacking focus on soil structure and thinking what works in the garden should work in a pot. More often than not - they don't.

Also, some growers confuse what is good for them with what is good for the plant. Those are two entirely different perspectives that usually conflict. A high % of disagreements arise when grower A is focused on the well-being of the plant and grower B is focused on how much time/effort it takes to implement something other than the ordinary. Neither perspective is right or wrong - just different.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

I never would have thought about the structure of container soil before, I figured it was just putting dirt into a pot and go from there. That enplanes why I've had trouble with potted plants before (house plants). The plants usually died because of too much water or not enough. Then the soil would harden and never hydrate after that. Your initial post on container soil was great and made sense. My next step is to make some gritty mix and get some house plants. Maybe this time with better luck. :)

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by Drew51 5b/6a SE MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Jun 23, 14 at 15:08

"how long they can supply a favorable mix of water and air to offer the opportunity for excellent root health."

If you use DE instead of perlite as far as air about 50 thousand years. Doesn't matter much when the structure never breaks down. And it's full of silicon, no need to add any. Works better, is cheaper. and even supplies a needed trace mineral.

"Nutrition is not the responsibility of the soil, that's entirely on the grower"
Well if the soil feeds, it always there, I, myself would rather have the soil feed the plant, it's much more efficient, and as stated always there. Not when I think it should be fed.
As far as soil, and nutrition instead of a one size fits all approach I would rather look at each plant species. This is my approach. For example using 5-1-1 or gritty mix with most carnivorous plants would result in failure. You have to maintain wet feet with them, these are not the best mixes for that, Countless examples like this. Soil structure and nutrition should be decided by what you grow.
Taste of fruits and vegetables is very much determined by what's in the soil. Such as Vidalia onions have a sweet taste because of local soil makeup. In this case the lack of sulfur. Also true of many vegetables. The same seed tastes a lot different elsewhere.
Often with humans it is said you are what you eat, same with plants.
If you like the taste of vegetables in fake soil, with synthetic chemicals, hey go for it!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Ah, but we're talking about growing plants in *containers* - not in "soil" in the gardens or fields of Vidalia, or Hatch, New Mexico, et cetera.

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Jun 23, 14 at 21:15

"If you use DE instead of perlite as far as air about 50 thousand years. Doesn't matter much when the structure never breaks down. And it's full of silicon, no need to add any. Works better, is cheaper. and even supplies a needed trace mineral."

First, your point is moot because root congestion will cause severe limitations before the soil can outlive its useful life - especially the gritty mix. Second, calcined DE contains up to 3/4 of its silica in crystalline form, and amorphous silica is what's beneficial to plants, like the silica in Pro-TeKt 0-0-3.

While I won't disagree that silicon is beneficial to plant and animal life, it isn't recognized as essential or 'needed' for normal growth, which is why it's an "also beneficial", along with sodium, cobalt, and selenium.

Depending on the soil to feed your plants is going to create nutritional limitations in the form of unbalanced ratios, nutrients missing or deficient, nutrients unavailable during ebbs in micro-organism populations .... but hey, if you like looking for nutritional problems to solve, by all means - rely on your soil as your sole source of nutrition.

"For example using 5-1-1 or gritty mix with most carnivorous plants would result in failure."

... same thing they told me about AVs, so I bought a couple and grew them in the gritty mix for a year where they thrived.

You speak with authority about a lot of topics - 'rethinking' mixes w/o ever having tried them, and making absolute conclusions based solely on someone else's opinions. I'd like to see some pictures of all those experiments you so regularly refer to.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Jun 23, 14 at 21:28

Chris - many growers feel that they've just breasted a formidable hump once they understand how important soil structure is to their ability to consistently bring along healthy plant material. Once you get to the point where you can stop fighting your soil for control of your plants' vitality, things become much easier.

Something to add some perspective on how important root health is to the o/a vitality of the organism:

Dr Carl Whitcomb, PhD, wrote what is probably the bible on growing plants in containers. Some "Whitcomb-isms":

"If the root system ain't happy, ain't no part of the plant happy"

"Roots control the tree, the stems and branches just think [not my emphasis] they are in charge."

"The more roots to share the load, the faster the dirty work gets done"

"Roots provide the fuel for the plant engines we call leaves"

"Each root tip casts a vote to decide what the top will be allowed to do"

"Top growth gets all the glory, but the roots do all the dirty work"

He also notes that "Stress can ALWAYS be measured in the root system before symptoms appear in the top [of the plant]".

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Thanks Al. And thanks for the quotes. I'll have to look for some of Dr. Whitcomb's writings. I had to laugh at several of the quotes, they sounded so much like being married! :)

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Jun 24, 14 at 16:25

His book, "Plant Production in Containers II" is an excellent reference that uses easy to understand terminology to guide the serious container grower.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Cool beans. Thank Al, I'll be looking out for it.

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Al,

thanks for the tip on Dr. Whitcomb's book. I'll see if I can locate a copy. Should make for some good evening reading this coming winter.

I have a question for the group about using pine bark and diatomaceous earth as a soil mix. Can I make a good soil mix using only those two materials?

The reason I ask is that we've had heavy rains here for about a week with cloudbursts every day. I had a small 1 gallon container with a mix of screened pine bark (particles between 1/2" and 1/8") and some coarse grade (1/4" to 3/8") DE sitting outside. I was just testing it to see how much water it would hold during these downpours. Of course when I checked it after a heavy rain I found the media soaked as expected, but I was surprised to find that the container had drained very well and the media retained a nice, loose texture. When I inserted a toothpick in the drainage holes very little, if any, water drained out so no perched water to speak of.

So perhaps 3 parts screened pine bark and 1 part DE would make a good soil? If so would I still add lime to the soil if using MG 24-8-16 water soluble fertilizer and 1 Tbsp of Osmocote Plus per gallon of soil? Since pine bark has a pH of about 4.5, and DE has a pH of about 7, and it's a 3-1 ratio, then I believe the overall pH of the soil would be about 5 or 5.5 before liming, correct?

Thanks.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Ok so I have a question here far less technical but basically this year I used Promix BX to which I added pine bark fines mostly for volume and to help with the structure. I know the promix has lime and micro nutrients, but I added a CRF and a small amount of lime, and I'm using Foliar Pro 9-3-6. My tomatoes are doing fine so far. It just was too hard to make the 5-1-1 both from a physical perspective and also getting pine bark fines was difficult. I obviously made adjustments in quantities added to the mix. So did I do anything I should not have? It drains well and I'm careful about watering and fertilizing with a weak solution.
Thanks Sharon


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Jun 24, 14 at 22:25

YG - I don't see any potential issues with what you suggest; and if it doesn't meet your standards, as long as you understand what controls the soil/water relationship. you'll know how to fix it.

Sharon - if you're happy, we're all happy. ;-) You just took a shortcut to a mix with better aeration and drainage - less perched water, and arrived at the same place most of us are. I'll say the same thing to you as I did to YG - as long as you understand what governs how much air and water a soil holds, you'll have the wherewithal to fix any troubles you encounter in that area - at least you'll have the knowledge. You'll then be taxed with deciding if the effort to fix any problems is worth it to you. To me, what a grower decides to do with the knowledge isn't important, but having the knowledge at his disposal is. That's why if someone tells me he gets great results growing in mud and he's happy doing it, I'm glad for him. If, however, he tells you that you can expect the same results, I'll always disagree and carefully explain why.

 photo thumbart_zpsd73fe3ad.jpg


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Thanks Al, I'll keep you posted. I think I have now found a reliable Canadian source for the fines, Alltreat Red Pine bark mulch. I remember being absolutely terrified last year making the 5-1-1 but had good results. Like I said it was a bit overwhelming physically, so yes I did take a shortcut. Time will tell and it's knowledge gained. Thanks for your input.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

BTW I greatly appreciate all you have done. Most of my friends and family couldn't believe what I am growing the tomatoes in!
Sharon


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Al:

Thanks for your reply. I think I will give this a try.

I have some DE with a slightly larger particle size than Turface and some nice screened pine bark (all fine material below 1/8" removed) so I'll try an experiment with one of my small trees and see what happens. I'm using 3 parts pine bark to 1 part DE with some CRF and lime added, and fertilize weekly with weak MG 24-8-16.

My first thought was that without any granite or perlite for drainage this soil mix would stay far too wet. However, 5 days after an initial overnight soaking in a bucket of water followed by several heavy rains the soil mix in the container feels dry on top but only damp below. The mix is not saturated and as far as I can tell is not holding large amounts of water. I think the particle size of both materials is large enough to prevent perched water.

I'll keep the group posted on how this works.

Thanks.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Jun 28, 14 at 8:07

YG - If we were taking a class & had been required as part of an assignment to conceptualize and describe what a perfect soil might be, it would certainly be useful to mention that all or at least almost all of the water retained in the soil proper would be retained inside and/or on the surface of soil particles, rather than in inter-particular air spaces (between the soil particles).

Thanks for the kind words, Sharon. I get a good measure of satisfaction from the feeling I might have helped you/others get a greater return for their growing efforts.

Take care, guys!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

I don't visit as often as I should... you're welcome for the "bump"! I, too, think this thread should be permanently pasted to the front page of this forum... hopefully we can get that done one of these days. :-)

Coincidentally, I just finished mixing up some Gritty Mix and getting some of my Hippeastrum bulbs re-potted. I have a lot more re-potting to do, but it sure feels good to work with the medium ingredients, and smell the freshness as I moisten it... it's one of my favorite things to do... work with my plants, and see how healthy they are, and how much they like this medium!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Jodi: Yes I agree, working with these mediums is really interesting. Totally different than the bagged mixes.

Al: Thanks for the advice. Yesterday I mixed up 1 gallon of the pine bark/DE soil and moved a white spruce seedling into the new mix. I added some CRF and watered well. The roots were in excellent shape when the tree was moved over, so we'll see how this experiment goes.

Thanks.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

I have noticed that in my 5-1-1, I do get a SLIGHT PWT (less than an inch) in my non-fabric containers.

If I decide to run with it and use a wick to get drainage (as opposed to a watering wick), what material do I use, and, how do I do it?

My thought was to take some rope, tie a knot in it to keep it from falling out of the hole, and stick it in the drainage hole, with enough extra length sticking out to be longer than the height of the PWT...am I on the right track?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

hairmetal4ever:

I have not used a wick in a container before so I'm not an expert. However, I recall seeing a photo somewhere in this forum, posted by Al I believe, that shows a wick inside an empty container. Sorry I cannot recall the exact thread where I saw it.

If I remember the photo correctly it was perhaps a terra cotta container and had a wick it the bottom, very much as you described it. I think it was taped to the bottom of the container via drywall tape or something similar.

Perhaps another GW forum member can direct you to the photo but from what I remember I think you are on the right track.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Rayon string or strands from a mop-head are common wicking materials.

However, the 5-1-1 supports some perched water. It's a more moisture retentive mix. In other words, that's how it's designed. There's no reason to eliminate the moisture.

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

I would agree with Josh... for outdoor applications, allowing for a little more moisture to stick around for a tad longer is kind of beneficial.

We wouldn't want a medium that dried out so quickly and intensely that it became hydrophobic on a daily basis, or that we had to water several times per day to ensure it got enough moisture to its roots... and I think the 511 accomplishes this and is perfect for outdoor container growing.

As I recall, the piece of mophead string was threaded through a small piece of needlepoint-like screen covering the drainage hole, knotted on the inside of the pot, and allowed to trail out the underside for additional drainage if needed.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Jul 4, 14 at 10:55

 photo 014.jpg
 photo 018.jpg

.... these the pictures we're remembering?

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Thanks Jodi and Al ;-)

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Al:

Yes those are the photos I was thinking about. thanks for reposting them.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

Hey guys its been a while. Al you have really outdone yourself. Almost 20 threads that is awesome. I'm still trying to work with peace lilies in 5-1-1. I just repotted some that were given to me. At the moment they look terrible and are in shock. I had bare root them and then repot. I wonder if I'm doing something wrong with bare rooting and repotting. Will someone make a video on how to do this? I greatly appreciate it.

Vance


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Jul 10, 14 at 17:16

I'd chop 'em all off just above the crown and keep the soil damp, but not wet.

WHILE you repot, it's important to keep the roots constantly wet. That means you need to be dipping them in a tub of water at least every minute, or removing the old soil with water pressure. The all-important fine roots dry out and die quickly unless you stay on top of keeping them wet.

AFTER the repot, it's important that you keep the soil moist where it's occupied by the roots, That might mean watering every day until the roots start to colonize the deeper part of the pot. Other than that, you'll need to get a feel for how many fine roots you must leave to support the water needs of the top of the plant.

I regularly remove up to 90% of a plant's roots during a repot and I almost never ever lose a plant unless it blows out or an animal helps it out of the pot.
 photo repots010.jpg
 photo repots013.jpg


 photo repots005-1.jpg
 photo repotting023.jpg
Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

So how many leaves do you normally leave on a peace lily Al? Thanks for the advice I really appreciate it.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Jul 11, 14 at 1:12

The number of leaves keeps increasing if you keep the planting healthy. Eventually, you'll need to divide it to keep the o/a manageable.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Jul 11, 14 at 1:18

Here is a link to the continuation of this thread.

Thanks to everyone who contributed questions or helpful replies that kept the conversation lively!

Thanks, Laura, for the heads-up the thread was about to roll over again!

Al

Here is a link that might be useful: You can click me too, for a quick trip to the most recent conversations!

This post was edited by tapla on Fri, Jul 11, 14 at 1:22


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