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A Soil Discussion

Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
Tue, Nov 6, 07 at 0:18

A Soil Discussion

Ive been thinking about what I want to say about soils here, and how I should open. Im going to talk a little about soils primarily from the perspective of what is best for the plant - not the planter. ;o) More often than not, the two ideas are mutually exclusive, and the plant suffers loss of vitality for grower convenience. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Probably none of us can afford the time it would take to give our plants the best care possible, and we need to decide on an individual basis, how much attention we can pay our plants. Ill explain later.

Let me start by saying that whenever I say plants I mean a very high % of house plants and freely allow that there are exceptions to every rule; but, we need to learn the rules before we can recognize the exception. Im going to offer a few (of what I think are) rules I believe are difficult to challenge, and that Ive adopted in my growing practices after a fair amount of study and consideration. Im going to leave light levels out of this conversation after acknowledging that they are probably just as important as soil to a planting, the difference being, we can recognize and change poor light levels easily if we choose, but poor soils are not so easily remedied.

Rule: Plants need air in the root zone as much as they need light and water. The soils we usually buy in a bag either do not supply enough aeration from the outset, or they do not supply it for a long enough period. Most, or at least many readers are expecting their plants to live in the same soil for several years, when the fact is that most peat based soils substantially collapse within a single growth cycle. That is to say that the peat particles break down into continually smaller pieces. This reduces the number of macropores (large air pockets), causes compaction, and increases the amount of water the soil holds in root zone and increases the length of time it remains there.

What does this mean to our plants? Well, there is the specter of root rot, but even if we set that aside, there is something more subtle occurring. Whenever roots are deprived of oxygen (O2) they soon begin to die - incrementally. First, and after only a few hours in saturated conditions, the finest roots that absorb water and nutrients begin to die. Already, the plant is operating under stress. Gradually, thicker roots die unless the plant uses the water in the root zone or it evaporates and O2 is allowed back into the soil. When adequate aeration is restored, the plant is disadvantaged, because fine rootage has died. The plant begins to regenerate the lost roots, but guess what? It has to call on energy reserves it has stored because the roots cannot efficiently take up water and the building blocks from which it makes food (nutrients/fertilizer). This stored photosynthate that goes to root regeneration would have been used to increase biomass - flowers, fruit, foliage, stem thickness. See how subtly aeration affects growth?

Rule: Our number one priority when establishing a planting should be to choose a soil that guarantees adequate aeration for the expected life of that planting. We can easily change every other cultural influence if we choose. Light, temperature, nutrients, moisture levels .. all can be changed, but we cannot change aeration, so we really need to consider that as a priority.

It is here where we need to bring attention to the fact that, as alluded to above, convenience has costs. Im not saying that in chiding fashion. I simply want to make the point that when youre able to go several days to a week without watering, in a high % of cases, the cyclic death and regeneration of roots is taking place. The plant is growing under stress and is weakened to varying degrees, depending on the severity of O2 deprivation in the root zone.

Rule: A fast soil that drains freely will be far superior from a plant vitality perspective than a more convenient soil that stays wet. The cost: Youll need to decide if youre willing to water and fertilize more frequently to secure the added vitality.

I could go on for days about soil, but Im hoping that Ill be able to discuss HOW we can get to a better place with regard to our soils through answering any questions that might come up, and exploring options. Before I close, I would like to talk for a minute about another bane of poor soils.

Many of us recognize what we consider the main danger of overwatering - root rot, and do our best to prevent it. Most often, its by watering sparingly so the soil is never saturated, but let me explain what happens when we do this.

Plants best take up water and the ions dissolved in it when the ion level is very low. This ion level is measured by either electrical conductivity (EC) or the total amount of dissolved solids (TDS). Problems arise when the TDS/EC level is low, when the plant can take up water easily. It remains hydrated, but starves because there is not a high enough concentration of ions in the soil water. If the level of TDS/EC is too high, the process of osmosis is affected, and the plant cannot efficiently take up either water OR nutrients, and the plant can starve or die of thirst in a sea of plenty. Its up to us to supply the right mix of all the nutrients in a favorable range of TDS/EC.

Im sorry to be a little technical, but Im getting to a point. When using soils that are not fast enough to allow us to water copiously and continually flush the salts that accumulate from fertilizer and irrigation water something unwanted occurs. If we do not flush the soil, these salts accumulate. This pushes up the level of TDS/EC and makes it increasingly difficult for the plant to take up water and nutrients.

Imagine: A soil that is killing our most efficient roots, which stresses the plant and makes it more difficult to take up water due to the lack of those roots, while it insures that the level of TDS/EC will rise, making it difficult or impossible on yet another front for the plant to take up water and nutrients. Is it any wonder that our plants start to struggle so mightily toward winters end? Are we really seeing the effects of low humidity or do you think it might be drought stress brought on by either an inappropriate soil or less than favorable watering practices? Probably a little or a lot of both.

Rule: Whenever you consider a plant in trouble, you must consider not only the plant, but the rest of the planting as well - including the soil. The insect infestations, diseases, and stress/strain we so often need help with here, can almost always be traced back to weakening of the organism due to an inappropriate soil (or, as noted, inadequate light - though in an extremely high % of cases, it is indeed the soil).

This only touches on the cause/effect relationship of the soil to the planting. If there are questions, Ill try to answer them. If there is disagreement on a point or points, Ill offer the science behind my thinking and you can decide individually if the things I set down make sense.

I would strongly urge anyone who wasnt long ago bored to tears to follow this link to another thread I offered on the container gardening forum. If you want to get into the science and physics of what happens to Water in Container Soils, this will help explain it. You'll also come away with the knowledge of what makes a good soil.

I hope this starts a lively discussion and provokes lots of questions, but more importantly, I hope it eventually, and as the thread progresses, helps put a few more pieces of the puzzle together for at least a few forum participants. ;o)

Please forgive grammer/spelling errors. It's late here & I'm weary. ;o)

Al


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: A Soil Discussion

Al,

This is a fascinating and necessary topic! Good for you for wanting to approach it.

I always mix perlite and some sand in my potting soil I purchase, but am not sure if this is enough. I used to use vermiculite as well, but read here that was not a good benefit. I also don't do a precise quantity of each. If we could get a generic, healthy soil mix recipe that would be awesome.

Good job as always!!

Sherry


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Nov 6, 07 at 7:06

Well - consider this: Perlite promotes drainage and aeration, while sand, on the other hand, can in some cases improve drainage, but it destroys aeration. It fills macropores and reduces o/a air porosity of the soil. THAT is the #1 physical characteristic of the soils we need to preserve. Sand also holds little water on its surface and has a poor CEC (cation exchange capacity - a measure of how well soils/components hold nutrients). This includes builder's sand. We can do better than that in soils if we choose. If not, it's always an individual decision. I'll just offer my thoughts & you can decide, but at least you'll have the information that allows you to realize there are alternate choices.

My idea of sand as an amendment in soils is a mineral product that ranges in size from 1/2 BB size to BB size. In place of the sand, I usually use different sizes of crushed granite or a large silica sand (1/2 BB) I buy from a masonry supply store. All are cheap at around $5/50 lbs

Vermiculite breaks down and compacts quickly, so I use it very sparingly. It does have some Mg and a little Ca available for plant uptake, but it's pretty insignificant, as they're both easily provided by other vehicles.

I'm headed to where I go to keep the wolf away now (work), but I'll post some pictures of some soil ingredients and even some soil pictures later and talk more about the benefits.

You can sound the nerd alert if you want, but I think this is exciting. I really think that if this thread stays lively, a good number of growers are going to take at least something helpful from it, and that's my reward. ;o)

Cul8r

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Thanks Al, for all of your time and effort on this important topic. I had to print this out so I can read it and reread it as there is alot of information that will take me a while to register.
I would like to see your recipe for the "perfect" potting soil. I will be potting up a bunch of plants in the spring and maybe I will have grasped this soil thing by then.
Lori


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Nov 6, 07 at 16:51

Hi, Lori. There will never really be a soil that is perfect for very long. I say that because every planting is constantly in flux and the soil relationship changes as the planting matures or progresses through the growth cycle. A soil that might be perfect for a small plant in container 'A' might not suit a larger plant in the same container, or might not even suit the same plant as it gets older. Even though there is no single perfect soil, we know what an ideal soil is.

Ideal container soils will have a minimum of 60-75% total porosity. This means that when dry, in round numbers, nearly 70% of the total volume of soil is air. The term 'container capacity' is a hort term that describes the saturation level of soils after the soil is saturated and at the point where it has just stopped draining - a fully wetted soil. When soils are at container capacity, they should still have in excess of 30% air porosity. Roughly, a great soil will have about equal parts of solid particles, water, and air when the soil is fully saturated.

Now you want to know how to make such a soil - right? Well, it's not just enough to make it, we need to make it so it lasts for the life of the planting - or at least between repots. It has to retain structural integrity and guarantee it will hold healthy volumes of air for a long time - it cannot 'collapse'. This is where most bagged soils fail.

Most peat-based soils in new plantings will be about 50-60% total porosity and be around 25-30% air porosity when saturated. Both these levels are probably at or near the margins of acceptability, but they don't remain there long. The peat particles quickly break down, soil collapses, air porosity goes down while water retention goes up, the soil gets soupy.

Amend it you say - add perlite? Imagine a bowl of pudding. How much perlite do we need to add to get the pudding to drain its water? Where is the air, even if we add large volumes of perlite? Trying to amend a soil comprised of fine particulates is pretty inefficient business. Much better, is to begin with a soil that has larger particles that are durable & will retain their shape/structure for long periods.

Pine bark is one way. Fir or hemlock bark are great, too. What if we could find something better than perlite? Something that held more water, provided more porosity, and had a better CEC than perlite? Wow! What if we found a couple other ingredients we could add that would maintain porosity and would allow us to fine tune the amount of water our soils hold? Wouldn't that be the answer to your dreams? A soil that is durable, inexpensive, extremely healthy for plants, and adjustable in it's ability to hold water.

We can make that soil if you're willing to find a few ingredients. I'm going to show you what I grow almost all my plants in. I maintain around 250 plantings and I can count on one hand the number of plants I've lost in the last 5 years. The ones I did lose, I can trace to my own laziness. I either did not remove them from the soil they were purchased in before the soil collapsed, or they were in one of my less durable soils and I did not repot them in timely fashion.

It's not that I have any special growing skills, or that I have a green thumb. I just understand the importance of soil choice and how it relates to my nutrient program an general plant physiology. I water and fertilize my plants when they need it, and make sure the soil they are in is adequate. I give them enough light, and they just do all the rest. It really is that simple.

This, or some minor variation of it is what I grow 90% of all my plants in:




It consists of equal parts, by volume, of a baked clay granule called Turface, crushed granite or equal, and pine or fir bark. It's inexpensive and will retain structure far longer than any healthy interval between repots.

For those that can't get around the fact that you can grow perfectly healthy plants in a mix that's 2/3 inorganic (I actually grow many plants in just Turface or a Turface granit mix. There is nothing organic in those soils and the plants thrive), I can offer another recipe that is less durable, but still far superior to the common bagged soils:

3 gallons pine bark
1/2 gallon sphagnum peat
1/2 gallon perlite
small handful lime or gypsum
1/4 cup CRF
1 tbsp micro-nutrient powder (you may not be able to find it, so please use a fertilizer that contains the minor elements)

Questions?

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Yep, I have some questions, Al.
You mean go out and buy a bag of pine bark? Like the type used for mulch?? Wouldn't the pieces be real big? Obviously you break them up into small pieces, if so.

What is CRF?
Minor elements in fertilizer....you mean a 5-5-5- fertilizer?

Dumb questions, but necessary for me.

Sherry


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Nov 6, 07 at 18:58

Not all bark is created equal. Try to find bark that looks like the stuff on the top (lower photo) if you can. The stuff on the left is a little coarse, but will work in most applications. The stuff on the right is fine fir bark - like for orchids, and works well in mixes. In the upper photo, you'll see at the top, a soil from my raised beds. Disregard it - it will hold too much water for container applications. The white gravel in the top pic is crushed granite & the tan granules are Turface. Some of these might be a challenge to find, and you may not want to buy 50 lbs of Turface & granite - I can't help that part.

The most important thing to take away from this thread is the absolute importance of aeration to plant vitality. If that is all you get from any effort I make - I'll be happy.






CRF = Controlled Release Fertilizer (Osmocote, e.g.)

The minor elements are also called micronutrients. They are included in some 24-8-16 soluble blends and are an excellent choice for a very large % of plants. We can get into fertilization later if we like, but for now, I'll try to stay focused on soils.

There are no dumb questions. Almost every question allows some expansion into areas not even touched on yet, so feel free to ask whatever you like. I'll try my best to answer and it gives anyone who wants to participate a chance to take the discussion into their preferred area.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Thanks Al,
I understand it more now. You are SO patient, and so amazing in your knowledge. You should change your moniker to "sponge". You soak up knowledge and will research it, and source everything out to get to the bottom of things.

Glad you're here.

I'm hoping others post their "recipes" and knowledge as well. Toni where are you? for one.

Sherry


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Al, do you have problems with fungus gnats? The reason I'm asking is because my brother's plants are constantly plagued by those pests. The last time I saw him, I gave him some yellow sticky strips (traps) to take home with him as a temporary solution. But...I did mention to him that he should improve on the soil he's growing his plants in, which in turn would help him with his watering skills. He (like most growers) is convinced that commercial soil mixes are top quality; otherwise, why would these companies sell them on the market? Umm...profit...

I believe a link to this topic would help him understand how important aeration is.

Also, do you water more often with this type of mix? And do you find that your plants do not overheat as easily during the warmer months? Inquiring minds want to know :)

This is a great topic! Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I'm looking forward to learning many new things here about soil mixes.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

What are your opinions on using coir instead of peat in a soil medium......it is what I have been using for a while, and have grown quite fond of it. I do mix it with perlite and orchid mix for drainage. Great thread!


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Nov 6, 07 at 20:31

Thank you for the kind comments - appreciated. ;o)

I almost never have trouble with gnats. If I do, it's usually in fall, just after I bring plants indoors. The reason is that while plants are outdoors in good light and growing well, I can afford to water as much as I want and keep soils quite moist, so I sometimes bring a few in (gnats). I also use fish emulsion outdoors and gnats love it (as well as other organic fertilizers). As soon as I switch over to all chemical fertilizers indoors, & fall into a regular watering pattern where soils are allowed to dry down, they disappear w/o additional control efforts. I will say though, that the gnats are usually always found on/in plants that would still be in a highly organic mix. I never find them in plants that are in the bark/Turface/granite mix.

Yes - you do need to water more frequently in a fast soil, but watering often is a good thing. Each watering forces stale gasses from the soil. CO2 accumulation in heavy soils is very detrimental to root health, but you usually can't apply water in volume enough to force these gasses from the soil. Open soils allow free gas exchange at all times. You have the added benefit of being able to water copiously enough to flush residual salts from the soil at every watering. These are two very important considerations - especially during periods of slow growth (winter).

Again, we touch on the idea that grower convenience is often at the expense of vitality. A heavy soil is convenient (infrequent watering), but has a negative affect on root function. Open soils are less convenient, but offer better root function and o/a plant vitality.

I find that root temperatures are more a function of ambient temperature and container color. White containers in full sun can reflect enough light to reduce relative solar heat gain by as much as 40* over black containers in the same location. BTW - most plant roots begin to see impeded function as actual soil temperatures approach 88*, and are very seriously impeded by the time soil temperatures reach 100*.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion ...

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Nov 6, 07 at 20:53

Nova - I really can't comment much on coir. If you noticed the soil mix above, you'll see that I limit my soils to less than 15% peat, and often no peat at all. My guess is that at those low %, the difference would be unidentifiable. I do know that coir fiber length is shorter than peat, so it holds more water and less air. Coir also has a high pH - around 7, so that virtually eliminates the thought of adding any liming materials to supply calcium. Coir soils should always be amended with gypsum, which also solves the low sulfur content. You should always leach it thoroughly if you use it, because it's high in soluble salts. It does have a big advantage in that it does not become hydrophobic (water repellent) as it dries down, as both pine bark and peat do at moisture contents south of 30%.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Al, thank you for answering my questions. I am curious about a couple of things. Does your mix break down over time? Does it have to be replaced completely as time progresses, or topped off occasionally? The reason Im asking is because Im trying to determine long term costs. Everyone I know uses commercial potting soils for convenience, but also because they are convinced that its cost effective. When I mention mixing their own soils with all these different products, they resist. But its not just a time issue with them (theyre too busy) but also a monetary one. But if the long term results are beneficial to their pocket as well as their plants, they may just try out a few homemade recipes. Commercial soils, as most growers whove used them know, break down very quickly, and need to be replaced quite often. But what about homemade recipes like yours?

Once again, I appreciate that you are sharing your knowledge. I have a lot of questions about potting mediums but cant seem to remember them all...LOL... I guess Ill add them as they pop up from the old memory bank.
Eventually, Id love for you to get a topic going about fertilizing/feeding plants. That would be quite interesting.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Hi Al! You say you water and fertilize your plants when they need it.I understand how to water a plant when it needs it.Can you explain what you mean about fertilizing a plant when it needs it? Thanks!!!!!


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Tapla,

You say to add a small handful of lime or gypsum to the second potting mix. While the lime will add calcium and raise the pH, the gypsum will add calcium without raising the pH. Gypsum does not supply an anion to neutralize the H+ ions in solution. Do you add the gypsum for another purpose?


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RE: A Soil Discussion

OMG!!!
I have 21 house plants that my husband braought me from a job the lady rented plants and was giving these guys away
most of them are in severe need of repotting.I am now worried I will murder them all............Its fall the all seem ok I just repotted the money tree it was real bad off
but know I am not shore I did it correctly I used merical grow potting mix and put peat on the top I really am not shore this plant will with stand being repotted again as it turned yellow before from the need for repotting and is still in shock.I will be asking lots of ???'''''s in the next month or so.
geese I spent most of this morning flushing my older plants of salt from my water softener I still am not out of that crisis in the process I found that my aloe has root rot. I am a newbe and not a very plant smart one at that.

How much will it cost me to mix up a huge batch of this stuff. I need to mix at least 100lbs of soil in order to have enough for all plants needing soil I am taking this one plant at a time.I go to agway for my stuff will they be able to help find all this stuff that I need?


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Nov 7, 07 at 17:16

WR said - Does your mix break down over time? Does it have to be replaced completely as time progresses, or topped off occasionally? The reason Im asking is because Im trying to determine long term costs.

The organic component of any soil will break down with time, and not at an even rate. A peat soil will be fine in MI for about 2/3 to 3/4 of a growth cycle before showing signs of collapse (soil shrinkage is visual notice of soil collapse). Fortunately, by then the planting has matured and the extra water-holding ability can be a benefit.

I selected conifer bark as the primary organic component in my soils because of it's stability. It's rich in a lipid called suberin, which is also often referred to as 'natures water-proofing'. Suberin makes it extremely difficult for microorganisms to cleave the hydrocarbon chains in bark, so it breaks down at a fraction of the speed that peat or coir do. This goes back to my recognition of the importance of aeration in soils. The larger and stable bark particulates insure a long lasting soil with plenty of air.

I use the soil in the picture that is 2/3 inorganic for all my houseplants & everything for bonsai. I use the other recipe for all my annual garden display plantings and veggies - stuff I'm only going to grow on for a season or two. You should probably be able to expect 3 good years out of the bark/peat/perlite recipe, and the Turface/granite/bark recipe will last indefinitely.

From a price point, you can make about 3-4 cu ft (25 - 30 gallons) from 1 - 2 cu ft bag of pine bark plus the appropriate volume of perlite & peat for about $12-15, including the CRF and other ingredients. Initially, it may cost a little more because you'll want to buy bigger bags of materials (perlite, peat), but o/a cost should be close. This is prolly half or less than bagged mixes.

I'll offer you a link to something I wrote about fertilizer(s) in the container forum, but there was one person who extremely antagonistic to me there. You'll need to decide, if you read the whole thread, who makes sense.

Christianme - you said: You say you water and fertilize your plants when they need it. I understand how to water a plant when it needs it. Can you explain what you mean about fertilizing a plant when it needs it.

I don't remember saying it that way exactly, but fertilizing whenever the soil already contains adequate nutrients simply raises the EC/TDS (see upthread) and makes it increasingly difficult for the plant to uptake water/nutrients. I'm an advocate of keeping nutrient levels in the adequate to low luxury levels, which insures both efficient water and nutrient uptake. This is best achieved by fertilizing often with dilute solution and using a soil that allows you to flush the soil at every watering w/o risking root rot. Did that answer your question?

M Taggert - You said: You say to add a small handful of lime or gypsum to the second potting mix. While the lime will add calcium and raise the pH, the gypsum will add calcium without raising the pH. Gypsum does not supply an anion to neutralize the H+ ions in solution. Do you add the gypsum for another purpose?

As a general rule, I add dolomite to the soil recipe with the pine bark and peat because it supplies both Ca and Mg in the proper ratio. Ca and Mg are reciprocally antagonistic, and their relative concentrations (ratios to each other) are important. An overabundance of one makes uptake of the other a problem. The bark soils are fairly low in pH and can afford the base effect of the dolomite, while the Turface/granite/bark mix is just south of neutral. In these soils, I opt to use gypsum because they cannot afford the increase in pH. To keep the Ca/Mg balance in line, I'll use Epsom salts as a Mg source.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion ...

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Nov 7, 07 at 17:19

Shelsob - you'll find the reply to your question in what I said to WR immediately above.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Hi Al,

This is a fascinating subject. Your willingness and ability to present it with such detail and clarity are much appreciated.

Your 2/3 inorganic mix (container soil #1) looks and sounds a lot like that of high meadow environs (6-10,000 ft.) in the Sierras, where soil has the texture of small gravel, and the warm season is so brief that the available frost-fractured granites and other volcanics break down at a snail's pace.

Please help me to understand why house plants, which are mostly tropicals, will do so much better in something like your gravely mix, than in something closer in composition to the substrates to which the species are native.

Please understand that I don't doubt your thesis; I would just like to get a better handle on the whys of it.

Thank you so much for taking the time to lay out these principles and for your patience in explaining them.

Sweetcicely


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Nov 8, 07 at 20:43

Hi, SC - What a soil is made of is really very unimportant, as long as it is not phytotoxic (poison to plants), and it holds air and water in the proper proportions and is reasonably good at holding nutrients. It's also helpful if the soil holds ample amounts of water, so that you aren't overwhelmed with irrigation duties. If you wanted to, you could grow perfectly healthy plants in a bucket of marbles or a pail of broken glass. All it would take is your willingness to water with a nutrient solution often enough to keep the plant and roots hydrated (witness hydroponics).

I think it would benefit all container gardeners to realize that container culture is more closely related to hydroponics, than to our gardens. We regularly flood our soils and let them dry down. We are also entirely in charge of our nutrient supplementation, and cannot rely on soils to deliver either ample amounts or the right mix of nutrients.

I grow some plants (dwarf geraniums, portulacaria, rock rose (cistus), Peruvian myrtle, others, in pure Turface, which consists of hard clay granules that are baked to near ceramic properties. So that soil has a 0% organic component. Calcined clay aggregates (Turface MVP) have an excellent CEC capacity (if it means anything, up to 12 me/100 cc) and 40-50% internal porosity while boasting about 80% total porosity. This translates to superb water holding capability w/o sacrificing aeration, and a whole lotta cation attachment sites @ more than 13 acres of surface area per lb of aggregate.

If you can get past the idea that container soils need to be 90% peat moss or other organic ingredients, you are setting yourself free to explore soo many other effective and durable ingredients that will guarantee there will be air in the rootzone for a long, long time. This physical property (aeration) should always be the first priority in selecting a soil or ingredients to make one.

I already mentioned that Turface and granite (or very coarse sand) are virtually impervious to collapse. Conifer bark breaks down at a fraction of the speed of peat or coir. Why would anyone choose a soil that is guaranteed to collapse in a single grow season if a soil that will last for years and is inexpensive is at hand?

There is a price though, for growing in these highly aerated and durable soils. It takes a little more effort because you need to water and fertilize more often, but for me, it's a no brainer. The fact that I have no trouble maintaining excellent plant vitality, or with insects, salt build-up, or the other ills associated with poor soils, is enough to keep me from considering a lesser soil.

We all need to decide how much convenience we want. You can't have it both ways. There is an inverse relationship between aeration and a soils ability to hold water. The more water, the less air. The less air, especially over long periods, the more difficult it is to maintain plant vitality. If you are going two - three - four days between watering, your plant's roots are dying and regenerating and the process is sapping energy continually. There's no need for this, unless there is an unwillingness to give up some convenience, a personal decision.

So far, I haven't gotten into the physics of water movement/retention in containers. In short, heavy soils will always have a saturated layer of soil at the bottom of the container that will not drain, no matter if there are 100 drain holes. It's physically impossible without tricking the water into draining. As particulate size increases (bark/Turface/grit instead of peat) the height of the saturated layer decreases, until at around a consistent particle size of 1/8 inch or larger, it disappears entirely. This is a huge problem in heavy, collapsed soils, which is what many of you are growing in if your plant is over a year old and in any original soil.

There is soo much more that I haven't even mentioned, but as questions come up, I'll try to incorporate additional info into the answers. I hope that each post raises more questions, because I know there are always more than a few people wondering the same thing.

Is that an adequate answer, SC, or is there more to your wonderings?

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

More than just adequate, Al; many thanks!!

Those are principles which I am seeing employed in orchid culture, so they make good sense in terms of my little bit of experience with orchids (where I am still a newbie of several years). They also answer plausibly to many of the problems I have had with other plants. You have convinced me. And I am delighted to have the prospect of solving those problems.

Another question (if you will indulge me):
All things being equal (which, of course, they are not : ) ) how often would I need to water my Pothos, Ficus benjamina, and zygocactus (for example), were I to repot into the 2/3 inorganic mix?

(I live in a relatively xeric area of CA foothill black oak grasslands--generally, 5 mos. of dry and 7 mos. in which 20" of rain falls. Thermostat is at 79.5 in summer and 67 in winter. Plants are situated beside sheer-curtained glass with a SSE exposure; zygos are at an uncurtained ESE window.)

SC


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Nov 9, 07 at 9:53

SC - before I answer your watering question, I have to say I feel pretty embarrassed that I left out the main point when I answered: Please help me to understand why house plants, which are mostly tropicals, will do so much better in something like your gravely mix, than in something closer in composition to the substrates to which the species are native.

The soil I suggested really isn't all that different from what in situ plants feet are in. Consider that in the garden, a very rich soil will have perhaps a 10% organic component - the rest mineral, and in tropical regions, soils are often very poor with a thin layer of duff on top and consist also of a low organic component. From this, you can see that a huge % of plants are grown in soils that are more than 90% inorganic. So, why would it be a stretch to realize we can do it very efficiently in containers, too? ;o)

The difference is the physics. In in situ situations, the earth acts as a wick and pulls moisture from the top layers of soil, so plants grow in soils that are fine & retain moisture. The physics of container culture are entirely different. Garden soils are death in containers. They compact, hold too little air, too much water, and cannot drain adequately w/o trickery. ;o) To compensate for the difference in physics, we can play with things like the physical properties of the components (like size mostly, but porosity, too) to achieve an extremely efficient blend with the right proportions of air and water. There's more, but the concept is, I think, clear now.

Your question: I can't tell you how often you'll need to water except that it would be on an 'as needed' basis. I have about 100 tropical plants under good light in 60% humidity @ 65*. I water about 90 of them copiously every other day, and about 10 every day. Many of those are in extremely small soil volumes though (bonsai). Container material and size in relationship to the plant also play into the equation. I would say that generally, you would probably need to water most plantings from every other day to every 4 days. Remember, that you have to water often is a blessing to your plants, if a curse on you. ;o)

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

AL,

Where do you buy your turface?


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Nov 9, 07 at 18:32

It may take some searching. I buy it by the pallet from a wholesale nursery supplier, but there are several local places that would order it for me if I didn't have good access. Large nursery and greenhouse operations often know of suppliers and will have or order it. Companies that build athletic fields and golf courses also use it extensively.

You can go to Profile's Website for more information and an 800 number where you can ask about distributors nearest you. If the distributor will not sell direct, ask for a list of their customers in your area.

Hint: If you're on the west coast, Turface will be difficult to come by. A product called Play Ball,is made from calcined diatomaceous earth. It's superior to Turface in most important areas, and is available with a little inquiry.

Al

You can see these two portulacarias are both being grown in 100% Turface. Excuse the appearance of the larger (9 years old from a cutting) - it had just been pruned hard.







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RE: A Soil Discussion

I know that coarser texture of mix above a finer texture in a pot will retain more water because the coarse bottom layer doesn't have the capillary potential of drawing water out. Golf courses use this layering under their putting greens. Is there a useful application of using this in potted plants. Maybe it would be good for high moisture plants because the top layer retains more water.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Nov 9, 07 at 22:45

I think you made a typo and contradicted yourself by mistake, but I think I know what you meant.

I wrote another long thread about the Physics of Water Retention in Soils that explains the phenomena of a 'Perched Water Table', which is what you are describing. Yes, so called 'drainage layers' at the container bottoms are ineffective for their intended purpose. If you read the thread, it explains the physics behind the fact that drainage layers really only raise the layer of saturated soils in containers because the water is held tightly in the finer soil and 'perches' above the drainage layer w/o draining. There are tricks we can use to drain saturated water from soils, but a drainage layer is not one of them.

I really should qualify that last statement. Drainage layers can be effective, if the larger particulates under the soil are no more than 2.1x the size of soil particulates in the soil above. If they are larger than that, the water will 'perch'. This may or may not be a problem, but it tends to be more critical in new plantings or when the plant is over-potted.

If you are considering only plant physiology, not container weight issues or expense of soils, you are far better off to have a homogeneous mix of the same, free draining soil from container top to bottom than to use a drainage layer. If you are worried about drainage you can employ a wick to drain excess water (this 'fools' the water into 'thinking' the container is deeper, so the water moves down the wick and out of the container) or simply tilt the container and much of the saturated layer of soil will drain.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Al,

Thank you for revisiting the native soil vs. 2/3 inorganic mix part of my question. I felt that your explanation had covered it generally, if not specifically.

I know you are quite right about the poverty of tropical soils and the highly inorganic nature of most soils. When one is so accustomed to looking at container planting as an approximation of garden planting, it is difficult to change perspectives. Old habits die hard.

I appreciate your response to the watering frequency question. I now water most of my plants every 4-5 days. If I go away for a week, the job falls to someone else. I can see asking them to water every 4, or even every 3 days, but not every other day. Still, I want the plants to be healthy and "happy," so there are some decisions to make as repotting time comes around.

Thank you so much for this wonderfully thought provoking and informative thread, and for sharing your knowledge and experience so generously.

Sweetcicely


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Nov 10, 07 at 6:10

SC - You're so very welcome. I enjoy sharing what I know. Those that know me, know I don't do it to show off or for any other reason than it makes me feel good to think I might have said something - anything, that may have made your growing efforts more productive, or given you some piece of knowledge that allowed you to improve the vitality level of your plants. I spend almost as much time answering e-mail as I do here on the forums, even though there's only one pair of eyes that see what I say.

I'm not sure how many are quietly following this thread, but I wish they would join in, whether they agree or disagree with anything I say. It has nothing to do with the fact that I brought it up, but I honestly believe that a thorough understanding of the relationship of soil:planting is probably the most important piece in the puzzle for all container gardeners. A strong statement, but if I didn't believe it firmly, I wouldn't spend so much time talking about soils.

I am very active on the Container Gardening forum, and I have seen soo many grower's problems go away once they understood container soils and adopted a durable and well-aerated mix. The thread I linked to upthread here, has literally hundreds of 'thank yous for the help' and testimonials to the fact that these soils and the concepts I am talking about are so very productive. Again, I'm not saying that to brag, I know this concept is so important that I'll risk it looking like a boast to make sure you know that hundreds of people here @ GW have employed this principle practically, and were excited enough about the results to come back and relay what benefit they've discovered in what they took from the information. I didn't invent this stuff, I just happen to recognize how soils work & have the ability and want to put it into words for folks to use as they like. ;o)

Now - to your comments: There are ways to adjust the water holding ability of soils and still maintain aeration. That's why there are two mineral components in the soil instead of one. The Turface can hold lots of water and air, while the granite holds little water. Granite's contribution to the soil is as a provider of air, and a way to adjust the soils o/a water holding ability.

By adding a small amount or coir or peat, and increasing the amount of Turface while decreasing the amount of granite or large sand, you can extend the watering interval. Let me know if you want to approach things from that angle.

Also - If you only have a few plants that you're worried about being a watering problem, I can help you set up a wick watering system that will even further extend the interval between waterings while you're away.

Now it's time for me to thank you, Sc - for your interest and your contribution through your comments and questions. Thank you. BTW - there's an offer in your mail. ;o)

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

I am a little confused I really thought that air was bad every one says to be sure there are no air pockets when repoting which I do pack that soil in well.

I am not a botonist and really don't understand half of the scientific terms up there.

So my mix was improvised

1 part mericle grow potting mix

1 part fish tank gravel

1 part kitty litter (Perfume and chemical free said safe for planting on bag)Agway Brand I buy it for my bunny

My local stores where out of everything this is a bad time of year in maine they get rid of all there planting stuff
and replace it with wood stoves for heating. I WENT TO TWO HARD WARE STORES AND wAL MART I am starting to wonder if anyone has house plaNTS LOL...At the time I didn't realize that the garage stuff was usable to.Iguess I should have read more closly I tend to scim and miss things as a result.

put my kitty litter in a cup of water last night it seams to be holding up pritty well.So far.

Michelle


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Interesting thread! I've always believed in airy/porous soil mixes. I use a lot of perlite. I can't get Turface around here.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Nov 10, 07 at 9:51

Hi Michelle. If there's anything you need clarification on, please ask & I'll try to eliminate the more technical terminology. Sorry about that.

We can probably build a pretty good soil from what you have if you want to try. If you do, tell me how large the gravel is (compare it to a BB or a Tic Tac), and how much soil you'd like to make so I can give you some proportions/directions.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

For those folks whose local stores don't stock a lot of plant supplies in the winter I have a suggestion: If you are looking for fir bark, try a pet store.

I found it packaged as "reptile bedding" at a PetSmart store. The bits of bark are about the same size as the kind packaged for orchids. Bur read the package carefully, to make sure it is fir bark, and not shredded cypress, since my store carried both.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

My little helper(george Jr. is 4) finished my kitty litter exspearament with out me even knowing it I complealty forgot he had taken a plastic cup of the kitty litter added a bit of water and took some variuos clippings while I was working on my plants I told him he could keep it in his bedroom window its atleast 72 hours old and no clumps just gravel and water and don't forget the peperomia leavs He stol from me lol...he even took a bloom that fell from another plant.I think my kitty litter is going to work out fine. I already mixed up the first batch.repotted um spider palm,added top soil to my figs,My cuttings from the pepperonia(Jayde) I had to prune by half.only time will tell at this point. all that was thursday. I only have my boston fern left to pot up I am just not quite shore where its gooing shes a beuty 3 feet wide as well as tall.
Al you are very good at this and you have bean a great help.I even bought some pine shavings didn't use them. though anyhow anything is better than that darn potting mix its all anyone has left that should tell you somthing in it self.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

1) We have an "aquatic soil mix" at work that as far as I can tell is just clay particles -- is this more or less the same thing as Turface? I know you can't look at it and tell me, but -- would Turface be likely to be used for anchoring aquatic plants, I guess is what I'm asking.

2) Is kitty litter more or less the same thing as Turface as far as mixes go, and if so, in what way is it different? One of the nursery lot guys, when I balked at the price of the aquatic mix (10 lb / $10.99!), said that no-additive kitty litter would probably work just as well. True?


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Nov 10, 07 at 15:06

Ohh - thank you, Karen! Your reply and suggestion is the kind of networking I'd hope would surface in this thread. I know some of this stuff will be hard to find, and sometimes even harder in small volume and at this time of year, but info like yours at least will allow some folks to try something different if they choose. ;o)

Starting 'im young, hmm, Michelle? ;o) I want to tell you not to use the pine shavings, any sapwood, or hardwood bark in soils - you'll be disappointed. They are mostly cellulose and lack the two compounds that make wood retain it's structure/shape (lignin and suberin), so soil organisms break them down very quickly, leaving you with a collapsed soil (no air).

Wood products other than conifer bark also create N immobilization (microorganism population explosion in which the microorganisms use available N, subsequentlyleaving little or no N available for plants).

Mr. S - I believe the aquatic mix is also calcined clay, like Turface & should work fine. The same holds for the kitty litter, as long as there are no perfumes, deodorants, or bacteriostats in it.

If these products contain a high volume 'fines' and dust, you should screen them through insect screen or a wire strainer & discard the fines before using in a soil.

Al







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RE: A Soil Discussion

I guess my instincs aren't as bad as I thought.glad I didnt use the shavings,Thanks for your patients.
Michelle


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Al,
Let me take this piecemeal, so that I don't forget anything. Questions just keep popping up! You wrote:

"That's why there are two mineral components in the soil instead of one. The Turface can hold lots of water and air, while the granite holds little water."

Turface ~ There is a plant media product at rePotme.com called, Aliflor, which is expanded clay aggregate. Will it work well as an alternative, if Turface is difficult to find in small quantity?

Do these baked clays accumulate surface algae in a balanced regimen; and if so, would that be harmful?

Granite:
"Granite's contribution to the soil is as a provider of air, and a way to adjust the soils o/a water holding ability."

I'm guessing that, over time, granite might contribute some calcium, silica, and possibly iron. Is that the case, and would it be significant, or would these minerals be pretty well bound up in the granite structure?

"By adding a small amount or coir or peat, and increasing the amount of Turface while decreasing the amount of granite or large sand, you can extend the watering interval. Let me know if you want to approach things from that angle."

Funny! You have already washed coir and peat clean out of my brain! They now make me feel claustrophobic for my plants. But, how about a small grade of coconut husk chips (parent of coir, I think) as a moisture extender? Found at the same supplier as Aliflor, above, they are said to break down even more slowly than pine bark. If CH chips would work, proportions for such an adjustment would be very helpful.

"I can help you set up a wick watering system that will even further extend the interval between waterings while you're away."

Though I am rarely away for so long, two such intervals may present themselves in the coming year, and I would be most grateful for the help.

Regarding your final comment, I discovered today that my old email address had not been changed on GardenWeb. I quickly revised the information, but am afraid your mail was lost in cyberspace. Please resend.

There is no scarcity of questions, Al. I am in your debt.

Many thanks!
SC


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Nov 11, 07 at 13:03

You said: There is a plant media product at rePotme.com called Aliflor, which is expanded clay aggregate. Will it work well as an alternative, if Turface is difficult to find in small quantity?

I only took a quick peak at this product, but I think it will be too large and make the soil too fast to suit you, but you could make it work if you had to. Particulate sizes from 1/16 - 1/8" are best. I'm not sure where you are in CA, but I have a friend near SF that uses Turface with excellent results. I could easily find out where she buys it. Also, you should have pretty easy access to Play Ball - the calcined Diatomaceous earth I mentioned upthread (I think it was this thread), and that is even better than Turface.

Do these baked clays accumulate surface algae in a balanced regimen; and if so, would that be harmful?

I see very little tendency of these soils to crust over in any way. I think that algal or crusty build-up is more a product of soils that have a high organic componant. Contributing to that particular problem would be overwatering, or a continually wet soil surface, both of which are difficult to accomplish with faster soils. Additionally, and probably the major contributor to algal problems on soil surfaces, is the continual or heavy use of organic fertilizers.

I'm guessing that, over time, granite might contribute some calcium, silica, and possibly iron. Is that the case, and would it be significant, or would these minerals be pretty well bound up in the granite structure?

Though not technically inert, granite releases such minor traces of these elements (and in containers they are often quickly leached from soils), that for our purposes, we should consider granite entirely inert and not take for granted it will supply any necessary nutrients.

... how about a small grade of coconut husk chips as a moisture extender? ... If CH chips would work, proportions for such an adjustment would be very helpful.

They should work ok, but they do hold lots of water, so I would use them in lesser proportions than bark here in MI. Perhaps you could use them in equal proportions, 1/3,1/3,1/3, in CA. If I'm reading your user info correctly, you're in northern CA? If that is true, there is a huge producer of fir bark near you, and it should be readily available through greenhouses, nurserier, or orchid suppliers. Yreka, CA is home to Shasta Forest Products, prolly the country's largest fir bark operation. Their bark in 1/8 - 1/4 size is what I use in my soils if I don't use pine bark. I prefer the fir, but it is a little more expensive. I buy it in CHI at about $15/3 or 4 cu ft, but it should be less expensive near you.

Back to the CHCs: Soak & leach them thoroughly before using. Not all are, but usually, they are very high in soluble salts (prolly from sea water use during production?)

Though I am rarely away for so long, two such intervals may present themselves in the coming year, and I would be most grateful for the help.

If you insert a wick in the drain hole & allow the wick to dangle in a reservoir that has enough water in it so that it will not go dry in your absence, it will keep your plants watered while you're away. A good wick material for short term watering like this is 100% rayon. You can find it in automotive sections of stores, sold as 'man-made' chamois, or look for a replacement mop head with the flat fiber strands. They are pre-cut and make great wicks. Rayon is made from wood fiber though (cellulose), and will rot over time, so they can only be used for a short time. This typoe of watering promotes salt accumulation when used continually, so longevity of the wicks is prolly a nonissue. Let me know if you want more info or a technical reply about how the wicking works.

Resent your mail.

Al




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RE: A Soil Discussion

Al, thank you so very much for this interesting thread and for sharing your extensive knowledge. Forgive what may be a silly question, but I noticed Mr. Sub asked about non-additive, non-perfume kitty litter substituting for Turface, which I am having a hard time finding in NYC - mail order, they are 50 lb bags. Did I understand you correctly on this? What would you suggest for a mix utilizing kitty litter? I feel very foolish asking this, as some of the above posts are a bit beyond my current knowledge range - any assistance much appreciated.

Thank you.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Years ago when I worked in a bonsai nursery we used to grow all of the plants in pure Turface. It was hard to convince most people to do it back then since it wasn't as common a practice as it is now in the bonsai circles. We'd have to order it by the pallet from out of state but I've even seen the 50 lb bags at Home Depot now.

Most bonsai shops now will sell a mix or small bags of pure turface if you don't want to buy a 50 lb bag. Just make sure you sift it and get rid of the dust.

You can also check with bonsai places because the mix that Al makes himself is also readily available as "bonsai soil" or "bonsai mix". You may be lucky and come across a place that sells two kinds of mixes one for tropical and non tropical plants. The one for tropical plants may have more fir bark than the other. If you don't want to make a huge commitment you can buy these mixes in small enough doses for a plant or two.

I'd stay away from kitty litter while it looks like turface and may not turn to sludge overnight in a bottle of water it isn't fired at the same temps and will eventually turn to sludge. And turface is good for aquatic plantings but it too can develop a bit of surface sludge.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Nov 11, 07 at 21:40

Hi, Eileen - Don't even think twice about asking any questions you have. I'll answer if I can.

I have several connections in NYC that I can call on for help in getting Turface, but I should know if you have transportation and approximately where you live, as that will have impact on who I suggest. For starters, try calling Edna @ Green Gardens Nursery, (631) 499-4238. If that doesn't work for you, I'll put you in touch with someone at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and they can reveal a source if you want it in larger bags (50 lbs). I also have lots of bonsai club connections in the area I can call on. If you only want small quantities, the retail bonsai supply places are a good bet.

Several of our members have only a few trees & regularly use either kitty litter with no additives or oil dry in their soils. As Mr. BT noted, it may not be fired at the same high temps as Turface, but it is generally quite suitable & offers no problems if you do the soak test.

What I would suggest for a mix depends on what you can find for ingredients. Do you have access to small pieces of pine bark fines, fir bark, 1/2 BB to BB size sand (fine gravel), perlite?

I think we might be losing track of the bigger picture here. Remember - it's not so important what the soil is made from, as it is that it holds the right amounts of air and water, and doesn't deteriorate quickly. There are many ways to arrive at that end. You can still make a soil that is far superior to most bagged soils with only pine bark fines, peat, and perlite as the main ingredients - it just will not retain it's structure indefinitely like the more inorganic mix.

I'd like to make a suggestion to you off-forum, but I noticed there is no e-mail contact @ your user page. If you'd like to hear what I have to say, send a note so I can reply directly, please.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

I don't really see how the need to water more frequently with fast draining soils would be an inconvenience. It sounds like in some instances, you'd need to be watering and flushing the potting mixture daily? If so, and maybe this is just me, but that sounds like it would be a relatively easy routine to get into, whereas constantly checking all of your pots to see if they're too wet, not wet enough, and relying on heavy guesswork would be much harder.

I don't know if this has already been answered though, but if a plant has been grown in normal commercial potting soil for awhile, will it adapt well to this kind of mix?

Also, how thorough would you need to be in removing the soil that's around the roots if moving to this kind of mix? Obviously you wouldn't want a lot, but I've heard that some plants don't take well to having their roots messed with too much?

Anyway, I'm definitely thinking about using some of the ideas in this thread, although it sounds like the more organic mixtures are more able to hold water longer, which I would need in some cases -- also, I can get sphagnum, bark, and perlite relatively cheaply.

When you say sphagnum peat, though, I've seen both finely ground (I believe) peat, and peat that's largely just large chunks of dried moss. Which are you refering to? I can get both easily and cheaply, so that's not really a problem.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Nov 12, 07 at 10:21

I purposely modify the soil in every planting so that I need to water every day, but that's just my personal preference. I've been using these soils soo long that it's second nature for me. There's no question in my mind that this (using a soil that allows you to water daily) is much better for the plant in a number of ways, and the dividends come in the form of improved vitality. You're right, it does make things soo much easier when you can water each plant until water appears at the drain hole w/o fear of root rot and/or salt accumulation.

... if a plant has been grown in normal commercial potting soil for awhile, will it adapt well to this kind of mix?

It depends on how you treat it. If you take a plant with collapsed soil and place it in a larger pot with a fast soil, you'll have trouble, no matter what the soils are made from. With two dissimilar soils in the same pot, for a good part of the time, one will be too wet and the other too dry. But there are some things you can do to help remedy this. Ask if you're interested.

Most plants tolerate root manipulation very well. In most plants it actually stimulates growth as the plant sends chemical messengers all through the organism that tell the plant it's been injured & needs to grow to replace the lost parts. So - you can usually remove all or most of the soil from the root mass & prune it back before repotting. There are many benefits in treating plants this way when you can. It eliminates old compacted and collapsed soil. Old soil in root masses can actually calcify and turn hard as stone. I've actually had to chisel soil that was harder than the wood, from the roots of a container-grown mugo pine.

Many keepers of houseplants look at plants as temporary visitors, when in fact, they are capable of living happily in containers for years and years. The single, most limiting factor in our ability to sustain plants for extended periods is soil. It's that simple.

When I repot, I usually carve or saw off the bottom 1/2 - 2/3 of the roots, then remove as much soil as I can, then repot. If I have a plant that doesn't tolerate rootwork well, I'll saw 1/3 off the bottom and then cut 3 pie-shaped wedges from the remaining roots & repot. At the next repot, I'll remove the remaining old soil in wedges, so in two repots, I've replaced all the soil. There are soo many techniques and tricks that help improve both vitality and longevity.

Anyway, I'm definitely thinking about using some of the ideas in this thread ...

Yes! Please do. That's what I'm selling here. Ideas! I'm not pushing 'Al's Soil', or saying my way is the only way. Through many of the forums you'll see people referring to 'Al's Soil', but I never do. I don't promote it at all. What I promote and try to impress on all container gardeners is that they will see the best results when they grow in any well-aerated and durable soil, regardless of who's recipe you follow. I just provide a few that have proven to work very well for me, but there are lots of ways to arrive at the same end. If you think 'pine bark' instead of peat, though, you're half-way there.

When you say sphagnum peat, though, I've seen both finely ground (I believe) peat, and peat that's largely just large chunks of dried moss. Which are you referring to?

Sphagnum peat is different from sphagnum moss. The long strands are the sphagnum moss that peat eventually comes from after years and years of accumulation in anaerobic bog conditions. Sphagnum peat can be purchased pre-sifted in small bags (too expensive this way) or in compressed bales from 1-4 cu ft. & even larger.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

I'll probably ask about root pruning more towards the spring when I'll be repotting stuff.

Anyway, thanks for the clarification about the moss. Does sphagnum moss, though, I'm wondering, have any application in this? It seems to maintain its shape pretty well and also hold moisture alright. I'm imagining it's not, in practice, entirely dissimilar to coir but I'm not sure.

Two other things I got thinking about, actually. I'm assuming that some plants deal with drying out better than others, and some plants deal with lower oxygen better than others. So I'm guessing this would also be a rather important factor in deciding what to do. If one, for instance, really can't guarantee a daily or every-other-daily watering for their plants simply because of their work schedule (or perhaps water rationing during a drought or a variety of reasons, really), they'd probably want to make a potting mix with more organic, water holding bits in it for the plants that don't take well to drying out while leaving the quicker-draining mixes for those that aren't as bothered by it.

Second, little observation I've had and I'm not entirely sure if it's correct, but as far as soil breakdown goes, out of the bag potting soil seems to go down hill far, far, far faster than whatever soil the plants come in from the nursery/garden center.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Wow...LOL...I come back to catch up on this thread and POW...it's filled with goodies.

I was going to ask a few questions but they've all been asked and answered :)

While I'm here, I may as well thank you Al for the link to the other thread on fertilizing. I've added it to my favourites and slowly reading through it whenever I find free time.

I will keep reading this thread whenever time permits (I'm one of the ones 'quietly following this thread') and jump in when I have some unique questions. Great topic! I'm learning a lot of new things and I'm grateful that you are sharing so much knowledge with us!


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Nov 12, 07 at 17:50

Amccour - Sphagnum moss has many horticultural applications, but is usually too cost prohibitive to be used in soils. It also doesn't have the same chemical characteristics as sphagnum peat in that it contains a much lower level of phenolic compounds embedded in the moss's cell walls, and it doesn't have as low a pH (helps resist breakdown by microorganisms), so would breakdown even faster than peat.

You said: I'm assuming that some plants deal with drying out better than others, and some plants deal with lower oxygen better than others. So I'm guessing this would also be a rather important factor in deciding what to do. If one, for instance, really can't guarantee a daily or every-other-daily watering for their plants simply because of their work schedule (or perhaps water rationing during a drought or a variety of reasons, really), they'd probably want to make a potting mix with more organic, water holding bits in it for the plants that don't take well to drying out while leaving the quicker-draining mixes for those that aren't as bothered by it.

It's true that some plants deal with drought better for myriad reasons, but I can think of no instance where drought stress is a good thing, unless it's required to drive some bio-function like stimulating blooms. If, for instance, you have plants that will tolerate a soil that is very dry for an extended period, we can't necessarily say they prefer this treatment, only that they tolerate it to varying degrees. It's probably better to maintain some level of extractable moisture in the soil of almost all plants to prevent the cyclic death/regeneration of small roots I mentioned above as occurring in soils that are too wet.

While some plants do deal with lower Oxygen levels or dry conditions, I'll leave that up to you to decide what's appropriate for individual plants. Here, I'm addressing the 90% or so of plants that will all prefer a soil that is similarly oxygenated and can be counted on to hold good amounts of water for a reasonable length of time.

I keep saying that soils are about compromise. We could grow in a pudding-like soil that finds us watering once a month and is very convenient, but obviously, vitality would suffer horribly. Or, we can grow in a very fast and porous mix that will produce wonderfully healthy plants, but at the price of watering 3 or 4 times per day. We need to strike a balance somewhere in between that we are comfortable with. I'm just here to try to help folks understand some of the ways that can be done, and how soil decisions affect more than just the growth and appearance of the plant.

... but as far as soil breakdown goes, out of the bag potting soil seems to go down hill far, far, far faster than whatever soil the plants come in from the nursery/garden center.

Indeed. That's what I've been trying to tell you all along. ;o) The soils in nursery containers usually have a large conifer bark component and conifer bark breaks down at a fraction of the rate of peat (by far the largest component of bagged soils). I just choose to use the durable product (bark) in my soils, instead of peat, to make them last (hold air) longer. Since we already know that we can grow in a highly inorganic soil (gardens and lawns are 90%+ inorganic) I add things like Turface or granite to soils to even further extent longevity.

What I'm doing here is showing you options you may not have known about, and trying to impress that the continued presence of good volumes of air in the soil is mandatory if you ever want your plants to grow at anything even near their potential genetic vigor.

Water Roots - Thank you for the nice things you said. I appreciate them and enjoy being here. ;o) I'm glad you enjoyed the fertilizer link. I talked to quite a few people who know lots more than I, and did plenty of reading/research before I wrote it. It really only gives an overview and leaves out some important considerations, but I could only make it just soo long before I figured no one would read it. I know I'm long-winded, but it seems like every time I start to share one idea, two more follow on it's heals & I have trouble deciding when to stop. ;o)

SC - If you're still reading, I think I found a good addy for you, but you'll need to confirm before I resend.

Al



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RE: A Soil Discussion

Al, this is a great discussion, I have been following it since it started. On average, how often do you water your plants using your mix? Does is hold water quite well?


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Nov 12, 07 at 19:55

Hi, Nova. Thanks! I use an even faster mix than I talk about in this thread, and it requires me to water at least every other day, but I water many plants every day - I've been growing that way, in very fast soils, for years.

My idea of 'holding water well', is a soil that retains only about 1/3 of its total volume in water when the soil is at maximum saturation, and both the recipes above are going to be very close to that. Remember that the volume of air in soils is every bit as important as the volume of water, and increasing the volume of water beyond 1/3 at saturation is about the point you will see the beginnings of compromised root function/metabolism.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

"but I can think of no instance where drought stress is a good thing, unless it's required to drive some bio-function like stimulating blooms. If, for instance, you have plants that will tolerate a soil that is very dry for an extended period, we can't necessarily say they prefer this treatment, only that they tolerate it to varying degrees."

Oh, sorry. I forgot to write out the rest of that question and sort of turned it into a mess.

What I meant was that if you're really prohibited from daily water for some physical, legal, etc. reason, not just as a matter of time, you'd want a potting mixture that would retain more moisture because, as you said, drought conditions are never desirable.

In this situation, would the pine bark, peat, and perlite mixture hold more water than a 90% inorganic mixture (I'm still not entirely clear on this point -- sorry), and work out okay as long as we were willing to change the potting mix more often?

In addition to the soil, are there any other things that could be added that might help plant vitality, oxygenation, and nutrient/water uptake? Two things I've heard that plants get in a natural environment -- mycorrhizae and H202 from rain. I'm not sure to what extent these exist in a potted environment or really to what extent they'd even help here, but I've heard H2O2 increases soil oxygen, and that mycorrhizae improve nutrient (and water?) uptake.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Nov 12, 07 at 22:38

In this situation, would the pine bark, peat, and perlite mixture hold more water than a 90% inorganic mixture ... and work out okay as long as we were willing to change the potting mix more often?

A small point, but the largely inorganic mix recipe I shared was about 2/3 (67%) inorganic. With the ingredients I use, both recipes above will hold about the same amount of air and water, but the inorganic mix is a longer lasting soil, so will hold a favorable ratio longer - longer than what would be a suitable interval between repots. How much water they hold will be a function of the ingredients you use. If you use bark that is in larger pieces, it will hold more air and less water. As the bark size decreases, or if you use partially composted pine or fir bark, water retention increases and total air volume decreases.

Bark chunks in 1/8 - 1/4" sizes are the easiest and most versatile to work with, but partially composted bark 'fines' are very good, too. I'll be honest, the pine bark is not always easy to find in the ideal size, especially as we head into winter & all the big box stores have rid themselves of their landscape goods, but it's worth looking for, come spring. Honest, it is. I have helped soo many people discover the value of a bark based soil for their container gardening it surprises even me. There are just soo many people offering thank yous and very favorable comments in the thread on the Container Gardening forum, that you can't really discount it as just one guy's wacky idea. ;o);o)

... and yes, it will work out wonderfully (the more organic mix) if you're willing to change soils a little more frequently, but keep in mind it will still be far more stable and longer lasting than the peat-based soils.

In addition to the soil, are there any other things that could be added that might help plant vitality, oxygenation, and nutrient/water uptake? Two things I've heard that plants get in a natural environment -- mycorrhizae and H202 from rain. I'm not sure to what extent these exist in a potted environment or really to what extent they'd even help here, but I've heard H2O2 increases soil oxygen, and that mycorrhizae improve nutrient (and water?) uptake.

Well, H2O2 is one of the reasons that rainwater is more desirable than tap water for plants, but it kind of depends on where you live. It is essentially water with an extra O- atom that is extremely reactive, and elevated levels of air pollutants can cause it to react aloft, so it never reaches the ground. You can gain beneficial effect in your house plants by adding 1 ounce of 3% hydrogen peroxide per quart of irrigation water. And hey - it can also be made into an excellent and safe insecticide. 2 ounces each, of 3% H2O2 and white sugar in a quart of warm water makes an effective spritz for many insects.

I think that mycorrhizal relationships are probably not applicable to this particular discussion about houseplants. You'll see why if you care to read something I answered on another forum awhile ago:
In order for a mycorrhizal symbiosis to form and be an advantage to containerized plants, quite a few cultural conditions need to be appropriate. The composition of the container mix would need to support the growth of the fungi. Container temperatures would need to remain cooler than most of us will be able to maintain. Fertilizer nutrient concentrations appropriate for plant material might easily be sufficient to prevent successful mycorrhizae formation. Antifungal applications also destroy mycorrhizae just as readily as they kill unwanted fungal pathogens. Finally, your watering regimen is extremely important, as over-watering is not only harmful to your plants, but to their aeration-sensitive symbiotic fungi as well.

I haven't used commercially prepared mycorrhizal inoculations in my containerized plants, but I usually observe the existence of the fungal relationship in spring when I repot (Spores are airborne, and if soil conditions are appropriate, it will colonize containers w/o inoculating). I'll likely notice it in about 75 of 100 repots. I haven't done a whole lot of reading on the subject, so my observations are pretty much my guide at this stage of my growing abilities. I have decided that the symbiotic arrangement, when present, is as much a benefit as in in situ (naturally occurring) situations, but I don't think it's worth aggressively pursuing in container culture. Just as I usually see it in a high percentage of plants in spring, I have never seen it in containers during the hot months. I'm guessing that the combination of high fertility, lots of water, and especially higher container soil temperatures inhibits its growth. It probably recolonizes the containers as growth slows in fall because watering is reduced, fertility levels are allowed to drop (due to reduced growth), and soil temperatures become more favorable.

Since I do recognize the relationship as a beneficial one, when I repot and root-prune woody plants, I mix a small amount of the old roots I've trimmed into the new soil of the same plant as an inoculate.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Hi Al,

Sorry to be so long in getting back to you. Other things intervened. This is in response to your Nov. 11 post, preceding that of Eileen_plants.

Aliflor does appear to be larger than 1/16-1/8 inch. I have looked at both Turface and Play Ball websites, though neither has information on finding retail vendors, nor any idea of pricing. I can certainly call around to see if they are carried by local Home Depots, garden centers, or landscape supply businesses. A California source for either product would be very helpful.

We are slightly north of SF and east of Sacramento in the Sierra foothills (elevation 1500 ft.), zone 7. Summer days are hot (85-105 F.) with cool nights (50-70) and, generally, no rain from mid-June to mid-September. For much of the year our humidity is quite low, hence my concern about watering intervals and the possibility of substituting coconut husk chips (CHC) for bark--or even a mixture of the two (preserving oxygen friendly proportions). (Leaching salts ~ yes, I've also heard that CHC should be soaked and rinsed at least three times before it is used.)

What a great idea, to use cellulose mop strips for wicking! How far into the medium would the wick need to be?

Thank you for the information on Shasta Forest Products, I'll watch for them and check out the reptile fir bark bedding at PetSmart, too (thanks Karen!). I also appreciate your answers to the granite and algae questions. Sad experience cured me of overwatering, some time back, and I can't remember ever (deliberately) using organic fertilizers for house plants, so no problems there.

Now, I have to go back and catch up on this fast moving thread--Aarrgh!

Thanks, again, for the help.

SC


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Thanks for all the info A1! You continue to amaze me with your knowledge. I didn't know the human brain could hold so much information.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Nov 13, 07 at 20:36

Hi, SC - I'll have a CA source near you for Turface in a flash. A good friend lives in Fremont to the south of you & has been using Turface in containers for a couple of years & is really happy with the results. I already sent off an e-mail & I'll likely have a response later tonight.

When employing the use of a wick to help in your watering duties, you only need to push the wick up into the drain hole far enough to insure it won't fall out. Soil capillarity will take over your duties from that point until you return or the reservoir runs dry. ;o)

Take care.

Hi, GoBlue. I don't know what else to say except you give too much credit and are very kind to offer so nice a compliment.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Nov 15, 07 at 20:18

SC - Sorry I took awhile. If you're still following: Do a Yellow Pages search for 'Ewing Irrigation' and/or 'Sierra Pacific Turf Supply' for the location nearest you. They both sell Turface. When you call, you might ask them if they sell 'Play Ball' instead. It is superior to Turface in several important areas. Good luck.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Hi again, Al, back with another question: could you give me the proportions for the following soil mix? Its very similar to the one Shelsob mentioned in an earlier post.

Kitty litter
Fish gravel
All purpose plant soil blended with sphagnum peat moss and perlite

I would like to try this soil on a pothos that will go in an 8" plastic pot - is this workable, and what proportions would you suggest? BTW, I feel like a complete idiot - I just reread your post on the "conversations" forum and realize it was a joke - and hilarious! I suggest everyone check it out. Please ignore my suggestions in the off forum email I sent you!


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Has anyone tried replacing granite in some mixes with limestone of the same size. I'm thinking it would add calcium but am not sure if limestone of this size will significantly raise pH above 7. Lemme know what you think.

M


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Nov 17, 07 at 19:43

You're not the only one who sent condolences after reading the post. I'll leave it at that (he says with a devilish grin) ;o) ;o)

W/o knowing the size of the gravel, I can only guess, but here's what I would do: Screen the finest particles from the kitty litter with a metal kitchen strainer & discard the fines. Then:
2 parts screened litter
1 part gravel
1 part soil
1 tsp gypsum/gallon soil (if you need a little - I'll send)
Use a soluble fertilizer with a 3-1-2 ratio. 24-8-16, or 12-4-8 are good choices. Be sure what you use contains micronutrients. This blend is an excellent choice for houseplants, whether they flower or not.

I suggested gypsum as a calcium source because the pH of this soil will be close to neutral and gypsum will not elevate it. You will need to add a little Epsom salts (a tiny pinch in a gallon of solution) when you mix fertilizer. If you really want to get fancy for this one plant, and for very best growth:
mix fertilizer at 1/8 strength in a gallon of distilled water and add a pinch of Epsom salts. Water freely at every watering so some water (10-15%) drains from container. I promise you'll be well pleased & your only extra effort will be the need to water a little more frequently.

Let me know if there are more questions - and we'll want a full report/assessment later. ;o)

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Al, I have a question for you once more; something that Im curious about. Heres the scoop:

In the past two weeks I have had the opportunity to visit five different local greenhouses that offer a diversity of supplies for indoor plants. Not one of them sells any of the recommendations youve mentioned, only standard commercial potting mixes. At this point I figured that its no wonder people end up buying soil mixes that are not the most appropriate for their plants unless they spend time on forums like this or meet up with someone very experienced in plant care that will share the type of knowledge you do. And in order for them to do so, they have to have a real passion for this hobby to end up in places like this. But most people I know simply want to grow a few nice plants. And they trust that their local stores offer the products they need to do so from companies that manufacture items for plants. How could they not have that faith? After all, shouldnt a company that specializes in the development of plant supplies be marketing high quality products? The best products, if you may? Arent they the experts?

So that being said, heres what Im curious about:

What can your average houseplant grower settle for at retail stores that can qualify as somewhat decent or workable? Can a looser, bark-based blend such as an Orchid Potting Mix make a difference? Can a combination of any commercial mixes be an improvement over using a single choice such as All Purpose or Tropical? Is there anything on those retail shelves, in your opinion, that will help an average, uninformed grower (even regular plant books dont offer the type of advice you find here) to keep their plants in a healthier state? If there isn't anything to improve growing conditions in local stores, does your average grower simply have to live with short-lived plants and their constant replacement?

Is there any hope for that poor, duped consumer? I was one of them once upon a time...:)


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Nov 18, 07 at 14:56

Let's consider for a moment that businesses producing plants are all about producing the largest plants in the shortest time and selling them at a profit. That is their goal. When you go to the hospital to have a baby, the hospital is all about delivering that baby to you in a healthy condition, but basically, that's where the responsibility for care ends.

We may be using packaged soils because that's what greenhouses and plant producers use, and that's the best - right? Not so. That's the least expensive. All a plant producer cares is that the soil holds ample air, water, and nutrients for as long as it's in their care (babies get fed, changed, and kept warm). That's all. They build a soil from the least expensive ingredients that will guarantee the soil retains structure as long as it is under their care. Beyond that, They (usually) care not a whit.

So, most of us go to the store in search of what the greenhouse uses because their plants usually arrive in beautiful condition, never realizing that the useful life of that soil is very short and problems are virtually built into it (collapse, water retention, lack of aeration).

Examine the soils that nursery material is grown in. You'll find it made of things like (primarily) pine bark, fine gravel, a little peat, coarse sand ... Why? Because nursery plantings usually hang around the nursery for far longer than greenhouse plants in a greenhouse, so a structurally sound soil with greater longevity is mandatory. That's what this thread is about. I'm trying to leave anyone who reads it with the idea that, with just a little more effort, you can substantially increase plant vitality and reduce problems associated with stressed plants by using a durable and highly aerated soil, and then, provide some of the science that so strongly supports it.

What can your average houseplant grower settle for at retail stores that can qualify as somewhat decent or workable?

If you're talking about a bagged soil - I really don't know. I'm not self-promoting at all, when I say that I have found the well-aerated, structurally stable mixes I grow in so superior to commercially prepared soils, that I could never return to using them. I'll temper that by saying that some have found mixes having a substantial pine bark component that they like well. I think Rhizo uses a coarse Fafard mix and amends with Turface. Oojen and a few others already grow in a coarse mix with good stability.

If you want to build a very good soil, or if you want to amend something you have, I think the best thing you could do is locate some pine or fir bark in an appropriate size. I KNOW that many will say "I can't find it", but I think you can find it if you look, or can find something appropriate. Look at this picture for an idea of what to look for:




At the top, you'll see fir bark in 1/8 - 1/4" size. I pay $15 for a huge 4 cu ft bag. The three other examples at the perimeter are all pine bark from different sources/packagers. If you look closely, you'll see that they are slightly different. I pay about $3 for a 2 cu ft bag - very inexpensive. These 4 barks at the perimeter are all beautiful examples of what to look for, for use in soils. The fir bark can be had I think, as reptile bedding or from places that sell orchid supplies. Two of the pine barks came from Meijer and Home Depot, the other from a nursery operation just down the road, so you see, if you keep your eyes pealed, especially in spring, you'll find one of these barks. I also have several bags of partially composted pine bark that works beautifully.


at top

In the center of the upper photo is a soil that I would use for houseplants. It will hold good amounts of air and last at least 3 times as long as a peat-based bagged soil. Essentially, you could make it with one of the barks in the top photo, a small amount of a bagged soil, plus a little perlite & lime.

Is there anything on those retail shelves, in your opinion, that will help an average, uninformed grower (even regular plant books dont offer the type of advice you find here) to keep their plants in a healthier state?

Well, Espoma makes something called "Soil Perfector", but the particle size is very large & it will make a very fast soil. Again, if you look diligently, you can find either Turface or Play Ball. 50 lb bags should be under $15. Small pumice (1/8 - 1/4) will work well. Turface is also sold as aquatic plant soil, but it's expensive that way. Many use kitty litter (also calcined clay, like Turface) after they screen out the fines and test it for stability. So, there are lots of things out there that will work.

I said it's not too important what soils are made from, as long as they wont hurt plants and hold nutrients, along with air/water in good volume, and it's not. The ingredients I list are listed because they are close to perfect for the role they fulfill. They're durable/stable and hold air, water, and nutrients well. That's all that matters. With a good soil, you water and fertilize & let your plants do their thing - no worries about root rot, salt build-up, or insect infestations as a result of growing under the stress created by poor soils.

You asked what you can do to keep plants healthy. My immediate answer is to look to things you cannot see. Look to the soil you choose - it is the foundation that every planting is built on. W/o a solid foundation, you increase the chance of (eventual organism) failure and make soo much more unnecessary work for yourself. I promise that if you learn to build a stable, well-aerated soil, your satisfaction and sense of accomplishment will quickly and substantially improve.

Is there any hope for that poor, duped consumer?

Yes there is. Knowledge. Keep learning. Knowledge is strength. Knowledge is key and will set you free. (at least from the worry about how long your plants will be around) ;o)

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Thanks Al, that answers my questions perfectly. Knowledge. And knowledge learned from one's own initiative. So if someone is interested (and curious) enough, they'll dig deeper and learn how to better grow their plants. In the meantime, all I can do personally is extend locations of good sources of information such as this site, this thread.

It reminds me of that commercial for hair shampoo back in the 70s (yes Im old enough to remember it) where the key concept was viral marketing. "If you tell two friends about Faberge Organics shampoo with wheat germ oil and honey, they'll tell two friends, and so on and so on...and so on..." Do you remember it? I'm (cough, cough) just old enough to remember it...

That works here as well:
"If you tell two friends about Al's wonderful soil mixes and they tell two friends, and so on and so on...and so on..."

Pass this type of information along to friends, neighbours, family members, and help save a plant :)


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Would hardwood mulch (not dyed) work in place of bark?

Lorree


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Nov 19, 07 at 14:49

No it won't. Hardwood mulch is structured almost entirely of cellulose, and soil microbes easily cleave the hydrocarbon chains in cellulose. This causes a rapid breakdown of particles and something called nitrogen immobilization. Essentially, microorganisms feed heavily on the mulch, breaking it down quickly and causing populations to explode, which in turn ties up (nearly) all the nitrogen in the soil.

Conifer bark (see upthread - covered there) is rich in lignin and suberin (very difficult for microorganisms to break down) and is the best choice as a woody organic component.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

So I'm going to switch over to a 3-1-2 ratio fertilizer as I make the transition to a turface based mix. I'm having trouble finding any with this ratio. Most of the ones I've found are 1:1:1 or something else. Can anyone recommend a certain brand that offers this ratio, or at least point me in the right direction. Also, are there any that include the micronutrients, notably Ca and Mg but also S. I'm pretty lazy and don't revel in the idea of mixing two or three solutions every time I want to fertilize or water. If I can't have my cake and it it too, I would be willing to do this though.

I know the fish emulsion I normally does provide most required nutrients, but I'd like to try something else that is available immediately upon application. I've never used chemically derived fertilizers and would like to see what they're all about.

M


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Nov 19, 07 at 21:31

These are all fertilizers in a 3-1-2 NPK ratio:

Miracle-Gro 24-8-16 w/micronutrients Click on 'view label' for analysis.

Schultz All-Purpose 24-8-16 w/micronutrients Scroll down the page for analysis.

Peter's (Scott's) 24-8-16 w/micronutrients Scroll down the page for analysis.

Miracle-Gro liquid 12-4-8 w/micronutrients Click on 'view label' for analysis. This is what I use for 90% of all my plantings.

All the above are readily available at nurseries or big box stores. I doubt any of us could tell any difference between their performance. You'll note that only one supplies any Mg (@ 1/60 the rate of N) and none supply Ca. That is because container soils are usually pH adjusted with dolomitic lime, which supplies both Ca and Mg in a favorable ratio. If you are making your own soil, you'll need to add a little dolomitic (garden) lime or gypsum (both very easy to come by and very inexpensive).

Adequate amounts of S are supplied in the ammonium and zinc sulfate vehicles that supply N and Zn.

... that cover it? ;o)

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

I so glad I found this thread. I am so tired of Miracle-Gro & Shultz although better than hyponex. They both seem to breed Fungus Gnats almost as soon as the soil goes in the pot at my office.

Anyway thanks Al for your help. I think I have found a bagged soil that seems to meet your specifications. It's made by Good Earth Horticulture, Inc. and sold under the brand name Hoffman. It's called "Bonsai Soil Mix" I purchased a 2 Dry qt size for $9.99 at a florist near my job (it was the last one they had).

Here is the website: http://www.goodearth.org/index.cfm

It's listed under specialty planting mixes.

Underneath the quantity info is a link to detailed specs. Here's the link http://www.goodearth.org/msds/bonsai_soil_mix.doc


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Nov 29, 07 at 17:31

I always laugh when someone says something like "my specifications." ;o) Just for the record, about the only thing that I specify is structural durability and long-lasting aeration in a soil. The rest, including what it is made from, is very unimportant. ;o) Oh - I suppose I should add that it should also hold a convenient amount of water, too.

I remember having bought a bag of this brand of soil about 10-12 years ago. It is finer than what I make myself, but as a general soil for houseplants, including cacti & succulents, it will still be superb. The only appreciable difference between Hoffman's and what I would make for my own use is that they don't screen the ingredients to separate/remove fine particles & I do.

According to my recollection, it was fairly expensive, prolly 5-10 times more expensive than if you bought larger bags of ingredients & mixed your own, but I would still urge anyone that can find it available locally, to at least try a bag to see what a difference a premium, well-structured soil can make. I bet that after trying it, there would be renewed interest/enthusiasm from do-it-yourselfers in locating the ingredients.

Take care, HJ.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by rdak z5MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Dec 1, 07 at 8:10

Excellent info. Tapla! I mainly grow fruits and veggies but do grow some houseplants for the wife.

I like the part about using more bark in the mix.

A few questions if you have the time to answer:

1 - I always save some of the leaves I collect in the fall for adding to soil mixes and for treating the top of the container soil in order to "add" soil over time. What do you think about using autumn leaves? (I've seemed to have had very good results from using leaves. And I use MASSIVE amounts in my outside gardening and mowed into the lawn. So I always have these leaves handy.)

2 - Homemade fertilizer for plants: Grind up soybeans, or any bean for that matter, into a powder in my food grinder. Do the same for alfalfa pellets. Grind up some whole corn and/or oats. Combine the ground bean, alfalfa and corn/oats in equal amounts. Use one tablespoon for each gallon of watering solution. Let the tablespoon of ground feeds soak in the water for a few minutes, then use. What do you think? (It's always worked well for me but I wonder if there are better "foodstuffs" I could use?)

3 - Every other watering mix one tablespoon of molasses to each gallon of water.

4 - Regularly make "leaf tea" by boiling a pot of autumn leaves, covered with water, for 15 minutes. Strain into a container and use 2 tablespoons per gallon every 2 or 3 waterings. What do you think?

5 - When replenishing the surface of the soil with ground autumn leaves, I mix a little compost in the crushed leaves and dress topdress the surface soil of the containers.

Also, I live in SE Michigan and have absolutely no idea where to find granite dust. I've always wanted some but never knew where to buy it. (It's good stuff, from what I've read, for outside gardening.)

I can't get Turface but can get perlite easily. Is perlite really that bad compared to turface? Also what about vermiculite. I put a little in there but not much. I do put a little compost in the soil mix but not much. Just enough to give it a "microbe" start.

I use bonemeal when making soil. Is that ok?

Thanks for any info. you or any of the members can offer for my rather "off the wall" treatment of my wife's houseplants.

She told me not to post this thread because she is happy with the houseplants and doesn't want me to change what I do but I'm really an amateur when it comes to houseplants and would appreciate any comments.

Thanks for any info.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Well I've found a place to buy Terface. You can get it on ebay here's the link: Bonsaimark's Store

Of course you could also use Shultz Aquatic Soil which is more expensive I found some at amazon.com.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by rdak z5MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Dec 2, 07 at 4:57

Thanks for the info. I can find the Aquatic Soil easily. I've seen that in stores around here.

Granite dust from masonry stores is hard to find though. I'll try the Yellow Pages and do more searching on the internet.

Thanks again for the info.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Wonderful thread, really.

What is a good way to set up a wick for ridding the perched water table? Can I just stick some strips of rayon into the drainage holes? I have some palms in big pots that sit on top of bricks on a saucer so that drained water does not go back into the pot, but if a wick extends out into the saucer, won't it then suck the spent water back in?

If irrigation water is slightly acidic, will that not do a better job than neutral water of leaching out fertilizer salts? I wonder how the presence of peroxide would effect the pH of acid water???

x


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Dec 2, 07 at 15:28

Rdak - I detect that you like things organic, and that works very well in the garden, but container culture is more lice hydroponics than it is gardening in the earth. In container culture, our focus needs to remain on feeding the plant, and not the soil. Feeding the soil in container culture, just causes more rapid breakdown in soil particulates, and organic delivery of nutrients is more sporadic/erratic in containers be cause of the rise & fall of soil organisms needed to break down organic molecules into usable elemental forms.

1) I would leave leaves out of container soils completely. They break down quickly when mixed into soils, and as a 'mulch' they offer a rich breeding ground for soil pests. Remember, you don't need a high percentage of organic ingredients in soils for them to be VERY productive. You can see this in your own garden that is 90%+ mineral.

2) I'm not a big fan of organic fertilizers for houseplants - especially homemade blends. You never know what the nutrient ratio is, they tend to leave a hydrophobic crust on the soil, they often smell foul as they rot, they attract promote fungus gnats & soil pests, but mainly they are unreliable in both what they deliver in the way of nutrients, and the rate at which the nutrients become available.

3) Again, the sugars in molasses will feed soil organisms, which will make the soil break down quicker. There is a sulfur component in molasses that would be beneficial if your soil was deficient in S, but container soils usually never are. I would be more inclined to apply molasses as a topical spritz than as part of a fertilizer regimen, where it will exhibit some antifungal benefit.

4) The tannins in leaf tea are probably not a good thing. The tannins and other phenolic compounds in leaves are well known allelopathics (they inhibit plant growth). There may be SOME benefit derived in that they may make plants more resistant to insect attack (antifeedant), but plants produce tannins & phenol compounds as a by-product of their metabolism, so the benefit of the addition of these compounds to the soil would likely be offset by the slowed growth (slower metabolism = less naturally occurring tannins & phenol compounds) they cause. I think though, that at the rate you mentioned, that it would do little harm or good.

5) Covered above

"I can't get Turface but can get perlite easily. Is perlite really that bad compared to Turface? Also what about vermiculite. I put a little in there but not much. I do put a little compost in the soil mix but not much. Just enough to give it a "microbe" start. I use bonemeal when making soil. Is that ok?"


If you live in SE MI, Turface should be readily available. If you want to try it, you can write me off forum & I'll find you a supply. Turface really IS much the superior when compared to perlite. It has tremendous internal porosity, a better water release curve, far better CEC, and it's weight can be either a + or -, depending on your perspective.

I rarely use vermiculite in soils. It collapses in less time than you can hold your breath. ;o) Kidding, but it collapses quickly & holds too much water when used in any significant volume. I figure you might as well keep it simple & leave it out. Turface does about everything perlite and vermiculite does, but better, except that Turface is inert & doesn't add the traces of Ca & Mg that vermiculite does. Correct that by adding dolomitic lime & you're good to go.

I never use compost because it breaks down too quickly, affecting aeration - especially if it's not completely 'finished'. Again, the term 'microbe start' tells me that you're bringing the garden to container culture, and they are soo different.

Bone meal is ok, but it breaks down soo slowly it's ineffective in containers. It also raises pH quickly. The phosphorous it adds is usually never deficient in container soils if you use any fertilizer containing it, and the Ca it contains can be added by incorporating garden lime (dolomitic lime - mentioned above), which has the added benefit of adding both Ca and Mg w/o raising pH.

Granite 'dust' is never something you'd want to use in container soils. Crushed granite is available from elevators & farm feed stores as 'starter' (chicken) or 'grower' (turkey) grit. While the dust may break down very slowly in garden soils, and may or may not add deficient elements to soils, it will certainly clog container soils. The grit I refer to is used to balance water retention (it holds little, except on its surface and add aeration. It breaks down soo slowly in containers that you must consider it an inert ingredient.

Xerophyte - You are correct in your understanding of how the wick would work. The water should be able to drip off the end of the wick (rayon is good, but it's made of wood fiber [cellulose] and will need replacing occasionally as microorganisms break it down). From your understanding - can you see how you could use a wick in reverse to ADD water while you're away for an extended interval?

About the H2O2 question - Hydrogen peroxide pH is only about 5.8, which is no more acidic than water exposed to CO2 in the air we breath. Diluted to the 3% solution you probably buy over the counter, it's acidifying effects are negligible. It is helpful though, to add a tablespoon or two of vinegar to irrigation water to lower pH and help those carbonates that accumulate in soils to be neutralized and dissolved so they can be flushed from soils. The vinegar also helps to correct the tendency of soils to show increased pH as they age.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion -

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Dec 2, 07 at 15:30

Sorry about the typos above - I corrected them when I proofed what I wrote, but forgot to hit 'Preview Message' before I sent it. :o(

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by rdak z5MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Dec 2, 07 at 15:48

Thanks for the great info. Tapla!

Yes, I bring in the organic gardening to the wife's houseplants.

The amendments/soil do break down and I always have to replenish them with more organic stuff. Much like outside gardening. In fact, just like outside gardening.

I have a feed store very close to me. I'll ask them if they carry turkey or chicken grower grit. I know they sell chicken and turkey grower feed so I assume they sell the grit?

I just finished using a batch of homemade soil and will definitely try your recipe for soil in future batches.

I'll look more for Turface. Harris said I could use Schultz Aquatic Soil. I'll find the stuff now it isn't as rare as I assumed. Is the Aquatic Soil ok in your opinion also?

Thanks again for all the great info.!


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Dec 2, 07 at 17:22

Grani-Grit is the brand of grit you're looking for, but you won't find it at big box stores - prolly have to go to elevators that sell fertilizers, feeds, etc or a store that specializes in farm animal feeds. It really is quite easy to find - I live in Bay City & there are at least 4 places within 10 miles that sell it.

The Schultz aquatic soil IS Turface, but it's much more expensive when packaged that way. I would still urge you to try it though. Don't forget to add a little garden lime to the soil (1 tsp per gallon is good.)

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by rdak z5MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Dec 3, 07 at 6:43

Ok Al, thanks again for all the great info.!


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by rdak z5MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Dec 3, 07 at 8:03

Al: I forgot to ask this basic recipe question:

How does this sound?

1 - One 3 cubic foot bag of pine bark nuggets (smaller sized nuggets). I can find this easily.

2 - Two and one-half gallons of Turface. (I now know I can find this stuff easily thanks to you and Harris.)

3 - Two and one-half gallons of turkey/chicken grower grit. (I now know I can probably find this stuff VERY easily. For over 20 years I've been buying stuff from the nearby feed store for Godsakes.)

4 - Five gallons of sphagnum peat mixed with a little compost (and other organics, sorry Al I just can't stay away from organics altogether. It's how my grandfather taught me to grow stuff many decades ago. I just don't know poop about chemical fertilizers. LOL!!)

5 - Some CRF and dolemitic lime.

Does this recipe sound reasonable or should I reduce the peat and increase the Turface and granite grit?

I don't want to have to water every day.

Thanks for any info.


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RE: A Soil Discussion*

  • Posted by rdak z5MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Dec 3, 07 at 8:04

I inadvertantly left CRF in the above recipe. My mistake.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

How about humic acid concentrate as a soil additive, I've seen it before and it supposedly promotes nutrient uptake and being a slight acid may be beneficial for other reasons. Thoughts?

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RE: soil

And one more thing while I'm at it, maybe there is no good answer...but what happens then if you add all these things (H2O2, vinegar, humic acids, soluble fertilizers, etc.) together at the same time? Some very complex reactions, you would think...

x


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Dec 3, 07 at 18:49

Hi, Rdak. I would definitely leave the peat, compost & 'other organics' out of the mix, but I've already been through all the experimental phases. ;o) I know you prolly won't take my word for it, and that's ok, but I hope you'll at least try the soil I refer to later in the post.

In the photo below, you can see several different examples of conifer bark.


At the top, you see fir bark. The other three piles at the perimeter are all pine bark from different sources. One bag came from Meijer, another from Home Depot, and the third from a nursery just down the road from me. They are all about what I consider perfect size for container soils. In the center, you see the soil that I use for garden display containers & veggies. It will work very well for houseplants, and retain its structure better than any bagged soils you'd be likely to find.

But - since you seem confident that you'll have all the ingredients for a soil that looks like the one in the picture below, I'd really encourage you to try it and compare it to the recipe you suggest - it will work much better - I promise. :o)



I would use:
1 part Turface
1 part chicken (starter) grit
1 part pine bark
garden lime
If you want to increase water retention, simply up the Turface to 1-1/2 parts and/or add a small amount (1/4 part) of vermiculite to the mix. In low volumes it will not present a compaction problem and will aid with water retention w/o significantly impacting aeration.

You can leave the CRF out easily if you choose to fertilize regularly with weak doses of 12-4-8 with micronutrients.

X - Humic acid will prolly not be of much aid in container soils. It's most beneficial as a microorganism population booster (not necessarily a good thing in container soils) in sandy soils or soils with very low organic content; and all the soils you & other readers are likely to grow in will have a very high organic component when compared to naturally occurring soils.

Nutrient uptake is facilitated by keeping good amounts of air and moisture in the root zone, and making sure the total dissolved solids content (anything soluble - mainly fertilizers and anything else dissolved in irrigation water) of the water in soils remains low. Plants do not care where their nutrients come from (organic or inorganic sources) so maintaining low levels of the right mix of nutrients in soil water is ideal.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Dec 3, 07 at 19:00

X- in answer to your last question - not much will happen. The noticeable reaction will involve the H2O2.

Hydrogen peroxide has an extra O atom (compared to H2O) in an unstable arrangement. It's the extra atom that makes it useful in horticultural applications. Since H2O2 is an unstable molecule, it breaks down easily. When it does, a single O- atom and a molecule of water is released. This O- atom is extremely reactive and will quickly attach itself to either another O- atom forming stable O2, or attack the nearest organic molecule. You'll see a little fizzzz. ;o)

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

I know you mentioned that you grow some plants in 100% turface or turface+granite...so what exactly is the purpose of the bark chips? It seems like nothing more than additional aeration. Is it because it is more cost effective that way?

I realized the detrimental effects of peat many years ago. I grow mainly cactus and succulents. I used to mix up peat and coarse sand. They never thrived. Then I switched to using garden soil + coarse sand, and all of a sudden results were completely different.

Most of the ideas on this thread are great for "houseplants" but I don't think would apply well to many cactus/ succulents. Many species have such fine roots that they would be swimming in a coarse mix. Also, it may seem contradictory, but such an open mix is potentially harmful to droughtland plants. During extended dormant periods when they must be kept pretty dry, the roots would desiccate very quickly.

The garden soil I use is high in clay. The standard mix is 50:50 of soil:"drainage" material, but often I supplement with generous amounts of 1/4-1/8" lava rock. Mixed with gravel, perlite, turface, lava rocks etc, the garden soil becomes much more aerated and drains well, but at the same time the clay holds onto moisture for extended periods so that roots have some minimal sustenance during dormant conditions and in between waterings. This is what I think is going on, and I have great results to prove it.

I have many potted cycads which during active growth are treated like tropicals but I like to keep them dormant in the winter indoors because I don't want them to grow. Here I have to compromise between the soil mix that you talk about, and one which can sustain longer periods of drought. I use lots of perlite and gravel...but then I add some garden loam which is essentially inorganic, to give it some extra water holding capacity, without fear of breaking down. I will be adding turface to my recipe, maybe start using less perlite. It seems like a great material.

By the way, palms for the most part do not tolerate root disturbances, especially lopping off roots like you would with bonsai. Palms have different root physiology from most "houseplants". Root pruning often kills the entire root. An inorganic mix like you describe would be perfect for containerized palms, which demand drainage and air, and something stable since root pruning is not an option.

x


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Dec 4, 07 at 0:41

I know you mentioned that you grow some plants in 100% turface or turface+granite...so what exactly is the purpose of the bark chips?

Oh - it has nothing to do with economics. The bark has a lower pH than the other, more neutral ingredients & helps to bring the pH south of 6.5. It also adds a small amount of nutrients to the soils as it breaks down, but I consider that negligible.

Most of the ideas on this thread are great for "houseplants" but I don't think would apply well to many cactus/ succulents. Many species have such fine roots that they would be swimming in a coarse mix. Also, it may seem contradictory, but such an open mix is potentially harmful to droughtland plants. During extended dormant periods when they must be kept pretty dry, the roots would desiccate very quickly.

Hmmm. These are a few pics of cacti & succulents growing quite happily in the mix:

























I have dozens more, and I never have any trouble overwintering them in dry dim conditions.

The garden soil I use is high in clay. The standard mix is 50:50 of soil:"drainage" material, but often I supplement with generous amounts of 1/4-1/8" lava rock. Mixed with gravel, perlite, turface, lava rocks etc, the garden soil becomes much more aerated and drains well, but at the same time the clay holds onto moisture for extended periods so that roots have some minimal sustenance during dormant conditions and in between waterings. This is what I think is going on, and I have great results to prove it.

Turface IS clay. It has all the characteristics of clay, including an excellent CEC. I don't doubt the excellent results you get from your soils at all. If you look closely at the soil in this pic, which is a soil I make for cacti & succulents, you'll see the addition of a small amount of vermiculite which tends to hold water well, too. I think you can see that I have taken into consideration the points you made & perhaps, not having tried it, you were hasty in thinking the soil wouldn't work well for cacti & succulents? Would you like to try a bag? :o)


Take care.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Great points Al...but all the succulents you show in your pictures are some of the more common and/ or robust species, and are not quite the types I was referring to...have you tried growing some Mesembryanthemums? Or some dwarf highly specialized cacti?

If I can get my hands on some Turface (I have made a few inquiries locally) I will give it a try, I'm all for experimenting, that's how this hobby evolves. I will pick some candidate plants and do some side-by-side comparisons, but it will take 12 months+ to draw any conclusions.

I still have to ask myself though, my garden soil is free, and I have to pay for Turface, and I can't imagine how my results can be improved...I have tons of photos of my plants and flowers to prove it. Maybe I'm just lucky to have the right garden soil???


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Dec 4, 07 at 10:24

I think the theme of the thread has been a general discussion about houseplant soils, with a focus on the contrast between a well-aerated soil we can make ourselves, and what we buy in a bag.

I know the mixes I recommend to be great multi-application soils that are very easily adaptable to almost any specific plant by adding ingredients or varying the mix of basic ingredients. It was never my intent to say that any basic mix I might suggest cannot be improved, tinkered with, or adapted to more perfectly suit an individual plant (I always make soils that way.); or that more expert growers, like yourself, might already have developed their own soils that suit their individual plant's needs exceedingly well - better even than the basic mix. I'm simply providing a starting point for those growers who may not be as well-versed in soil science as you are, and trying to answer their questions.

I think that if you and I were building a soil from the variety of ingredients, the properties of which we're familiar with, we'd wind up with a soil remarkably similar in physical properties, even though the ingredients vary. I always say it's not important what soils are made from, as long as they hold an appropriate mix of air and moisture and are not phytotoxic. That we take a slightly different route to arrive at the same destination doesn't matter to me, as long as you're happy with what you are using.

If you are happy, there is no wont in me to change anything you do. If you're not, I'll try to help any way I can. ;o)

Take Care.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Al, I am in now way trying to promote or un-promote (is that a real word?) your findings, I'm just adding my own 2 pennies. I wish I can have thought provoking conversations more often!

I think what you say and the way you say it, is essential reading for anyone who gives a hoot about their plants. In fact, with your permission, I would like to disseminate your writings to fellow plantaholics.

I found a local supplier of Turface in 50-lb bags, perfect. I will buy some inexpensive plants and try some side-by-side comparisons where I want to see if there is a difference between using more clay from the garden vs. Turface clay.

One advantage that I think may be beneficial is that Turface should hold less moisture than the equivalent volume of clay soil. This should make it more feasible to leave some cactus/ succulents out in the rain during the summertime without the potential for too much moisture that remains in the pots.

If granular fertilizer is not added, there should not be an issue with salt build-up. Taken a step further, if only say a 5-6 month slow release is added early in the growing season, by the time it is used up for winter dormancy, again salt build-up is not an issue, making the need for thorough leaching unnecessary. I'm just thinking out loud.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Dec 4, 07 at 18:40

Yes - I love lively conversations about soils, too. (If I'd have heard someone say that 10 years ago, I'd have just rolled my eyes.) ;o) Lol

Thanks for the kind words & I don't mind if you use anything I write. I'd appreciate credit for anything you think took substantial work in gathering the info to assemble the post, though. My biggest rush from the forums is that I might either directly or indirectly be helping someone with their growing skills.

... good point about the CRF. Thank you! I'll make your point again, so it doesn't get missed: It's always wise to incorporate CRF into soils (not broadcast it on top of soils) in spring plantings/repots (except for winter growing plants) to prevent a high level of soluble solids & EC (salt content) and a need for frequent flushing/leaching of soils. Because CRF release is very temperature related, broadcasting it can expose it to sun and high temperatures which can cause erratic and potentially harmful amounts of nutrients to be released very quickly.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Something else came up in another forum, also interesting...

What about "wettability" of substrates. You can thoroughly drench a soil mix, let the excess collect in a saucer, and it will then be soaked right back up. The PWT would seem to not have been achieved because the mix is not fully saturated. Yet another factor to consider. How much watering is needed before the soil cannot hold any more, and a PWT can then be realized?

Not that you'd want to do it anyway, because the salts are also being sucked right back in.

x


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Dec 4, 07 at 23:47

You are talking about two different things. First, I'll talk a little about wettability. Generally, soils with high organic content exhibit hydrophobic tendencies (they get difficult to rewet and repel water) when their moisture content drops below about 30%. This is the result of (primarily) iron and magnesium-containing molecules bonding to soil particulate surfaces after exposure to O2 and H2O, making it more difficult for the water molecules to be adsorbed to particle surfaces and to be absorbed into the organic particle proper. (it won't soak in or stick to the peat and bark) Once sufficient wetting has occurred to allow the metal molecules to go back into solution, the particles become more easily wettable again.

To see how I compensate for this physical condition - from another thread:
"There IS a way to water that is is most effective - that allows you to maintain a favorable level of nutrients, while still allowing you to flush accumulating salts from fertilizers and irrigation water from the soil. Not all of us can adopt this method because it is time consuming, but if you have only a few plants (or don't mind doting on the ones you have), ;o) you might consider:
Slowly & evenly apply water to the soil surface until the soil is almost saturated, but no water appears yet at the drain hole (after a time or two, you'll learn approximately how much water you should use to achieve this initial level of saturation). Wait 5-10 minutes for accumulated salts to dissolve into the water you just applied. Water again, so that approximately 10-15% of the total amount of water applied in both waterings exits the drain hole. This flushes a large % of accumulated salts from the container."
This allows the offending molecules to go into suspension & makes the soil easily wettable, so the soil is thoroughly wetted on the second watering and offending accumulating metal salts are flushed from soils.

I should also mention that there are certain microorganisms that also can affect wettability, but they usually show up on the very top surface as a noticeable crust.

The reason the water that collects in the saucer is drawn back up into the container is because the soil was not fully wetted to begin with. If it was, no additional soil could be ab/adsorbed. Also note that even if no water is drawn into the container from the saucer, the dissolved solids in the saucer, through the natural tendency to osmotically balance, will STILL migrate into the container soil solution until the level of dissolved solids is the same in the soil solution as it is in the saucer. So - it is very important to see that the drain water cannot be reabsorbed into the container.

The PWT (the level of saturated soil that occurs at the bottom of containers, but can/does occur above drainage layers as well): For our purposes, we can practically say that the PWT is a function of particulate size and uniformity in an inverse relationship. The smaller and less uniform the soil particle size - the taller/higher the PWT, until as uniform particulate size approaches 1/8", the PWT disappears entirely. FWIW - for any drainage layer to be effective at draining water from containers, the particle size in the drainage layer must be no larger than 2.1x the size of the particles in your soil.

Did that answer your questions?

Any others reading: Just because the conversation has turned temporarily technical is no reason not to ask whatever soil questions you might have. ;o)

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by rdak z5MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Dec 5, 07 at 1:44

Thanks for the info. Al.

I did try your mix (i.e., 1/3 each of pine bark, chicken grit and turface). All the ingredients were easy to find once I knew their trade names, etc.

I repotted a couple of large plants in pots about 16" wide by 16-20" high. They didn't need repotting but what the heck. LOL!

This is a VERY substantial soil mix. Much more substantial than the usual bagged peat based soils you buy in a store.

Don't take this the wrong way but your soil mix, to me, is what I would call a true "organic" or "natural" type of soil. Far more "natural" in weight, heft, etc., than bagged peat based mixes. I was very impressed with its basic feel and heft.

I watered them in well and, as you said, it drained better than I expected.

I did the first pot yesterday, the plant is doing fine.

The second pot I did today and everything went fine.

What do you think about greensand as an additive? Can you tell I'm still afraid of chemical fertilizers? LOL!!

I'll have to learn how to use the CRF because I've never used that before. I read your post about flushing the pots periodically and I did add some CRF to my repotting mixes I discussed above.

I am a little worried about accumulated salts though. I do have to admit that I'm just unfamiliar with chemical fertilizers. I have no real aversion towards them but don't have a handle on how to use them. Especially in potted plants. Just never used them this way. I've heard so many horror stories about accumulated salts, etc.

In fact, it is your recommended use of chemical fertilizers and not using any organic feeds that has me the most worried. Worried in the context of my ability to keep salts to a minimum. One of the pots has an integral saucer and will be hard to drain.

Is there any organic type of fertilizer/feed you'd recommend. I don't mind if I have to repot more often.

Overall though, I was VERY impressed with this soil recipe of yours. Very good "natural" feel to it. Drainage was better than I expected and I initially thought it would be very good. It is better than very good, it is excellent.

It seems to retain a "correct" amount of water and air. I can't prove it but, after decades of gardening, you "can tell" if something is draining and retaining proper amounts of water if you get what I mean. It's just something we "learn" over the years. (Al, I've installed enough drainage tile to go from here to Chicago for Godsakes - LOL!!)

Thanks again for the great recipe and all the other info. you provided. I've found an easy, excellent soil mix after all these years. And the cost was minimal compared to bagged mixes.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

All this talk about what makes a good soil for houseplants does seem to want to narrow the field too much.
Suggestions of one particular mixing of material supposedly doing a better feeding of nutrients is all hypothetical.
Since not all plants are identical, their needs can be as wide apart as their mediums to put them in.

You can grow plants in sand....nothing but sand.
You can grow plants in peat moss....nothing but peat moss.
You can grow plants in any decent potting soil or mix....and nothing but the mix.

Much talk was made about good drainage.

Draining is necessary for the plant to rid itself of salts that may build up. This is directly why, when the plant has drained, to not let it sit in such drainage water for any extended time.....such salts thus removed, will be invited back up around the roots.

Now someone asked about "does it drain so much that watering is necessary very often".

Plants do not usually need watering "very often".
If the soil has any holding capacity, a plant derives its nutrition from the water and from what other added food we might give it.
To suggest a plant needs water every day...or every other day...does suggest one is using a soil that is not prescribed for the particular plant....or the plant is being thrust into an environment not conducive to its health.

Plants need to dry down somewhat....to use the water and the nutrients that are in it, satisfactorily.
To force a plant to drain itself of what can feed the roots, is, in my opinion, starving the plant.
Much like sitting in a restaurant, you pick your fork, put it into a piece of lettuce.....and the waiter comes over and takes it away...and puts the ordered entree in front of you and when, after a potato has come up, that plate is removed and the dessert is put in its place.
Take a sip of coffee....and the waiter comes and says "I'll heat that up for you"....and away it goes.

Plants don't need that kind of treatment.
And, like the very fat person sitting down to a 6-course meal, and his friend is a 100 lb weakling who gets along quite well with about a tenth of what he eats, all plants are different, with different tastes, different needs of watering, with different growth habits.

You cant say all plants need watering on a particular schedule. In fact, no plant should be put on a watering schedule. They should be watered when they need it...
when THEY need it....not when it is convenient for you.

RDAK, you seem to want to be particular about your plants....well OK, before you re-pot your next one, I invite you to read material on why you shouldn't.
Your insistance to want to go UP to larger sizes of pots is also something I suggest you learn more about.
There are definite reasons why you should re-pot and specifically why a larger pot be considered.
Just doing it for doing sake is not the reason you should if you are indeed thinking of your plant's well being.

I also suggest you do further reading.....not in this site...about what makes a good soil for all types of plants.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by rdak z5MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Dec 5, 07 at 13:52

Jeannie: I just reused the same pots. Didn't increase the size.

I wanted to try Al's recipe so I picked those two large plants to repot. The soil in those containers were about 1.5 years old, so they were getting close to repotting anyways. I would have repotted them this spring.

If it doesn't work over the long-term I'll just buy new plants and do something else. No biggie. It's all fun to me.

I read where people use fish emulsion and seaweed as liquid feeds. These won't create a salt build up I assume and I always have those products on hand.

All these decades I've grown outdoor veggies and fruits and just applied that method to my wife's indoor plants. Al's recipe appears to be FAR better for container growing than the way I did it IMHO. I like the texture and draining qualities of his suggested mix.

Al's going to be mad at me but I can see where I can use some of my old organic feeding practices in moderation. You're right, there ain't just one way to skin a cat! LOL!

Believe me Jeannie, I do a lot of reading but it has been for outdoor growing in the main. I'm starting to read alot more about container growing currently. That's how I "fell upon" Al's suggested recipe. I'll keep reading though!


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Dec 5, 07 at 14:08

Rdak - Thanks for the testimony. It's one of the best ever, but now I have to hope you find the change as rewarding as you seem to think it will be. I can honestly say that when I started growing in stable, highly aerated soils, it was the largest and fastest advancement in my ability to keep plants happy, and I think you'll find the same to be true for you.

You asked about greensand. I'll leave the decisions up to you, but I would only consider using it in very small amounts if the particle size is small. You also mentioned the CRF. You really can do w/o it - very easily, as long as you're conscientious about your fertilizer program.

In soils that drain well, the best way to fertilize is very often with a weak solution. If you do this and flush the soil a little at each watering, you'll NEVER have to worry about accumulating salts - I promise. ;o)

I don't really recommend a chemical fertilizer. I leave that up to the individual. I do, much prefer them because of their reliability and consistency though. I also do not like many of the side effects of organic fertilizers on indoor plants. That's just me & my opinion though. I have no quarrel with those that choose the organic route.

I'm sorry that I can't recommend a good organic fertilizer that I know will deliver nutrients consistently & reliably. Because they depend on microbial activity, and their numbers vary widely in container culture, they are by nature, erratic.

Thanks again, Rdak.

Jeannie - It looks like you pretty much disagree with everything I said upthread. That's fine. Unless you have something specific you'd like to discuss, and instead of disagreeing, I think the best way to handle the disagreement is to thank you for your opinions & just leave it to the other readers to decide what to think about the merit of what each of us has said. Thank you.

Take care.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Al, its always nice to hear two sides....ten sides to a question. Good discussions make for good and more educated choices.
It just seems to me that this particular question has gone too far to the technical side. Most, I'd say, houseplant growers are confounded by such technical terms.
plants have soil, the soil can be bought at any garden center or nursery and that's what they depend on.

When a person who is taken to be an "expert" suggests something far different than the regular way of treating our plants, it can be somewhat confusing.
When a subject is gone into deeply....maybe too deeply, it is sure to confound the average gardener.

There are persons here, I'm sure, that have grown houseplants for decades and not had to rely on what has been suggested in this journal and been quite successful in their growing.

Anything that can help us average Joes is always appreciated but I will continue to point out what might be taken as a different viewpoint.

RDAK, your mention of the two liquid fertilizers...fish emulsion and seaweed emulsion have properties that are specifically noted for use where a plant might have an aversion to nitrogen and so are higher in phosphurus and potassium.

I further suggest you study the uses of such fertilizers and why certain types, at particular levels, are used in different circumstances.
Avoiding nitrogen may have detrimental sides to how a plant is wanted to be fed. Nitrogen promotes growth.
Using higher phosphurus does have a pointed route to how plants promote bloom and their rooting.

So you can see, while organic liquids are easy to use, granular types also have a role to play.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Jeannie, I you are contradicting yourself a bit here. First you are suggesting that information is needed to help people make educated choices, and then you are saying that anything technical should be kept away from average growers, as to not confuse them. I am one of those average gardeners you are talking about, but I honestly don't need to be protected from technical information about plants or soils. The more I know about soil physics and chemistry, the easier it is for me to keep my plants in a satisfactory condition. A little time invested into learning in the beginning saves me time later, and it saves me from depressing half-dead plants too. I used to grow plants in store-bought soil (which is basically peat), and they did poorly. It took me a while to learn to water them just right to keep them from rotting. I think peat is the biggest plant killer out there. Even people growing bog plants usually suggest mixing peat with perlite -- so it's hard to imagine other plants could prefer peat. Now, with well-aerated soils, watering is easy for me, I don't have to be as careful, and my plants just don't rot, no matter what I do. Most of my plants are now in mostly-perlite mix, and I just got some turface to try that in a mix.

I think it's important to understand what Al is saying -- he is not suggesting that his mix is the only one that works; instead, he is explaining some basics that he learned about soils, about soil properties that are important for container growing. He's said several times that it doesn't matter what ingredients you use, as long as you allow air at the roots, etc. His mix is just one example he provides, so that it's easier to see what he is talking about. Now, if someone disagrees about soil properties that Al explained, I'd love to hear that, and learn more about this subject. Plants for me are a hobby, not a decoration, so I enjoy learning new things. But simply saying that Al (or anyone else) is wrong because there is a restaurant analogy that doesn't support his opinion -- well, that's just silly. How 'bout this restaurant analogy: watering your plant once in two weeks is the same as if someone fed you, and then told you to stuff your pockets with as much food as you can because you won't see any more food for another 2 weeks -- so you go ahead, stuff your pockets, even though you know that the food will simply rot after just a couple of days, but well, what are you going to do, it's either rotten food or nothing. See, it's possible to find an analogy to support anything! :)

There is plenty of information online and in books on the traditional soil mixes -- peat based, loam based, you name it -- so Al's advice is not the only information out there, and so I doubt that there really is a need to keep his advice away from people. Those who are happy with there growing methods can just ignore it, and those who are looking for improvement, understanding, or for a fun experiment, can try and grow a plant or two in a different mix, I don't see how that does any harm.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

All this soil talk got me going into creating my own little experiment on some things, you can check it out here:
From the cactus/ succulent forum


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Hi Al!I am a very busy person and I really enjoy my house plants.You could make my life so much easier and many others if you could sell your potting mix by the bag full.It would be a whole new line called "The Right Stuff"
Just think of it different soil mixes for different types of plants,straight from the bag.We would not have to gather different ingredients.A Plant food that would not burn roots.Decorative colorful clay pots,think about it!!!!


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RE: A Soil Discussion

I have followed this thread with great interest. It seems to me that the dedicated home gardener would benefit from acquiring more knowledge regarding his/her hobby, as opposed to taking the easy route by purchasing standard soil and fertilizer mixes off the supermarket shelves, which by no means assures a succesful result. Having been around for a long time is not a recipe for excellence, we should all know that by now. ;o) Al's post is thorough and knowledgeable, and if it requires a little thinking on the part of the reader, well, so much the better, both for the plants and their caretakers. I hope that we will be able to continue the discussion without hearing protests of receiving too much information.

Louise


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Dec 6, 07 at 20:40

Rdak, Alenka, Christianme, and Louise - thank you, each and all - very much! Your kind comments make my efforts here both fun and rewarding.

Xerophyte - good job - you have been busy!

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by rdak z5MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Dec 7, 07 at 3:59

You're welcome Al.

Xero: Great experiment. Thanks for the info.!

Alenka: I'm like you. I'm an amateur who likes to learn more about different ways to grow plants. Al's recipe is a great one IMHO and the only downside for some people would be the weight of the soil mix. I mean, I don't know if we would ever see his mix offered in a commercial product due to the weight. It's not excessively heavy but it is heavy IMHO.

In the finished container mix, Al's extra weight "soil" is a good thing though IMHO. But it is heavy compared to the common bagged soil we buy at stores.

And I wish Al would stop saying his soil isn't organic. It is the most "natural" feeling type of soil mix I've ever used in a container! LOL!!


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Hi Al,

Thanks for such a great thread, I've learned so much by reading all this wonderful questions and answers.

One quick question, I just purchased a grafted gardenia tree, do you think this mix would be okay or do I need to add some potting soil to the mix. I already use this mix you recommend on my succulents and D. rose, and all my potted plants. But from most everything I have read about gardenias it is a little difficult(known to some), nicknamed "suicidal Plant". And I am just slightly above a "newbie" and really appreciate any help I get.

Thanks so much,


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RE: A Soil Discussion

RDAK, if you've found your elixer, then by all means, stick with it. I just hope when you see a shopper buying a bag of Miracle Gro Soil or its ilk, or buying some other specialty item in that regard, then you wont feel uppity that you use the creme-de la creme and surely your plants grow better. The world is green from what they have used up to now. Maybe when man is prepared to leave this planet, more seriousness thought about what soil should go with the plants might be better thought of.

Alenka, I said no such thing. If the reader, novice or expert, gets anything out of this technical talk, then good for that person. I doubt the average gardener gets much from it. They have soil outside they plant in. Their plant they buy in the garden centre comes with the soil they have been brought along in. Its not the thing to just up and change it.

As far as your condemnation of peat moss, I think you doth protest too much. Peat moss keeps proving it is one of the best things to happen to plants.
Please, if you will, state what your ill feelings about peat moss is based on. There is many an average gardener who wouldn't be without it and wouldn't make up any mix...indoor or outdoor, without its use.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Seriously, jeannie7, if you would actually read the thread on which you are commenting, you'd see that most of what you are saying is old, well-covered ground. There is a name for people who "intentionally post controversial or contrary messages in an on-line community such as an on-line discussion forum or group with the singular intention of baiting users into an argumentative response," and it is considered bad netiquette. You are welcome to start your own thread, where you give your own advice regarding soils, but please respect Al enough not to derail the conversation he has started, since there are people who are getting something out of it.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by rdak z5MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Dec 9, 07 at 6:31

I won't get uppity with someone who uses potting soil Jeannie. I'm a novice when it comes to houseplants and found Al's recipe to be excellent. That's all there is to it really.

You know kind of like a kid who finds a new "toy". LOL!!


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Whew!! Finally made it to the bottom! Thanks for all of this information, I've been looking for a new mix. It has taken me a few weeks to read, and I have an idea of what to look forward to this Spring when I repot. One quick question, what was the CRF again? I seem to have lost that part. Thanks again :) Christy


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Subjunctive, if inviting readers to stop and think, to use their own minds and decide for themselves what is proper for what this site is about, then I'm not going to just go away. Soil we put our plants into is the total of their well-being and any new idea should be examined carefully.

If you feel such questions are argumentative....without merit, then see.....you have used your mind to make a choice.
I invite others to do the same.

Or would you have everybody....as though you are speaking from the pulpit....."believe in what I believe"..."do as I do"...."follow me down the path of ....

I suggest readers to look elsewhere for their guidance about what to use for their houseplants.
If one believes a certain source of material has meritorious "experts"....and they just keep mentioning the "off the shelf" type of potting soil, then why would one put that product down as though its had its day and the new world order is coming with new soils.

If it gives you pleasure to think everybody that reads this material should be taken into the fold.....leave room please for us dissenters, for the less gullible and let us have a voice in challenging what the demigods would have us believe.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Dec 11, 07 at 14:50

I was away for awhile, so I'll start back upthread at Rdak's observations about a heavy soil and whether it's organic or not (I'm smiling, btw) ;o)

I'll just make the note that when speaking of soils, the word 'HEAVY' can mean two different things. First, it can mean the actual weight to volume ratio. The soil with the Turface and granite is fairly heavy in that way, but the mix with bark, perlite, peat, etc., is about the same weight as a bagged soil. As Rdak says though, the 'more inorganic' soil is not excessively heavy.

The other meaning of 'HEAVY' is a soil that has lots of small particulates. Soils with lots of sand, compost, garden/top soil, worm castings, or other fine particulates are 'heavy', in that they will lack air retention. A high % of peat will eventually turn a soil 'heavy' as it breaks down. Heavy soils are characterized by slow drainage and high water retention. None of the soils I use or suggest are 'heavy' in that regard. They are always light to very light, no matter what the physical weight. ;o)
That point is soo important, I just had to be sure it was clear. I'll always be the first to say (over and over) that when we build or buy a soil, long term aeration is key, and by far, the most important consideration, so we should consider it with every ingredient we select for a soil.

Rdak - ;o) I keep saying one of the soil recipes, the one I always use for houseplants, is 'more inorganic' because it is made from approximately 2/3 inorganic components, materials that have never been alive - Turface & grit, but I suppose you have a point, there's nothing that would disqualify the soil from being categorized as a completely 'organic' mix. So now what do I do? You started the whole thing - I think it should be YOU that comes up with a new, better way to describe it!! Lol Put your thinking cap on? ;o) Take care.

Puglvr - The gritty mix would be VERY good for your gardenias. When you add the Calcium source (usually you choose between garden lime or gypsum), use gypsum - it doesn't raise soil pH like lime does, and your gardenia will like a more acidic soil. You can get it in small bags at most nurseries. If you need more help with your nutrient program, just ask & I'll help you along.

Thank you, Mr. Subjunctive & Rdak - appreciated.

Christy - You're welcome. ;o) CRF is controlled release fertilizer, aka timed release fertilizer. Whether you add it to the mix or not isn't too important(as long as you're conscientious about supplying nutrients regularly) and is actually a seasonal thing. You prolly wouldn't want to add CRF to anything you repot or pot up after June, because of potential salt build-up.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

The use of peat moss has been arbitrarily put down as something to not use. To suggest this material has, for whatever reason, nothing to give to soil or to plants in such soil is contrary to popular belief.

Since I'd take a chance at suggesting that millions of people the world over do use this material for what it delivers to soil, the odd one or two that is dissatisfied with the ongoing health of their plants might look elsewhere for what ails them.....its not the peat moss.

I invite any reader who thinks about the soils they buy for all their gardening tasks to look into what peat moss is and what it can.....or cannot ...do for whatever use they might envisage.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Thanks tapla, that was easy enough! I must've missed the acronym. I have mostly succulents, just your basic jades, a few echeveria's, christmas cactus, and some Plumeria. The jades will definitely be repotted in the Spring, as well as the echeveria's. Not sure yet about the christmas cactus, and I am currently rooting the Plumeria. I'll keep an eye on this thread, thank you! Christy


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Hi AL,

Thank you very much.I will call around tomorrow and see if I can find the gypsum. If I have any more questions, I will take you up on your generous offer and ask for help. Really appreciate it...


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Dec 11, 07 at 20:40

Make sure you ask for small bags (5 or 10 lbs) unless you want 50 lbs (most common). If you just ask for gypsum, they'll say yes & you'll be scratching your head at how many farm fields the bag will cover. ;o) Good luck!

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by rdak z5MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Dec 11, 07 at 21:53

Al: "Barturfite"? LOL!!


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RE: A Soil Discussion

With regard to the popularity of using peat in potting mixes, I believe it's been used for so long and by so many people because it is relatively common and inexpensive. Consider the average gardener or houseplant owner. They probably do not spend nearly as much conversing about their plants on forums like this and just do what they've seen done; use peat based mixes. Because peat is so common, cheap, and lightweight, it makes an ideal component for premixed soils made by miracle grow and many many other companies. Less money is spent on shipping and materials when peat is used.

On the contrary, when someone becomes a plant enthusiast they tend to gravitate toward practices that maximize plant vigor and vitality. We plant enthusiasts find a community to bounce around ideas and share what works for us. We begin to stray away from the norm and experiment with mixes that are unavailable premixed in bags. We make compost tea, grow tomatoes upside down, and engineer makeshift hydroponic systems. Sometimes someone challenges the norm and blows convention out of the water. It is up to the individual to decide whether or not this idea has merit. Anyone who has grown a plant has already looked into peat moss and what it can do for their plants. Instead, shouldn't we look into the unknown territory of turface, grit, bark, and other less conventional potting mix components and determine what they can do for our plants?


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Dec 12, 07 at 1:19

You're exactly right, M Taggert. Thanks for the kind comments! ;o)

I didn't start this thread to try to change the mind of anyone who's resistant to change. I'll discuss the merits of soil components with anyone who has an open mind & thinks they can benefit from the discussion, and I'm perfectly happy to let people decide what's best for themselves and their plants - or if I even make sense. I think most people can see that it's my intent to show there are options and that we're not shackled to commercially prepared soils from a bag unless we want to be.

I'm sad to see the edge of so lively an exchange of information dulled by strife, but I'm sure it's fruitless for me to argue against it, so I won't. ;o)

I guess I should mention that I'm not just presenting some far-fetched, unproven ideas I just thought up on a whim & decided to write about. I've been using highly aerated, stable soils with either no peat at all, or less than 10-15% peat in some soils, for more than 10 years, and have studied them diligently for even longer, so it's not like I haven't paid my dues. Shoot - I've been writing about soils and helping people on these forums develop their own mixes for at least 5 years. ;o)

Rdak - what does that mean? I'm at a loss. ;o)

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

rdak,

"Al: "Barturfite"? LOL!!"

I think I get it, Is it your new name for the soilmix?? Short cut for the ingredients??

1. Bark
2. Turface
3. Grit


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Dec 12, 07 at 14:11

Ahhh - how silly & forgetful of me! I get it now - duh! ;o) Much better than Turbarfit!

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by rdak z5MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Dec 13, 07 at 3:50

Turbarfit ain't bad!!

Pug: You're real close - bark, turface, granite. Anyway, just pulling your chains.

Al: Plants still doing fine btw. (And this isn't the best time of season to transplant stuff. LOL!)


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Hi
What a wonderful discussion!! Always found it amazing how much more difficult it is to grow a plant in a pot rather than in the ground.
I use a lot of pots because my soil is so poor. but the pots are outside another different ballgame lol
Always experimenting with different mixes and techniques.
Found this post very informative even for my conditions!!!
Think you have more than enough posts for the thread so won't add my two cents. Anyway found this very useful!!!
gary


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Dec 16, 07 at 11:04

There are never enough, Gary. Thanks for your contribution! ;o) I'm going outside in the middle of a blizzard right now th clear the driveway before it gets so deep the snow blower won't handle it (6" so far and 6 more promised - and it's blowing/drifting). Before I go, I wanted to leave you a link to a thread similar to this one that has more than 500 posts on the same subject - Container Soils. If you're interested, it's much more technical and there are plenty of testimonials to the marked improvement hundreds (literally) of growers saw when they switched to an open and durable mix.

Remember, I'm not trying to 'sell' MY mix here, I'm selling an open, well-aerated, and durable mix. It will eliminate or reduce multiple problems and increase the vitality with which your plants grow. ;o)

Take care.

Al

Here is a link that might be useful: Follow me - I'll take you to another discussion about container soils ;o)


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Planning on repotting my plants today, thought I'd top post this discussion :) Christy


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Mar 23, 08 at 11:13

Lolol! It's soo funny, Christy . . . just minutes ago, I was thinking this thread had been languishing for awhile. I had been thinking about offering a post about An EXCELLENT Fertilizer Choice, and had even gone searching for this thread. I was going to post the information I linked to, here. I didn't, because I felt that it would look like I was bumping my own thread, and I didn't want to leave that impression.

Minutes later - YOU post to it. ;o)

Take care!

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

So I think I'm ready. I've got my pine bark, my peat moss, my perlite, my lime and my CRF (Sta-Green All Purpose 19-6-12 last up to 6 months). But no micro-nutrient powder. This is what I did find, though. It's called Pogo Organics beneficial microOrganisms Essential Plant and Soil nutrients Granular. Will this work? And in what quantity? Thanks for your help, Al, and your great thread :) Christy


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Mar 23, 08 at 21:04

You may wish to look at the possibility of using a product like 'Earthjuice Microblast' as a source for the minor elements, Christy. I searched the Pogo Org. product you mentioned & found it is prepared for use in beds/gardens. It sounds like nothing more than granulated compost, which holds lots of water in containers and breaks down very quickly. Even if it was chock full of microorganisms, that is not necessarily a GOOD thing. If you have an active microorganism population in containers, they're bound to be breaking hydrocarbon chains that bind the soil particles together. This causes a rapid breakdown and premature soil collapse.

While I agree wholeheartedly with 'feeding the soil' in gardens & beds, I think the practice is best left to those and similar places, and not carried over to container culture.

Good luck, no matter what you decide. ;o)

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Well, I have read many of the threads that talk of Al's soil and after over a year I have used a blend of bark, small amt of perlite and peat with lime, crf and micronutrients on my outside pots. I now have turface to add into this mix and have done just that with some plants I wish to leave more than a year.

I have had very good luck even though the year was a tricky one weather wise. I can't thank Al enough for his help to me and everyone else that have benefitted from his wealth of info.

However I am ready to go inside and repot my house plants so my search led me to this thread. I think I have reread it and have a couple questions. Sorry if I have missed the answers somewhere in the thread.

I would like to make a great soil but as light as possible. My outside pots I don't have to lug around much. I mean I have to drag big pots inside to my sink to water and they are heavy. If I put Turface, Grit (which I have trouble finding here ) and bark it seems it would be very heavy.
Could I use perlite bark and turface and what percentages? Grit is usually oyster shells around here. I will suffer if you really think I need grit but I would rather not use it.
Also I use nylon rope pieces for wicks. Should they touch the ground either indoors or outside or be off the ground?


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Jun 12, 08 at 9:50

Hi, B. So nice to see you. ;o) Thank you for the kind words.

We don't want you suffering, so how about
5 Turface
4 fine fir bark (or pine)
3 perlite

If wicks touch something absorbent, what they are touching becomes part of the wicking dynamic. If you set the containers on soil (earth), so the wick touches the soil or grass, the earth becomes a giant wick. If the wick dangles a couple of inches from the bottom of the container so water drips off & more can follow down the wick, it's equally effective. Wicks become ineffective when the water cannot drain away from the wick - such as when you set a container on a patio slab and a puddle forms around the bottom of the container with the wick contacting the water in the puddle. That cover it?

Asides: If you suspect your containers are retaining perched water, you can at least partially remedy the condition by tilting the container at a steep angle after watering. Test this by watering (saturating) a container thoroughly. After the container stops draining (it reaches container capacity) tilt it and note how much additional water exits the container. Of course, a wick is still much more effective, but this will assist those not using wicks and help with soggy soil.

Remember - many of your plant problems arise from using heavy soils that you must water in sips to prevent root rot. If you rid yourself of these soils so you can water copiously (as B has done), MANY of your issues (including insect troubles, diseases, root rot, and other problems associated with over-watering and soluble salts accumulation) will go away. This is ESPECIALLY important in the winter.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Thank you for the advice. I will use that formula. Do I put micromax in the mix and leave out CRF?

So if I drain my plants well in the house I can put them back into trays on the floor?
I do water them as you suggest. ie water til it all drains out, wait a few minutes then water with a weak fert (24 8 12) as recommended then I always tilt them for a few minutes before I put them back.

When I first read all of this about a yr and a half ago I was so excited. I went out an purchased bark and perlite but if you remember Al I used mushroom compost instead of peat. I realized after talking to you that was far from ideal but actually the plants have done much better than the soil I have used in the past. However I am excited since I now have Turface!
The mushroom compost has of course broken down.

Another trick I love that you taught me was to put old screen in the bottom of outside pots to keep the bugs out!

Thanks again for your advice Al and all the others who really make this site so beneficial


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Jun 12, 08 at 13:00

I would forget the CRFs in houseplants or in any plant you will need to over-winter before the fertilizer in the capsules is depleted. In my experience, CRFs in over-wintering plants cause sometimes extreme accumulations of soluble salts, which can be disaster in slow soils. If you're using the MG 24-8-16, 12-4-8, or other incomplete (lacking secondary macro or micronutrients) fertilizer, use your Micromax. If you're using a complete fertilizer, like Foliage-Pro 9-3-6, you can skip it.

If you use the MG, you'll be lacking Ca and Mg, so you'll need to supply it with gypsum (added to the soil) and Epsom salts (added to fertilizer water when you fertilize).

"So if I drain my plants well in the house I can put them back into trays on the floor?"

Oh sure.

"I do water them as you suggest. ie water til it all drains out, wait a few minutes then water with a weak fert (24 8 12) as recommended then I always tilt them for a few minutes before I put them back."

It's best to water so copiously that 10-15% of the total volume of water applied exits the drain each time you water. It's not absolutely necessary to water this way to maintain peak vitality, but you should do it at least every third or fourth time you water, and flush more thoroughly than if you do it every time you water.

It's often parroted that you shouldn't water a dry plant or a 'sick' plant. The 'sick' plant part makes no sense, but it's beyond what you asked, so I'll leave it be. The "Don't water dry plants" mantra is more a safeguard to protect plants in slow soils that are likely to have high accumulations of salts in the soil, but we should talk about what 'dry' is. Plants that are too dry to fertilize will be under some drought stress - even cacti and succulents. If the plants leaf structure is such that you couldn't detect wilting if the plant was drought-stressed, it's better to be sure there is some soil moisture when you fertilize. If you are talking about foliage plants that visibly wilt, if there are no signs of wilt - even if the soil FEELS dry - it's ok to fertilize. It's especially harmless in your case because you're using a fast soil that allows you to flush salts out, and you're using a dilute fertilizer concentration. With fast soils and proper watering technique, along with dilute fertilizers, you can fertilize at EVERY watering if you choose - even in winter.

I do fertilize my houseplants all year long - even in winter. It does no harm to make nutrients available at reasonable levels at all stages of the growth cycle - even if plants are not growing. It's not totally necessary, but it does no harm, either. When my houseplants are outdoors in the summer & growing robustly, I usually fertilize weekly at 1/2 strength. When temperatures drop below 50* or rise above 85*, I slow applications dramatically until temps return to favorable growth levels. When plants are resting (indoors), I fertilize at around 1/8 recommended strength at every watering (winter).

"When I first read all of this about a yr and a half ago I was so excited. I went out an purchased bark and perlite but if you remember Al I used mushroom compost instead of peat. I realized after talking to you that was far from ideal but actually the plants have done much better than the soil I have used in the past. However I am excited since I now have Turface! The mushroom compost has, of course, broken down."

Yes, compost, and especially mushroom compost can be very problematic in container soils. The compost in general because of its small particle size and water retention, and the mushroom compost for the same reason, plus the fact that it usually comes to you very hot (high in N - lots of urea) and very high in soluble salts. I think you'll be even more excited when you've removed the compost from your mix. I think you're about to see another big improvement in the results of your growing efforts - at least I HOPE so! ;o)

Take good care, B.

YPA



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RE: A Soil Discussion

I see. The Peters professional water soluble with micronutrients doesnt have MG or Ca in it. I do usually put dolomite lime in my outside plant mix. About how much lime would I put in a 5 gallon bucket worth of mix for houseplants? Thanks again.
Darn I cant find the thread where I asked all these same questions last year but I have reviewed alot. I have been through alot of threads! Also maybe I will be helping someone else. Thanks again!


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Jun 12, 08 at 21:06

Don't worry about repeat questions, B.

Instead of lime, use gypsum (1 tbsp/gallon of soil). The pH of the gritty soil mix should come in at just under 6.0 before liming, which is almost perfect because media pH tends to rise as it ages. Lime supplies both Ca and Mg, but it raises media pH. Gypsum supplies Ca and S, without raising pH; that's why I use gypsum as a Ca source in the gritty mix and then supplement the Mg by adding 1/4 tsp Epsom salts to the fertilizer water every time I fertilize. This regimen has worked very well for me over the years when growing in the gritty mix.

If you were using the 5:1:1 bark:peat:perlite mix, I would stay with the dolomitic lime @ the same rate - 1 tbsp/gal soil.

YPA


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Wow I can't believe I didn't have gypsum and went to the local store and they had it!! I'm set now . I did mix some up and it looked to me like I needed more turface so I did 6 turface 4 bark chips (I used soil conditioner) and 3 perlite. So i don't have to use Micromax if I have the fert with micronutrients and use it weakly weekly? Anything else? Thanks YPB


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Jun 13, 08 at 11:32

Just good luck ;o) - and I'm glad you're back safe and had such a great time! ;o)

YPA


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RE: A Soil Discussion

I am growing several palm trees and a sago in containers. Do you have a good soil recipe for palm trees?


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RE: A Soil Discussion

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

A soil that has been very well received for growing succulents and palms is:

3 parts fine pine or fir bark
3 parts Turface MVP
3 parts crushed granite
1 part coarse sand (very coarse - at least 1/16" diam. Find at store that sell swimming pool filter sand or ask for very coarse silica @ masonry supply stores)
1 part vermiculite
Dolomitic (garden lime) or gypsum

You can see a picture of this soil if you scroll upthread to the first set of pictures (10, altogether) you come to. The bottom pic is the soil. It is very porous and will not hold excess water. It drains extremely well, and most importantly, it will allow you to water copiously at every watering w/o risking the water retention, during periods of low water demand, that rots roots.

You can make it simpler by using a 1:1:1 mix of bark fines:Turface MVP:crushed granite if you don't care to look for too many ingredients. I have found this soil to be excellent for everything I've tried in it. I have ALL my houseplants in it, and grow all my woody plants in the simpler 1:1:1 mix.

Several from this forum have tried it or a slight variation, and many from the container gardening forum - perhaps someone will offer up their own assessment(s). I just finished a small batch for a friend before an IPM meeting I attended earlier tonight.

Take care.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Al,

I would like to thank you for all the information you have put into these forums.

Many times I see posts where someone says to add perlite to regular soil for a newbie, because they dont want to frustrate or make it hard for a newbie to take care of their plant. I dont have much experience in growing plants and I have tried the perlite route and many other amendments that I have seen mentioned on these forums. Some worked ok, but I have had the most success with your 1-1-1 mix. I still have yet to find granite grit here. I have replaced the crushed granite with small gravel that is marked as paver base. It seems to be working very well.

I have a heavy hand when it comes to watering, and this mix is the only one I have found that works for me, and my plants are growing great. I have had a few plants on deaths door that has been revived after putting in the 1-1-1 mix.
I also like that I dont have to be as careful about selecting too big of a pot when I use this mix.

I got a meyer lemon tree this spring, and repotted into your mix. I used a large container for it and it is thriving. It is starting to put on lots of new growth.

I almost have everything transferred to this soil. Just a few more plant to change.

I try to read as many posts as I can where you have responded, and I appreciate that you take the time to help everyone out, and explain most things in an easy to read and understand format.

I just wanted to include a pic of some roots from a succulent that I have growing in this mix. I water every 1-2 days, and its roots are amazing. You can even see the tiny root hairs on it. I havent seen roots like this on anything that I have purchased.


Here is a pic of my lemon tree with lots of new growth in an oversized container.




Thank you for helping this newbie to grow like a pro :)


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Aug 22, 08 at 16:18

Ohh, thank you, Zuba. I really wasn't soliciting thank yous, just the honest assessments of those who had used any of the soils I like to share, but I sure want to thank you for the effort and very kind words. It's certainly appreciated. I'm glad you feel like you're having an improved growing experience. Soils are soo much more important than most realize - the foundation that every planting is built on.

If you like succulents, I have a couple you might be interested in, if you contact me off forum.

Take good care.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

I appreciate you responses greatly. I just started growing palms this past spring and although all have survived they are not thriving like I know they can. I am currently using a miracle-go perlite mix and it seems too thick and heavy even to an amature. Last week I bought some Natures Best soil conditioner from HD and am currently looking for Turface and the Granite. Anyone know where to get these items in Charlotte NC? I will hit the farm and golf course stores tommorrow. Also will the 1-1-1 mix hold up for over a year or would I need to repot annually? I hate repotting because I always lose a frond or two from shock I guess and it kills me to see my palms suffer. anyway thanks again for all your advice. Garry


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Fri, Aug 22, 08 at 18:42

For Turface, try Burnett Athletics in Charlotte first. (864) 592-1658 The granite might be harder to come by because you guys usually use crushed shellfish shells for grit, but I'd try rural feed stores & elevators - places that cater to farmers & have farm animal feed.

The 1:1:1 mix is 2/3 inorganic and 1/3 very stable bark, so it will last longer than it is prudent to allow a planting to go w/o repotting. IOW - it's extremely stable and will remain serviceable for 5-10X longer than a bagged peat-based soil and about 2-3 times as long as the bark based soil I mentioned upthread, and there's no way you should expect a plant (well, a huge % of plants) to go that long between repots.

Take care. Best of luck.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by jodik 5 Central IL (My Page) on
    Sat, Aug 23, 08 at 11:23

I don't usually frequent the Houseplant Forum, but I do grow many types of plants indoors, so I guess they are, by logistics, "house plants". My indoor collections include a large number of Hippeastrum bulbs, several orchids, and a few other tender or tropical type plants.

For quite a while, I struggled with finding the right medium for my bulbs... I was experiencing root rot and bulb rot constantly! I tried everything from expensive bagged soils to coco coir, and everything in between! It wasn't until I "met" Al, and read what he had to convey, that I understood what I was doing wrong! I was literally suffocating my plants from the roots up!

I have since switched to Al's Mix for many of my plants and bulbs... and every one that's planted in a larger particled, free-draining mix is growing phenominally! I can't say enough about the types of mixes Al talks about!

I recently un-potted a container of Sprekelia to separate them, and upon hosing off the mix, saw the most beautiful, healthy root system I've ever grown on a bulb! They were long and thick and white, and extremely healthy!

For years, I've been using layers of gravel or charcoal at the bottom of my pots, thinking that this is aiding in drainage... it's not. But now that I understand perched water tables and proper watering techniques, and am using a soil that allows for the exchange of oxygen and gases, I see that using a mix like Al's from top to bottom in a clay pot is the answer.

I doubt I've covered all the reasons that a larger particled free-draining bonsai like medium is better, but I don't have the time right now... I'm on my way outdoors to take care of my container gardens!

Happy Gardening... and for everyone growing in any type of container... please read what Al has written about Soils, Perched Water Tables, Water Retention and everything else... you won't be sorry!


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Well I found the turface on the 1st try Lescos about 3 miles from my house had turface allsport same as MVP for $9.75 for a 50# bag. The crushed granite I'm going to have to search a little more for. I couldnt find it anywhere. But I bought a small bag of aquarium gravel to hold me over till I cand find some crushed granite and I,m going to try the 1-1-1 mix on a diffenbachia that I have that has really gone downhill lately. I fed it diluted coffee after reading that they like that and I have just about killed it. It needs a transplant bad. I also picked up a CRF called dynamite select 15-5-9 with micros. I couldnt find the scotts/ peters excel 15-5-15 fert. Would palms like this and could i add a little potash to the mix to raise the K2o up to 15? also should I let my soil conditioner dry before mixing with the turface? Also if anyone knows a good source for crushed granite in the Charlotte NC area please let me know! Another question do I need to add lime to the 1-1-1 mix and if so how much? I can only make about 2 gallons at a time since I live in a apartment. Thanks again and sorry to pester ya,ll with my dumb questions. Please be paitent I'm new to this.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Another question. How small should the crushed granite be. I found a few sources near me but its not granite and I can get 3/8 inch whitestone and gravel screenings which look too fine to me. would 3/8 be too big and can it be any kind of rock?


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Aug 23, 08 at 17:34

Thanks, Jodi. That was very nicely said. It makes me feel good - glad to see testimony like yours, but not because I get a personal boost from it. I think it helps to convince people that some deviation from the bagged mixes we so often offer our plants can be a very good and worthwhile thing. Comments like yours and Zubababy's (I don't know if I should use a real name) might help a few who are hesitant to try a different way of looking at soil. That's what I hope for and that's what, out of the whole deal, makes me feel good. ;o) Anyway - thanks again.

Eileen from NYC: If you're still following the thread, will you please contact me off forum? I remember helping you find the ingredients for the 1:1:1 gritty mix a while back, and I'm wondering if you can help me now. I have a friend from NYC that is asking, and I didn't write down (and I sure as heck can't remember) where to find the ingredients. Thank you. ;o)

Gary - you don't need to feel like you're 'pestering' me. I have all the patience in the world for people with good faith questions. I always try to answer in the best way I can.

There's a lot of conversation on the forum lately about adding dilute coffee/tea to plants. I replied on one thread & got beat up pretty bad for offering the reply, but Arabica (coffee) and Camellia (tea) are known for their toxic alkaloid (caffeine) content and their allelopathic affect on plants as well as autotoxic (to their own seedlings) effects on future generations. Caffeine interferes with root development by impairing protein metabolism. This affects activity of an important bio-compound (PPO) and lignification (the process of becoming woody), crucial steps for root formation.

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

I think a 2:1:3 ratio (or close) like 8-4-12, or even the 15-5-15 you suggested, would be very good for palms. I don't often use the CRFs because I like complete control over 'when and how much', but I think I would probably do as you suggest if I was using it and add a tsp (or a little more) of potash to each gallon of soil.

You lost me on the ... should I let my soil conditioner dry before mixing with the Turface? Do you have wet bark & you're asking how dry it should be when you make the soil? It's ok if it's wet, but it shouldn't be wringing wet. You shouldn't be able to squeeze any water out of a handful if you squeeze it hard.

Lime (Mg and Ca) is very important to palms, so add a tbsp per gallon of soil. Make sure your fertilizer is supplying Mn, too. It's important. I think I would add a micronutrient supplement like Earth Juice's MicroBlast. It has Mg and the minors that are apt to be missing in container soils. Interestingly, it has no Ca or S, which is convenient. If you use the MicroBlast, just switch the lime (Ca & Mg) to gypsum (calcium sulfate) which nicely covers your Ca/S problem. ;o)

Did you get all that? ;o) If you didn't understand something, let's get it cleared up. I'm heading out to water containers. It's hot & muggy (for us, anyway) here 90*/86% humidity. Yuk.

Al


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More Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sat, Aug 23, 08 at 17:49

I just noticed your other post. I also forgot to say "Way to go!" for finding your Turface.

You want the particle size of the granite to be in the 1/16 - 3/16 range with almost all the particles in the 1/16 - 1/8 size. The beauty of the Grani-Grit is that it comes pre-screened in 'starter' and 'grower' sizes and is very uniform. I never tried this tack before, but I'm going to look at my bags of grit & see if I can contact the mfg & find out who sells it where. I should have tried this long ago.

If you can't find it, try very coarse (1/16+) silica sand from a pool supply place (used in filters) or inquire at a masonry supply store (not big box) for the coarsest silica they can get (1/16-1/8 is best). If you STILL strike out, come back & we'll figure out how to make a mix w/perlite instead.

Take care.

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by jodik 5 Central IL (My Page) on
    Sun, Aug 24, 08 at 10:52

Al - I'm beginning to see how many bagged medium mixes are just like many other products on the market... especially pet foods... they're aimed at sales to people, not at the health of plants! It's all a money game at the base line!

I know you're not looking for personal glory by helping us learn to grow better plants, but it's perfectly alright to take a little for yourself! You've done, and continue to do, a great service for us gardeners! You've done all the math, science and history for us, and broken it all down into easy-to-understand terms! You certainly deserve a pat on the back, at the very least! Where can I sign you up for "Garden Mentor Of The Year"?!

As I said, I've been gardening for decades... and after reading only one of your articles, I can finally say: I get it! I finally get it! And my plants today reflect that!

Thank me for saying so? No... thank YOU... for being such a patient and sharing teacher!


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Whew, so I finally got through reading this whole thread, there certainly is a plethora of good and interesting info in there!

Here are a couple of questions that occurred to me as I was reading:
Have you tried rooting cuttings in this mix? Due to how fast it drains, it sounds like it might work well (depending on the plant, I suppose). About the cacti and succulents, if you water your ‘typical’ tropical houseplants every day or every other day…how often would you water the cacs & sucs in comparison?

Also, have you ever ventured into terrariums? Would you use a mix of this sort in there?

Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us!


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Aug 24, 08 at 21:42

Again, I don't know what to say, Jodi. My face got all red (yeah, I blushed) and I was really touched by your comments. I'm just really glad you're getting more out of your growing experience. THAT really rocks me. ;o)

From Arjadiejai:

Have you tried rooting cuttings in this mix?

If I have a cutting that is important to me, or hard to root, I always stick it in a sterile medium like perlite or Turface. Strangely, I get the VERY best results from rooting in chopped sphagnum moss (not peat - the whole pieces of moss that were harvested live). The moss makes sense if you consider it's the medium most used in air layering. A mix of any combination of the three ingredients also works very well.

If I'm starting cuttings and I really don't care about the strike rate, I use a soil made of screened Turface, fir bark, and crushed granite - the same soil as above. I screen it so particles are all larger than 1/16 inch so there is almost NO perched water to rot cuttings. By doing it that way, I can start the cuttings in larger containers and not have to worry either about a setback from potting up soon after the cuttings strike, or about overpotting and the accompanying saturated soil. In short, cuttings root fast and you can save a step because of a larger soil volume, but again - if the cuttings are important, use a sterile medium - it's the bark that could harbor rot organisms.

About the cacti and succulents, if you water your typical tropical houseplants every day or every other day, how often would you water the cacs & sucs in comparison?

It varies. I have caudex forming succulents that get water once/week in winter (they're under lights in winter), and every other day in summer (outdoors/full sun/clay pots). The plants in plastic pots get watered less & the ones in clay pots get it more - you know how that goes ..... I/you just develop a feel for what is needed & when after a while I guess. I kind of have a calculator in my mind that factors in how hot it's been, how windy, how much sun, how big the plant is in relation to the pot size and soil volume ..... and I decide based on that. With succulents & cacti, if I'm in doubt, I usually wait.

To answer your question directly: It varies, but the interval between waterings is about twice as long - all things being equal.

Also, have you ever ventured into terrariums? Would you use a mix of this sort in there?

I haven't done terrariums, but I worked with a guy to develop a soil and fertilizer program for his. I think he was doing them to sell, and I might even have sent him some soil to try, I don't remember - I talk to a lot of people off forum about plant stuff. I didn't save his e-mail addy, but I talked quite a bit with him on a thread over on the Container Forum. I might go over there & see if I can look him up & find how he fared, but only if you're interested. ;o)

Al


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More Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Sun, Aug 24, 08 at 21:43

Again, I don't know what to say, Jodi. My face got all red (yeah, I blushed) and I was really touched by your comments. I'm just really glad you're getting more out of your growing experience. THAT really rocks me. ;o)

From Arjadiejai:

Have you tried rooting cuttings in this mix?

If I have a cutting that is important to me, or hard to root, I always stick it in a sterile medium like perlite or Turface. Strangely, I get the VERY best results from rooting in chopped sphagnum moss (not peat - the whole pieces of moss that were harvested live). The moss makes sense if you consider it's the medium most used in air layering. A mix of any combination of the three ingredients also works very well.

If I'm starting cuttings and I really don't care about the strike rate, I use a soil made of screened Turface, fir bark, and crushed granite - the same soil as above. I screen it so particles are all larger than 1/16 inch so there is almost NO perched water to rot cuttings. By doing it that way, I can start the cuttings in larger containers and not have to worry either about a setback from potting up soon after the cuttings strike, or about overpotting and the accompanying saturated soil. In short, cuttings root fast and you can save a step because of a larger soil volume, but again - if the cuttings are important, use a sterile medium - it's the bark that could harbor rot organisms.

About the cacti and succulents, if you water your typical tropical houseplants every day or every other day, how often would you water the cacs & sucs in comparison?

It varies. I have caudex forming succulents that get water once/week in winter (they're under lights in winter), and every other day in summer (outdoors/full sun/clay pots). The plants in plastic pots get watered less & the ones in clay pots get it more - you know how that goes ..... I/you just develop a feel for what is needed & when after a while I guess. I kind of have a calculator in my mind that factors in how hot it's been, how windy, how much sun, how big the plant is in relation to the pot size and soil volume ..... and I decide based on that. With succulents & cacti, if I'm in doubt, I usually wait.

To answer your question directly: It varies, but the interval between waterings is about twice as long - all things being equal.

Also, have you ever ventured into terrariums? Would you use a mix of this sort in there?

I haven't done terrariums, but I worked with a guy to develop a soil and fertilizer program for his. I think he was doing them to sell, and I might even have sent him some soil to try, I don't remember - I talk to a lot of people off forum about plant stuff. I didn't save his e-mail addy, but I talked quite a bit with him on a thread over on the Container Forum. I might go over there & see if I can look him up & find how he fared, but only if you're interested. ;o)

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by jodik 5 Central IL (My Page) on
    Mon, Aug 25, 08 at 10:44

My finest accomplishment since becoming one of Al's "groupies" is seeing the fresh, new growth of leaves on my very young Clivia miniata! I was gifted with a small Clivia offset by a dear friend, and since these are rather expensive plants, I wanted very much to see it live and grow!

I potted it up in clay using Al's Mix, set it on a shaded south windowsill where it gets no direct sun, and waited impatiently for it to do something... I half expected it to die, truth be told... it stayed green, and although it took quite a while, new leaves are growing!

I'm very diligent about checking the pot for moisture, and I think I must be doing ok... fresh new leaves signal good health!

All I have to do now, is find out how and where to get dump truck loads of Al's Mix ingredients in my neck of the woods, and a giant mixer, so I can pot everything in it! LOL!


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RE: A Soil Discussion

Well I found my Gran-I-Grit. I had to special order it from Southern States Coo OP. $7.69 for a 50# bag. Not too bad. It should be here wendsday but I probably wont be able to pick it up till saturday. I got the growers blend which I hope is the right size.


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Aug 25, 08 at 17:40

Strong work!! It will be fine - 'Grower' size is what I use most often. ;o)

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Aug 25, 08 at 18:00

Since the thread is about to end at 150 posts, please follow the link to the continuation if interested.

A Soil Discussion II

Thanks to those who followed the thread, and especially to those who participated in good faith. ;o)

Al


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RE: A Soil Discussion

If you're still out there, I have a question. Please forgive me if it's answered above; there are well over 100 posts and I only read through the first 20 or 30.

Would adding decomposed granite improve bagged potting mix? If so, what proportion would you recommend?


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