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Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
Wed, Apr 9, 08 at 20:08

A thread similar to this has been posted four other times. Each of the other postings have reached the maximum allowable - 150 replies. I would like to preface this post by saying that over the last few years, the thread & subject has garnered a fair amount of attention, evidenced by the many, many e-mails I find in my in-box, and has been a wonderful catalyst in the forging of new friendships and in increasing my list of acquaintances with similar growing interests. I welcome these individual exchanges, which alone are enough to make me hope the subject continues to pique interest and curiosity. Not an afterthought - I should add that there is equal satisfaction in the knowledge that some of the information provided in good-spirited exchange might be making a significant difference in some growers' success or satisfaction.
I'll provide links to the previous three threads at the end of what I have written. Thank you for looking into this subject - I hope that any/all who read it take something interesting and helpful from it. I know it's long, but I hope you find it worth the read.

Al

Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention

A Discussion About Soils

As container gardeners, our first priority should be to insure the soils we use are adequately aerated for the life of the planting, or in the case of perennial material (trees, shrubs, garden perennials), from repot to repot. Soil aeration/drainage is the most important consideration in any container planting. Soil is the foundation that all container plantings are built on, and aeration is the 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. That components retain their structure for extended periods is also extremely important. Pine and some other types of conifer bark fit the bill nicely and Ill talk more about them later.

The following also hits pretty hard against the futility of using a drainage layer in an attempt to improve drainage. It just doesn't work. All it does is reduce the amount soil available for root colonization. A wick will remove water from the saturated layer of soil at the container bottom. It works in reverse of the self-watering pots widely being discussed on this forum now.

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

Consider this if you will:

Soil need fill only a few needs in plant culture. Anchorage - A place for roots to extend, securing the plant and preventing it from toppling. Nutrient Sink - It must retain sufficient nutrients in available form to sustain plant systems. Gas Exchange - It must be sufficiently porous to allow air to the root system and by-product gasses to escape. And finally, Water - It must retain water enough in liquid and/or vapor form to sustain plants between waterings. Most plants could be grown without soil as long as we can provide air, nutrients, and water, (witness hydroponics). Here, I will concentrate primarily on the movement of water in soil(s).

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

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

If we fill five cylinders of varying heights and diameters with the same soil mix and provide each cylinder with a drainage hole, the PWT will be exactly the same height in each container. This saturated area of the pot is where roots seldom penetrate & where root problems frequently begin due to a lack of aeration. Water and nutrient uptake are also compromised by lack of air in the root zone. Keeping in mind the fact that the PWT height is soil dependent and has nothing to do with height or shape of the container, we can draw the conclusion that: Tall growing containers will always have a higher percentage of unsaturated soil than squat containers when using the same soil mix. The reason: The level of the PWT will be the same in each container, with the taller container providing more usable, air holding soil above the PWT. Physiology dictates that plants must have oxygen at the root zone in order to maintain normal root function.

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

When we add a coarse drainage layer under our soil, it does not improve drainage. It does though, conserve on the volume of soil required to fill a pot and it makes the pot lighter. When we employ this exercise 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 with drainage layers. The coarser the drainage layer, the more detrimental to drainage it is because water is more (for lack of a better scientific word) reluctant to make the downward transition because the capillary pull of the soil above the drainage layer is stronger than the GFP. The reason for this is there is far more surface area 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 are now employing 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 to a few inches below the bottom of the pot, or allow it to contact soil below the container where it can be absorbed. This will successfully eliminate the PWT & give your plants much more soil to grow in as well as allow more, much needed air to the roots.

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

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

To confirm the existence of the PWT and the effectiveness of using a wick to remove 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 & allow to drain. When the drainage stops, 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. This is water that occupied the PWT before being drained by the wick. A greatly simplified explanation of what occurs is: The wick "fools" the water into thinking the pot is deeper, 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.

I remain cognizant of these physical principles whenever I build a soil. I havent used a commercially prepared soil in many years, preferring to build a soil or amend one of my 2 basic mixes to suits individual plantings. I use many amendments when building my soils, but the basic building process starts with conifer bark and perlite. Sphagnum peat usually plays a minor, or at least a secondary role in my container soils because it breaks down too quickly and when it does, it impedes drainage and reduces aeration.

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

My Basic Soil

I'll give two recipes. I usually make big batches. I also frequently add agricultural sulfur to some soils for acid-lovers or to soils I use dolomitic lime in.

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

Big batch:

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

Small batch:

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

I have seen advice that some highly organic (practically speaking - almost all 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, you know) ;o) should be repotted more frequently to insure vigor closer to their genetic potential. If a soil is desired that will retain structure for long periods, we need to look more to inorganic components. Some examples are crushed granite, pea stone, coarse sand (see above - usually no smaller than BB size in containers, please), Haydite, lava rock (pumice), Turface or Schultz soil conditioner, and others.

Thank you for your interest.

Al Fassezke

If there is interest, please find the previous postings here:

Posting I

Posting II

Posting III

Posting IV




Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Al, I was tempted to ask you this offline, but realized I already have a 'queue' of sorts built up with you offline. So, I guess this question is fairly straightforward and will just ask it here.

In one or more of the previous iterations of this thread you mentioned that you have some plants growing in pure Turface.

May I ask what plants are these and perhaps more importantly (for my purposes) are these indoor or outdoor plants?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Apr 9, 08 at 21:31

Lolol - I was working on the 'queue' when this post rang in. ;o)

From memory: I have some assorted small junipers, a swiss stone pine, and a yew that all stay outdoors all year. Overwintering indoors, but outdoors during the warmer months are a serissa, portulacarias (see pic above), a couple of dwarf geraniums, a couple of Coleus, a snapdragon, a plant with the common name dwarf hibiscus (unsure of the binomial), and a couple of other succulents. Oh - a Ficus b, too.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Very interesting Al, thank you for the response. I have been considering growing outdoors in pure turface (most indoor growing is done in pure Hydroton (hydroculture)), but was hoping for an idea of the material you were growing well in such a medium out of doors as well.

I can't really say enough about the great information you have provided in these threads and on this forum over the years. You have taken on more than one sacred cow and you never make any claims you can't back up with solid science.

Here is a toast to a very long running thread (with good reason) started and maintained by a guy with a passion for detail and sound science. Keep it up! (no pressure ;-)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Apr 10, 08 at 10:54

Thank you, Mr. JaG. ;o) I believe you were the first to offer kind words on the last thread, too. I know I've told you privately that I think you're doing a great service for the forum, but I want to take just a moment to publicly mention it (again). Strong work! It wouldn't be the same around here w/o you as a fixture. It's easy for me to appreciate all you do here, and I hope that others are equal in their appreciation. Thank you for the kind words and for all you do. ;o)

Al


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Sand Sourcing Success!

I was striking out on turkey grit, so I went looking for sand. I found it, and wanted to pass along some info I found out on the way.

I'm told sand is old-school for pool filters - most people use glass now. Only a couple places carried a medium grade - I saw it and deemed it too small for my purposes.

I called the masonry supply and they did not carry the sand in bags, but told me what I was looking for was called #8 or #16 silica, and directed me to a construction supply house.

Bingo! They carried a bunch of different grades. A 100 lb bag of #8 silica was just about $10. I was able to see it and it looks nice and chunky and irregular.

Hope that helps anyone else who may be looking.

Jenn


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

At what point of the year do we see a lot of root growth from the trees?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Apr 10, 08 at 18:59

Summer solstice to spring budswell.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Why do you repot every few years?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Apr 10, 08 at 22:16

Not because it's fun (unless you only have a few). ;o)

The reasons vary, but first let me make a distinction between repotting and potting-up. Potting-up involves removing the plant and most of the soil from one container and moving it to another, slightly larger container and filling in the extra space with a little fresh soil. This procedure rejuvenates the plant in the short term, but a projected graph of it's long term vitality will show a general steady decline with periods of improved vitality following each potting-up.

A repot, on the other hand, involves removing most or all of the soil and substantially reducing the root mass, with your efforts concentrated on the heaviest of the roots. This removes old, calcifying soil that eventually strangles roots and removes the older roots that serve only as water/nutrient conductors. After a repot, the plant has room to grow new fine rootage, which are the work horses responsible for absorbing 99% (ok - it's a guess, so I'll say 'nearly all') of the water & nutrients a plant uses.

If you look at a perennial in a container (trees & shrubs are perennials, too) and observe the distance between leaf bundle scars, you'll see them getting closer & closer as the plant remains in the same pot/soil. After a repot, the leaf bundle scars show a huge increase in the distance between them. I can look at most trees other than Citrus in containers, and tell you how many times and in what year they were repotted - just by looking at the leaf bundle scars. Tight roots restrict growth & potting up only marginally improves the issue and it is a temporary fix.

The concept that I'm offering here is the reason why we see bonsai trees that are hundreds of years old, growing in tiny containers but remaining the picture of health, while the average container gardener has great difficulty keeping a containerized plant healthy for 5 years or more.

Al

Below, find a link to the Maples Forum & a discussion about root work. It is written about maples, but it really applies to all perennial dicots kept in containers.

Here is a link that might be useful: About root care


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Thanks, I think I understand what you are saying about the new little roots.
My containers are for veggies so there are new plants every year. Would I need to replace the soil in those containers after a while?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 11, 08 at 7:33

Most of this is from an old post I've offered several times. I added a paragraph or thought here & there to it. I hope it helps:

In my estimation, the only case to be made for reusing container soils is one of economics, and you'll never find me argue against making that decision. If you can't afford, you can't afford it. That said and setting economics aside, you might decide to reuse soil for reasons other than economical. Perhaps the effort involved with acquiring (or making your own) soil is something you might not wish to go through or be bothered with.

Additional considerations are possible carry-over of unwanted fungal spores, the possibility/probability of insects in various stages (eggs, larvae, etc) and build-up of carbonate precipitates from your watering water. A slow soil will also have accumulated fertilizer salts and possibly insecticides that you may have applied and forgotten about last season.

In any case, it would be difficult to show that soils in a more advanced state of structural collapse can somehow be preferred to a soil that can be counted on to maintain its structure for the entire growth cycle. So, if the economic aspect is set aside, at some point you must decide that "my used soil is good enough" and that you're willing to accept whatever the results of that decision are.

All soils are not created equal. The soils I grow in are usually pine bark based & collapse structurally at a much slower rate that peat based soils, yet I usually choose to turn them into the garden or give them over to a compost pile where they serve a better purpose than as a container soil after a year of service. Some plantings (like woody materials and some perennials) do pretty well the second year in the same bark-based soil, and with careful watering, I'm usually able to get them through a third year w/o root issues.

Watering habits are an extremely important part of container gardening. Well structured soils that drain well are much more forgiving and certainly favor success on the part of the more inexperienced gardeners. As soils age, water retention increases and growing becomes increasingly difficult. If your (anyone's) excellence in watering skills allows you to grow in an aging medium, or if your decision that "good enough" is good enough for you, then it's (your decision) is good enough for me, too.

The phrases "it works for me" or "I've done it this way for years w/o problems" is often offered up as good reason to continue the status quo, but there's not much substance there.

I'm being called away now, but I'll leave with something I offered in reply on a recent thread:
"... First, plants really aren't particular about what soil is made of. As long as you're willing to stand over your plant & water every 10 minutes, you can grow most plants perfectly well in a bucket of marbles. Mix a little of the proper fertilizers in the water & you're good to go. The plant has all it needs - water, nutrients, air in the root zone, and something to hold it in place. So, if we can grow in marbles, how can a soil fail?

Our growing skills fail us more often than our soils fail. We often lack the experience or knowledge to recognize the shortcomings of our soils and to adjust for them. The lower our experience/knowledge levels are, the more nearly perfect should be the soils we grow in, but this is a catch 22 situation because hidden in the inexperience is the inability to even recognize differences between good and bad soil(s).

Container soils fail when their structure fails. When we select soils with components that break down quickly or that are so small they find their way into and clog macro-pores, we begin our growing attempts under a handicap. I see anecdotes about reusing soils, even recommendations to do it all over these forums. I don't argue with the practice, but I (very) rarely do it, even when growing flowery annuals, meant only for a single season.

Soils don't break down at an even rate. If you assign a soil a life of two years and imagine that the soil goes from perfect to unusable in that time, it's likely it would be fine for the first year, lose about 25% of its suitability in the first half of the second year, and lose the other 75% in the last half of the second year. This is an approximation & is only meant to illustrate the exponential rate at which soils collapse. Soils that are suitable for only a growing season show a similar rate of decline, but at an accelerated rate. When a used soil is mixed with fresh soil after a growing season, the old soil particles are in or about to begin a period of accelerated decay. I choose to turn them into the garden or they find their way to a compost pile.

Unless the reasons are economical, I find it difficult to imagine why anyone would add garden soils to container soils. It destroys aeration and usually causes soils to retain too much water for too long. Sand (unless approaching the size of BB's), has the same effect. I don't use compost in soils because of the negative effect on aeration/drainage. The small amount of micro-nutrients provided by compost can be more efficiently added, organically or inorganically, via other vehicles.

All that said . . . I do think that if you feel the plants growing in last year's soil were reasonably healthy, there should be no major reason not to include some of the used soil as a portion of this years mix if you're planning on adopting a faster, mix with better aeration. You could include it in something like the 5:1:1-2 mix above and consider it as the peat component, with no ill effect from a structural perspective.

To boil this all down, a container soil fails when the inverse relationship between aeration/drainage goes awry. When aeration is reduced, soggy soil is the result, and trouble is in the making."

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Thank you for the detailed answer!!
I am hoping others gain something from this exchange as I do not want to monopolize. This is the first year for these containers, I will be experimenting with growing sweet potatoes on the 25 containers I set up because it is getting to be more than I can do to dig them up in the ground any more.
Next year I will try your bark based container soil recipe, I think it is a good idea from what I have read here to replace the container soil annually.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

I have a bunch of other containers- earth boxes, and I replaced the soil this year on them and put last year's soil in the rose garden, do you think that soil is good for the roses or no?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Thanks Al. I notice that the trunks seem to fatten up in late summer/early fall so you're right. I had wondered about because I have some young trees that I moved into larger container and it has been really windy here. Despite my effort to keep them out of wind and staking them so they don't get shifted around too much, the winds has just been too brutal. The worst being the other night with 50+ MPH winds when the storm came overnight the other night. I also need to straighten some trees that I planted at the neighborhood park last fall. I should have left the stakes on till after spring storms are gone. Lesson learned. Always stake them no matter what at least until wild spring storms are over...


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Apr 11, 08 at 11:51

Oh yes, Lucille. By all means, turn it into the gardens & beds! ;o)

Lou - temperate trees direct their energy to the strongest sinks, which will be leaves & branch extension until day length begins to get shorter instead of grow longer (the solstice). At that point, they begin to concentrate on "fattening up" by moving photosynthate to the storage organs - vascular cambium & roots - in preparation for the winter rest.

Thanks for the contribution, Lou, but just the gentlest of reminders that the focus of the thread is on container soils, so we don't want to stray too far off track. I hope that's ok. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

We need roots to grow in the container soils though otherwise it's only soil not being used. I just never knew when exactly and I googled for it but I probably used wrong keyword for it. Sorry to bother you.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Apr 12, 08 at 0:41

C'mon, Lou. You know it's not a bother. ;o) I'd talk about trees all day long if it was on topic - it's what I mainly do - grow trees in containers. Just to show you I mean it, I'm going to start a thread about that subject. I do hope you'll join - I really was being gentle in my reminder & there was absolutely no intent to be snippy in what I said. Still pals? ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Al, Thank you for consolidating the previous posts on this topic for us - I am getting ready to prepare my containers - still too early to plant here. I had great success last year using your mix - my goal is to become a better fertilizer - actually you set that goal for me - and I am listening :) a few easy questions for you, if you don't mind:
Does the unused - (store in the original bag) Turface last forever? I had to buy a big bag. I have alot left.
I normally put broken clay pot pcs covering the holes - I think they moved due to the lightness of the mix. All my pots had wicks - and I like drainage - so extra holes. Should I switch to coffee filters over the remaining holes to keep the mix in the pots? I don't want the coffee filters to alter the "wicking".
Thanks so much for your help - I am excited to have another beautiful successful season using your 'recipe' .



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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 13, 08 at 10:48

I'm really glad for your success, Mag, and I appreciate you letting me know. I always feel good when I learn of other's success - especially if I might have had some small hand in it. ;o)

Does . . . Turface last forever?

Turface is inert & if it's still in the bag, it's likely it would be just as usable 100 years from now as it is today. That's close enough to forever for us? (o:

I normally put broken clay pot pcs covering the holes - I think they moved due to the lightness of the mix. All my pots had wicks - and I like drainage - so extra holes. Should I switch to coffee filters over the remaining holes to keep the mix in the pots? I don't want the coffee filters to alter the "wicking".

Use whatever you want over the drain holes (lol - within reason). It won't alter the wicking action. FWIW, 1 hole or 100 makes no matter. The only difference 100 holes makes is that the soil might drain just a little faster; but who cares if the soil drains in 1 minute as opposed to 2? The only advantage to more holes is that it could increase gas exchange somewhat (but that would be primarily if they were on the sides of the container) and they will allow a little more evaporative water loss, which in your case, since you have either no, or very little perched water, isn't much of a benefit.

I use insect screening to cover the holes. It's reusable & very inexpensive - does a stellar job. In some containers (bonsai & smallish ones) I use squares of the needlepoint mesh you find in 9x12 sheets at hobby stores - also reusable.

I'm excited about your prospects for success, too!! I've been enjoying chattering away with a couple of people by e-mail, and I've told them how infectious their enthusiasm is, and how much I enjoy being a part of it - I see it in your post too, so now I need to thank YOU for the lift. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Al- thanks for your quick response (my internet was down, so I couldn't read it until this morning). I for one am so appreciative of the depth of knowledge you & others share here. I love books and gardening, but to ask a specific question and get the answer is just so wonderful!!!
My Turface question was definitely on the "no question is too dumb to ask side" heehee.......I knew it was inert, but was concerned with the moisture or humidity - so I am glad it will outlast me!!!
The extra holes - were drilled before I found this wonderful forum last year and started using your mix. I knew I was having draining problem & couldn't figure out what to do. The insect screen is a great suggestion, and I have lots on hand.
Just a note about the success, there was a spot in my yard I have never gotten grass or anything else to grow. Last summer, I enlarge it & broke up the matted roots & amended the soil with mostly your mix - not in the same proportions - leftover ingredients & alot of Turface. I moved plants from other parts of my yard - daylillies, hostas, a small rose bush, coral bells, liriope, iris - I also dumped the used mix from my containers in that bed after the frost hit. This spring, that is the only great looking bed in my yard!! I cleaned out the leaves a week ago, and this past week we had a few warm days. Unbelievable!! That area is at the edge of trees, and the ground is solid - would not drain - water would puddle on the surace. It just looked terrible.
I struggled with that area for 8 years. I will enlarge it this year, using your mix again. So, again a big Thank you!
A side benefit of your mix, for me anyway, is how light the containers are making it much easier to move / hang / rearrange -my body seems to keep getting older! I did put bricks in the bottoms of a few large terra cotta containers in the yard because of the wind.
So, yes, I am looking forward to planting again - I have lots of containers, and your mix is so easy!!!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Apr 14, 08 at 9:29

To tell the truth, it never crossed my mind that the question might be out of the ordinary. There is so much talk on the forum & this thread about soil components 'breaking down' that I'm sure others wondered the same thing. With that in mind - see how easy it is for me to change your perspective by observing you were brave, not silly, for asking? ;o)

I'm not quite sure what to say about all the nice things you offered, except thank you, but I probably should return most of the credit. You were the one who made the leap to the idea that additional organic matter and a little Turface might help with that compacted area in your yard that drained poorly. While the tiniest amount of credit might go to me for planting the seed of an idea, you did all the thinking, figuring things out, and the grunt work, so where does the credit REALLY belong? ;o) With you!

I'm not here to twist any one's arm too hard, only plant seeds - and it's soo rewarding when I get to see them come to fruition. ;o)

Thanks, Mag.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Al, I am curious - in reviewing my notes, I see that you have changed the amt of lime from 1 cup to 2 cups for the Big Batch. Is that now what you recommend for pretty flowers containers? I am making about 6 Big Batches - so I need to keep up with the revisions :). Still a bit to early to plant - but I'm getting ready & trying hard not to buy plants yet!
Thanks!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Apr 26, 08 at 23:00

Yes - 1/3-1/2 cup per cu ft and the big batch usually makes 4+ cu ft.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Al, I was thinking that the question I asked (and you kindly answered) about bare-rooting in another post might be helpful here, especially for people just getting started with your mix. Rather than copy and paste your answer, which might be incomplete or relative only to my situation, I'll simply ask you if you could say a few words about it here.

The question was basically how much of the root ball to loosen when potting up and out of the black nursery pots into Al's soil. I made the mistake of not removing enough of the old soil, so in a couple of my citrus pots now I have 2 distinct soils... a wet sponge in the middle, and a fast moving bark mixture on the outer circle.

Thanks!


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How much soil to loosen?

Al, I was thinking that the question I asked (and you kindly answered) about bare-rooting in another post might be helpful here, especially for people just getting started with your mix. Rather than copy and paste your answer, which might be incomplete or relative only to my situation, I'll simply ask you if you could say a few words about it here.

The question was basically how much of the root ball to loosen when potting up and out of the black nursery pots into Al's soil. I made the mistake of not removing enough of the old soil, so in a couple of my citrus pots now I have 2 distinct soils... a wet sponge in the middle, and a fast moving bark mixture on the outer circle.

Thanks!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

magothyrivergirl directed me to this forum and I'm already grateful. I'm reading as fast as I can, following every link and am out of breath and a bit confused. Can you tell me where the Turface comes into the mixture as I don't see it listed above? I googled it and am not totally sure what it is - seems to be something like kitty litter? And regarding pine bark fines - same as shredded pine bark? Not sure I've ever seen that, only shredded hardwood but maybe I wasn't looking in the right places.

I'm so looking forward to making changes in my garden this year and using the great informations I'm finding here - thanks!
Deb


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, May 4, 08 at 23:24

Hi, Deb. How nice to see you here! ;o)

Turface is calcined (baked - at high temps) clay and is very porous and stable. It promotes aeration/drainage while holding water inside and on the surface of the particles. I use it in soils that will have to last for extended periods (2 or more growth cycles - mostly for woody plants). I also use it in all my houseplant soils, but rarely use it in soils for veggies & the 'pretty stuff' I pot up for the garden displays every year.

If you were going to use Turface in the recipes I suggested upthread, you would use it in place of the perlite.

The pine bark I use in the short term plantings is partially composted, but any fine pine bark will work well. What you see in this picture is probably about as coarse as you would want to use, and finer would be better. At the center of the picture is the soil I use for veggies & flowery material.


The bark at the top of this picture is partially composted & ideal in container soils.


Good luck, Deb. I really hope that anything you might have taken from reading this thread will help you in your efforts tis year! ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

This is like personal gardening information! Thank you so much, Al. I've already learned quite a bit - now I'm on a mission to get all the ingredients and be ready for plants in, oh, about a month because it seems our weather will never settle down this year :-(

I expect to be reporting back with success but will be sticking around and reading more.
Deb


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Pine bark fines???

Hi Al!

:-)

I am curious to your opinion about aged vs. un-aged pine bark fines. For my specific needs I live about 36N lat and it's semi-arid here with occasional drought like conditions...so I want to do everything I can to keep moisture in the medium/container whilst keeping proper air/pore/moisture/drainage ratios.

I grow mostly seasonal veggies like tomatoes, peppers, etc.

I have been reading up on the various aspects of pine bark fines and I think I should used aged fines. Aged fines hold more "available water" but they are less porous, contain less air space and are more dense then un-aged pine bark fines[1].

Aged vs. un-aged pine bark fines:

Total Porosity:
aged = 82
un-aged = 86

Air Space:
aged = 31
un-aged = 42

Container Capacity (% Volume):
aged = 31
un-aged = 44

Available Water:
aged = 21
un-aged = 13

Unavailable Water:
aged = 30
un-aged = 31

I am also concerned about the quality of the pine bark fines. From what I've read the aging processes (eg. turning and watching) is especially important for quality pine bark fines. If the pile temperature is over 150 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period it may/will cause "dry bands"[2] in the pine bark fines. Dry bands supposedly happen when the relative moisture in the pine bark fines reaches 34%. Pine bark fines with dry bands are hydrophobic and very hard to wet/re-wet.

Al, how often have you seen or do you think pine bark fines are mis-handled while aging? Could you please list the suppliers/producers who you know are, or that you've heard are properly aging their pine bark fines? I am probably going to take a long drive and get my pine bark fines from a business listed in this thread, do you (or anyone reading) have experience with the fines from any of those business?

[1] Potting Mix Choices [PDF]

[2]Potting Mix Choices [PDF] (See p.4 "Handling Substrate Inventories")


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Hi again Al...and everyone else!

Below I list the original and current "Al's Mix" and I also list them broken down by percent of total mass. Would I be correct to assume the current Al's mix is better draining and hold less moisture? Could you please explain your motivations for modifying your mix?

Al's "original" mix:
["Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention" vol. I]
3 part pine bark fine
1 part peat
1-2 part perlite
lime

Al's "original" mix proportions:
100% pine bark fines
33% peat
67% perlite (I used 2 parts perlite for this figure)

Al's "current" mix:
[Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention vol. V]
5 part pine bark fine
1 part peat
1-2 part perlite
lime

Al's "current" mix proportions:
100% pine bark fine
20% peat
40% perlite (I used 2 part perlite for this figure)

And here is a mix I'm considering using as I'm trying to increase the time interval between manual waterings. Please see this thread of mine about amending your mix for drought like conditions. I am employing a number of unique drought resistant techniques for water conservation in and around the medium/containers. My motivations and my methodology are explained within that thread, as are the thoughts of JAG2...I welcome your comments in that thread!


This mix sits right between your "original" and "current" mixes while still containing a high proportion of pine bark fines.
What are your thoughts?

Semi-arid mix:
[All ingredients are wetted with diluted surfactant to increase H20 adhesion and absorption. I use organic yucca extract]
7 part aged pine bark fines
2 part peat
3 part Turface MVP
lime


Semi-arid mix proportions:
[All ingredients are wetted with diluted surfactant to increase H20 adhesion and absorption. I use organic yucca extract]
100% aged pine bark fine
29% peat
43% Turface MVP



Any and all thoughts, comments and opinions are welcome from everybody!!! The more the merrier!!! :-)


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edit...sorry

Darn,

I forgot to mention that I am going to screen the aged pine bark fines for the semi-arid mix I posted. The fines I have found are 0-1/2" so I'm just going to build a frame and attach a 1/8" screen to sift out the smaller particles.


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Worms

OK, last question for the night! ;-)

I vermicompost (reds, tigers and Indian blues) and I usually add about 250-500 of worms (1/4-1/2lb) to each container and my containers are 15gal or about 2 cu ft each.

Do worms thrive within your pine bark fine mix? I have found information that worms do well with pine bark as their bedding but that's different than living in a pine bark rich container. "Capacity of various organic residues to support adequate earthworm biomass for vermicomposting"


Adding living worms directly to the soil offers many benefits to plants and to the soil...Just to name a few:

-The worms constantly create new tunnels/air holes within the soil as they travel in search for food (i.e. protozoa).

-Those tunnels help prevent soil compaction and help stimulate soil aeration.

-I've read somewhere that worms also help remove Co2 from the root zone though their digestion and tunnel creation (I'll try to find the link)

-They help create a living ecosystem within the soil (eg. "zymogenic soil"), this is important if organics are being used...as is the use of A/EM and ACT.

-The worm castings and urine provides enzymes, vitamins, plant growth hormones/auxins, plant growth regulators, bio-stimulator's and beneficial microorganisms
Note: There will not be enough castings to have a negative effect the soil density or "clog" the soil.

-Worms should not speed up the decomp of the pine bark fines but I have no data on that.

Goodnight!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Hey Al,
With your bday and the long posts from Gojo, I am wondering if you saw my previous post about bare-rooting and proper potting technique when going from a nursery pot to your mix? Or maybe you decided not to include something here. Either way, it's all good. But I know that before I potted my containers I read EVERY single word of these container soils posts and knowing about that BEFORE I potted would have helped me. (Now I have to go back and repot a couple so I don't have 2 separate soils in a pot.)

Anyway, I know you answered me in my other thread (thank you!) but I thought/think it might add value to this thread, if you had a chance. If not, I understand.

Hope you had a lovely b-day.
-k


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, May 7, 08 at 22:04

Hi, Kristi. If you don't mind - I have a thread that's not too old, about trees in containers, & I think your question is probably a better fit for that thread. I'll be glad to answer it if you want to ask there, or I'll just copy/paste your question to that thread when I get some time. (Had a really long day today. Just returned from an all-day trip to Arrowhead Alpines, about 100 miles from home, and I still need to water plants and eat yet tonight. ;o)

I'm sorry I didn't suggest the other thread sooner. Please forgive me? ;o)

Al

Here is a link that might be useful: Click me to see the thread he was talking about. ;o)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

I hit on this thread searching for what to use as a wick in my home made self waterer and boy am I glad I did! Thank you all for such a wonderful information filled thread.

I have made a HUGE self waterer for veggie growing,my pot bellied pigs eat a ground veggie garden and leave nothing for me! I am trying to mimic the Maxicap selfwaterer.My self waterer is roughly 6 feet by 2 feet with 4 holding tanks for water. I am placing styrofoam on top of the holding tanks and the filler tube and wicking tube go through the styrofoam. The 'dirt' sits on the styrofoam.

Maxicap has a bag of 'dirt' that you sit on the styrofoam and punch holes thru the bottom into 3 wicking chambers that you plant in and these plants and 'dirt' wick the water up into the bag. Now for my questions.

1) can I use heavy plastic on top of my styrofoam in the same way or should I use fine screening for better air circulation?
2)From an early reply of Al's I now know what to use as a wick but since I am using this for veggies (seeding into it) should I/can I use MORE that one wick per water tank and bring them closer to the top of the "dirt" so my seeds get enough moisture. I am concerned that with AL's well draining mix the top will be too dry.
3) AL, I am wanting to use your soilless mix if I can find those elusive pine bark fines, is your recipe for veggies what I can use for potatoes as well? I am planning 8 inches deep
4)are pine barks fines something that is more common in certain areas? All I can seem to find are larger chips for mulching

Thank you so much and I'm sorry this ended up being so long.

Joanne


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Hey Al,
Oh, yes. "That" post. All the talk of cytokynins (sp?) made my head spin. LOL

Actually, Al, I think that the issue of how much of the nursery soil to remove when transplanting a plant--whether a perennial shrub or a tree--into a new container of your mix is valid here, too. That other post is really more specific to root pruning of trees. I know for me, I read every single one of these water movement posts before I potted using your mix, and I would have benefitted a bit from some description of how much soil to remove or how much of the rootball to loosen before moving to your mix for my blueberries, too. But ultimately, I have my answer and it's really your call. Just trying to add some value to this incredibly helpful post.

And absolutely NO need to apologize for anything. Your contributions to us here is so much appreciated. I just wasn't sure if you saw it with your bday. Hopefully it was a good one!

-k


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

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

Cdnbacons - I'm not sure about what you asked in question 1 - I think I need a better description of what you're doing, so I'll go on to 2.

2) In self-watering containers there is always a question about how fast the wicking column is able to supply water vs how quickly the plant and evaporation use water. Since additional wicks have the potential to move/supply more water, I would use multiple wicks in a container with a 6 ft horizontal dimension - probably 3 or 4.

3) Yes, a 5:1:2 pine bark:peat:perlite soil will work well. Potatoes love lots of water but will not tolerate wet feet. As a crop, fields with sandy soil and a high organic content are most productive. These soils are often copiously irrigated because of the excellent drainage offered. You should use soil ingredients large enough to make sure that the soil holds little or no perched water, and then keep the soil evenly damp.

4) It seems pine bark is easier to find in some places than others. I think you have extensive southern yellow pine logging ops down your way, so the bark SHOULD be readily available. It's funny, I run across it all the time at various places - nurseries, big box stores, greenhouses .... and usually when I'm not looking for it. I could usually depend on finding it at Meijer Stores, e.g. This year they don't have anything useful, but a nursery near me that never carried it before started to. I guess what I'm saying is keep your eyes peeled & make note of where you see it, and you WILL see it when you least expect to. That's just how it works, so don't give up. ;o)

Take care, CB.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, May 10, 08 at 11:05

Kristi - You asked . . . . how much of the root ball to loosen when potting up and out of the black nursery pots into Al's soil. I made the mistake of not removing enough of the old soil, so in a couple of my citrus pots now I have 2 distinct soils... a wet sponge in the middle, and a fast moving bark mixture on the outer circle?

There is really no clear answer to this question when asked in general terms. How much soil you can/should remove during a repotting operation depends on a number of things.
A) The plant material we're talking about
B) How well it tolerates root manipulations
C) Timing - where the plant is in its growth cycle - time of year
D) What kind of soil you're potting in - contrast in soil interface
E) Current condition (how-tight) of rootage

Generally speaking, and for most perennials (trees are perennials, btw), I prefer to bare-root and repot deciduous plants just before bud movement in spring. For evergreens, I like to bare-root or remove the appropriate volume of soil in 'wedges' before the spring growth push. For conifers (except pines), I prefer to repot just as dormant deciduous trees in the landscape are leafing out & danger of soil freezing is nil. I repot pines in early to mid July.

If you describe the condition you found the roots of your citrus trees in (mainly soil type & how root-bound they were) I'll tell you what I would have done as I potted them.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

I guess as always there's not one-size-fits-all answers. And of course, after I posted it, I realized that one would NEVER bare-root a bougainvillea. LOL

So, thanks for addressing it and providing some of the basic guidelines you follow.

And your reply also tells me (I think) that for my citrus, in their growing cycle, it probably wouldn't have made sense to bare-root them all the way. I'll follow your advice from the other post and eliminate the older soils gradually.

Thanks!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Al,

Thank you very much for your reply. I appreciate all the help and advice you give everyone.

Joanne


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by jodik 5 Central IL (My Page) on
    Sun, May 11, 08 at 0:08

Hi, Al! Just stopping by to let you know that I'm recommending your articles to others who grow bulbs... I think we can all benefit from your highly educational posts! I know I've learned a lot, and I thank you for sharing so much of your time and knowledge!

You were absolutely right when you told me that your medium mix would most likely suit my hippeastrum bulbs better than most commercially sold products. I've been using it with very good success!

I have learned that the most critical things associated with successful container gardening are using the right medium, and proper watering!

Thanks, Al! I'm on the right track now!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Al, Thank you for such an interesting review of potting mix. I'm just starting to take a serious interest in my plants and I have a few questions. I'm planning to purchase a pair of citrus trees from fourwindsgrowers.com. On their "how-to" page (http://www.fourwindsgrowers.com/growing/containers.html) they recommend amending the soil with redwood or cedar shavings and to avoid pine and spruce. No reason is given. I'd appreciate your thoughts on this.

My second question, How would you amend this mix for ferns and other plants that enjoy a slower draining soil?

Thank you for your help.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, May 21, 08 at 17:17

Hello, Jess - Redwood and cedar shavings are sapwood products. The same type of shavings from spruce and pine would break down quickly in container soils, but the sapwood from redwood is long lasting. I'm surprised that a tree seller would list cedar as a preferred type of wood shavings because there are trees from at least 6 different genera with the common name 'cedar', and it's extremely unlikely that you would find shavings available from the true cedars - the Cedrus genus. Pine or fir bark, in contrast to sapwood, breaks down slowly, so you should feel free to use it in your soil.

The gritty mix of equal parts:
pine or fir bark
Turface
crushed granite
would make an excellent and long-lasting soil for your trees. Forgive the delay in answering your question, please. I'll explain in my answer to your e-mail.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Hey Al,
You may recall that my first foray into fashioning a bark-based mix, I used a "composted redwood bark" instead of fir bark fines. (One of my local nurseries raved about it for his blueberries, so I bought a bunch and had it on hand when I planted.)

But, I've been unhappy with the mix because a lot of the redwood seems to be dried up redwood shavings that flatten out, and all the perlite just comes floating to the top. The top 3 inches are ALWAYS bone dry with big flaky pieces of dried out shavings, yet my plants still act overwatered and the leaves are droopy and the root balls are damp and cold. (Not soggy, but they don't seem to be drying out, either.) I know I'm still mastering Watering 101, but I will say that I'm ready to try something new for this next Citrus I need to plant because I suspect I can mix a better mix so I can avoid some of this constant watering heartache.

So... now that I'm a more "seasoned" gardener (does 3 months make me more seasoned, LOL?)... I inquired again at my local nursery with someone who seemed to know EXACTLY what I meant when I asked for: "Fir Bark Fines." They don't sell a bag of 100% bark fines, but they do sell something called "Black Forest Organic compost" with the words "soil conditioner" underneath.

I originally passed on it because it emphasizes "Compost" in big letters on the bag (and knowing not to use "compost" in pots I didn't consider it.) But he opened up the bag for me at it looks EXACTLY like the photo you post of bark fines. It says it is "A blend of forest humus (redwood and fir bark) composted and screened to a uniform 1/4" minus size." It also includes composted forest humus, worm castings, chicken manure, bat guano, kelp meal, and oyster shell and dolomitic lime. Could I use THIS as my fir bark component, in the bark/perlite/peat option?

Thanks for your help.
-kristi


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, May 22, 08 at 19:44

I guess you probably won't know unless you try. I'm not sure why you don't wish to use Turface & fir bark for your trees. I think you would be happier with that mix, but again - it's all up to you.

From my FiF:

"Says on the bag:
Wonder Bark--for orchids
Fir bark
Fine
Clear plastic bag with pink printing on it. I think.
Two size bags--I think the small one is ?, 12 liters? The large one is 1 cubic foot. It also comes in Medium grade.
One cubic foot is approx 9-10 dollars at OSH--Orchard Supply Hardware. Most have them in Bay Area, I don't know about southern Cal.
It is also about $7 at Longs Drugs in Oakland--Rockridge area, 51st and Broadway."

She uses 2/3 Turface & 1/3 fir bark as above for her many citrus trees.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Thanks for responding, Al.

To answer your question... Well, partly it's the weight of the turface because I'm already using fairly heavy terra cotta pots. It's partly because we're in a county mandated water rationing drought right now and ---please correct me if I'm wrong---- my understanding is the turface and fir bark would require a frequent daily watering that I can't afford to do. (I'm on a hot western exposure conrete patio, with reflected extra heat off a concrete retaining wall) and I would imagine with Turface this summer I'd be watering twice a day.) Isn't that what your FIF said she did last year?

And, you know, honestly, partly my resistance may be because I want to use organic fertilizers and a turface/bark mix would require me to use a synthetic. Which I'm not ready to do.

I can appreciate your pushing me towards the better longer lasting mix, but I thought it was just one of the two mixes you recommend. (Or are you backing away from the bark/peat/perlite mix?) I may eventually get to the Turface as many on here have, but not yet.

You seem a bit under-impressed by the bark mix I described above. Maybe I've overextended myself with all my questions, and I'll just leave you alone. I was just so excited I thought I finally found "the one" to make your mix "the right way"... but I guess I'll just have to give it a go and see how it works.

Thanks again for all your help.
Peace,
-kristi


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, May 22, 08 at 22:13

I can appreciate your pushing me towards the better longer lasting mix, but I thought it was just one of the two mixes you recommend. (Or are you backing away from the bark/peat/perlite mix?) I may eventually get to the Turface as many on here have, but not yet.

I'm remaining pretty consistent. I mention frequently that I use some variation of the 5:1:1 mix for shorter term plantings of mainly 1 year, but sometimes 2, and I use a variation of the 'gritty mix' for houseplants, succulents, and everything/anything woody I think might be in the same soil for more than a single growth cycle.

You seem a bit under-impressed by the bark mix I described above. Maybe I've overextended myself with all my questions, and I'll just leave you alone. I was just so excited I thought I finally found "the one" to make your mix "the right way"... but I guess I'll just have to give it a go and see how it works.

Well, I know what works well, but you have reservations and qualifications about what you are willing to use. Since I have no knowledge of what you do intend to use - I can't see it to judge it's merits/drawbacks - all I can do is guess at its value. If I had to make my best guess, I would venture you could probably skip the peat altogether and just add perlite to the compost product you described, but even that requires that I second guess how much aeration you might be willing to sacrifice for the added water retention.

It's not that you've over-extended yourself in the question department - I welcome those; it's just that there's only so much I can do from 2,500 miles away w/o more intimate knowledge of what you would like to use, and I was trying not to discourage you.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Kristi,

Is it safe to assume your questions are primarily concerning your citrus trees?

While your climate may be drier than mine (Wisconsin), I have my 3 new citrus trees (lemon, kumquat and orange) all in 15" containers with 1 part Turface and 1 part bark. It holds water too long. Even outside I am only watering once per week. I am sure this will change in summer, but for now...

It seems your present complaint with regard to your current planting mix is it is too easy to overwater. I would suggest you probably could go a bit less water retentive and be quite happy and not be a slave to the hose ;-)

I am certainly no citrus expert, just a noob, but trying to relate what I am going through presently with my citrus to provide some perspective that I hope helps you in some way.

And, you know, honestly, partly my resistance may be because I want to use organic fertilizers and a turface/bark mix would require me to use a synthetic. Which I'm not ready to do.

I know you really want to do the organic thing, so why not just do it? Why not just do a mix of bark, perlite (or turface) and replace the peat with compost? Same difference. It's organic and breaks down quickly, but keep it to a minimum (or repot each year) and who cares?

Then use whatever organic source of nutrients you have decided upon. In the event the organics just don't do it for you, switch. At least you gave it your best shot, right? If they do work well for you, then post back and tell all of us what you did because I assure you there is strong interest in organic container gardening, people just want to know how to make it work. Clearly Al has tried it and found it unsatisfactory. I have tried it and found it OK for supplying the minors, but not the majors, but who cares? We are just 2 dudes on the net. Go your own way and see what happens. No guts, no glory :-)

You seem a bit under-impressed by the bark mix I described above

This was addressed to Al and I am not Al, but I also was underwhelmed by the description. The reason wasn't the bark, but this: "composted forest humus, worm castings, chicken manure, bat guano, kelp meal, and oyster shell"

What percentage of the mix do the above ingredients take up?

10% or less OK, more than that and you run into the problem you have now, overwatering being too easy to do.

The nutrients the ingredients can provide are all in a teaspoon of Miracle Grow as much as you might not want to hear it :-) The plant just doesn't care whether it's nitrogen comes from MG or chicken manure, it just cares that it gets it's N.

Start with a sound potting mix that has the right air/water balance for your trees and then add the nutrition source(s) of your choice. If the plants tell you they aren't getting the nutrients they require, switch.

Do what you want to do and simply watch your trees. They will tell you to change things if you need to.

Nobody wants to talk you out of doing it organically. All those of us on the forum can do is say "I tried this, and then I tried this" and tell you what worked better for us.

Make the organics work and then tell the rest of us what you did.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Thanks for answering my question about the citrus trees Al!

Will your basic mix work well for ferns? How about begonias? Is there anything you wouldn't recommend using this mix for?

What is a good brand of micro-nutrient powder?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Hey JaG... I saw your post about your citrus, too. Sorry I dont know enough yet to offer anything.

And yes, I am referring mostly to my citrus, since that's where I've got my biggest financial and emotional investment. (I probably SHOULD have started with radishes, as Al said in another post to me. LOL)

Anyway, you said:
Start with a sound potting mix that has the right air/water balance for your trees and then add the nutrition source(s) of your choice. That's exactly what I'm trying to do here. LOL.

I'm trying to make a mix that will have some modicum of organic matter and also drain well. I am less concerned about "moisture retention"... as a noob who likes to water, I don't seem to have any trouble in that area. LOL

Just because I say I'm hoping to feed them organically, doesn't mean I'm looking to plant in garden compost, or peat, or commercial potting mixes that are going to break down in 6 weeks. But I also don't insist on a gritty mix that will last indefinitely. I'm OK with repotting every couple years, and probably will have to any way as my smaller plants grow.

And then, as you say, I plan to feed it organically as best I can.

But my question to Al wasn't really about whether or not to do organic. I get it... lots of you don't think it works well; others think not at all. I'm not beating that drum over here because just mentioning the word "organic" seems to cause a flurry of issues. If I find success, I'll certainly share that information.

My question to Al WAS actually about the physical texture of the bark fines I found today, and whether they would be better at providing aeration and drainage than the "composted redwood shavings" I currently have in the mix. Even though they're composted, they're flat shavings... and I think the mix is compacting, holding onto too much water, and may become a problem if I don't either a) figure out how to water, or b) repot them into something with better drainage, structure, and aeration. It seems to be a particular problem with my larger pots, with the top half staying loose and the bottom half compacting into an impenetrable mass.

This mix I found today may be labeled "compost" but I think I probably should have just told you it was "fir bark soil conditioner" and left out "compost" moniker. Because it is by no means the kind of loose, friable compost you'd get from a finished compost pile in your garden. This is uniform, 1/4" bark chunks, like your photo often shows.

Al, I know it's not your job to do any of this and you do it out of the kindness of your heart and your willingness to help other people learn. So I apologize if I came across as snarky or rude... I didn't mean to criticize your reply. I just know from reading all five of these water movement threads that you often help people locate the "right" bark fines when they're not often labeled "bark fines." You very often respond with some variation of "try again" or "keep looking" or "that's a good one"----or some specific recommendation of how to mix a particular bark to achieve the results they want.

You sort of said that in your last reply... and I'm thinking I will probably do this bark with perlite, 3:1 or 5:1 and omit a peat component. Thanks for that.

Oddly enough, there is another citrus forum I have been to where people worry less about the actual potting mix... some use CHC, some use regular old potting mix with 50% perlite; others follow a 3:1:1 ratio. So I suppose if I can just find something that drains and aerates well for my plants, I'll be better off than I am now.

Anyway, it's late guys. Thanks, you two dudes on the internet. I always enjoy our "discussions"... and even if we don't agree AT ALL on the organic stuff I still appreciate all the information you provide. I've learned a lot here and hope to continue.

And then someday when I've succeeded with the organic fertilizers, I'll shout it from the rooftops. ;-)

G'night!

-kristi


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

My question to Al WAS actually about the physical texture of the bark fines I found today, and whether they would be better at providing aeration and drainage than the "composted redwood shavings" I currently have in the mix.

Can you post a picture of the mix? Bark fines are umm...fine, but it was the guano, compost and whatever else the mix contained that was the potential problem. Notice the word potential. It all depends on how much of this fine particle stuff is in the mix with the bark.

You currently have a mix that is too easy to overwater by your own experience. I take it you want a mix that is more difficult to over water and don't mind at least a little more watering to compensate. Cool. Still, impossible to say what a commercial product will result in without having some idea of the ratio of one ingredient (the coarser stuff) to the next (the finer stuff).

Oddly enough, there is another citrus forum I have been to where people worry less about the actual potting mix... some use CHC, some use regular old potting mix with 50% perlite; others follow a 3:1:1 ratio. So I suppose if I can just find something that drains and aerates well for my plants, I'll be better off than I am now.

Yup, get a mix that drains well and aerates well and you are set for growing most anything. You may need to water a bit more often, but other than that no plant is going to complain, right? I am sorry that your present mix isn't working for you, and I would love to be able to tell you one way or another if the product you are considering would be better, but I can't because I don't know the percent bark and the percent other good stuff, but too fine particled for containers.

Anyway, it's late guys. Thanks, you two dudes on the internet. I always enjoy our "discussions"... and even if we don't agree AT ALL on the organic stuff

Here is the funny thing. I don't use pesticides more toxic than neem oil and my in ground/raised beds are fed almost exclusively ( and in some cases exclusively) with compost
and manure.

I am heavily influenced by the idea that nature can provide for nature and no fertilizers are needed. I find this more or less true for in ground plantings, but not in containers.

I really don't think you and I (or AL) are really that different in terms of our attitude toward natural/organic ideas. I think we just express things differently based upon our experiences.

We want to work with nature, not against her, but we also want optimal results. We resolve this a bit differently, but have the same ideals.


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Hi Kristi,

I just wanted to let you know that Al has sent me some of his mix with the Turface to do a planting project with my students. It is what he recommends for the trees, houseplants, succulents, etc. It is surprisingly light. I worry, like you, about he weight of the pots. There is no peat in this mix. The vermiculite is very light, and vermiculite and Turface actually both absorb and release water/nutrients as it is needed. I don't think you'd ever have to water twice a day. Every day to every other day depending on the heat is more like it.

I only wish I could find a place that sells the bark fines like Al uses that aren't mixed with anything else, but to date, I have had no luck, but this mix that he sent me is phenomenal. I think you'd be shocked at how light it is. Yes, Turface in its bag is very heavy, but when mixed with the other lightweight materials, ie bark and vermiculite, it really isn't that bad. I had back surgery in November. I was able to lift the three gallons he sent me without even a struggle.

The soil conditioner you are talking about I would not recommend. Most soil conditioners that have all those added things are meant to be added to ground soil to improve its structure. They are not meant to be used in containers. I tried once and killed a lot of plants. Without knowing the exact amounts of the other stuff added, it's hard to know how much fertilizer to add. When I first started using Al's mix three years ago, I found one soil conditioner that was just pine bark fines with compost (60/40) but no other added stuff (kelp, worm castings, etc.). It worked fine. They had run out of it when I went back, and I bought this other stuff that had added stuff to it (it was called garden soil conditioner). I treated it the same, added the fertilizer and other stuff, and all my plants turned yellow and brown. It burned the roots and the plants never recovered. Now, you could try it on something you're not emotionally attached to and try not adding fertilizer or lime to the mix for a while and see how it does.

Give Al's tree mix a try. I think you'd like it.


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, May 25, 08 at 17:56

Thanks, Tanya. I hope you and the kids have a good growing adventure. ;o)

Jessz asks: Will your basic mix work well for ferns? How about begonias? Is there anything you wouldn't recommend using this mix for?

What is a good brand of micro-nutrient powder?

Yes - I grow ferns in the 5:1:1 mix, as well as begonias.


and they both like it well. I suppose that if I wasn't too lazy, I might add another part of peat for those two plants (5:2:1, bark:peat:perlite), but it works fine as is.

I use Micromax and STEM micronutrient supplements. Micromax is not soluble, while STEM is. Micromax contains Ca and Mg, but I think both are missing from STEM, though I'd have to look to be sure. I think you'll find those nutrients difficult to find - especially in small volumes. You may wish to take a look at Earthjuice or other more readily available products.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Thanks for your warnings, Tanya. I didn't consider the possible burning factor with all those additional ingredients.

Al and JaG... I admit I haven't read every single post in the 5 threads recently but I can't remember seeing anything about whether it had to be 100% bark fines or if there was any danger in using the "added" ingredients.

I guess as Al says I'll just have to try it.

And I like the advice, though, perhaps on a plant I'm not particularly emotionally attached to. :-) Wonder how soon the signs of root burn show up in a plant?

Have a nice memorial day everyone.

-k


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, May 26, 08 at 6:16

Initially, you described the product as . . . it emphasizes "Compost" in big letters on the bag (and knowing not to use "compost" in pots I didn't consider it.) But he opened up the bag for me at it looks EXACTLY like the photo you post of bark fines. It says it is "A blend of forest humus (redwood and fir bark) composted and screened to a uniform 1/4" minus size." It also includes composted forest humus, worm castings, chicken manure, bat guano, kelp meal, and oyster shell and dolomitic lime." and I was reluctant to agree that you had "finally found "the one" to make your mix "the right way"... " based on your description.

Subsequently, you changed the description to "I think I probably should have just told you it was "fir bark soil conditioner" and left out "compost" moniker. Because it is by no means the kind of loose, friable compost you'd get from a finished compost pile in your garden. This is uniform, 1/4" bark chunks, like your photo often shows.", which is quite a bit different from the original.

As Tanya points out, we have no idea how much of the nitrogen supplements are included in a product that is clearly intended for use in beds, gardens, etc., so I was reluctant to suggest you use it for more than one reason.

The signs of root burn can show up quickly if the N content is high. I would suggest you soak the product in a tub of water overnight & then rinse it thoroughly before you use it. If you're worried about wasting the water, you can save it & treat it like fertilizer solution, though you'll have no idea of its value as a nutrient supplement. One of the basic ideas behind the soils and fertilizer programs I use is that it gives me total and definate control over what nutrients the plants get and when they get them. You have to be willing to relinquish that control when you start using manures and other organic sources of nutrients in your supplementation program.

Finally, the soil, even the gritty soil, is much closer to all organic than any garden soil. It is pretty unusual for a garden soil to be much more than 5% organic, the rest being mineral. Even the gritty mix at a 33% organic component by volume has more than 6 times the organic component than most garden soils. The Turface is naturally occurring clay that is simply baked and the crushed granite is simply (largely) inert coarse sand, as is the substitute I often suggest (very coarse silica).

FWIW - After very thorough soaking and rinsing, I've tried CHCs in side by side comparisons (cuttings from the same plant) as a substitute for pine bark and have been unimpressed with the results. In two cases, the plants in the bark mix showed at least twice the increase in biomass over CHCs and in the other case (Coleus) I was able to coax the plant into almost keeping up with the bark mix.

Take good care.

Al


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Hey Al, thanks for the reply. When I referred to it being "exactly"... I was referring to the fact that it physically resembled the mix you showed. And I know that "bark fines" aren't always labeled "bark fines." (Guess that would be too easy, right?) But your and Tanya's warnings about root burning are serious enough for me to just take it back and keep looking.

So, I guess I'm sort of stuck, and it's definitely not for any lack of your explaining or convincing me. It's my own thing that I am insisting about fertilizing with organics, and at LEAST I understand the science behind the drainage. LOL

By the way, I'm actually not opposed to the gritty/turface blend. Yes, it's a VERY organic medium with all that bark. In fact, if you were to tell me that I could use the turface/Bark fines AND still fertilize with a liquid organic, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

(I actually have 2 products in mind... one being a Dr. Earth chelated 3-3-3 with micros and minerals. The other an EB Stone 4-1-1 fish emulsion.) But my suspicion is you'll say it can't be done. And my own intuition is that the gritty mix is probably so effective at draining that the organics would all leach out before the plant could use them.

But then again, maybe you'll surprise me. :-)

Hope you had a lovely holiday weekend. Thanks again for your patience.

-k


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I don't know that they would all leach out. I think that Turface is supposed to absorb water AND nutrients and release them slowly to the plants. I use liquid fertilizer on some of the stuff that I grow in straight Turface-like product with no problems at all. They are all succulents and in mame bonsai pots (largest is only 1 1/2 inches across). They are do great. Why can't you use liquid fertilizers with this soil?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

But my suspicion is you'll say it can't be done. And my own intuition is that the gritty mix is probably so effective at draining that the organics would all leach out before the plant could use them.

Personally I would say even a commercially prepared, peat based mix would see the organics leached out before they were ready for plant use. That's just the nature of life in a container. Organics feed the soil food web and in containers there is no soil, and no web of biological life.

Organics do not feed plants, they feed the soil critters which then go on to feed the plants, but our containers are largely devoid of the soil critters we would feed in order that they go on to feed our plants. This is true without regard to what is in our containers. We could use yard dirt or pure compost and there still would not exist the abundance and diversity of life in our containers as there can be in our yard soil.

Using organics with containers as the sole or primary means of providing plant nutrition, in my opinion, makes no sense. Study after study shows plants do not care if their minerals come from a factory or a cow. The primary difference between all the different products we can obtain to provide the needed minerals to our plants is how much processing the material requires before the plants can actually use the minerals.

With well made synthetics the answer is 'no processing required'. With all organics the answer is 'at least some processing required'.

Organics are for the soil where they feed soil organisms which go on to do wonderful things for the soil and plants. They serve very little purpose and have very little value in a container filled with a soil-less medium and in an environment incapable of supporting the soil food web.

Comparing container grown plants to earth grown plants is like comparing the requirements of a lake grown fish to an aquarium grown fish. Both fish can do very well, but the care requirements are much different.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Hey JaG, I know you've said all this before and you've pointed me to a few "well made" synthetics that I may eventually try. And I appreciate that. But the fact remains that I'm committed to growing things with organic ferts. Period. And I don't want to muddy Al's post (any more than I have already) with the merits of one vs. the other.

I just want to know HOW to do it using Al's soil mix, or some variation thereof, because my citrus would really benefit from something well aerated so they don't get root rot.

FWIW, I really don't believe it when I see someone saying container plants can't thrive with an organic fert program. Here in the bay area, it's done All. The. Time. My mom does it (but she grows in straight compost). Berkeley Horticulture (bastion of organic goodness and uppity grouchy hippy salespeople) swears by it. I don't know if our west coast climate is part of it... since our pots maybe don't experience the kind of temperature extremes other states might get. But it IS done. Like I said, I just want to know if or how it can be done using the gritty mix.

thanks. hope I don't get sent to the corner for all this muckraking. ;-)
-k


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I'm committed to growing things with organic ferts. Period. And I don't want to muddy Al's post (any more than I have already) with the merits of one vs. the other.

So start your own thread? :-)

I just want to know HOW to do it using Al's soil mix, or some variation thereof, because my citrus would really benefit from something well aerated so they don't get root rot.

Al's mix is irrelevant to the equation. (another reason to start a new thread). The idea of organics in containers has very little to do with the growing media in the container and more to do with the limited volume and extreme fluctuations of temp, moisture etc.

To the extent your citrus or any other plant need to avoid 'wet feet' you simply have to avoid any kind of organics as the basis for your container media. Organics, invariably, break down into smaller and smaller particles and as they do they flush to the bottom of the container where they support a perched water table of increasing height. There is no escaping this fact. The 'wet feet' problem simply increases as the age of the potting mix does. To the extent that the potting mix is well drained this just means more water gets added more often and this just means more flushing of the 'stuff' added such as the fertilizer. Slow acting ferts will be flushed before they do anything for the plants. It is an inescapable conundrum.

If you really want to add some fast acting nitrogen and stay 100% organic you can, but what is the point? One way to do it is use blood meal. Very fast acting and requires minimal processing compared to most organics, but do you, personally, consider it organic? It is the blood of hormone and antibiotic fed cattle taken from the slaughter house floor. Is that your idea of healthy, organic fert?

You could also use soybean meal soaked for 12 hours in water. This would also provide substantial N quickly, but almost all the soybean these days is 'Round Up Ready' meaning it is genetically modified. Is that how you define organic and healthy?

Are you kind of seeing my point?

If you are hung up on the organic label you can find ways to do it, but objectively there is no more value than just using Miracle Grow. I used to be much like you in that if it wasn't 'organic' I wanted no part of it and I tried to apply this to containers. I found myself mixing fish emulsion with Miracle Grow to get the plant response I wanted kidding myself that I was still organic with containers. I wasn't, of course. The organics were just there to make me feel good and the MG was there to do the heavy lifting.

Can you go 100% organic in containers. I am sure you can, but to avoid the wet feet you know your citrus won't tolerate you will compromise with stuff from the hormone, antibiotic fed cattle industry and grains from the 'Round Up Ready' crops. Is it really worth it?

FWIW, I really don't believe it when I see someone saying container plants can't thrive with an organic fert program. Here in the bay area, it's done All. The. Time. My mom does it (but she grows in straight compost). Berkeley Horticulture (bastion of organic goodness and uppity grouchy hippy salespeople) swears by it.

With the utmost respect, why are you posting here at all if others have perfected the organic approach that works ideally in your area? Why not just copy what your mother does or Berkley does or the uppity granola crunchers do? Clearly you are not satisfied with their results or you would not be looking for other solutions.

thanks. hope I don't get sent to the corner for all this muckraking. ;-)

Not by me certainly, but could you see your way clear to just doing me a little favor? Purchase just one of your favorite plants and subject it to intolerable cruelty and that means forget about the organics. If citrus is your thing that's fine. Just buy one tree and put it into a planting mix with no compost or anything else that just clogs aeration and forget about any kind of organic fert, just use Miracle Grow or DynaGro or whatever.

Wait a year or two and compare the results.

I understand you come from the land of tree hugging granola crunchers, but I love trees and eat granola, but I still don't think it wise to try to raise a lake fish the same way as one would the same fish in an aquarium.

Same fish, but different environments. What each environment provides the fish is different therefore what we as caretakers of that fish need to provide also differs.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

JaG... actually, in terms of it's material content, there's nothing more "organic" than tree bark, if you want to get technical. And as Al has said, the bark/turface mix is actually more organic than commercial potting mixes.

Pardon me for posting my questions here... I didn't realize it was for synthetic-using growers only. It is about the principles of water movement, which I am trying to understand and apply to a different type of fertilizer program. I didn't realize the two were mutually exclusive.

Yes, the Berkeley crunchies do grow things successfully but a lot of them don't get this detailed about their soil. Or they don't grow perennials, so I can't get their advice on my specific situation. My mom, her citrus is so old (10+ years in the same pot) that, as Al says, it's probably all roots by now and she seems to be the exception to the rule. So my point is that although I've seen it done, I don't have a lot of people with SPECIFIC instructions on how to do it. That's why I was asking for Al's knowledge, which is thoughtful and detailed.

(And by the way, I'm not IN berkeley, just close enough that I can tap into their resources. But all around the bay area nurseries do use organics in containers and they all say it can be done. They just also say, "any old potting mix will do" which I know is not the case with my citrus.)

I don't understand why asking for theoretical help about using organics would cause this much disruption. It's like the minute someone mentions the word "organics," it makes everyone defensive (everyone on both sides of the issue). I often see frustrated responses like "plants don't care"... and "it's not feasible" or "it doesn't make sense" but rarely will I see someone say "it won't work at all."

I get that you don't personally feel it's worth your time to grow organically in a pot. Or that you don't want to use blood meal---it is pretty gross, isn't it. But that's your choice; mine's different. Isn't that what gardening is all about? Individual expression and growing things the way you want to.

You've been gardening longer than I have. You're at a different part in your journey than I am. I'm not saying that I won't be there a year from now. And I do plan to check out those products you told me about... if I can find the post they were in.

But in the meantime, I'm also trying the organic stuff, too. I guess I'm not going to get any more help on this issue here, so I'll try to stop bother you with it.

Peace,
-k


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Al,

I've been reading all of the posts regarding fast draining mix for containers and I have a few questions.

Would it be possible to list a few other possibilities for each component of your mix? I get confused when it comes to whether pumice could be substituted for turface or if it would be a better substitute for the turkey grit (which I can't find anywhere)

I grow mostly succulents and would like to try them in your mix. This is what I have available now:

appropriate sized pumice
oildri (checked by soaking 7 days, holds up well)
perlite

fir bark fines

I haven't been able to find the granigrit, Lowe's construction sand looks too fine to substitute and haven't found decomposed granite unless ordered by the load. I do have a call in about the coarse pool sand but haven't heard back yet. Pet stores only have the epoxy coated gravel.

I did finally find some MG with micronutrients (mix w water)but now notice the numbers are 20-30-20 so not appropriate. Even our garden centers don't seem to carry micronutrients except in an organic fertilizer. I do have some sta green CRF but 19-6-12. I hate to keep buying more fertilizer without using what I have.

Thanks in advance for all of your help : )

Michele


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Hello Al!

After reading over the many posts in this thread (and it's 4 predecessors), I think I understand the system of the container soil, and why it must be different in structure than, say, raised bed soil. I also understand why you do not recommend compost or sedge peat as a replacement for sphagnum peat in your mix, and this is because the compost or sedge peat will break down into even smaller particles and then settle at the bottom of the container, causing the PWT to become a problem (please correct me on this if I am wrong). This is not a problem in raised beds, however, due to the "infinite" bottom they have.

Now, I am assuming that the fine materials move to the bottom of the container from the overhead watering; it washes the fine particles to the bottom (again, correct me if I am wrong). My question is this: Would the same shift of fine material happen if it were in a self watering container, where no overhead watering is going on? I know that the fine materials will hold more water, and would be denser than the other particles, but that does not mean it would move to the bottom of the container. I would think you would need something more than gravity to get the particles to the bottom, like water flowing through the soil from overhead watering.

Does this question make sense, or am I just babbling? :o)

Thanks!


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, May 27, 08 at 18:55

Jessz - I don't know of you're still following this thread, but I was a little slow to notice you had another question or two. I answered this weekend, but the reply kind of got buried after a little flurry of activity here, so if you didn't catch the answer, it's in the post with the picture upthread a few posts. ;o)

Michele says: "Would it be possible to list a few other possibilities for each component of your mix? I get confused when it comes to whether pumice could be substituted for turface or if it would be a better substitute for the turkey grit (which I can't find anywhere)"

I'm not surprised you can't find the crushed granite (turkey/chicken grit). States close to the coast often use crushed shellfish instead, so it makes little sense to ship granite there.

Pumice would be closest to a substitute for Turface. It has some internal porosity, but no where near what Turface has. If you're looking for a Turface substitute, think of something that's durable, in the 1/1/6 - 1/8 inch size, and has excellent internal porosity. There are some calcined (baked at high temps) clay or diatomaceous earth products out there (Play Ball is one) that are equal to or better than Turface. Your oil-dri sounds like a perfectly utilitarian substitute.

The crushed granite is used in conjunction with the Turface to adjust the water-holding ability of the soil to suit your (and your plant's) individual needs. More Turface less granite = more water-holding ability. Reverse the proportions, and the soil will hold less. Basically, anything inorganic that takes up space, isn't phytotoxic, and is the right size will work as a substitute. Fine gravel/coarse sand in the 1/16 - 1/8 inch size will work. Heck - even crushed glass that was the right size would do just as well. When you think of a substitute for the granite, think of something inorganic and nonporous.

I have friends that grow in a mix of around 75% Turface and 25% bark & do well in that mix. I also grow a number of perfectly healthy plants in only (100%) Turface. To some degree, you can vary the water holding ability of your soils with only bark and Turface. Screening the Turface and using the fines for something else leaves you with a coarser, less water-retentive product - the same with the bark.

It's fine to experiment & figure out what works best for you. I just give some pointers regarding what has worked well for me, and use what knowledge of soil science & physics I have to offer guidelines for your specific application(s) when I have enough info. There's no WRONG way, as long as you get your plants to grow to whatever degree it takes to satisfy your need for success/ enjoyment; and, there's nothing finite about either of those two goals. One man's success could easily be considered another's failure.

I really can't think of much that the 20-30-20 would be appropriate for in containers - sorry about that. It's just too much P. Why don't you contact me off forum - I have a suggestion for you that I think you might like to try. BTW, Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 has a full compliment of ALL the macro and micronutrients. MG 24-8-16 has Z, Fe, Mn, and maybe Cu, and its liquid counterpart, 12-4-8 has the same, but I don't think Cu is listed (not a big deal). As long as you supply the Ca and Mg (garden lime) and watch for any S deficiencies developing, you should be in good shape with the MGs I listed, too. I hope I didn't confuse you. ;o)

JJ - It sounds like you have the water/soil/container relationship under your belt. I'm glad - it's an important concept for container gardening & will always help you, even if it's only to assist in identifying (potential) problems.

The degree of compaction will be less in a SWC because of the lack of influence from top-watering, but the rate at which the soil decomposes would be approximately the same between the SWCs and conventional containers. IOW - soils with a particle size bordering on too small would be better suited to a SWC than a conventional container. You should still ALWAYS use a well aerated soil, no matter what type of container, but the effects of top-watering would make a heavy soil unsuitable in a conventional container before it would be unsuitable in a wick-watered SWC.

Take care.

Al


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Hi Al,

How are you? Hope you had a great Memorial Day weekend!

Few questions about Lime and Gypsum? I know you suggested I use "gpysum" (not lime) for my container gardenias, but which one should I use when I need to repot my citrus and Mango? Would lime be better or stick with the gypsum? Also how much should I use in a 14" or 18" Pot?

Thanks a lot Al, really appreciate it, :o)


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, May 27, 08 at 22:04

Hi, N. It was a beautiful weekend, weather-wise. It was sunny and warm all weekend. I logged about 40 hours in the gardens from midday Fri until I gave out last night. I got my tropical garden (remember - this is MI) all planted & put together about 40 containers and smaller plantings. When I got up this AM, my wife mentioned we were to get a frost tonight. I scoffed because it was 85* yesterday, but I swear they are predicting calm winds & 32* tonight. I spent the afternoon bringing in plantings, plus all the bonsai I brought out of the basement over the weekend (easily more than 100 plantings), and covering what I could with buckets, tarps, and whatever else I could find. I made a neat little cover over the banana tree with a step ladder & a tarp - real slick. I'm soo disappointed ...... No telling what I'll lose tonight, but I have most of the stuff covered. Sigh - Glad you asked? ;o) You just can't trust Mother Nature. Remember the hail picture from Memorial Day weekend two years back? ;o)

OK - Down to business. ;o) The Citrus and mango both prefer a little more acidic soil than most plants, and though soil pH isn't as important as soil (nutrient) solution pH, I would still like a soil a little south of the preferred 6.2. If you are using the peat/bark mix, I think I would stick with the dolomitic (garden) lime. It simplifies things & you don't need to worry about making sure your plants are getting Mg for awhile. If you're using the gritty mix, it has a little higher pH before adding anything for Ca, so I would tend to use gypsum (doesn't raise pH) instead of lime. When you do that though, you'll need to supplement the Mg by adding Epsom salts at 1/4 tsp per gallon in your fertilizer solution each time you fertilize.

I've explained this program a few times already, so I left out a few details, but if you have questions - let me know & I'll fill in the blanks.

Add either the dolomitic lime or gypsum to the soil when you make it @ 1 tbsp/gallon of moist soil.

Al


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, May 27, 08 at 22:06

PS - My best to Max. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Hello Al!

Ok, so even if the particles do not wash to the bottom, the soil, over time, will still become compact where it is. Thanks!

While I did not spend as much time as you did, I did spend half the day on Friday redoing my 8 veggie SWC with the amended mix. However, after it was all done, I realized that while I worked some dolomitic lime into each container in the original soil, I did not work any into the new soil. Is there enough already in the original Hyponex potting soil that I don't need to worry about it, or should I just go ahead and work some into the top of each container?

Also, I am feeding my SWC with a continuous water/fertilizer mixture (read about it here ). Can I work something into the water/fertilizer mixture that would take care of the calcium and magnesium requirements? I was thinking a little Epsom salt, but that would not take care of the Calcium.

Any suggestions would be great! Thanks!


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, May 28, 08 at 11:33

As far as I know calcium nitrate is the only soluble form of Ca that would be suitable. There are Ca/Mg supplements available, so if you don't want to repot after incorporating the lime, I would probably opt for one of the supplements.

I really can't answer how effective scratching it (garden lime) into the top of the soil because it's insoluble & won't disperse/diffuse/dissolve like the fertilizer strip will.

Al


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Thanks yet again Al,

I'm so sorry that you had to go through all that work, I feel pretty guilty for the hot weather we have here. Our low's haven't been any cooler that 69 degrees for several weeks now. Actually we won't see temps below 70 at night for at least 6 months, *sigh*. I'll take some of your cooler weather, but NOT anything below 50 degrees, LOL...

I will keep my fingers crossed that the weather predictions are wrong and won't actually get that cold, at the very least I wish you the best of luck and hopefully won't lose any plants at all.

Thanks for the help and the great info on my fruit trees, since I have your attention, Would you PLEASE recommend a good fertilizer , slow release type for my fruit trees? Should I be using Osmocote and what formula do you think will be best. I have been using a slow release 13-13-13 before I read some of your posts and want to use it up before I buy something new. I am just about done with it and would like get the best fertilizer out there. I have also been adding the foliage pro since I received it a few weeks ago. I add it once a week.

Thanks Al and hope you get good weather! Max says, thanks!

Here is a picture of my Mango tree! It even has some flowers right now, :o)


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, May 28, 08 at 23:13

Oh wow! Look at all the new growth! ;o)

We had 30.9* here last night - and a HARD frost. The bird bath had 1/2" of ice in it this AM. They're predicting calm winds & 36* tonight, so another frost is likely. Sigh. I guess it goes with the territory though - no big deal. This HAS to be the last, though. Our last frost date is May 15. Lolol

I think a good choice of CRF would probably be the Dynamite in the purple container (15-5-9 ... 9 months) or the green container (18-6-8 ... 9 months) with the purple container getting a slight nod as the best all-purpose blend. I usually suggest incorporating a CRF in the soil formulas I offer, but rarely use them myself. They do offer insurance if you're lax, but they're unnecessary if you're diligent in making sure you're on top of your plant's nutritional wants. It's prolly hard to do much better than the 9-3-6 FP you're using. I think we talked about it before, but you'd prolly do well to sneak a little of the 0-0-3 ProTeKt in the solution when you fertilize - helps with the heat stress.

Thanks for the weather wishes, too. It looks like I'll finally be able to start moving the tropicals from the basement to the benches outdoors this weekend.

Take good care. Ticen & Charley send their best to Max. ;o)

YPA


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions Al. I emailed you with more questions too : )

Michele

"Why don't you contact me off forum - I have a suggestion for you that I think you might like to try. "


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Thanks Al,

Appreciate the info on the Dynamite Fertilizer, I will get the purple container next time. I also have several Mango and Lychee trees planted in the ground that I can use that fertilizer for.I will keep using the Foliage Pro in conjunction, seems to really be doing well, lots of new growths in all of them! I will have to order the protekt next time around,too.

Wow, 30.9 degrees, too cold for me Al, I will keep my 72 degrees for our lows tonight, LOL...Good luck moving your plants this weekend, I will send our hot weather your way!

Max sends his regards to Ticen and Charley also,;o)

Have a great Day!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Thanks for the heads-up Al. I did catch your post, I've just been too busy trying to find all these rare and unusual ingredients ;) I hope all your plants survived the frost!

Is grower grit ok, or is it too small?

I fear this is a horribly n00b question but when would I choose gypsum over lime?

I also had another couple questions that I posted over on the succulent soil mix thread.

Thank you!

Here is a link that might be useful: Succulent Soil Mix Thread


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, May 29, 08 at 21:52

Michele (and Kristie, if you're reading) - I just came in from a gardening marathon as it got dark - I'll get your emails attended to asap - hopefully tonight. ;o)

Thanks N - glad you're having good luck with the FP. Thanks for trying to send the warm weather up north. We got up to around 74 today & it was great to be in the sun and garden.

Jessz - I was just making sure you caught it - didn't want you to feel left out. I use grower grit almost exclusively & it's larger than starter grit. Either will work well - just that the starter grit will cause the soil to retain a small amount of additional water due to the increase in surface area of the smaller particulates.

Gypsum vs dolomitic lime is kind of a judgment call based on experience. Since the 5:1:1 soil will be somewhere around a pH of 4.5 - 5.0 before adding any Ca supplement (lime), the soil can afford the boost in pH the lime will cause. The gritty mix is made of largely inert or mildly acidic components, so the pH will be a little higher before adding something to supply Ca - probably around 6.0 - 6.2, which is ideal. If you add lime and then factor the natural tendency of the soil to climb in pH as it ages, you might end up with a soil that's on the high side of what's acceptable; so instead of using lime to supply the Ca, I choose to use gypsum, which has no practical effect on pH.

Dolomitic lime contains both Ca and Mg in roughly the proper proportions, but gypsum contains no Mg (S instead), so when we use gypsum as a Ca source to keep soil pH in the favorable range, we need to supplement Mg by adding Epsom salts to the nutrient solution when we fertilize.

Got all that? ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

I plan on planting fruit and citrus trees in half wine barrels. If I've understood the pages of posts I've gone thru I should use the gritty mix of equal parts:

pine or fir bark
Turface
crushed granite

The only bark I can find is either groundcover bark (small) or bark mulch (large). Ingredients just say forest products. So far no one knows what Turface or Haydite are. Any other options I can try to use? I found one landscape supply that had crushed granite. Feedstore grit is half grit, half oyster shell.

My questions are - once I find the correct ingredients, how much is needed for a half wine barrel? Is the bark groundcover the right size? Do I need to keep searching for something that says pine bark?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

A silly question. The gritty mix says equal parts. The mulch comes in 2 cu bags. How many lbs. or whatever measurement of Turface and granite is needed for a bag of mulch? If I ever find the right stuff I'll need to know how much I'll need. Thanks.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Jun 2, 08 at 17:25

1/2 wine cask = 20 gallons

See the first pic below the original post on this thread for pictures of bark.

A bag of Turface MVP is about 1-1/4 - 1-1/2 cu ft, and a bag of crushed granite is about 1 cu ft.

Where do you live in CA? It's likely you'll have difficulty finding pine bark, but fir should be available.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

I live in Oroville. Thanks so much for the help - you can go bonkers trying to find this stuff. I found a place in Chico that can order the Turface MVP - $13.95 for 50#. My feed store in Chico might be able to get the pidgeon grit (40# bags). He no longer carries it but might be able to still order it for me. Lyons carries something called Gorrilla strips, but that doesn't sound like the right stuff. They had redwood mulch, but none of the bags was broken open so I couldn't see the size. I'm filling 8 half barrels, so I need to know how much to order to complete them all. None of the places that have the barrels could agree on how much they held. So, I'll need at least one bag each of the Turface and grit and half a bag of mulch for each barrel - that should make about 3 cf. I should use gypsum instead of dolomite and a crf.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Al- I have been Lurking in this Forum for the past several months and I am amazed by your patience and tolerance. This is my first post so I apologize if I sound NooB. Quite refreshing in this internet age to see someone with such vast Knowledge willing to share that Knowledge without the slightest bit of arrogence and no desire for personal glory. I also must commend JAG as he apeares to by cut from the same cloth.
By Lurking I have found that most of my questions have been answered by your responses by others. I do however have a few questions for you.

The first i have to ask is I decided to go with the 5:1:1 mix as I would have to drive 50 Miles to get turface and the Wife was not too thrilled by that prospect and I am Just growing Annuals this year. Do you agree with this Descision?

The second is I Mixed the 5:1:1 together and added the Gypsum and I seem to recall you talking in a post to soak the Mix until the water drains. I did this and was amazed how fast the mix drained. My question, however, is Like you We here in Central MN have been having some cooler weather and when I put My containers with the mix outside after the Inital soaking 20 Min later we had a downpour and it is still continuing. Will I have to let the Mix dry out a bit, as I suspect they are quite well saturated, or is it safe to put the Plants into the mix now? It looks ike the 10 day forcast has only 1 dry and sunny day and I was wondering if the plants would be adversily affected as they will be getting rained on with very little drying out period for the next week and a half.
A question related to that line of thought is I was planning on using MG 18-6-12 fert and Epsom salt with my first inital watering as I used gypsum. Will the rains wash that out as it is a faster draining mix?
This is my first year in a new house and second year container planting and I want you to Know I learned so much from your and others willingness to share your observations and Knowledge and I hope to continue learning from you in the future.

PS. Looks Like us in the Northern part of the country are getting some unique weather this year. We havent had 2 consistant sunny 70+ degree days in a Long time.


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Jun 3, 08 at 0:26

I sure know what you mean about the darned weather! It sure made lots of extra work for me and a few friends I talk to in the Bay City neighborhood. Watching the Red Wings now. Intermission going into the second overtime with The Cup the reward for a DET win. ;o) Good stuff, that.

The 5:1:1 mix is the wise choice for annuals. I generally add dolomitic lime to the 5:1:1 mix because of the low pH w/o it. You'll probably be ok with the gypsum, though. You shouldn't need to worry about extended periods of rain, unless you're growing stuff that just won't tolerate wet feet (succulents - cacti). I'd be more worried about fungal issues than wet feet. ;o) It's ok to plant when the mix is wet. Remember that when you water, it's probably equivalent to at least an inch of rain. Yes, rain will dilute the soil nutrient solution, so if you're concerned, just fertilize again when it stops raining.

Thanks for your kind words and taking the time to express your thoughts. I really appreciate it. Take good care, HbG. Good luck.

PS - intermission between the second & third sudden death overtime. Keeping my fingers crossed for DET! GO WINGS!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Thanks for your prompt response Al. The plants I do have in the 5:1:1 do apear happy growing in the gypsum and I remembered what you said about soil increasing in PH as it ages.
My personal Philosophy with anything I Plant is "It isnt dead yet I must be doing something right."


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Partial success. Sierra Pacific Turf Supply carries Turface MVP and will even ship it to me. I feel like this is a hugh accomplishment. The local rock place said it had crushed gravel but it turns out to be 1/2" to 3/4" big. They have pea gravel that looks about the size of rice krispies - would this work? I think I have a lead on the pine bark - still playing telephone tag with him.


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Jun 5, 08 at 21:37

Sounds like the crushed gravel should be great - perfect size - if it's other than limestone.

Good luck, KB - you too, HbG.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

I drove by the bark place. The owner wasn't there and the helper showed me where he thought the pine bark pile was. It looks like it's probably the right size but it looks more like wood chips than bark. It's light colored like pine boards. Still trying to connect with the owner to find out what it really is. Would wood chips work? I'm also still trying to find either fir or redwood bark. I tried Lowes online and they don't seem to have the pine bark in the CA stores.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Jun 6, 08 at 14:50

Wood chips are largely cellulose & easily digested by microorganisms. This causes both a rapid breakdown of the particulates and nitrogen immobilization in the container. You should avoid products with any substantial volume of hardwood bark and/or any sap/heartwood in it. One of the largest fir bark packagers in the U.S. is just N of you in Yreka (Shasta Forest Products). It seems like you should be able to locate some fine bark in your neighborhood?

OSH, if you have them in your area, carries something called 'Wonder Bark' which is reported by a CA friend to work very well in the gritty mix. Good luck!!! ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

I can't find the grani grit here in So. CA, only oyster shell which I know is not appropriate. Pool supply only carries a fine sand, similar to play sand.

Quikrete makes a coarse sand, 12-30 US sieve#, 0.7-0.6mm size. Would this be a decent substitute?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Jun 14, 08 at 10:49

Denise asked in a just-terminated thread:

"Question for Al:
It was hard for me to find park bark fines but I found some an hour north of me. Now I have just a few bags left and am getting the jitters of "what do I do when they're gone".
Here in Florida we have shredded eucalyptus mulch which I use (as mulch) because it breaks down much slower than other mulches.
Do you think it could replace pine bark fines in the mix?
I guess I could try an experiment and plant the same plant in the two mixes to compare.

Just wanted to ask your opinion. I have heard that cypress mulch inhibits growth so I won't use that.

TIA

Denise

I've only read little about e-mulch, Denise; and I've never used it myself to see if there are any subtle differences that I might notice, so I think I won't be much help.

Here is a paraphrase of what Handrick/Black have to say about eucalypt bark (not chipped weed trees) in a text about grow media: Eucalypt bark that has been aged for a year and included in media at 10% or less discourages some/many root rot diseases, but is too fine to be used as a substantial bark component on its own. Some (species of?) bark, milled to an appropriate size is ok at 20-30% of a mix w/o composting. Mixing should be done in a shredder/blender because of the tendency of the bark to "ball" when mixed. Do not assume you can substitute volumes of eucalypt bark for other bark mix ratios w/o testing. Some eucalypt barks contain extremely high concentrations on Mn (up to 3,900 ppm) and can/will cause toxicity issues if the bark is more than a small proportion of the mix.

You're right about the cypress mulch. It has been found to be mildly allelopathic as a mulch, so I imagine it's effects would be magnified as a soil component.

I hope you found this transfer from the other thread. I was really surprised to see it go well past the usual 150 posts normally allowed. Good luck - let me know if you have more ?s, I'll try to answer if I can.

Al



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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Visited second landscape place that said they had pine bark that turned out to be chips. Found the following place that will deliver (expensive but what can you do if it's all you can find). Which bark would you recommend? I'm filling half wine barrels - not small containers.

http://kinneynursery.com/landscape-bark-mulch.html


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Jun 16, 08 at 21:41

I would use the 1/8 - 1/3" fir bark - it looks really good. Can't you pick it up yourself & save the delivery charges?

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Thanks - that's the one I thought looked most like your picture. My old pickup gets horrible mileage. No matter what they charge, it'll be cheaper than filling the pickup. You can watch the needle fall. It's cheaper to have the gravel delivered too.


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Jun 17, 08 at 7:53

Just as a PS: If I was making the 5:1:1 mix, I'd opt for the finer material, but either will work for that.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Tapla, why don't you write a book? I know even less about computers than about gardening (no joke) but it seems to me lots of people on this website would love to have one, since with subjects organized better than is possible in this format, it would be much easier to use. I really love all your info but I hate reading from a computer screen. Thank you so much for all I have learned from you.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Tapla, why don't you write a book? I know even less about computers than about gardening (no joke) but it seems to me lots of people on this website would love to have one, since with subjects organized better than is possible in this format, it would be much easier to use. I really love all your info but I hate reading from a computer screen. Thank you so much for all I have learned from you.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Greetings Al and Company,

Yet another Newbie here in search of reassurance and sage advice. Ive come to the right place... Right? I apologize in advice for nattering on about inconsequential matters. Ive only been at this plant thing for a few weeks and Im still learning whats important.

To give you an idea of what Im doing, Im trying to set up (2) 4 foot shelves in front of an (indoors) East facing window and a separate stand in the corner for a Boston Fern. Lighting isnt relevant to this thread but I expect to have enough for all the plants I want to grow. What isnt provided naturally will be supplemented via fluorescent lights.

Humidity 45%-50%, temperature 72F-75F, probably closer to 75F since thats where Im comfortable.

Plants are divided into 2 categories, Keepers (perennials) and Grow-N-Throw (annuals). The Keepers are/will be (2) Fiber Optic Grass (Isolepis Cernua), (2) Crotons (got the wrong one the first time but I kind of like it now), (1) Boston Fern, and (1) Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia Nummularia). The Grow-N-Throw will be (hopefully) (1) NuMex Twilight pepper plant and a mix of Violas, Pansies, and Begonias.

Right now the Fiber Optic Grass and the Grow-N-Throws are in seed form. Doubtless Ill have a few problems getting some of them to germinate but I can tend to that later. The Crotons, Boston Fern, and Creeping Jenny are live plants on site... And Im *finally* getting to the point. ;)

The problem is, I dont know how to water. Youll note that the (4) live plants are of the "keep lightly moist/dont let it dry out" variety. The Fiber Optic Grass is a "moist, well drained/wet" plant according to the Park Seed site. I didnt plan it that way. I picked plants I thought were interesting, reasonably tolerant of various lighting conditions, and easily propagated.

Now Im fretting about watering. Sometimes I think Im watering too much, other times I feel Im not watering enough and the whole thing is kind of erratic. One of the Crotons got too dry and the leaves started feeling hard and brittle. The Boston Fern is going like gangbusters, which is a plus. If *that* plant dies I throw myself off a bridge! What I really want to do is water every day in a soil that will allow it without killing my plants. That way I wont have to worry about whether Im watering too much or too little. Yes, I know, thats "watering on a schedule" but Als Mix does seem to fit that requirement. Naturally I have some questions...

1) Al, given the Keepers listed above, and a desire to water daily, what mix would you use? 5-1-1 (bark-peat-perlite)? Or 5-1-2? I have Triple Screened, Aged Pine Bark from an online Bonsai supplier (yes, I paid too much. ;) ), Horticulture Perlite, and Milled Sphagnum Moss/Seed Starter. Its possible the Sphagnum is the "wrong stuff", its all I could find in a small bag. I also have some fertilizer free potting mix with unspecified peat, loam, perlite, and vermiculite in it. I intend to repot on an annual basis. Pots 6" and smaller are terra cotta, pots larger than 6" will be plastic.

2) Immediate repotting is needed for one of the Crotons (in a 2" pot) and the Creeping Jenny (in a nursery dixie cup). Both are potted in nursery soil. I was thinking of removing as much soil as possible by hand, swirling the roots around in a bucket of distilled water, then repotting as if it were a bare root plant. Good idea? Bad idea? Any watering technique thats suitable for your bark based soil would probably drown the roots in the nursery soil. Suggestions?

3) Even if the idea in question #2 works for Crotons and such, it wont work for the Fern. Its in a 10" pot and there are frond clumps all the way to the edge. I havent had the courage to pop it out and check it but I suspect its getting kind of crowded in there. One answer I came up with was to divide it, picking the third with the most new growth, pot it off center using a bark mix to fill in the empty space, and let the plant grow into the bark. Next spring, divide it again and lop off the remaining nursery soil. The problem is, I still have 2 different types of soil. If the bark mix doesnt "wick" water away from the nursery mix Im going to kill the Fern by over watering that part. So how do I replace the soil?

Thanks in advance for your time. I really admire your patience and persistence in keeping this thread up. It looks like even "old hands" have gotten something from it but its especially useful for Newbies without a clue.

Regards,
(Another) Tim :)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Tapla, why don't you write a book? I know even less about computers than about gardening (no joke) but it seems to me lots of people on this website would love to have one, since with subjects organized better than is possible in this format, it would be much easier to use. I really love all your info but I hate reading from a computer screen, and I have spent 6 hours today reading this. Thank you so much for all I have learned from you.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Hi Al,
It's me again - on another forum as I'm catching up on your posts. I'm extremely ignorant - what can I make wicks with and can I stick them in pots that already contain plants? If so, how does one do it? Is there some post you have about how to start with wicks? What I found on google seem to be methods to introduce water into the pot, not get it out!! I'm sorry if you've written about this before - I must have missed it.

Thanks!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V -wicks

Hi again,

Sorry but I might have just found the wick info in the Roses forum - someone suggested taking a bit of string and pushing it up through the drainage hole. Just wanted to let you know that I found an answer so now you don't have to waste time typing it out (unless of course you have something to add ;-))

Thanks again!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Jun 25, 08 at 12:14

Wicks used to supply water to pots should be very absorbent, while those used to drain pots need be less so. Often, old shoe laces work well. 100% rayon (man-made chamois) works very well, too. I have been using the same nylon string-ties from citrus fruit bags for more than 6? years on a few plantings - love 'em.

There are lots of posts around, describing the use of wicks, but I'm not sure how I would go about searching them out, as they're probably scattered about everywhere. ;o) All you really need to do is push a wick a couple of inches up through the drain hole & you're in the business of draining excess water from pots you feel need it. Folding a wick over a straight-slot screwdriver & pushing it into the soil leaves the wick firmly in place when you remove the screwdriver. Remember to leave the wick dangle a couple of inches below the pot bottom until the water stops draining. I think that probably covers the practical side - more tech questions or is that adequate?

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Jun 25, 08 at 13:11

Sorry - didn't see your reply until I found it in my email. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Thanks Al. I agree with a post above - you should write a book :)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Jun 27, 08 at 14:12

You guys are way too kind. Thank you, though - sending well wishes for a good weekend.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Greetings Al,

I think my previous post fell through a crack. Either that or it was too long (it was a bit wordy ;). In either event, I went ahead, mixed up a batch of 5-1-1, and repotted the smaller Croton. I bare rooted the cuttings and replanted 3 of them in 4" terra cotta pots. Naturally, I have more questions (who'd have thought? :D).

The first thing I noticed was watering. After 1 day the soil is "damp". After 2 days it's dry-but-cool. These plants are supposed to be kept "lightly moist". Is dry-but-cool the right time to water for this mix? BTW, it *does* seem easier for me to gage moisture levels by sticking my finger in *this* mix.

Second question: What is the purpose/function of the peat in the mix? It's finer than the 1/8" or larger particle size which seems to be your general goal for a well draining soil.

Third question: The Pine Bark Fines I bought were from a Bonsai supplier. They look exactly like your "partially composted bark" picture. Looking closer i noticed that some of the particles were less than the specified 1/8" size. I'm currently drying some out for screening but I'm guessing that 5% (or less) will fit through an insect screen and (maybe) 20-25% will fit through a 1/8" screen. Given that, would these particles replace the function of the peat (use them instead of peat) or are they part of "good" pine bark fines?

Fourth Question: Not really on topic, sorry about that. Somewhere in all the posts you've made you suggested 2 books on Root Pruning (or something like that). I have no idea where I read it but I'd appreciate it if you could post the titles and authors again.

Thanks for all your help!

Regards,
Tim :)


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

Is dry-but-cool the right time to water for this mix?

That's a good time, yes. The soils I describe here are very forgiving of heavy-handed watering if/when it does occur. I suppose the technical answer would be that you should water when the soil is at the lowest water retention level it can have w/o causing drought stress, but I realize it's pretty impractical to offer that in the way of advice. Still, I think you probably have a fair amount of reserve water in the soil when it first feels cool/dry to you. You could always withhold water while watching carefully for the first signs of wilt (after the plantings are established) to get a better idea of whether you can/should wait another day or two before watering.

I often post this:
In a workshop conducted by bonsai master Ben Oki, one of the other participants asked, "How often should I water this juniper, Mr. Oki"?
His reply, in broken English: "Wait until plant become completely dry - then water day before."

I never did figure out if he was serious or not, but the advice was so very sage. His eyes were twinkling, but he had a straight face, so go figure.

What is the purpose/function of the peat in the mix? It's finer than the 1/8" or larger particle size which seems to be your general goal for a well draining soil.

Well, the peat can be eliminated in most cases if you're familiar with a little soil science and the bark particles are very fine. The primary functions of the peat are additional water retention and to help keep pre-liming medium pH low enough that the addition of the liming agent doesn't push pH out of the favored range of 6.0 - 6.5. I try to limit the addition of all fine particulates (over and above those in the bark) to <15% of the o/a soil volume. If the bark is fine, I might add a little less, or no peat. If it's coarse, I might add a little extra. It's a judgement call you'll quickly become familiar with if you decide to stick with some variation of the soil recipe.

The Pine Bark Fines I bought were from a Bonsai supplier. They look exactly like your "partially composted bark" picture. Looking closer i noticed that some of the particles were less than the specified 1/8" size. I'm currently drying some out for screening but I'm guessing that 5% (or less) will fit through an insect screen and (maybe) 20-25% will fit through a 1/8" screen. Given that, would these particles replace the function of the peat (use them instead of peat) or are they part of "good" pine bark fines?

Partially covered above. Just use them as is if you're using the 5:1:1 mix as the basic formula. If you're using the gritty mix to extend service life of the soil & extend the interval between repots, you would probably want to screen it or look for an uncomposted product with larger particles. I use two types of pine bark + screened fir bark for my soils, depending on the intended use.

. . . you suggested 2 books on Root Pruning (or something like that). I have no idea where I read it but I'd appreciate it if you could post the titles and authors again.

I don't remember suggesting anything on root pruning in particular, but most good books on bonsai will cover it in some detail. If you let me know if you're more interested in physiology or soil science, I'd be glad to suggest a few texts that I often refer to for confirmation of the accuracy of what I offer here.

Some good ones:

Physiology of Woody Plants * Kozlowski & Pallardy (second edition) ISBN# 0-12-424162-x (a superb text)
Growth Control in Woody Plants * Same authors ISBN# 0-12-424210-3

Plant Production in Containers II * C. Whitcomb Ph.D. ISBN#0-9613109-6-0

A New Tree Biology * Alex Shigo Ph.D. ISBN# 0-943563-04-6

Al



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Greetings Al,

Thanks for the prompt reply! I cut, pasted, and sniped the relevant portions of it for my reply:

*** Is dry-but-cool the right time to water for this mix?

That's a good time, yes...

I often post this:
In a workshop conducted by bonsai master Ben Oki, one of the other participants asked, "How often should I water this juniper, Mr. Oki"?
His reply, in broken English: "Wait until plant become completely dry - then water day before."

I never did figure out if he was serious or not, but the advice was so very sage. His eyes were twinkling, but he had a straight face, so go figure.***

I do seem to recall seeing this a time or 6. Unfortunately, I misplaced my Time Machine. :D I suspect what he was saying, in a properly enigmatic fashion, is that each plant is different. You have to figure it out for yourself. I was looking for a "safe zone" to start with and Dry/Cool seems to be it. Ill tinker more later as I learn.

*** What is the purpose/function of the peat in the mix? It's finer than the 1/8" or larger particle size which seems to be your general goal for a well draining soil.

Well, the peat can be eliminated in most cases if you're familiar with a little soil science and the bark particles are very fine. The primary functions of the peat are additional water retention and to help keep pre-liming medium pH low enough that the addition of the liming agent doesn't push pH out of the favored range of 6.0 - 6.5. I try to limit the addition of all fine particulates (over and above those in the bark) to <15% of the o/a soil volume. If the bark is fine, I might add a little less, or no peat. If it's coarse, I might add a little extra. It's a judgement call you'll quickly become familiar with if you decide to stick with some variation of the soil recipe.***

I thought of the water retention. I didnt think about pH though. Even with fine bark particles it looks like Im better off sticking to the base recipe for now. The bark Im going to screen is for information purposes I guess. I can experiment more later as I learn. Hmm... Seems Ive said that before. ;)

***. . . you suggested 2 books on Root Pruning (or something like that). I have no idea where I read it but I'd appreciate it if you could post the titles and authors again.

I don't remember suggesting anything on root pruning in particular, but most good books on bonsai will cover it in some detail. If you let me know if you're more interested in physiology or soil science, I'd be glad to suggest a few texts that I often refer to for confirmation of the accuracy of what I offer here.

Some good ones:***

I think Im probably looking for the physiology side. Im interested in the hows, whys, and wherefores of the process. Im also interested in 1) Seeing how long I can keep the Crotons (and similar plants) alive and 2) Seeing if I can stop or slow growth at a specific height. No reason for it beyond curiosity, house plants are cheap. Unless you can think of something specific, the books you listed are probably a good start and the Bonsai Forum will likely have additional suggestions of good bonsai books in past posts.

Thanks again for your response. Ive learned a lot on this forum and Im having loads of fun watching my plants grow. :)

Regards,
Tim :)

P.S. The Italics and Bold from my word processor didn't come through. GRRR!!!! Sorry about that.


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Jul 11, 08 at 9:47

I have made up a little tutorial illustrating how to make modifications within the GW text box, so if you or anyone else following the thread wants to know how to do italics, bold text, underline, strike through, change font color, or insert an imbedded link in the GW text boxes, just send me an email & I'll forward. For clarity, it has active links and illustrations that make it difficult to share in a GW text box.

Al


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I would like to publicly thank Al for sharing this outstanding information with the gardening community. His advice has helped us all grow some very healthy plants in containers. Without his guidance I'd still be buying commercial potting mixes and wondering why my conifer seedlings were growing so poorly.

Thanks Al!

Regards,

Dave


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Jul 30, 08 at 21:10

You're too kind. Thank you, Dave.

Al


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Good morning Al.

I had yesterday off from work and took the time to catch up on your many posts on GW. I hope you realize how helpful and informational your posts are. I have no doubt that you could easily write an excellent reference book on garden soils and container gardening. I've learned much from your posts and emails. =)

After reading most of your recent posts I do have a couple of questions for you.

I'm growing conifer (fir, pine and spruce) seedlings, all are age 3 years and younger, outdoors in plastic containers using equal parts of the pine bark/Turface/granite soil mixture. My goal is to grow the best trees from seed that I can and plant them in our backyard once they are large enough and have a strong root system. The seedlings currently receive about 8 hours of direct eastern sun a day and are protected from strong western winds and hot afternoon sun. They stay outside all winter and recieve snow cover. I generally water the spruces and firs every other day (daily during very hot weather) and the pines every third day (every other day during hot weather) until saturated, making sure excess water runs out the drainage holes to help remove salts and promote gas exchange. Our well water is high in iron (visible rust) but I do not know the actual mineral content of the water. I fertilize with normal strength (1 tbsp per gallon) fertilizers, alternating MG granular 24-8-16 or Miracid 30-10-10 once a week except during very hot (85F or above) weather.

With that background, here are my questions.

Question: Do you still use Miracle-Gro liquid 12-4-8 w/micronutrients as your "standard" fertilizer or have you switched to something else? In several later posts you mentioned Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 as a possible replacement since it's a 3-1-2 ratio of majors and contains all the minors as well. I'd prefer using a single 3-1-2 fertilizer that contains all the majors and minors in the correct amounts. Keep things simple I say. =)

Question: As mentioned I generally water the trees every two or three days, depending on weather and tree type, and fertilize once per week at full strength. Since I have only a few trees I generally mix a gallon of fertilizer at a time. Should I be applying a very weak (1/4 or 1/8th strength) fertilizer solution each time I water to avoid over-fertilizing (I believe you call this "Weakly weekly" fertilizing) or continue weekly feedings with full-strength fertilizer?

Question: You mentioned adding hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) when watering to increase oxygen levels. Would this benefit all container-based plants, including conifers? If so, how much should I user per gallon of water? Also, if I add the H2O2 to my fertilizer solution (either full-strength or weak strength) will it cause any chemical problems/reactions when mixed in with the fertilizer?

Question: Based on your suggestion I plan to add gypsum when mixing new soil batches. I believe you said to use 1 tbsp of gypsum per gallon of pine bark/Turface/granite soil mixture, correct? Is this still your recommendation?

Thanks for taking the time Al. Your wisdom is much appreciated!

Regards,

Dave


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Jul 31, 08 at 15:42

Question: Do you still use Miracle-Gro liquid 12-4-8 w/micronutrients as your "standard" fertilizer or have you switched to something else? In several later posts you mentioned Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 as a possible replacement since it's a 3-1-2 ratio of majors and contains all the minors as well. I'd prefer using a single 3-1-2 fertilizer that contains all the majors and minors in the correct amounts. Keep things simple I say.

Often, what I suggest and what I actually do are different. Sometimes, that's so I can keep it simple here, and sometimes it's because some of the things I use aren't readily available to the hobbyist.

I bought a gallon of Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 this year and I've used about half of it. I haven't noticed any amazing results or problems, but there's probably a good reason for that. I was using the MG 12-4-8 regularly, but adding STEM to it to use on the older plantings, and using it w/o STEM on new plantings/repots that had Micromax included in the soil. IOW, no matter what, the plants were always getting a full compliment of the essential nutrients. For that reason, I wouldn't expect much difference between the MG and the FP, but you and others might. The FP has most of its N in nitrate form, but I don't fertilize when the mean temperature is running cold (<55*) or hot (>80*), so that's not a huge advantage either. I was excited for YOU guys, about the FP, simply because it offered a really nice package. A really good ratio, N in nitrate form, the secondary majors (especially Ca & Mg), and all the minors ..... everything a plant could want.

I think there's an answer to your question in there somewhere. ;o)

Question: As mentioned I generally water the trees every two or three days, depending on weather and tree type, and fertilize once per week at full strength. Since I have only a few trees I generally mix a gallon of fertilizer at a time. Should I be applying a very weak (1/4 or 1/8th strength) fertilizer solution each time I water to avoid over-fertilizing (I believe you call this "Weakly weekly" fertilizing) or continue weekly feedings with full-strength fertilizer?

So you're fertilizing full strength every second or third time you water ...... This pretty much assures that the trees are receiving a constant supply of nutrients, at luxury levels and higher. That probably isn't the best situation. It can cause weak, succulent growth, and whenever nutrient levels drop to adequacy levels, nutrient deficiency symptoms are likely to occur. I think you could produce a happier crop by either fertilizing at 1/2 strength weekly, 1/4 strength at every watering when temperatures are within the parameters mentioned above, or full strength every two weeks. Keep in mind, that the higher the solution strength, the more difficult it is for plants to absorb water and the nutrients therein.

Question: You mentioned adding hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) when watering to increase oxygen levels. Would this benefit all container-based plants, including conifers? If so, how much should I user per gallon of water? Also, if I add the H2O2 to my fertilizer solution (either full-strength or weak strength) will it cause any chemical problems/reactions when mixed in with the fertilizer?

There is nothing to worry about chemically speaking (within reason). H2O2 has an extra O atom (compared to H2O) in an unstable arrangement. Since H2O2 is an unstable molecule, it breaks down easily. When it does, a single O- atom and a molecule of water is released. This O- atom is extremely reactive and will quickly attach itself to either another O- atom forming stable O2, or attack the nearest organic molecule.

I've found it useful to add H2O2 to irrigation water when I've been lazy about being sure I have no plants in compacted soil - especially over the winter. These plants seem to get substantial benefit from the extra O2. In the highly aerated soils I know you're using, I really don't see much benefit in using it. If you DO feel the urge to use it:
1 cup, add 1-1/2 teaspoons ....... 35% - 7 to 10 drops
1 quart, add 2 tablespoons ...... 35% - 1/2 teaspoon
1 gallon, add 1/2 cup .............. 35% - 2 teaspoons
5 gallons, add 2-1/2 cups ........ 35% - 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon
10 gallons, add 5 cups ........... 35% - 6 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons
20 gallons, add 10 cups .......... 35% - 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon

Question: Based on your suggestion I plan to add gypsum when mixing new soil batches. I believe you said to use 1 tbsp of gypsum per gallon of pine bark/Turface/granite soil mixture, correct? Is this still your recommendation?

Yes it is, for the gritty, 2/3 inorganic mix. When you do use gypsum, it's important that you include 1/8 - 1/4 tsp Epsom salts in your fertilizer each time you fertilize. If you decide to go to the FP 9-6-3, you can forget about adding either gypsum or dolomitic lime to soils. Also, if you don't add gypsum, leave out the Mg supplement (Epsom salts).

Good luck, Dave.

Al


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Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Jul 31, 08 at 15:52

Ohh - I almost forgot ...... maybe JaG will offer comments/evaluation re. the FP 9-3-6. I know he's using it, too.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Al,

Thanks so much for taking the time to respond to my many questions. I've learned a great deal from this thread and the many posts in it.

I'll look for a local source for the Foliage-Pro 9-3-6. If I can't find one I may have to mail order it. Big box stores won't have it I'm sure. Sounds like it's the perfect "all-in-one" fertilizer for what I'm doing.

Speaking of "big box stores", our local Meijer had many of their mulches on clearance, including bags of pine bark mini nuggets, the kind used in the 2/3 inorganic soil mix. If anyone needs to buy bags of pine bark for soils this might be a good time to check out your local suppliers and stock up.

Thanks again Al.

Regards,

Dave


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Aug 1, 08 at 9:01

I'm guessing you can probably save yourself some tracks & go directly to the net. It's pretty unlikely you'll find it at a conventional retail establishment in MI. Puglvr had found it at a very good (half) price from the bonsaimonk.com e-store, but the last time I checked for a friend, it looked like perhaps they'd sold out. It might be worth sending them an email to check?

Al


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Ohh - I almost forgot ...... maybe JaG will offer comments/evaluation re. the FP 9-3-6. I know he's using it, too

I like it. How is that for a comment? :) This year I am not using any CRF in containers, nor am I using any fert besides FP 9-3-6 and Pro Tekt 0-0-3.

It is difficult to evaluate plant performance relative to prior years because this year with all the rain and cool weather has some plant types 2-3 weeks behind their normal schedule.

Having said that I have absolutely no disease issues (knock on wood) on any plants and typically I would have at least some powdery mildew on zinnia/dahlia/cukes etc. Is it the Pro Tekt's silicon? Subsequent years will tell.

Based upon plant performance thus far I am not tempted to switch away from FP and PT toward anything else.

There have also been no signs of nutrient deficiency in any plants other than a few citrus I have no experience with and just got this spring. They arrived showing the signs of deficiency and are just now clearing up. I would guess it has more to do with the weather now being warm and dry than anything else.

Do I think FP is 'the bomb'? No, but I do think it is a terrific product and it is a complete fertilizer so no need to worry about how to get this or that nutrient to the plant. It is a one stop solution for most plants.

I need to do more testing next year to determine if boosting the K with PT really matters to any plant(like tomatos). Based upon using FP alone with flowering, ornamental plants as well as combining the 2 products (different containers) I am not seeing a reduction in blooms when using just the FP 9-3-6. It could well be that FP 9-3-6 is a one stop fert even for veggies known to not produce well when given too much N, but I need to test/confirm that next year. I was too chicken to do it this year with my maters :)


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Thanks JAG and Al. I think I will try that FP 9-3-6 next growing season. Can't find it locally, especially this time of year, so I'll have to mail order some. Sounds like the Pro Tekt might be a good purchase as well.

For hobbyists like me it will be good to use only 1 fertilizer, rather than using MG 12-4-8 and add gypsum and epsom salts. Keep it simple, that's my motto! =)

BTW, I did notice something interesting. I'm growing some white pine seedlings in Al's container mix (pine bark/Turface/granite) and I noticed that the seedlings in those containers are significantly larger and healthier looking than the ones just planted in regular potting soil. The needles are much heavier and thicker on the container-grown seedlings than the leftover seedlings in the regular potting soil.

Thanks!

Dave


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Al,

I am a newer reader of the GW forum, and I just wanted to thank you for the invaluable information on soils. After spending the last couple hours reading this and other threads of yours, I feel like I have become more educated about soils and nutrients.

After copious note taking, and toying with the idea of printing out, three hole punching and filling binders with everything I can find that you have written, it occurred to me that I wish you had already written a book I could order. Then I read Dave's post and saw that I wasn't the only one to think of this. I hope you are working on one now, otherwise I have a lot of printing to do.

Thanks so much,
Susan


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Aug 18, 08 at 17:17

Thank you, Susan. You're so kind to go out of your way to say something so nice. No plans for a book at this point, but I will share that there is some pressure from friends, and I've received several offers of assistance if I ever decide to write. Perhaps in a few years, when I've retired ... I have a business, my gardens, and my little trees to babysit for now ..... and GW. All that, along with my familial and other misc. commitments, keeps me hopping. ;o)

Take good care.

Al


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Al (or anyone else out there),

Have you ever tried using charcoal as your main soil ingredient? I've got a cheap source of bulk horticultural charcoal granules, and it seems like it would have similar properties to Turface & pine bark fines, with durability somewhere between the two.

I just put a jade into a pot made up with Al's soil recipe with charcoal instead of bark fines - wanted to know if anyone has any longer term experience with it.

Thanks,
Kevin


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Aug 25, 08 at 18:17

It's probably going to be physically more like perlite than anything else I can think of. I've used it from time to time, thinking that it had anti-fungal properties or somehow benefited the soil because it was a 'natural' ingredient. I'll leave you to your research in that dept, but I haven't found it useful as anything more than a soil ingredient that holds a little moisture and helps promote aeration when used in combination with similar size particulates. If it's free - no reason not to make use of it. ;o)

Al


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It becomes a moot point with Smart Pot (fabric bag) in the ground. You can even use topsoil for it as long as its in the ground. I wouldn't recommend it for large sized. Much heavier. For example, if you want to plant out small seedlings but can't find a way to water it enough to keep the mix moist enough to keep it alive while it gets established, that's where 1g smart pot with topsoil (grown in the ground) comes handy...

Been there, done that. Much better success....


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Would any of those mixes be good for, Oh, say a coast redwood tree? Mine needs to be repotted and am still lost on what to pot it up in. It was growing in basic seed starter, I think its time to take off the bib now. What would work? They love water, I know, but would any of the mixes mentioned work?


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tapla: If you decide to go to the FP 9-6-3, you can forget about adding either gypsum or dolomitic lime to soils.

Hi Al,

I am a wannabe container gardener (although I already have many pots full of mud with vegetable matter in them, some of it growing, some of it dying) and have pursued these soil threads furiously for the last couple of months in hopes of getting a handle on this beast. Like so many, I am hugely grateful for all the time you take to share you wisdom.

I must admit that some days I feel like I may be overwhelmed by "analysis paralysis." I think the time has come when I need to raise my hand and ask if you, justaguy2, or some of our other experienced hands can help me sort if out a bit. And so I launch myself as an eager beginner with a question about your comment above on FP and lime.

What is the connection? I have been quite concerned -- unduly so, probably -- to manage the pH in my containers. I would absolutely love to let go of this tedious piece of it. And merely by fertilizing with the FP, I can build soils with pine bark fines as the major constituent and forget about them being too acid for some plants?

Actually, a lot of my interest is toward acid-loving plants so I have also been concerned that even the bark-based soil might not be quite acid enough for, say, a potted azalea.

I am so hoping that you are going to tell me that the whole issue with acidity relates to the availability of other nutrients and FP is so miraculous that it feeds all plants properly under all pH conditions. But this seems too much to wish, even as we approach Christmas. Thanks!


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Dec 2, 08 at 23:26

I left a link on your other thread to read. Did you do the search for gritty mix?

The soil recipe in the original post above will work very well, but the gritty mix is more suited to woody material & will remain structurally sound longer.

Al

Here is a link that might be useful: More info


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I am so hoping that you are going to tell me that the whole issue with acidity relates to the availability of other nutrients and FP is so miraculous that it feeds all plants properly under all pH conditions. But this seems too much to wish, even as we approach Christmas.

Well, Merry Christmas! :)

The affect pH has on chemical reactions is complex and frankly beyond my present comprehension.

Al can probably give a better explanation that I can, but I will give it a try.

Plants do not care what pH the growing medium is because they don't use the growing medium for anything other than anchoring their roots. In a ground soil comprised largely of minerals that release nutrients we have to care about pH because it affects what nutrients will be released (made water soluble) and in what amounts. Too high a pH and certain nutrients are released in excess and others not enough and vice versa.

When using a high quality fertilizer such as those designed for hydroponics the nutrients are all formulated to be immediately available to plants in a reasonable ratio.

pH no longer governs what nutrients will be available in what amounts, what we put in the water does.

Commercial blueberry growers have long exploited a similar idea. Rather than worry about the pH of the soil the blueberries are growing in, they add sulfuric acid to the irrigation lines turning the irrigation water acidic. The water moves through the soil around the roots and 'liberates' nutrients in the ratio blueberries require because the water itself is the right pH even though the soil isn't. The acidic water doesn't really change the pH of the soil, but it doesn't have to. Until the acidity of the water is changed by the soil it liberates the nutrients from the soil as if the soil were the ideal pH.

Other growers who are forced to garden in alkaline soils have learned they can improve plant health by adding vinegar to irrigation water. Same idea as adding sulfuric acid, but vinegar is weaker and less dangerous to handle (not to mention more readily available for most people).

If you get the pH of the water right, the pH of the soil isn't as important because the water liberates the nutrients from the soil. If you get the nutrients in water soluble form into the water then pH largely becomes irrelevant as the chemical processes that liberate the nutrients from minerals doesn't have to take place at all.

I am certain I have oversimplified things and those with a better grasp of chemistry could do a better job, but this is how I understand it.


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Dec 2, 08 at 23:49

EC - If a hobby container gardener tells you he/she is managing to manage pH in their containers, the odds are overwhelming that someone is not being honest, or at best, doesn't know what they are talking about. The management of pH is pretty technical and more often than not difficult for even commercial greenhouse/nursery operations with sophisticated equipment in place.

My suggestion is don't worry about it. You can try to steer media pH in a particular direction by using certain materials in your soils and water, but if you're using an appropriate fertilizer & you watch so the chemistry of your irrigation water doesn't present major problems, you should be fine. Spend the effort you'd use to worry about pH on learning something about soils or physiology & you'll have spent your time more wisely.

"And merely by fertilizing with the FP, I can build soils with pine bark fines as the major constituent and forget about them being too acid for some plants?"

You will probably want to add dolomitic lime to a primarily bark soil to nudge the pH closer to 6.0, but the quote you opened with came from a paragraph in which the discussion centered on the grittier soil I often use/suggest. It's pH is going to be somewhere around 6.0, which is very good for container soils. If you are using the 9-3-6 FP, it contains both Ca & Mg, so since none is necessary for either pH adjustment or mineral supplementation, you can leave it out (of the gritty mix when you use a fertilizer with Ca & Mg, which is uncommon, btw).

Al


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Dec 2, 08 at 23:53

Thanks JaG - I was typing & didn't realize you'd posted.

Al


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Thanks JaG - I was typing & didn't realize you'd posted.

Thanks for your thanks :)

Normally I wouldn't respond to someone in a thread you started preferring you respond, but ed-claude mentioned me by name so I felt obligated.

So, ed-claude, I think you can consider both Al and I to be wishing you a Merry Christmas (and a happy New Year). Everyone else can too :)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Al and justaguy,

You are an amazing tag team rescue squad for the horticulturally perplexed! It is much to the good fortune of all of us who browse these threads that your contributions are so complementary, with Al debunking so much conventional wisdom and bringing a fresh, scientifically-oriented approach to all our issues and justaguy doing the extremely useful follow-on of corralling, clarifying, and sometimes "simplifying," in the very best sense of that word. I like to have some access to what mother nature is doing behind the curtain, but, at the end of the day, I need to feel like I have a reasonable plan to go forward with.

I had really been fretting over pH, although I vaguely recollected Al somewhere discouraging trying to measure it. When you feel like you have no judgment or experience and are trying to get your arms around all these variables, it is almost irresistible to try to measure! Yesterday -- against Al's caution -- I had gone off the deep end was pretty committed to measuring pH, even though I realized some of the difficulties inherent in doing so.

These responses to my post put all this wonderfully in perspective. Now I can get out my vernier caliper (set to 1/8") and start obsessing again about the useful contributions I can make to the health of my plants. (Do you think the vernier caliper is sufficient or should I get out the micrometer? [grin])


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Dec 3, 08 at 16:32

No need to explain, JaG. Your input is always welcome. I don't mind the input of others on the threads I start, in fact I welcome it. It's only the 2 or 3 people who go to sometimes extraordinary effort to destroy the harmony and credibility of the few threads I've started that makes cause for discord. One queen troll in particular has been invited to leave GW well over a dozen times after posting under a new identity for each recurrence, yet she seems to always manage to turn up again, like a phoenix from the ashes, in attempt to sully any efforts I might have made. I'm glad the 99% of the remaining members are so rewarding to be around. ;o)

No need for such intricacies, EC. A yardstick is prolly all you/we/I need. ;o) Thanks for the kind words, too.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Al, I have learned so much about soil from you and Butch Ragland in the Hosta, Container, and Houseplants Forums that thanking you for this free information hardly expresses my gratitude.
I just want to quickly say that because I may not always be ambitious enough to mix my own soil according to your recommendations, I think I am most approximating your recipe with a phaleanopsis orchid mix plus extra perlite. Do you agree?

Patricia Moore
Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor, Michigan


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Dec 5, 08 at 15:16

Hi, Pat. If your middle name is Ann, it makes 6 the number of women I know named Patricia Ann. Two actually have the same last name as I - my mom and my wife are both Patricia Anns. ;o)

I appreciate the 'thank you'. It's very meaningful to me that you took the time to express your appreciation.

I'm sorry, but I can't answer your question about the soil for phals. My first thought is that it will be too porous, but w/o knowing the make-up, I can't say.

So it's an ambition thing, hmm? I'll make you a deal >>>>> Since you're almost a neighbor, you could bring a friend or significant other & drive up here to Bay City on a nice spring evening or weekend, and I'll help you make all the soil you need. I always have the materials on hand, and can accomplish making it with blazing speed ;o), so it wouldn't take long; and I'd charge nothing for my time - just what the materials cost me. I'd send it home with you all nice & neat in the bags the bark came in.

Take care.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Al,
What about the equall parts of turface,pine bark, and granite?
I thought using no peat was better for house plants.
I though the slightest bit of peatmoss caused a perched water table.
That is what I am using. Above all I saw was mixes with peat moss. Everything I have planted now is in the Turface, Pinebark, and Granite with no peat. Was I suppose to use these soil mixes above with peat moss for my houseplants?
Will my mix of equall parts be just fine for all that is planted in it now without peatmoss over time? Thanks


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Dec 5, 08 at 20:08

You worry more than anyone I know, Mike. (I know Mike well enough to poke a friendly jab at him.) :o)

I started this thread in early spring of '05. Initially, there was lots of skepticism simply because of the fairly minor departure from a peat-based soil, along with the idea that (lack of) aeration was often instrumental in, if not the very root cause of, many of the cultural problems being discussed on the forum. Even though I'd been using one for years, it was only after some of the ideas I'd presented gained wider acceptance that was I able to introduce the idea that a container soil with a 2/3 inorganic component could be superior to the soil I'd been touting, and FAR superior to the long accepted standard of a peat based soil.

The two soils can be used interchangeably because their initial physically properties are nearly alike, but I've made the point over and over that it makes little sense to go to the extra expense to make/use the more durable 'gritty mix' when you're dealing with a short term planting when the recipe given above is entirely adequate.

"The slightest bit of peat" doesn't always cause a PWT, and a PWT isn't always a bad thing. At some stages in the life of a planting, a slight PWT that is managed properly can be looked at as an asset, extending the interval between irrigations w/o an appreciable negative impact on root function.

The reason I limit the peat content of the mix suggested in this thread to <15% is because at minimal %s and with even incorporation, small particulates will not support a PWT when the bulk of the ingredients are >1/8".

You have no reason to fret over the soil you are using. I use the 5:1:1 mix (recipe @ top of thread) extensively for plantings that are replaced annually (garden display containers, veggies, etc.), and fairly frequently for plantings in which the soil might be called on to serve for two years. For all the other plantings, including houseplants & most woody material, I use the bark:Turface:granite 'gritty mix' in equal volumes, or some minor variation thereof.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Man I was so WORRIED I would have to put all my plants in the above soil ingrediants!!! Lol
Thanks Al for your time and explanation! Thanks
P.S..Al, I have actually plants in this mix above in smaller pots due to the fact they would dry out so fast in the gritty mix in pots 6 inches or smaller. But all my plants in pots bigger than 6 inches are in the gritty mix...Thanks alot!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Dec 7, 08 at 16:12

"O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?"

Scroll up to the picture in the OP (original post) of this thread & tell me what you see (as it relates to soils). ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by ltruett Zone, 9 Houston (My Page) on
    Sat, Dec 20, 08 at 15:51

Al,

I am currently using a chipper/shredder machine to grind up pine bark nuggets. So far it has worked well but my question is, how much of a detriment is it to used pieces ranging from 1/8 to 1/2 inch instead of 1/4 inch. It would save me some time as far as screening out the larger pieces. I am planning to use the mix in 1g pots for trees.

Is there any use for pieces from 1/16 to 1/8 such as germinating seed in small pots/cells before repotting them into 1g pots?

Thanks.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Dec 20, 08 at 23:48

Actually, the larger pieces are more appropriate for seed germination, as seedlings respond VERY favorably to max aeration.

There is no reason you can't use bark with a few 1/2" pieces in it, but if a significant portion of it is comprised of pieces that large, you'll need to shoulder the responsibility of watering more often.

In a perfect world, our soils (ok - MY soils then) ;o) would be comprised entirely of absorbent, 3/32 - 1/8" particles. This guarantees maximum water retention with NO perched water. That's too much work & expense for me to screen everything & toss what doesn't fit such a narrow spec, but I still try my best within reason to keep the bulk of the material I use in that range, but experiment if you like.

Dry bark screens through a 3/8 inch screen very quickly. I have 2 sets of soil screens. 1 set is about 16 x 16 and is made of 1x2s with insect screen on one, then 1/8, 1/4, 3/8, and 1/2" hardware cloth on the others. The other screens are the same mesh, but are 24 x 24 and made from 1x4s. I can screen a 2 cu ft bag of bark through a 3/8 screen in 5 minutes or less. If I was using a chipper, I'd simply run the large pieces through again.

Maybe I've been lucky, but every year, I find at least 3 or 4 sources of suitable bark. A couple are usually fine & partially composted (I went through 70+ 3 cu ft bags of it, mulching the gardens this year, + what I used for container soils). I usually always find a couple of sources for uncomposted bark that is quite fine. Even though the size of the particles is less important in the gritty mix, I'll still screen out the stuff larger than 3/8.

I guess my point in all this is Keep your eyes open and don't think that just because you found 'pine bark' it's the only bark on the market. ;o)

Good luck.

Merry Christmas.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by ltruett Zone, 9 Houston (My Page) on
    Sun, Dec 21, 08 at 7:23

Thank you Al.

So far all I have been able to find is a landscape mix or soil conditioner mix and it seems like I lose 25% of the bag after filtering out the small particles and would lose another 25% filtering out pieces larger than 1/4 inch.
After running a bag of nuggets through the shredder probably 90% fits through the 1/2 inch opening. Of that a little more than 50% fits through 1/4 opening. I have still yet to filter out the small stuff as I am trying to find some 1/8 mesh/hardware cloth.
I went to an area mulch/dirt yard to get some top soil and just happened to ask about pine bark fines and they said they stopped making them because there wasn't a demand. They also said they didn't have any pine bark at the moment due to decreased logging and businesses shutting down.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Dec 21, 08 at 11:52

There are hundreds, if not thousands of 'theys'. So you can bet that 'they' didn't ALL stop bagging pine bark. ;o)

If you're using the 5:1:1 mix or something similar, please don't concern yourself with the finest fines. I use the partially composted pine bark fines straight from the bag & don't screen anything. It's only for the gritty mix and my bonsai soils that I screen. (Actually, I don't screen too often - I usually use pre-screened fir bark.) Also, most of the bark suppliers are geared toward spring shipments & don't start bagging this year's product until spring.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

I am a frequest visitor on frangrant garnden forum but never visited this.Wow, so much wealth of information. It took me more than an hour to read the whole thread. I was able to grasp atleat 1/4th of it. Thanks to Al for patienlty answering everyone's questions. Now I know why my jasmine plants are failing on me. It is the standard miraclegro mix I use. For tropical jasmines should I use this recipe:
5 parts pine bark fines
1 part sphagnum peat (not reed or sedge peat please)
1-2 parts perlite
garden lime (or gypsum in some cases)
controlled release fertilizer

If lime, how much should I use? I cannot find pine bark fines here, the only thing I can get is pine mini nuggets. Thanks


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Dec 22, 08 at 15:03

Use a level tbsp of dolomitic (garden) lime per gallon of soil, or a half cup per cu ft.

I'll hope that if you look hard in the spring you'll be able to find a bark product a little finer than the nuggets ...... fingers crossed for you. ;o)

Welcome to the container forum. I hope you're a frequent visitor/contributor!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Having read this thread I can see that my idea of adding a handfull of teabags to a container soil mix would work - it would tend to prvent water flow and negate aeratiation. I might try one large container as an experiment - as I produce so many teabags there has to be a use for them somewhere....


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Dec 25, 08 at 11:27

Did you mean to say "my idea of adding a handful of teabags to a container soil mix would (not) work."? I would discourage the practice. If I used them, it would be in the gardens/beds.

Arabica (coffee) and Camellia (tea) are known for their toxic alkaloid (caffeine) content and their allelopathic affect on plants as well as autotoxic (to their own seedlings) effects on future generations. Caffeine interferes with root development by impairing protein metabolism. This affects activity of an important bio-compound (PPO) and lignification (the process of becoming woody), crucial steps for root formation.

We also know that the tannins in both coffee and tea are known allelopaths (growth inhibitors). There are ongoing experiments to develop herbicides using extracts from both coffee and tea that cause me to want to say they might serve better as a nonselective herbicide than as a tonic. I would not use either on my containerized plants.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

Hi all. I wanted to share some information about using cat litter in place of Turface in Al's Turface/pine bark mini nuggets/granite soil mix.

I found a bag of unbranded cat litter in the garage a few days ago. It's unscented and contains no dyes or perfumes, etc. I have read on some forums where some members substitute cat litter or OilDry for Turface in their soil mix. I've had great luck with Turface but decided to experiment and see if cat litter would hold up to soaking in water.

I found a small plastic cup, added some cat litter and then poured water over the top. Imagine my surprise when the cat litter immediately (within minutes) went from solid clay particles to gray mud. The cat litter broke down completely and immediately, certainly nothing I would want to use in any of my containers!

Now to be fair I only tested this one type of unbranded cat litter so all brands may not be this bad, but for use in containers there's no way I'd ever use this in my soil mixture, unless you wanted gray mud.

I have not tested OilDry and probably won't since I have a bag of Turface in my garage.

I just wanted to let members know that in my opinion cat litter should NOT be used in Al's container soil mix unless Turface or similar product is not available locally *and* the cat litter has been carefully tested beforehand.

Thanks everyone.

Dave


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Jan 27, 09 at 8:30

"Carefully tested" is the key.

Thanks. ;o)

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

You are welcome Al. Just didn't want anyone on the forum to mix cat litter into their soil without testing.

The cat litter and OilDry products are, I believe, similar to Turface, except the clay has not been fired to a high temperature like Turface.

In all honesty I *did* expect the cat litter would break down eventually, but thought it would take a few days, maybe even a week or two, not five minutes!

If you can't find Turface in your area you can also use Schultz Aquatic Plant Soil (available online, in pet supply stores, Walmart, etc.). I believe it's the same as Turface but is sold in smaller bags and is more costly than Turface. If you only need small amounts of Turface for soil mixes this might be an option.

Thanks everyone

Dave


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

I tried to get a product called dryz-it to break down by pouring hot faucet water on it. It held up so I put it in a pan of water and boiled it for twenty minutes. It held up. I think it'll work for this task


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

I'm not the expert that Al is on this topic but if you can use Dry-It in boiling water and it doesn't break down then I *think* it would work for soil building. Again, Al or other experienced members of this forum might have better advice.

Last night I spent time on various bonsai sites, and all of the sites had extensive threads on soil building. Although I didn't have time to read each and every post on how to build soil, here are a gew general things that I took away from the threads:

1. Turface: A tremendous product for use in most bonsai and container applications. PRO: It's extremely stable and will not break down. Great as a soil component. CON: It can be difficult to find in some areas.

2. Moisture absorbers: Various products like OilDry, Dryz_it, etc. can be used in soils in place of Turface if tested beforehand. I believe these products are similar to Turface, however most are not kiln fired to such a high temperature as Turface, therefore they could break down faster. I would carefully test these products by soaking in water for extended periods and see what happens. PRO: Easy to find at auto supply stores, hardware stores, Home Depot, etc. and inexpensive. CON: Some break down faster than others, so test before use.

3. Cat litter: Quite a few members used cat litter in place of Turface or OilDry and had mixed results. Some users said it worked well, while others said the cat litter broke down and turned to mud in a hurry. (As posted earlier in this thread, I found the same thing.) Overall I personally would avoid using cat litter as there are so many brands and contents available that it would be a major effort to find one that worked as well as Turface. PRO: Inexpensive and available everywhere. CON: Many brands break down into mud in a hurry.

So those are my two cents worth! Again, Al or other members of the list may have other opinions but if you can find it I'd stick with Turface. If you can't find Turface and feel like experimenting with some expendable plants then maybe try the OilDry to see what happens.

Thanks.

Dave


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Jan 28, 09 at 9:46

Nothing to add or disagree with, Dave. Thanks. ;o)

Since the thread has topped out again at 150 posts, I'll leave a link to the new thread for those that may have interest in following it. I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed not only the discourse, but the amity as well.

Thank you all so much!

Al

Here is a link that might be useful: I'll take you to thread VI, if you want to go.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention V

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

Tnx


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