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Container Soil Basics: a compilation

posted by: lathyrus_odoratus on 07.14.2009 at 08:36 pm in Container Gardening Forum

I just reviewed all 8 threads in the Container Soil/Retention series started by Tapla aka Al. I realized that many questions kept getting asked over and over. It's hard to wade through all those posts! I thought we might try to make it a bit easier for Al, justaguy, or anyone else answering questions about these mixes. Please, Al and justaguy, correct any mistakes I've made.


Best. Summary. Ever.
clipped on: 04.12.2011 at 11:26 am    last updated on: 04.12.2011 at 11:26 am

Coleus questions, questions, questions......

posted by: iamwhatiam52 on 09.28.2004 at 08:27 pm in Foliage Plants Forum

Went crazy with all the cool varieties of coleus the garden centers are now selling, and now it's time to think about getting them through the winter.

1) They grow poorly in my dark little house, get large and leggy, and bloom themselves to death eventually. If they are cut to the base, will they regrow, or do I need to take new cuttings when the plants get too old?

2) Most of my tropicals tough it out overwinter in a makeshift greenhouse kept at about 50 degrees. Is this too cold for coleus?

3) If I dig up the root balls from my outside plants after the first lite frost, ( like I do with my Passiflora and Brugmansia) will they sprout new plants when brought inside?

4) Anyone have suggestions about the best way to overwinter them with limited space?



clipped on: 04.05.2011 at 05:41 pm    last updated on: 04.05.2011 at 05:41 pm

Coleus Seedlings, some confusion

posted by: ashley_plant_addict on 01.20.2010 at 03:31 pm in Container Gardening Forum

Hi there! I've started some Coleus (Wizard Mix) seeds. I believe I started them about 2 weeks ago and have many seedlings! :D I think I might have too many seedlings per clump of soil....I hope this won't cause problems.

They are still very small, as they will continue to be until there are logner days and more light for them.

I'm new to coleus but thought they would look nice in my small backyard/patio. I get afternoon light on one part and direct sunlight at about 3-6. This will change once spring is here. There is a big tree that will soon be lush with leaves shading more of my patio.

As I searched the forum I soon became confused about coleus seeds and the plant in general. Some people said that growing from seed will produce small and less colorful plants. Some said that their seed experience produced rahter large plants. Some people used fertilizer while the plants were still seedlings and found growth spurts within a couple of days.

So heres my question....What should I do? Fertilize them a little (delute even more than normal) and put under a lamp for more light (24/7)? I plan on having them as houseplants until I am able to move them out to different containers.

Our temps in TX this week have been in the low 70's and 50's at night. :D Very pleasent but this is really giving me the ich to plant. Guess thats why I sowed the coleus seeds.

If anyone knows of a website that would be informative that would be great. I've spent most of my day trying to find information that I can use but have found little.

Thanks for the help


clipped on: 04.05.2011 at 05:37 pm    last updated on: 04.05.2011 at 05:37 pm

Coleus fans??

posted by: mareas on 07.08.2003 at 09:46 pm in Foliage Plants Forum

I have suddenly developed a PASSION for the beautiful Coleus, particularly the new cultivars!! I think I have looked at EVERY photo on - which is way over 500 photos - that qualifies as obsessed if not passionate... I am growing "Kiwi Fern" and a gorgeous black and multi-colored puckered, ruffled knock out that I don't know the name of - plus my dear old (I've had this plant for 30 years) "Wizard Pastel" and some fancy new Wizard Mix and Rainbow Mix. Any of you out there who know and love and want hundreds of these things, too?


clipped on: 04.05.2011 at 05:32 pm    last updated on: 04.05.2011 at 05:33 pm

Sigh! I wish this forum had more traffic.

posted by: seymoria1 on 12.07.2002 at 05:23 am in Foliage Plants Forum

I can't understand it.

Where are all the foliage lovers gone? Does so few people love foliage?

I always prefer it over flowers, which demand great care, deadheading, tricks to bloom, richer soils, a lot lot lot of patience, and very few reward with short bloom times, lesser than expected blooms etc etc .

I wish this forum had more traffic, ideally as much as, say, the Perennials Forum at GW.

Maybe one reason is that there may not be much variety in foliage plants to make it a vast topic for discussions?

Anyhow, I have always been and will always be a foliage enthusiast; its in my instincts I think.



More folliage ideas!
clipped on: 04.05.2011 at 05:25 pm    last updated on: 04.05.2011 at 05:25 pm

favorite foliage plant?

posted by: ravenea_rivularis on 11.02.2003 at 05:49 pm in Foliage Plants Forum

What is everyone's favorite plant? Maybe for no particular reason, like best for low light, or low maintenence, etc., but just, that plant you can look at, at any given time, and fell a little better. Everyone has at leats one, a plant that for no good reason, they feel connected with. For me, it's a four foot tall rubber tree. I think it's my favorite plant because, when I started out growing houseplants 11 years ago, I was given a rubber tree as a b-day present. So, even though it's not that particular plant, it's the same species, same variety, and it's just a really beautiful plant; trained into a "tree" form, with a trunk about 2.5 feet tall, about an inch around, with aerial roots growing down. Big, shiny, oval, green leaves, growing off about 9 different branches. Anyway, that's my favorite foliage plant. Think about it.


Prettiness and ideas!
clipped on: 04.05.2011 at 05:23 pm    last updated on: 04.05.2011 at 05:23 pm

Just can't get enough of that purple foilage!

posted by: Dawn G. - 5 (Guest) on 07.14.2000 at 05:17 pm in Companion Plants Forum

Each year I seem to be really "into" something in gardening. For example, this year for me is the year of Sedums and purple foilaged plants. My new sedums are suffering as we have had a ridiculously high amount of rain this year! Way too much! But oh! - that purple foilage! My latest additions include Euphorbia dulcis 'Chameleon', Heuchera 'Plum Pudding, Heuchera 'Bressingham Bronze', Sedum 'Vera Jameson, Sedum 'Bertram Anderson', and Sedum 'Morchen'(wow - talk about purple foilage on this one! Awesome!). Just love all these ones.

What's happening in the way of purple foilage in your garden, and what are you favorite combos that include them?

Dawn G.


More purple!
clipped on: 04.05.2011 at 05:21 pm    last updated on: 04.05.2011 at 05:21 pm

These four purple foliage plants. Please comment.

posted by: seymoria1 on 10.05.2002 at 04:54 am in Foliage Plants Forum

I am currently working on developing my own list of purple colored foliage plants with the help and information from all of you people on this forum.

Currently, I am considering the following four.

Acaena Inermis 'purpurea'
Acaena microphylla (Scarlet Bidi Bidi)
Anthriscus sylvestris 'Raven's Wing'
Aquilegia 'Roman Bronze'

A hit at google image search did not return any (or impressive) results. So I am relying on guidance of people who have grown or seen it to explain.

I want to know whether they really are very striking red or purple (say, like Iresine) as I've read or maybe its just a boring bronze-green tint which I am not looking for.

Your inputs will help me strike off those that are not desirable and keep the best ones for future reference.



Purple plants!
clipped on: 04.05.2011 at 05:21 pm    last updated on: 04.05.2011 at 05:21 pm

Help with House Plants: Repot? Pot-Up?

posted by: thesss on 03.29.2011 at 06:57 pm in Container Gardening Forum

Hi, I have a few (uhm, maybe many) questions about my house plants...

A few photos of my house plants that might need repotting or potting-up: (link also at the bottom of this posting).

Any advice would help. If I do need to repot, I'm planning to use AL's gritty mix on my next round of repots/pot-ups.

These plants are situated next to a SW-facing window: a rubber plant(a sad one), 2 peace lilies, and a croton(Codiaeum)...

The rubber plant is over seven years old. I made a mistake of bringing the plant outdoors and several of its stems died. I'm guessing from either sun-shock, it was too cold, or the black squirrel who kept visiting us then. I was able to keep only one stem, and resurrect another one a year later. However, if you noticed, there are only two skinny stems on one side of the pot :( -- one of them I pruned last week. The roots are pretty thick and have circled the pot. The last time I repot the plant was 3 years ago (could be more than). The taller stem stands 3ft, the shorter is 2ft tall. There is a 1ft new growth at the bottom of the 2ft stem and a newer and shorter growth at the bottom of the 3ft stem. I'm afraid to repot the plant because I feel like I might just kill it if I touch the roots. Any thoughts?

The peace lilies (about five years old, first purchased in 3-in pots) seem to be doing fine although I have noticed leaf burn lately. I've read in one of the threads that it was probably because the the salt in water. I have recently started using purified/distilled water. I think both are crowding the pots. Last time they were moved was 2 years ago when I potted up from slightly smaller pots to 9-in ones. One is a little over 3ft, the other about 2.5ft. The stems are skinny, leaves are fairly big. I think they are standard types. If I want to maintain the same-sized pots, should I split or just repot?

The croton is about a year old and was just repotted about a month ago but I think it's getting quite crowded again. There are two main stems. I'm not sure if I should split it in smaller or same-sized pots?

A variegated schefflera and dieffenbachia are situated next to the staircase, with minimal light from the SW windows:

The VarSchefflera is five years old and I brought it in from the office when it started getting pretty big. There is a new stem (about a foot tall) and I'm wondering if I should move it to a different pot?

I fertilize house plants usually every 2 weeks or a month with MG Liquid Houseplant Food (8-7-6).

Good? Bad? Keep? Change?

Would appreciate your thoughts and advice on these q's.

p.s. not sure how to check height correctly but I measured from when it sprouts out of the soil

Here is a link that might be useful: House Plants


Peace Lily data!
clipped on: 04.05.2011 at 04:02 pm    last updated on: 04.05.2011 at 04:02 pm

Ficus Trees in Containers

posted by: tapla on 10.19.2010 at 10:59 pm in House Plants Forum

The previous thread about ficus culture has reached the limit of 150 posts twice. The last thread was hurriedly put together, and addressed issues as they arose. Hopefully, this will cover most of the areas where questions arise regarding how to best maintain Ficus in containers.

The information I am supplying comes from knowledge gleaned from diligent pursuit of the physiology of woody plants, and in many cases from the pursuit of information specific to various Ficus species. In order that I might be proficient at maintaining trees in containers over the very long term, I have also spent a considerable amount of time and effort gaining a command of other plant sciences, with soil science, soil/water relationships, and nutrition getting special attention. My habit is to share information, particularly information I have verified via my own practical experience and observations, my experience running to more than 20 years of maintaining healthy Ficus specimens in containers. I�m also called upon frequently to share in the surrounding communities, teaching other gardeners and bonsai practitioners how to maintain healthy containerized trees; and in general, how to get more from their container gardening experience.

From the family: Moracea (relative of mulberry)

Native: India, other tropical - subtropical regions

The Ficus genus
with more than 800 known species, is undoubtedly an extremely popular choice as a containerized tree. It tolerates the "dryer than desert" conditions actually found in many or most centrally heated homes reasonably well, and is endowed with a natural genetic vigor that makes it easy to grow. There is however, much myth and misconception regarding the care of this plant and the reasons it reacts as it does to certain cultural conditions. I would like to talk a little about the plant and then offer some specific information regarding its culture. I will primarily address Ficus benjamina - the 'weeping fig', but the commonly grown Ficus elastica - rubber tree, has the same cultural preferences. In fact, we can virtually lump all the Ficus species commonly grown as houseplants into a single group in all areas except light preferences. We need to make allowances for some of the fig species that won't tolerate direct sun as well as benjamina and elastica, and we may as well expand that exception to the variegated cultivars of benjamina and elastica as well.

Ficus benjamina
is one of the species of Ficus commonly referred to as a strangler fig. It often begins its life in duff, in the crotch of a tree, or high on a branch as a seed deposited in the droppings of a bird or other tree-dwelling animal. After the seed germinates and as it grows, it produces thin aerial roots that often dangle in the moist air or attach themselves to the host trunk, while gaining nutrients and moisture from the air, leaf litter, and the bark of the supporting tree. It does not actually parasitize the plant it grows on, it only uses it as support. This relationship is termed epiphytic, or the tree an epiphyte. Those familiar with the culture of orchids and bromeliads will recognize this term.

After the aerial roots have formed and extended, and when they finally reach the ground, the tree begins a tremendous growth spurt, sending out more roots and developing a dense canopy that eventually shades out the supporting tree at the same time the roots are competing for nutrients in the soil and compressing the trunk and branches of the support tree to the point of stopping sap flow. Eventually the supporting tree dies and all that is left where it once stood, is a hollow cavity in the dangling Ficus roots that have now thickened and self-grafted to become the trunk. It is easy to see how many of the trees in the Ficus genus have come to be called by the name 'strangler figs'.

Roots and soil
The roots of some Ficus species are so powerful they can destroy concrete buildings or buckle roads, and can be measured in miles as they extend underground in search of water. When we consider the young tree and its ability to obtain sufficient moisture from just the surrounding air and bark surface of the support tree by way of aerial roots, we can draw an important conclusion: All species of Ficus prefer well-aerated and fast draining soils. In this regard, they are actually no different than any other tree you would endeavor to grow in a container, so try always to use a soil that guarantees an ample volume of air in the soil and excellent drainage for the intended interval between repots. This can be accomplished by using a soil whose primary fraction is comprised of large particles (like pine bark) combined with ample volumes of perlite or other inorganic ingredients like Turface, pumice, Haydite, crushed granite, or others. I grow all my Ficus in a soil mix consisting of equal parts of pine or fir bark, Turface (a calcined clay product), and Gran-I-Grit (crushed and screened granite). To be fair, I will add a qualifier here: the cost of the potential for superior growth and added vitality when using these fast (draining) well-aerated soils comes in the form of you needing to be prepared to water more frequently as the soil particle size increases. Roots are the heart of the plant, and the rest of the plant can do nothing without the roots� OK - the top just THINKS it's in control. Take care of the roots, and if your other cultural conditions are favorable, your plants will thrive.

Before I go on
I would like to say there is a very important relationship between your choice of soil, your watering habits, and a very common and serious problem that too often goes completely undiagnosed. That problem is a high level of soluble salts in the soil. When we choose soils that hold water for extended periods, we put our trees at risk for the fungal infections that cause root rot. Reasoning tells us that to avoid the root rot issue, we should not water to the point of soil saturation; rather, we often feel that watering in sips to avoid the specter of root rot is the wise alternative. This strategy though, puts us squarely on the horns of a dilemma. If we don't/can't water copiously on a regular basis, the soluble salts, i.e.,all the dissolved solids in our tap water and fertilizer solution accumulate in the soil. As the level of salts in the soil increases, the plant finds it increasingly difficult to absorb water and the nutrients dissolved in water. If the salt level gets too high, it can actually 'pull' water OUT of cells in exactly the same fashion that curing salt 'pulls' moisture from ham or bacon. This 'reverse osmosis' causes plasma to be torn from the walls of cells as they collapse, killing cells and tissue. The technical term for this is plasmolysis, but we more commonly refer to it as fertilizer burn. Fertilizer burn can occur whether or not we use fertilizer. The salts in our tap water alone, can/will eventually build to the point where water uptake is impossible, unless we actively take precautions.

Ficus b. will tolerate dry soil quite well. Allowing the soil to completely dry; however, will result in undue drought stress and accompanying leaf loss, an expensive affair, considering the plant will call heavily upon energy reserves to replace lost foliage - reserves that might better have been directed to other functions and growth. If you wait just until the soil feels dry to the touch at the drain hole before watering, your tree will be free from the effects of drought stress. Soils feel dry to the touch when their moisture content is somewhere between 40-45%, but Ficus can still extract water from soils until moisture content drops to about 25-30%, giving you a 10-15% cush AFTER the soil feels dry. Use a finger or a sharpened wooden dowel stuck deep into the soil to check for moisture content. A wooden skewer or chopstick used in similar fashion is also a useful tool, and feeling the soil at the drain hole and withholding water until it feels dry there, is also a good way to judge. Water meters are rather ineffective, They actually measure EC (electrical conductivity). To illustrate: Insert a clean probe into a cup of distilled water. It will read 'DRY'. Add a little table salt of fertilizer, it will read 'WET'.

I try never to water my Ficus with cold water, opting for room water or ambient temperature water. The best way to water your Ficus it to apply water slowly until you estimate the soil is almost wet enough that water is about to appear at the drain hole. Wait a few minutes and water again so at least 10-15% of the total volume of water applied exits the drain. The first watering dissolves accumulated salts in the soil and allows them to go into solution. The second watering carries them out of the container. We already illustrated the importance of using a soil that allows us to water in such a manner without having to worry abut root rot. If you feel you cannot water in this manner without risking lengthy soil saturation and the possibility of root rot, your soil is probably inappropriate for the plant. Lest anyone complain at that observation, I would point out there is a difference between the growth and vitality of plants that are only tolerating a soil vs. the same traits in plants that appreciate (thrive in) a medium with superior properties.

More about soils as questions arise ....

Although many Ficus begin life as an understory tree and are generally quite shade tolerant, most actually spend their life struggling through the shaded understory until they eventually reach the forest canopy, where they finally find full sun and can begin to come into their own. We should give Ficus all the sun they will tolerate. I grow all varieties of Ficus b. in full sun, and they tolerate it well - even some of the newer cultivars that are supposed to be extremely shade-tolerant.

I have often read anecdotal assertions that Ficus b defoliates at the slightest change in light levels (or temperature). I have found this to be only partly true. Any trees I have moved from a location with a lower light level to a brighter location have not suffered leaf loss (abscission). Instead, they have rewarded me with more robust growth and back-budding. If the change is reversed, so the tree is moved from high irradiance levels to a dimmer location, leaf loss is probable, but even then it depends on both the suddenness of the change and the difference between the two light levels. It might be interesting to note that trees that are being grown out, or allowed to grow unpruned, are most likely to suffer loss of interior leaves when light levels are reduced. Trees in bonsai culture, or properly pruned trees where thinning has occurred to allow more light to the trees interior are less affected.

Indoor supplemental lighting is a broad subject, but if you have the ability to provide it, your trees will definitely show their appreciation. Brighter light = smaller leaf size, shorter internodes, and superior ramification (finer branching), not to mention a marked increase in overall mass.

Expect the most robust growth characteristics when the plant is kept in a temperature range between 60-80* F. Actual root temperatures above 90-95* should be avoided because they impair root function/metabolism and slow or stop growth. Temperatures below 55* should also be avoided for several reasons. They slow photosynthesis to the degree that the plant will necessarily call on stored energy reserves to power metabolism and keep its systems orderly. This essentially puts the tree on 'battery power' - running on its energy reserves. After exposure to chill and subsequent return to more favorable temperatures, the plant does not quickly recover the ability to carry on normal photosynthesis. The time needed for the plant to recover its normal photosynthesizing ability is more appropriately measured in days, than hours. Leaf loss can also occur as a result of exposure to chill, particularly sudden chill.

It is prudent to select a location free from cold breezes for your tree. Even short exposure to very cold draughts can cause leaves to abscise (fall/shed). The cool temperatures slow or halt the flow of auxin (a growth regulator - hormone) across the abscission zone at the base of each leaf petiole (stem) which allows an abscission layer to form and causes leaves to fall. Chill also stimulates an increase in abscissic acid (also a growth regulator - hormone) which is also a player in leaf loss.

Benjamina can tolerate temperatures as low as the mid-30s for brief periods if the exposure to chill is gradual, but it should be noted that even though there may not be any readily visible impact on the tree, the tree will always be in decline at temperatures below about 55* because of the impact on the tree's inability to carry on efficient photosynthesis. Sudden and large temperature drops can cause varying degrees of chill injury in the plant, caused by phenolic compounds leaking from cells, which shows up looking much like freeze damage. Severe injury could occur in plants that were growing at 80-85* and were subjected to sudden chilling to temperatures as high as 45-50*

Benjamina's thick, leathery leaves with waxy cuticles help to limit moisture loss, making the plant suitable to a wide range of indoor humidity levels, even though it prefers humidity levels above 50%. When humidity levels are blamed for leaf loss or necrotic leaf tips and margins, it is likely the blame has been misplaced. Those pesky high salt levels in soils, most common in late winter, can make it difficult and in extreme cases impossible for the plant to absorb water to replace that being lost to the air through transpiration. The fast soils that allow copious watering, which flushes the soil of salts regularly are actually much more important/beneficial than maintaining ultra high humidity levels. Misting is very effective ..... For about 30 seconds. Forget the misting please, it is ineffective. For small plants, a humidity tray may marginally effective.

I prefer any 3:1:2 ratio soluble fertilizer like Miracle-Gro 24-8-16 or 12-4-8, and I especially like Dyna-Gro's Foliage-Pro 9-3-6, because it provides all the essential nutrients in the approximate ratio the plant will use and in favorable ratios to each other. Alternately, a 1:1:1 ratio fertilizer like MG 20-20-20 is suitable. Because I use fast soils, I can fertilize at very low doses, every time I water. How YOU can/should fertilize is something we should discuss. It can change by season, and also varies based on soil choice and watering habits.

There is no question that in addition to offering greater potential for growth and vitality within the limits of other cultural factors, fast draining, well-aerated soils also get the nod for greatly increasing the grower�s margin for error in the areas of watering and fertilizing.

Leaf loss in Ficus is probably the cause of more conjecture than any other aspect of its culture, so even though I have mentioned it above, I will reiterate. Even though it is widely held that Ficus b. defoliates at virtually any cultural change, with changes in light and temperature most often cited, it is not so. The plant tends to defoliate when there is a fairly abrupt change in light levels - from bright to dim, or after exposure to sudden chill, but the plant does not tend to defoliate when the cultural conditions of light and temperature move from unfavorable to favorable, i.e. from dim to bright or from cool to warm/appropriate - unless the change is markedly radical.

First, I draw a major distinction between potting-up and repotting. Potting up can be undertaken at any time. It involves moving the plant to a slightly larger pot and back-filling with fresh soil, with a minimal amount of root disturbance. Much to be preferred to potting-up, is repotting. Repotting, which has a substantial rejuvenating effect, includes removing all or almost all of the old (spent) soil and selective root-pruning. It is by far the preferred method and probably the most important step in insuring your trees always grow at as close to their potential genetic vigor as possible. Repotting as opposed to potting-up is the primary reason bonsai trees are able to live in small containers for hundreds of years while the vast majority of trees grown as houseplants are lucky to survive more than 5 years without root work

It is pretty much universally accepted among nurserymen, that you should pot up at or before the time where the condition of the roots/soil mass is such that the roots and soil can be lifted from the container intact. Much testing has been done to show that trees left to languish beyond this point will have growth and vitality permanently affected. Even when planted out, growth and longevity of trees allowed to progress beyond this point is shown to be reduced.

The ideal time to repot a Ficus, is when the plant has good vitality and in the month prior to its most robust growth. June and July are prime months for most of the US. HOW to properly repot is beyond the scope of the initial post, but I am sure the subject will be covered in detail as questions arise.

Remember - potting up a root bound plant is a stopgap fix, and ensures the plant has no opportunity to grow to its genetic potential within the limits of other cultural factors; while fully repotting, which includes a change of soil and root pruning, ensures the plant WILL have the opportunity within the limits of other cultural factors. Strong words, but to repeat the illustration: the bonsai tree is capable of living in a tiny pot, perfectly happy for hundreds of years, while we struggle to squeeze 5 years of good vitality from a root bound plant - root work being the difference.

Ficus trees suffer from some pests. Most common are scale, followed closely by mites and mealies. I have always had good luck with neem oil as a preventative and fixative. We can discuss infestations and treatment as it arises, but so it gets included in the original post, I use only pure, cold-pressed neem oil, such as that packaged by Dyna-Gro in the black and white container. The beneficial active ingredient in neem is azadirachtin, the effectiveness of which is greatly reduced by steam and alcohol extraction methods, which brings us full circle to why I use the cold-pressed product.

Oedema can sometimes be an issue as well;. Suspect it if you see corky patches on the leaves, usually preceded by wet, bumpy patches that usually go unnoticed.

This is a long post, and took a long time to compose. I hope it answers most of your questions, but somehow, I cannot help but hope there are a few lingering that you would like to ask or points you would like to have clarified. It is great fun visiting and helping people who are devoted about improving their abilities to provide for their trees.

Best luck.


Here is a link that might be useful: Link to the previous thread


clipped on: 04.05.2011 at 03:52 pm    last updated on: 04.05.2011 at 03:52 pm

Wanted: Awesome plant.

posted by: crazytbone on 03.09.2011 at 09:53 pm in House Plants Forum

I need to feed my plant addiction, but not just any plant will do. No, I want to get an awesome plant. I want to get the kind of plant that people who hate plants look at, and they are struck with awe at its awesomeness.

I made this thread looking for nominations for some really cool plant species. I'd like to add one new awesome plant to my collection.

What do you think?


clipped on: 04.03.2011 at 08:12 pm    last updated on: 04.03.2011 at 08:12 pm

Boston-area sources for Al's Gritty Mix

posted by: happyhartshorne on 08.25.2010 at 02:12 pm in Cacti & Succulents Forum

I'm a recent convert to Al's Gritty Mix, and I've been having a really difficult time tracking down local sources for the necessary materials. (I even mail-ordered a box of turface in a moment of desperation.)

After a lot of phone calls and a few fruitless 40-minute drives into the area surrounding Boston, I think I've finally come across local (and reliable) sources.

Please note that these aren't exactly convenient to Boston Metro (especially for someone like me without a car), but it sure beats paying for all that shipping!

For granite chips in the form of chicken grit or grower grit, try Erikson Grain Mill in Acton, MA. They had a range of grit when I went two weeks ago (including Gran-I-Grit). Over the phone they said they also carried Cherry Stone. There are a number of other grain and feed stores in the Boston area, but most of the ones I called carried only pigeon grit (oyster shells) or didn't know enough about their chicken grit to tell me what brand or size. (I.e., not worth the rented car and 30 minute drive to check out.)

For Turface MVP, try Bonsai West in Littleton, MA. (It's just 7 miles from Erikson Mill). I called and they carry 50 lb. bags for $24. I know it's not cheap compared to prices that other people have quoted here, but believe me -- I have called everywhere in this area. I even called all the John Deere Landscapes and nurseries listed on the Turface website listed as carrying Turface. Many of the John Deeres are out of stock of All Sport/ Turface at this time of year. Some of the nurseries I called had no idea what I was talking about. (Hmph.) But, like I said, $24 is still better than $20 + approx. $30 shipping from BonsaiMonk.

Plus, I'm excited about visiting Bonsai West this weekend. I hear it's a local mecca for bonsai specimens (although I only grow succulents).

For pine bark pieces, I've given up on finding the appropriate landscape-type stuff. I just use the bagged Repti-Bark from the pet store since PetSmart was having a sale on the stuff a few weeks ago.

Any other suggestions for local sources? Would love to know if there are other (closer) places to try.

P.S. I'm renting a car to pick up more supplies this weekend and will update with more availability.


Lots of info in the comments!
clipped on: 04.03.2011 at 07:15 pm    last updated on: 04.03.2011 at 07:15 pm

A Soil Discussion II

posted by: tapla on 08.25.2008 at 05:56 pm in House Plants Forum

A previous thread on the same subject had topped out at the limit of 150 posts. In case there is additional discussion or more questions, we can continue here. The text repeated:

A Soil Discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Click here to link to previous thread


clipped on: 04.03.2011 at 07:13 pm    last updated on: 04.03.2011 at 07:13 pm

Trees in Containers II

posted by: tapla on 12.07.2010 at 07:19 pm in Container Gardening Forum

The tree is more than first a seed, then a stem, then a living trunk, and then dead timber. The tree is a slow, enduring force straining to win the sky. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

This is a continuation of another thread that has topped out at 150 posts. You can find a link to the previous thread ant the helpful information it contaihns at the bottom of this post.

It's not much of a secret to many, that a good part of what I've learned about plants and plant-related science has come as an outgrowth of my pursuit of at least some degree of proficiency at bonsai. Please, make no mistake, the principles applied to containerized trees under bonsai culture can, and in most cases SHOULD be applied to all containerized trees grown for the long term. Because of the small volumes of soil and small containers these trees are grown in, you might look at bonsai as a form of container culture taken to another level. Before most of the plants I grow become bonsai, they often undergo many years of preparation and manipulation while still in the same size containers you are growing in, so while I am intimately familiar with growing plants in bonsai culture, it would have been impossible for me to arrive at that familiarity w/o an even more thorough understanding of growing woody plants in larger, pre-bonsai size containers like you grow in. This thread is a continuation of one I previously posted on the same topic.

I grow and manage a wide variety of temperate trees and shrubs, both deciduous and conifers, and 75 or more tropical/subtropical woody plants. I'd like to invite you to join the discussion with questions about your own containerized trees and/or your tree problems. I will try to answer your questions whenever I can.

The timing of certain procedures is closely related to energy management, which gets too little consideration by most growers tending trees in containers. Because repotting and root pruning seem to be most misunderstood on the list of what it takes to maintain trees that will continually grow at close to their genetic potential, I will include some observations about those procedures to open the discussion.

I have spent literally thousands of hours digging around in root-balls of trees (let's allow that trees means any woody plant material with tree-like roots) - tropical/subtropical trees, temperate trees collected from the wild and temperate nursery stock. The wild collected trees are a challenge, usually for their lack of roots close to the trunk, and have stories of their own. The nursery stock is probably the closest examples to what most of your trees are like below the soil line, so I'll offer my thoughts for you to consider or discard as you find fitting.

I've purchased many trees from nurseries that have been containerized for long periods. Our bonsai club, just this summer, invited a visiting artist to conduct a workshop on mugo pines. The nursery (a huge operation) where we have our meetings happened to have purchased several thousand of the mugos somewhere around 10 - 12 years ago and they had been potted-up into continually larger containers ever since. Why relate these uninteresting snippets? In the cases of material that has been progressively potted-up only, large perennial roots occupied nearly the entire volume of the container, plant vitality was in severe decline, and soil in the original root-ball had become so hard that in some cases a chisel was required to remove it.

In plants that are potted-up, rootage becomes entangled. As root diameters increase, portions of roots constrict flow of water and nutrients through other roots, much the same as in the case of girdling or encircling roots on trees grown in-ground. The ratio of fine, feeder roots to more lignified and perennial roots becomes skewed to favor the larger, and practically speaking, useless roots.

Initial symptoms of poor root conditions are progressive diminishing of branch extension and reduced vitality. As rootage becomes continually compressed and restricted, branch extension stops and individual branches might die as water/nutrient translocation is further compromised. Foliage quality may not (important to understand) indicate the tree is struggling until the condition is severe, but if you observe your trees carefully, you will find them increasingly unable to cope with stressful conditions - too much/little water, heat, sun, etc. Trees that are operating under conditions of stress that has progressed to strain, will usually be diagnosed in the end as suffering from attack by insects or other bio-agents while the underlying cause goes unnoticed.

I want to mention that I draw distinct delineation between simply potting up and repotting. Potting up temporarily offers room for fine rootage to grow and do the necessary work of water/nutrient uptake, but these new roots soon lignify, while rootage in the old root mass continues to grow and become increasingly restrictive. The larger and larger containers required for potting-up & the difficulty in handling them also makes us increasingly reluctant to undertake even potting-up, let alone undertake the task of repotting/root-pruning which grows increasingly difficult with each up-potting.

So we are clear on terminology, potting up simply involves moving the plant with its root mass and soil intact, or nearly so, to a larger container and filling in around the root/soil mass with additional soil. Repotting, on the other hand, includes the removal of all or part of the soil and the pruning of roots, with an eye to removing the largest roots, as well as those that would be considered defective. Examples are roots that are dead, those growing back toward the center of the root mass, encircling, girdling or j-hooked roots, and otherwise damaged roots.

I often explain the effects of repotting vs potting up like this:

Let's rate growth/vitality potential on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best. We're going to say that trees in containers can only achieve a growth/vitality rating of 9, due to the somewhat limiting effects of container culture. Lets also imagine that for every year a tree goes w/o repotting or potting up, its measure of growth/vitality slips by 1 number, That is to say you pot a tree and the first year it grows at a level of 9, the next year, an 8, the next year a 7. Lets also imagine we're going to go 3 years between repotting or potting up.

Here's what happens to the tree you repot/root prune:
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
You can see that a full repotting and root pruning returns the plant to its full potential within the limits of other cultural influences for as long as you care to repot/root prune.

Looking now at how woody plants respond to only potting up:
year 1: 9
year 2: 8
year 3: 7
pot up
year 1: 8
year 2: 7
year 3: 6
pot up
year 1: 7
year 2: 6
year 3: 5
pot up
year 1: 6
year 2: 5
year 3: 4
pot up
year 1: 5
year 2: 4
year 3: 3
pot up
year 1: 4
year 2: 3
year 3: 2
pot up
year 1: 3
year 2: 2
year 3: 1

This is a fairly accurate illustration of the influence tight roots have on a woody plant's growth/vitality. You might think of it for a moment in the context of the longevity of bonsai trees vs the life expectancy of most trees grown as houseplants, the difference between 4 years and 400 years, lying primarily in how the roots are treated.

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

Most who read this would have great difficulty showing me a containerized tree that's more than 10 years old and as vigorous as it could be, unless it has been root-pruned at repotting time; yet I can show you hundreds of trees 20 years to 200 years old and older that are in perfect health. All have been root-pruned and given a fresh footing in in new soil at regular and frequent intervals.

Deciduous trees are some of the most forgiving of trees when it comes to root pruning. The process is quite simple and the long term benefits include best opportunities for plants to grow at or near their potential genetic vigor, and stronger plants that are able to resist the day to day perils that bring down weaker plants. Root-pruning is a procedure that might be considered borrowed from bonsai culture, but as noted above, bonsai culture is nothing more than highly refined container culture, and to restrict the practice of root-pruning to bonsai only, is an injustice to those of us who simply enjoy growing trees in containers.

Trees are much like human beings and enjoy each other's company. Only a few love to be alone. ~Jens Jensen

Now that I have made the case for why it is important to regularly perform full repots (not to be confused with potting-up) and prune the roots of your containerized trees regularly, I will offer some direction. Root-pruning is the systematic removal of the largest roots in the container with emphasis on removal of rootage growing directly under the trunk and at the perimeter of the root mass.

Root pruning can start immediately with year-old seedlings by removing the taproot just below the basal flare of dormant material, repotting, and treating the plant as a cutting. This will produce a plant with flat rootage that radiates outward from the base and that will be easy to care for in the future.

Young trees (under 10 yrs old) are nearly all dynamic mass and will tolerate root-pruning well. Most deciduous trees are extremely tolerant of root work. Acer buergerianum (trident maple) is routinely reduced to a main trunk with roots pruned all the way back to the basal flare and responds to the treatment with a fresh growth of fine, fibrous roots and a fresh flush of foliage each spring. The point here is, you don't need to be concerned about the pruning if you follow a few simple guidelines.

First, some generalities: undertake repotting of most deciduous material while the plant is quiescent (this is the period after the tree has met its chill requirement and has been released from dormancy, but has not begun to grow yet because of low soil temps). Most conifers are best repotted soon after the onset of spring growth. Most tropical and subtropical trees are best repotted in the month prior to their most robust growth period (summer). Citrus are probably best repotted in spring, but they can also be repotted successfully immediately after a push of top growth.

For most plants that have not been root-pruned before: With a pruning saw, saw off the bottom 1/3 of the root ball. With a hand-rake (like you use for scratching in the garden soil) and/or a wooden chopstick and/or the aid of water under high pressure from a garden hose, remove all the loose soil. Using a jet of water from the hose and the chopstick, remove the remaining soil - ALL of it. The exception here would be those plants that form dense mats of fine roots (citrus, bougainvillea, rhododendron ...). This should be done out of sun and wind to prevent the fine roots from drying. 5 minutes in the sun or wind can kill fine roots & set the tree back a week or more, so keep roots moist by misting very frequently or dipping the roots in a tub of water as you work. After the soil is removed, remove up to another 1/3 of the remaining mass of roots with a sharp pruning tool, taking the largest roots, and those roots growing directly under the trunk. Stop your pruning cuts just beyond where a smaller root branches toward the outside of the root you are pruning. Be sure to remove any J-hooked roots, encircling/girdling roots or others exhibiting abnormal growth.

Before you begin the pruning operation, be sure you have the soil & new container ready to go (drain screens in place, etc). The tree should fit loosely inside the walls of the container. Fill the container with soil to the desired ht, mounded in the center, & place tree on the mound. Add soil to cover roots & with a chopstick/skewer, or sharpened wood dowel, work soil into all voids in the roots, eliminating the air pockets and adding soil to the bottom of the basal root-flare. Temporarily securing the tree to the container with twine or small rope, even staking, against movement from wind or being jostled will fractionalize recovery time by helping to prevent breakage of newly-formed fine rootage. Place the tree in shade & out of wind until it leafs out and re-establishes in the container.

The first time you root-prune a tree will be the most difficult & will likely take up to an hour from start to finish, unless the tree is in larger than a 5 gallon container. When you're satisfied with the work, repot into a soil that you are certain will retain its structure until the next root-pruning/repot. Tree (genetic) vigor will dictate the length of time between repots. The slow growing, less vigorous species, and older trees will likely go 5 years between repots. For these slow growing trees, it is extremely important that soils retain aeration. For these trees, a soil of 2/3 inorganic parts and 1/3 organic (I prefer pine or fir bark) is a good choice. The more vigorous plants that will only go 2 years between repots can be planted in a soil with a higher organic component if you wish, but would still benefit from the 2/3 inorganic mix.

Most trees treated this way will fully recover within about 4 weeks after the repot By the end of 8 weeks, they will normally have caught & passed, in both development and in vitality, a similar root-bound plant that was only potted up

When root-pruning a quiescent plant, you needn't worry much about "balancing" top growth with rootage removed. The plant will tend to only "activate" the buds it can supply with water. It is, however, the optimum time to undertake any pruning you may wish to attend to.

This is how I treat most of my trees. Though I have many growing in bonsai pots, more of my plants are in nursery containers or terra-cotta and look very much like your trees, as they await the beginning of intensive training. With a little effort at developing a soil from what's available to you and some knowledge and application of root-pruning and repotting techniques, I'm absolutely sure that a good % of those nurturing trees in containers could look forward to results they can be very pleased with. This is the repotting technique described that allows bonsai trees to live for hundreds of years & be passed from generation to generation while other containerized trees that have not had their roots tended to, and have only been potted-up, are likely to be in severe decline, or compost, well before they're old enough to vote. ;o)

I hope you're bold enough to make it a part of your containerized tree maintenance, and I hope what I've written makes sense - it's well past prudent bedtime for me.

Knowing grass, I understand the meaning of persistence.
Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of perseverance.
Knowing bonsai I understand the meaning of patience. ~ Al

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clipped on: 04.03.2011 at 07:13 pm    last updated on: 04.03.2011 at 07:13 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 natures 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 Ill 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 plants 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? Its 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. (Ill try to remember to make a chart showing the relative ratios of all the other 13 essential nutrients that dont 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 dont 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 thats 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 plants 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 closely this fits 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 soils 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. Youll 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 its 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 Im 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, youre 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 Juices 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. Its 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.

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


clipped on: 04.03.2011 at 07:13 pm    last updated on: 04.03.2011 at 07:13 pm

Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII

posted by: tapla on 03.17.2011 at 04:06 pm in Container Gardening Forum

I first posted this thread back in March of '05. Twelve 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 the idea some of 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 1,800 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.

Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention

A Discussion About Soils

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.

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 Water Movement information.

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 improve it's aeration or drainage characteristics by adding larger particulates. Sand, perlite, Turface, calcined DE ...... none of them will work. 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.

My Basic Soils ....

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.

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
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 XII
Post XI
Post X
Post IX
Post VII

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 Gowth 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: 04.03.2011 at 07:13 pm    last updated on: 04.03.2011 at 07:13 pm

Favorite Blueberry Variety?

posted by: gmason on 03.20.2007 at 11:29 pm in Fruit & Orchards Forum

Last year I began a personal experiment. I have planted several different varieties to be certain that the 8 or so bushes I have at my home are ones that are favorites. So far I have planted Bluecrop, Blueray, Bluejay, Bluegold, Earliblue, Chandler, Darrow, Duke, Patriot, Spartan, Olympia, O'Neal, Toro, Elliot, Legacy and Hardiblue. I primarily eat them fresh, so that has flavored my choices.
I have a Upick that I go to that has Jersey and Eberhard and Rubel's are just too small. My question is: Are there some others that you have tried that I should add to that list? My main three concerns are flavor, yield and size in that order, with size being a minor consideration. Bluecrop and Blueray were definite ones I wanted to have.


clipped on: 03.31.2011 at 01:55 pm    last updated on: 03.31.2011 at 01:55 pm

RE: Jade in a terrarium? (Follow-Up #4)

posted by: sahoyaref on 01.26.2006 at 12:33 pm in Terrariums Forum

Jades are extremely resilient, but they aren't the best long-term choice for a terrarium. You may want to stick to tropicals. If you want to set up more of a 'desertarium', then go ahead and use jade. Just make sure the humidity isn't too high and the substrate (soil) isn't too wet. A long time ago, someone with a lot of experience wrote a list of the best plants for closed terrariums (bottle gardens), which is what I kind of assume you are doing, since you said this is a children's project. That list has since been bumped off the end of this forum. but I saved it before it was. Here it is!


Soil mixture
Do not fill the terrarium half-way up. Use as little mix as possible to give the effect you want. Styrofoam or other inert materials can be used under the mix to give height. The more mix you use, the more moisture it holds and the greater the chance of rot .
Use a mix that holds water and air, keeps plants firm, and discourages bacteria and mold. (Vermiculite holds water and air. Perlite holds air. Sand holds plants up). Use moderately coarse vermiculite alone, or a mixture of vermiculite and builder's sand or bird cage gravel. Or one third each of vermiculite, perlite and sand works well. Handle vermiculite carefully and wash hands well after use. When you water (see below), vermiculite will settle around the roots to hold a plant in place.
Keep as little of the plants soil as possible without breaking off too many roots. The small amount that is left will supply the plant with food for several years if the plants are kept within bounds. Do not use peat moss. It becomes waterproof when dry and requires too much water to rewet.

Do not press the mix down. Just firm material around plant enough to hold it up. Moist air needs to circulate through it.
When starting your terrarium, water lightly around individual plants. Water will spread throughout mix by itself. Nature equalizes wet and dry. Once the humidity is properly distributed, roots will grow in the air and on the glass. Err on the side of too little rather than too much water. The terrarium should then be covered tightly with a transparent material such as Saran Wrap or glass. Wait at least one week to see if a condensation cycle starts.
If no condensation forms on the coolest side of the terrarium, during the day in very good light, add a few tablespoons of water a day until it does. Check to see that plants are getting enough light. (Inadequate light will prevent life cycles from starting.) If condensation forms on more than 1/3 of the glass, wipe it off with a paper towel and seal the top again. Do not leave it open to dry it. Plants that like high humidity will suffer. If excess condensation continues, repeat daily until only 1/3 condenses. When it is right, seal tightly, under the cover, with moistened Saran Wrap, and leave it in good light. A terrarium may go for a year or more without additional water if the proper balance of water and light have been reached, provided that it is properly sealed. You will need to open it only for housekeeping and trimming.

Mold and decay

Various molds may grow on dead material in the terrarium. Black thin little fibers with tiny spore heads may grow on dead leaves that are moist. If it does not appear to be spreading, leave it. This is often the fore-runner of moss, but may also mean the terrarium is too wet. White furry mold should be rubbed gently with a finger to disturb it as soon as it is noticed. Usually it will not persist if you rub it down a few times. Dead leaves should be left unless they are rotting against the glass. This will leave etched marks on glass that is hard to remove. If a lot of leaves are dying, give more light and wipe condensation out to make it dryer. The larger and taller the terrarium, the less likely there is to be trouble.
Insect pests
If you use materials from the wild, you may or may not want to prevent anything from hatching. (I love seeing what grows). Do not use collected wood (termites). When using wild moss (no soil), you may want to spray the back of it with a diluted liquid systemic insecticide (one that is absorbed by the plant roots). Use it sparingly and handle carefully. However, most things that hatch are easy to eliminate without chemicals.
Pests that come in on bought plants are harder to deal with, so examine all plant materials. You can use the systemic mixture on any soil around each plant if you think it is needed, but be sure to wipe out extra condensation that forms from the additional moisture. If plants are badly infected with mealybug or whitefly, it is best to snip off all leaves on the infected plant, wipe out most of the condensation in the terrarium, and wait for a healthy new crop of leaves. The result is usually satisfactory. Springtails are tiny white insects that jump around on the top of the soil when you water a plant. They are harmless and live on decaying matter so don't bother battling them.
Light is the food of plants. "Plant food" is the equivalent of our minerals and vitamins. Without a good source of light, plants will gradually perish. A small terrarium cannot take sunlight because heat builds up too quickly in it. In a tall terrarium with a lot of air space this problem does not usually arise, and the sun can shine for up to three hours in the morning or late afternoon, and in winter at other times. (Moss, however, does its best in a very low, broad space like a punch bowl, with no sun.)
Do not move your plants around to follow the sun or to avoid it. Plants are oriented to the light and do not thrive if they have to repeatedly re-orient themselves. Do turn the terrarium gradually, over a period of time, if the plants are all growing to one side, or else tip the terrarium up to give the plants more even light.

Most flowering plants need sunlight to bloom, or at least to initiate bloom. Orchids and miniature sinningias and other gesneraids (members of the African violet family) can bloom easily if kept in a large enough terrarium. Keep gesneriads in small CLAY pots. They will not bloom if their roots are allowed to spread out. Use fish-tank pebbles or bird gravel to bury the little pots at an angle tipped towards the light so they will grow evenly. They need a bit of sunlight to start blooming, but usually keep it up for a long time afterwards. They will need occasional plant food and water if their pots dry out, but be sure to wipe out an equal amount of condensation.
Artificial light
Daylight in combination of fluorescent light is great. With fluorescent light alone, have the lights not more than 6 or 8 inches from top of terrarium. Incandescent light may add more of the red spectrum needed for bloom, but their red is hot. Keep the lights on up to 16 hours a day, preferably on a timer. Plants like regularity. On a fluorescent bulb, the 10 inches at either end gives inadequate light for many plants, so a set of 24" tubes alone does not have much good light. Under a 48" or 72" set of 4 bulbs, you can grow plants with high light requirements in the center, lower light at the ends. Judge adequacy by degree of etiolation (stretching). There are many new lighting systems on the market that provide much higher light and make growing under lights much more satisfying".


What you DONT want in a terrarium

- Plants that grow too fast.
- Plants that need a lot of sunlight.
- Large-leaved plants.
- Plants that change character as they mature.
- Soil, which encourages the growth of bacteria.
- A too-fine-textured growing medium that packs down and discourages air circulation.
- Plantings that leave no space for plants to grow.
- Open terrariums that have to be watered, causing compaction of growing medium.
- Terrariums in colored glass that changes the spectrum of light.

What kinds of plants CAN be used?

* Plants that can be CUT BACK.
-Plants that have nodes along a stem rather than leaves that all grow directly from the surface of the soil. (Unless they are miniatures and very slow~growing.)

* Plants that DO NOT NEED SUN.
- Plants that need more than an hour of sunlight will stretch (etiolate), becoming vulnerable to rot, and outgrow the terrarium quickly.

- FERNS - good and bad.

--Miniature ferns and slow-growing varieties are good, large-leaved and fast-growing are bad.
--Some are small but have large fertile fronds when they mature. (bear's foot, brake ferns,etc.)
--Boston fern is bad- too vigorous
Smaller, slower-growing varieties of larger ferns are good.
--'Fluffy Ruffles,' a miniature of Boston fern, has underground runners It is invasive but good where nothing else will grow.
- Club mosses. Selagenella, gold and green. Need bright light, no sun. There are many varieties of Selagenella, blue, very tiny, decorative.
- Wild mosses are a very useful cover for vermiculite or perlite, although they tend to grow up the glass (burned ground moss, found on rocks) or die off (velvet moss, found on damp, acid soil). If the terrarium is successful, offspring will appear in 1 to 10 years.

* Plants that GROW SLOWLY. These can be trimmed into the shape of miniature trees and shrubs for a landscape effect.
- Bella palm (Neanthe bella). Slow-growing dwarf, good when young.
- False aralia (Dizygotheca elegantissima). Excellent when young.
- Podocarpus. Very slow-growing, good.

* Plants that HAVE SMALL LEAVES.

-- Pilea varieties. Cannot take wet circumstances.
-- Creeping Charlie or English Baby Tears (Pilea nummularifolia). needs enough light or gets etiolated.
-- Baby tears (Helxine) - similar and dreadful without enough light.
-- Artillery plant (Pilea microphylla) Excellent.
-- Aluminum plant varieties: "Friendship Plant',"'Moon Valley etc. Not good. Leaves drop too easily.

* Plants to START in a terrarium, THEN MOVE when they get large.

-- Button Fern.
-- Rex begonia. Start from a single leaf, or part of a leaf with a vein.
-- Small-leaved Rex begonia. Leaf stem (petiole)gets very long, good in tall terrariums.
-- Miniature begonias. Begonia prismaticarpa. Need some sun to initiate blooming, then just good light.
-- Hairy varieties of Rex begonia do not do well in a moist environment.
Check with Begonia Society to get many wonderful varieties. Also African Violet Society for a complete world of gesneriads. Miniature African violets do well in a very tall terrarium, some sun.
- Runners of larger plants. Strawberry begonia (Saxifraga sarmentosa). Variegated varieties usually need more light to make up for lack of chlorophyll in white areas.


-- Pellionia varieties. Red-leaved plants need sunlight to penetrate through red.
-- Fittonia - large leaf, red-veined and dwarf white-veined.
-- Polkadot plant (Hypoestes) Leaves very thin, tend to rot.
-- Bloodleaf (Iresine) Green form OK.
-- Norfolk Island pine. Baby size good, slowgrowing.
-- Asparagus fern. Plumosa baby-size good, sprengeri too big. Trim regularly to keep small.

Credit goes to Diana Mae. I will personally vouch for the fluffy ruffles fern. It's awesome! Stays very nice and small, and looks so cute and fluffy! And do stay away from anything aggressive, like wandering jew and english ivy. They will take over a terrarium in no time.


Closed terrarium info, plus suggestions for plants!
clipped on: 03.29.2011 at 08:17 pm    last updated on: 03.29.2011 at 08:18 pm

How is your post office doing? charging you correct postage?

posted by: littleonefb on 08.17.2010 at 12:12 am in Seed Exchange Forum

In still another attempt at solving the problems with post office clerks charging incorrect prices for bubble envelopes, here is a new thread to try and determine if members are still having problems with the correct postage charges for mailing and receiving bubble envelopes.

Please post here with any info good or bad. Correct prices or incorrect prices, getting clerks to charge the correct price or not.

Please include your location in your post indicating what state you are in and city or town.

If you are reluctant to post your city or town on line, would you please email me through my member page to let me know what city/town you are from and having problems with.

The more info you can provide me, the more info I can then work with, with the post office to try and get this problem finally solved.

Thanks in advance


Here is the chart with the correct info for charges

Bubble envelopes which are empty, or under 3/4" thick are classified as and to be charged as Large Envelopes and referred to as Flats) The contents (seed packs) should be taped in place, so the BE will be uniformly thick, and that the seeds don't shift, and then cause problems with the USPS equipment.


Up to 1 oz=$ .88
Up to 2 OZ=$1.05
Up to 3 OZ=$1.22
Up to 4 OZ=$1.39
Up to 5 OZ=$1.56

Other rates up to 13 OZ can be found at the link below. Anything over 13 OZ will then go as Priority mail (1 LB) and will be $4.80 unless one tells the clerks it is to go Parcel Post.

If there are numerous generous amounts of seeds sent, or if the seeds are bigger, the BE may be more than 3/4" thick, and then will go at Parcel Rate. It is not necessary to tape packets down if it is a bigger bulky envelope over 3/4" thick.

Up to 1 OZ=$1.22
Up to 2 OZ=$1.39
Up to 3 OZ=$1.56
Up to 4 OZ=$1.73
Up to 5 OZ=$1.90
Up to 6 OZ=$2.07


clipped on: 03.04.2011 at 04:03 pm    last updated on: 03.04.2011 at 04:03 pm

RE: Mailing Costs for Bubble Envelopes (BE) (Follow-Up #25)

posted by: chemocurl on 10.19.2009 at 03:55 pm in Seed Exchange Forum

My postman says I owe .78 cents on the envelope. Is my post office ripping me off?
Yes, your Post Office must not be aware that Bubble envelopes that are less than 3/4" think and the contents evenly distributed (as in empty) are to go as Large Envelope Rate. An empty bubble envelope should cost 88 cents.

Per the link below, which you might want to print out and show either your carrier or the Postmaster/mistress, For padded bags (e.g., ReadyPost� "cushion mailer"), when the thickness is 3/4" or less and the item is flat-size and somewhat flexible, the item should be classified and priced as a large envelope. They have been overcharging since May 2007 when shape based pricing first started. Hopefully you can get them straightened out. Please post your experience after you try and tell then it should be a Large Envelope Rate. Thanks!

Sue...startin to twitch.

Here is a link that might be useful: First-Class Mail Fact Sheet -Bulletin 22218(Scroll down to Quick Tips)


clipped on: 03.04.2011 at 04:01 pm    last updated on: 03.04.2011 at 04:01 pm

RE: Newbie question and answer thread!:) (Follow-Up #50)

posted by: chemocurl on 07.26.2008 at 11:12 am in Seed Exchange Forum

No Sudzy...You did it right. The Post Office did it wrong, as they have been doing a lot since First Class Mail went to shape based pricing in May 2007.

If your envelope was under 3/4" think it should have gone for 82 cents (it was 80 before the recent May 2008 increase.)

I guess it would be less expensive to mail your bubble inside of a regular envelope. Than it wouldn't have to be hand stamped and no extra cost.
No, they would tell you that it had to be hand stamped and that it was oversized to be a First Class Letter.

If it is under 3/4 inches thick, they are to be charging Large Envelope rate (82cents for the first OZ). They are still overcharging many for parcel rate.

Please post here the street address, city, and zip of the PO that is overcharging. I will then forward the info on to the Consumer Affairs Manager for my area, who will personally 'attempt' to get the word to someone who can and will inform the window clerks what the 'correct' charges are.

I would also, if I were you, write and mail a letter to the Post Master General at the address at the link above.
Maybe he needs to be made aware that this is still on ongoing problem.

Thanks for posting and letting us know there are some Post Offices out there that are still not on board and are still overcharging the customer. There are BIG, BIG problems with the USPS that employees in management are not doing their job of getting the word down the line, and that there is no system of evaluating the employees and how well they know and do their jobs. 14 months is more than enough time for all employees at all levels of the USPS to have gotten familiar with the new (?) shape based pricing that went into effect in May 2007!
That window clerk does not know how to do her job right...that is charge correctly.
That Post Master/Mistress is not doing his/her job right that his employees are not doing their job right.
That Post Master's supervisor is not doing his job right, in that he is unaware that the Post Master is not doing his job right...and on up the line.
It really is not the poor window clerks fault. It is more the fault of the Post Master NOT doing his job, and that is seeing that his employees are doing their jobs correctly.



post office, self addressed etc
clipped on: 03.04.2011 at 03:56 pm    last updated on: 03.04.2011 at 03:57 pm

RE: Newbie question and answer thread!:) (Follow-Up #14)

posted by: agirlsgirl on 01.13.2008 at 12:59 am in Seed Exchange Forum

Hi Susan,I dug up some links that maybe of some help for you!:)

Also we have an awesome Vine Forum here,I will include the link for that also! Good Luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Vines Forum


Potentially useful info! Woo!
clipped on: 03.04.2011 at 03:44 pm    last updated on: 03.04.2011 at 03:44 pm