A Discussion about Houseplant Soils (long post)

Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

This is Chirita Dream Time. She looks fine now but I can assure you that, even with wicking, I will have to start over with leaves and growing new plants from all my chiritas as I overwater them wicking (once again a soil problem)..........

i won't post any more pics but i do so want my plants to last more than 6 or 8 months (I don't mind repotting........just don't want them rotting)

Thumbnail by gessiegail
Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

Do you use well or municipal water? Call your water provider & get a water analysis from them that tells you the metal content and the TDS. Why are you wicking? Do you know it quickly raises the level of TDS (salts) in soils and makes it more difficult for plants to take up water - no matter how wet the soil is? See my last two posts above.

If it's outside these ranges, you'll need some remedial action:

Desirable Ranges for Problem Water Parameters
Distributed by Dr. John C. Peterson, June 29, 1999 at American Bonsai Society Symposium at Ohio State University:
�� pH: 5.0 to 6.5
�� Soluble Salts (Conductivity): 0 to l.5 mmhos per cm (1 mmho is equal to 1000 umhos)
�� Calcium: 0 to 120 ppm (1 ppm is equal to 1 mg per liter)
�� Magnesium: 0 to 24 ppm
�� Sodium: 0 to 50 ppm
�� Chloride: 0 to 140 ppm
�� Boron: 0 to 0.8 ppm
�� Fluoride: 0 to 1 ppm
�� Sulfate: 0 to 240 ppm
�� Alkalinity: 0 to 100 mg per liter CaCO3

Al

Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

First step then is to have water tested. I no longer use a well and am now on city water. I will copy and paste what you have written. Great, I have something to start with........the water. My brother is a farmer but i don't know that he actually had the water tested for the veggie garden. I will.
Thanks so much.
will be back with results
I have been letting about 20 gallons of water sit overnight before I use it (why? I don't know. I just figured the chlorine in it might evaporate somehow)

Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

i don't know if this is appropriate to post pics here but I so want to learn what to do. All these african violets are sitting on top wicked but with no water in the reservoir because they won't dry up on the bottom of each pot.

The reservoirs have been empty for almost 2 days and the pots are still heavy to pick up which lets me know the roots are not getting enough air yet.

I moved the heaviest ones to this one gro light stand so I can watch carefully.

Thumbnail by gessiegail
Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

there are a total of four pictures

Thumbnail by gessiegail
Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

next to last pic

Thumbnail by gessiegail
Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

the last of these that are too wet.

Thumbnail by gessiegail
Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

I am so grateful to find this thread as I didn't realize how important it was for these plants to dry out for the sake of the root system. I have tray after tray of avs that are too wet. Thank you for taking your time to try and help us. I had decided it was a mealy bug problem in the soil.

Now I know it is all about soil and water drainage.

Thumbnail by gessiegail
Waterville, VT(Zone 4b)

Al,

I have been lurking in your soil threads for some time now, and I am a firm believer in most all of your soil findings. I have always been a very successful container, mostly indoor tropical plant, grower. I have mostly always used commercial mixes like Pro-Mix, Miracle Grow etc., but part of the reason that I have had a great deal of success is that I've always been a frequent repotter, never going more than 9 months without repotting. I have always had fresh soil before the peat collapsed and the plant started going downhill. I am quickly coming over to your way of thinking though.

You seemed to not care for Gessiegails wicking method, but most all commercial growers of gesneriads and African Violets wick. They have to for many reasons, they don't want to get water on the leaves and spot them, but the main reason they wick is for time considerations. They could never water all those plants from the top - it would simply be to time consuming. If you go to the Rob's Violet Barn website you can see how he wicks everything from the bottom using huge sheets of wicking material. My question to you is does your mix work when being used in this manner.

Doug

Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

Doug, that is the very question I am wanting to know the answer to. Thanks so much.

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

Doug & Gail - This is what I wrote in my opening paragraph Iím 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 the sake of grower convenience - even if unknowingly. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Probably none of us can afford the time it would take to give our plants the very best care possible, and we need to decide on an individual basis how much attention we can pay our plants. Wicking provides a constant supply of water that may or may not contain dissolved solids from fertilizers, but it DOES contain lots of dissolved solids that naturally occur and from what's added to the water supply. As water evaporates from the soil, ALL these solids that are not taken up by the plant remain in the soils.

The lower the total dissolved solids (TDS) the easier it is for the plant to take up water and whatever is dissolved in it. Distilled water has a 0 level of TDS and plants take it up easiest. The trouble is, it also has 0 nutrient value, so plants starve unless you fertilize. Our job is to keep the right mix of nutrients (refer to the chart above) in the soil water, but at a level of TDS so plants can easily absorb water & nutrients - somewhere between adequate and luxury levels. If we have too many nutrients, it upsets the plants osmotic process and the plant dies of thirst, no matter how wet the soil. The accumulating salts in soils that are wicked, add substantially to the level of TDS, while contributing nothing (or very little) to the nutrient supply. When you DO add fertilizer, the TDS it supplies, along with the TDS already accumulated in the soil makes problems - especially in winter.

If you are wick watering, you should flush soils thoroughly at least once every month - 2 weeks is better. You can see that grower convenience often comes at a price, but if you take the necessary action & flush soils occasionally, you can get by with a minimum of reduction in vitality.

In answer to your wicking question - Yes, you may need to tinker with the best method, but these soils are wickable.

Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

Thanks for your patience and the explanation again.........
gail
gesneriad lover and grower

Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

I finally found a Miracle Gro Liquid of 12-4-8. The problem is the cost. It comes in a quart for 10.95 at KMart and I used the whole bottle following the directions and I haven't even finished the pots of plants on the front porch.

I will have to keep searching for a 3-1-2 for the outside plants. It will be great for indoor.
But, the cost is prohibitive for the outside.

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

S-l-o-w d-o-w-n, Gail. ;o) You need to gain some kind of understanding about what effect things have on plants or you'll do more harm than good. (BTW - I paid $4.97 per quart for the MG 12-4-8 at Menard's. I just bought 8 quarts & that will last me for YEARS. I have LOTS of plants, too.) If you've been wicking consistently, and you applied a full recommended dosage of the fertilizer on your plants, you may have created a major problem. The dissolved solids that are already in the soil, + dissolved solids in the fertilizer application need to be much lower in winter than summer. I use the 12-4-8 almost exclusively, and I fertilize at every watering, but I only use about 12-15 drops per gallon of water. I can do that with a fast soil that gets flushed at each watering. Instead of doing everything in a rush, how about if we develop a plan to get you set up with a basic, easily duplicated soil that works, and then we can deal with your nutrient program? I think you're missing LOTs of important info in your haste, but maybe I'm wrong. What do you think?

I didn't say that to make fun of you at all. When I talk to you guys, try to imagine we're all friends that would never say anything to intentionally hurt anyone. I think your enthusiasm is WONDERFUL! I wish everyone I talk to about plants had your desire to do well by their charges. ;o)
Also, I didn't recommend the 12-4-8 for outdoor growing, though it's prolly a very good choice in most areas. I would tend to NOT recommend a fertilizer for outdoor soils unless I knew what was lacking in them. E.g. - I don't need ANY P in my soils because I'm in an old flood plane & there is plenty of P in the soil in the form of old water creature bones, so I could easily use something with no P at all. Container soils are different & I'm concentrating on those here.

Finally, 3-1-2 is a ratio, not the blend %s of fertilizer components. Both 12-4-8 and 24-8-16 are fertilizers with a 3-1-2 ratio. ;o) I use it because it's the closest blend short of a custom mix for the major nutrients in the %s that plants actually USE. There is a huge advantage in that - especially in winter. I think I need to have a talk with you & settle you down! ;o) Lol

Al

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

If I had 12-4-8 and used it twice as strong, would that be like using 24-8-16? I mean, are they just talking dilution?

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

Yes, exactly.

Al

Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

I am glad I only used it in the house on 2 permanest trays and I didn't put but 1/2 the recommended dosage.

The plants on the front porch were planted in Sunshine mix 1 when they were planted in their pots, so I don't think I am going to hurt them (I will let you know) (LOL). I used 1 tablespoon per gallon of water.

The plants on the front porch haven't been fertilized since I put them out there for winter about a month ago. When the porch was just a screened in porch and not wrapped with poly, I would just use a foliar feed and then use Bayer Advanced Tree for mealy bugs on the tropicals like Coleus, Jatropha, etc. I haven't done that recently as it lasts for a long time.

Don't worry about me killing anything.......still smiling as I do tend to get overly enthusiastic about anything new and different. These plants on the front porch like hibiscus, hoyas, philodedrons, lots of begonias, etc. are all in big pots.

Do ya think I am going to find them dead......
*******edited to say that some are planted in a combination of Miracle Gro potting soil and perlite. I forgot those.

This message was edited Dec 20, 2007 10:03 PM

Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

I am totally open to the soil mix I should be using in the pots outside, but I had to fertilize anyway this week (our temps have been in the high 70's this week). So I just tried the new one. The directions said for outdoor plants use 1 tablespoon per gallon. Whenever I do fertilize I try to make sure that the plants are not totally dry.
Thanks

Brownsville, KY(Zone 6a)

Hello Al,
I'm very interested in your soil recipes (gritty and less gritty one). I grow mostly philodendrons, hoyas, cacti, and succulents. I've always used a very gritty mineral mix for the c & s, but mostly a peat/coir mix for the tropicals. I had never considered using a mix with a higher mineral content for tropicals prior to your thread.

I have the following ingredients on hand: mini pine bark nuggets, perlite, chicken grit (crushed granite), and sphagnum peat. I would like to try your houseplant mix in the spring when I repot. I would like to ask about the addition of lime and/or gypsum to this mix. I know there are different types of lime. Which one would you recommend?

A few other questions:

(1) Are you familiar with a product called Oil-Dri? It consists of small particles of clay. Could it be used as a substitute for turface? I have not been able to locate Turface, Haydite, or 'Play Ball' in my area.

(2) Do you have a favorite CRF or ones that you would recommend?

(3) Would you please list a source(s) for micro-nutrient powder?

(4) Are you familiar with this home brew recipe? Pros? Cons? Any way of gauging a NPK ratio for it?

12 oz beer
1 cup Epsom salts
1/2 cup ammonia
2 cup water
1/2 cup molasses (I use black strap)
4 tbs bloom booster
vit B12 ( 250-500mg)

Use 1 tablespoon per gallon of warm water.

(5)Would you recommend the addition of earthworm castings to your houseplant recipe?

Off topic for this thread, but I really enjoyed your article in the latest STEMMA about Super-Thrive.

Shirley

Kennebunk, ME(Zone 5a)

Awesome questions Shirley, I can't wait to read Al's reply. I cling to every word he writes and can't wait to make my new soil this spring :)

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

Your recipe in #4 looks like one of those Jerry Baker tonics...my personal opinion on those is that you can generally get better nutrition for your plants by using something that was designed to be used on plants rather than mixing up stuff you have around the house that was designed for other purposes. There are usually things in those ingredients that can help plants, but they come along with other things that at best have no function whatsoever or at worst can hurt the plant (like the alcohol in the beer for example). I'll be interested to see what Al says though--if he believes in those things I might just change my mind on them!

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

Shirley - my choice of liming materials depends on two things - the pH preferences of the plant I'm growing, and the estimated pH of the soil mix I'm making. Dolomitic lime adds both Ca and Mg in approximately the right proportions, but it raises pH. Since the pH of the 'not-too-gritty' mix is fairly low (usually in the 5.7 - 6.2 range) I can afford to use the lime, & soil pH still ends up south of neutral. I can't do that with the gritty mix. For that, the pH comes in around 6.5 - 6.8, so I use gypsum (doesn't raise pH) to add Ca to the soil. The problem is that since the gypsum adds no Mg, I need to add it by using small amounts of Epsom salts in the fertilizer solution.

1) If you call Profile Corp @ (800) 207-6457 and ask who distributes Turface MVP near you, you'll get a list of suppliers. If, by chance, the suppliers say they're wholesale only (they rarely do) ask them who they distribute to near you & you'll find it.

Designing a soil from durable ingredients that you can replicate time after time will be a BIG help in getting consistent results from your plants. The Turface is worth looking for - honest. ;o)

2) I don't really have a favorite CRF. I'm currently using a 19-4-8 German import that I buy in 50 lb bags from a wholesaler. I don't always use CRF in my batches of soil. I exclude it in any soils I make that will be used for repotting after around June 1. I don't like the fertilizer releasing unnecessary salts into soils while plants are quiet or dormant, so I like the fertilizer to be depleted by the time plants go dormant (I have lots of temperate bonsai) or quiescent.

3) I don't really know where you can buy the powders in less than 50 lb bags. I buy both STEM and Micromax from a wholesaler across the state, but it's very expensive at around $90 for 50 lbs. They do pretty much the same thing, except one is soluble (the STEM) and the other isn't. STEM gets mixed into fertilizer water when you fertilize, and Micromax gets incorporated into soils as you make them. There are other products that will supply the minors too, if you look around for them.

4) It really does sound like a Jerry Baker recipe. The trouble with using something like this is you have so little control over anything. EVERYTHING that is dissolved in water becomes part of the total dissolved solids (TDS). When the level of TDS gets too high, plants cannot absorb water OR nutrients. So, if you 'use up your allotment' of TDS on one or two nutrients, your plant can show severe nutritional deficiencies, even if the level of TDS is in the optimum range. On the other hand, if you fertilize so the plants DO get the right mix of nutrients, the fertilizer, in addition to the other concoction, could easily raise the TDS so high the plant cannot absorb water OR nutrients.

See the chart above to see how plants use nutrients. The chart is what greenhouse operations (with a little more specific-to-the-plant refinement) base their customized fertigation programs on. It just does NOT make any sense to supply a plant with 50 times more P (e.g.) than it could use, because it could easily become impossible to supply the other nutrients and still keep the level of TDS within bounds.

5) I never use worm castings or compost in soils. They offer nothing that can't be had with a number of other micronutrient additives that don't have a negative impact on structure/drainage/aeration. I usually find that those who insist on using these ingredients do not yet understand the clear delineation between garden and container culture. They are very different, with container culture being much closer to hydroponics than growing in the earth. Worm castings and compost (IMHO) are best left to the garden and flower beds.

Glad you liked the article in the STEMMA publication, Shirley - Thank you. ;o)

Al



Brownsville, KY(Zone 6a)

Al,
Thank you for taking time to reply to my questions. :D I will contact Profile Corp. after the holidays. Hopefully, they will be able to supply some suppliers/distributors not too far from me. I'd really like to incorporate Turface in my mix.

I came across the home brew recipe on the hoya forum. I was concerned about the large amount of Epsom salts and what effect elevated salinity levels would have on TDS levels. I'm going to steer clear of it and stick to using an all purpose fertilizer (12-4-8).

Your knowledge and willingness to share it in helping others is greatly appreciated.

Shirley

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

Yes, Shirley. I think you'd do well to leave that mix alone & go with something that provides a definitive gauge of the analysis. I really think the 3:1:2 ratio is an excellent starting (and often staying) point for a very high % of the plants we grow, and of course, your 12-4-8 fits that idea nicely. I also think you're right in assessing that @ 1 cup of MgSO4 in the mix you noted above, the Mg to N ratio will be extremely & unnecessarily out of proportion.

Al

Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

So, am I correct in thinking that I do not need to add any magnesium sulfate to my fertilizer? (on hoyas)
Sorry for being a bit confused, Al. I just add epsom salts once a month or every 6 weeks? That would also only be about 1/2 cup per plant outside.
(My hoyas don't have to come in for the winter)

Waterville, VT(Zone 4b)

Turface MVP is available on Ebay by doing a search, but the shipping is kind of prohibitive. A five gallon bucket (30lbs) is $22 and shipping is $27.95

Doug

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

Gail - I really cannot tell you exactly what you need to do for fertilizer unless I know what went into the soil. If you're using a bagged soil, it was likely pH adjusted with dolomite, which supplies both Ca and Mg in roughly the right proportions, so you prolly would NOT need to supplement with MgSO4. If you are making your own soils, you will need to supply a Ca source - either dolomite or gypsum. If you use dolomite, it's unlikely you will need to supplement the Mg with Epsom salts, but if you use gypsum, you will. Usually, neither Ca or Mg is supplied in the liquid fertilizer blends we use.

Note that, since fertilizers are usually applied as a % of N, Mg should only be added at a rate of 1/7 - 1/20 that of N, depending on the specific needs of the plant. Anything else is just waste & raises the level of TDS unnecessarily.

Al

Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

Thanks
gail

Brownsville, KY(Zone 6a)

I have located a source for soluble trace elements in smaller quantities at this site. They also carry turface. The company is listed in Garden Watchdog and has a good rating.

http://www.yardgeek.com/fertilizer_view_prod.cfm?SKU=62750

http://www.yardgeek.com/other_view_prod.cfm?SKU=3660

Waterville, VT(Zone 4b)

Thanks for that link Cicada. I wonder what shipping on a 50lb bag of Turface would run?

Brownsville, KY(Zone 6a)

Hoya_24,
I'm afraid the shipping would exceed the cost of the turface. :( I'm still looking into some other sources for it. While searching for turface, I found a posting on the bonsai forum where some folks had located it at Home Depot in their area. Profile Corp. also make a product called 'clay soil conditioner' which is very comparable to turface, if not the same product. Schultz makes an 'aquatic plant soil' which looks the same as turface and can be found occasionally at Wal-mart and Ace Hardware.

Another source for turface is Roberts Flower Supply (60 cents/lb.) in Ohio. Here's the link to it:

http://www.orchidmix.com/cat2.htm

Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

Cicada....you are certainly doing your homework. Thanks

Waterville, VT(Zone 4b)

Al,

In your basic houseplant mix, are you mixing the ingredients by weight or by volume? I'm guessing weight, because a bushel of Turface would weigh much more than a bushel of pine bark.

Doug

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

I start with equal parts by volume, of Turface, crushed granite, and pine or fir bark, then I modify it (if necessary, but it's usually not) to suit each individual planting.

Al

North Augusta, ON

Don't you find it dries out really fast?

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

Yes, it does. I also find that to be of great benifit to plants, if not to their owners. ;o) There is often a price to be paid for convenience and gain to be had by a little extra effort. We just need to decide individually what we're willing to do to improve vitality and eliminate many of the day to day problems associated with commercially prepared soils. You'll find me often reminding growers that their own convenience and optimum plant vitality are often mutually exclusive.

Al

Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

threegardeners and Al,
For whatever it is worth, the president of the AV society told me that turface was tried by some of her friends with the gesneriad family and they experienced problems with it. I think probably, like Al said, everyone has to decided for himself if he is willing to put in a lot more work if they want to use this product.

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

I wasn't referring specifically to Turface when I commented about the extra effort. What I meant was that using any fast draining, well-aerated soil will require some sacrifice of grower convenience because it requires more frequent irrigation. The payoff, though, is better aeration and gas exchange at the rootzone because of the more frequent irrigation, which translates in the end to better plant vitality and additional fringe benefits like being able to water properly at all times of the year and no appreciable salts build-up. When all is said & done, your work load is often less, even though you water more, because increased plant vitality eliminates so many other time consuming maladies associated with inappropriate soils. I would rather water three times per week than deal with unhealthy plants that I only need water once weekly.

Turface is pretty inert. It has a neutral pH, an excellent CEC, excellent internal porosity as well as being an excellent amendment for promotion of o/a media porosity, so I find it difficult to imagine that anyone could encounter problems specifically with Turface as a soil ingredient, unless the mix itself was inappropriate from the start.

Plants do not care what the soil is made from, as long as it is not phytotoxic, holds the right amount of air and water, and can deliver the appropriate nutrients through our fertilizer program. Having become extremely familiar with both the chemical and physical properties of Turface, I can say that in virtually all cases where problems are encountered while using Turface as a soil ingredient, that the problems are far more likely to be attributed to grower error than any problem that originates with Turface itself.

Al

Waterville, VT(Zone 4b)

Is it easy to tell when to water with your mix? Many times I judge on whether a plant needs water by the weight of the pot. I'm thinking that your mix weighs far more than the commercial mixes that most of us are used to, which could present a problem until a person adjusts to the weight of your soil mix.

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

It's no more difficult to know when to water the gritty mix than it would be with any other soils. The beauty of using a mix that doesn't support a perched water table, or that supports only a minimal amount of perched water, is that it is very difficult to over-water. Even thorough watering leaves the soil well-wetted, but not saturated and/or soggy. The important factor is how much air is in the soil when it is at 'container capacity' (a hort term that refers to a soil that has been fully saturated and has just stopped draining) and not how much water it holds.

Al

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