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Earl�s Hole Method of Growing Tomatoes

posted by: earl on 01.15.2007 at 03:02 pm in Growing Tomatoes Forum

Earl�s Hole Method of Growing Tomatoes

Items from Walmart type garden center, 40 lb. bags of Composted Peat Humus, 40 lb. bags of Composted Cow Manure, Epson Salt and Bonemeal and Espoma Tomato-tone� 4-7-10 fertilizer or equivalent .

In raised beds, after tilling, I dig good sized holes about 2 feet across, scattering the soil around the hole. Then to each hole I add � bag of the peat humus, 1/4 bag of the manure, then I scatter about the hole a handful each of Epson salts, Bonemeal and Espoma. Then I use a spade fork to mix the formula VERY well some inches beyond the depth and width of the original hole. If plants are indeterminate they should be planted at least 4 feet apart.

I then, using my hands, I make a hole in the center of this mixture and plant the seedlings. If seedlings are tall I strip off the leaves except for the top few inches, and lay it at an angle or on its side in the hole and cover up to the leaves. Then I form a 4 inch deep water holding basin [a crater] about 1 1/2 feet across and around the plant, then mulch the plants and bed with straw or grass clippings, then water. Last I spread a handful of granular fertilizer such as Espoma Tomato-tone� 4-7-10 on top of the mulch around the plants so it will leach into soil over time and feed the outer roots for they grow wide and deep. I use concrete wire cages 18-20 inches across and anchor them with rebar driven deep next to the cage. When I have to water, if I don�t get rain in 7-10 days, I stick an open ended hose at the base of the plants and give them a couple gallons.

Never over water. The plant�s leaves will tell you they�re thirsty by drooping a bit. As the plants grow, to help prevent leaf disease, trim any branches that droop and touch the mulch.

During late summer if I think they need it I'll give each plant a couple gallons of fish emulsion or what ever liquid type I have. And if you have leaf problems, get started early using Daconil as soon as you plant, even saturate the mulch around the base as well as top and bottom of leaves.

I can't say this is the best way to do it, but it works for me.

Earl

NOTES:

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clipped on: 03.24.2014 at 08:07 am    last updated on: 03.24.2014 at 08:07 am

Propagation Chamber

posted by: jbest123 on 08.14.2007 at 03:50 pm in Plant Propagation Forum

Let me start by saying that, I used the propagation box from Freeplants.com with great success. The box filled with wet coarse sand and an aquarium weighed 60 to 70 lb, which was a little to heavy for me to be moving around (I'm almost 70 yrs old). I made 6 boxed and they are still in good use by my Daughter and Son in law. I liked the idea of little_dani's Easy Propagation Chamber but thought it would be a little to small for my use.
I found 2 food storage containers at Walmart one a 20 quart and one a 12 quart with the same dimensions around the perimeter. I drilled six 5/8 in holes for drainage in the 12 quart container, and lade a piece of hardware cloth on the bottom to keep the potting soil from washing out. (photo 1) There is a little gap at both ends of the containers, allowing for ventilation, no need for further holes. ( photo 2) . For the potting soil I use 50/50 peat moss and vermiculite. What I like about the near transparent container for the bottom is you can see root development and water needs. Photo 3 shows root development and beads of condensation which indicates adequate air space and water. Each container will hold 120 to130 cuttings and all seem to be doing well and pass the tug test. (photo 4) When I stick the cuttings, I will leave them outside in the shade for 1 week and then move them to the greenhouse. Six chambers fit on an 8 ft shelf very nicely. (photo 5). I also use a 24 in bungie cord to keep the two containers aligned.

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clipped on: 01.02.2014 at 08:39 pm    last updated on: 01.02.2014 at 08:39 pm

RE: Grocery store ginger root (Follow-Up #11)

posted by: TriangleJohn on 12.02.2005 at 04:14 pm in Ginger Forum

I grow a ton of it in North Carolina zone 7b. I buy a root from the grocery store in February (make sure it is firm and not wrinkled or shriveled). I wrap it in a wet paper towel and place it inside a plastic sandwich bag. I put the bag in a warm dark place (on top of my fishtank works the best). Every week I open up the bag and unwrap the root to make sure it isn't rotting. If I see mold growing on it I gently clean it off with soapy water and re wrap with a new wet paper towel. Sometimes I see growth in the first week, sometimes it takes a few weeks. Once I see sprouts forming I find a plastic plant pot that is bigger than the whole root but not to much bigger. I fill it with potting soil and dampen it. I lay the unwrapped sprouting root on top of the soil. You can slightly bury it with damp soil or just leave it on top if you want - either way works fine.

I grow it as a houseplant for a month or so until the weather outside is reliably warm (you can just grow it all the time as a houseplant if you want). Ginger likes shade to part sun and rich dark soil that drains well (lots of compost or gravel - keep it fluffy). It likes warm weather but will survive the first frost as long as it isn't too severe.

The hottest flavor is at about 265 days of growth so if you plant them inside in pots in March, by the end of October you will have the best roots. You can tell by looking at them if they are ready or not. I yank them out of the ground and lay them in the shade to dry for a few days before cutting them off the plants and cleaning them up.

I make crystallized ginger candy out of them by boiling the cut up roots in sugar water and give them away as Christmas presents. They are always a big hit.

NOTES:

Should try this. Ginger is a useful plant to have around, especially for stomach problems. Also, I wonder what other root plants can be grown from the store?
clipped on: 01.02.2014 at 08:27 pm    last updated on: 01.02.2014 at 08:28 pm

Tapla's 5-1-1 Container Mix in More Detail

posted by: goodhumusman on 02.26.2009 at 12:44 pm in Container Gardening Forum

I recently joined the forum and discovered Al's 5-1-1 Mix, but I had several questions that Al was kind enough to answer by email. I also found the answers to other questions in several different threads. I thought it would be useful to organize all of the info in one place so that we could have easy access to it. 98% of the following has been cut/pasted from Al's postings, and I apologize in advance if I have somehow misquoted him or taken his ideas out of proper context. The only significant addition from another source is the Cornell method of determining porosity, which I thought would be germane. I have used a question and answer format, using many questions from other members, and I apologize for not giving them proper credit. Thanks to all who contributed to this information. Now, here's Al:

Tapla's 5-1-1 Mix

5 parts pine bark fines
1 part sphagnum peat
1-2 parts perlite
garden lime
controlled release fertilizer (not really necessary)
a micro-nutrient source (seaweed emulsion, Earthjuice, Micro-max, STEM, etc,)

Many friends & forum folk grow in this 5-1-1 mix with very good results. I use it for all my garden display containers. It is intended for annual and vegetable crops in containers. This soil is formulated with a focus on plentiful aeration, which we know has an inverse relationship w/water retention. It takes advantage of particles, the size of which are at or just under the size that would guarantee the soil retains no perched water. (If you have not already read Al's treatise on Water in Container Soils, this would be a good time to do so.) In simple terms: Plants that expire because of drainage problems either die of thirst because the roots have rotted and can no longer take up water, or they starve/"suffocate" because there is insufficient air at the root zone to ensure normal water/nutrient uptake and root function.

I grow in highly-aerated soils with the bulk of the particles in the 1/16"-1/8" size, heavily favoring the larger particles, because we know that perched water levels decrease as particle size increases, until finally, as particle size reaches just under 1/8" the perched water table disappears entirely.

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.

This is Cornell's method of determining the various types of porosity:

To ensure sufficient media porosity, it is essential to determine total porosity, aeration porosity, and water-holding porosity. Porosity can be determined through the following procedure:

* With drainage holes sealed in an empty container, fill the container and record the volume of water required to reach the top of the container. This is the container volume.

* Empty and dry the plugged container and fill it with the growing media to the top of the container.

* Irrigate the container medium slowly until it is saturated with water. Several hours may be required to reach the saturation point, which can be recognized by glistening of the medium's surface.

* Record the total volume of water necessary to reach the saturation point as the total pore volume.

* Unplug the drainage holes and allow the water to freely drain from the container media into a pan for several hours.

* Measure the volume of water in the pan after all free water has completed draining. Record this as the aeration pore volume.

* Calculate total porosity, aeration porosity, and water-holding porosity using the following equations (Landis, 1990):

* Total porosity = total pore volume / container volume
* Aeration porosity = aeration pore volume / container volume
* Water-holding porosity = total porosity - aeration porosity

The keys to why I like my 3-1-1 mix:

It's adjustable for water retention.
The ingredients are readily available to me.
It's simple - 3 basic ingredients - equal portions.
It allows nearly 100% control over the nutritional regimen.
It will not collapse - lasts longer than what is prudent between repots.
It is almost totally forgiving of over-watering while retaining good amounts of water between drinks.
It is relatively inexpensive.

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

Q. What is the correct size of the fines? In simple terms: Plants that expire because of drainage problems either die of thirst because the roots have rotted and can no longer take up water, or they starve/"suffocate" because there is insufficient air at the root zone to insure normal water/nutrient uptake and root function.Pine bark fines are partially composted pine bark. Fines are what are used in mixes because of the small particle size. There will be a naturally occurring "perched water table" (PWT) in containers when soil particulate size is under about .125 (1/8) inch, so best would be particulates in the 1/16 - 3/16 size range with the 1/16-1/8 size range favored.

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

Q. Do you use partially composted pine bark fines? Yes - preferred over fresh fines, which are lighter in color.

Q. I found some Scotchman's Choice Organic Compost, which is made of pine bark fines averaging about 1/8" in size, and, after adding all ingredients, the 5-1-1 Mix had a total porosity of 67% and an aeration porosity of 37%. Is that all right? Yes, that is fine.

Q. What kind of lime do you use? Dolomitic.

Q. What amount of lime should I add if I used 10 gal of pine bark fines and the corresponding amount of the other ingredients? @ 5:1:1, you'll end up with about 12 gallons of soil (the whole is not equal to the sum of the parts when you're talking about soils), so I would use about 10-12 Tbsp or 2/3-3/4 cup of lime.

Q. What grade of coarseness for the lime? Most is sold as garden lime, which is usually prilled powder. Prilling makes it easier to use in drop & broadcast spreaders. The prills dissolve quickly. The finer the powder the quicker the reactive phase is finished. Much of the Ca and Mg will be unavailable until the media pH equalizes so the plant can assimilate the residual elements. Large pieces of lime really extend the duration of the reactive phase.

Q. Does this mean that I need to make up the soil in advance? Yes. 2 weeks or so should be enough time to allow for the reaction phase to be complete & residual Ca/Mg to become more readily available from the outset .

Q. During those 2 weeks, do I need to keep turning it and moistening it? No

Q. Can I go ahead and fill my 3-gal. containers, stack them 3-high, and cover the top one to prevent moisture loss during the waiting period? Something like that would be preferred.

Q. The perlite I use has a large amount of powder even though it is called coarse. Do I need to sift it to get rid of the powder? Not unless it REALLY has a lot - then, the reason wouldn't be because of issues with particle size - it would be because you had to use larger volumes to achieve adequate drainage & larger volumes bring with it the possibility of Fl toxicity for some plants that are fluoride intolerant.

Q. What about earthworm castings (EWC)? I think 10% is a good rule of thumb for the total volume of fine particles. I try to limit peat use to about 10-15% of soil volume & just stay away from those things that rob aeration & promote water retention beyond a minimal perched water table. If you start adding 10% play sand, 10% worm castings, 10% compost, 10% peat, 10% topsoil, 10% vermiculite to a soil, before long you'll be growing in something close to a pudding-like consistency.

Q. Do you drench the mix with fertilized water before putting in containers? No - especially if you incorporate a CRF. It will have lots of fertilizer on it's surface & the soil could already be high in solubles. If you added CRF, wait until you've watered and flushed the soil a couple of times. If you didn't use CRF, you can fertilize with a weak solution the first time you water after the initial planting irrigation.

Q. How much of the micronutrients should I add if I am going to be fertilizing with Foliage Pro 9-3-6, which has all the micronutrients in it? You won't need any additional supplementation as long as you lime.
Q. Just to make sure I understand, are you saying I don't need to use Foliage Pro 9-3-6 until after the initial watering right after planting even if I don't use a CRF? And no additional micronutrients? That's right - on both counts.

Q. Do I need to moisten the peat moss before mixing with the pine bark fines? It helps, yes.

Selections from Notes on Choosing a Fertilizer

A) Plant nutrients are dissolved in water
B) The lower the nutrient concentration, the easier it is for the plant to absorb water and the nutrients dissolved in the water - distilled water is easier for plants to absorb than tap water because there is nothing dissolved in distilled water
C) The higher the nutrient content, the more difficult it is for plants to absorb water and the nutrients dissolved in water
D) To maximize plant vitality, we should supply adequate amounts of all the essential nutrients w/o using concentrations so high that they impede water and nutrient uptake.

All that is in the "Fertilizer Thread" I posted a while back.

Q. Do you use the Dyna-Gro Foliage Pro 9-3-6 exclusively throughout the life of the plant, or change to something else for the flowering/fruiting stage? I use lots of different fertilizers, but if I had to choose only one, it would likely be the FP 9-3-6. It really simplifies things. There are very few plants that won't respond very favorably to this fertilizer. I use fast soils that drain freely & I fertilize at EVERY watering, and it works extremely well.

If you are using a soil that allows you to water freely at every watering, you cannot go wrong by watering weakly weekly, and you can water at 1/8 the recommended dose at every watering if you wish with chemical fertilizers.

Q. What about the "Bloom Booster" fertilizers? To induce more prolific flowering, a reduced N supply will have more and better effect than the high P bloom formulas. When N is reduced, it slows vegetative growth without reducing photosynthesis. Since vegetative growth is limited by a lack of N, and the photosynthetic machinery continues to turn out food, it leaves an expendable surplus for the plant to spend on flowers and fruit. There are no plants I know of that use anywhere near the amount of P as they do N (1/6 is the norm). It makes no sense to me to have more P available than N unless you are targeting a VERY specific growth pattern; and then the P would still be applied in a reasonable ratio to K.

Somewhere along the way, we curiously began to look at fertilizers as miraculous assemblages of growth drugs, and started interpreting the restorative effect (to normal growth) fertilizers have as stimulation beyond what a normal growth rate would be if all nutrients were adequately present in soils. It�s no small wonder that we come away with the idea that there are �miracle concoctions� out there and often end up placing more hope than is reasonable in them.

What I'm pointing out is that fertilizers really should not be looked at as something that will make your plant grow abnormally well - beyond its genetic potential . . . Fertilizers do not/can not stimulate super growth, nor are they designed to. All they can do is correct nutritional deficiencies so plants can grow normally.

Q. Should I use organic ferts or chemical ferts in containers? Organic fertilizers do work to varying degrees in containers, but I would have to say that delivery of the nutrients can be very erratic and unreliable. The reason is that nutrient delivery depends on the organic molecules being broken down in the gut of micro-organisms, and micro-organism populations are boom/bust, varying widely in container culture.

Some of the things affecting the populations are container soil pH, moisture levels, nutrient levels, soil composition, compaction/aeration levels ..... Of particular importance is soil temperatures. When container temperatures rise too high, microbial populations diminish. Temps much under 55* will slow soil biotic activity substantially, reducing or halting delivery of nutrients.

I do include various formulations of fish emulsion in my nutrient program at certain times of the year, but I never rely on them, choosing chemical fertilizers instead. Chemical fertilizers are always immediately available for plant uptake & the results of your applications are much easier to quantify.

Q. Should I feed the plants every time I water? In a word, yes. I want to keep this simple, so I�ll just say that the best water absorption occurs when the level of solutes in soil water is lowest, and in the presence of good amounts of oxygen. Our job, because you will not find a sufficient supply of nutrients in a container soil, is to provide a solution of dissolved nutrients that affords the plant a supply in the adequate to luxury range, yet still makes it easy for the plant to take up enough water to be well-hydrated and free of drought stress. All we need to do is supply nutrients in approximately the same ratio as plants use them, and in adequate amounts to keep them in the adequate to luxury range at all times. Remember that we can maximize water uptake by keeping the concentrations of solutes low, so a continual supply of a weak solution is best. Nutrients don�t just suddenly appear in large quantities in nature, so the low and continual dose method most closely mimics the nutritional supply Mother Nature offers. If you decide to adopt a "fertilize every time you water" approach, most liquid fertilizers can be applied at � to 1 tsp per gallon for best results.

The system is rather self regulating if fertilizer is applied in low concentrations each time you water, even with houseplants in winter. As the plant�s growth slows, so does its need for both water and nutrients. Larger plants and plants that are growing robustly will need more water and nutrients, so linking nutrient supply to the water supply is a win/win situation all around.

You can tell you've watered too much (or too little - the response is the same - a drought response) when leaves start to turn yellow or you begin to see nutritional deficiencies created by poor root metabolism (usually N and Ca are first evident). You can prevent overwatering by A) testing the soil deep in the container with a wood dowel ... wet & cool - do not water, dry - water. B) feeling the wick & only watering when it's dry C) feel the soil at the drain hole & only water when it feels dry there.

Soils feel dry to our touch when they still have 40-45% moisture content. Plants, however, can still extract water from soils until they dry down to about 25-30%, so there is still around a 15% cush in that plants can still absorb considerable moisture after soils first feel dry to us.

Q. When you water/fertilize, do you give it enough that 10% leaches out the bottom each time? Yes, I try to do that at every watering. Remember that as salts accumulate, both water and nutrient uptake is made more difficult and finally impaired or made impossible in severe cases. Your soils should always allow you to water so that at least 10-15% of the total volume of water applied passes through the soil and out the drain hole to be discarded. This flushes the soil and carries accumulating solutes out the drain hole. In addition, each thorough watering forces stale gases 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 gases from the soil. Open soils allow free gas exchange at all times.

Q. Should I elevate my pots? The container will not drain the same % of water if it's sitting in a puddle, but the % won't be particularly significant. What will be significant is: if water (in a puddle) is able to make contact with the soil in the container through surface tension and/or capillarity, it will "feed" and prolong the saturated conditions of any PWT that might be in the container. However, if water can soak in or if it will flow away from the containers, there's no advantage to elevating when you're not using a wick.

Q. I like a pH of about 5.7. Is that about right? That's a good number, but you won't have any way of maintaining it in your soil w/o some sophisticated equipment. I never concern myself with media pH. That doesn't mean you should ignore water pH, though. It (water pH) affects the solubility of fertilizers; and generally speaking, the higher the water pH, the lower the degree of nutrient solubility.

Q. How do you repot? Some plants do not take to root-pruning well (palms, eg), but the vast majority of them REALLY appreciate the rejuvenational properties of major root work. I'm not at all delicate in my treatment of rootage when it comes time to repot (completely different from potting-up). Usually I chop or saw the bottom 1/2-2/3 of the root mass off, bare-root the plant, stick it back in the same pot with ALL fresh soil, use a chopstick to move soil into all the spaces/pockets between roots, water/fertilize well & put in the shade for a week to recover. I should mention that this procedure is most effective on plants with woody roots, which most quickly grow to be inefficient as they lignify, thicken, and fill the pot. Those plants with extremely fibrous root systems are easier to care for. For those, I usually saw off the bottom 1/2 - 2/3 of the roots, work a chopstick through the remaining mat of roots, removing a fair amount of soil, prune around the perimeter & repot in fresh, well-aerated soil.

I find that time after time, plants treated in this fashion sulk for a week or two and then put on a huge growth spurt (when repotted in spring or summer). Growth INVARIABLY surpasses what it would have been if the plant was allowed to languish in it's old, root-bound haunts. Potting up is a temporary way to rejuvenate a plant, but if you look ate a long-term graph of plants continually potted-up, you will see continual decline with little spurts of improved vitality at potting-up time. This stress/strain on plants that are potted-up only, eventually takes its toll & plants succumb. There is no reason most houseplants shouldn't live for years and years, yet we often content ourselves with the 'revolving door replacement' of our plants when just a little attention to detail would allow us to call the same plant our friend - often for the rest of our lives if we prefer.

Q. Is there any rule of thumb as to how often to root prune? I'm going to answer as if you included 'repotting' in your question. There is no hard, fast rule here. Some of you grow plants strictly for the blooms, and some plants produce more abundant blooms in containers when they are stressed in some manner. Often, that stress is in the form of keeping them root-bound. I'll talk about maintaining a plant's vitality & let you work out how you want to handle the degree of stress you wish to subject them to, in order to achieve your goals. Before I go on, I'd like to say that I use stress techniques too, to achieve a compact, full plant, and to slow growth of a particularly attractive plant - to KEEP it attractive. ;o) The stress of growing a plant tight can be useful to a degree, but at some point, there will be diminishing returns.

When you need to repot to correct declining vitality:

1) When the soil has collapsed/compacted, or was too water-retentive from the time you last potted-up or repotted. You can identify this condition by soil that remains wet for more than a few days, or by soil that won't take water well. If you water a plant and the soil just sits on top of the soil w/o soaking in, the soil has collapsed/compacted. There is one proviso though: you must be sure that the soil is wet before you assess this condition. Soils often become hydrophobic (water repellent) and difficult to rewet, especially when using liquid organic fertilizers like fish/seaweed emulsions. Make sure this effect is not what you're witnessing by saturating the soil thoroughly & then assessing how fast the water moves downward through the soil. The soils I grow in are extremely fast and water disappears into the mix as soon as it's applied. If it takes more than 30 seconds for a large volume of water to disappear from the surface of the soil, you are almost certainly compromising potential vitality.

I'll talk about the potential vitality for just a sec. Plants will grow best in a damp soil with NO perched water. That is NO saturated layer of water at the bottom of the pot. Roots begin to die a very short time after being subjected to anaerobic conditions. They regenerate again as soon as air returns to the soil. This cyclic death/regeneration of roots steals valuable energy from the plant that might well have been employed to increase o/a biomass, and/or produce flowers and fruit. This is the loss of potential vitality I refer to.

2) When the plant is growing under tight conditions and has stopped extending, it is under strain, which will eventually lead to its death. "Plants must grow to live. Any plant that is not growing is dying." Dr. Alex Shigo Unless there are nutritional issues, plants that have stopped extending and show no growth when they should be coming into a period of robust growth usually need repotting. You can usually confirm your suspicions/diagnosis by looking for rootage "crawling" over the soil surface and/or growing out of the drain hole, or by lifting the plant from its pot & examining the root mass for encircling roots - especially fat roots at the container's edge. You'll be much less apt to find these types of roots encircling inner container perimeter in well-aerated soils because the roots find the entire soil mass hospitable. Roots are opportunistic and will be found in great abundance at the outside edge of the soil mass in plantings with poor drainage & soggy soil conditions - they're there looking for air.

3) When the soil is so compacted & water retentive that you must water in sips and cannot fully flush the soil at each watering for fear of creating conditions that will cause root rot. This isn't to say you MUST flush the soil at every watering, but the soil should drain well enough to ALLOW you to water this way whenever you prefer. This type of soil offers you the most protection against over-watering and you would really have to work hard at over-fertilizing in this type of soil. It will allow you to fertilize with a weak solution at every watering - even in winter if you prefer.

Incidentally, I reject the frequent anecdotal evidence that keeping N in soils at adequacy levels throughout the winter "forces" growth or "forces weak growth". Plants take what they need and leave the rest. While there could easily be the toxicity issues associated with too much fertilizer in soils due to a combination of inappropriate watering practices, inappropriate fertilizing practices, and an inappropriate soil, it's neither N toxicity NOR the presence of adequate N in soils that causes weak growth, it's low light levels.

Q. Is there any rule of thumb as to how often to remove and replace the old soil? Yes - every time you repot.

As always, I hope that those who read what I say about soils will ultimately take with them the idea that the soil is the foundation of every container planting & has effects that reach far beyond the obvious, but there is a snatch of lyrics from an old 70's song that might be appropriate: "... just take what you need and leave the rest ..." ;o)

NOTES:

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clipped on: 01.02.2014 at 08:22 pm    last updated on: 01.02.2014 at 08:22 pm

Container soils and water in containers (long post)

posted by: tapla on 03.19.2005 at 03:57 pm in Container Gardening Forum

The following is very long & will be too boring for some to wade through. Two years ago, some of my posts got people curious & they started to e-mail me about soil problems. The "Water Movement" article is an answer I gave in an e-mail. I saved it and adapted it for my bonsai club newsletter & it was subsequently picked up & used by a number of other clubs. I now give talks on container soils and the physics of water movement in containers to area clubs.

I think, as container gardeners, our first priority is to insure aeration for the life of the soil. Since aeration and drainage are inversely linked to soil particle size, it makes good sense to try to find a soil component with particles larger than peat and that will retain its structure for extended periods. Pine bark fits the bill nicely.

The following hits pretty hard against the futility of using a drainage layer in an attempt to improve drainage. It just doesn't work. All it does is reduce the soil available for root colonization. A wick will remove the saturated layer of soil. It works in reverse of the self-watering pots widely being discussed on this forum now. I have no experience with these growing containers, but understand the principle well.

There are potential problems with wick watering that can be alleviated with certain steps. Watch for yellowing leaves with these pots. If they begin to occur, you need to flush the soil well. It is the first sign of chloride damage.

One of the reasons I posted this is because of the number of soil questions I'm getting in my mail. It will be a convenient source for me to link to. I will soon be in the middle of repotting season & my time here will be reduced, unfortunately, for me. I really enjoy all the friends I've made on these forums. ;o)

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

Water Movement in Soils

Consider this if you will:

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

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

There is, in every pot, what is called a "perched water table" (PWT). This is water that occupies a layer of soil that is always saturated & will not drain at the bottom of the pot. It can evaporate or be used by the plant, but physical forces will not allow it to drain. It is there because the capillary pull of the soil at some point will equal the GFP; therefore, the water does not drain, it is "perched". If we fill five cylinders of varying heights and diameters with the same soil mix and provide each cylinder with a drainage hole, the PWT will be exactly the same height in each container. This is the area of the pot where roots seldom penetrate & where root problems begin due to a lack of aeration. From this we can draw the conclusion that: Tall growing containers are a superior choice over squat containers when using the same soil mix. The reason: The level of the PWT will be the same in each container, with the taller container providing more usable, air holding soil above the PWT. Physiology dictates that plants must be able to take in air at the roots in order to complete transpiration and photosynthesis.

A given volume of large soil particles have less overall surface area in comparison to the same volume of small particles and therefore less overall adhesive attraction to water. So, in soils with large particles, GFP more readily overcomes capillary attraction. They drain better. We all know this, but the reason, often unclear, is that the PWT is lower in coarse soils than in fine soils. The key to good drainage is size and uniformity of soil particles. Large particles mixed with small particles will not improve drainage because the smaller particles fit between the large, increasing surface area which increases the capillary attraction and thus the water holding potential. Water and air cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Contrary to what some hold to be true, sand does not improve drainage. Pumice (aka lava rock), or one of the hi-fired clay products like Turface are good additives which help promote drainage and porosity because of their irregular shape.

Now to the main point: When we use a coarse drainage layer under our soil, it does not improve drainage. It does conserve on the volume of soil required to fill a pot and it makes the pot lighter. When we employ this exercise in an attempt to improve drainage, what we are actually doing is moving the level of the PWT higher in the pot. This reduces available soil for roots to colonize, reduces total usable pot space, and limits potential for beneficial gas exchange. Containers with uniform soil particle size from top of container to bottom will yield better drainage and have a lower PWT than containers with drainage layers. The coarser the drainage layer, the more detrimental to drainage it is because water is more (for lack of a better scientific word) reluctant to make the downward transition because the capillary pull of the soil above the drainage layer is stronger than the GFP. The reason for this is there is far more surface area in the soil for water to be attracted to than there is in the drainage layer.

I know this goes against what most have thought to be true, but the principle is scientifically sound, and experiments have shown it as so. Many nurserymen are now employing the pot-in-pot or the pot-in-trench method of growing to capitalize on the science.

If you discover you need to increase drainage, insert a wick into the pot & allow it to extend from the PWT to several inches below the bottom of the pot. This will successfully eliminate the PWT & give your plants much more soil to grow in as well as allow more, much needed air to the roots.

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

In simple terms: Plants that expire because of drainage problems either die of thirst because the roots have rotted and can no longer take up water, or they starve to death because they cannot obtain sufficient air at the root zone for the respiratory or photosynthetic processes.

To confirm the existence of the PWT and the effectiveness of using a wick to remove it, try this experiment: Fill a soft drink cup nearly full of garden soil. Add enough water to fill to the top, being sure all soil is saturated. Punch a drain hole in the bottom of the cup & allow to drain. When the drainage stops, insert a wick several inches up into the drain hole . Take note of how much additional water drains. This is water that occupied the PWT before being drained by the wick. A greatly simplified explanation of what occurs is: The wick "fools" the water into thinking the pot is deeper, so water begins to move downward seeking the "new" bottom of the pot, pulling the rest of the PWT along with it.

Having applied these principles in the culture of my containerized plants, both indoors and out, for many years, the methodology I have adopted has shown to be effective and of great benefit to them. I use many amendments when building my soils, but the basic building process starts with screened bark and perlite. Peat usually plays a very minor role in my container soils because it breaks down rapidly and when it does, it impedes drainage.

My Soil

I'll give two recipes. I usually make big batches.

3 parts pine bark fines
1 part sphagnum peat (not reed or sedge peat)
1-2 parts perlite
garden lime
controlled release fertilizer
micro-nutrient powder (substitute: small amount of good, composted manure

Big batch:

3 cu ft pine bark fines (1 big bag)
5 gallons peat
5 gallons perlite
1 cup lime (you can add more to small portion if needed)
2 cups CRF
1/2 cup micro-nutrient powder or 1 gal composted manure

Small batch:

3 gallons pine bark
1/2 gallon peat
1/2 gallon perlite
handful lime (careful)
1/4 cup CRF
1 tsp micro-nutrient powder or a dash of manure ;o)

I have seen advice that some highly organic soils are productive for up to 5 years. I disagree. Even if you were to substitute fir bark for pine bark in this recipe (and this recipe will far outlast any peat based soil) you should only expect a maximum of three years life before a repot is in order. Usually perennials, including trees (they're perennials too, you know ;o)) should be repotted more frequently to insure vigor closer to genetic potential. If a soil is desired that will retain structure for long periods, we need to look to inorganic amendments. Some examples are crushed granite, pea stone, coarse sand (no smaller than BB size in containers, please), Haydite, lava rock, Turface or Schultz soil conditioner.

I hope this starts a good exchange of ideas & opinions so we all can learn.

Al

NOTES:

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clipped on: 01.02.2014 at 08:18 pm    last updated on: 01.02.2014 at 08:18 pm

RE: potting soil and first time doing propa (Follow-Up #7)

posted by: mizzyjo on 08.20.2013 at 01:24 am in Plant Propagation Forum

No, potting soil is too rich for rooting cuttings as you don't want to feed them, just root them. Use a vermiculite/perlite mix. It drains well, stays moist and is light enough for young roots to grow through.
Any rooting medium will work, like willow water or commercial rooting hormone.
You can take cuttings from the tips or all along the branch. They should be at least the diameter of a pencil. Make sure you have leaf buds on them. Peel the bark from the bottom 1/2 to 1 inch to help rooting.

Here is a link that might be useful: GardenWeb

NOTES:

I've seen recommendations for vermiculite/perlite, and 50/50 or 80/20 perlite/peat. Best to experiment.
clipped on: 01.02.2014 at 08:13 pm    last updated on: 01.02.2014 at 08:14 pm

RE: potting soil and first time doing propa (Follow-Up #6)

posted by: kayjones on 08.17.2013 at 12:43 pm in Plant Propagation Forum

Here's what I found out about the shelf life of rooting hormone powder:

If the rooting hormone powder is too old it will be ineffective in encouraging root development. The U.S. Forest Service says rooting hormone powder will keep for 18 to 24 months if stored in an airtight container in a dark, cool place such as the refrigerator.

The Forest Service advises gardeners to record the purchase date on the product container and to discard rooting hormones more than two years old.

To maximize effective life of the product, the Forest Service advises users to pour out a small quantity of the rooting powder in a separate container for dipping cuttings and not to return any leftovers to the main container.

NOTES:

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clipped on: 01.02.2014 at 08:12 pm    last updated on: 01.02.2014 at 08:12 pm

RE: any advice on best rooting hormone? (Follow-Up #14)

posted by: kstrong on 01.29.2011 at 10:54 am in Roses Forum

Preferably use a rooting hormone that contains both IBA and NAA. I believe Rootone is solely the IBA component. And warm and moist and sterile is also necessary.
As for the one's that are solely IBA, Lee Valley Tools Root Stimulator has also worked well for me.

Here is a link that might be useful: Wood's Rooting Hormone

NOTES:

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clipped on: 01.02.2014 at 08:10 pm    last updated on: 01.02.2014 at 08:10 pm

RE: any advice on best rooting hormone? (Follow-Up #12)

posted by: mad_gallica on 01.28.2011 at 01:13 pm in Roses Forum

By spring, you mean June, right? The easiest cuttings to root are from flowering stems.

NOTES:

From other posts, it notes that it may be best to wait until the nights are consistently above 70 degrees F.
clipped on: 01.02.2014 at 08:08 pm    last updated on: 01.02.2014 at 08:10 pm

Easy Propagation Chamber

posted by: little_dani on 10.05.2005 at 08:34 pm in Plant Propagation Forum

I make a little propagation chamber that is so easy, and so reliable for me that I thought I would share the idea. I have not seen one like it here, and I did look through the FAQ, but didn't find one there either. I hope I did not miss it, and I hope I do not offend anyone by being presumptive in posting this here.

That said....

This is what you will need.
A plastic shoebox, with a lid. They come in various sizes, any will do.


Soil less potting mix, half peat, half perlite, or whatever is your favorite medium.
A little clay pot, with the drain hole plugged with caulking or silicone. If this is a new pot, scrub it with some steel wool to be sure it doesn't have a sealer on it. You want the water to seep through it.
Rooting hormone powder or liquid, or salix solution from the willow tree.
Plant material, snippers. I am going to pot some Plectranthus (a tall swedish ivy) and a Joseph's Coat, 'Red Thread'. I already have some succulents rooted in this box. I will take them out and pot them up later, DH has a new cacti pot he wants to put them in.
You can see here, I hope, that I fill the clay pot to the top with rain water, well water, or distilled water. I just don't use our tap water, too much chlorine and a ph that is out of sight.

I pour a little of the hormone powder out on a paper plate or a piece of paper, so that I don't contaminate the whole package of powder. And these little 'snippers' are the best for taking this kind of cuttings.


This is about right on the amount of hormone to use. I try to get 2 nodes per cutting, if I can. Knock off the excess. It is better to have a little too little than to have too much.
Then, with your finger, or a pencil, or stick, SOMETHING, poke a hole in the potting mix and insert your cutting. Pull the potting mix up around the cutting good and snug.

When your box is full, and I always like to pretty much fill the box, just put the lid on it, and set it in the shade. You don't ever put this box in the sun. You wind up with boiled cuttings. YUK!

Check the cuttings every few days, and refill the reservoire as needed. Don't let it dry out. If you happen to get too wet, just prop the lid open with a pencil for a little while.
This is a very good method of propagation, but I don't do roses in these. The thorns just make it hard for me, with my big fingers, to pack the box full. All kinds of other things can be done in these. Just try it!

Janie

NOTES:

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clipped on: 01.02.2014 at 07:59 pm    last updated on: 01.02.2014 at 07:59 pm

It's August and time for the 'toothpick' technique

posted by: nandina on 08.23.2006 at 01:13 pm in Plant Propagation Forum

I have not posted this propagation method in several years. Time for a repeat. Just a reminder that all cuttings need to callus before they will root. This method allows the callusing to take place on the mother plant before the cutting is removed and is most helpful for those hard to root trees/shrubs. Plan to use the toothpick technique during the last weeks of August up until mid-September. This is a little known process and when I first posted it a number of growers contacted me, pleased to know about it as it requires no misting systems, etc.

MATERIALS REQUIRED...
A very sharp, small penknife or Exacto knife.
A small block of wood (to prevent cutting fingers!)
Some colored yarns or tape for marking purposes.
Toothpicks.

THE TOOTHPICK PROPAGATION TECHNIQUE
1. Select the stem from which you wish to take a cutting. Look along it until you locate a bud ON LAST YEAR'S GROWTH.

2. Place the block of wood behind that point and make a single VERTICAL cut all the way through the stem, just below the bud.

3. Insert a toopick through the cut.

4. Mark each cutting with colored yarn/tape so that you can locate it at a later date.

5. Walk away from your toothpick cuttings until the end of October or November. Leave them alone!

6. REMOVING THE CUTTINGS FROM THE MOTHER PLANT.
You will note that a callus has formed where you wounded the cutting and inserted a toothpick. With sharp pruning shears remove the cutting just below the toothpick. Trim off the toothpick on either side of the cutting.

7. Dip your cuttings in rooting hormone and set them in a cold frame. Water well and close up the frame for the winter. Water as needed. If you do not have a cold frame, set the cuttings right next to your house foundation on the east or north side. Lean an old window or glass pane up against the foundation to protect them.

8. Rooting should take place by mid-spring. Those with greenhouses can leave the cuttings on the mother plant into December/January before setting them to root. Commercial propagators will find this useful.

A VARIATION OF THE TOOTHPICK TECHNIQUE
This method requires a bit of practice but works well. In August/September select the stem to be used as a cutting. Locate last year's growth on the stem and grasp it between thumb and forefinger. Snap the stem lightly until it breaks in half. Leave it hanging on the plant where it will callus. Then follow instructions above for setting cuttings. Snip the cutting off, when callused, at the wounded part. This is a useful technique for azaleas and many woody shrubs and Japanese maples.

Hopefully I have explained this method so it is understood. Reading it over a few times may be necessary.

NOTES:

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clipped on: 11.10.2013 at 07:08 pm    last updated on: 11.10.2013 at 07:08 pm