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RE: Check out my new planter . . . (Follow-Up #3)

posted by: mikedahms on 05.13.2010 at 11:24 am in Hoya Forum

I do the same thing using vintage medical enamelware irrigators. The irrigators are not always cheap but they are collectible and I have a thing for enamelware, comes from growing up on a farm I guess. There is a spout the used to hold surgical tubing but I simply fill the bottom of the container with packing peanuts and then pour the excess water out of the spout and rehang. I have eight plants hanging like this now and several more to go into empty irrigators I have waiting. Each irrigator is around 2 liters so they are good for most small to medium Hoyas.

Here's to using all available surfaces to grow our Hoyas!

Here is Hoya sp Sulawesi GPS 8863 which is most likley Hoya pallilmba.

Hoya sp. Sulawesi 8863

Hoya sp. Haruku

Hoya sp. Haruku

Hoya sp Sulawesi GPS 7729 which is probably a form of Hoya brevialata.

Hoya sp. Sulawesi 7729



clipped on: 07.01.2012 at 12:24 pm    last updated on: 07.01.2012 at 12:24 pm

Check out my new planter . . .

posted by: maidinmontana on 05.13.2010 at 08:48 am in Hoya Forum

I saw this at Hobby lobby yesterday and just had to have it. I have been wanting something like this for awhile. I'm running out of table/floor space and this works perfect.It's made of thin metal and is big enough to hold a 8"pot. And it was only 5 bucks. . .

Polyneura in new pot. . .

Thanks for looking,


clipped on: 07.01.2012 at 12:23 pm    last updated on: 07.01.2012 at 12:23 pm

Dealing with Water-Retentive Soils

posted by: tapla on 09.11.2010 at 02:02 pm in Container Gardening Forum

Dealing with Water-Retentive Soils

A good friend recently asked me if putting a brick in the bottom of a container interferes with drainage? After reading the question, it occurred to me that there are aspects to the question that Ive discussed very little here at GW. It also occurred to me that I could use her question to help those who grow in heavy (water-retentive) soils. Im going to define those soils, but this isnt about disparaging soil types - its about helping you try to squeeze the most plant vitality (and the water) out of them. Heavy soils are based on fine ingredients. If the soil contains more than 30-40% of any combination of peat, coir, compost, or other fine ingredients like builders sand or topsoil, it will retain appreciable amounts of 'perched water' and remain soggy after its saturated - and this is about dealing with soggy soils.

Perched water is water that remains in the soil after the soil stops draining. If you wet a sponge & hold it by a corner until it stops draining, the water that is forced out of the sponge when you squeeze it is perched water. From the plants perspective, perched water is unhealthy because it occupies air spaces that are needed for normal root function and metabolism. The gasses produced under anoxic (airless) conditions (CO2, sulfurous compounds, methane) are also an issue. The main issue though, is that roots deprived of sufficient oxygen begin to die within hours. You dont actually see this, but the finest, most important roots die first. The plant then has to spend stored energy or current photosynthetic (food production) to regenerate lost roots - an expensive energy outlay that would otherwise have been spent on blooms, fruit, branch extension, increasing biomass, systems maintenance .. Perhaps the plant would have stored the energy for a winters rest and the spring flush of growth instead of expending it on root regeneration.

You can see that perched water, from the plants perspective, is not a good thing. From our own perspective, we think its rather convenient when we only need to water our plantings every 4-5 days, but because we cant see it, there is a sacrifice in potential growth/vitality for our convenience - like driving on low tires reduces fuel economy. How we choose to resolve this issue is of no concern to me - we all arrange our priorities & few of us are willing to water plants every hour to squeeze the last wee bit of vitality from them. Growing is about compromise in more cases than not. There is no judgment passed here on soil choice.

If you dont agree that perched water is generally a bad thing in containers, theres no need to read on. If youre still interested, Ill lay a little groundwork here before I outline some things remedial you can do to combat excess water retention. Almost all out-of-the-bag soils retain a considerable amount of perched water after they have been saturated. Each individual soil formulation will retain a specific height of perched water unique to THAT soil. No matter what the shape or size of the container - height, width, round, square the height of the PWT (perched water table) will be the same. You can fill a 1" diameter pipe with a particular soil or a 55 gallon S-shaped drum with the same soil, and both will have exactly the same PWT height.

Lets do some imagining for the purpose of illustration. Most peat or compost based soils retain in excess of 3 inches of perched water, so lets imagine a soil that retains 3 inches of perched water. Also, imagine a funnel that is 10 inches between the exit hole & the mouth and is filled with soil. Because we are imagining, the mouth is enclosed & has a drain hole in it. In your minds eye, picture the funnel filled with a soil that holds 3 inches of perched water, and the soil is saturated. If the funnel is placed so the large opening, the mouth, is down, you can see the largest possible volume of soil possible when using this container is saturated, the first 3 inches; but, turn the funnel over and what happens? We KNOW that the PWT level is constant at 3 inches, but there is a very large difference in the volume of soil in the lower 3 inches of the funnel after it is placed small end down. This means there is only a small fraction of the volume of perched water in the small-end-down application vs. the large-end-down. When you tip the funnel so the small end is down, all but a small fraction of the perched water runs out the bottom hole as the large water column seeks its 3 inch level in the small volume of soil. In a way, you have employed gravity to help you push the extra water out of the soil.

You havent affected the DRAINAGE characteristics of the soil or its level of aeration, but you HAVE affected the o/a water retention of the container. This allows air to return to the soil much faster and greatly reduces any issues associated with excess water retention. OK - we can see that tapered containers will hold a reduced VOLUME of perched water, even when drainage characteristics, aeration, and the actual height of the PWT remain unchanged, but we dont and wont all grow in funnels, so lets see how we can apply this information PRACTICALLY to other containers.

Drainage layers dont work. The soil rests on top of drainage layers, then the water perches in the soil above - just as it would if the soil was resting on the container bottom. Drainage layers simply raises the LOCATION where the PWT resides. But what if we put a brick or several bricks on the bottom of the container? Lets look at that idea, using the soil with the 3inch PWT again. Lets say the brick is 4x8x3 inches tall, and the container is a rectangle 10x12x12 inches high. The volume of soil occupied by perched water is going to be 10x12x3, or 360 cubic inches. If we add the brick to the bottom of the container so the height of the brick is 3 inches, it reduces the volume of soil that can hold perched water, so for every brick you add (4x8x3=96) you reduce the volume of soil that can hold perched water by 96 cubic inches. If you add 3 bricks, the volume of soil that holds perched water would be 360-288, or only 72 cubic inches, so you have reduced the amount of perched water in the container by 80% .. quite a feat for a brick.

Your job though, is to be sure that what you add to the bottom of the container to reduce the volume of soil that can hold perched water doesnt create stress later on when the planting has matured. Be sure the container has a large enough volume of soil to produce plants free from the stress of excessive root constriction. You dont want to trade one stress for another.

How else might we trick the water in the container into leaving? Lets think about the following in 2 dimensions, because its easier to visualize. If you look at the side view of a cylindrical or rectangular container, you see a rectangle, so imagine a cylinder or rectangle 10 inches wide or 10 inches in diameter and 8" deep. Both side views are rectangles. Now, draw a horizontal line 3 inches above the bottom to represent the level of the PWT. Remember, this line will always remain horizontal and 3 inches above the bottom. Now tip the container at a 45 degree angle and notice what happens. The profile is now a triangle with an apex pointing downward and the base is of course the line of the PWT 3 inches above the bottom. Can you see there is a much lower volume of soil in the bottom 3 inches of the triangle than in the bottom 3 inches of the rectangle? The PWT line is level at 3 inches above the apex, so by simply tilting your containers after you water, you can trick a large fraction of the unwanted perched water to exit the container. Sometimes it helps to have a drain hole on the bottom outside edge of the pot, but not always. Only when the location of the hole is above the natural level of the PWT when the pot has been tilted does it affect how much additional water might have been removed.

On the forums, Ive often talked about wicks, so Ill just touch on them lightly. If you push a wick through the drain hole and allow it to dangle several inches below the bottom of your container immediately after watering, the wick will fool the perched water into behaving as though the container was deeper than it actually is. The water will move down the wick, seeking the bottom of the container and will then be pushed off the end of the wick by the additional water moving down behind it.

A variation of the wick, is the pot-in-pot technique, in which you place/nest one container inside another container with several inches of the same soil in the bottom and fill in around the sides. Leaving the drain hole of the top container open allows an unobstructed soil bridge between containers. Water will move downward through the soil bridge from the top container into the bottom container seeking its natural level; so all of the perched water the soil is capable of holding ends up in the bottom container, leaving you with much better aeration in your growing container.

The immediately above example employs the soil in the lower container as a wick, but you can achieve the same results by partially burying containers in the yard or garden, essentially employing the earth as a giant wick. These techniques change the physical dynamics of water movement and retention from the way water normally behaves in containers to the way water behaves in the earth. Essentially, you have turned your containers into mini raised beds, from the perspective of hydrology.

What I shared doesnt mean its a good thing to use water retentive soils, simply because you have tricks to help you deal with them. For years, Ive been using highly aerated soils and biting the water more often bullet because Ive seen the considerable difference these durable and highly aerated soils make when it comes to plant growth and vitality. Many others have come to the same realization and are freely sharing their thoughts and encouragement all across the forums, so I wont go into detail about soils here.

It should also be noted that roots are the heart of the plant, and it is impossible to maximize the health and vitality of above-ground parts without first maximizing the health and vitality of roots. Healthy roots also reduce the incidence of disease and insect predation by keeping metabolisms and vitality high so the plant can maximize the production of bio-compounds essential to defense.

The soil/medium is the foundation of every conventional container planting, and plantings are not unlike buildings in that you cannot build much on a weak foundation. A good soil is much easier to grow in, and offers a much wider margin for error for growers across the board, no matter their level of experience. But regardless of what soils you choose, I hope the outline here provides you with some useful strategies if you DO find yourself having to deal with a heavy soil.



clipped on: 05.22.2012 at 08:20 pm    last updated on: 05.22.2012 at 08:20 pm

About Neem Oil

posted by: tapla on 11.07.2005 at 05:33 pm in House Plants Forum

For any that might be interested, I wrote this as an article for our bonsai club newsletter, but it applies to houseplants as well.

Neem extract as an insecticide

In India mainly, but also Asia and Africa, grows a tree all bonsai enthusiasts should be aware of: Azadirachta indica. You are probably already wondering if it makes a good subject for bonsai. Well, yes and no. I don't know enough about the tree's culture to say it makes a good bonsai medium, but it makes a very good bonsai subject. I'll explain: Azadirachta indica is commonly known as the "neem" tree. Extracts from the tree contain azadirachtin, a relatively safe and effective naturally occurring insecticide. Let me preface the following comments by reminding you that the terms "naturally occurring and/ or organic" do not universally mean safe. Pyrethrums, rotenone, and even the very dangerous nicotine are all organics that should be handled with great caution.
Neem extracts, on the other hand are used in a wide variety of cosmetics, as a topical treatment for minor wounds, to treat stomach ailments, as an insecticide in grain storage containers, bins, and bags, and a whole host of other applications. I'll limit this discussion to its use as an insecticide.
Neem works in many ways. It is effective both as a topical and a systemic. It is an antifeedant, an oviposition deterrent (anti-egg laying), a growth inhibitor, a mating disrupter, and a chemosterilizer. Azadirachtin closely mimics the hormone ecdysone which is necessary for reproduction in insects. When present, it takes the place of the real hormone and thus disrupts not only the feeding process, but the metamorphic transition as well. It interferes with the formation of chitin (insect "skin") and stops pupation in larvae, thus short-circuiting the insect life cycle. Tests have shown that azadirachtin is effective in some cases at concentrations as low as 1 ppm.
Neem oil or extract is most often used in an aqueous (water) suspension as a foliar spray or soil drench. Commonly, it is diluted to about a .05% solution, but the suggested ratio for use in bonsai culture is 1 tsp. per quart of warm water. A drop or two of dish soap (not detergent) helps keep the oil emulsified. The mixture is then applied as a mist to all leaf and bark surfaces and as a soil drench to the tree's root system. It should not be applied as a foliar spray on hot days or in bright sun as leaf burn may occur. Remember to agitate the container frequently as you apply and do not mix anymore than you will use in one day. Neem breaks down rapidly in water and/ or sunlight. (Since writing this, I have discovered that a 50/50 mix of water/rubbing alcohol works very well as the vehicle)
Some users of insecticide need to be able to observe the instant results of their efforts in order to be convinced of the effectiveness of their choice.The application of neem derivatives does not provide this immediate gratification. There is virtually no knockdown (instant death) factor associated with its use. Insects ingesting neem usually take about 3 - 14 days to die. Its greatest benefit; however, is in preventing the occurrence of future generations. It is also interesting to note that in studies it was found that when doses were given, purposefully insufficient to cause death or complete disruption of the metamorphic cycle, up to 30 surviving generations showed virtually no resistance/immunity to normal lethal doses.
I have been using neem oil for about 7 years as both a preventative and fixative and have had no insect problems on my bonsai. It is said to be effective for mites, whitefly, aphids, thrips, fungus gnats, caterpillars, beetles, mealy bugs, leaf miners, g-moth, and others. It seems to be fairly specific in attacking insects with piercing or rasping mouth parts. Since these are the pests that feed on plant tissues, they are our main target species. Unless beneficials like spiders, lady beetles, certain wasps, etc. come in direct contact with spray, it does little to diminish their numbers.
Neem oil does have an odor that might be described as similar to that of an old onion, so you may wish to test it first, if you intend to use it indoors. I've found the odor dissipates in a day or two. As always, read and follow label instructions carefully.
Neem oil can be purchased from many of your favorite bonsai suppliers or via the net.


clipped on: 05.22.2012 at 07:01 pm    last updated on: 05.22.2012 at 07:01 pm

Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XV

posted by: tapla on 02.06.2012 at 02:58 pm in Container Gardening Forum

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

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

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

Is Soil X a 'Good' Soil?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention

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

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

Consider this if you will:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The basic soils I use ....

The 5:1:1 mix:

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

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

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

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

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

The gritty mix:

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

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

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

Post XIV


Post XII

Post XI

Post X

Post IX


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

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

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

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



clipped on: 05.21.2012 at 10:12 pm    last updated on: 05.21.2012 at 10:13 pm

How to embed photos in a post

posted by: greedyghost on 06.16.2011 at 12:59 am in Hoya Forum

Here's a short guide to posting images in the forum. You can use this guide if your photos have been uploaded to Flickr or Photobucket, or if you simply know the photo's url at your preferred image host.



Most image hosts make it easy for you to find the code you need right on their websites. All you need to do is navigate to your photo, find the share menu, and copy the code identified as HTML.

On Flickr it is here:


On Photobucket it is here:




Next, you need to paste the code in the Message field at GardenWeb. Do NOT use the field for posting a link, below.




When you hit "Preview Message," if you have the code right, you will be able to see the images.




Once you have the correct code, you can tweak it to fit your preferences. You can change the image size, add a border, etc.


Here I have both my Flickr and Photobucket images at the sizes I want. It is good forum etiquette to resize large photos so that people do not have to scroll in order to see the whole image. When you post photos that are too large, it can make it harder to read all the posts in that thread, not just your own.



[Alternate Method]

The most simple way to post an image is to use the very basic code shown below. When using this code in conjunction with photos at an image host like Flickr, right click on the photo and select "Copy image location" to get the url you want.



clipped on: 05.18.2012 at 04:05 pm    last updated on: 05.18.2012 at 04:05 pm

RE: Air-layering ficus Benjamina (Follow-Up #4)

posted by: tapla on 05.08.2012 at 10:07 pm in House Plants Forum

On branches that size, you wouldn't be able to separate the layer until at least this time next year. You should be able to take lots of pencil-size cuttings for starts, though.

Air layering uses various techniques to force formation of adventitious roots from a point above the plants normal root system. Commonly, various methods are employed to stop the downward flow of photosynthate (carbohydrates) and the growth regulator, auxin, by removing all or part of the cambium or using a tourniquet to shut off the downward movement of carbohydrates and auxin.

I'm using zip ties on this plant to layer off the entire top of the tree, because the root system is unusable for bonsai - so I'm growing a new one.
The little holes will be filled with a rooting aid, then the entire plant will be repotted extra deep. New roots will form where the holes are and I'll have a perfect root system

Instead of zip ties, I used wire on this maple. You can still see it embedded in the wood. I sawed the old root system off immediately below the wire, and the plant is ready to be potted up and work started on moving it toward one day being a bonsai. Notice how swollen the trunk is immediately above the wire.

In this picture, I started a layer w/o bare rooting. I applied a tourniquet, drilled the holes, and added extra soil on top of the old soil.
The 'layer' is going on in the green pot with duct tape on top of the clay pot. The tree was much too tall for the trunk thickness, so I shortened the tree by about 6" by growing a new root system and cutting off the bottom of the tree.

If I was doing the layer on a branch, instead of a trunk, I would either wrap damp sphagnum moss (not peat)
around the layer and then wrap that in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil. If the branch was vertical, I might use a pot filled with soil, like the green one, to surround the layer.

There are a LOT of ways to air layer. Some like to girdle the entire branch, removing all the bark and cambium right down to the xylem. Sometimes, flaps of bark are cut from the bottom up and held open with a toothpick or similar so roots will form from cambial tissues.

If you have the time, applying a tourniquet in advance of beginning the layer, and wrapping electrical tape around the area above the tourniquet (sticky side out) to keep out light and predispose the area to the formation of root initials is a really good way to speed things along and add an extra measure of insurance for success.



clipped on: 05.08.2012 at 10:33 pm    last updated on: 05.08.2012 at 10:33 pm

RE: What's the most expensive houseplant you've ever seen ? (Follow-Up #10)

posted by: tapla on 05.03.2012 at 09:46 pm in House Plants Forum

I have more than 20 years experience as a bonsai practitioner, which is really primarily what the clubs consider sufficient qualification. I lead workshops, do demos, speak on various topics, and have had 3 training sessions with a world class judge, the end result of which was some sort of certificate I've never really looked at & no one ever asked to see. ;-)

The serious flaws are A) very poor root buttressing (poor root flare/base), B) the radical S-curve that immediately identifies the tree as a cookie-cutter import, C) poor taper and reverse taper. The tree's trunk is thicker near the S-curve than it is at the base (reverse taper), and there is virtually no taper (other than the reverse taper) in the lower 3/4 of the tree. Bonsai trees, other than the literati style, should taper quickly and smoothly from the soil level to the top of the tree. The root emerging from high on the trunk is a serious flaw, but if it's removed it will accentuate the reverse taper. D) Radical change in taper about 3/4 of the way up the trunk (this can be fixed, but the tree would have to be shortened to rid it of the heaviness just below the top of the tree. E) The branches should be left to grow unrestrained - they are much too weak on the lower part of the tree and too small (in diameter) in relation to the trunk size. Also, there is a very heavy branch near the top of the tree on the left. The lowest branch should be the heaviest. The branch needs to be removed and another grown out in its stead. F) The tree is MUCH too tall in relation to the thickness of the trunk. The tree should be about 6X the trunk diameter in ht, as a rule of thumb.

If this tree was put in the hands of an accomplished bonsai practitioner, he/she would likely ground layer the tree above the offending root coming off the trunk. This would entail unpotting the tree and planting it deeply in the ground to grow a new root system higher on the trunk. This is a young tree I did that to because the roots were horrible - notice the wire tourniquet still visible:
Notice how evenly the roots are spaced around the tree and how they emerge horizontally? For bonsai trees, the root base is everything - the feature all practiced bonsai artists look for.

Here's another tree I'm preparing to layer off because of poor roots - predictable in a hornbeam
It will take 2 years for the layer to be completed, I'll sever the tree just below the drilled indentations (which I'll fill with rooting gel) at the next repotting and I'll have another very young tree on a perfect root base.

G) I don't know why the rocks are on the soil surface. I suspect they are to help secure the tree due to a very weak root system, but I'm not sure. At any rate, rocks are not used without reason that relates to the composition in traditional bonsai. A rock might be strategically placed in a subtle manner to cover for a one sided root base or to offer a sense of balance in (for instance) a slant style tree that might appear in danger of toppling if it wasn't for the counterbalancing appearance of the rock mass. Technically, the rocks aren't a flaw in the tree, but a serious presentation flaw.

If I was given the choice between the tree & the pot, I'd take the pot in a heart beat.



clipped on: 05.08.2012 at 10:32 pm    last updated on: 05.08.2012 at 10:32 pm