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Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
Fri, Jul 11, 14 at 1:09

If you find value in the information I've set down in this post and feel there is anything pertaining to the topic that should be added or gone into in more detail, please contribute your suggestions. My goal was to offer soil-related information with the potential to help you increase the reward you get in return for your efforts. What might I do to increase the value of this offering?

Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX
I first posted this thread back in March of '05. So far, it has reached the maximum number of posts GW allows to a single thread nineteen times, which is much more attention than I ever imagined it would garner. I have reposted it in no small part because it has been great fun, and a wonderful catalyst in the forging of new friendships and in increasing the length of my list of acquaintances with similar growing interests. The forum and email exchanges that stem so often from the subject are in themselves enough to make me hope the subject continues to pique interest, and the exchanges provide helpful information. Most of the motivation for posting this thread another time comes from the reinforcement of hundreds of participants over the years that strongly suggests the information provided in good-spirited collective exchange has made a significant difference in the quality of their growing experience. I'll provide links to some of the more recent of the previous dozen threads and nearly 3,000 posts at the end of what I have written - just in case you have interest in reviewing some of the excellent conversations we've had on the subject. Thank you for taking the time to examine this topic - I hope that any/all who read it, take at least something interesting and helpful from it. I know it's long. My hope is that you find it worth the read, and the time you invest results in a significantly improved growing experience. Since there are many questions about soils appropriate for use in containers, I'll post basic mix recipes later, in case any would like to try the soil. The recipes will follow information that explains a concept that almost certainly represents the largest step forward a conventional container grower can take at any one time. The most important thing you can take from what I've written is an understanding of the concept explained here. I'm sure I'll stress that point more than once, and hope that as you start reading, you'll work toward attaining the ability to make your soils work FOR you, instead of against you.

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

Is Soil X a 'Good' Soil?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention

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

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

Consider this if you will:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The basic soils I use ....

The 5:1:1 mix:

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

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

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

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

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

The gritty mix:

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

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

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

Post XIX

Post XVIII

Post XVII

Post XVI

Post XV

Post XIV

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

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

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

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

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

Al


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Al and everyone: Congratulations on starting thread #20! There is so much info in these 20 threads that Al has basically written a book on the subject. I think for my "winter reading" this year I'll be reviewing all 20 threads.

Thanks again to Al and all the experts here who make these threads possible.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Hello Al,

Some of us who grow plants in containers long-term are also growing from seed. It seems like a lot of commercial sowing mixes are too heavy, leading to the seeds rotting. Please could you give us your thoughts on soil mixtures for sowing ? What, if anything, would you change compared to your "standard" mix and your gritty mix ? Thanks!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

but I'm not supposed to cut them all off initially am I? Leave like 2 or 3?

I've got 2 plants that I did last year and did again this year. I didn't really chop them down but they look gorgeous. It's the new ones that look terrible. Sorry I'm not trying to be aggravating.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

I start seeds in 5-1-1 and seed starter. I fill a cup with the 5-1-1, then use a dibble (it's actually one of those wine bottle cork replacement stoppers) to make a pit which I put in seed starter mix. When the seeds sprout, the roots go down through the starter mix and down into the 5-1-1. No re-potting necessary!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

A BIT OF ADVICE ON FINDING PINE BARK "FINES".

One tip in finding a suitable PBF is do not get hung up on the term "Fines"

I asked big box stores and nurseries and all said they never heard of it, and a few looked at me as if I had sprouted an EYESTALK out of the top of my head!

Even when I described what I wanted it for, they said they they didn't have it or know any place to get it!. I actually found suitable material at all most every one of those places! (the exception being primarily the big box stores)

Get to know what you are looking for, and look for it yourself instead of asking the store or garden center employee!

Look for "Pine Bark Mulch" (NOT nuggets or mini muggets)
flip the bag over and read the small print on the back or side of the bag. If it says "can be used as a soil conditioner" or particle size "1/2 inch to dust" or "100% pine bark" it is probably at least 65% useable product.

My current source, AGWAY Pine Bark Mulch, approaches 90% usable material, and nowhere on the bag will you find the term "fines"


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

What is the best way to water plants in the 1-1-1 or succulent mix and how much of the water actually gets absorbed? The succulents seem to be happy in their mix but I'm a little concerned for the purple passion and peace lilys I have in the 1-1-1 mix. When I water (pour water over the top) it looks it goes right through and out the bottom almost immediately. I'm concerned that there might not be enough water/moisture remaining in the mix for the plant. Thanks.

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Jul 11, 14 at 17:22

Thanks, YG!

Fidgety - I don't do much from seed, but I start a lot of woody cuttings. For that, I use the gritty mix almost exclusively. Seeds and cuttings like good aeration in the soil. In neither case would they do well if the seed or the proximal end of the cutting was immersed in the soggy layer of soil heavy soils support.

I wouldn't modify the gritty mix or the 5:1:1 mix - at least I wouldn't, given how I make them. What I might do is cover fine seeds with a thin layer of peat after they're situated on top of the soil, and use a Fogg-It hose nozzle or a hand spritzer to keep the top of the soil moist through germination.

Vance - I'd chop all the leaves off and make sure the soil that roots and crown are in can be watered appropriately, then just keep the soil damp and wait until it starts to push growth, at which time I'd start fertilizing.

WP - particle size is important. If too small, the soil will support perched water and you won't be able to get everything a soil with slightly larger particles can offer. Going the other direction, if particles are too large, you can still derive all the soil has to offer plants, but you'll suffer some inconvenience for having to water more often than if soil particles were of an ideal size.

It's not uncommon for even a perfectly made gritty mix to produce some angst in growers not used to it. The soil is designed to hold as much water as possible as intra-particulate (inside of soil particles) and as little as possible as inter-particulate water (between soil particles). Depending on what you're using for ingredients, you might find you need to change a ratio to get the water retention you need.

For now though, I'd suggest you try getting used to the 1:1:1 screened mix of Turface:bark:grit and make sure you're watering enough to keep the soil fraction occupied by roots of new transplants moist.

The best way to water is to water before the soil becomes hydrophobic. Water just enough so water barely starts to trickle out of the drain hole. Wait 10 minutes and water again - so at least 15-20% of the total volume of water applied in both applications exits the drain hole.

Do I water that way? Nope, but if I had more time and fewer plants I would.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Thanks Al that helps a lot. I did trim some of the leaves before I read your comment. They actually look a little better today, but I'm going to cut all the leaves.

Vance


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Al: You are very welcome. Thanks for sharing all of this knowledge with us. We and our plants thank you for this knowledge!

I wanted to share this with the group. Right now I'm running a very non-scientific experiment with a couple of 2-year old white spruce seedlings in a mix of 2 parts screened pine bark and 1 part diatomaceous earth (DE), plus 1 Tbsp Osmocote Plus CRF per gallon. No grit, perlite, gypsum or lime. They are in small plastic containers, about 1/2 gallon in size. These two sample trees had nice, healthy root structures when they went in this bark/DE mix about a month ago. So far everything above the soil line looks good. Nice green growth with no sign of any problems that I can detect. I believe the pH of this soil should be around 5.6 ((5+5+7)/3).

Since I know bark retains a fair amount of water, and DE retains quite a bit of water, and this mix contains no grit or perlite for drainage, I have been careful about watering. I'm using a wooden kebob skewer in the soil so I can monitor the moisture in the bottom of the container. We've had a lot of rain this year, and our daily temps have generally been low to mid 80's, so no really hot periods yet. The soil down in the root zone is staying fairly moist, at least according to the damp skewer. The top half of the container feels fairly dry to the touch. I water heavily about once per week and saturate the container.

So has anyone tried using DE and pine bark only? If so, what were your results? If I use a CRF like Osmocote plus, which contains major and minor elements, plus weak MG 24-8-16 every other week, do I need to add gypsum or lime to this 2-1 bark/DE soil mix?

I can take photos of the soil mix if anyone is interested.

Thanks.

TYG

This post was edited by the_yard_guy on Sat, Jul 12, 14 at 7:41


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Thanks Al,

I'll keep playing with the gritty mix. It's the first time I've used it so I do need to get used to it. Definite like the explanation/physics behind it. I'll change up my watering to. I've made several batches of the 5-1-1 mix and love it. It has been working well with my citrus trees and some of my wife's mini roses too.

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Chris: Glad you are liking that 5-1-1 mix. It's really good, and the plants I have seem to be doing very well in it. How's your supply of pine bark holding up?

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Yard Guy,
the closest I have to bark and DE is the mix for my Avocado....which is a mix of mostly fir bark, then Turface, and then a lesser amount of red lava rock. When I first re-potted the plant, I didn't water properly, and thus the tree lost most of its leaves. Now, however, I've got the hang of it. The pot is small and the tree so root-bound that I water every other day in this 100F+ heat. I think I have some pics from back when I was screening and assembling this "experimental" mix. I got the idea from a past Gardenweb member who went by Justaguy.

Chris, if you don't have a bonsai watering can or a hose sprayer with a fine setting, I really recommend one. Watering the Gritty Mix, or gritty mixes more generally, should be done slowly and thoroughly, as Al mentioned. When you get the timing right, you'll notice that the mix absorbs moisture quite well. Also, as the roots become established in the mix, the flow-through rates won't be as dramatic.

Fir bark on the bottom, then the turface, and the lava rock.

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

  • Posted by Drew51 5b/6a SE MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Jul 14, 14 at 2:44

"So has anyone tried using DE and pine bark only"

No, but it sounds like a good mix to me. Peat just holds even more moisture. Myself I might go back to the mud, as my pots are still drying way too fast. I need to set up a drip system I guess. It's the darn tomatoes, you can watch the soil dry as they just suck up so much water. My plants are near 7 feet now. The other plants are not as bad. I can leave them a few days in direct all day sun and they are fine. But not the tomatoes.
I myself am moving toward a live mix with compost, bacteria and fungi for vegetables. Results are excellent.
Mycorrhizal fungi just work so well, I'll always use them.
For non vegetables the soilless mixes are fine. I myself like Fafrad 55 mix, it's a 3-1-1 mix. I find that ratio a lot better, holds more moisture, is all around excellent.
Fafard did a lot of research , and a 5-1-1 would be cheaper to offer, but they found 3-1-1 to be a better ratio, I agree.
Vegetables work in these mixes too. I'm just not as impressed with the results. Acceptable, but not outstanding. i want outstanding.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Josh and Drew: Thanks for the replies. Appreciate the info. So far the pine bark and DE soil experiment seems to be going quite well. The two white spruce seedlings are growing well in that mix.

Based on what I can observe the soil mix (2 parts bark, 1 part DE) seems to be holding enough moisture down in the root zone and provides good drainage without grit or perlite.

The pH of this mix should be about 5.5 or so without any amendments. I think that's a good number for many plants, but some might like it a bit higher.

This experiment is not scientific since the soil mix is only being tried on two very young trees. I have no idea how this would work with vegetables or flowering annuals. The thing I like about this mix is that it's only 2 ingredients and both can be reused a couple of seasons at least. If fir bark is used in place of pine bark then the soil might last for years.

I'll post a few photos of the mix this week.

Thanks.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Fafard also offers a Heavyweight line of mixes - with two of those mixes, notably the "nursery" mix and the 51L, being quite good for "off the shelf" purchases. Both of those are approximately 5-1-1 mixes, although I think Fafard uses a little more bark actually.

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

It is also very important to note that Drew hasn't used these mixes, and his criticisms of the soil are really antagonisms directed at Al with whom he disagrees. He'll throw around terms like "dead mix," et cetera, but he doesn't have a personal understanding of these mixes. So be aware of that when evaluating his advice.

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Hi Yard Guy,

The pine bark is holding out. I picked up a yard of the stuff so its going to last a while. I have a sapphire shower that should be here today that I'm going to put into the 5-1-1 mix. I'm looking for other plants to get so I can make up more mix! Was going to do a 4-2-1 mix for the blueberry bushes I have but got side tracked and then it rained for most of the weekend. Might have to hit a few nurseries and craig's list to see if I can find some more plants to collect and pot up. :)

Chris


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Hi Al,

Thanks very much for getting back to me on the seed mix question, that's really helpful.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Chris: Glad the mix is working well for you and that you are enjoying using it. Your plants should perform very well in that mix.

Josh: I've heard lots of good things about the Fafard mixes. Many professional growers speak highly of them. I've never found any nurseries in my area that carry the Fafard product line, mostly ProMix in this area. I wouldn't mind trying some Fafard mixes some day, but I know they are quite expensive. Wow, it's over 100F out there? Ha, I'm glad I'm here in the soggy Midwest. High in upper 60's tomorrow and rain.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Jul 14, 14 at 18:19

Drew talks about his experiments and how he's going to do this or that, and contradicts himself regularly. He often rethinks things without any experience in what he's rethinking.

In his recent post he delineates between vegetables and non vegetables, which makes no sense to me at all.

For non vegetables the soilless mixes are fine. Really? So you prefer a mix with mineral soil in it for vegetables, hmm?I myself like Fafrad [sic] 55 mix, it's a 3-1-1 mix. You know this how? I'm sure Fafard (recently acquired by SunGro) shared that info with you, yes? I find that ratio a lot better, holds more moisture, is all around excellent.
Fafard did a lot of research , and a 5-1-1 would be cheaper to offer,
Sure they did ..... but they found 3-1-1 to be a better ratio, I agree. So why do they make so many different soils (dozens) if 3:1:1 is the way to go?

The truth is, the PBFs that Fafard uses are aged and very fine, even in their mixes that are predominantly bark. They might be a suitable medium for growers who can't or don't want to make their own soils, but they are structurally much different than soils you might make from uncomposted or partially composted pine bark.

Hey Drew - how about showing us a picture of the bag of Fafard 55 mix so we can see what to look for? I'll bet big you can't - the reason being, Fafard doesn't MAKE a mix numbered 55. Caught again. When you do this sort of thing in thread after thread, you completely destroy your own credibility. I don't get it. Is it really that much fun to stir the pot?

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Hello All.

So far the pine park/DE experiment is going well. The two small seedling trees I have growing in that mix seem to be doing very well. The mix stays damp (not soggy) for long periods of time. Granted we've had lots of rain here recently and normal to slightly below-normal temps here for the last few weeks, so the soil really has not been put to any serious test in terms of hot, dry weather. I will keep you all posted on how this turns out.

In case anyone is interested in this mix, I'll share some photos.

The first photo is screened pine bark with both the very fine dusty material and the 1/2" and larger material removed. There is some sapwood in this mix, but I simply remove what I can by hand.

Next photo is the screened diatomaceous earth (DE). This is the OptiSorb brand of DE and is generally similar to the NAPA Floor Dry, but I believe OptiSorb has slightly larger particle sizes compared to NAPA Floor Dry.

Next photo is the 3 parts pine bark and 1 part DE soil mix. This mix has a very loose texture, similar to some bonsai soils. Again, some sapwood is included but I try to remove what I can by hand. Osmocote Plus CRF has not been added at this point.

Next photo shows one of the test trees, a 2-year old white spruce seedling. The seedling is about 10" tall in this photo and is planted in a typical nursery container. I added a few extra holes in the side to allow more air into the root zone.

Finally, 2 close up photos of the soil inside the container. You can see the loose soil texture and the yellow Osmocote Plus CRF in these photos. When wet, the DE turns a medium gray color, but when dry it turns to a very light gray/white color, as shown here.

Thanks.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Jul 16, 14 at 22:36

Did you add any dolomitic lime to the mix?

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Hey Al. Just wanted to let you know they are starting to show growth. It's pretty awesome.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Al, thanks for the reply. For this experimental soil mix I did not add lime. I do add it to my standard 5-1-1 mix. In this experiment I figured that between the MG 24-8-16 water soluble fertilizer and the Osmocote Plus CRF with minors that I might not need to add lime.

Should I have included it in this pine bark/DE soil mix ?

Thanks.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Jul 17, 14 at 10:45

Ck the CRF label to see if it supplies Ca/Mg, because the MG doesn't.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Al, I believe the Osmocote Plus CRF does contain all of the majors and minors but I will confirm this tonight. If not then I certainly would need to add lime.

Just curious, if I added lime to this 3-1 pine bark/ DE mix how much would the pH increase? I'm thinking the pH of this soil is around 5.5 without lime.

Thanks

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Jul 17, 14 at 12:59

The DE has no buffering capacity, so the pH of the soil is whatever the bark is - prolly in the 4.5-5.0 range unless it's undergone some anaerobic composting while windrowed, in which case it could be considerably lower.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Al,

Interesting. I was thinking the pine bark had pH of about 5, and DE pH of about 7, and therefore the pH of this mix would be about 5.5 ((5+5+5+7)/4).

So the DE does not raise the soil pH?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

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

No - it's inert. Example - glass doesn't make vinegar more or less acidic.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Thanks for the basic soil pH lesson Al !

So just to help clarify this in my mind, the "buffering capacity" of a soil ingredient is the ability of that ingredient to change the existing soil pH. In this case, pine bark is very acidic ( roughly 3.5 to 5.5) and DE has a pH of about 7. My mistake was thinking that the pH of the DE would increase the overall pH of the soil mix. However, if the DE has no buffering capacity then it will have no effect on the pH of the soil, regardless of how much DE is used. Is that correct? If no buffering capacity then the material has no impact on the soil pH.

When making a soil mix, how can we tell if a particular ingredient has a buffering capacity? Lime obviously raises pH, sulfur lowers pH, but what about granite, perlite, Turface, etc ? All of those materials have a pH but do not necessarily have any buffering capacity, correct?

Thanks.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Al,

This is the label from the Osmocote Plus that I use. This is the old formulation which, I believe, is no longer being made. I used about 1.5 Tbsp of this per gallon for the pine bark/DE soil mix.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Al,

This morning I added some dolomitic lime to the two trees growing in the experimental pine bark/DE soil mix. I just scratched it into the surface and top several inches of the soil with my fingers as best as I could. This should help raise the pH and also add the missing Ca/Mg over the next week or two.

So my mistake here was to assume (I know, dangerous to do) that ALL components used in a soil mix impact the pH. Based on the "buffering capacity" of ingredients this is not true.

So for example, let's say that pine bark has a pH of 4, and that DE has a pH of 7. My original thinking was that when mixed at a 1:1 ratio that the final soil mix pH would be about 5.5, the average pH of the two ingredients. However, since you pointed out that the DE has no buffering capacity, then the DE is essentially inert and cannot change the pH of the pine bark. This means that the final soil pH of the pine bark/DE soil mix is still 4, not 5.5.

Do I have all of this correct?

Thanks.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Great info ...

Been off of this forum for a while...

Great to see it roll over again!!!

Just wanted to say. "Great job, Al!! "

Josh. Love the look of your mix!!!

Laura


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Just a quick bump!

Hey, People! How is everyone? How's the gardens lookin' this season?!

:-)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Jodi: Thanks for the bump!

Update: The 2 white spruce seedlings growing in pine bark and DE as a soil experiment are doing well. They both show lots of new growth over the last few weeks.

As reported earlier, I did scratch in some lime to provide the missing Mg/Ca and help raise the pH a bit. The Osmocote CRF (label shown in earlier post) supplies both Ca and Mg, but it won't help with soil pH so I added the lime. Also, the well water I use for irrigation is fairly alkaline (I can't recall the exact number at the moment) but that may have helped keep the pH in a reasonable range for these trees.

So far I'm impressed how the 3-1 pine bark/DE mix holds moisture for roots without holding significant perched water. Even after a heavy rain very little water drips out of the container when tipped on edge. I'm in Zone 5b/6a so I don't have extremely hot weather like many other growers do, but so far I only have to water once or twice a week. I'm sure in the hotter zones I'd have to water more often, especially if I was growing veggies or flowering plants. White spruce tree seedlings probably need minimal water compared to tomatoes and the like.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

I'm glad to hear the mix is working so good for your trees!

I'm currently in zone 5... actually, we sit right in a little tail of zone 4b that curls down into northern IL from southern WI, but for all intents and purposes, it's zone 5.

For the majority of my potted plants, which include mainly amaryllids and a few other plant types, I use a close rendition of the Gritty Mix. I use fir bark, coarse perlite, granite chips... and I sometimes throw in a handful or two of a high quality potting soil just to give certain plant types that little extra moisture retention they require.

I kind of eyeball ratios when mixing batches of mediums... but I don't need that much, so a batch fits into a 2 gallon covered tupperware-like container.

With the addition of that handful of extra soil, certain pots retain exactly the kind of moisture they need and like... and I don't have to worry that they'll dry out too soon.

For my orchids and some other plant types, I omit the quality potting soil, and stick with the fir bark, perlite and granite as the mix. They're doing wonderfully!

Earlier, we mixed tractor bucket loads of composting wood mulch right into our vegetable garden... to help give it a little aeration... and it seems to be working! The vegetable plants are going nuts! My husband does the food preservation, and he's incredibly busy pickling and canning right now!

The only issue we seem to have are some beetles on the zucchini plants, but he spread a little food grade DE dust on them, so we'll see what happens.

Knock on wood, but it's looking to be a great season for growing food items this year! The apple tree is loaded, the raspberries were plentiful, and with luck, we'll be able to stock up on jars of veggies and have plenty to eat as we pick them, too!

What's been extremely helpful, in both the garden and container growing, is understanding the concepts Tapla shared, and putting them to work for us!

Happy Gardening!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Jodi : For some reason I always assumed you lived out west near Josh for some reason.

So in your gritty mix you use the ReptiBark, granite, and perlite, but no Turface or DE, correct? Just add a bit of potting soil when needed ? Does your mix retain much water or do you water often?

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Warpiper,
I've never used the gritty mix myself but I've used an amended 5-1-1 mix where water pretty much drains out instantly. Because I use it in a small pot I usually drench it for 1-2 minutes and let the water flow out after. You could give that a try.
For my bigger pots they are all outside and I water them daily so no issues on the drying out.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

I just wanted to provide a quick update on those 2 white spruce trees growing in a mix of pine bark (PB) and diatomaceous earth (DE ). Out of curiosity I briefly removed one of the seedlings out of the container to inspect the roots. The roots appeared very healthy with lots of long, white new growth. The new roots were covered with white fuzzy material which, I assume, are delicate new feeder roots. I should have taken a photo but forgot to do so. I will take one next time.

Overall I'd say that these little trees are happy in that PB and DE soil mix.

TYG


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Been a Midwesterner all my life, TYG, except for a year or so here and there... when I either did more traveling in a tractor-trailer than sitting still, as a co-driver/owner-operator... and when I moved out of state following a difficult divorce. And you know, I spent time trying to figure out how to keep a plant or two alive and well in my truck! And even when I did move my home base eastward for a while, I somehow ended up with another plant collection!

No matter where I've lived, I've always managed to end up with a sizable collection of potted plants! Don't ask me where they all come from... I think they follow me home from stores and garden centers, plant sales, and they even arrive in packages from online locations! But how can I say 'no' to keeping just one more... and then just one more? And how can I say 'no' when friends offer cuttings or divisions? :-)

My favorite plants are those that have been given to me by special people as gifts. I have some very treasured bulbs and other plants from very dear friends.

Since most of my plants are amaryllids (bulbs), they do wonderfully in the Gritty Mix... but I do have a Ledebouria that seems to require more moisture retention, so I decided to change up the Gritty Mix a bit to give the Silver Squill what it wanted. At the time, I didn't have access to many different ingredients... I had ReptiBark, perlite, and granite chips... that was it. I was having a hard time locating what I needed back then.

But I also had access to tons of very good quality, consistent potting soil... bags and bags of it... because I was part of a small own-root rose business... so I simply utilized what I had available, throwing a handful of the bagged stuff into a bit of Gritty Mix specifically for the Ledebouria.

In fact, Al is the one who helped me save that plant. It was looking pretty poorly at the time... and Al's advice really helped me.

This particular plant can't tolerate drying out for some reason, and prefers to retain a bit more moisture on a more consistent basis... so believe it or not, that little bit of finer particles in the mix did the trick.

Now, I completely understand the concept of using a medium with larger particles of a rather consistent size... and I realize that it seems like a handful of finer particles would go against the very concept of the Gritty Mix... and to a certain degree, it does. The smaller particles eventually settle in the lower part of the container... it's basic physics; they can't do otherwise.

But for this particular plant, it seems to work out for me, given the other environmental variables I deal with. And I'm careful to re-pot or refresh the plant's medium just about annually, so... it seems to work out to this plant's advantage.

I do believe that key in this issue is a clear understanding of the concept of mediums of larger particulate. Once we understand HOW they work, and WHY they work... and what the actual purpose of soil is from a plant's perspective, we can play around with them a bit, taking into consideration our individual climates, environments and micro-environments, ingredients available to us, and other variables we have to contend with.

We can mix up a medium that best serves our plants' needs, and from a very individual standpoint.

When it comes to watering... I water each of my potted plants on an "as needed" basis.

Now, keep in mind that all of my plants are considered "house plants", given that they spend nicer weather outdoors if possible, and winters indoors... either packed as close to an east or south window as I can get them, or with the help of a few lights to get them through until spring. Some of my amaryllids take this time to rest, or go dormant... and some keep growing...

I don't like moisture meters because they're not accurate. Haven't found one yet that I can trust. I use the tried and true method of sticking my finger down into the medium as far as I can get it... and I wait a few seconds to see if I can feel any moisture or the coolness that tells me moisture is present to a degree.

Depending on sunlight, wind, and other weather phenomenon, I might have to water some pots every day, some every other day, or some not for several days or a week, even... it really depends on many different variables... and it changes depending on those variables.

But the beauty of using such a medium is that if I mess up and water too soon, I can be assured that the plant won't drown! It won't die because it's sitting in too much moisture! The Gritty Mix really extends the margin for error where watering, or over-watering is concerned.

So, let's say I have to go out of town for a week... and I have to ask someone to help take care of my plants. They can water every day or every other day, and nothing untoward will happen.

Of course, if they neglect to water at all, we may have a slight problem... again, though, it would depend on the weather and other variables... and I'd most likely group my plants somewhere shady and protected if I were to ask someone else to help with their care... to make it as easy as possible, and as safe for my plants as possible... just in case. Not everyone feels the same way about plants and growing as we do! And not everyone has an understanding of what plants need, or why... or how to care for them.

Where was I? Oh, yes... watering. (I'm only on my first cup of coffee, so I'm not at the top of my game quite yet!)

Just about every time I water, I mix in a tiny bit of liquid plant food and a bit of micro-nutrients, making a rather weak solution... and about one out of four times, I water with plain, clear water... to help flush out anything that might be left behind, like excess salts or the like.

This way, my plants get fed on a very regular basis without getting overloaded... there's enough nutrition present for them to use, but not too much.

I do believe a lot of growers that use the 511 or Gritty types of mediums water/feed this way... weakly, but more often... so nutrition is always available for the plant, but not in too high of a dose.

I even have a Dendrobium and an Ansellia, which are orchids, planted in the Gritty Mix... and they've never looked better! Their mix consists of a greater ratio of bark, with a little coarse perlite and granite chips.

No, I don't have any turface or DE to work with at the moment, so I have to improvise depending on a particular plant's needs. The only other medium ingredient I do have is akadama, and I don't know if I want to mix it in with other ingredients... I'd have to retrieve it when it came time to re-pot or refresh the soil... it was too expensive to just throw away! I actually bought some because I want to try a semi-hydro project with an orchid or two... one of these days.

Anyway... I really need more coffee, and I need to check my plants for the day, see who needs what and all that! And besides, I've rambled on quite enough! I'm sure you don't want to read an entire novel just to find the answer to a question, and I do go on sometimes! ;-)

So... have a nice day, TYG, and everyone!

Happy Growing!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

Hey Jodi. Wow I admit that I never have heard of anyone growing plants in a truck before! It sounds like you have been growing many plants in a small area for a number of years. Kudos for keeping them all alive and healthy, including the several moves you've made.

I have never tried growing the same plants that you have but they sound really interesting. It must be a real feat moving those plants around based on available space and outdoor weather conditions. I marvel at people like yourself and Al, Ohiofem, Josh, and others that have so many plants to deal with. By comparison I'm a slacker, having only a dozen or so trees growing outdoors in plastic nursery containers. I wish I could do more plants but I just do not have the time right now.

I have never used a soil moisture meter either, although I have read many people on here swear by them. I prefer the same method you do, sticking my finger deep in the soil or using a wooden stick to check soil moisture.

BTW, didn't you say your son(?) worked at an auto parts store? If so, I bet he could find you some DE if you ever wanted to try it. I personally like the OptiSorb brand from CarQuest but I think every auto store would have some kind of DE if you wanted to experiment.

Thanks and have a great evening.

TYG


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