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Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
Fri, Oct 21, 11 at 14:00

Good Growing Practices -
An Overview for Beginners

My hope is that this thread becomes a gathering place for beginners and the experienced alike, a place where reliable information that is rooted in sound science and horticulture can be found. We will see how that 'gathering' part goes, but I have enjoyed enthusiastic participation on many of my other threads on this and other fora, so I am optimistic.

As I consider what I am going to share with you and how to go about sharing it, I am compelled to offer some background that will hopefully allow some degree of comfort in placing some measure of value on my commentary. I enjoy the growing experience tremendously. I have worked hard toward increasing my skill level for more than 20 years, and I look at sharing what I have learned about the growing sciences as a natural extension of the enjoyment I get from nurturing plants - sort of nurturing people who nurture plants. I am invited to lecture frequently in the mid-MI area, and occasionally beyond. I lecture, conduct workshops, and do demonstrations on a variety of subjects related to growing, but most frequently I talk about things related to container culture, with maintaining houseplants being one of the most requested topics. I also enjoy participating here at Garden Web and at another popular garden forum sites. Hopefully we will be using some links to some of my other offerings here that will help you share some of the confidence others have shown in the reliability of my offerings. Those that know me know I am not after recognition or glory, I simply feel I can help any beginner with a willingness to learn and apply the newfound information, and I get a large measure of personal satisfaction from the feeling I may have helped someone along the path to becoming a better grower.

The first challenge is to offer information that a beginner can digest, and in such a way that he or she feels it is important enough to act on. I am first going to flesh out the main issues that, if understood, will make anyone a better grower and hope I have created enough interest that there will be plenty of questions so I can go into greater detail in the answers. For what it is worth, I tend to look at growing anything in containers from the perspective of what is best for the plant, not what is best for the grower. Far more often than not, the two ideas are mutually exclusive, so if grower convenience is a large priority of anyone reading this, there is not much sense in reading on. Growing well does take a little thought and a little effort.

The houseplants we grow are perennials nearly all, capable of growing for many, many years and of being passed from generation to generation. With attention to the areas I will cover in this post, you will discover that you can maintain your plants in good health for as long as you continue to commit to providing favorable cultural conditions. Your plants are all genetically programmed by Mother Nature to grow well and look beautiful. It is only a lack of knowledge and skill in the area of providing the cultural conditions they prefer that prevents them from growing to their potential. That sounds harsh, but it is the truth.

I have never seen anyone other than me discuss growing plants in containers from this perspective, that is (and it bears repeating) your plants are already genetically programmed to grow well and look beautiful, but it is up to you as a grower to eliminate the limitations so often associated with growing in containers. This post is about isolating some of the factors that are commonly the most limiting and helping you to reduce the limiting effects. For more information on the concept of limiting effects, do a search using the words "Liebig's Law of the Minimum" or follow this embedded link to How Plant Growth is Limited additional discussion.

Soil choice - Growers should realize that the most important choice they will make when establishing a new planting or when repotting is their choice of soil. A poor soil is probably behind more than 90% of the issues that growers come to the forums seeking remedial help for. Collapsed or dead plants, spoiled foliage, insect infestations, disease issues are all symptoms usually traceable directly or indirectly to a poor soil. This is so important to understand, that I will devote the bulk of my effort toward making it clear why I offer this contention.

Light is extremely important to plants. Plants make their own food, using water, CO2, and energy from the sun. Inadequate light means the plant cannot make enough food to grow to the potential for which it was genetically programmed. I will not go into great detail about light because when it comes to houseplants; you either have good light or are forced to deal with the limiting effects of inadequate light. If the thread finds favor, we can discuss supplementing light and how to prune to help compensate for the leggy appearance caused by insufficient light, or explore other topics of interest relating to light.

Nutrition supplementation is a requirement for normal growth and good health when growing plants in containers. In the earth, many of the nutrients are supplied by minerals in the soil. Container soils usually have no mineral component (and it is best that they do not in most cases - more later), and the soil components break down so slowly and are washed from the soil so quickly that deficiencies are virtually assured if you do not fertilize. Choice of fertilizer is also an important consideration, as we will see.

Repotting vs. potting up - that there is a difference between the two operations is a concept foreign to most hobby growers. One of the practices ensures your plants will at least have the opportunity to grow to their genetic potential within the limits of other cultural conditions; that would be repotting, with its accompanying root maintenance, complete or partial bare-rooting, and a change of soil. Potting up, on the other hand, only temporarily allows the plant to grow a little closer to its genetic potential before root congestion and a diminished number of fine roots quickly returns the plant to the state of limited growth and vitality it was experiencing before potting up.

Watering habits - extremely important and inextricably linked to soil choice, which is why I saved it until the end of this, the short list - so it would lead me back to the most important consideration - the one most apt to determine the difference between frustration and a rewarding growing experience.

Air is as important as water in all soils plants are to be grown in. Plants absolutely love plenty of air in the root zone, and rebel very quickly at too much water in the soil. I am going to describe what happens when you water plants growing in a soil that retains too much water. There are actually two possibilities. The first is, you water, and a part of the soil near the bottom of the container does not drain. This water has a name, it is called 'perched water', so named because it 'perches' (like a bird) in the soil above the pot bottom. This excess water is critically important because it very quickly begins to kill roots growing near the bottom of the pot - within hours. The first roots to die are the roots that do the lion's share of the work - the very fine roots often referred to as 'hair roots'. The longer the soil remains saturated, the larger the diameter of the roots killed. When air finally returns to this once saturated soil, roots can only then begin to regenerate. This takes energy and is extremely expensive for the plant in terms of energy outlay. During the cyclic death and regeneration of roots associated with excessively water-retentive soils, the plant is actually forced by chemical messengers that tell it to 'grow roots', to direct energy that would have otherwise gone into growing more leaves, branches, blooms, fruit, or just increasing the overall mass of the plant, to replacing the lost roots.

The second thing that might happen when you water if you are using a water retentive soil is, you adopt the practice of watering in 'small sips' so the soil remains damp instead of wet; this, to guard against root rot. It makes sense to only give the plant a little water at a time so the soil never gets soggy - right? That might be a workable option if you have the luxury of using water that has been processed through a reverse osmosis water filtering system, or if you are watering with distilled water, but regular tap water has things dissolved in it, like magnesium, calcium, iron, sulfur, and others. If you water in 'sips', these dissolved solids remain in the soil and build up over time. This has an impact on the plant's ability to absorb water and the nutrients dissolved in water. To illustrate the potential impact these dissolved solids have on a plant, picture in your mind what curing salt does to ham or bacon. It literally pulls water from the cells & dries out the meat. Any solutes (anything dissolved) in the solution surrounding plant roots can have the same potential effect on plant cells. It can make it difficult for plants to absorb water and nutrients, it can make it impossible, and in some cases can actually reverse the flow of water so it moves OUT of cells, effectively collapsing and killing them. We commonly call this 'fertilizer burn', but it does not necessarily have to result from an over-application of fertilizer. When people come here wanting a remedy for foliage that is dying, with dried edges & tips, almost always it is the result of over-watering exacerbated by water-retentive soils and the accompanying limitation that has on root function and metabolism, or as a result of the presence of a high level of dissolved solids from fertilizers and tap water having accumulated in the soil making it difficult for the plant to take up water. Both are so closely related to poor, water-retentive soils we can say the problem is inherent if not addressed directly.

Misting cannot correct a problem related to over-watering or a high level of solutes in your plant's soil. Low humidity can be a contributing factor to the common symptoms of necrotic (dead) leaf tips and margins (edges), but for the actual cause, look to impaired root function from over-watering or a high level of dissolved solids in the soil. BOTH of these conditions are nearly always linked to a poor soil. Misting raises humidity for a few minutes, but there are almost 1,500 minutes in a day. Raising humidity for 10 of the 1,500 has virtually no impact on the plant's ability to keep foliage hydrated. If you have foliage with burned leaf tips and margins, you should look to the soil and the state of root health for the cause.

When using water-retentive soils, it seems almost as though we are on the horns of a dilemma. If we water generously, we risk the soil remaining saturated so long it causes root rot, or at a minimum - impaired root function. If we water sparingly, in small sips, we risk an accumulation of dissolved solids from tap water and fertilizer solutions in the soil - so what to do? Well - I think we should look at an option that solves both issues and makes things much easier for the grower, while also providing the grower with considerably more latitude when it comes to watering and fertilizing.

The factor that determines how water retentive and difficult a soil is to grow in, is the size of the particles it is made from. The smaller the particles - the greater the water retention and the greater the degree of difficulty for growers. Soils made of any combination of peat, coir, compost, sand, topsoil, and other fine particulates are going to be very water retentive, which we know is undesirable from the perspective of the plant, and they cannot be suitably amended to correct drainage or the height of the perched water by adding perlite or other drainage material. If anyone disagrees with that statement, please ask for an explanation before mounting an argument or offering individual observations. Adding perlite to soils reduces the overall water retention of the soil, the reduction usually being a plus, but it does nothing measurable for drainage (flow-through rates) or the height of the perched water table, the later being the critical consideration when it comes to a healthy root zone.

Soils made of a high % of pine bark or other inorganic particles will have plenty of large air spaces called macropores. These are pores that will not hold water, only air, even when the soil is as saturated is it can be. They are critical to a healthy root zone. If you build a soil with plenty of air space, it hardly matters what the soil is made from. What is important is how the soil is structured. I will grow a perfectly healthy plant in a bucket of broken glass on a dare and a wager if anyone is interested in taking me up on it. If you have a soil with a healthy structure, a good nutritional supplementation program, and have good available light, the rest is so easy anyone can do it - honest. I have seen it happen over & over and over again. You will not go wrong if your primary focus is providing a healthy - a truly healthy environment for roots. Roots are the heart of the plant. Roots come first. If you cannot keep the roots happy, there is no chance you can keep the rest of the plant happy. That was a paraphrased quote from Dr. Carl Whitcomb, PhD, who wrote the bible on "Plant Production in Containers".

This ends the beginning discussion about soils. Until you are able to grow plants, the growth rate and appearance of which you are happy with, focusing on removing the limitations placed on your plants by soil choice will almost always constitute the best use of your energies. After reading this far, if nothing else, I hope you take that concept from this offering. It is the most important point and the best piece of advice I can give you. If you are interested in knowing HOW to make soils that will help you remove the limitations, now is the time to ask.

Nutrition is an area that is very misunderstood when it comes to container culture, but it is actually very easy. It is also very easy to become confused because there are so many numbers that represent different fertilizer NPK percentages and so many different kinds of fertilizers. I will need to use some numbers, but I think an understanding of NPK percentages as opposed to fertilizer RATIOS is important. NPK %s tell us how much (N)itrogen, (P)hosphorous pentoxide, and (K) potassium oxide (the symbol for potassium is 'K') are in a fertilizer by weight. So a fertilizer that is labeled "All Purpose 24-8-16" is 24% nitrogen, 8% phosphorous, and 16% potassium. 12-4-8 is also a common "all-purpose" fertilizer. It has exactly half the nutrients of 24-8-16, but both are 3:1:2 RATIO fertilizers. Ratios are a way of describing the amount of nutrients in a fertilizer as they relate to each other. Why is this important? It is important because we know that on average, plants use about 6 times as much N as P, and they use about 3/5 as much K as N, and now I will tell you how we can use this information to our plant's advantage.

The ideal way to fertilize is to supply fertilizer at the same ratio in which plants use the nutrients. The reason is because optimal growth and vitality can be had only when nutrients are in the soil at overall levels low enough that it does not become difficult for plants to take up water and nutrients dissolved in that water. Remember what we said above about a high level of soluble in the soil making it difficult for roots to absorb water and nutrients? Nutrients also need to be present at levels high enough to prevent deficiencies. If we think about it for a second, we can see that the best way to achieve this end is to supply nutrients at the same ratio in which they are used.

I noted that the NPK percentages actually tell us how much phosphorous pentoxide and potassium oxide are in a fertilizer so I can show you how fertilizer manufacturers arrived at a 3:1:2 ratio as their "all-purpose" blend. Only 43% of the P reported on a fertilizer label is actually P, and only 83% of the K reported is actually K. Once you apply these factors to any of the 3:1:2 ratio fertilizers (24-8-16, 12-4-8, and 9-3-6 are all popular 3:1:2 ratios), you will see they supply nutrients in almost exactly the same ratios as the average that plants actually use, and these fertilizers are excellent at keeping the overall level of solubles as low as they can be without creating nutritional deficiencies.

There is no need to use 'specialty' fertilizers; and many specialty fertilizers, like the advertised "bloom boosters" with up to 30 times more phosphorous than a plant could ever use (in relation to the amount of N used), can be (almost always are) moderately to severely limiting because the excess nutrients are a limiting factor.

The question often arises, "Should I use a synthetic or an organic fertilizer"? The answer is: "Use whichever you wish"; but the qualifiers are: Organic fertilizers are actually more accurately called soil amendments. They are mixed into the soil in the hope that at some point soil organisms will digest them and make them available in elemental form so plants can absorb them. The problem with that approach is that the populations and activity levels of soil life populations in containers are erratic and unreliable, making the delivery of nutrients from organic sources just as erratic and unreliable. What you apply today, may not be available until next month, and there is no way to determine what residual amounts of which elements remain in the soil. Soluble fertilizers like Miracle-Gro and others are completely available as soon as applied, and we know exactly what our plants are getting. They are simply much easier to use and deliver nutrients much more reliably than other fertilizer types. You can lump controlled release fertilizers like Osmocote and others in with the soluble synthetic fertilizers. With them, you get an extra measure of convenience but sacrifice a measure of control. As with all fertilizers, it is important to note the NPK percentages to be sure you are supplying the fertilizer in a favorable ratio if you want your plants to be all they can be.

When it comes right down to what occurs at the molecular/cellular levels, plants take up nutrients in elemental form. They cannot absorb the nutrients that are locked in the hydrocarbon chains that make up organic fertilizers until the molecules are broken down into their most basic elemental form. At that point, all nutrients are taken up as salts, and all are in the same form, no matter if they came from compost, a dead fish, or a hose end sprayer. Plants could care less where their nutrients come from, as long as they have a constant supply of all essential nutrients at all times.

It is not going to kill your plants if you use a fertilizer with a less than favorable ratio because plants tend to take the nutrients they need from the soil (solution) and leave the rest, but it is important to understand that it is 'the rest' that constitutes a limiting factor; so avoiding unnecessarily high levels of any one nutrient or nutrients whenever possible is to your (plant's) benefit.

It is important to understand that growing in containers is markedly different than growing in gardens. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being growing in the garden and 10 being hydroponics, gardening in containers is much closer to hydroponics than gardens, getting a rating of somewhere around 7 or 8. This is why many of the practices that serve us so well in our gardens do not work well in containers. One area that is often a sticking point is the idea we need to "feed the soil". While that is an admirable and productive approach to gardening in the earth, container soils are more about their structure than about any nutrients they might supply. If you concentrate on your soils structure and durability, and more specifically its ability to hold plenty of air, you will greatly increase both the probability of consistent success and the margin for grower error. Well-aerated soils are easier to grow in and offer much greater opportunity for plants that will grow as near to their potential as possible.

As noted above, most growers draw no distinction between 'repotting' and 'potting up'. I have spent literally thousands of hours digging around in the root-balls of containerized plants. Old plants from nurseries of greenhouses are probably the closest examples to what most houseplants are like below the soil line, so I'll offer my thoughts for you to consider or discard as you find fitting.

I have also helped salvage many plants that had been containerized for long periods and were 'circling the drain'. Illustration: Not long ago, our bonsai club invited a visiting artist to conduct a workshop with mugo pines. The nursery (a huge operation) where we have our meetings happened to have purchased several thousand of the mugos somewhere around 10 - 12 years prior and they had been potted up into continually larger containers ever since. Why relate these uninteresting snippets? In the cases of material that has been progressively potted-up only, large perennial roots occupied nearly the entire volume of the container, plant vitality was in severe decline, and soil in the original root-ball had become so hard that in some cases a chisel was required to remove it.
In plants that are potted up, rootage becomes entangled. As root diameters increase, portions of the roots constrict other roots and impair the flow of water and nutrients through them, much the same as in the case of girdling or encircling roots on trees grown in-ground. The ratio of fine, feeder roots to more lignified (woody) and perennial roots becomes skewed to favor the larger, and practically speaking, useless roots.

The initial symptoms of poor root conditions are progressive diminishing of branch extension on plants that branch, loss/shedding of foliage on the parts of branches nearest to the main stems or trunk, often giving the plant a 'poodle look', and reduced vitality. As rootage becomes continually compressed and restricted, branch extension stops and individual branches might die as water/nutrient movement is further compromised. Foliage quality may not (important to understand) indicate the tree is struggling until the condition is severe, but if you observe your plants carefully, you will find them increasingly unable to cope with stressful conditions - too much/too little water, heat, sun, etc. Plants operating under conditions of stress that has progressed to strain, will usually be diagnosed in the end as suffering from attack by insects or other bio-agents/disease while the underlying cause goes unnoticed.

I will mention again that I draw distinct delineation between simply potting up and repotting. Potting up temporarily offers room for fine rootage to grow and do the necessary work of water/nutrient uptake, but these new roots soon lignify, while rootage in the old root mass continues to grow and become increasingly restrictive. The larger and larger containers required for potting-up & the difficulty in handling them also makes us increasingly reluctant to undertake even potting up, let alone undertake the task of repotting/root-pruning, which grows increasingly difficult with each up-potting.
So we are clear on terminology, potting up simply involves moving the plant with its root mass and soil intact, or nearly so, to a larger container and filling in around the root/soil mass with additional soil. Repotting, on the other hand, includes the removal of all or part of the soil and the pruning of roots, with an eye to removing the largest roots, as well as those that would be considered defective. Examples are roots that are dead, those growing back toward the center of the root mass, encircling, girdling or j-hooked roots, and otherwise damaged roots.

I often explain the effects of repotting vs potting up like this:
I will rate growth/vitality potential on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best. We are going to say that plants in containers can only achieve a growth/vitality rating of 9, due to the somewhat limiting effects container culture has on all plants. Lets also imagine that for every year a plant goes w/o repotting or potting up, its measure of growth/vitality slips by 1 number, That is to say you pot a plant and the first year it grows at a level of 9, the next year, an 8, the next year a 7. Also imagine please, we're going to go 3 years between repotting or potting up, which is how the illustration is structured.
Here's what happens to the plant you repot/root prune:
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
repot
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
repot
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
You can see that a full repotting and root pruning returns the plant to its full potential within the limits of other cultural influences for as long as you care to repot/root prune.
Looking now at how woody plants respond to only potting up:
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
pot up
year 1: 8
year 2: 7
year 3: 6
pot up
year 1: 7
year 2: 6
year 3: 5
pot up
year 1: 6
year 2: 5
year 3: 4
pot up
year 1: 5
year 2: 4
year 3: 3
pot up
year 1: 4
year 2: 3
year 3: 2
pot up
year 1: 3
year 2: 2
year 3: 1
This is a fairly accurate illustration of the influence tight roots have on a plant's growth/vitality. You might think of it for a moment in the context of the longevity of bonsai trees vs the life expectancy of most trees grown as houseplants, or the difference between less than 4 years versus more than 400 years, lying primarily in how the roots are treated.

I have not yet mentioned that the dissimilar characteristics of the old soil as compared to the new soil when potting-up; and potentially mixing soils are also a potential recipe for trouble. With a compacted soil in the old roots and a fresh batch of soil surrounding the roots of a freshly potted up plant, it is nearly impossible to establish a watering regimen that doesn't keep the differing soils either too wet or too dry, both conditions occurring concurrently being a limiting factor and the rule rather than the exception.

Most who read this would have great difficulty showing me a containerized plant that is more than 10 years old and as vigorous as it could be, unless it has been root-pruned at repotting time; yet I can show you hundreds of trees 20 years to 200 years old and older, and many of my very old houseplants/succulents that are in perfect health. All have been root-pruned and given a fresh footing in new soil at regular and frequent intervals, the same treatment all my houseplants get.

Thanks to any/all who made it this far. This is only an overview, but with even a rudimentary understanding of how to go about reducing the effects of the limiting factors that restrict growth and vitality, I know you can improve on how well your plants can grow, as well as on the degree of satisfaction you get from your growing experience - my only reasons for writing this. Hopefully the offering leaves you with many questions.

Al


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Hello Everyone,

I just wanted to say that i cant get over all of this great information that you (AL) have provided for us!

You always seem to make things so easy for all of us, either being beginners or experienced gardeners. When I do have the privilidge to read one of your post, I know that i will get such great knowledge from what you have been s0 gracious to provide us with. You make it so easy for all of us to understand and take in.

So for that, I personally want to thank you for taking the time to write this article and to take the time to teach us in a way that is fun and enjoyable to learn.

If it wasnt for you several years ago, my plants and trees would have been in a steady decline. Now they are thriving because I have read and reread your post from way back when. Now you even write something new for us all to enjoy!!!

Thank you for taking your time to help us all, I have learned so much from you and i just wanted to say..."Thank YOU" for being such a great teacher and friend!

Take care ,

Laura in VB


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Wow...Thank you Al! As always we truly appreciate the time you take to help everyone here...both the beginner and the little more experienced. I've certainly learned SO much from you and my container growing has improved tremendously from all the great things I've learned from you. I couldn't have done it without your help.

Thanks again for the hours and hours you give unselfishly to help all of us. SO much great information that you've shared. Like Laura said "you're a great teacher and friend". You are So much more than that but words just aren't adequate...Appreciate the time you took to write this post.

Its getting 'bookmarked' so I'll always have it for the future.


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Interesting points that I really should be following more, especially with regards to fertilizer and root pruning. I DO make an effort to get rid of any roots circling the bottom of the pot, at least, or to otherwise open up compacted root systems, but it sounds like I could be doing more.

Though now I'm kind of wondering if plants that have a natural tendency towards smaller, more fibrous root systems tend to do better for people anyway, without them necessarily realizing why.


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Oct 22, 11 at 11:21

Laura & Nancy - thank you both for the kind comments. I've known Nancy for a long time, Laura not so long, but I know you both realize I genuinely love helping people become better growers, mainly by helping them understand the 'WHY' part of what they are observing and explaining what's going on that simply can't be seen by casual observation, or understood without some understanding of the factors that drive growth and vitality.

I tried to list some of the most important things to pay attention to if the goal is to improve your (the collective 'your') growing skills. I'm engaged in an ongoing conversation at another gardening site where a couple of growers think that learning by trial & error is a fine way to acquire skills and that 'experience' is all you need - ".... learn from your mistakes", was the term used - and that anything technical takes the fun out of growing. I didn't say so, but I think that's bunk.

I think both of you appreciate how rapidly you can advance your skills with the acquisition of a few key pieces of knowledge. Those that acquire the necessary knowledge, then use their practical experience to validate that knowledge will leave the trial & error crowd standing in their slipstream. I see it on the forums every day and in the community as well.

One of the most satisfying experiences I get to enjoy on a regular basis is 'seeing the light go on' when I'm addressing a group. No subject offers better opportunity for that to happen than container gardening. When I talk to clubs & other groups about the importance of a good soil and the limiting effects of a poor soil, it's literally amazing to see eyes light up when an understanding of why they might have been struggling comes to them. Getting them to understand nutrition is another area that's rewarding as well, but still not as big of a thrill as what happens when they get that whole 'soil thing'.

Thanks again! You're both treasures! ;-)

Ammcour - if the thread takes off, or if you want to, we can talk more about the rejuvenating (and that is exactly the right word) effects of root pruning during a repot vs simply potting up, which is essentially just sticking the plant in a larger pot and letting nature take its course.

There is a rather definitive point at which root congestion becomes a limiting issue. If your plant has, at any time, been in the condition where the roots and soil mass can be lifted from the pot intact, growth and vitality are being limited. As you can see by the numerical comparison between potting up and repotting, potting up will never restore a plant to the same ability to reach its potential as a full repot with root pruning.

Often, plants with a more fibrous root system are best treated a little differently than plants with roots that have roots more easily defined as primary - secondary - tertiary ..... roots. First remember though that it's the tiniest roots - those almost microscopic that do all the heavy lifting for the plant.

In most cases, for a fibrous root system we would cut or saw off the bottom half of the entire root mass, then cut wedges into the remaining roots and repot, filling the areas where you removed roots with fresh soil. The next year, at appropriate repotting time, you cut out the other wedges you'd left the first time. Probably, you'd then wait a year & start the cycle over if you want to prevent the decline inherent in allowing roots to become over-crowded.

Any time you cut tissue back closer the the union between the trunk & roots, it has a rejuvenating effect on the plant, so root-pruning and pruning the plant can literally wake up a tired plant ....... if you're doing a good job of providing favorable cultural conditions, which brings us full circle to what the rest of the OP was about.

Everything is connected. Think about the energy flow of a plant like a spinning top. As long as the top has enough energy to keep spinning rapidly, it will remain stable, even surviving the whacks (stress) that make it wobble before it recovers. As the plant looses energy, the hits make it wobble more erratically and it becomes easier and easier to knock the top off its axis (strain) or make it wobble so much it stops altogether (death). (Credit to Dr. Alex Shigo, PhD for the analogy)

Al


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Moving to the other extreme from ammcour's fibrous-root question... I'd be interested in in hearing your thoughts on Zamioculcas zamiifolia ("ZZ plant"), which doesn't have *any* visible fine roots. I recently shifted three ZZ's into gritty mix (after bare-rooting but not root-pruning, except to remove a few dead roots), and the transition has been hard; all of them lost all their leaves, and on one, the new growth has begun to yellow. I'm thinking it's either pH or the watering regime in general, but I'm not sure. (FWIW, the bottom growth has been fine -- I've actually had to repot two of them again because the rapid tuber and root growth was threatening to burst the pots! It's only the leaves that appear unhealthy.)

-Corey


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Excellent compilation, Al!
It's very nice to have everything in one place.

Josh


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Oct 22, 11 at 13:51

How did you make the soil? Usually, when something like you're describing occurs, it's because the grower didn't screen the ingredients (or added something too fine) and believes that because water flows through the soil so quickly the soil isn't retaining an adequate volume of water, so then tends to water too frequently to compensate.

A properly made gritty mix is really difficult to over-water, simply because it doesn't hold perched water, which is what makes it so easy to grow in.

Photobucket

If it IS over-watering due to a combination of too many fines in the soil + watering too frequently, the obvious answer is to water less frequently, or you could try using a wick and tilting the pot after you water to help drain excess water from the pot.

Try this experiment: Water to the point of saturation & allow the pot to stop draining. Then, tilt the pot and take note of how much additional water exits the pot.

Also very effective is: water to saturation. Then, hold the pot over the sink at shoulder height. Move it downward at a medium speed, and when it's just above the sink (before it hits something) reverse the direction sharply upward. You can remove almost all perched water that way with just a few shakes if the pots are small enough to handle.

How that works: The gist of Newton's first law of motion states:

An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

The water in the pot as it's moving downward tends to remain moving downward. As you reverse the direction of the pot upward, the water wants to continue to keep moving downward, so it moves out the drain hole. Also, as the pot accelerates upward, the water in the pot wants to remain at the same speed (resists acceleration), which is slower than the pot is moving because it's accelerating, so during the upward acceleration, more water exits the pot. Doing this a half dozen times (or so) should clear the soil of most or even all perched water.

If it's not a water retention issue, it sounds like it could be nutritional. Want to share how you're fertilizing? with what? how often? how much (concentration)? ..... and has the amount of light the plants are getting changed? ...... exposed to chill - especially sudden chill?

Al


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Just another thought for discussion...... Do not misunderstand that I do not feel your information is not valid or very, very helpful. So do not take this in that vain. I DO feel your info will help a newbie and knowledge a experienced grower can add to their experience.

But.....
For someone that grow plants for fun I tend to go on the trial and error method. If life takes you to the point that you really want to just grow some plants for fun and you do not have the time to do everything in a scientific manner that is what people can do.

In the thought of soil composite if you do not follow a process step by step you will end up with a dead plant. Free draining of course may be the best soil for plants (I am not sure every plant should and can survive that thought) but if for example a person does not have the time or not available to watch 24/7 if a plant needs to be watered and a perfect draining soil will dry pretty quick. They end up with a dead plant. When if they had used a more moisture retentive soil the plant would have the available moisture to survive. That is where experience plays a big part.

So I am saying all this to say. When it comes to plants I do feel there is a place for scientific, should, could work for plants it is possible that trial and error coupled with lifestyle, experience and available plant care time can be a part of in judging if a plant can survive and flourish using trial and error method.

My thought goes toward someone starting out with a (almost cannot kill plant) and go at it like a scientific process of buying a .50 cent plant and start trying to put together all the info thrown at them. They get discouraged when they kill the .50 plant and have spent 50.00 on making 3lbs of soil. That newbie will think they are a failure and get discouraged and not plant again. I think everyone has started their love of plants from buying that impulse buy, put it in a pot of store brought soil and it grew and they were proud of their accomplishment from so little effort.

I just think there should be room in the discussion that it can be fun without a lot of work.

Again, I and anyone else would be a fool not to take your suggestions, info and knowledge you have to offer, I am just suggesting there is another end to the thought.


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Oct 22, 11 at 14:08

Thanks, Josh. I was on the keyboard as you were posting, so missed your post. It's probably safe to say you adhere closely enough to just about everything I said upthread that it's all review for you; so I'll just point to the many pictures of perfectly healthy plants you've posted over the years as additional corroboration. I should say the same for Laura and Nancy, too - the first responders (to the thread). :o) I've seen many pictures of their healthy and vibrant plants that leave most of us envious.

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Al


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Oct 22, 11 at 15:23

Marquest - I agree with you 100%. I've always said that growing is a lot about compromise. As I mentioned in the first post, I tend to look at things from the plant's perspective and not the growers. When I use that perspective, things are much clearer. This might be an example: I can say with a high degree of certainty that a well-aerated soil is better for the plant than a heavier soil that holds perched water. You, or someone else might say, "Yes, but I'm away for a week at a time and my plants will die in that soil". Now, we're trying to look at the same problem from two different perspectives. Both statements are indeed true. The only thing you can do is compromise.

We do what we need to do to get the job done. If our schedule or priorities dictate that we must use a more water-retentive soil to get us through week-long intervals between drinks, then that is what we have to do. Would it be better if we could use a soil with less water retention and more aeration? Absolutely it would - but if you can't, you sacrifice some potential growth or vitality for the convenience of the week-long interval.

In the past, others have assigned to me the idea that I attach a stigma to anyone who chooses not to grow in a fast soil. That's entirely untrue. I'd like to see everyone that can grow in a fast soil do so, because it's easier and more productive, but I'm a realist. I understand that everyone isn't interested in perfecting their growing skills, or spending more than a few minutes at chosen intervals tending plants, or in some cases even being bothered learning anything beyond that plants need water.

Those aren't the people I'm interested in. I'm interested in helping anyone that needs or asks for it and keeps an open mind - the ones that want to work a little at improving their knowledge base and skill level. My email tells me there are enough folks like that on the forums to keep me plenty busy.

'Fun' is a subjective thing. To one, it might be being totally relaxed and laid back about the growing experience "..... what will be will be - let nature take its course - I'll enjoy 'em while I've got 'em." To the next, the fun might be in the learning experience - in knowing their skillset is growing and in enjoying the improvements afforded by the additional knowledge and skill.

The later is the camp I'm in. I already know the power of knowledge when it comes to growing, and I've helped thousands of others increase their level of understanding and the enjoyment they get from growing through knowledge, so they have come to understand it too. It's decidedly true that I can't force anyone to learn, or nudge them toward improved skills if they're not so inclined (hard to push someone up a ladder who doesn't want to climb). But I can provide a place for those who DO want to do some exploring of the whys & wherefores of growing in containers. That's what I do for fun. ;-)

So absolutely ..... growing can be fun without a lot of work. But it can be fun with a lot of work too. It just depends on the individual. Like most endeavors, what you get out of something most often depends on what you put into it. I think I summarised these thoughts when I said in the OP, "For what it is worth, I tend to look at growing anything in containers from the perspective of what is best for the plant, not what is best for the grower. Far more often than not, the two ideas are mutually exclusive, so if grower convenience is a large priority of anyone reading this, there is not much sense in reading on. Growing well does take a little thought and a little effort."

Keep in mind too, that a person doesn't have to use a well-aerated soil to understand the limitations of a water-retentive one. The knowledge of what is actually happening in the root zone is enough to make a person a better grower. Already too, you can see information in this thread that offers solutions to help guard against problems related to heavy soils, info about root-pruning different types of root structures, and other topics - and it really hasn't even made it off the ground yet. It is likely much (but by no means all) of the conversation on this thread will center around soils, simply because that is the area where the most problems originate. I think that message has been widely carried at GW and other forum sites in recent years, and has been very well received because of the profound difference it's made in the growing experience of so many.

I do appreciate your comments and the opportunity to relate where I'm coming from. Thank you, Marquest.

Al


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

The first repot was into transparent orchid pots, so I can say confidently that the perched water table was very low -- maybe a little over an eighth of an inch. In fact, as the plants grew more root-bound into the pots, the bottom of the pot (where the root-ends were concentrated) dried out faster than the middle!

I should say that, when I initially repotted them, I experimented with a different water regime on each of the three pots: One I watered almost daily, one I watered when the pot was about half-dry, the last I let go almost completely dry between waterings. The almost-dry one started to go south first, with the daily one soon after, prompting me to move to the half-dry mode for all of them; but then the one that had been half-dry all along started to slip as well.

The mix is 1:1:1 grower grit:turface:fir bark, screened to 1/8 inch (though it's possible I did this poorly). No other additives, since I'm using FoliagePro 9-3-6 at half-strength in every watering. I'm growing these under fluorescents, so I can say with reasonable confidence that the light and temperature range did not change; temperature rarely drops below the low 70's. In the summer, it'd spike into the 90's, and at that time I was also supplementing the fertilizer with Pro-Tekt; but the problem started long before that (the first repot was at the end of February, when the shared pot they all came in split).

One thing that did change right around the time of the first repot: I started adding acid to bring my fertigation water from a pH of just over 6 down to around 5.5. Which is why I'm wondering if pH might be an issue -- maybe ZZ's prefer a slightly higher pH?

This one is confusing me, I admit. I've only been seriously into houseplants for a year and a half or so; this is the first issue I've had that I haven't been able trace to overwatering, underwatering, air circulation, or pests.


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Oct 22, 11 at 21:31

I doubt the pH was a problem unless you were getting a bad reading. Are you adjusting with white vinegar? How much was it taking to reach target?

Tell me more about when you repotted initially into the clear orchid pots. Were these plants exposed to direct sun at all?

You checked carefully for mites, too?

I think that if something doesn't surface as causal, the best thing to do is take stock of your habits. It sounds like the soil/pH/nutritional supplementation is good. How much do you consider a half dose of 9-3-6 to be? If you can rule out insects and disease, there's not much left, other than to trust that with continued good habits the plants will come around.

What I was angling at when I asked about the repot into the clear pots & whether or not they got full sun, is that the soil in a clear container will heat up much faster and get much hotter than even plants in a black container. The clear container allows light to pass and strike the soil where it is turned to heat. The container wall and air spaces between soil particles then acts as insulation to keep heat IN the soil. With opaque containers, light energy is turned to heat on the outside surface of the container, where a portion of it is lost to the surrounding air, which is why even black containers are cooler than clear. Also, and I have no idea if ZZ is one of them, but some plants' roots need darkness to function properly. This is a stretch, but I know a light load can impact the function of the roots of some plants'.

It's easier to see possible issues in a hands-on scenario than over the forums, and it's not all that unusual for a plant problem, like a medical problem, to be idiopathic. When a cause can't be isolated, all you can do is return to the basics, and it really does sound like you have that covered unless something in this last post rings a bell.

Hockey game on - gotta go. ;-) Take good care.

Al


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Oct 22, 11 at 23:06

I doubt the pH was a problem unless you were getting a bad reading. Are you adjusting with white vinegar? How much was it taking to reach target?

Tell me more about when you repotted initially into the clear orchid pots. Were these plants exposed to direct sun at all?

You checked carefully for mites, too?

I think that if something doesn't surface as causal, the best thing to do is take stock of your habits. It sounds like the soil/pH/nutritional supplementation is good. How much do you consider a half dose of 9-3-6 to be? If you can rule out insects and disease, there's not much left, other than to trust that with continued good habits the plants will come around.

What I was angling at when I asked about the repot into the clear pots & whether or not they got full sun, is that the soil in a clear container will heat up much faster and get much hotter than even plants in a black container. The clear container allows light to pass and strike the soil where it is turned to heat. The container wall and air spaces between soil particles then acts as insulation to keep heat IN the soil. With opaque containers, light energy is turned to heat on the outside surface of the container, where a portion of it is lost to the surrounding air, which is why even black containers are cooler than clear. Also, and I have no idea if ZZ is one of them, but some plants' roots need darkness to function properly. This is a stretch, but I know a light load can impact the function of the roots of some plants'.

It's easier to see possible issues in a hands-on scenario than over the forums, and it's not all that unusual for a plant problem, like a medical problem, to be idiopathic. When a cause can't be isolated, all you can do is return to the basics, and it really does sound like you have that covered unless something in this last post rings a bell.

Hockey game on - gotta go. ;-) Take good care.

Al


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

I'm using pH strips to test for pH, so there's a sort of judgment call with the colors, but I think it should be close. Since I mix in large batches and re-use the fertigation containers without rinsing them, I've opted for phosphoric acid from a hydroponics store to bring the pH down -- it's concentrated enough that it really isn't that much more expensive than vinegar in the long run, and I don't have to worry about bacterial growth. My standard mix is 1/8 tsp each FoliagePro and phosphoric acid per gallon; if I'm adding Pro-Tekt, I add 1/4 tsp per gallon and cut the acid to 1/2 tsp per five gallons.

I just pulled out a magnifying glass and examined more closely; no sign of anything, unless the scattered bits of dust are actually tiny mealies... But since those bits aren't concentrated anywhere, and there aren't many of them, I don't think that's the problem. I *did* have some kind of insect infestation in the mix early on -- something small, maybe 1/16 inch long, looked white-ish to the naked eye but silvery/translucent under a magnifying glass, *maybe* slightly enlarged mouth parts -- I couldn't quite tell. A couple treatments of Azadirachtin wiped them out, though, and I haven't seen any sign since then.

These plants haven't seen sunlight since I bought them, but the sides of the pots were certainly exposed to light and heat, so insulation is an interesting hypothesis... The roots exposed to light have developed chlorophyll, so maybe the plant is abandoning the leaves as unnecessary?... The two that were more recently repotted are in opaque pots, but it's not inconceivable that the damage I'm seeing now is carry-over from the clear pot; I'm only seeing it on the older leaves, not the younger ones that grew in after the repot... H'm. Well, there are a few new leaves growing in now, guess I'll be patient and see what happens.

Thanks for the input and ideas!

-Corey


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Finally, another reason to sit and read while having a nice warm cup of hot chocolate on a cold morning.

Al, I have been asking 'Why' since I was kid for just about everything! This has carried over to growing my plants too, and you have made growing a much more enjoyable experience for me than ever before by answering many questions I had always wondered.

I started growing plants since I was twelve. My first one was a citrus tree, 'Lemon Meyer' in particular, and it died before the winter was over that year. Don't laugh, but it was very traumatizing! I vowed I would never grow one again, but I did, and did, and did, for years to come only to kill them over and over again. This trial and error thing didn't work with me since I was going bust while getting very discouraged.

I would literally walk my plants into nursery's asking for help just to get turned away with ' just give them better light' every time. Not one person over the years ever attributed by problems to soil and the how it relates to a plants need! All they did was sell me theirs saying theirs was better than MG.
Just a constant dead end path. I wonder if anyone has ever walked this path?

Well, now I can keep walking forward, on a path that is taking me to much higher peaceful grounds because of you, in places that I thought I could never reach.
I can grow plants as easy as the ones you get at HD or as difficult as you can get from Vietnam and other places around the world. From rare Tropicals, succulents, and fruit trees to ordinary houseplants. I don't have to visit those places to enjoy the plants that can only grow there, because of threads you start like this on these forums. I can bring the feeling of the tropics, desert, and jungle right into my home.

I now fully understand the workings going on under the soil line in my containers, very important, and how it all relates to the plant tissue above.
I can water my plants everyday without fear of rot, or adjust my mixes to hold more moisture to accommodated my life style , or remove such to accommodate the needs of my plants.

That 'Perched Water Table' that you often refer which I had at once never heard of taught, can be either an enemy or something other.

This has been a true blessing and a rich reward for me and for my plants.
Knowing you 'AL' has also been a rewarding experience as well as to meeting many others. This moment my affections and appreciations are directed to you for all you do here because of the time and care you have invested in people like us on these forums.

My sister and mother whom once vowed to never grow plants again, are just starting to reap the results from information like this, and they thank you too.

So Al, 'why' does a plant take such a while to start actively growing after a transplant? For instance, my citrus that have been left over in the same pot over a while year are growing at much more rapid pace than those repotted this spring, if that makes any sense.

Al, thanks for your kinds words towards 'Marquest' and for relating to her and her viewpoint. She brought up some very good points for many a folk here, and you have put many at ease that are trying to understand 'good growing practices'.:-)

Mike:-)


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Oct 23, 11 at 12:47

Thanks soo much, Mike. Of all the GW members I've helped over the years, it's you who stands out in my mind whenever I mention how a few changes in the approach to growing in containers can transform a person's growing experience. You've come far as a result of your efforts. When we first met, you were so frustrated & clung so tightly to what everyone told you, that you couldn't make any progress. You tried to implement virtually every piece of advice anyone gave you, the end result being you were chasing your tail and I was chasing mine in trying to get you to stop chasing yours. ;-) .... but then, you got it, quite suddenly too. After that, I think that everyone who has known you as long as I, was able to literally SEE the changes (your MANY pictures of healthy plants) in your abilities and enjoy your progress.

I think you're a wonderful example of how acquiring useful knowledge and then using your practical experience to validate that knowledge can propel you forward at a rate so much faster than what you were seeing before. Essentially, in your efforts at growing, you were just someone plodding along in one long trail of trial and error experiments. What I noticed about you in particular was, you weren't complacent about where you were in your abilities - you weren't satisfied with your skills; in fact you wanted, probably more than any other person I've met through GW, to be a better grower. Your problem, was that you were being frustrated to the Nth degree by your determination to implement practically every suggestion anyone offered that seemed like it even might hold promise. The frustration crept in when most of them didn't live up to their perceived vow to improve your plight, and you found yourself still on square one.

I think that you were unique in your determination, and probably more than just a little unique in the degree of frustration you were feeling, both of which makes your success story shine, so congratulations to you, Mike! Photobucket

Now, I see you (and many others) on the forums every day doing much the same thing that I'm doing - offering help in how to avoid practices that potentially limit our abilities as growers, with any having a similar wish. Way to go, Mike!

Take good care, my friend.

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Al


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Hi all.
Its summer down under in NZ and its smiles (from the plants) all over again.
I to want to add my applauses and appretiatence to Al. What you taught I tried and it REALLY works.
Thank you for your commitment and patience.
I have the same question as Mike (I think you missed it above Al)

"So Al, 'why' does a plant take such a while to start actively growing after a transplant? For instance, my citrus that have been left over in the same pot over a while year are growing at much more rapid pace than those repotted this spring, if that makes any sense."


Thanks
Freddie


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Oct 23, 11 at 18:20

Sorry - I missed the question. The way a plant 'knows' what it should be doing is by reacting to the chemical messengers it receives. Plants are sensitive enough to these messenger chemicals that they will react differently to a pin prick than to an equally small wound, inflicted by an insect with sucking mouth parts.

When we wound a plant, the reaction is complex & the mechanisms not entirely understood, but when we remove foliage, branches, or roots, the signal the plant receives is to make those parts a priority.

Roots really DO come first. The first plant part to emerge from the seed is the taproot. The plant recognizes through the chemical messages it receives, how much foliage it can support with the roots it has. There is a 'line of communication' between roots and shoots that helps the plant prioritize energy sinks. A 'sink' is a part of the plant that 'requests' that the plant send energy there. In order for the plant to remain balanced, roots to shoots, the plant will concentrate on growing shoots after they are removed and on roots when they are pruned.

Interestingly, even though a repotted plant (and that's a full repot as opposed to a plant simply potted up) tends to pout a bit after repotting, it usually surpasses in growth AND vitality, its counterpart (the roots of which were left congested and undisturbed, by the end of the growth period (usually fall); so in essence, you're sacrificing a little to gain a lot.

Al


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Dear Al, you have no idea how much it meant to me. Of everyone's opinion, yours is the one I treasure most coming from my master teacher.

I can only hope that I can give back as you have given to us in your unselfish desire to see everyone grow to their full potential in caring for their plants.

Thank you my friend.

The Mom plant to your baby and Rose:-)

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Mike


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Al, thanks for taking your time to write this. I always enjoy reading what you write, and this offering is outstanding!

I wanted to share a couple things I've struggled with for decades until "the light" finally went on...

Let's talk hanging baskets, the plastic kind with 3 or 4 detachable arms connecting to the hook, that has a drain hole in the middle that is 1/2 to 3/4 inch above the actual bottom of the pot. When one buys one of these, the very first thing that should be done is to use a pruner to snip some type of hole, preferably more than 1, but having at least 1 hole at the true bottom of the pot is critical. Since most of these plants are trailing all over the place, that's the method I use. Whenever I get one of these pots emptied, before using it again I use a screwdriver like a chisel and knock out the plugs where you can clearly see there are supposed to be holes on the true bottom of the pot. No soil can drain completely in a pot like this, and since the potting soil likely to be found in the pot probably has moisture crystals, it's a double whammy. Fuchsia is the most glaring example of this, and this is the reason why those Mother's day baskets are always dead before the 4th of July.

The other thing is drip trays/saucers. No matter how well-draining your "soil" is, if water sits in the tray, you're defeating the effectiveness of the drainage. Empty the tray. Some of the plastic pots have a tray that just looks like part of the pot, snapped onto the bottom. Remove those and use something more practical. They don't hold enough water to protect your furniture for indoor plants and you can't even see the water sitting in there. Outside, it's just a hot & steamy or cold & clammy death trap.

Another thing I think that's very important for people who consider their plants outdoor entities that winter indoors is that (almost all) plants would much prefer to be in a cooler, more humid location than a warmer, dryer one. A spare bedroom with the heat vent closed off, garage with windows, or basement with shop lights can be better places for plants than the window in the hot room where you sit and watch tv. It's something to investigate on a plant-by-plant basis in regard to the conditions you have to offer, and can make the between a dead plant or a live one when spring arrives.

Regarding water, there are bog-type plants that like to be wet all the time, but with some experience with successful outdoor gardening, most people realize that not much grows in soil that is always soggy. The ground is quite dry most of the time, at least at the surface where most of the roots are. Then rain comes and the water flows through and away. When I realized that plants in a container would prefer conditions like this, the whole drainage/allowing the soil to dry thing seemed so much more logical. Your "articles" have been so helpful in understanding how to have better drainage and the biological stuff that goes on with the plants, even for someone like me who has stumbled through trial and error into the same conclusions but was always trying to attribute the results to the wrong things. Like "my plants do better with mulch mixed into the soil because it's good for them." Now I know that the mulch buried in a pot takes years to degrade to a point where it has anything beneficial to offer the plant, but it is good because it creates air pockets and does hot hold water.

I'd also like to say about light... Winter rays are not the same as summer rays, especially as one climbs up (or down) into higher latitudes. Plants that can't handle direct summer sun are often most happy in the sunniest window you have during the winter. So even for plants that don't go outside for the summer, it may be good for the plant to have a different home during the winter than in summer. Most newer windows have some type of sunscreen in them, even if it's clear. If you have these kind of windows, the light coming through them is not as strong as it would be through a plain pane of glass.

Happy growing everyone!


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Well said, Purple, well said!

Josh


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Oct 25, 11 at 22:57

Thanks for the sentiment, Mike, and for the kind words, Purple; and to both for the contributions - much appreciated!

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Al


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

I have what may have already been explained somewhere else. I 'think' I've read the info on this thread about re-potting but my naive (probably dumb) question is still:

Why is it always recommended that when you re-pot a container plant you're told to just go up in smallish (inch or two) increments?

Here's the dumb part: If I buy a plant in a 4 inch pot at a nursery I can 're-pot' in the ground---- which isn't a "small increment". The surrounding soil is as large as my garden----- or the world.

O.K. is this question the same as a child asking "But WHY?"
(grin)


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Oct 30, 11 at 19:37

That's a good question.

People who offer the advice to only pot up one size at a time are making the assumption that everyone is growing in the same water retentive soil they are growing in. If they weren't growing in a water retentive soil, they would understand that the advice needs additional qualification. After I answer your other question, I'll copy/paste something I wrote about what determines an appropriate container size.

If you buy a plant in a 4" pot and plant it in a 12" pot, you invite trouble ....... if you're using a heavy, water-retentive soil - one based on fine particulates like peat, compost, sand, topsoil .... It's likely that a heavy soil in a 'too large' pot will hold water that impairs root function/metabolism and sets the stage with the anaerobic (airless) conditions that promote root rot.

The reason this occurs is that there is a physical difference between how water behaves in pots as opposed to how it behaves in our gardens and beds. If you have interest in learning about the science behind WHY this is so, you'll find the information here, in another thread I started back in '05 that still sees regular activity. Basically, water tends to 'perch' (like a bird) in container soils made of fine particulates, whereas water in the earth is pulled downward by the earth's wicking action. The phenomenon does occur in the earth at times when fine soil strata are situated above course strata - water perches in silt or clay above coarse sand or gravel.

Here is the info that explains why it's actually the soil that determines appropriate pot size:

How large a container 'can' or 'should' be, depends on the relationship between the mass of the plant material you are working with and your choice of soil. We often concern ourselves with "over-potting" (using a container that is too large), but "over-potting" is a term that arises from a lack of a basic understanding about the relationship we will look at, which logically determines appropriate container size.
It's often parroted that you should only move up one container size when "potting-up". The reasoning is, that when potting up to a container more than one size larger, the soil will remain wet too long and cause root rot issues, but it is the size/mass of the plant material you are working with, and the physical properties of the soil you choose that determines both the upper & lower limits of appropriate container size - not a formulaic upward progression of container sizes. In many cases, after root pruning a plant, it may even be appropriate to step down a container size or two, but as you will see, that also depends on the physical properties of the soil you choose.

Plants grown in 'slow' (slow-draining/water-retentive) soils need to be grown in containers with smaller soil volumes so that the plant can use water quickly, allowing air to return to the soil before root issues beyond impaired root function/metabolism become a limiting factor. We know that the anaerobic (airless) conditions that accompany soggy soils quickly kill fine roots and impair root function/metabolism. We also know smaller soil volumes and the root constriction that accompany them cause plants to both extend branches and gain o/a mass much more slowly - a bane if rapid growth is the goal - a boon if growth restriction and a compact plant are what you have your sights set on.

Conversely, rampant growth can be had by growing in very large containers and in very fast soils where frequent watering and fertilizing is required - so it's not that plants rebel at being potted into very large containers per se, but rather, they rebel at being potted into very large containers with a soil that is too slow and water-retentive. This is a key point.

We know that there is an inverse relationship between soil particle size and the height of the perched water table (PWT) in containers. As particle size increases, the height of the PWT decreases, until at about a particle size of just under 1/8 inch, soils will no longer hold perched water. If there is no perched water, the soil is ALWAYS well aerated, even when the soil is at container capacity (fully saturated).

So, if you aim for a soil (like the gritty mix) composed primarily of particles larger than 1/16", there is no upper limit to container size, other than what you can practically manage. The lower size limit will be determined by the soil volume's ability to allow room for roots to 'run' and to furnish water enough to sustain the plant between irrigations. Bearing heavily on this ability is the ratio of fine roots to coarse roots. It takes a minimum amount of fine rootage to support the canopy under high water demand. If the container is full of large roots, there may not be room for a sufficient volume of the fine roots that do all the water/nutrient delivery work and the coarse roots, too. You can grow a very large plant in a very small container if the roots have been well managed and the lion's share of the rootage is fine. You can also grow very small plants, even seedlings, in very large containers if the soil is fast (free-draining and well-aerated) enough that the soil holds no, or very little perched water.

I have just offered clear illustration that the oft repeated advice to "only pot up one size at a time", only applies when using heavy, water-retentive soils. Those using well-aerated soils are not bound by the same restrictions.

Let me know if you have additional questions.

Al


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Thanks for the link! All right then... questions:

When, if ever, should perlite be used? I've never used it, but I thought it was supposed to be good for drainage.

I have Miracle-Gro liquid fertilizer. It says 8-7-6...? Should I look for something else just to be on the safe side, or would thorough watering wash out the excess without harming the roots? I rarely use it, but out of curiosity...

I've always heard that it's okay to prune or cut back foliage, even to extremes in some circumstances, but never roots. From what I've been told, while plants can survive losing a few roots to a repotting... or potting up, to be more accurate, it makes them very unhappy and takes them time to recover. I've been told that if too many roots are lost in the process of potting up, the plant may actually die. This last may be true, but I've been lead to believe the threshold for irreparable damage is a lot lower than it probably actually is.

...The existence of bonsai trees pretty much proves that this view of the roots as being untouchable isn't accurate. I'm including this to sort of show where I'm coming from with these questions. I have zero experience when it comes to root pruning, so:

Is this only for woody plants?

If not, is this recommended for pothos when the pots start to get unwieldy?

Does root pruning effect the foliage of the plant in a negative way at all initially?

Is there a recovery period after root pruning, or does the plant just sort of go with it, and send out new roots without any adverse effect?

I live with my parents. For plant space, I have my bedroom. So, I'm sticking to small plants, unfortunately I tend to kill them. Lately I've successfully not-killed (yet) a schefflera arboricola (HD for <$2, it's tripled in size but it looks a little lonely... for the price there was only one in the pot) and a marble queen pothos grown from a cutting. Most of the variegation on the marble queen is yellow now and I'm confused. I've moved the grow light back for a lack of any other idea, but the few remaining white leaves are now losing variegation. Ideas would be welcome. PH issue? Fertilizer issue? Over watering? Murphy's Law?

I'm out of room for more plants, but can make room for a Persian Shield... provided I can manage to not kill it. I'd really like to stop killing things. I do have more questions, but they're soil related and you gave me a separate link for soil specifically. So, going there next. I might have to finish tomorrow though... insomnia aside, it's getting a little late.


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Al,

I can't believe I haven't already seen this post until now! Thank you for sharing all of this information! Being they tyro that I am, your advice helps so much! It's truly incredible,the wealth of knowledge you have on plants. A lot of my accomplishments with my plants can be attributed from you.

Thanks again!
T.J.


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Dec 1, 11 at 17:59

Perlite: Many feel that perlite improves aeration and drainage when added to soils comprised of fine particulates, but it really has a rather insignificant impact on both properties. You need only picture in your mind's eye a jar of sand or sphagnum peat. Will adding 10 % peat make it drain any faster? Perhaps for one or two waterings, but as soon as the sand or peat is settled in around the perlite particles, all is as it was prior to the inclusion of the perlite. What perlite does (as a small fraction of a soil made with fine particles) is take up space that can't be filled with water because it has no internal porosity - it reduces the volume of water a soil CAN hold - it doesn't affect flow-through rates or the ht of the PWT. That perlite reduces water retention is a plus, but it doesn't solve the drainage, aeration, or PWT issues that so often work together as s significant limitations.

Perlite can, and does increase aeration and drainage when used in combination with other large particles, though. It can separate the larger, flat pine/fir bark particles and help form additional macro-pores.

So, I would use it to decrease the o/a water retention in any soil I felt was too water-retentive where it would serve as something better than nothing, and in soils predominantly made of pine bark or other large particulates to increase aeration and drainage.

Fertilizer: Plants tend to take what they need and leave the rest, but sometimes 'the rest' can make one or more nutrients difficult for the plant to assimilate. As an example - excessive P in soils makes Fe and Mn difficult for the plant to take up ...... considering Mg & Ca, an excess of either makes the other difficult for the plant to absorb. The best way to explain fertility is to say that your goal should be to ensure that all the essential elements are available at all times in as close to the same ratio at which the plants use the elements and at a concentration strong enough to ensure there are no deficiencies yet weak enough to ensure that it's not too difficult for the plant to take up water and the nutrients dissolved in water.

Anything in the soil that is not essential to the plant's growth or vitality is the plants enemy - this includes ANY excess of any element (nutrient) and all nonessential solutes in the soil. You're much more likely to introduce limitations by trying to add a little extra Magnesium or Iron to 'green up your plant', or extra Phosphorous "for better blooming" than you are to achieve better growth and vitality.

The closest ratio commonly available that provides nutrients at the ratio plants use, is 3:1:2. Examples are 24-8-16, 12-4-8, and 9-3-6. Your 8-7-6 actually provides just under 3X the amount of P the plant could ever use, relative to N, and virtually all fertilizer programs center around or are implemented based on N usage.

I would never say you have to use this or that fertilizer, but if your goal is to keep solubles as low as they can be w/o nutritional deficiencies or glaring excesses, the only way to do it is to supply nutrients at the ratio plants use them. This becomes particularly important in heavy soils and in the winter.

About roots and pruning: A plant's most vigorous (vigor is a genetic trait - VITALITY is usually what people are referring to when they use terms like vigor and vigorous) tissues will be found at the area of transition from roots to stem. Pruning a plant back hard, both above and below ground is invigorating. When you run into problems, it's usually a result of a lack of understanding that there is a timing element involved, and that already weakened plants won't tolerate the indignities that robust plants will. You might wonder why bother heaping indignities on a plant at all - why not let Mother Nature just take her course. The answer is because we have taken plants out of their natural element, and we need to compensate for THAT, the greatest indignity of all.

We know that growth and vitality are negatively affected by root congestion at about the point where the root and soil mass can be lifted from the pot intact. Once the plant has reached that point, growth/vitality will continue to be negatively affected for the life of that planting - even if it is planted out (in the ground). The only way to eliminate the limiting effect of tight roots is to correct the condition. Potting up is fine - up until the plant reaches that state of congestion where the root/soil mass can be lifted from the pot intact. That is the point of no return - where we can be sure that root congestion will have a negative impact on growth and vitality for the life of the plant/planting unless corrected. In some plants, this is achieved by dividing and repotting into fresh soil, but in plants that branch and have singular root systems, repotting and root pruning is a requirement if best growth and vitality is your goal.

Most branching plants in good health on singular root systems can be cut back extremely hard with near impunity, as long as you show a little patience. The usual result is a plant that grows very robustly. Why the plant grows robustly after pruning is (again) because you pruned back to tissues closer to the root/stem junction which remain genetically more vigorous for the life of the plant. Pothos is just one of the thousands of plants that can be reinvigorated through pruning and root pruning.

Root pruning can negatively affect the foliage in some cases if you go too far, or if you don't also make some attempt to balance the volume of top growth with root volume. Tropicals are somewhat different than temperate plants in that early in the spring, there is little need to balance the volume of roots to shoots (of temperate plants) because the temperate plant exiting dormancy will only activate the number of growing points (buds) it can support with water. With tropical plants, you need to be a little more careful. For instance, if you have a pothos with 15' of healthy foliage and you reduce the root mass by 75% in a repot, you should expect some dieback .... unless you also prune the vine. Fortunately, both processes are invigorating, so before you know it, the plant begins pushing vigorous growth, where prior to the needed repot there can be no doubt the plant was being limited by the fact it needed repotting.

You'll get the heck of it in no time. It really is hard to kill a young plant because they are such a high % of dynamic mass, which provides them with a very strong 'will to live'. Most of the things that kill plants are usually directly related to the triangle I mentioned - soil choice, watering habits, amount of solubles in the soil solution. Whether by accident or by design, the best growers have found a way to minimize or eliminate the potential limitations imposed by these 3 factors so critical to best success.

Disappearing variegation: While it CAN be linked to nutrition or pH, it's a pretty safe bet it's a low light issue. Variegated plants are less vigorous than their all green counterparts, and they actually NEED more light. The problem with this is chlorophyll is nature's sunscreen for plants, and they will only tolerate the amount of light that the lighter areas will tolerate. Most indoor plants don't really burn from the direct results of more photo-intensity than they can tolerate - they suffer from the associated heat build-up. You can give your plants a lot more light if you have a fan in the room to help interrupt the boundary layer - the layer of air surrounding the leaf that holds the heat in. Blowing that fan over a moist gravel bed can raise humidity more effectively than a humidity tray, so if you decide to use a fan (also helps keep pests under control and makes plants stronger and more apt to back-bud) keep that in mind.

Take good care - and good luck!

Al




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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Dec 1, 11 at 21:55

Sorry, TJ. It took me awhile to write the last reply, and I got interrupted by the phone several times, so I didn't see your post until now. I'm always very pleased when someone uses something I said to advance their abilities, or when they apply it in such a way that it enhances their growing experience. From that, I get my reward; so thank you for mentioning it.

Al


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Thank you for the detailed answer!

So, probably look for a new fertilizer with a better ratio then. Can do. : )

Something I've been wondering about... how do you tell when it's time to repot? I've been potting up when the roots start to come out the drainage holes, by which time the plant is also rootbound. There has to be a better way.

With the pothos, I kind of worded that wrong... It started losing variegation before I moved the light back a few days ago. I'm less concerned with it losing variegation than with the yellow variegation. It was on a window sill (next to a window with double paned glass) before it was under the grow light. Could heat build up cause the white variegation to turn yellow?

Would a ceiling fan work all right? I mean, don't see it working with the humidity tray, but for interrupting the boundary layer of air? Since the problem continued after I switched to a grow light...


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Dec 2, 11 at 14:13

I can tell just by looking at a plant, even if the soil is obscured with mulch or some other covering, if a plant is root bound. I would note decreasing internode length during any period other than from early spring to about Father's day; for old leaves the plant is in the process of shedding; for a tufted or 'poodle look' that comes from the plant shedding old leaves & concentrating its energy on the growth nearest to meristematic regions (near the tips of branches or vines that are extending); for decreasing distance between leaf bundle scars (closely related to shortening internode length; for unusually small leaves or decreasing leaf size ..... all are tip offs that the plant is root bound. Of course, lifting the plant from the pot to see if the root/soil mass can be removed intact is a very good way, too.

Because most houseplants should be repotted regularly anyway, I'd suggest lifting the plant in early summer. If you think its roots will be too congested by the following summer, when its most appropriate to repot, then you should repot. After only a short while, you'll get to know whether your individual plants are best repotted yearly, every other year, or at longer intervals. In a free-draining mix, most genetically vigorous houseplants would do best with an annual repot - especially when very young. Alternately, young plants can simply be potted up, if you get to them in time, until the pot size starts to become an issue.

I doubt the change in variegation to yellow has much to do with heat. I can't tell you why it's turning yellow, but if it's in older leaves or leaves closest to the roots, it could be a result of the shedding process, the cause of which has multiple possibilities.

Yes, a ceiling fan will work well to interrupt the boundary layer. If you can feel the breeze on your hand where the plant is sited, it should make a difference.

Al


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

...You're good. The pothos did let me know by dropping a couple leaves, I just remembered that. The schefflera didn't though. I'll keep those things in mind and see if I can tell without the aid of roots in drainage holes next time.

The oldest leaves on the pothos are about the only ones that still have white variegation. New leaves start with paler yellow variegation, then go to a darker/angrier looking yellow. *shrug* Well, it was worth asking. It looks pretty healthy otherwise, aside from some minor damage from the water retentive soil.

Thanks!


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Very informative, thank you!

Lauren


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

  • Posted by dsws none (My Page) on
    Sun, Jan 6, 13 at 12:07

Very good write-up. I now understand what is meant by "perched water table", which I didn't before. I knew enough about water potential to confuse myself.

Theoretically, in the absence of water standing in a saucer, a perched water table is not an equilibrium condition: in the long run, you can't have one. The water potential at the hole is always at most zero: the water is free to flow out into the saucer. At equilibrium, the water potential everywhere in the pot is also zero, because water is free to flow through the soil. So the non-gravitational component of water potential (I forget the proper name for that) is always lower. So any space of appreciable size will have air, and the roots will be able to get oxygen unless the soil is a solid lump of clay or other fine-grained material.

But as Keynes famously said, "in the long run we're all dead". Once you understand the concept, it's obvious that in practice a perched water table can persist almost indefinitely, as a tiny water-potential gradient fails to move water against substantial resistance. It can certainly last plenty long enough for the roots in the waterlogged area to die.

--

Second comment. The OP refers to plants "operating under conditions of stress that has progressed to strain". I would like to commend usage of "stress" and "strain" based on the physics versions. Stress is the conditions; strain is not a more-progressed set of conditions, but a response to them. There's strain immediately when stress is applied, and no matter how small the stress there's a corresponding strain.

--

Third comment. The OP refers to a plant "concentrating its energy on the growth nearest to meristematic regions (near the tips of branches or vines that are extending)". There's meristem at the axil of every phytomer. The phenomenon being described is certainly real, and it's clear enough as written. But it's a competition between meristems of apical/dominant regions and those of less-dominant regions, not between meristem and non-meristem regions.

--

Finally, the OP says "A plant's most vigorous ... tissues will be found at the area of transition from roots to stem." This brings to mind a question: would this work with the aerial roots of something like "pothos" (epipremnum), that has a root at every node? That is, can you increase the vigor of such a plant by giving it the opportunity to use its aerial roots as though it were growing as an epiphyte, so that there's an active root/stem boundary at every node?


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

bump


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

bump.


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

This is wonderful information! I love houseplants, and have several of them in my office. I enjoy learning how to take better care of them.


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Nov 14, 13 at 16:32

Thanks! I'm pleased you found some value in it. Questions drive the forums, so if you have them ..... don't hesitate.

Best luck!

Al


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Al I sent you an e-mail.

Kenesha


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Al the world needs more people like you who are willing to help those who want to learn!

I feel like its taking me a while to absorb all of the info you have written and I take notes. I really can't wait until next spring to repot all my plants into a better soil and get them all root pruned too.

I was at the best houseplant place around yesterday (four hour drive) and I saw a huge beautiful ficus. I looked down at the soil and there was a huge root coming out of the tree, curving around in a circle and disappearing down into the soil. I thought that plant probably was left in a smaller pot for way too long and wasnt root pruned. I passed it by--*you* could save that plant but I'll just be glad if I don't kill my younger, less pot bound plants next spring trying to implement what I've learned from you.

I actually have grown hydroponically so I really get a lot of what you have to say about air to the roots. However, that was in a greenhouse environment where I didn't have to worry about making a mess. One challenge for me will be implementing propery watering technique in my house where I'm paranoid about ruining the wood floors.


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Nov 21, 13 at 16:05

Thanks for the kind words, K. It's a lot easier working with people who's hungry to learn, than it is trying to force feed someone who isn't. ;-)

If you have a collection saucer and you put your plant up on blocks so it isn't sitting in the drainage effluent, you should have no problem watering.

Best luck!

Al


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Oh!!! Of course, raise the plant up in the saucer!

How safe is it to put your houseplants outside for the summer in terms of insect infestation?


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Nov 21, 13 at 21:24

I move all my plants outdoors as soon as temps allow, and don't bring them back in until temps force me to. Most houseplants are understory plants, and won't tolerate direct sun for long periods, so keep that in mind.

I generally treat my plants twice, at 2 week intervals before bringing them in. If temps allow, and they're still outdoors, they might get a 3rd treatment at that 2 week interval.

For me, the likelihood of pest infestation is reduced when plants are outdoors. Being there boosts their metabolism, and therefore their defenses, and they're visited by the predators that can't manage to make it indoors.

Al


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I was wondering how you feel about sub-irrigated planters? Would they still work with a 5-1-1 or Gritty mix?

Is 5-1-1 and Gritty a fairly universal potting mix?

How do you determine a 'season' for an indoor plant? Can plants be kept continually 'in season', or can you have multiple plants (eg. tomatoes) that are 'in season' at different times, so you can harvest tomatoes year-round?

One specific plant question - I want to plant a blueberry bush in a container indoors, so I don't want it to get huge, but I DO want fruit - can I accomplish this with pruning/root pruning?

I've loved reading your posts so far, Al! I wish I'd found the potting soil post a few days earlier, as I already planted some strawberries that are going to need a new soil mix now ^^;


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Jan 12, 14 at 12:43

Thanks for the kind words!

I was wondering how you feel about sub-irrigated planters? Would they still work with a 5-1-1 or Gritty mix? I don't use them, in spite of the extra measure of convenience. They have some inherent issues that are limiting that I'd just rather not deal with. It's not easy to get the right consistency so your soil wicks well enough w/o wicking TOO well, and there is little control over nutrients levels on a nutrient:nutrient basis. I prefer watering from the top.

Neither the gritty mix nor the 5:1:1 mix will work well in a SWC. The 5:1:1 mix can easily be modified so it DOES (by increasing the volume of peat to something like 5:4:1, but at that point, there will be little difference in performance between the 5:4:1 and any other off the shelf mix, other than the fact that making your own is MUCH less expensive, by half or more in most cases.

The purpose of the 5:1:1 mix is to provide a soil that holds little perched water and lots of air between soil particles. Whenever growers see an increase in growth/vitality when they switch to a soil that holds less water and more air, it should be explained that the well aerated soil isn't necessarily a great soil; more accurately it's a reflection made manifest by the fact that the soil previously being used was limiting the plants potential.

Is 5-1-1 and Gritty a fairly universal potting mix? Yes and no. I've never come across any plant that wouldn't thrive in either the gritty mix or the 5:1:1 mix, if the grower does his/her part, but as noted just above, these soils aren't suited to certain applications that depend on the wicking ability of the soil. I tend to put that fact squarely in the plus column because the idea from the outset was to decrease the amount of water a soil holds and increase the volume of air. I tend to look at almost all issues from the plant's perspective, while keeping in mind the variance in the need for growers to simplify or streamline their growing activities.

How do you determine a 'season' for an indoor plant? Can plants be kept continually 'in season', or can you have multiple plants (eg. tomatoes) that are 'in season' at different times, so you can harvest tomatoes year-round? Plants go through regular cycles, based primarily on day length. Use the search words endogenous Circadian rhythm for more info. Plants are attuned to the amount of light they receive, and respond accordingly. Day length is what tells them to bloom, when to stop using energy for growth and start storing it for a long winter and spring growth activity, when to slow growth and rest .... As well, it's the primary impetus moving the plant toward a true dormancy.

Most house plants can be stimulated to grow very well all year long, if they receive enough light and the right amount of water/nutrition. Temperature is important as well. That said, even plants that grow near the equator are genetically programmed to grow more at certain times of the year. The reason might have to do with climate (e.g. drought vs monsoon) but the response will be determined primarily by photoperiod.

I want to plant a blueberry bush in a container indoors, so I don't want it to get huge, but I DO want fruit - can I accomplish this with pruning/root pruning? Keeping the plant compact through pruning wouldn't be a problem, but keeping it indoors will be. The most important consideration is the fact they NEED a dormant period. Plants are moved toward dormancy by day length, and pushed into deep dormancy by chill. After they are dormant, they need a given number of chill units to RELEASE them from dormancy. Deprived of a winter's rest, the plant will suddenly decide to go dormant, usually in the summer after having been deprived of a dormancy. That is usually always fatal, unless you can chill the plant to release it from its dormant state. All this would need to be overcome AFTER you coaxed the plant to live indoors over winter - no small feat, that.

Al


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

SIPS:
That's what I was afraid of! I thought they sounded wonderful till I read your post on water movement, though.

Potting Mix:
Now I just need to find a source for pine bark in Illinois during January, heh. So far all I've found is dyed cypress.

Growing Season & Blueberry:
Thanks for explaining that! Would a cooling mat work to chill any plants that need it? How cold would it need to get? I had done a search on growing them indoors and a dormancy period wasn't mentioned, which is frustrating! Could I leave them outside in cooler weather? The majority of the plants I'm planning to grow are 'one time use', like carrots or lettuce, which wouldn't need a dormancy period, right?

Thanks for the reply Al =) This is my first true gardening attempt, and your posts have been invaluable.


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  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Jan 13, 14 at 21:31

I'm glad you're learning as a result of your efforts. Learning by trial and error is an expensive and time-consuming way to learn. Understanding that a well-aerated soil makes everything easier and takes a lot of the guesswork out of growing is, I think, a pivotal point in the in the growing experience for almost all growers. If you don't understand soils, unless you're very lucky, you'll probably be fighting against the ill effects of soils that are inherently limiting, and probably w/o understanding how important giving roots a healthy home is to the o/a health (and appearance and growth) of the organism.

Would a cooling mat work to chill any plants that need it? No How cold would it need to get? Chill units needed to release a plant from dormancy accumulate when the plant is around freezing to about 42* F. I had done a search on growing them indoors and a dormancy period wasn't mentioned, which is frustrating! I think anyone leading a discussion about growing blueberries indoors owes the audience some mention of the issues that are likely to be encountered, the 2 largest in my estimation being lack of a cold rest and the fact blueberries are just not likely to be happy indoors. Could I leave them outside in cooler weather? Yes, they will show their appreciation by not dying. ;-) The majority of the plants I'm planning to grow are 'one time use', like carrots or lettuce, which wouldn't need a dormancy period, right? Right - but don't be at all surprised if your indoor gardening adventures don't bring the fulfillment you look for. It's a tough job, getting veggies to grow well indoors.

Best luck. I hope your enthusiasm carries you far. It's an engaging attribute.

Al


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I've heard that it's not easy to get vegetables to grow indoors, but I'm not sure why that would be. As long as the correct soil, water, nutrient, light and temperature levels can be provided, why would the location of the plant matter? I'd think it'd be easier to grow indoors where you have direct control over all those elements! Is it just that micromanaging the variables is a pain?

Should I place the blueberry plant I'm about to receive (once it's planted in the mix) outdoors till later in the season to give it a dormancy period? The blueberry plant is the most expensive one I'm growing this year and I really don't want to have to rebuy it!

BTW: I posted over in a 'is this good for pine bark fines' thread (one of many, apparently!) about a pre-mixed soil I found on Amazon. It's not going to be as good as the 5-1-1, but I think it's as good as I'm going to get in Illinois mid-January. It's expensive, but might make a good 'emergency' substitute for others as well - what do you think?

Here is a link that might be useful: Is this good for pine bark fines?


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Thank you for this excellent info, Al! It's getting late here so I'm sending it to my tablet to read in more depth over breakfast tomorrow.

As a couple of side notes, Aysling, I've seen so many potted blueberries this past year in NH that were sold as "balcony blueberries" that would not need transplanting outside. I was so tempted to get one, being a huge blueberry lover, but couldn't imagine a blueberry lasting happily indoors over the long zone 5 winter without a cold garage for it to go dormant in (which I do not have). I'd love to know how you fare with it!

And speaking of carrots, a friend of mine gave me a child's plant kit as a joke gift a few months ago - one of those "watch your carrots grow!" kits with a clear plexiglass planting container and a light shield that you lift every few days to watch the seeds sprout and the roots grow. So I planted my carrot seeds and waited. I only watered rarely and by misting the soil with a fine spray bottle because it retained moisture very well, and when the green started to sprout up top, I lifted the shield and was stunned by what I found. Over the next couple of weeks, I got a great lesson on mold growth! :D Never saw a single root, but being such a hokey kit I wasn't surprised. The big, hearty carrots shown on the box never came and I had to ditch the kit before the mold caused allergy issues. lol


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Thank you for your wonderfully informative post! I was searching the site because I recently put 2 large ZZ plants into larger pots. I thought I was repotting but now realize I just potted up. This is problematic because of the weight and size of the largest pot and plant. Plant size works where it is but pot is too large and extremely heavy. I made the switch a couple of days ago. Is it okay to remove the plants from the pot, trim the roots and place it back into a pot the same size as before? What percentage of roots can I safely remove? I did wash much of the soil from the large roots which were very bound when I removed the plant. In fact getting it out of the pot was extremely difficult but roots not appear to be dying. It is my understanding that repotting traumatizes the plant and I am concerned about now removing it again from the soil and cutting off its roots! Also it is wet and I don't think it should be watered again .... Help please!!! Thank you.


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Feb 25, 14 at 14:15

A picture would be nice. Potting up does have a tendency to partially reinvigorate a plant, but unfortunately, now isn't the best time to repot. You should probably wait until summer to tackle that project.

Repotting does cause some stress to the plant, but healthy plants with some energy reserves rebound quickly. The temporary lull in growth just sets the stage for much more vigorous growth that follows repotting. Plants that are repottted will exhibit much stronger growth and vitality after the work than plants that are only potted up.

You won't get failing marks if you don't do things at the best time for the plant, but it's much easier on the plant, and you'd be surprised at how doing things in such a way that they mesh with the plant's natural growth cycle elevates what you take from your growing experience.

Al


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Thank you again! The plant in question and the other, slightly smaller ZZ that I also potted up seem to be doing fine. The pothos that has always shared the pot is not faring as well but it was very long and I have cut it way back. The potting mix I used is bark (pine, I believe), 2 kinds of peat and dolomite. I will leave them alone for now but try to get up the courage to repot this one during the summer. Is there a description, or better yet a video showing how to this that you would recommend? Can ZZ plants be divided? That could be a solution ... Also if I repot, what soil mix should I use? Again, many thanks. I am enjoying reading your posts very much. Linda


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Mar 3, 14 at 17:37

Glad you're still enthusiastic after what you've read so far. If you haven't stumbled across it yet, the thread about container soils, which really focuses on how water behaves in soils, probably has the potential to move you forward farther in one step than anything else you are likely to come across. I figure that when a container gardener actually understands what the thread says and learns how to implement the concept so the soil choice is working in concert with the gardener instead of against him, the rest sort of just falls into place. That triangle formed by soil choice, watering habits, and nutritional supplementation is at the core of container gardening, and the key to getting everything to work correctly and smoothly is a good soil.

You can propagate ZZs by dividing the tubers, by stem cuttings, or leave cuttings - but be prepared for an exercise in patience - it takes a while. Dividing the tubers of a full planting is probably the easiest.

If you read the soil thread, you'll probably be able to decide for yourself what would make an appropriate soil, but if you need help, you can be sure it will be available.

TTYL

Al


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Wow, this post is older than my membership, really nice tips tapla


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 6, 14 at 16:55

If you click this embedded link, you'll find a much older thread with a lot more posts and a lot of information that's better learned sooner than later. The thread might even be close to your age. Lol

Al


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Thanks for the valuable information! But they raised some questions as well. I'm currently transplanting all my houseplants to semi-hydro, taking care of the root system and fertilising in a new way is a completely new task for me. To be honest, I didn't dare to trim the roots. I was afraid doing damage to the plant.Is there any more info about how to do this wisely? Any difference between semi-hydro and soil potted plants?

Thanks


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Bump!!!

;-)

Laura


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Tapla,
Thank you for this info!! I am new to growing anything and after reading i do have some questions.

1. When you have a plant, or randomly spur of the moment bring one home, how do you figure out what kind of soil that plant needs??

2. Then after you determine what kind of soil your plant needs, do you mix it yourself, and how do you know what exactly you need to buy to mix up and add to the soil to make the plant the best it can be??

3. When trimming roots, how do you do that?? Do you have, or know of any good pitcures or videos that shows how to go about doing this??

4. How do you know when the best time to do the above is?? Ive always read early spring is the best time to pot up, (had no clue about trimming roots,but it makes sense) but can this be done any other time of the year and does it vary by plant??

This info has been helpful. Now it makes sense when i go into the big box stores, or even places from cvs or walgreens ive brought home plants from do so well at first and then kind of hit a slump. Im sure some of it is me and some of the things im doing, but also in that most of them tend to be very young plants and like you explained are hitting their growth sprut if you will. Very interesting!! I have bookmarked this thread and now going to the water one mentioned here to read that as well.
Thank you


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Jul 15, 14 at 21:39

1) When you have a plant, or randomly spur of the moment bring one home, how do you figure out what kind of soil that plant needs?? Growers often interpret the fact that because various plants tolerate some conditions with fewer complaints than other plants growing under the same conditions, that plants like or need a set of conditions that is clearly different from other plants. In fact, nearly all of the plants you're likely to grow as a houseplant will do very well growing under the same conditions as almost all the other plants you're likely to grow. The lesson here is, don't confuse what a plant is able to tolerate with what it likes. If you make a habit of providing every plant you ever buy with a fast-draining, well-aerated soil that you can water properly, you might never come across a plant that shows an objection to your habitual default - including cacti and succulents.

I use 2 basic but very productive soils for everything I grow. One is based on chunky pine bark, the other based on a trio of of chunky ingredients - screened Turface, grower size grit, and pine or fir bark. What soil I choose isn't based on which I think the plant would prefer, rather, it's based on how long I think the plant will be in a particular soil before it gets repotted. I could get by very well if I had only one soil to grow in and no ability to amend it.

2) .... after you determine what kind of soil your plant needs, do you mix it yourself, Yes and how do you know what exactly you need to buy to mix up and add to the soil to make the plant the best it can be?? I'll provide you with a link to information about soils and how to make them. Feel free to join in the discussion at the thread the link takes you to. It will provide recipes, outline a concept, and hopefully leave you with an understanding of the concept that allows you to build soils that provide excellent foundations for all the plantings you'll ever build in containers. Don't get hung up on the recipes. They're the ones that I use, but it's an understanding of the concept that will continue to be your friend for as long as you grow in containers. Understanding the concept transformed me from a grower who couldn't keep plants alive and well over the long term (in pots) to someone who can consistently keep healthy just about anything I care to grow. It just doesn't make sense to fight your soil for control over your plants, and accept the limitations that come along with excess water retention when it's soo easy to sidestep those issues and others associated so easily.

Here is a A thread that delves deeper into soil/ water in soil relationships.

3) When trimming roots, how do you do that?? Do you have, or know of any good pitcures or videos that shows how to go about doing this?? Here is a a link to a thread that dwells on how to keep plants in containers happy over the long haul. It also gets into the methodology of root maintenance.

4) How do you know when the best time to do the above is?? Ive always read early spring is the best time to pot up, (had no clue about trimming roots,but it makes sense) but can this be done any other time of the year and does it vary by plant?? Most houseplants should be repotted when they are healthy and in the month prior to their period of most robust growth. Plants are at their weakest in late winter and early spring, so repotting then invites unnecessary complications. Learning to think like a plant might allows you to work WITH the natural rhythms all plants go through in their annual trip around the sun. Again, it doesn't make sense to fight against these rhythms when you can so easily utilizer them to best advantage the plant. Temperate plants are usually root-pruned and repotted just before the onset of budswell in spring, but in areas with mild temperature swings, some fall repotting works well, too.

..... had a long day today & I'm ready to crash. Hopefully there's enough here to keep you occupied for a bit.

Al


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

Al,
Thank you so very much for answering and explaning this where i can understand it!! I am still on a mission to find everything to mix up the basic soil. Its amazing what you have figured out, and now that im reading and thinking about it, it makes sense that soil is the most important part of plants. Thank you, i will keep reading the other links and read up on things!! I am no where near the part to experiment with soil mixes, but i hope some day soon to be able to understand it a bit more, and be able to play around a bit.
Thanks again :)


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Jul 22, 14 at 19:02

Thank you for the kind words.

Please make a note somewhere to remind yourself that your choice of soil choice is your choice of foundation your plantings will be built on. You can choose a good soil, one that will provide a very strong foundation, or you can choose a not so good soil that will provide a weak foundation. One soil works for you, and the other you'll need to compete with for control over your plants' vitality.

There used to be a commercial on TV many years ago for Framm Auto Parts. In the commercial, a pleasant looking man stood behind the counter and said, "You can pay me now ......", while a greasy looking mechanic with an evil grin said, "..... or you can pay me later". Meaning you can invest a little effort up front to set yourself on easy street, or you can skip the initial effort and pay the price later - which for plants would be in lost potential.

Al


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RE: Good Growing Practices - An Overview for Beginners

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Jul 22, 14 at 20:34

Thank you for the kind words.

Please make a note somewhere to remind yourself that your choice of soil choice is your choice of foundation your plantings will be built on. You can choose a good soil, one that will provide a very strong foundation, or you can choose a not so good soil that will provide a weak foundation. One soil works for you, and the other you'll need to compete with for control over your plants' vitality.

There used to be a commercial on TV many years ago for Framm Auto Parts. In the commercial, a pleasant looking man stood behind the counter and said, "You can pay me now ......", while a greasy looking mechanic with an evil grin said, "..... or you can pay me later". Meaning you can invest a little effort up front to set yourself on easy street, or you can skip the initial effort and pay the price later - which for plants would be in lost potential.

Al


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