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Do you have all the ingredients to make your own mix?

posted by: meyermike_1micha on 09.17.2013 at 08:49 pm in Container Gardening Forum

I thought I would give you a few photos of the ingredients I use for making my 5.1.1, gritty mix and those in between..

It is hoped that pics of the ingredients will help you to know what to look for..:-)

Fine sized fir bark for the gritty mix and or 5.1.1 mix in which I will sift out the extra bigger pieces.

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Orchiada bark for the 5.1.1 mix or the gritty mix perfect in size right from the bag

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Pine bark for the 5.1.1 mix or the gritty mix

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Oil Dry Absorbent I use in place of Turface for my gritty mix or 5.1.1 mix

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Turface I use for the gritty or 5.1.1 mix

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Growers size crushed granite for the gritty mix

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Perlite course size for the 5.1.1 and or gritty mix which I use to replace granite at times to lighten the mix.

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Here they are all together on a plate to show how comparable they are in size

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The of course if you are not able to make your own mixes, you could always purchase a 'Fafard MIx', a heavy weight that consists mostly of bark to fill your needs. Here is the 'Nursery' mix in which I just add perlite and comes as close to close 5.1.1 as I can get.

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And last but not least, don't forget to have some peat moss on hand for your 5.1.1 if needed.....

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Here are two mixes I have made with these ingredients, in particular the gritty and 5.1.1 mixes...You can make so many varieties of good draining mixes with these useful tools!!!

Gritty....

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5.1.1 mix

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Mike"=+)

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clipped on: 03.05.2014 at 02:14 pm    last updated on: 03.05.2014 at 02:15 pm

Gritty Mix + Citrus Plants + Foilage Pro - Questions

posted by: redshirtcat on 02.16.2011 at 01:45 am in Container Gardening Forum

Hi - I have some bare root plants on the way that I'd like to try in the gritty mix and I just want to be sure that I have things ready for when they arrive. I'm hoping al or someone more experienced than me can shed some light on the situation..

My basic setup:

- I'm using reptibark for the pine fines (I actually have access to pine fines locally but they are slightly larger - however they will be partially composted, should I use that instead?)

- I have several bags of #2 cherrystone grit ("Traction grit" and "#2 medium") which I will wash. This was expensive and I'm wondering if I can use what my local guy calls "trap rock" in the future?

- I have screened turface

- I have a bag of "Gypsum - Calcium Sulfate" (though I'm not sure exactly why).

- I'm using poly teracotta-colored 5 gallon (12") pots with the built-in drip pan below. I have screens for each pot to prevent the mix from falling through. (Should I remove the drip pans?)

I've decided to try to use Foilage Pro as my fertilizer as it is 9-3-6 (close to the 5-1-3 for citrus), can be mixed into water, and contains micronutrients.

My local water tests at an absurdly high 9.7 ph (is this normal?) I read that citrus prefer 5.5-6.5 soil ph. Is this mix ph neutral to the point that I need to be making sure the water I'm adding is in the 5.5-6.5 range? Do I do this with vinegar as I have read in several places here or with magnesium sulfate (as my local nursery guy said) - I've tried lowering water ph with the epsom salt and it didn't seem to do anything, maybe it doesn't work in water, just soil and mixes?

--

I have the following additional questions:

-Any glaring errors in my setup?

-Do I need to moisten the mix before I put the plants into it so that the turface doesn't suck all the moisture out of the roots before I get them situated?

-How should I be using this gypsum? What quantities per 2-3 year old citrus tree in a 5 gallon (12") pot?

-Will things like beneficial bacteria that I use in soil work in this mix?

-Where does the fertilizer end up being stored in the pots? Does the turface or bark suck it up? Do I need to fertilize with a weak solution every watering since a lot will drip through or foilar feed or etc?

-Are there any chemicals to leach out of the turface that won't be good for fruit?

Sorry - it's a lot of questions but I've never tried anything like this before and just want to be sure before I have some more dead trees on my hands (this time my fault).

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clipped on: 03.05.2014 at 02:12 pm    last updated on: 03.05.2014 at 02:13 pm

Taking A Bare Rooted Tree And Potting Into Gritty Mix

posted by: loveplants2 on 04.10.2012 at 08:53 pm in Plumeria Forum

Hi Guys and Gals!!

I received a Bare Rooted tree from BBB. The roots were a little dry and im a little worried about that, but im going to think postively! Also i received two trees from Ebay and potted them all up into Gritty Mix.

Some of you have asked me in emails about how i pot up into Gritty Mix, so i decided to show you what and how i did it.

When i rec this tree from BBB the first thing i did was to spray the roots with rainwater and made sure they stayed moist until i was ready to pot up. Here are the pictures of me taking the tree and trimming the roots. i didnt like some of the roots because they looked a little brown at the ends. So i cut them off until i liked the look of the roots.

Hope this helps some of you that have asked..
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Before i trimmed...
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After i trimmed...
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Container ready...
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Placing into the Gritty Mix...
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Ready for watering and ready to start the season!!!
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The other two trees potted into the Gritty Mix from Ebay..
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Cuttings ready to get potted into the Gritty Mix..
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Containers ready...
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Gritty Mix Ready...
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Dipped cuttings in Roottone..
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Potted in containers...
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Now all snuggled up in the container and on the heating mat in the greenhouse..
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some others in the greenhouse..
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larger trees on the deck ready for the warm temps..
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a few inflos already..
Penang Peach
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Lavender
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Miami Rose.. Tks. D : )
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Take care,

Laura

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clipped on: 03.05.2014 at 12:33 pm    last updated on: 03.05.2014 at 12:33 pm

RE: Anyone try Peppers and Tomatoes in Gritty Mix? (Follow-Up #7)

posted by: DWD2 on 02.27.2012 at 03:48 pm in Container Gardening Forum

My post above was meant to be constructive and point people towards additional information that anyone who so desires might consider in making their growing decisions. Everyone can look at greenman28's claim of success and Ms. Sandberg's broadly documented successes (go to the Love Apple Farm web site) and make their own judgements. greenman28 may have documented his success with his Sungold tomato with a post here that I missed. If I missed it, I do apologize and hope he will direct us to that. One plus with the link I provided to Ms. Sandburg's site is that she provides a pretty detailed recipe for growing tomatoes in containers. I have noticed that people looking for help on this site appreciate a clear set of directions. I have never seen a published report of a well designed comparison of these 2 approaches. I did do a comparison last summer comparing a Black Krim in the 511 mix using Foliage Pro to a Black Krim growing using Ms. Sandburg's method. While the difference I observed was stark, I did not document it and it was the type of experiment I call "quick & dirty." I think that until an adequate comparison is done, everyone has to make his/her own judgement.

I agree with greenman28 that a plant can not discriminate between an organically derived nutrient or one produced by a synthetic process. My view is that to stop the comparison of the pluses and minuses of the two approaches at that point is too simplistic. I think there are, at least, two further issues here. The first is what is the impact of the two approaches to plant nutrition on the array of substances contained in the vegetable or fruit. A large number of scientific studies support the conclusion that organic production approaches produce superior vegetables and fruits. This is an area of active, ongoing research & there are controversies. Horticultural science is typically done in systems that are difficult to have experimental designs that are tightly controlled. Two references I have on hand that will get you into the literature should you wish to expand your understanding are:
http://hortsci.ashspublications.org/content/44/1/12.full.pdf+html
http://phoenix.nal.usda.gov/bitstream/10113/17596/1/IND44083045.pdf
One might anticipate these results since the biochemistry of plants from the 2 growing systems is known to be very different.

A second issue relates to the other chemical entities that are present in the bulk chemicals used to produce synthetic fertilizers. As someone who has been doing or directing biological bench science for over 30 years, I am keenly aware that bulk chemical preparations have a very high level of impurities. These impurities make it impossible to grow even the hardiest mammalian, insect or plant cells in cell culture in growth media made from Technical grade reagents much less industrial grade used in commercial fertilizers. The Fisher Chemical web site shows you the 5 grades of increasingly pure salts they offer for different scientific applications.
http://www.fishersci.com/ecomm/servlet/cmstatic?storeId=10652&href=Scientific/researchAnalytical/ProductsServices/Chemicals/fisher_chemical_salts.jsp&store=Scientific&segment=researchAnalytical
I feel pretty certain that anyone would be taken aback, even appalled, by the list and amount of impurities on the COAs that accompany the bulk chemicals used to manufacture non-organic fertilizers. That impurities are there in significant amounts does not guarantee that any of them end-up in the final fruit or vegetable. But the chance that they do is part of my personal reasoning for choosing to grow my produce organically. I am also aware that using organic products does not ensure that some similar or even more disturbing chemical entities are in an organic product. I do take comfort in the fact that the ORMI certification process is designed to address those concerns. That industry driven certification process bespeaks of manufacturers who want to get it right and inspire trust. Once again, everyone can make their own choices. I am down heartened by greenman28's characterization of this as "the Ideological organic debate." It is clearly a scientific debate and a LOT of excellent plant scientists are actively studying the impact of growing plants organically versus using synthetic reagents. The number of publications in this area are growing each year VERY rapidly. The large majority of the scientific publications I have read on this subject are demonstrating benefits from organic production methods. Anyone who feels this is an "Ideological" debate might spend some time looking through the current scientific literature with an open mind and see if they want to rethink that position.

I am not sure what tapla means by his response to my post. Perhaps he means to be witty. It comes across to me as snide and mean-spirited. I hope I misunderstand his intention. My desire is that we do our best to keep things positive and constructive in these forums. I know I came to the GardenWeb trying to learn and find different options for my garden. Keeping posts on a polite, respectful level is a much more constructive way forward for everyone.

Good luck to everyone with their garden!

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clipped on: 03.05.2014 at 11:34 am    last updated on: 03.05.2014 at 11:35 am

Gritty mix potting question.

posted by: derft1 on 04.05.2013 at 03:48 pm in Plumeria Forum

I started 12 cuttings with a mixture of 1/3 potting mix, 1/3 sphagnum peat moss and 1/3 perlite two weeks ago. After reading the forum I decide to try the gritty mix too. The gritty mix is 1/3 Turface MVP, 1/3 Repti bark and 1/3 Chicken Grit. All were screened. I potted three cuttings two days ago. Today I checked the moisture content with a meter I have. I have not watered anything since the initial potting.

Now from what I've read I know not to water the cuttings until leaves are well formed. The 12 read about 2/3rd's wet on the meter. The three planted in Gritty Mix read dry after two days.

I was surprised by the difference. Should I be watering the three planted in the Gritty mix? Are the 12 in the potting mix to wet? This has me confused. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks in advance, Fred.

This is the first time I've tried to root cuttings

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clipped on: 03.04.2014 at 11:34 pm    last updated on: 03.04.2014 at 11:34 pm

Hydrophobicity in gritty mix

posted by: penfold2 on 06.29.2011 at 02:36 pm in Container Gardening Forum

I know this has been discussed before, but the solutions don't seem to be working in my case.

About a month ago I repotted a large number of my succulents in the gritty mix. I used 2 parts Rexius fine grade orchid bark, 2 parts #2 cherrystone, 1 part Turface, and 1 part Napa Floor Dry. I noticed the plants are not doing well, so I did a little digging today (literally). I found that after watering, the soil is still bone dry just below the surface. So I tried watering, waiting 5-10 minutes, and then watering again. Same problem.

Hydrophobic soil

I've tried watering repeatedly with a hose-end sprayer, and even plugging the drainage hole and flooding the pot for 5-10 minutes. This improves the wetting somewhat, but there are still large dry pockets. Some dust even blows out when I dig around.

I don't remember having this problem with previous batches of gritty mix. Could it be due to the new bark I'm using? The Rexius bark is heat treated Douglas Fir bark. Will this problem improve over time? Should I look for a wetting agent? It's ridiculous, but I literally don't know how to get this soil wet.

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clipped on: 03.04.2014 at 11:01 pm    last updated on: 03.04.2014 at 11:01 pm

Waste screening Turface,Axis,Playball,Napa & Cost

posted by: cebury on 06.14.2010 at 03:09 pm in Container Gardening Forum

I originally posted this at the SuperGardeners Forum. I'm duplicating here for info from another post.

I was concerned that my numbers didn't match, because Tapla and others have reported up to 60% waste (fines) when sifting Turface and my numbers were not even close to that. I later found out why: I was sifting with Fiberglass insect screen, not aluminum. Fiberglass has rectangular mesh, 1/16 x 1/32 vs aluminum being 1/16 square. I was fortunate because I live in a hot arid climate and definitely need the slightly smaller particles. There is still no PWT in my containers even using the fiberglass and I use a smaller #10 grit size.

========================= Original Post ===================================
Here is some data I gathered last year when I did my initial product purchases and testing.

In case you don't want to read ahead, here are MY conclusions:
* Napa Floor Dry is the most cost effective solution and offered an even distribution of particle sizes from 1/8 to 1/16.
* Turface by far has the largest amount of waste compared to the other products.
* Turface has 3x as many smaller particles (1/16 to 3/32) than larger ones (1/8+).

Disclaimers: These numbers are largely influenced by my insect screen (fiberglass) and how I sift. If you sift longer, you'll remove more waste. The waste calculation by weight is based on stated weight, which I did not confirm prior to sifting. By volume also does not reflect settling. Also, the volume numbers are rough estimates and the cost figures are obviously local. Al/Tapla has also experienced varied Turface waste by bag batch.

I took these measurements to compare waste between 4 of the water retention products recommended. Waste calculations by volume will never resemble ones based on weight. Dust/fines are the heaviest part of the product where measurement by weight could be triple the volume. But I believe they are helpful when comparing against each other, which was my goal.

        MEASUREMENTS OF WASTE BY WEIGHT �

1/8+ 1/16- Usable Waste* Stated Est.
PRODUCT 3/32 Product Weight Waste
==========================================================
Axis 10.75 10.50 21.25 3.75 25 15%
Playball 11.50 13.00 24.50 0.50 25 2%
Floor Dry 14.75 16.25 30.50 2.75 -- ~8% <--two bags=12gals
Turface 10.25 31.00 41.25 8.75 50 18%

Numbers are weight in US lbs.
* Calcuated based on stated weight of product.

All amounts were weighed and recorded. Afterward, they were re-weighed and recorded separately and then checked against the first recording for accuracy. Discrepancies were negligible.

I simultaneously double-sift, the top screen is a 1/8th hardware cloth, the bottom screen is fiberglass insect screen -- it appears 1/16th x 1/32th. What remains above 1/8th is the largest of the particles, what remains above the insect screen is the small to medium size. What falls through both is the waste/dust i.e. definitely smaller than 1/32 (which is the key size to avoid PWT). The calculations in the first table were performed by weight -- not volume. I used a typical home scale which obviously is not precise especially when measuring < 0.5 lbs.

Even though I never measured by volume (wish I had), I did take basic measurements (filled up the same #5 containers and took pictures). After reviewing the photos, here are very rough estimates of usable volume after my sifting.

         VERY ROUGH ESTIMATES OF WASTE BY VOLUME

1/8+ 1/16- Usable Stated Est.
PRODUCT 3/32 Product Vol Waste
==========================================================
Axis 3.4 3.5 6.9 7.45 7.4%
Playball 3.8 3.6 7.4 7.45 0.7%
Floor Dry 5.9 5.9 11.8 12.00 1.7%
Turface 1.7 6.9 8.6 10.43 17.6%

Listed in US gallons


Glancing at MY cost and MY usable product for the above measurements, here is my basic cost per gallon.

PRODUCT    Usable   My Cost    $/Usable G

==========================================================
Axis 6.9 $17* $2.46
Playball 7.4 $14* $1.89
Floor Dry 11.8 $13 $1.10
Turface 8.6 $12 $1.40

*Unsure if this price is inflated. Only asked & found this at one vendor whom I later found out was ripping me off on another product, charging $22 for a bag of Turface which was only $10.99 at a competitor one block away.


Hope it is useful to someone other than me.
-- Chris

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clipped on: 03.04.2014 at 10:49 pm    last updated on: 03.04.2014 at 10:49 pm

Pumice, expanded shale, or turface for hot climates?

posted by: Chelsea_2016 on 02.27.2014 at 04:39 pm in Container Gardening Forum

Hi,
I live in Texas with crazy hot, long summers and plan on growing 10 blueberry plants and 6 raspberry plants in Fabric pots. I am worried about the pots drying out incredibly fast even if I water every day and then running into the issues associated with rehydrating a mixture of pine bark, peat moss, and perlite.
So I was considering replacing the perlite with either turface, pumice, or expanded shale if I can find it in less than 3/8" size. I've read if you go higher than a 8:1 ratio of pine bark to turface then growth is impeded and that Turface is also very difficult to rehydrate.

Recommendations for increasing moisture retention?

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clipped on: 03.04.2014 at 10:42 pm    last updated on: 03.04.2014 at 10:42 pm

Root pruning - try to keep the larger roots

posted by: jimithing78 on 02.28.2014 at 12:04 am in Container Gardening Forum

I just repotted my meyer lemon tree and took the opportunity to do some root trimming while I had it out. It came out of gritty mix and went back into a new batch of gritty mix. I got the old mix out pretty easily and looked at the root structure. Of course there were roots of varying size - my thought was to trim off most of the smaller diameter roots and keep the larger ones.

Is that a correct assumption? All of the other threads I've been reading tonight suggest cutting off the bottom 1/4 or 1/3 of the root ball. But since the gritty mix came out so easy I didn't really have a ball to work with.

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clipped on: 03.04.2014 at 10:14 pm    last updated on: 03.04.2014 at 10:14 pm

Fertilizer Program for Containerized Plants II

posted by: tapla on 03.11.2009 at 11:13 pm in Container Gardening Forum

This subject has been discussed frequently, but usually in piecemeal fashion on the Container Gardening forum and other forums related. Prompted originally by a question about fertilizers in another's post, I decided to collect a few thoughts & present a personal overview.

Fertilizer Program - Containerized Plants II

Let me begin with a brief and hopefully not too technical explanation of how plants absorb water from the soil and how they obtain the nutrients/solutes that are dissolved in that water. Most of us remember from our biology classes that cells have membranes that are semi-permeable. That is, they allow some things to pass through the walls, like water and select elements in ionic form dissolved in the water, while excluding other materials like large organic molecules. Osmosis is a natural phenomenon that is nature�s attempt at creating a balance (isotonicity) in the concentration of solutes in water inside and outside of cells. Water and ionic solutes will pass in and out of cell walls until an equilibrium is reached and the level of solutes in the water surrounding the cell is the same as the level of solutes in the cell.

This process begins when the finest roots absorb water molecule by molecule at the cellular level from the surface of soil particles and transport it, along with its nutrient load, throughout the plant. 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 (this is where I get to plug a well-aerated and free-draining soil), ;o). Deionized (distilled) water contains no solutes, and is easiest for plants to absorb. Of course, since distilled water contains no nutrients, using it alone practically guarantees deficiencies of multiple nutrients as the plant is shorted the building materials (nutrients) it needs to manufacture food, keep its systems orderly, and keep its metabolism running smoothly.

We already learned that if the dissolved solutes in soil water are low, the plant may be well-hydrated, but starving; however, if they are too high, the plant may have a large store of nutrients in the soil, but because of osmotic pressure, the plant may be unable to absorb the water and could die of thirst in a sea of plenty. When this condition occurs, and is severe enough (high concentrations of solutes in soil water), it causes fertilizer burn (plasmolysis), a condition seen when plasma is torn from cell walls as the water inside the cell exits to maintain solute equilibrium with the water surrounding the cell.

Our job, because you cannot depend on an adequate supply of nutrients from the organic component of a container soil, is to provide a solution of dissolved nutrients in a concentration high enough to supply nutrients in the adequate to luxury range, yet still low enough that it remains easy for the plant to take up enough water to be well-hydrated and free of drought stress. Electrical conductivity (EC) of, and the level of TDS (total dissolved solids) in the soil solution is a reliable way to judge the adequacy of solutes and the plant�s ability to take up water. There are meters that measure these concentrations, and for most plants the ideal range of conductivity is from 1.5 - 3.5 mS, with some, like tomatoes, being as high as 4.5 mS. This is more technical than I wanted to be, but I added it in case someone wanted to search "mS" or "EC". Most of us, including me, will have to be satisfied with simply guessing at concentrations, but understanding how plants take up water and fertilizer, as well as the effects of solute concentrations in soil water is an important piece of the fertilizing puzzle.

Now, some disconcerting news - you have listened to all this talk about nutrient concentrations, but what do we supply, when, and how do we supply them? We have to decide what nutrients are appropriate to add to our supplementation program, but how? Most of us are just hobby growers and cannot do tissue analysis to determine what is lacking. We can be observant and learn the symptoms of various nutrient deficiencies though - and we CAN make some surprising generalizations.

What if I said that the nutritional needs of all plants is basically the same and that one fertilizer could suit almost all the plants we grow in containers - that by increasing/decreasing the dosage as we water, we could even manipulate plants to bloom and fruit more abundantly? It�s really quite logical, so please let me explain.

Tissue analysis of plants will nearly always show NPK to be in the ratio of approximately 10:1.5:7. If we assign N the constant of 100, P and K will range from 13-19 and 45-70 respectively. (I�ll try to remember to make a chart showing the relative ratios of all the other 13 essential nutrients that don�t come from the air at the end of what I write.) 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 often 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. If you decide that�s too much work, try halving the dose recommended & cutting the interval in half. You can work out the math for granular soluble fertilizers and apply at a similar rate.

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.

Another advantage to supplying a continual low concentration of fertilizer is it eliminates the tendency of plants to show symptoms of nutrient deficiencies after they have received high doses of fertilizer and then been allowed to return to a more favorable level of soil solute concentrations. Even at perfectly acceptable concentrations of nutrients in the soil, plants previously exposed to high concentrations of fertilizer readily display these symptoms.

You will still need to guard against watering in sips, and that habit�s accompanying tendency to allow solute (salt) accumulation in soils. 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.

I have recently switched to a liquid fertilizer with micronutrients in a 12:4:8 NPK ratio. Note how closely this fit�s the average ratio of NPK content in plant tissues, noted above (10:1.5:7). If the P looks a little high at 4, consider that in container soils, P begins to be more tightly held as pH goes from 6.5 to below 6.0, which is on the high side of most container soil�s pH, so the manufacturer probably gave this some careful consideration. Also, P and K percentages shown on fertilizer packages are not the actual amount of P or K in the blend. The percentage of P on the package is the percentage of P2O5 (phosphorous pentoxide) and you need to multiply the percentage shown by .43 to get the actual amount of P in the fertilizer. Similarly, the K level percentage shown is actually the level of K2O ( potassium oxide) and must be multiplied by .83 to arrive at the actual amount of K supplied.

To answer the inevitable questions about specialty fertilizers and "special" plant nutritional requirements, let me repeat that plants need nutrients in roughly the same ratio. Ratio is an entirely a separate consideration from dosage. You�ll need to adjust the dosage to fit the plant and perhaps strike a happy medium in containers that have a diversity of material.

If nutrient availability is unbalanced - if plants are getting more than they need of certain nutrients, but less than they need of others, the nutrient they need the most will be the one that limits growth. There are 6 factors that affect plant growth and yield; they are: air water light temperature soil or media nutrients. Liebig's Law of Limiting Factors states the most deficient factor limits plant growth and increasing the supply of non-limiting factors will not increase plant growth. Only by increasing most deficient nutrient will the plant growth increase. There is also an optimum combination?ratio of the nutrients and increasing them, individually or in various combinations, can lead to toxicities.

When individual nutrients are available in excess, it not only unnecessarily contributes to the total volume of solutes in the soil solution, which makes it more difficult for the plant to absorb water and nutrients, it also often creates an antagonistic deficiency of other nutrients as toxicity levels block a plant's ability to take up other nutrients. E.g., too much Fe (iron) can cause a Mn (manganese) deficiency, with the converse also true, Too much Ca (calcium) can cause a Mg (magnesium) deficiency. Too much P (phosphorous) can cause an insoluble precipitate with Fe and make Fe unavailable. It also interferes with the uptake of several other micro-nutrients. You can see why it�s advantageous to supply nutrients in as close to the same ratio in which plants use them and at levels not so high that they interfere with water uptake. I know I�m repeating myself here, but this is an important point.

What about the high-P "Bloom Booster" fertilizers you might ask? 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. Plants use about 6 times more N than P, so fertilizers that supply more P than N are wasteful and more likely to inhibit blooms (remember that too much P inhibits uptake of Fe and many micro-nutrients - it raises pH unnecessarily as well, which could also be problematic). Popular "bloom-booster" fertilizers like 10-52-10 actually supply about 32x more P than your plant could ever use (in relationship to how much N it uses) and has the potential to wreak all kinds of havoc with your plants.

The fact that different species of plants grow in different types of soil where they are naturally found, does not mean that one needs more of a certain nutrient than the other. It just means that the plants have developed strategies to adapt to certain conditions, like excesses and deficiencies of particular nutrients.

Plants that "love" acid soils, e.g., have simply developed strategies to cope with those soils. Their calcium needs are still the same as any other plant and no different from the nutrient requirements of plants that thrive in alkaline soils. The problem for acid-loving plants is that they are unable to adequately limit their calcium uptake, and will absorb too much of it when available, resulting in cellular pH-values that are too high. Some acid-loving plants also have difficulties absorbing Fe, Mn, Cu, or Zn, which is more tightly held in alkaline soils, another reason why they thrive in low pH (acid) soils.

So, If you select a fertilizer that is close in ratio to the concentration of major elements in plant tissues, you�re going to be in good shape. Whether the fertilizer is furnished in chemical or organic form matters not a whit to the plant. Ions are ions, but there is one major consideration. Chemical fertilizers are available for immediate uptake while organic fertilizers must be acted on by passing through the gut of micro-organisms to break them down into usable elemental form. Since microorganism populations are affected by cultural conditions like moisture/air levels in the soil, soil pH, fertility levels, temperature, etc., they tend to follow a boom/bust cycle in container culture, which has an impact on the reliability and timing of delivery of nutrients supplied in organic form. Nutrients locked in hydrocarbon chains cannot be relied upon to be available when the plant needs them. This is particularly an issue with the immobile nutrients that must be present in the nutrient stream at all times for the plant to grow normally.

What is my approach? I have been very happy with Miracle-Gro 12-4-8 all purpose liquid fertilizer, or 24-8-16 Miracle-Gro granular all-purpose fertilizer - both are completely soluble. I incorporate a granular micro-nutrient supplement in my soils when I make them (Micromax) or use a soluble micro-nutrient blend (STEM). I would encourage you to make sure your plants are getting all the micro-nutrients. More readily available than the supplements I use is Earth Juice�s �Microblast�. Last year, I discovered a fertilizer by Dyna-Gro called Foliage-Pro 9-3-6. It is a 3:1:2 ratio like I like and has ALL the primary macro-nutrients, secondary macro-nutrients (Ca, Mg, S) and all the micro-nutrients. It performed very well for me.

When plants are growing robustly, I try to fertilize my plants weakly (pun intended) with a half recommended dose of the concentrate at half the suggested intervals. When plants are growing slowly, I fertilize more often with very weak doses. It�s important to realize your soil must drain freely and you must water so a fair amount of water drains from your container each time you water to fertilize this way. This year my display containers performed better than they ever have in years past & they were still all looking amazingly attractive at the beginning of Oct when I finally decided to dismantle them because of imminent cold weather. I attribute results primarily to a good soil and a healthy nutrient supplementation program.

What would I recommend to someone who asked what to use as an all-purpose fertilizer for nearly all their container plantings? If you can find it, a 3:1:2 ratio soluble liquid fertilizer (24-8-16, 12-4-8, 9-3-6 are all 3:1:2 ratio fertilizers) that contains all the minor elements would great.

How plants use nutrients - the chart I promised:

I gave Nitrogen, because it's the largest nutrient component, the value of 100. Other nutrients are listed as a weight percentage of N.
N 100
P 13-19 (16) 1/6
K 45-80 (62) 3/5
S 6-9 (8) 1/12
Mg 5-15 (10) 1/10
Ca 5-15 (10) 1/10
Fe 0.7
Mn 0.4
B(oron) 0.2
Zn 0.06
Cu 0.03
Cl 0.03
M(olybden) 0.003
To read the chart: P - plants use 13-19 parts of P or an average of about 16 parts for every 100 parts of N, or 6 times more N than P. Plants use about 45-80 parts of K or an average of about 62 parts for every 100 parts of N, or about 3/5 as much K as N, and so on.

If you're still awake - thanks for reading. It makes me feel like the effort was worth it. ;o) Let me know what you think - please.
Al

Here is a link to the first posting of A Fertilizer Program for Containers

Another link to information about Container Soils- Water Movement and Retention

NOTES:

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clipped on: 03.04.2014 at 10:01 pm    last updated on: 03.04.2014 at 10:04 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)

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clipped on: 03.04.2014 at 10:03 pm    last updated on: 03.04.2014 at 10:03 pm

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: 03.04.2014 at 10:03 pm    last updated on: 03.04.2014 at 10:03 pm

Fertilizer Program - Containerized Plants (Long Post)

posted by: tapla on 10.23.2007 at 08:21 pm in Container Gardening Forum

This subject has been discussed frequently, but in piecemeal fashion on the Container Gardening and other forums related. Prompted by a question about fertilizers in another's post, I decided to collect a few thoughts & present my personal overview.

Fertilizer Program - Containerized Plants

Let me begin with a brief and hopefully not too technical explanation of how plants absorb water from the soil and the nutrients/solutes that are dissolved in that water. Most of us remember from our biology classes that cells have membranes that are semi-permeable. That is, they allow some things to pass through the walls, like water and whatever is dissolved in it, while excluding other materials. Osmosis is a natural phenomenon that creates a balance (isotonicity) in pressure between liquids and solutes inside and outside the cell. Water and ionic solutes will pass in and out of cell walls until an equilibrium is reached and the level of solutes in the water surrounding the cell is the same as the level of solutes in the cell.

This process begins when the finest roots absorb water molecule by molecule at the cellular level from the surface of soil particles and transport it, along with its nutrient load, throughout the plant. 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 (this is where I get to plug a well-aerated and free-draining soil), ;o) but of course, when the level of solutes is very low, the plant is shorted the building materials (nutrients) it needs to manufacture food and keep its metabolism running smoothly, so it begins to exhibit deficiency symptoms.

We already learned that if the dissolved solutes in soil water are low, the plant may be well hydrated, but starving; however, if they are too high, the plant may have a large store of nutrients in the soil, but because of osmotic pressure, the plant may be unable to absorb the water and could die of thirst in a sea of plenty. When this condition occurs, and is severe enough (high concentrations of solutes in soil water), it causes fertilizer burn (plasmolysis), where plasma is torn from cell walls as the water inside the cell exits to maintain solute equilibrium with the water surrounding the cell.

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. Electrical conductivity (EC) of the water in the soil is a reliable way to judge the level of solutes and the plant�s ability to take up water. There are meters that measure this conductivity, and for most plants the ideal range of conductivity is from 1.5 - 3.5 mS, with some, like tomatoes, being as high as 4.5 mS. This is more technical than I wanted to be, but I added it in case someone wanted to search "mS" or "EC". Most of us, including me, will have to be satisfied with simply guessing, but understanding how plants take up water and fertilizer and the effect of solute concentrations in soil water is an important piece of the fertilizing puzzle.

Now, some disconcerting news - you have listened to all this talk about nutrient concentrations, but what do we supply, when, and how do we supply them? We have to decide what nutrients are appropriate to add to our supplementation program, but how? Most of us are just hobby growers and cannot do tissue analysis to determine what is lacking. We can be observant and learn the symptoms of various nutrient deficiencies though - and we CAN make some surprising generalizations.

What if I said that the nutritional needs of all plants is basically the same and that one fertilizer could suit almost all the plants we grow in containers - that by increasing/decreasing the dosage as we water, we could even manipulate plants to bloom and fruit more abundantly? It�s really quite logical, so please let me explain.

Tissue analysis of plants will nearly always show NPK to be in the ratio of approximately 10:1.5:7. If we assign N the constant of 100, P and K will range from 13-19 and 45-70 respectively. I�ll try to remember to make a chart showing the relative ratios of all the other 13 essential nutrients that don�t come from the air at the end of what I write.

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. If you decide that�s too much work, try halving the dose recommended & cutting the interval in half. You can work out the math for granular soluble fertilizers and apply at a similar rate.

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.

Another advantage to supplying a continual low concentration of fertilizer is it eliminates the tendency of plants to show symptoms of nutrient deficiencies after they have received high doses of fertilizer and then been allowed to return to a more favorable level of soil solute concentrations. Even at perfectly acceptable concentrations of nutrients in the soil, plants previously exposed to high concentrations of fertilizer readily display these symptoms.

You will still need to guard against watering in sips and that habits accompanying tendency to allow solute (salt) accumulation in soils. 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.

I have recently switched to a liquid fertilizer with micronutrients in a 12:4:8 NPK ratio. Note how close this fit�s the average ratio of NPK content in plant tissues, noted above (10:1.5:7). If the P looks a little high at 4, consider that in container soils, P begins to be more tightly held as pH goes from 6.5 to below 6.0, which is on the high side of most container soil�s pH, so the manufacturer probably gave this some careful consideration.

To answer the inevitable questions about specialty fertilizers and "special" plant nutritional requirements, let me repeat that plants need nutrients in roughly the same ratio. Ratio is an entirely a separate consideration from dosage. You�ll need to adjust the dosage to fit the plant and perhaps strike a happy medium in containers that have a diversity of material.

If nutrient availability is unbalanced, if plants are getting more than they need of certain nutrients, but less than they need of others, the nutrient they need the most will be the one that limits growth. Whatever nutrients are available in excess, will be absorbed by the plant to a certain degree, and in some cases, this may lead to toxicity or even symptoms of shortages of other nutrients as toxicity levels block a plant's ability to take up other nutrients. Too much nitrogen will lead to excessive foliage production and less flowering. Too much potassium or phosphorus will not lead to ill effect, but will show up as a deficiency of other nutrients as it blocks uptake.

What about the "Bloom Booster" fertilizers you might ask? 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.

The fact that different species of plants grow in different types of soil where they are naturally found, does not mean that one needs more of a certain nutrient than the other. It just means that the plants have developed strategies to adapt to certain conditions, like excesses and deficiencies of particular nutrients..

Plants that "love" acid soils, e.g., have simply developed strategies to cope with those soils. Their calcium needs are still the same as any other plant and no different from the nutrient requirements of plants that thrive in alkaline soils. The problem for acid-loving plants is that they are unable to adequately limit their calcium uptake, and will absorb too much of it when available, resulting in cellular pH-values that are too high. Some acid-loving plants also have difficulties absorbing Fe, Mn, Cu, or Zn, which is more tightly held in alkaline soils, another reason why they thrive in low pH (acid) soils.

The point I�m trying to make in the last three or four paragraphs is simply that nearly all the variables in a fertilizer regimen pertain to the plants ability to handle nutrients, not to the actual nutrient needs of the plant.

So, If you select a fertilizer that is close in ratio to the concentration of major elements in plant tissues, you�re going to be in pretty good shape. Whether the fertilizer is furnished in chemical or organic form matters not a whit to the plant. Ions are ions, but there is one consideration. Chemical fertilizers are available for immediate uptake while organic fertilizers must be acted on by passing through the gut of micro-organisms to break them down into usable elemental form. Since microorganism populations are affected by cultural conditions like moisture/air levels in the soil, soil pH, fertility levels, temperature, etc., they tend to follow a boom/bust cycle in container culture, which has an impact on the reliability and timing of delivery of nutrients supplied in organic form.

What am I using? I start with a quart of 12-4-8 liquid Miracle-Gro all purpose plant food. To that, I add 3 Tbsp. of Epsom salts, 2 Tbsp. STEM (Soluble Trace Element Mix), and 1 Tbsp Sprint 138 Fe chelate and agitate until the concentrate is dissolved. I then try to fertilize my plants weakly (pun intended) with a half recommended dose of the concentrate and a little added 5-1-1 fish emulsion. The fish emulsion is for no particular reason except that I have lots of it on hand. This year my display containers performed better than they ever have in years past & they were still all looking amazingly attractive this third week of Oct when I finally decided to dismantle them because of imminent cold weather. I attribute results primarily to a good soil and a healthy nutrient supplementation program.

What would I recommend to someone who asked, for nearly all container plantings? If you can find it, a 12-4-8 liquid blend that contains all the minor elements would a great find and easy to use, but I don�t think it�s available. What I�m using does not have all the minors but I supply them with the STEM. You�ll likely find a 24-8-16 product readily available in granular, soluble form with all the minors, which is the same ratio as 12-4-8, so if I had to pick one fertilizer for use on all my plants, it would be that.

The chart I promised:

I gave Nitrogen, because it's the largest nutrient component, the value of 100. Other nutrients are listed as a weight percentage of N.
N 100
P 13-19
K 45-80
S 6-9
Mg 5-15
Ca 5-15
Fe 0.7
Mn 0.4
B(oron) 0.2
Zn 0.06
Cu 0.03
Cl 0.03
M(olybden) 0.003

If you're still awake - thanks for reading. It makes me feel like the effort was worth it. ;o) Let me know what you think - please.

Al

Here is a link that might be useful: Link to Water Movement and Retention in Container Soils

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clipped on: 03.04.2014 at 10:01 pm    last updated on: 03.04.2014 at 10:01 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

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clipped on: 03.04.2014 at 10:00 pm    last updated on: 03.04.2014 at 10:00 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

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clipped on: 03.04.2014 at 09:57 pm    last updated on: 03.04.2014 at 09:57 pm