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Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
Tue, Dec 18, 12 at 21:34

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

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

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

Is Soil X a 'Good' Soil?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention

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

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

Consider this if you will:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The basic soils I use ....

The 5:1:1 mix:

5 parts pine bark fines (partially composted fines are best)
1 part sphagnum peat (not reed or sedge peat please)
1-2 parts perlite
garden lime (or gypsum in some cases)
controlled release fertilizer (if preferred)

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

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

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

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

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 XV

Post XIV

Post XIII

Post XII

Post XI

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 XVI

Congratulations, Al, on your thread's fifteenth turn over! I wish there were a way to pin this thread on top of the page where everyone can see it and easily access it!

I'm among the many that have gained a ton of knowledge from this article, the included basic recipes for mediums, and have become a more successful grower because of the shared information... thank you so much for your contributions to this community, Al! It is so appreciated!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Dec 19, 12 at 16:12

Thank you, Jodi. Photobucket I know I can always count on you for a positive word. I'm glad for the thread's favor and longevity, but the reason I'm glad comes from knowing it continues to reach growers and help them understand how much sway soil choice holds over the growing experience. It's always good not to forget that in no small way a part of the thread's credibility, and ultimately its popularity, comes from the positive contributions and furtherance of respected growers like you and so many others who regularly frequent the forum and make their expertise and uplifting support available to everyone who needs a hand. I don't really feel like I'm owed any thanks because I enjoy this so much; rather, I feel like I owe MY thanks to everyone who makes a positive contribution because of what that adds to what I get out of our intercourse.

Take care.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

I would like to add my Congratulations and thanks too!
This thread has come a long way since I joined Gardenweb. I too am glad to see it turn over once again! I've learned much here, and still have much to learn, and look forward to reading on, and another season of plants and friends. Sharing and learning.
It's also where I've made a few wonderful friends. ;-)

I think it's time I have my son read this too! He has a few plants of his own, and it's time he learn the best ways to care for them. ;-) Oh, I share my mixes with him, but he's 15 now and can make his own. lol...

I too am more successful with what I've learn here, and am grateful too that Al and others take time to share and teach.

Jodi~ Until we can pin it at the top, we can count on a few here that feel it's too important to let it drop off the page. ;-)

JoJo


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

And I thank you in return, Al... it is only through this shared knowledge that I have come to know so many wonderful people, and am able to help others and point them in what I feel is a positive direction in successful growing!

This is true, JoJo... we'll keep bumping this thread to the top, making it accessible to anyone who wants more information on container gardening!

Even though I feel I've come far in educating myself, I know there's still much to learn... and I look to the guidance of such shared information and experience. Here's to many more turnovers, and many new friends made through the shared love of gardening!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Its like a shock to your system when you think you know something and then you find out you really dont know much of anything. The information that Al has provided has opened my eyes to that just what that nagging feeling was in the back of my mind that I was doing something wrong with my plants. I am now a student for the foreseeable future.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Dec 24, 12 at 12:54

Many growers place a much higher value on 'experience' than it deserves. In most cases, experience means learning by trial and error, which essentially involves trying to avoid being bit on the butt twice by the same mistake. Knowledge, on the other hand, allows you to avoid most of the mistakes you're likely to make while acquiring experience. Putting experience to work as a way of validating the knowledge you've acquired is probably the fastest route to proficiency. Here, if you want to learn, there are a lot of good folks willing to help.

Merry Christmas to all!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

I was alternating putting my plants in the ground for 2 years then in a container for 1 year. i could not understand why they performed so well in the garden but not so well in containers after just 1 season. I even went so far as to start worm composting for my containers but it would still hit that 1 year wall. Thanks for the information.

Happy Holidays to all.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Hi Al,
First off, thanks for answering my question in the other thread. I have a couple more, everyone's input is welcome :D
1. When pulling a yamadori from the wild, would you immediatelly pot it into gritty or 5-1-1? If yes, which for which general type of tree (if you even make that difference) and would you remove the dirt in the root ball completely?
2. Did anyone try growing annuals like petunias (or other heavy feeders and bloomers) in the 5-1-1? I'm thinking of using 5-1-1 for everything in window planters and terrace pots, even hanging planters. Mich less fuss and easier to buy.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

I can answer your second question. I used 5-1-1 for all my summer plantings for the past two summers and didn't find one that didn't do very well in that mix. This included more than a dozen different flowering annuals in hanging baskets, herbs and vegetables, including heirloom tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, watermelons, potatoes, cucumbers, okra, broccoli, and pumpkins in containers ranging up to 50 gallons in size. I always use one tablespoon of Osmocote Plus per gallon of mix and also a complete 3-1-2 soluble fertilizer at full strength once a week through the season. I also have about 75 houseplants in the gritty mix that I summer outdoors. I have found Al's teachings always on target.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Dec 26, 12 at 21:10

Not all yamadori are created equal, which is why, if you have any concerns about your ability to lift very old trees from the wild, you should seek the help/advice of someone experienced. Trees growing in the landscape are often less difficult. Yamadori often need to be progressively and incrementally root pruned to chase roots back closer to the trunk before it's prudent to try to collect them. Every tree is different. Many deciduous trees can be bare-rooted when lifted in early spring before buds move, but most conifers should never be bare-rooted on lifting. Some pines are best lifted in late spring, others in late Aug. There are a lot of factors that go into deciding how to collect true yamadori.

Ditto what Robin said; but where it says 'Al's teachings', make it 'Robin's teachings'. ;-)

Al

This post was edited by tapla on Wed, Mar 13, 13 at 16:43


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by teyo 8a (My Page) on
    Fri, Dec 28, 12 at 12:05

@Ohiofem awesome, that's what i was hoping to hear :) this is going to make planting this year so much easier. especially for peppers, i grow quite a number of hot chillies, after an experiment with keeping them in the garden last year i am going back to containers, last years drought totalled them off X_x

@Al thanks,i actually have some experience with taking them out, we are quite lucky here with half the country being the type of terrain that produces very nice bonsai material, but unlucky in that terrain is often pure stone :p
the availability of potting materials is an entirely different matter...


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

For a while now I have been using pure Turface aka aquatic soil to grow my red Aglaonemas but it is very heavy. So I decided to give Buybonsai's mix a try. It should arrive in about a week. See the link below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Buybonsai


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Al, could you elaborate on the use of wicks a little more? I have several tomatoe plants in smart pot-type containers and seem to be having problems with PWT. I've tried setting them on newspaper in an attempt to wick away some of the moisture without luck. I thought I might try poking some sort of wick into the bottom of the pot as in your example. Can you suggest a material to use for the wick? (And yes, I'll try using something like your 5-1-1 formulat next time) ;-)

Thanks!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Jan 1, 13 at 13:24

I use strands from 100% rayon mopheads that I've found in the past at Ace Hardwares and Walmart. I've also used those orange man made 100% rayon chamois cut in strips with a scissors. Strangely, the woven nylon ties that you often find on mesh onion and citrus bags work very well, too - even though they don't absorb water. I'm using one now that is more than 10 years old & it still works like a charm.

Photobucket
Photobucket

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Awesome! Thanks and Happy New Year!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

After reading the article for the first time, I was left with the same feeling... that what I thought I knew was not very much in reality! It turned all my "experience" into nothing.

I had been growing plants for decades, struggling along, and having some success... though more failures... and I had finally run into a brick wall that I couldn't solve, and so I went in search of some factual information.

I was fortunate enough to come across this article, and it forms the cornerstone of my growing knowledge. I'm only too happy to point others in the right direction, and whether they choose to utilize the information or not, I have still given them something factual to think about... the basics, if you will. It's a good feeling to be successful and to share the source of that success!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by dsws none (My Page) on
    Sun, Jan 6, 13 at 16:55

There's more of these threads than I can get through without losing my train of thought, so my apologies if this has already been addressed.

My understanding of perlite is that it has lots of internal pore space. When raw perlite is turned into the kind used in potting media, "water trapped in the structure of the material vapourises and escapes, and this causes the expansion of the material to 7�16 times its original volume." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perlite#Properties). That space is filled with either air or water. If filled with air, it should help oxygen get to the roots; if filled with water it should help with drainage. Of course, that supposes that the pores are big enough for air and water to percolate through, while still being too small for the other bits of potting medium to fit in. Either way, it certainly doesn't fit with the OP statement that perlite "is not internally porous."


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

So what's your question? It doesn't seem to me that whether perlite is internally porous or not makes any difference in the way it acts in the mix. It's the particle's size that matters.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Dsws,
from what we've seen, Perlite holds its moisture externally, and displaces water in a container mix.

One of our Forum members, Penfold, conducted a comparative experiment with common ingredients
we use in container mixes - granite, turface, perlite, and pumice (if I recall correctly).
The Perlite didn't hold enough moisture to indicate that kind of internal porosity, but I'm
always willing to learn something new.


Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by dsws none (My Page) on
    Sun, Jan 6, 13 at 20:35

Perlite has to have internal pore space, or it would be about as dense as same-size pellets of the original rock. The question is whether it matters. If it's just gas vesicles completely surrounded by rock, it wouldn't matter at all (except for weight).

Theoretically, porosity matters for three things: drainage, aeration, and water retention. Small pores hold water until the water potential gets quite low before releasing it, assuming they get wetted in the first place. That lets you go longer between waterings: not necessarily optimal for the plant, but better than letting it die of thirst if you're away for a long time. Pores large enough to be empty of water provide aeration, but so do small pores that don't get wetted. Medium-sized pores help water flow through, so that large pores can empty and let oxygen reach the roots, but they stay full of water long enough for roots to drown if there aren't enough large pores to provide aeration.

My guess is that perlite has a high enough contact angle that the small pores don't get wetted, so it's as though they weren't there for purposes of drainage and water retention. And for aeration, it doesn't do much if the outside is completely surrounded by water. It should help some, but not so that you would notice compared to large pores.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Jan 6, 13 at 21:33

Perlite is a closed-cell material that lacks internal porosity. What water/nutrients it holds are attributable to its considerable surface area. Perlite's main claim to fame in most media is that it takes up space that might otherwise be filled with water - it reduces water retention w/o notably impacting aeration or drainage (flow-through rates) unless it's a significant fraction of the medium and particles are large enough - like a handful of marbles in a pint of wet sand.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

dsws,

I would just forget about using perlite, it's not worth the time and money. Try looking for pumice instead of perlite.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Thanks for explaining that, Al.

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by dsws none (My Page) on
    Mon, Jan 7, 13 at 10:40

Unfortunately, I already bought a bag of the stuff.

Since I've got it here, I think I'll do an experiment: soak a little of it, spread it out one-lump-thick until it's superficially dry, then put it at the warm end of a plastic bag to see how much water condenses at the cool end. If it's completely closed-cell, there will be almost none; if some porosity is available to the water, an appreciable amount of condensation should show up.

The perlite I have is Miracle Grow. It's not the same perlite I remember from last time I had houseplants. That was white spheres, that water could drain between quite freely. I put it in the bottom of pots, and the plants thrived. This is about half and half white irregular lumps and gray mud. It would be absolutely awful in the bottom of a pot.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Dsws,
you'll want to screen and rinse out the fine dust particulate.
The best Perlite I've found is Sunshine brand coarse Perlite. Exceptional stuff.


Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by dsws none (My Page) on
    Mon, Jan 7, 13 at 16:49

For my experimental scoop of MG perlite, I did leave out the fine stuff as best I could. I don't have a screen, though. I'm in a small apartment, where the most space I can justify dedicating to plants is a couple bags of media, and the containers and plants themselves.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by dsws none (My Page) on
    Tue, Jan 8, 13 at 16:52

My half-cup or so of seemingly-sort-of-dry perlite has given up maybe a quarter-teaspoon of water so far.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

I work in limited space, myself, living in a 2nd floor studio apartment without a full kitchen... but it hasn't hindered my ability to follow all of the necessary steps in assuring the ingredients are properly prepared to use for making the Gritty Mix.

It's imperative that shortcuts not be taken, as many can have negative effects, causing the medium to not work as it should.

I use a coarse perlite product, and I rinse it in a wire pasta colander from the Dollar Store to remove any dust or microscopic particles. Then I screen it to remove the next smallest round of particles.

I've found that Dollar Stores and kitchen/home sections of various stores will carry items that can be used to screen ingredients, as can pieces of various sized hardware cloth, screens made specifically for bonsai medium, among other items. Following the directions as closely as possible will net the best end results.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Hello Tapla, I've read the post found it very informative. I would like to know what is your take on vermiculite. I mix this with perlite.

What does CRF stand for. This year I will be doing a lot of container gardening of tomatoes, which I usually put in the ground.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Jan 11, 13 at 3:07

Hi! I'm very pleased you found the thread informative, but I'd be doubly pleased to learn you found it compelling enough to act on - putting it to work improving your growing experience. ;-) Thanks for the kind words, too.

Somewhere, on this or another thread, I recently mentioned I bought 2 bags of vermiculite 15-20 years ago, each having a volume somewhere between 2-3 gallons, and in spite of the significant volumes of soil I make every year, I still have all of it save a few quarts - illustrating that I almost never use it. When it comes to most container soils, improving them usually run along the tracks of REDUCING water retention and improving the soil's structure. Vermiculite usually increases a soil's water-holding potential, and it (mechanically) breaks down very easily.

CRF = controlled release fertilizers (like Osmocote).

Al

This post was edited by tapla on Fri, Jan 11, 13 at 14:17


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by dsws none (My Page) on
    Fri, Jan 11, 13 at 12:14

Is reducing water retention beneficial in itself, or only necessary in the course of ensuring good aeration?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Thank You Tapla. I will use your 5-1-1 in the future.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

"Perlite is a closed-cell material that lacks internal porosity. What water/nutrients it holds are attributable to its considerable surface area. Perlite's main claim to fame in most media is that it takes up space that might otherwise be filled with water - it reduces water retention w/o notably impacting aeration or drainage (flow-through rates) unless it's a significant fraction of the medium and particles are large enough - like a handful of marbles in a pint of wet sand. "

Perlite does not lack internal porosity. The heating process that creates horticultural perlite out of raw perlite creates tiny bubbles inside the material. They are sealed from the surface of the material, which may be what was meant in the quote, but if you cut open a grain of perlite, a microscope will show its interior filled with pores.

Just as the inside of a perlite grain is filled with bubble/pores the surface is also covered with partial bubbles. This is why water is retained by the grain, to be made available to the plant roots when necessary. Finer grades of perlite (smaller grains) hold more water than coarser grains. This makes sense, as finer grains expose more surface area to water than more coarse grains per unit mass.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Jan 11, 13 at 22:29

..... 'closed' - 'sealed' - 'dead air cells' ..... unlike products like Turface, calcined DE, Haydite ....., perlite lacks OPEN internal porosity. Perlite may hold good amounts of water on its surface, but because it lacks internal pores that air and water can move in and out of, it's net effect in soils based on fine particulates is a reduction in water retention.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Great advice on the 511. I am wondering where I would find Pine Bark Fines? I live in Pompano Beach, Fl. and I have never heard of the stuff.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Pine bark fines go under different labels around the US. I've found it called pine bark mulch or soil conditioner in some big box stores. You might ask for it from a landscaping company or independently owned garden center. What matters is that what's in the bag is pine or fir bark and that the pieces are mostly 3/8 inch wide or less. There's a long thread on this forum where people share where they found the ingredients for gritty mix, including bark. Try searching for Florida sources there.

Here is a link that might be useful: Where to find ingredients for gritty mix


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Hello Tapla,

Thank you for this thread.

I am very curious about your 5.1.1 gritty mix. I have been collecting the necessary ingredients for this 5.1.1.
Something I would like to know about your 5.1.1 if you do not mind please tell me. How many times have you tried to create this 5.1.1 and 1.1.1? I firmly believe that the creation of 5.1.1 may have a history, I am very interested on how it was created and why. We all know that the purpose of this 5.1.1 gritty mix but I do not know how many of us knew how it was created and why. I am going to use this 5.1.1 for the coming season so it will be very nice to know a brief history of this creation. I am so sorry for my curiosity.

Best regards,

Caelian


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Jan 13, 13 at 11:17

Both soils were born of my own failures at container gardening - of my inability to generate any forward progress toward my ultimate goal, which was to become proficient at bonsai. Everything I've learned about soils and how plants work, has come as a by-product of that endeavor

How many times have you tried to create this 5.1.1 and 1.1.1? I've been making it every year for the last 20+ years. I can't even guess at how much I've made, but in 20 years I'd guess conservatively at maybe 30-40 yards of 5:1:1 (that's 2-3 very large dump trucks full. I usually use about 10 bags of Turface and grit each year for my own soils, plus a similar volume of fir bark, so I'd say I make between 25-30 cu ft of gritty mix each year. That's >200 gallons.

The 5:1:1 mix is just a knock-off of what a nursery owner friend was using for his plant material, and the gritty mix is a knock-off of what someone (I forget who) was using as a bonsai soil.

I failed at bonsai when I first made the attempt, due to the fact I couldn't keep my trees alive. I put the trees away, but kept reading. Gradually, it became clear that the soils was using were my adversaries. I knew I needed something with more aeration, so I started to use the soil my nursery friend was using, with mixed results. Still, I knew I was on the right track.

In a Master Gardeners class, a geologist was giving a talk on how water behaves in the earth. He mentioned Perched Water Tables, and suddenly I understood. From that moment forward, I had an objective - to reduce the PWT as much as possible, or eliminate it entirely, w/o having to suffer watering intervals shortened to the point that plants demanded too much of my attention.

The 5:1:1 mix, made like I make it, has an insignificant PWT height - usually considerably less than 1". For comparison, soils like MG Moisture Control might have a PWT 6" tall, or even greater. The gritty mix, properly made, should have almost NO water in the spaces between soil pores.

Getting you to follow the soil recipes isn't the object of my offerings re soils. My goal is to make sure you understand the concept, and to understand how you can manipulate your soils' water retention so they work FOR you, instead of against you. The 5:1:1 mix is something you do more by feel, because you often use a bark product right from the bag w/o screening - it didn't have the technical thought put into it that the gritty mix did. still, because it embraces the concept that bigger particles = more porosity, fast drainage, and a short PWT, it stands well above soils based on fine particles when it comes to offering plants the opportunity to grow as close to their genetic potential as possible.

Along the way, I found out things like: the PWT disappears as particle size increases to >.100 inch, and drainage layers don't work unless the drainage layer is <2.1x the size of the soil particles above it. In order to make the soil suitable for plants that prefer not to dry out and plants that won't tolerate wet feet, I decided that a mix of a highly water-retentive ingredient + an ingredient that holds no water internally (turface and granite) would be a good way to adjust water retention. The particle sizes sugested maximizes water retention w/o holding water in the air spoaces between particles - even at the bottom of the pot - something very helpful if you're growing in small or shallow containers. The gritty mix is very simple, but it's extremely well thought out. Each ingredient is the best I've found at fulfilling a particular function and contributing to the soils ability to manifest a concept.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Thank you very much for the reply and your time. Your reply is very educational, I like it.

I was wondering how many times the ratio of the this soil recipe were adjusted to create this final product 5.1.1.

I fully understood the concept behind this 5.1.1 now. Without violating this concept of manipulation of soils' water retention how to prepare my soils for some particular plants was difficult for me. Still I am taking help from our forum members, Josh, DMforcier, Bruce and others.

One of in your posts mentioned that 5.1.1 is good for woody plants. I am going to use this 5.1.1 gritty mix for my chili plants so should I adjust this 5.1.1 ratio? Some kinds of balance I am looking for without violating the concept you offered to us.

Finally Sir Tapla have you any plan to write a book about container gardening? I am sorry to ask this question.


I am sincerely respect our forum members' efforts to help each other.

Best regards,

Caelian

This post was edited by chilliwin on Sun, Jan 13, 13 at 17:27


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Along the way, I found out things like: the PWT disappears as particle size increases to >.100 inch, and drainage layers don't work unless the drainage layer is <2.1x the size of the soil particles above it.

Ooh, numbers. Cool. I don't think I'd seen those before. They're useful to me, because I expect to continue using drainage layers until and unless I find convenient sources of better materials. Maybe even if I do.

I would have guessed that a little larger would be necessary on the .1 inch, if you want to completely eliminate it. On the 2.1x ratio, I would have guessed I would have guessed larger would work in practice, because I would expect enough small particles to fall down into the next layer that they would form somewhat of a wick.

Soil is made of spaces, not particles, from the point of view of the water. It's not always obvious how a combination of particle sizes will translate into a combination of sizes of spaces, so experience (which I don't have) is crucial.

This post was edited by dsws on Sun, Jan 13, 13 at 15:07


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

dsws: If you like numbers, perhaps you would like to read about an experiment testing the usefulness of a coarse drainage materials in a container. The experiment was conducted by a member of the Pacific Bulb Society using Miracle Gro potting mix on top of styrofoam peanuts. Her conclusion was: "coarse 'drainage' material in the
bottom of the pot resulted in the potting mix above it staying wetter per cup of medium than in a container of potting mix alone."

Here is a link that might be useful: Potting Mix and Drainage Experiment

This post was edited by Ohiofem on Sun, Jan 20, 13 at 14:55


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Styrofoam is hydrophobic and packing peanuts are way, way beyond 2.1x the size of the particles in potting media. So I wouldn't expect any appreciable wicking of water through packing peanuts, unless there's potting medium between them (in which case the peanuts might as well be bricks). That doesn't do anything to convince me that drainage layers of suitably-sized perlite or sand don't work.

--

Edit:

A bit farther down the Pacific Bulb Society thread, there's someone who recommends using a "sand plunge", while still insisting that drainage layers don't work. I wonder whether it would do any good to start calling them "wicking layers" instead. I would hope no one would think that styrofoam peanuts would work as a "wicking layer".

Here is a link that might be useful: farther down the Pacific Bulb thread

This post was edited by dsws on Sun, Jan 20, 13 at 16:02


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Jan 20, 13 at 17:23

Drainage layers have been frequently discussed. They can be made to work if they are constructed properly, but it's usually easier to just make a soil that allows free drainage and good aeration, regardless of container depth.

We have also discussed pot-in-pot, pot-in-trench, and partially buried containers as a way to eliminate all or most of any perched water that wants to hang around. We could also construct a false bottom with a wicking column that would allow a grower to use soils that would normally retain too much water, but I find it much easier to simply scoop enough soil into a container to fill it, plant, water, and enjoy the fruits of my labors.

There are plenty of ways to put the concept discussed here to work for you that aren't discussed as regularly as the easier ways - whatever you feel works best is what you should do.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Hi, Al. I've been slowly gathering ingredients to make the 5:1:1 mix as Spring approaches, and I was wondering if you could offer some advice. I'd like to make one batch of 5:1:1 with some ground coconut choir replacing the peat moss, and I was wondering if you knew how much I'd need to alter/reduce the amount of lime mixed in due to the loss of the peat moss's acidity. Thanks!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Feb 6, 13 at 16:24

Any idea what the pH of your irrigation water is?

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Al,

Can you tell me how to modify the 5:1:1 for vegetable growing in Southern California? If it needs a mod...

I plan on growing Corn, Beans, Squash, Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, Kale, Spinach, Tomatoes, Carrots, Beats, Potatoes, Yams and herbs.

I've got (50) 5 gallon buckets (with drain holes) sitting on concrete in my backyard waiting for the right recipe. I have peat, perlite, worm castings and gypsum on hand. I'll go get the bark and lime if that's the right direction for container veggies in SoCal. I plan on using drip emitters for watering.

I should also mention this is my first rodeo. I've never grown anything in containers, so as you might imagine I'm blown away by all the information on container gardening and thankful for all your hard work.

JR


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

As I told JR in a private message, there is no need to modify the 5:1:1 for different climates or plants. I love this mix for every annual vegetable and flower I grow outside in the summer. I put together some photos from last summer to show what I grew. Note that many of these photos were taken in June or early July, so the plants were only about half grown at the time. Check it out if you want to see vegetables growing in this mix. (I use the gritty mix for long term plants, which aren't in these photos.)

Here is a link that might be useful: Vegetables in 5-1-1 mix


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Feb 16, 13 at 12:25

You don't need to modify the soil in order to obtain healthy plants, no matter where you live; but you might need to modify it so you can keep up with what you consider a reasonable watering schedule. I always have plenty of Turface fines on hand, so I can add those to the 5:1:1 mix for more water retention ..... or you could use Turface Pro-League, or some vermiculite - IF you find you need more water retention. The trick is in how to get more water retention w/o sacrificing minimization of the PWT. Leaving out the perlite (reduces water retention) and substituting Turface in it's stead would also be helpful. Screening the bark through a 1/2" screen to ensure smaller pieces, or even 3/8" screen if you can find it, will also increase water retention w/o a significant impact on the ht of the PWT.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

wow..never thought of looking in container soils forum here..and who do i find.. the man !!! al !!!
:)
i can tell u from his postings on other garden site.. hes helped me heaps in how i pot up my tropicals now..
ive moved many of my winterized potted tropical (inside) already..and i am pleased with how things are going..
so much thanks al !!! :)
ive been buying up several 2cf bags of pine bark (not wood chips) from big box stores..
i will be potting up many tropicals this spring/summer in
huge pots..its always been a concern of mine with the
potting mix..and i had one really sad occurance..sigh..
learned a lesson..moving on..
im using the 5:1:1 mix..with a bit of a twist of my own..
im not pleased with perlite in my pots..so ive been buying
similar sized pumice for my pots.. similar sized to the pine bark..
great info posted by u all.. and especially tapla (al)
thanks !!!!!!!!!!!!


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Feb 16, 13 at 22:04

Very kind - thank you!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Thank you Tapla and Ohiofem!

I think I am going to try growing a variety of vegetables in the 5:1:1 side by side in 5g buckets with potting soil in one and 5:1:1 in the other. I can't wait to see the results! I'll document it and post it on garden web.

I've also found some Red Fir bark by the yard at O.F. Wolfinbarger in Chino, Ca, but no luck finding Pine Bark by the yard anywhere near Los Angeles, Ca.

Wolfinbarger has Red Fir in 3/8” (not composted) and 0-1/4” Red Fir (composted). I was thinking 2 scoops of the 3/8” and 1 scoop of the 0-1/4” composted. Is that 2:1 the right blend of the two? Or should I just get one or the other? Any advice here? -thanks in advance.

Also, if ANYONE knows where I can get Pine Bark by the scoop in SoCal please let me know ASAP. I'm buying this Saturday March 2nd 2013. I've read the threads and called around and have yet to find it with in a couple hours drive of Los Angeles! Don't know why it's so hard to find - orchids are sold everywhere in this city!

-Al,
I have a couple more question for you. Per your response above you mention using Turface as a means to retain more water to keep a “reasonable” watering schedule. Is that necessary if I'm irrigating with drip? BTW - can you give me any advice on Gallons per hour on the emitters for your 5:1:1 blend?

-I know it's probably a trial and error thing with the drip emitters, but I'm going to Lowes today to buy emitters and thought you might recommend a rate at which the soil is fed or flushed.

Thanks everyone for the help!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Hi Studiousir,

I have some friends in Costa Mesa that buy a lot of materials for their tropicals at Orange County Farm Supply.

Try and give them a call and see if they have Pine Bark Fines AKA Soil Conditioner. They sell all sorts of hardwood products in large quantities as well as pumice etc.

Hope this helps...

Orange County Farm Supply
Website · Directions

1826 W Chapman Ave, Orange, CA
(714) 978-6500

Mon-Fri 7am��"5pm
Sat 7am��"4pm
Sun Closed

Take care,

Laura


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Is this the right bark? It's the 3/8" mini bark from Wolfenbarger. It's Red Fir out of Washington Oregon. Will this work? It's $51 per yard (27 cubic feet).

Orange County Farm Supply is selling orchid bark for $10-13 per 2 cubic foot bag. Obviosly bagged stuff is always more expensive, but that's almost 3X the price.

Pine bark is no where to be found in the Los Angeles area and the people around LA are telling me "bark is bark" and that fir is all I'm going to find around here.

I'm hoping the 3/8" mini bark from Wolfenbarger will suffice. Thoughts anyone?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Here's a close up of the 3/8" (Red Fir) Mini Bark next to 3/4" gravel.

Y'all think this will be good for my 5:1:1 mix? I plan on using Al's original recipe.

I'll be growing vegetables in 5g buckets. If you think this bark looks good let me know and it's a go!

Thanks everyone.

JR


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Here is a close up picture of the the 3/8" Mini Bark "Red Fir" that I was able to get by the yard. I've divided it in 4 sections to show the different components of the pile. That white thing in section C is an Altoid for reference.

Here's the breakdown:

A. Is a small handful of the bark as it is right from the pile. I found that there are three components:

B. The shredded looking parts that I picked out of the mix. I'd say "B" makes up about half or more of the whole pile.

C. Is the <3/8" bark looking pieces that in my mind is what I had imagined the quintessential 3/8" bark would look like.

D. Dust. Or what I'm assuming are the "fines." Can I get clarification if this is what is considered "fines?"

-Is this a good, mediocre or poor bark mix for the 5:1:1?

Should I sift it and get rid of one of these components? Or is the mix good as it is?

If it's no good I'll just use it for landscaping and keep looking for the right bark. Any thoughts?

Thanks!

JR


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Hello!

Great that you're giving it a try, as many of us are very pleased with the results. As always, finding the right bark is the hardest part, indeed. The bark that you've found looks to be mediocre, I'd say, judging by the samples. In that first pic, there seems to be a lot of pale "sapwood," but perhaps that's just the pic.

Let's see what Al has to say regarding mixing the various grades of bark to arrive at a workable texture.

With the proper fertilization schedule, I don't see why it shouldn't work.


Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

JR: I will defer to Josh (greenman). He's had a lot more experience with these mixes, and he lives in your part if the world. Fir bark is very rare in the Midwest, and I understand pine bark is pretty scarce in California. So it's hard for me to judge. But I can see that a lot of your bark is too big. If I were stuck with what you have, I would use only the stuff in sections C and D. Fines are roughly the size of a dime and smaller. If you can find a source that doesn't require you to discard half or more, I think you'd be better off.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

...I agree with Ohio ;-)
The C and D bark would be the best, although it sure would be nice to have some intermediate sized pieces between these two extremes.

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Thanks guys!!

I'm going to try and sift out the big stuff and at the same time keep searching for the right size bark by the yard (27 cu. ft.). This bark from Wolfinbarger was $51 a yard and since only about 20-25% of the yard I purchased was usable it might make more economical sense to just buy "orchid bark" for $10-13 per 2 cu. ft. bag.

What I have found in SoCal is when calling around for bark most folks I've talked to only know of bark for mulching and growing orchids. Not a single person knows where to get pine bark and it's a foreign idea that I'm using it for container gardening! : ) I think I have to start emailing this thread to the nurseries and landscaping Co.

Any one else in SoCal have good experience buying bark by the yard??


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Forgive me if this is a silly question, im contemplating making a batch of gritty mix, and have a source for turface and pine bark fines. I have been searching the local soil and gravel suppliers and have found a product labeled as;

"7mm Round River Gravel
Suitable for drainage and
garden use" (http://www.corkhillbros.com.au/index.php/landscaping-supplies-canberra/gravels)

Does this sound appropriate for the final component?

Cheers


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 7, 13 at 16:14

Ideally, your grit would be within the 2.4 - 4.5 mm size range for the gritty mix.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Thanks, I wasnt quite sure about the conversion to mm, there are tables out there, and yet I still had doubt!

Edit*

And just so I understand correctly, the actually material of the gravel isnt so important as it being something that does not absorb water... right? ie, it doesnt actually have to be granite, any stone or gravel in the right size would do?

I have just found some 3mm gravel for aquariums which seems like it would be more appropriate..

Here is a link that might be useful: 3mm gravel

This post was edited by naikii on Thu, Mar 7, 13 at 17:27


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Wow I am so grateful to have stumbled upon this thread. This was quite an interesting read relating to my engineering courses studying soil mechanics.

So on to more practical matters. I recently bought a lovely Japanese maple that I want to plant in a container. The plan was to buy a planter and topsoil mixed with sand. Then I read your post and realized I need to reconsider my soil medium. After reading your post I believe I should be opting for the 111 gritty mix as my Japanese maple a long term plant staying for many seasons. I am wondering if there are any substitutes for the ingredients, in particular Turface and Gran-I-grit. I'm in the process of corresponding with local landscape stores about Turface. I have no luck with gran-i-grit though. Are there any substitutions?

Many thanks,

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Mar 8, 13 at 7:31

Where in Canada do you live?

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

I live in Vancouver BC. Since my last comment, I found out where to get Turface. Now I need to find Gran-I-grit. If I can't find that are there any subsitutions? Maybe pea gravel?

Thanks,

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

One more thing. Since japanese maple like acidic soils, how essential is adding gypsum to the mix?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Mar 9, 13 at 12:39

Because Gran-I-Grit is mined in the SE of the US, and cherrystone in Minnesota, you're more likely to find cherrystone (because of the difference in shipping expense). Or, you might be able to find Manna-Pro, which is also crushed granite. Peastone would be much too large, unless you have unlimited access & can screen it at the source for the amount you need in an appropriate size range (2.5-4.5 mm).

Adding gypsum to soils has (virtually) no effect on pH. It's not important to specifically add gypsum to the gritty mix, but it is important to make sure your plants have a Ca and Mg source if not included in your fertilizer ..... which is one reason I like Foliage-Pro so much.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Thanks,

I'll look hard for the grit then.

Regarding Ca and Mg source for plants, I'm reluctant to fertilize my japanese maples as they aren't heavy feeders and oftentimes fertilizing them can be more detrimental than good. I live in the pacific northwest (aka japanese maple heaven) where the soil rich enough for maples to get enough nutrients and do without fertilizers. But that's for in-ground planting. Since we're talking about container planting, what the nutrient level is like, especially for such an inorganic medium like the gritty mix.

If it's not necessary I'd rather do without gypsum and fertilizers. But I don't know what the nutrient level is like for the gritty mix. If the nutrient level is not sufficient, I feel more inclined to amend the gritty mix with potting soil or even my native ground soil where my existing maples seem to do fine (the idea of soilless medium is still very alien to me). What are your thoughts?

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Mar 9, 13 at 18:15

Very little in the way of nutrition inherent in the gritty mix as the only organic fraction is the bark, and that breaks down very slowly. Container gardeners are better served if they focus on the physical properties of their soils, and take the responsibility for nutrition on their own shoulders. I have a lot of maples in containers, and I fertilize them at the same rates as all my other woody material.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

I have spent the last two days reading this forum. It's addictive. I am very excited. Even when I not reading, my mind keep thinking about soil mix all the time. Last year, I bought a mango tree and emperor lychee. However, they didn't do very well since I put them in the containers. After reading Al's posts, I believed I don't have the right soil mix for them. According to Al's and many people in this forum, Al's Gritty Mix is great for Tropical Fruit. Unfortunately, after spending a day today shopping for the ingredients, I realized that it is hard to find Screened Turface and Gran-I-Grit in my area. Therefore, making Al's Gritty Mix will be a challenge for me. However, I found fine Pine Bark, sphagnum peat, perlite, garden lime, which are the right ingredients to make Al's 5:1:1 mix.
My question is:
Can I use Al's 5:1:1 for my Mango Tree and Lychee?
Please share if you have any experience growing tropical fruit tree with Al's 5:1:1 mix.

Thank you very much.

Anthan


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Al,

I was able to find 3-5mm crush granite and small bark nugget mulch. I haven't been able to get a hold of the turface just yet. Hopefully I'll be able to do so tomorrow.

I'm wondering what your opinion is of amending the gritty mix itself. You stated that "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." Well if I start with the gritty mix itself as the base soil and amend it with potting soil will that still provide the aeration and drainage along with the much needed nutrient from the potting soil? I'm thinking of mixing 75% gritty mix and 25% potting soil, essentially a 1:1:1:1 mix. What is your opinion of that? The potential negatives I can think of is reduced air voids and movement of the fine-grained potting soil down through the air voids settling at the bottom of the container.

I know it's a trade-off, but I'm curious what you think so I can make an informed decision on my soil medium.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Amending the Gritty Mix undoes all the work taken to build aeration and drainage into the mix. When fine particulate is added, the drainage properties of the entire mix take on the drainage properties of the finest particulate.

Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Mar 10, 13 at 16:34

Antham - our friend Laura lives in VA, and I know she has scoped out places to get the ingredients for the gritty mix, so I'm sure she'll be around to help you out, soon. You won't find Turface already screened, but all you need to do is screen it over aluminum insect screen to get rid of the fines. The grit should be prescreened, but I always give that a shake over insect screen as well - just to rid it of the dust that's always in the bag.

The 5:1:1 mix should work very well for containerized trees - not as well as the Gritty mix, but head and shoulders above most commercially prepared media based on fine particulates.

Squeezied - I think what Josh thinks. If you're going to "amend" the gritty mix with fine particulates, you sacrifice the main reason for using it - no PWT. It doesn't make sense to go to the effort of building a gritty mix if your intent is to reduce it's effectiveness by adding fines back in - might as well use a soil like the 5:1:1 mix or a commercially prepared medium.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Squeezed: One of the hard lessons I have learned from container growing for many years is that there is no mix of soil components that will provide all the needed nutrients in the right balance at the right rate over time in a container and not cause drainage problems. That soil that works so well for maples in the ground would kill them in a container. Even if your potting mix had enough organic material to feed your plants properly at the beginning, it would become depleted and collapse over time. In the ground, roots can travel deeply and widely to find nutrition, and they are helped by worms and microbes and decomposing organic matter, none of which work in a container.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Hi Anthan,

Where are you located in Virginia ?

Looking for Turface and gran-i-grit and Pine Bark Fines or Fir Bark can be a challenge, but here are a few places to start.

When you are searching for Gran-I -grit remember that this is used for the purpose of helping farmers raise poultry . This is used in the digestion process of the chickens and or poultry . ( grit). So look for Feed and Seed Stores ... Ask for this Gran-I-grit in the Growers size. It comes in three sizes and you want the growers size or ( number 2) size. They also have a brand called MannaPro that is the same granite . Be careful and not purchase the grit that has crushed oyster shells in it. You want 100 percent granite .

Look for :

Southern States stores
Tractor Supply Stores
Feed and Seed Stores

This will give you a start.

If you need more help .. Let me know!

When looking for grit ask for Turface too .. Sometimes they carry it as well.

John Deere Tractor Supply Stores usually is a great place to call and ask . If they don't carry it, sometimes they will order it for you .

Remember that Turface is used for baseball fields. It is Turface All Sport or Turface MVP

Hope this helps you!

I use a strainer to sift out the fines in the Turface . I can post a pic later. I'm using my cell right now and I'm not on my computer. So the pics will have to be posted later. It's late. Hope this makes sense ...

;-)

Good luck!

Laura

This post was edited by loveplants2 on Mon, Mar 11, 13 at 1:48


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Thanks for your comments and insight guys. I really appreciate the responses. I just want to address your comments with additional questions.

greenman28 - Wouldn't the drainage properties depend on the proportion of coarse and fine particles? A 100% coarse-grained mix (ie the gritty mix) has excellent drainage. However I don't think a 99% coarse-grained and 1% fine-grained mix will have the drainage properties of the fine-grained mix. Likewise the mix I'm proposing, 75% coarse-grained and 25% fine-grained, might still have decent drainage.

I'm sure there's a relationship between drainage vs. coarse/fine grain proportion, I just don't know how it looks like. This might not make sense to those who don't like math and graphs. In my mind I picture a graph where the y-axis is drainage and x-axis coarse/fine grain proportion (at the left is 0% coarse grain and right is 100% coarse grain). I don't believe it is a straight linear relationship between drainage and coarse/fine grain proportion. Rather I picture it as an exponential relationship or an 's' shaped relationship (where the "end" of the 's' is stretched out). I apologize if that doesn't make sense but to interpret the graph I have in my mind, a 0% coarse grain mix has very poor drainage. Increasing the percentage of coarse grains would not have much effect on drainage until you start reaching above a certain percentage. What that percentage is I don't know. That's what the mix I'm proposing is 75% coarse grains, in hopes that that is enough to still have sufficient drainage.

To me it's about optimization where you reduce/sacrifice a property (drainage in this case) to improve the property of another (organic matter in this case). In doing so you optimize entity on whole. The problem is I don't know if what I'm proposing has a large reduction in drainage for minimal benefit in organic matter such that the net benefit is reduced.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Al - Further to my response to greenman28 about optimization, a commercially prepared soil would have abundant amounts of nutrients but poor drainage whereas my proposed 75% coarse grain and 25% fine grain would sacrifice nutrients for in hopes for much needed drainage. Of course the 100% coarse grain mix (ie the gritty mix) would have superior drainage and I could just as easily add fertilizers to provide the nutrients.

For me it's a trade off. Gardening is about the plants as well as the gardener. The plants should be doing well but it should please the gardener as well. That's why we have container gardens instead of having all plants in the ground. Also bonsai too. Personally I like the idea of a more natural environment (one reason why I tend not to use fertilizers). The idea of mostly inorganic medium seems a bit alien to me. So it's a trade off between superior aeration/drainage and a more natural soil environment. What I don't know is if I'm giving up a lot or a little for a more natural environment.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Good morning, Jen and Laura!

Squeezle, you're right, it is a balance between plant health/vitality and grower convenience. Those of us who choose well-aerated mixes such as the Gritty or the 5-1-1, have placed a greater emphasis on plant vitality.

When you begin adding fine particulate to the Gritty Mix, you are compromising drainage and building a "perched water table" into the bottom layers of the mix. To use Al's analogy, it is like adding sand to a jar of marbles - the sand readily fills in the macro-pores between the marbles, migrating toward the bottom of the jar in particular. Once that fine particulate clogs the spaces at the bottom of the jar, all the moisture poured in from the top must then drain very slowly through that fine layer. Given the work and the cost of assembling the Gritty Mix, there is no advantage to adding fine particulate - better to use the economical 5-1-1, which has a calculated amount of fine material to extend the moisture retention of the mix.

Josh

This post was edited by greenman28 on Mon, Mar 11, 13 at 13:30


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by MDutton 5 (Kansas City) (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 11, 13 at 15:51

Hello to all! :)

I've been scrolling through this thread, and the scores of others on the topic of Al's 5-1-1 mix... So much information! I apologize in advance if my questions have been answered elsewhere. I seem to see something mentioned somewhere, and I can't trace where it originated from.

To begin, approximately how much does a "big batch" make? Gallons would be the most helpful unit of measure for me. I'm guessing 32-ish gallons, but I'm fairly certain my math is incorrect. I live in a 3rd floor apartment, so I'd like to get my measurements right before I haul all these heavy materials upstairs. ;)

Also, I seem to remember seeing somewhere that the mixture should be left to "rest" after it is all combined... Is this true? How long does it need to sit? Are there any tips/tricks to the actual process of mixing this stuff up? (Again, I'm working within the confines of my apartment...)

I've also seen wicking mentioned in some of the threads... What situations would require this?

Many, many thanks in advance! Any additional tips for a beginner like myself are much appreciated!

--Malaya


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 11, 13 at 17:47

Squeezied - Commercially prepared soils don't have lots of nutrients - at least they don't break down enough to supply all the nutrition plants need. Building a soil that DOES break down fast enough to supply nutritional needs usually comes with its own set of problems.

The gritty mix is designed to eliminate perched water and provide excellent aeration for as long as it's prudent to have a plant in the same soil. Because it has a 2/3 inorganic fraction, you can count on it to not collapse. It might lose a fraction of its volume over time, but unlike most soils based on a large fraction of organic ingredients it still won't break down to the point where it potentially becomes a significant limiting factor.

What's important to the grower is that he understands the concept and how to manipulate the size and composition of ingredients so what he ends up with enhances his growing experience. Once you begin adding fine ingredients to the gritty mix, you introduce perched water and reduce aeration. Yes, the soil might still be very servicable, and a much better choice than soils based on peat/compost ......., but it's not all that it could be.

I love to see growers taking advantage of all the gritty mix can offer, but adding fine ingredients pretty much makes it just another soil. In view of that, I've always suggested that rather than go to the effort & expense of making the gritty mix, then adding or leaving fine ingredients in the components, the grower would be just as well served to make a soil like the 5:1:1 mix, which is easier to make and less expensive.

Getting nutrients to your plants is easy - monkey easy. More than 20 years ago, I changed my focus to concentrating on the structure of my soils, specifically drainage/aeration, and shouldered the responsibility for providing ALL my plant's nutrition - or at least I acted as though they were getting no nutrients from the soil. I never looked back. It transformed my plants from sometimes pretty good/sometimes eh, to plants that almost always satisfy my need to see them growing as near to their potential as possible.

********************************************************************

M - if you use a 2 cu ft bag of bark + 5 gal peat + 5 gal perlite you should get about 22 gallons of soil.

The key is finding bark that is appropriate in size.

It's best if you can let the damp soil rest for a week or two after you make it so the lime can react, but most of us don't pay much attention to that. I think you'll notice a little more BER in first fruits of veggies prone to the malady, and occasionally a few deformed leaves if you use it right away, but I often make/use it same day/next day.

Wicking is often a strategy we suggest for heavier, water-retentive soils - soils you can't water properly w/o risking the soil staying wet so long it causes root issues, or maybe for the 5:1:1 mix if you want to start a small plant in a large container, but a well-made 5:1:1 mix shouldn't normally need a wick.

TIP: The fastest way to a green thumb is by learning all you can. Experience is valuable, but still, it's over-rated. Gain as much knowledge as you can, then let your practical experience validate what you've learned. Too often, those that depend only on experience wind up inventing science to fit their observations (and myths are born), instead of questioning their observations when what they think they are seeing doesn't mesh with what we know of science.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Thanks Josh and Al,

I guess I'll stick to the original gritty mix composition then. So knowing that fertilizers are now necessary, are there any you recommend? I prefer to stick to slow-release pellets where it's less maintenance (one application a season). Again I'm planting a Japanese Maple and from what I know, they don't like high Nitrogen in fertilizers.

Btw, I found a local hydroponics store that sells a variety of fertilizers: http://jonsplantfactory.com/products/category/fertilizers/ Are there any you suggest?

Thanks again

This post was edited by squeezied on Tue, Mar 12, 13 at 15:53


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Hello!

Both Al and I, and many other growers, really like Foliage Pro 9-3-6 by Dyna Gro. I purchase it by the quart at a local hydroponics shop for right around $20. I also use Osmocote 4 month slow-release incorporated into my 5-1-1 mix at the beginning of the season.

I know that Al uses Foliage Pro on his maples and other bonsai, and I do the same. I haven't noticed any ill-effects to date. Over the Winter, I give my maples a reduced dose of fertilizer every few weeks. Here's one of my Trident Maples starting to leaf out.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 12, 13 at 21:30

Squeezied - Remember it's not the NPK % on the package that controls the actual amount of N a plant receives - the grower does that. It's as easy to over-supply N using 4-4-4 as it is using 24-8-16.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Thanks guys,

My local hydroponics store does sell Foliage Pro 9-3-6 by Dyna Gro. But I want to consider using slow release fertilizers instead. Would the Osmocote Time Release (14-14-14) be a good alternative?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Mar 13, 13 at 17:01

14-14-14 is a 1:1:1 ratio, and not very close to the ratio in which plants actually USE nutrients. There are a number of CRFs out there in a 3:1:2 ratio, or very close to it (like 18-6-12). Try to find one that contains all the elements (including the micronutrients) essential for normal growth.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

I like Osmocote Plus 15-9-12, with 9 minors including calcium and magnesium. It's supposed to last 6 months, but that will depend on your temperatures and watering routine. Most Osmocote formulations sold to the general public do not contain the trace minerals. I have found this at Ace Hardware and Meijer stores in the midwest.

Here is a link that might be useful: Osmocote 15-9-12


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by MDutton 5 (Kansas City) (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 14, 13 at 18:05

Al- Many thanks! These forums are such a great resource. I still have much to learn, but I feel like I'm taking some steps in the right direction this year.

I'm trying to round up all the components, so I can get a batch (or three) made by the weekend. We've got good weather in the forecast, and I'm dying to get outside! I think I'll leave it sit for the two weeks, to try to avoid any unnecessary BER. No harm in stacking the deck in my favor, right? :)

I *think* I've found the right type of pine bark... But I'd love a second opinion. I'm having a hard time accepting the fact that it was so easy! It has some larger chunks (second photo), but I can easily pick them out. The bags were damp when I bought them, so the color looks a bit dark. This stuff is mostly fine, and feels somewhat composted. For $3 a bag, I figured I'd give it a shot!

 photo CE565F3E-DCEA-42F4-AFC4-68BD75EBCB59-17693-000012BA69C22258_zps4ae88766.jpg

(That's a dime in there, for size comparison...)

 photo 1134D809-87C7-4ADF-BFFF-D50A73FC2071-17693-000012BA65D1CC0D_zpsd75e33f2.jpg

Do I need to worry about the long, skinny pieces? Is that considered sapwood? I'm also considering reducing the amount of peat a bit, since this stuff has quite a bit of fine material. Any thoughts/advice are, as always, welcomed with open arms!


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Mar 15, 13 at 18:10

Is this all pine bark? You're right about it being pretty well composted ..... and about maybe leaving the peat out if you use it.

Maybe you could screen it over 1/8" mesh & use the fines to add to your beds or garden .... or lawn. Keep your eyes peeled for something that isn't so degraded.

The amount of sapwood in the material shown is pretty normal.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Al- I gave up on the other bark. After screening about half a bag, there just wasn't enough salvageable material to be worth the effort.

After multiple phone calls and trips all over town, I *think* (and hope!) I've found a more suitable source of pine bark. After re-reading through the thread (and various others on the topic of the elusive PBF), I'm thinking that the bark shown at the top left and the right are what I'm after. The left is screened through 1/2", the top left is just some bits I've picked out. The rest is like the bottom pile, very fine.

As always, your input is much appreciated!

 photo ADD59024-15BC-4EAC-BEF8-7DE9C5D13416-22815-0000183F47CA77BB_zps99d06810.jpg


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 19, 13 at 15:11

The bark at 10 o'clock looks good for the gritty mix; and I'm thinking you could use the bark unscreened for the 5:1:1 mix with no problem, as long as that large stuff isn't the primary fraction.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

I can't remember if I asked this in a previous version of the thread, but I don't think I ever got around to it.

I frequently forget to add gypsum when I make up some gritty mix -- is it fine to add it to the water like the Epsom salts (if necessary), and how much would I put in the water?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 19, 13 at 16:27

It's not soluble, so there's no advantage to adding it to water. If you need it - add about 1 tbsp per gallon of soil. I use Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 because it contains Ca and Mg, so I don 't have to worry about gypsum and Epsom salts.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

That stuff is really hard to find in the UK. So far, I've found two sources -- Ebay, and the site listed below. They're both much more expensive than the fertilisers normally available here, and I do have a bunch of fertiliser and trace mineral sources already. Maybe I should use up the rest of it on the garden so I can use one bottle most of the time...

I'm asking because I don't get how the gypsum acts, physically. Does it need to be 'ground in' to the rest of the mix while it's somewhat dry? What happens to the added gypsum once you start pouring water through the pot?

Here is a link that might be useful: orchidaccessories.co.uk


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by MDutton 5 (Kansas City) (My Page) on
    Wed, Mar 20, 13 at 12:12

Al- "Unscreened" is music to my ears! I started the screening process, and after about 20 minutes, I started to wonder why on earth I thought this was such a great idea. LOL

The larger pieces are easy enough to pick out, and even to break up and put back into the mix. If I use this mix unscreened, would you recommend reducing the peat at all? Or eliminating it all together?

So sorry to be such a pest!

--Malaya


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

I would like to thank tapla for all the work and information he has provided. A kudos is well deserved.

I do have a few questions. First, at what percentage of fines would you eliminate the peat from the 511 mix? I am fortunate to have a bark mulch plant close to my house and can get anything I want yet the finer I want it screened the more 1/8" and less I get.

Second, I noticed that you suggested a Napa product in an older post (floor dry) as a substitute for turface yet you only suggested it if someone wanted more water retention. Turface or allsport is a foreign matter in this area so what is the downside of using this napa product as it is readily available?

Lastly I have pile of crushed stone, used to be used for stucco stones (truck loads), that I can screen to be in the 2.5-4.5mm range. Does rock composition dramatically effect the gritty mix?

Thanks again


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 21, 13 at 21:53

Malaya - you're not a pest - this is fun. ;-)

It's really hard to have a feeling for whether or not peat added to the bark you have would be a plus or minus. Maybe a picture of a handful of the bark would help.

SCG - I think if more than 20% of the bark I was using passed an 1/8" screen, I'd be considering eliminating some or all of the peat, or including the peat but increasing the perlite fraction.

On a size for size basis, the potential downside of using the floor dry from NAPA is it's a little less stable (structurally) than Turface and comes in at a pH of about 7.0. Depending on how it's used, its added water retention could be either a plus or a minus.

Rock composition, from a chemical perspective can have a significant impact on utilitarian considerations. From a structural perspective, it wouldn't make a lot of difference on a size for size basis, but I would give a nod to material with a lot of surface irregularities (like crushed granite ore cherrystone) over something smooth like screened peastone or aquarium gravel.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by wndy USDA z4b MN (My Page) on
    Sat, Mar 23, 13 at 0:46

My goodness what a great thread! I'm planning on repotting almost all of my houseplants this June (they all need it, as it's never been done!) so soon I'll have to go a-PBF-huntin'.

From what I understand, gritty mix has no PWT, and is very stable, so you use it for trees and things that you definitely want good drainage on, and don't need to be repotted every year? And then, 5-1-1 mix is cheaper to make, but has a PWT, and degrades over time due to more organic material? Hope I got it right.

Tonight, I'm making a 5-1-1 "inspired" mix to finally plant a water-rooted :-/ cutting. I hand-crushed the MG orchid mix bark I had on hand 'till it looked about the right size, to make the "5" Then I added about 2 parts perlite. I had some spaghnum moss on hand so I tore that up a bit and added a teeny bit of it to the mix, to make the 1. I didn't screen the bark, so there are some tiny pieces in there too, but the mix looked alright to me... I will put it in a container with drain holes & a wick as well, just in case it doesn't drain well, though I think it will. I'll post the ficus cutting stuff in another thread.

Oh, I was trying to find information on what happens to cuttings with water roots once they are put in medium, and I never found an answer, but I'll make a new thread for that. Why I mention it here is because I ran into a cool PDF entitled "Chapter 5: Roots and Root Systems" which appears to be from "Water relations of plants and soils" by Paul J Kramer and John S. Boyer (1995). I'll link the chapter at the end. It's really ASTOUNDING how important proper aeration is. I quote,

"Oxygen diffuses nearly 10,000 times as rapidly in air as in water, and since the concentration of oxygen at 15°C is 30 times greater in air than in water, the actual transport of oxygen to roots is about 300,000 times greater through air-filled pore spaces than when they are filled with water. Even in unflooded soil the presence of water films on the roots reduces the oxygen supply, and flooding of the capillary pore space of soil is likely to result in roots suffering severe oxygen deficiency." (Kramer & Boyer 147:1995)

yowza!

Here is a link that might be useful: http://dspace.udel.edu:8080/dspace/bitstream/handle/19716/2830/Chapter 5. Roots and Root Systems.pdf


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

I've started cuttings in water and left them in a little too long, and I found that for the most part the plant would grow a new set of roots instead of extending the old ones. But I don't really have enough data points to offer anything more than that observation.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Hi Guys and Gals!

This is for Antham if

he or she is still interested in the Turface screening...

I'm not sure if you are still around, but I did promise you a pic of how I screen my Turface, so here it is...

I hope the other info helped you....

Take care,

Laura

 photo 011-16.jpg

 photo 013-13.jpg
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 photo 016-12.jpg
Lava Flow photo 026-17.jpg
Lava flow Plumeria... Just for fun! ;-)

Goodnight!

Laura


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Mar 24, 13 at 14:41

Wndy - remember, you need to temper what you supplied in bold with the thought that plants rooted in water actually form a different kind of tissue in roots to compensate for the lack of O2. The problem comes in making the transition from water to a solid medium. Usually the lion's share of the roots break during the repot (they are exceptionally brittle) or die during the transitional phase. This, in effect, sees the cutting using finite energy reserves to build a root system it has to then REbuild after being potted in a solid medium. In a nutshell, that is why you don't see pro propagators propagating cuttings in water.

This sort of speaks to what Sutremaine offered, too. Here is something I wrote about rooting in water:

Though roots form readily and often seemingly more quickly on many plants propagated in water, the roots produced are quite different from those produced in a soil-like or highly aerated medium (perlite - screened Turface - calcined DE - seed starting mix, e.g.). Physiologically, you will find these roots to be much more brittle than normal roots due to a much higher percentage of aerenchyma (a tissue with a greater percentage of intercellular air spaces than normal parenchyma).

Aerenchyma tissue is filled with airy compartments. It usually forms in already rooted plants as a result of highly selective cell death and dissolution in the root cortex in response to hypoxic conditions in the rhizosphere (root zone). There are 2 types of aerenchymous tissue. One type is formed by cell differentiation and subsequent collapse, and the other type is formed by cell separation without collapse ( as in water-rooted plants). In both cases, the long continuous air spaces allow diffusion of oxygen (and probably ethylene) from shoots to roots that would normally be unavailable to plants with roots growing in hypoxic media. In fresh cuttings placed in water, aerenchymous tiossue forms due to the same hypoxic conditions w/o cell death & dissolution.
Note too, that under hypoxic (airless - low O2 levels) conditions, ethylene is necessary for aerenchyma to form. This parallels the fact that low oxygen concentrations, as found in water rooting, generally stimulate trees (I'm a tree guy) and other plants to produce ethylene. For a long while it was believed that high levels of ethylene stimulate adventitious root formation, but lots of recent research proves the reverse to be true. Under hypoxic conditions, like submergence in water, ethylene actually slows down adventitious root formation and elongation.

If you wish to eventually plant your rooted cuttings in soil, it is probably best not to root them in water because of the frequent difficulty in transplanting them to soil. The brittle "water-formed” roots often break during transplant & those that don't break are very poor at water absorption and often die. The effect is equivalent to beginning the cutting process over again with a cutting in which vitality has likely been reduced.
If you do a side by side comparison of cuttings rooted in water & cuttings rooted in soil, the cuttings in soil will always (for an extremely high percentage of plants) have a leg up in development on those moved from water to a soil medium for the reasons outlined above.

Thanks for the help Laura. The helpful hints you always give are appreciated by all, I'm sure - and I always enjoy looking at your lovely plant pictures! Thanks for sharing your accomplishments!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by wndy USDA z4b MN (My Page) on
    Sun, Mar 24, 13 at 21:34

I love how we are still learning about plant biology... that what was once held true is subsequently unraveled.. I just like the idea what we will never know everything, but we can attempt to understand more and more...

Al -- thank you for pointing out that the part I bolded was referring to standard roots and not water roots! I was really shocked when I read that, it makes more sense now :)

Oh and about that cutting... once I started browsing GW forums not long ago, I found out that water rooting is definitely not the way to go, but unfortunately I started out this one cutting in water so I had to transfer it :-/

I hope it makes it! We'll see though.. at least I still have the tree (Which I need to prune) to make more cuttings.

And Laura, thank you so much for the pictures! (I'm a big learn-by-seeing person) I'll be making a gritty mix sooner or later, so it's nice to see the size of screen you're using. It reminds me of a grease-screen for a frying pan... is that it, or something else? I did a bit more reading just now and I see that I can use insect screen and standard kitchen screens, good to know. :)


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Hey Al,

So I decided to go with Foliage-Pro as you recommended. I think I may have added more than the 1 tsp per gallon of water. I didn't have a measuring device with me so I just guestimated the amount. In hindsight I think it was alot more than 1 tsp.

I think I roughy put half of that gallon of fertilized water into the containerized (gritty mix) japanese maple and the other half for in-ground japanese maple.

I'm a bit concerned about my in-ground japanese maple as the soil medium obviously does not drain as well as the gritty mix, thus draining the excess fertilizer. Is this a concern? Would you recommend that I water my japanese maples to dilute the fertilizer? I live in the Pacific Northwest, so it's already pretty wet.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Hey Al,

So I decided to go with Foliage-Pro as you recommended. I think I may have added more than the 1 tsp per gallon of water. I didn't have a measuring device with me so I just guestimated the amount. In hindsight I think it was alot more than 1 tsp.

I think I roughy put half of that gallon of fertilized water into the containerized (gritty mix) japanese maple and the other half for in-ground japanese maple.

I'm a bit concerned about my in-ground japanese maple as the soil medium obviously does not drain as well as the gritty mix, thus draining the excess fertilizer. Is this a concern? Would you recommend that I water my japanese maples to dilute the fertilizer? I live in the Pacific Northwest, so it's already pretty wet.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Al, I keep forgetting to thank you for your response. I felt kind of stupid because the next day I was able to locate all the answers. Funny how using the same search on google came up with hits for this site but a search here didn't hit.

FWIW to all, exactly one week ago I repotted some coleus and petunia seedlings into the 5:1:1 and some into container soil from the store. The ones in the 5:1:1 are easily 40-50% bigger. Same holds true to some african marigolds that were 7 weeks old. Thanks again.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Hello Everyone!

Wndy.. I bought my screens at Walmart and a few a Target in the kitchen department. They are just the right size and they work really well. The one does look like the screen for frying but it isn't flat like most frying protectors are.

Good luck with your mix and glad to help...

Hi Al... You are more than welcome. Always enjoy trying to help! I hope you and your family have a wonderful Easter!

Happy Easter Everyone!

Laura


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Hey, Laura! Nice pics :-)

Squeezied, whenever you suspect over-fertilization, it would be a good idea to water/flush your containers. In the ground, you're not as likely to see the effects of over-fertilization (save for specific soil-types, planting circumstances).

Without knowing how much you fertilized the container maple, we can't really predict the effects. However, I have used a full Tablespoon of Foliage Pro on my citrus to get them back on track during the heavy feeding months, and never saw any negative effect. I know that Al also uses heavier doses when maximizing growth for bonsai candidates or material he's growing on for other purposes.


Josh


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

So happy to find this thread still alive and Al still tending it.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Apr 1, 13 at 16:04

Hey! It's been a while since I saw anything from you! Thanks for the kind words .... and HELLO!

Thanks for the Easter wish, Laura. I hope you & the family had a good weekend!

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Had to bump this. Way to important to be on page 3 this time of year.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Al, I plan on using your 511 mix for my tomatoes. Ohiofem has helped me out in terms of ratios, but just to be certain, if I am using 20 gallon smart pots, around 10, can you help me out here? and in terms of fertilizer, any recommendations? I live in montreal, so I don't know if I can get some of the same stuff. Also, as I was reading above, is screening necessary as long as the majority of fines are not in chunks?
Thanks a million. Sharon (math is not my strong suit and this is my first time using this mix, so have patience with me!)


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 14, 13 at 14:31

What is your question? Is it related to how much material you'll need to make the soil? If so, you'll need about a cu yd of soil, which is 27 cu ft. Because the peat and perlite doesn't add appreciably to the volume, you'll need about 22 cu ft of bark and 4 cu ft each of peat & perlite, and about 14 cups of garden (dolomitic) lime.

The size of the bark is important. look for something like this:
 photo 003.jpg
 photo 008.jpg

When you're finished, it should look like this:
 photo 013.jpg

The bark you see in the picture doesn't need screening. Ideally, the bark would be in flat pieces from dust size to under 1/2" with most of the bark concentrated from the 1/8" to 3/8" size. I usually manage to find something perfect or close to perfect every year, so I don't have to screen.

I use a 3:1:2 ratio fertilizer (Foliage-Pro 9-3-6) and add a little extra K (in the form of Pro-TeKt 0-0-3) once the plants start fruiting. 3:1:2 or 2:1:2 ratios are good for tomatoes, plus the extra K.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Al, you have answered my questions for now!! Not to sound dense or anything, but with this mix, we don't add compost? Also, with tomatoes, what is your recommendation on how often to fertilize? Hope I don't sound like a complete moron, but like I said, I have never used this medium before so it's all new to me and I want to be sure I'm doing this correctly!
Thanks a million, Sharon


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Al, you have answered my questions for now!! Not to sound dense or anything, but with this mix, we don't add compost? Also, with tomatoes, what is your recommendation on how often to fertilize? Hope I don't sound like a complete moron, but like I said, I have never used this medium before so it's all new to me and I want to be sure I'm doing this correctly!
Thanks a million, Sharon


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 14, 13 at 21:52

We're all very patient here, and can see you're sincere. We're always willing to help anyone who needs it or asks for it - we enjoy it or we wouldn't be here; so don't worry about asking questions. You can bet there is someone wondering the same things you are, and that someone will come behind you & read the replies to your questions and gain something from what you asked.

For tomatoes in the 5:1:1 mix, I fertilize weekly with at least a half recommended strength dose of soluble fertilizer. You can use compost instead of the peat if you want, but the idea is to only add enough peat/compost to give you enough water retention that you can live with watering intervals. IOW - the aeration is great, but not if you're going to be unable to keep up with the watering.

In the 5:1:1 mix you see in my picture, a mature tomato plant in an 18-20 gallon container will prolly need watering every day or every other day. I'm good with that.

Most people do very well the first year they use the 5:1:1 mix. After they've used it for a year, they are able to start tuning it because they've developed a 'feel' for it. You'll see what I mean ....

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Al, thanks for the encouragement. I'm going to need it! You've done a lot to alleviate my anxieties. I do have another question regarding pest control and any diseases which is a bit off topic. I remember reading about spraying early and alternating the spraying between insect control and fungus blight etc. but I cant find the post. Any thoughts and recommendations?
Sharon


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Apr 15, 13 at 15:31

It's in my best interest to be encouraging because I like to be around enthusiastic people. ;-)

I'll leave the control issues up to you. A lot of growers use chlorothalonil (brand names include Bravo, Echo, and Daconil), maneb, or mancozeb fungicides prophylactically to guard against blight and septoria leaf spot (easier to prevent than cure). When it comes to bugs, you should get them identified and choose the least noxious remedy that will eliminate the specific pest or reduce their numbers to something you can live with.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

I'll take that as a compliment! Thanks, Al. You'll be hearing from me soon, of that I'm sure.

I'll leave my questions on seedlings on another forum!

Thanks, you're the best,
Sharon


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by wndy USDA z4b MN (My Page) on
    Tue, Apr 16, 13 at 11:33

Laura -- thanks for the info on the screens!

Al - three weeks ago I posted that I was going to properly plant my ficus cutting in medium instead of the water it was sitting in. At the time it had a few water roots, maybe 1" long? I think it took make a month to get those roots? Anyhow...

The ficus cutting has been in a 1.5 cup size cylindrical container of "gritty-mix inspired" medium, not tented, but in the midst of lots of other plants. It was planted maybe 1" to 1.5" deep. The container is resting on big chunks of bark which are inside a bigger container, and the cloth wick from the small container touches the bark (I figured this would help with wicking).

anyhow, three weeks later... there is a one inch root coming out the bottom! I hadn't even realized that three weeks had past! The root looks like a water root, which I think is because the bark area has water on the bottom. Anyhow, I am just shocked how quickly all this has happened--especially since the poor thing already spent energy on water roots.

Now I need to figure out when to pot it up....

Thanks again Al!


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Apr 16, 13 at 17:36

I'll be leaving for a little vacation tomo - doubt if I'll have an opportunity to get to a puter. There are lots of folks here who can answer all your questions though - just wanted to give you a heads-up.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Thanks Al. I appreciate your letting me know. If I get desperate, I'll start a thread or something. Anyways at this stage, I'm just keeping an eye on my seedlings! Have a great vacation.

Sharon


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Hi Wndy,

Glad to help!!

I also like to see pictures when we speak of containers , mixes and particle size. It is important to post pics and i appreciate your kindness. If you ever have any questions, please ask. I always like to help!! ;-)

Hi Josh!! I hope you had a great Easter!! Hope all is well with you and yours in CA!!

Happy growing to you...

Hi AL.. Glad to hear you and your family had a wonderful Easter too! Have a great vacation!!

Take care,

Laura


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  • Posted by filix z 5 maine (My Page) on
    Thu, Apr 18, 13 at 6:31

I'm still making these soils after so many years. Thanks Al. I hope you have a nice vacation. filix.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Need some help from anyone. I know Al is away. I have been searching for pine bark fines in the Montreal area. Nothing. Here's what I have found so far:
1. Medium Pine bark - but the bag is not see thru so I cannot determine except by feel the size. They feel bigger than 1/2".
2. Cacoa shell mulch
3. Hemlock mulch
4. Pine bark nuggets (again not visible and I'm thinking this is what I need)
5. Cedar mulch
6. ProMix BX with Mycrorrizae - 75% peat, perlite, vermiculite and dolomitic and calcite limestone with mycorrizae.
7. Fafard has a container mix - Coconut fiber, peat moss,and biosol compost.

I would greatly appreciate any feedback or help here. As I said, the pine nuggets and medium bark were not visible unless I ripped open a bag, which I wasnt' willing to do.By feel the nuggets might be a good bet. The hemlock seemed better, again not sure.

Thanks, Sharon


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Question about the perlite - is there a size I should be looking for?
thanks,
Sharon


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Hi Sharon. I don't want to discourage you, but I don't think any of the 7 choices you list as a replacement for pine fines is going to work. It is important to use pine or fir bark in a size smaller than 1/2 inch. Sometimes you'll find small pine nuggets that work, especially if they are composted, but most of it is 1 inch or bigger. I don't know much about hemlock or cedar, but the hemlock and cedar mulch I've seen is in shreds, which won't work. Cocoa shells and coconut fiber are definitely out because they behave very differently than bark. And Promix and Fafard potting mixes are mostly peat. Since you are going to need a cubic yard, maybe you could contact some landscaping companies to see if they can get it for you in bulk.

As for the perlite, you want the coarsest stuff you can buy. In the states, the bigger bags (4 cubic feet) are much cheaper than the little bags.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Thanks for the tip. Someone mentioned that hemlock would work if its the right size. I'm going to have to check it out. What else do you suggest I use? I'm getting discouraged. Most of what I'm finding is either really shredded or large pieces. We have Home Depot here and they will order pine bark but their description of the product doesn't indicate what size the pieces are.
For the perlite hopefully that shouldn't be a problem. I have a couple of other landscaping sources to check out. Guess I might have to poke a small hole in a few bags. Any help would be really appreciated.
Thanks, Sharon


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Hey Dave.

Wanted to bump this for you !

Have fun with this info!

Thanks AL!

Take Care,

Laura


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Hello Al / All,

Thank you Al for responding to my email. Very helpful.

Next set of questions:

Is there any container plant that shouldn't be grown in the gritty mix? I'm working on citrus, figs, herbs, bamboo, birds of paradise, and the odd flowering shrub or two.

Also, I'm aiming for particles between 1/4" and 1/8", correct? So a 1/4" screen should work, yes?

Apologies in advance if this has already been addressed.

Best,
Joe V

PS---fellow Lo-CaLers: Turface is available at
Simplot
6160 Marindustry Dr
San Diego CA
(800) 552-8873


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

1/4" to 1/8" is correct for the gritty mix, so a 1/4" screen will work. But you also don't want any powder in it, so I used a 1/8" screen also.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Bump!

Grown in my own rendition of the Gritty Mix... slightly correcting for a teeny bit more moisture retention...

Mike, this one's for you! :-)

 photo mygift2_zps6bbf69c0.jpg


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

I started reading GW because I have an avocado that desperately needs to be re-potted. After reading some of those threads, I stumbled upon this one and have been fascinated by things I had no clue about. Anyway, I decided to make the gritty mix and have been searching for the ingredients. I did find a soil conditioner that I think is the pine bark fines and I found some Poultry Grit by Manna Pro. There may be a place that has the Turface, but they're closed today, so I don't know for sure on that one. Anyway, I think I read that there is some DE sold by Napa that can be substituted for the Turface. Is this correct? I am really looking forward to trying this mix. Any help will be appreciated.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Here's some pictures of my pine bark fines. I screened using a pond basket (thanks Josh) to get the dust out. I still need to get the sapwood out.

I haven't figured out how to put more than one pic on her or I would seek advice as to what to do with my avocado. Maybe another post in another thread.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Just took this photo to take to the NAPA store so I can buy more. They often try to tell me it doesn't exist, or try to sell me oil dry, which is not the same. I love this stuff. It is a little more water retentive than Turface or perlite.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Thanks Ohio. Do I need to add the gypsum if I use the Floor-Dry?


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, May 18, 13 at 21:29

Whether or not you need gypsum (and Epsom salts) depends on whether or not the fertilizer you're using has Ca (and Mg). If your fertilizer lacks Ca, add 2-3 tsp of gypsum/gallon of soil when you make it. If your fertilizer lacks Mg, use 1/8-1/4 tsp of Epsom salts added to your fertilizer solution every time you fertilize. Easiest is to use a complete fertilizer that also has all the secondary macros and all the micros in an appropriate ratio. I prefer a 3:1:2 RATIO fertilizer (RATIO is different than NPK %s. 24-8-16, 12-4-8, and 9-3-6 are all 3:1:2 ratio fertilizers. Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 has all the essential nutrients (including Ca/Mg) in a ratio appropriate for almost all plants. It's essentially all I use as my 'go to' fertilizer.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

I fjound the Turface at a john Deere store and the "soil conditioner" at a local nursery. There is a stone and sand place that sells something called #89 grainite. I bought three 5-gallon buckets and screened using 1/4" screen and insect screen. Will this suffice? They also sell crushed limestone, but I due to pH concerns, I thought the granite would be better.

Thomas


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, May 23, 13 at 17:33

The granite should be in a size range from 3/32-3/16 for best results. Gran-I-Grit in grower size, #2 cherrystone, and Mana Pro in poultry size all work very well.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Al, not to be redundant, but I finally found the pine bark necessary for the 511 mix.Of course our weather has been really dreadful, but in any event, I have a couple of questions. For the fertilizing, do you still recommend adding a slow release fertilizer when planting and should I add Epsom Salts or not necessary? I have everything, just waiting for the weather to clear up and be safe for the tomatoes. It's Montreal, we never know one minute to the next what the weather will be.
Thanks, Sharon


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Al, not to be redundant, but I finally found the pine bark necessary for the 511 mix.Of course our weather has been really dreadful, but in any event, I have a couple of questions. For the fertilizing, do you still recommend adding a slow release fertilizer when planting and should I add Epsom Salts or not necessary? I have everything, just waiting for the weather to clear up and be safe for the tomatoes. It's Montreal, we never know one minute to the next what the weather will be.
Thanks, Sharon


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Al, not to be redundant, but I finally found the pine bark necessary for the 511 mix.Of course our weather has been really dreadful, but in any event, I have a couple of questions. For the fertilizing, do you still recommend adding a slow release fertilizer when planting and should I add Epsom Salts or not necessary? I have everything, just waiting for the weather to clear up and be safe for the tomatoes. It's Montreal, we never know one minute to the next what the weather will be.
Thanks, Sharon


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

I've been using the gritty mix for succulents indoors. I've checked to make sure I don't have a perched water table but using a toothpick in the bottom of the pot after it stops draining. Nothing drips out so I assume I'm good as far as that goes.

How often can/should I be watering? I was watering once a week but my plants seem to be suffering a little. I generally tend to over water so I wanted to check with the experts before I water more. Thanks for your help!

Here is a link that might be useful: Succulents and Sunshine


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Al and others, thank you for years worth of very useful info in this thread. I am a total newbie and just went through 5 or so of the 16 sub-threads over several days. Some questions recur and answers are difficult to find in all these screens. Perhaps a FAQ that includes details on each ingredient would simplify things for active responders (no need to repeat) and those looking for answers like me. FAQ should probably include sizes of the ingredients, names they can go by, substitutions if you can't find it, best pictures, and brand names. Maybe some general advice on variations of the mix depending on what people are growing; how often they want to water, how big the container is etc. Anyway, just a thought.

My question is : how long can I store my 5-1-1 mix with lime and fertilizer mixed in? I am afraid the fertilizer granules will start leaching if stored mixed into the soil. I have relatively small quantity of plants and am still building my collection, so there is a very good chance that I'll need the mix again and again this season and can definitely use it next season if I can store the mix. It will be stored indoors. I prefer not to mix it every time when needed in order to minimize the mess. Maybe I can mix only what can be stored for some months and then just add fertilizer or whichever components start degrading sooner? What do you guys recommend? Thanks.

This post was edited by greentoe357 on Thu, May 30, 13 at 4:41


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

I mix my ingredients in a fairly dry state and have not worried about the lime or Osmocote Plus breaking down while in storage. Both are pelletized and require water to be activated. I make 25 gallons of mix at a time in a compost tumbler. If I added water to the mix, I wouldn't be able to turn the tumbler. I add the water when filling the pots. If I have time, I let the pots with wet soil sit for several days after watering to allow the ingredients to begin working. Sometimes -- like when I am potting up a plant whose pot has broken -- I don't wait.

You could wait to add the lime and fertilizer to the other ingredients until just before using the mix if you want to be especially careful. I stored a 30-gallon garbage can of completed 5-1-1 mix in my garage over the winter and saw no problems develop in the plants I used it on this spring. I've done the same things with store-bought potting mixes that have a fertilizer charge.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, May 30, 13 at 17:33

Sharonie - you prolly don't need Epsom salts at all in the first year of using a particular measure of soil if you used dolomite. If you push the soil to a second year of service, some Mg supplementation might be necessary because the Mg is much more soluble than the Ca fraction of dolomite. GOOD LUCK!!! ;-)

Cameracassidy - If you made the gritty mix correctly, it will be hard to over-water even succulents ...... but still, it's best not to tempt fate. If your pot is deep and the root mass shallow, you might need to water every other day until the roots colonize the soil. I regularly leave cacti/succulents out in even shallow puts during periods of extended rainy, wet weather with no root issues.

If you're worried about over-watering, why not use a wick or tilt the pot and water more often until you're sure the roots have found a home deep in the pot?

 photo PWTs.jpg

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Great illustration, Al. I hope you're going to continue this topic for a 17th round. It is such a valuable service. I wish GW had sticky threads.


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Jun 4, 13 at 13:23

I have lots of sticky threads at a competing forum site. There, they make them a sticky if one or two members other than the original poster make the request that they be pinned to the top of the forum. Not sure why they don't do that here ..... maybe if enough people requested it? I do intend to continue the thread when it tops out. It's been soo much fun, and I've met soo many interesting people through my participation here. I haven't been around as much as I usually am lately. I get a lot of mail off forum that I try to answer, and I've been really busy with work and my own garden/bonsai projects this spring. I read more than I post, and everyone has been giving such good advice lately that I don't have as much opportunity to join the exchanges. For the most part, we're pretty much all on the same page.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Hi Guys!

I agree. This needs to be at the top of the forum since it is the most informative thread for all levels of growers! I always find people asking me questions through emails and I like to send them here or send them the link .

Great information Al. Thank you!!

I will let them know my thoughts on the sticky idea!!!

Hope you are having a wonderful summer!!! ;-)

Take care,

Laura

This post was edited by loveplants2 on Thu, Jun 6, 13 at 22:12


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

Bump!!!

Get ready, Al...

It's getting close!!!

Thanks for all you do!!

Laura


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Jun 10, 13 at 16:53

Thanks for the reminder, Laura.

Al


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RE: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XVI

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Jun 10, 13 at 16:59

Now is a good time to jump in and leave a link to the new thread. Thank you, and everyone else for helping to get the word out to more & more growers. I can see it's making a difference!

You can find this thread continued here.

THANKS AGAIN!

Here is a link that might be useful: New thread


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