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Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XX

tapla
7 years ago

If you find value in the information I've set down in this post and feel there is anything pertaining to the topic that should be added or gone into in more detail, please contribute your suggestions. My goal was to offer soil-related information with the potential to help you increase the reward you get in return for your efforts. What might I do to increase the value of this offering?

Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XXcolor>size>
I first posted this thread back in March of '05. So far, it has reached the maximum number of posts GW allows to a single thread nineteen times, 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 the length of my list of acquaintances with similar growing interests. The forum and email exchanges that stem so often from the subject are in themselves enough to make me hope the subject continues to pique interest, and the exchanges provide helpful information. Most of the motivation for posting this thread another time comes from the reinforcement of hundreds of participants over the years that strongly suggests the information provided in good-spirited collective exchange has made a significant difference in the quality of their growing experience. I'll provide links to some of the more recent of the previous dozen threads and nearly 3,000 posts at the end of what I have written - just in case you have interest in reviewing some of the excellent conversations we've had on the subject. Thank you for taking the time to examine this topic - I hope that any/all who read it, take at least something interesting and helpful from it. I know it's long. My hope is that you find it worth the read, and the time you invest results in a significantly improved growing experience. Since there are many questions about soils appropriate for use in containers, I'll post basic mix recipes later, in case any would like to try the soil. The recipes will follow information that explains a concept that almost certainly represents the largest step forward a conventional container grower can take at any one time. The most important thing you can take from what I've written is an understanding of the concept explained here. I'm sure I'll stress that point more than once, and hope that as you start reading, you'll work toward attaining the ability to make your soils work FOR you, instead of against you.

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

Is Soil X a 'Good' Soil?size>color>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Container Soils - Water Movement & Retentionsize>color>

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

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

Consider this if you will:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I always remain cognizant of these physical principles whenever I build a soil. I have not used a commercially prepared soil in many years, preferring to build a soil or amend one of my 2 basic mixes to suit individual plantings. I keep many ingredients at the ready for building soils, but the basic building process usually starts with conifer bark and perlite. Sphagnum peat plays a secondary role in my container soils because it breaks down too quickly to suit me, and when it does, it impedes drainage and reduces aeration. Size matters. Partially composted conifer bark fines (pine is easiest to find and least expensive) works best in the following recipes, followed by uncomposted bark in the Bark fines of pine, fir or hemlock, are excellent as the primary component of your soils. The lignin contained in bark keeps it rigid and the rigidity provides air-holding pockets in the root zone far longer than peat or compost mixes that too quickly break down to a soup-like consistency. Conifer bark also contains suberin, a lipid sometimes referred to as nature's preservative. Suberin, more scarce as a presence in sapwood products and hardwood bark, dramatically slows the decomposition of conifer bark-based soils. It contains highly varied hydrocarbon chains and the microorganisms that turn peat to soup have great difficulty cleaving these chains - it retains its structure.

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

The basic soils I use ....

The 5:1:1 mix:

5 parts pine bark fines, dust - 3/8 (size is important
1 part sphagnum peat (not reed or sedge peat please)
1-2 parts perlite (coarse, if you can get it)
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 screened pine bark, Turface, and crushed granite.

The gritty mix:

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

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

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

Post XIX

Post XVIII

Post XVII

Post XVI

Post XV

Post XIV

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

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

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

Finally, if you are primarily into houseplants, you can find an Overview of the Basics that should provide help in avoiding the most common pitfalls.

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

Al

Comments (150)

  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    And just to corroborate....this Jade is growing in nothing but Turface MVP (screened). I just don't know how the roots are getting water at all!

    Josh

  • drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago
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    Original Author
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I'm afraid you've fallen back into the habit of asking us to accept someone's advertising hype as a form of truth. Do you remember how often you were reminded that advertising takes a lot of liberty with the truth? It's as likely someone contacted the growers and paid them to endorse the product as it is the growers actually USED the product. Keep in mind that this IS the container gardening forum, and these gourds weren't grown in a pot. No one disputes there is the potential for mycorrhizal partnerships to be of value when growing in the ground. No one is really actively disagreeing there is no value in containers, though I choose not to use them for reasons I've outlined.

    Al

  • drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    This how important fungi are. I dare you to watch it.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAw_Zzge49c#t=450

    Here is a link that might be useful: For the chemical heads here

  • tapla
    Original Author
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Took the dare. Wasn't impressed. You're drifting from the topic. How was the video pertinent in any way to the topic? What, in that video, can we use to make us better container gardeners? It's very obvious that MANY container growers who pay no heed whatsoever to courting 'the microherd' are able to regularly produce beautiful and productive containerized plants. I've decided that depending on or trying to utilize mycorrhizal fungi doesn't offer me any advantage that I can see. When conditions are right, they appear with no help from me. When they aren't right, they go away. I'm judicious about making sure my soil structure will provide an environment that supports healthy root systems, and I don't worry about nutrition - monkey easy - I've got that covered. My plants have no trouble getting the P they need because I FERTILIZE. When we DO fertilize, mycorrhizal populations lose much of their effectiveness. This is a chemical thing. The plant knows, through its own chemical messengers, when it's to the plants benefit to form symbiotic relationships with the fungi and when it's not. (Read the literature - it's there).

    You fertilize. You fertilize with P. You use a soil that isn't conducive to maintaining an established mycorrhizal population; therefore, I doubt you get anywhere near the advantage you claim as reward for your efforts, if you even made the efforts.

    Al

  • tapla
    Original Author
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Took the dare. Wasn't impressed. You're drifting from the topic. How was the video pertinent in any way to the topic? What, in that video, can we use to make us better container gardeners? It's very obvious that MANY container growers who pay no heed whatsoever to courting 'the microherd' are able to regularly produce beautiful and productive containerized plants. I've decided that depending on or trying to utilize mycorrhizal fungi doesn't offer me any advantage that I can see. When conditions are right, they appear with no help from me. When they aren't right, they go away. I'm judicious about making sure my soil structure will provide an environment that supports healthy root systems, and I don't worry about nutrition - monkey easy - I've got that covered. My plants have no trouble getting the P they need because I FERTILIZE. When we DO fertilize, mycorrhizal populations lose much of their effectiveness. This is a chemical thing. The plant knows, through its own chemical messengers, when it's to the plants benefit to form symbiotic relationships with the fungi and when it's not. (Read the literature - it's there).

    You fertilize. You fertilize with P. You use a soil that isn't conducive to maintaining an established mycorrhizal population; therefore, I doubt you get anywhere near the advantage you claim as reward for your efforts, if you even made the efforts.

    Al

  • andrew1981
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hello everyone ,my name is Andrew I just joined this site today in reference to Al's gritty mix. I did purchase all of the ingredients and have mixed them already in 5 gallon Home Depot buckets. My question is
    1. I want to maybe go the route of more water retention with a 3 4 2, but I already mixed it is there a way to add some more to the already mixed 1 1 1. Is there a certain ratio pertaining to already mixed version to make it 3 4 2.
    2. Also in regards to fertilizing I have the foliage pro is it better to fertilize every watering or every week. I would rather do once a week do I do 1/8 a gallon or 1/4 if I chose once a week.

    So sorry for the noob questions.mostly I will be doing bonsai plants only indoors under grow lights. Al if you would be so kind to chime in or anyone else with experience in bonsai only plants.
    Thank you so much all.

  • tapla
    Original Author
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hi, Andrew ..... and welcome to GW. I'm guessing you've been lurking for at least a little while - I think I can speak for everyone when I say it's good to see you join in.

    First, don't worry about questions you might feel are simple. I guarantee there are others probably wondering the same things you wonder about, and are just waiting for someone brave enough to ask. FWIW - setting aside the concern about being embarrassed makes others want to help. We were all beginners once, and most of aren't afraid to remind those that forget about that fact.

    First, you can fix the water retention issue by adding a little more Turface and about half as much bark as Turface. You can also simply add a little more screened Turface. You did screen the ingredients?

    I'm wondering where you live, and what makes you feel you need the extra water retention? I grow about 200 plants in a 1:1:1 ratio. Any deviation from that ratio is in the direction opposite of more water retention.

    In the winter, I fertilize everything I water with 1/4-1/2 tsp/gallon of water. I'm guessing only because I dilute the FP in its storage container with a little distilled water so everything stays in solution when it gets cool. I also overflow a 1/4 tsp measuring spoon by about half when I add it to the water. Not all plants get watered on exactly the same schedule, so fertilizing every timer I water is easiest for me. You can do it whatever way is easiest for you.

    I can't really tell you exactly how much fertilizer to use if you water once weekly. If a plant only needs a 1/wk watering, you'll want to use more fertilizer for that than a plant that gets watered 2/wk. That's why I use the same strength for everything and fertilize with every watering for my plants indoors under lights.

    You'll find the gritty mix an excellent medium for bonsai. Bonsai is my focus, and practically all I've learned about plants is an outgrowth of my pursuit of proficiency at bonsai. I've been using the gritty mix and experimenting with other soil formulations for 20+ years. If I'd found something better during that time, I'd be touting whatever I thought was better, but so far the gritty mix is the most productive soil I've grown in.

    Al

  • andrew1981
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Ty so much for the quick response Al. I live I New Jersey. As you say the 1 1 1 mix I will stay with. I have screened everything and I have been reading very post like a madman heheh.im actually starting my bonsai experiments with chilie peppers. They are called bonchis.you get a quicker growth out of them so I can practice my bonsai pruning methods before taking on more expensive type of plants hehe.in regards to fertilizing I meant that I would water just normally but fetilize let's say every Saturday. I am just not sure considering the draining if I fetilize with every watering that I will be wasting a lot of ferts.not sure if that is a better route or to do it as you do.

  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hi, Andrew, I began growing peppers in 2008, shortly after I saw the excellent bonchi page by Fatalii. When I learned that all peppers are perennial, I thought it would be a great challenge to see how long I could keep a pepper alive. I still have the first pepper I ever grew, a Hungarian Wax that is going into its 7th year.

    Anyhow, over the Winter I fertilize once every 1 - 2 weeks, typically at 1/2 strength. As March comes around and the plants increase vitality, I begin increasing the strength of the Foliage Pro.

    Josh

  • andrew1981
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hey Josh, that's the same page I read about the bonchi. Seems like a cool idea since they grow a lot faster and it seems those are great to practice some skills on for bonsai. Do you have your peppers in the 1 1 1 gritty mix also? So I am assuming you just water when needed then fertilize like you said weekly or bi-weekly in the winter then increase after March.

  • the_yard_guy
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hello Andrew. Welcome to the group.

    As for watering/fertilizing container plants I'm not in the same league knowledge-wise as Al and Josh, so I'd follow their advice on this subject. I grow small trees in containers and they are now dormant for the season. I stopped fertilizing them in early October.

    Here in the upper Midwest we're in a very early cold period, with snow and temps well below normal. It was 15F here yesterday morning. Knowing this cold spell was coming, and not knowing what weather was coming after it, I decided to water all of my container trees heavily. They were completely saturated a few days before the cold arrived. Now the container soils are beginning to freeze. Unless we get a period of warm weather after this cold I won't be actually watering them again until spring.

    During the winter I do what Al suggested, namely bring the trees inside an unheated garage and simply toss some snow on them every few weeks. Trying to add liquid water or fertilizer to frozen containers is useless.

    Best of luck in your soil building and watering/fertilizing.

    TYG

  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I use a 5-1-1 mix for my peppers, actually. Cheaper, easier, and gets replaced twice a season, basically.

    Josh

  • andrew1981
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Do you believe the bonchi peepers would be okay in the 1 1 1 mix. As my previous post I asked all about moisture retention I am not too sure if peepers prefer more moisture and if I should alter the mix.whats your take on it josh.

  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    They'll be fine in either 1 1 1 or 5 1 1 mix.
    Consider the size of the container, which is very important. I downsize my peppers to .71-gallon (#1 nursery can) containers, which means that the volume of mix is sure to dry out in timely fashion. It also makes it easier to keep the root-zone warm. Peppers don't mind moisture, as long as the roots aren't cold.

    Also consider how actively the plants are growing. If you're doing legit bonchi, then you'll have supplemental lights on the plants and you'll keep them in a vital state throughout the Winter.

    Josh

  • andrew1981
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hey josh one more question if you don't mind. The 5 1 1 mix you are doing, does that use the peAt or the turface, I noticed some people were using turface instead of peat. Also do you use osmocote in your peppers and supplement with FP. If you use osmocote which version and NpK ratio. Thank you for all your help.

  • andrew1981
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I think I ran into another problem I'm germinating some pepper seeds.i have seedling mat for heAt I decided to test the temp in the soil it was about. 102 degrees.im buying a temp regulator for the mat but my question is are all those seeds now dead or cooked?

  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hello! I typed out a long response this morning, but lost it....

    My 5-1-1 is a "gritty 5-1-1" - instead of the straight peat, I use a quality potting mix (which is peat-based). I also like to incorporate additional grit for structure, durability, drainage, and aeration - grit like red lava rock, Turface, pumice, or additional perlite.

    Yes, I add Osmocote 19-6-12 in the 4-month slow release, and then I supplement every 1 - 2 weeks with Foliage Pro.

    I just whacked my Hungarian Wax down yesterday. I hope she survives another Winter.

    Josh

  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    After the pruning:

  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    And then root-pruned and re-potted:

  • rina_Ontario,Canada 5a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Josh

    Ouch! Such a nice plant....I understand that it needs to be cut for winter....I will start a thread to ask few questions - don't want to do it on this one since it is not about soil.

    Rina

    ps: looks good pruned & repotted!

    This post was edited by rina_ on Mon, Nov 17, 14 at 20:29

  • andrewraz
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    This topic has been quiet for a while. Time for a question to prompt some discussion.

    On a more theoretical level than practical, would ground up pine cones be something that could be used in place of pine bark itself? It wouldn't be very practical because of the amount of work it would take, I think, to produce 'pine cone fines.' Notwithstanding the processing considerations, would they work as well as bark?

  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I don't think they would work.
    Not only do they break down sooner, but they have a fibrous structure on the inside. But more importantly, I think the cone might have chemical properties that wouldn't be good for potting mix. I have no evidence of that....just a hunch.

    Josh

  • drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I have no evidence of that....just a hunch.

    Well that tells us nothing at all, wow!
    The dangerous compounds(to plants) in pine are all water soluble, so wash them first.
    I used a pine product yesterday on my blackberry vines "Pinene" it is found in pine resin. I use it to stop desiccation of my bramble canes. it I also one of the best stickers-surfactants you can use for pest sprays. Fungicides and insecticides will stay on plant wind, rain or shine. Works great with BT. I use Nu Film 17 100% pinene.

  • andrewraz
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Josh, thank you for your response. I just wondered if the cones would have a similar makeup as bark, and might have comparable amount of tannins in it (or whatever the chemical is that slows pine bark decomposition). It's merely theoretical, as I think it would take a lot of effort to get a workable amount.

    Drew: Thank you for your response. I'll look into those.
    As a friend, I need to say that your initial sarcastic comment was just unkind and rude. Humbly regard others as more important than yourself, and do nothing out of selfishness or vainglory. Your kindness will win friends and allies; rudeness will will only make enemies.
    Blessings upon you, my friend.

  • tapla
    Original Author
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Andrew - I know your comments were directed elsewhere, but I wanted to add that I didn't think anything of Josh's "hunch comment" because the hunches of knowledgeable gardeners more often than not turn out to be valid, even while statements presented as fact by less informed gardeners turn out to be invalid. I think the important thing to note about how Josh worded his reply is, he made sure you knew it was a hunch. IOW, he is smart enough to qualify his answers so he doesn't damage his own credibility. That type of reply, as far as I'm concerned, is preferable to the error filled statements presented as fact we often see here and there on the forums. People tend naturally to trust growers who don't carelessly operate at beyond the limits of their knowledge, and who know how and when to qualify their answers.

    Al

  • tapla
    Original Author
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Andrew - I know your comments were directed elsewhere, but I wanted to add that I didn't think anything of Josh's "hunch comment" because the hunches of knowledgeable gardeners more often than not turn out to be valid, even while statements presented as fact by less informed gardeners turn out to be invalid. I think the important thing to note about how Josh worded his reply is, he made sure you knew it was a hunch. IOW, he is smart enough to qualify his answers so he doesn't damage his own credibility. That type of reply, as far as I'm concerned, is preferable to the error filled statements presented as fact we often see here and there on the forums. People tend naturally to trust growers who don't carelessly operate at beyond the limits of their knowledge, and who know how and when to qualify their answers.

    Al

  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Thanks, Andrew and Al.

    Apart from the possibility of essential oils or other compounds that might be deleterious to roots, the structure of the pinecone scale isn't suited to function the way bark functions in a mix. Cone scales are hard and smooth on the outer surface, but have a fibrous structure inside.

    Josh

  • lunarsolarpower
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hi All,

    Been lurking here awhile. Mixed up my first batch of gritty mix about a year and a half ago. Used pumice, pine bark, turface, dolomite, Azomite. Grow mainly succulents - Euphorbia Milii, Euphorbia Trigona, Crassula, Echeveria. Almost everything is in unglazed German terracotta. Been using Miracle Gro 12-4-8, 1/8 tsp/gal every watering.

    Been using SaferGro pH Down (40% B-Hydroxytricarballylic acid) for pH adjustment of the water/fertilizer batches. I test each batch, keeping things about pH 6.0 lately. I like the idea the plants can use the stuff in the Krebs cycle, and that the organic acid helps with mineral chelation.

    Had some gritty mix issues. The plants seemed to do well initially, then, not so much. The pots got mineral build-up. That's when I began pH testing, using liquid pH testing solution. I found my growing medium pH was high, and my tap water varied, from low to high 8's pH - also high.

    My (ongoing) investigations have been quite engaging. Hope I can save someone else some headaches, with some of my findings/opinions.

    Initially, I figured I'd simply messed up with the garden lime. Turns out, there was more to the picture.

    Turface is rather acidic. Sure, it's a high-fired clay, but it's NOT inert. Porcelain is inert, but Turface isn't even close to this. I tested my screened and rinsed All sport/MVP, soaked some in good ol' filtered Chicago 8.3 pH tap water, and the result was pH 4.0.

    Figured I should resolve the Turface pH, by soaking it in water, with garden lime or gypsum, before making the gritty mix. Settled on garden lime/dolomite, after seeing information that gypsum has little effect on soil pH. Did some research, found Al's recommendations on garden lime/dolomite, as a starting point. During this sojourn, contacted the technical folks at Turface, looking for a reserve acidity value. Figured this would help me hit a pH target more accurately, when treating a batch of AllSport/MVP. They could tell me the CEC is 33, but not any value for reserve acidity.

    The acidity of the product directly relates to the aluminum in the base clay - which varies from one clay deposit to another. Seems Turface doesn't need to determine the reserve acidity of their finished product, so the info isn't available, not even for the base clay.

    So, I made an educated guess, and ended up with a batch of buffered Turface that fit what I was after. Which turned out to be too high.

    I figured the pine bark was fairly acidic, and the pumice was supposedly neutral, so I guessed the Turface could max out at 6.5 pH. Wrong.

    I use Azomite for trace minerals. Well, Azomite is quite alkaline. Oops, used too much. Also didn't understand the effect of dissolved solids, at the time.

    I didn't test the pumice. That first batch of pumice turned everything alkaline. A percentage of it also deteriorated into finer, sandy material. Even fresh, I easily split/crushed it with a thumbnail.

    Folks like to say pumice is neutral, and doesn't break down in a pot. That's a blanket statement, and is false. Pumice characteristics vary by deposit.

    My second source of pumice was far better, in terms of size, cleanliness, hardness. The stuff looked great, was stable and hard, little waste. However, it also turned my gritty mix alkaline. Why? Because - pumice is basically an alkaline feldspar foam.

    So far, Hess Pumice is the only source I've found, that has a pumice that, on paper, is nearly neutral at 7.2 pH - but I gave up finding their horticultural product locally. If I choose to try pumice in the future, it will only be from their deposit.

    Gran-i-grit Grower's Mix is my preference now.

    I get pine bark from Bonsai Jack, online. Quality product.

    I would advise folks having issues with their plants not thriving in gritty mix, to be sure to let the mix rest for a month before using it, to pay closer attention to the pH of the overall mix, and monitor/adjust the pH of their water.

    I screen everything with one of those round screen sets found online. I'm glad I have it, but the wires vary a bit, with some lines wider apart than others. The average spacing is 10 wires per inch, square openings. Insect screen is 13 x 17 wires per inch, rectangular openings.

    Questions: My aggregate is a bit coarse, compared to sifting through insect screen. I would think a finer grit would help slow/diffuse the water stream a bit. I would also think the plants would be more stable in their pots while the roots settle back in. So, am I being silly at 10 wires per inch? Beyond less "wasted" aggregate, is there any advantage to sifting with insect screen?

    Great thread, Al. Can't thank you enough, for what you've done for my understanding of how to grow healthy plants.

    Phil

  • drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Phil I grow blueberries so I have to monitor PH a lot. I also grow cacti. I have found cacti love low PH. Also I found other problems in mineral mixes and any soil for cacti. I usually let cacti get dry between watering. So this kills bacteria. Bacteria are needed to break urea down to a form the plants can use. They provide the enzyme urease.
    So this was a problem with cacti. I discovered using ammonium forms of nitrogen worked better. Especially in mineral mixes. But if you're PH is high it still was just washed out along with urea, as the plant could not utilize the nitrogen due to high PH. So for myself I use battery acid. I would not have bothered trying to buffer turface or pumice or the like, the tap water would have taken care of that. Using lime with cacti too, big no no. You don't want that in there at all.

    Succulents may respond like cacti. try using ammonium fertilizers, and also your water should be down to 5.0-5.5.
    You can use vinegar too to knock PH down. I myself do not like using it as it is not permanent. Bacteria often release the carbonates back into the soil. With sulfuric acid the carbonates are turned to gypsum and are much more stable. I consider them removed!
    Anyway you seem to be the experimental type, if you wish to see an explosion of growth try using 1/2 tsp of ammonium sulfate per gallon, along with your regular fertilizer regime, in 5.0 water. I have mentioned this before, and others seen it as some kind of attack on Al, no, it's just what works for me, try it if your results are not satisfactory. If you're happy with current results fine. I just think urea fertilizers are a waste for cacti, the soil is too dry to be effective. Works fine for regular houseplants, I suspect the same is true for many other succulents. Maybe not all, but I bet many will benefit from this change.
    I really have no comment on the screening. You're working too hard buffering soil worrying about low PH,which I guess you soon discovered! High PH is much more of an issue. Low PH can be solved just by using straight tap water long enough! Also I use azomite but only a small amount. That stuff too takes years to really give back. It's better for garden beds, and raised beds. I would use a balanced fertilizer for the trace minerals. Although I do add it to my pots too. But I suspect it does not do much. Eventually all my potting soils end up recycled in raised beds, so the addition of Azomite is really for when I recycle it will be working well after a few years of breaking down.
    Plus I only use about 2 tbsp per 5-8 gallons of soil, I doubt that is going to do much to change the PH, all I feel I need of the stuff. Sounds like you're using way too much!
    In conclusion your plants are showing signs of stress probably from low nitrogen. Try the ammonium you're going to be amazed. Some use as much as 1 tsp per gallon, but I'm conservative and use 1/2. You may want to play with dose to see what works best for you. They can handle more, but for every watering that is plenty. In general I don't use inorganic fertilizers but for cacti and succulents it works better for me. My other plants depend on bacteria to feed them, I just feed the soil.

  • drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Some further comments PH down is fine to use, but try lowering the pH even more. 5.5. Also battery acid is pure, if it was not batteries would explode, big law suits etc, Battery acid content is regulated!
    Often I hear myths about battery acid. Most universities suggest using battery acid over pure acid as it is safer to work with. Pure acid can be obtained from Amazon if you had hundreds of plants, that might make more sense. I just find the battery acid easier to work with less chance of burn, but wear eye protection when using always. Not optional. I have a golf cart, long story, but need to use battery acid for the cart's batteries anyway. I have used the product for 30 years, so just found it worked well with my plants too!
    Vinegar is easier, very safe etc. PH down again is fine too.

    I was amazed at the growth my cacti put on when I switched to ammonium fertilizers. What took 3 years was taking one season. It's not weak sickly growth either. it's strong, firm, healthy growth. The plants were suffering, and I had no idea. Growth was OK before, I didn't even realize I had a problem, but when I saw the potential of using ammonium I realized I was not growing them very efficiently before. Also the amount of blooms I get are unreal. I used to get one of two blooms off the cacti, now I was getting five to 7 flowers, it is so cool! Also no signs of any ammonium toxicity issues in 4 years. I really do not use that much.
    {{gwi:32386}}
    {{gwi:123916}}

    I only fertilize when actively growing otherwise no. Also I use rainwater, even throughout the winter. I store about 150 gallons for winter use. The PH of my rainwater is 7.0 so I do knock it back when actively growing. When they are not I just give them pure rainwater. This would help with the deposits you're seeing. You may want to consider collecting rainwater. Saves on water usage too! I have over 50 pots, so they take a lot of water!!

    This post was edited by Drew51 on Fri, Dec 26, 14 at 10:02

  • lunarsolarpower
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hi Drew,

    Those are some lovely cacti.

    I started off using phosphoric acid for pH adjustment, experimented with sulfuric acid, and yes, it works. My rationale for moving away from phosphoric and sulfuric was, since I was taking the time to adjust the pH of the water/fertigation anyway, might as well give the plants some flexibility, in terms of Krebs cycle, and maybe give the beneficial microbes some support at the same time. The pine bark in the gritty mix supplies some organic acids to the roots so I'm thinking the molasses-based organic acid used in the Safer-Gro product (B-Hydroxytricarballylic acid) is just additional support for the chelation picture, and for any beneficial microbes. The plants are reacting well, so far.

    My first preference was citric acid, but I found the SaferGro product, thought it was worth a shot. Citric acid would be great for adjusting water pH.

    For a number of months I was targeting my water/fertigation to 5.0-5.5 pH. I still tend to err on the lower side of 6.0, color interpretation can vary, but changed my target to 6.0 as my plants were changed into gritty mix of a lower pH (No pumice). If I start to see any issues, I can easily adjust.

    Can't say I've seen any nitrogen issues, and the Euphorbia Miliis have been prolific with the flowers. These also tend to keep the leaves more than we expected. Growth has been quite good. My two Euphorbia Trigona Rubras have grown three feet, one a little more, one a little less - in a year and a half - and amazingly, have retained most of their leaves. I intentionally drought stressed them early on, trying to figure out their needs, accounting for the lost leaves. The mix is not strict gritty mix. I experimented, using coco coir along with the pine bark. Still soilless, but 60% turface/pumice, 20% each coir and pine bark.

    I'll repot those into a true gritty mix, possibly all inorganic, soon. These are going to be tall, heavy, spiny plants, in small pots. I don't want to be bare rooting these things if I don't have to, as they get bigger. This is one reason I want to know if the finer insect screened aggregate is really okay, because I suspect the finer grit will firm up the pot better, for a more stable footing for tall succulents.

    The plants will get regular organic acid doses as B-Hydroxytricarballylic Acid, used for pH correction. Or, perhaps better still, citric acid.

  • drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I often count on microbes to make the sulfuric acid, just by adding sulfur. I really only use acid on occasion that the PH is drifting up. Citric acid does work, but here again the problem of breakdown and re-release of carbonates, like what happens with acetic acid. My comments on nitrogen were based on your observations which sound different in this 2nd post. Often PH is blamed, and it is not the underlying problem. Again it sounds over thought out to me. But if results are good, keep on doing what you're doing. Sounds like you got it under control. Plus cacti are different. For example I water them now every 30 days or so. Anything in the soil is quite dead. Often the soil is dry a few days after watering, but go 25 more days or more with no water.I have not had much success the organic route. With my other plants I rely on organic methods. Just does not work well with cacti. So the ammonium seems to really make all the difference in the world. I guess I could reestablish flora in the summer. I water them like regular plants at that time.
    Cacti will quickly rot if given too much water. I managed to rot a few, and even save part of them after rotting. But that has not happened for years. I have been doing this for 41 years. Those cacti pictured are well over 30 years old.
    I have numerous others that I removed or broke off by accident from those plants. The first pictured is a Gymnocalcium, and rather slow growing. You will not see many with that many suckers or near that big.
    I also have tropical trees that are over 30 years old, some are almost 40 years old. I have been getting into edibles the last 5 years or so, so am contemplating selling them off. Except maybe the 2 cacti pictured. They are my favorites. I use to have about 50 of them, but sold them. I still have a few others that I like, and will probably keep.
    Like this brain cacti, I at last found a good pot for it! I used to plant it out in a bird bath, and just keep it out of the ground all winter.

  • drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I don't use Al's mixes btw, I use my own. They vary a lot depending on plant species. I'm still experimenting with them too. Currently my cacti mix is river rock, pumice, DE, lava rock (other than pumice), and pine bark. I use a mix of finer pine bark and a coarse bark too, so I don't add peat. So far I like it. I might add perlite in the future. Still playing with amounts to use. I don't really need it, but some of my other mixes do,. I'll probably always adjust mixes. Just to learn more.
    I think Al's mixes are fine for most people, I just like to experiment. Some of the amendments too I find not very good, but to each his own. You have discovered that yourself too, like with pumice. I doubt I will use it much longer. Too expensive. DE works better. I just would like to find larger pieces of DE. I still like Pumice and DE though. Just not always the ideal size, or type as you mentioned.
    Turface to me has too small of pores for roots to utilize water, so I don't like that either. Peat has a number of problems as does pine, just finding good pine is difficult!
    So nothing is perfect! I would love to play around with horticultural cork (in place of grit), but it is way too expensive. I use river rock myself. I have a good local source for just the right size for me.

  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Turface works wonderfully and the pores allow roots to utilize water just fine. I have several plants growing in pure screened Turface and they've thrived for over three years now.

    Josh

  • drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Glad it works for you. I have had no luck with it at all. The
    0.045 micron pore size is the main problem. Zeolite is another with even a smaller pore size. Pore size needs to be about .25 microns for roots to be able to utilize held water. They might get it as it is drawn out by osmotic action.
    But at that point the soil is too dry.
    I encourage people to try it themselves. Im my area under my condtions it just fails to perform well.
    I tested the same plants (cacti) in 4 gritty type mixes this summer and the turface one finshed dead last in one year. That was enough for me. I used the rest of the bag to fill some low spots in my yard. Wow it works great for that! Not one drop of puddled water all year! What was interesting is one mix was a 3-1-1 mix, and the cacti performed really well in it. I'm not the only one. who dislikes it, as documented in this forum. A famous Bonsai author goes on and on about how bad it was for him. But if it works for you, that's great! Seems to work for many, but I can only go on what it has done for me, nothing good I'm afraid. My results are not scientific in any way. i wanted to water them the same, but found I could not. The turface product was super dry, and other mixes were too. It was interesting to try different materials. The results surprised me. I was surprised how well the peat-pine mix performed. it was a control of sorts.
    I suggest people try themselves. All gardening is local.
    My results, you're results help nobody. Too many confounding factors to draw good conclusions off of any of this info. Why I like formal studies. I wish more would be done.
    Any good gardener is going to learn for themselves. We can only point to a general direction. I suggest comparing horticultural sand, not rounded beach sand, DE, and turface yourself. Builder's sand is a good sand.

    This post was edited by Drew51 on Sun, Dec 28, 14 at 14:55

  • tapla
    Original Author
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    FWIW - I've been using Turface for many years and have never found it to hold water tightly. A single Turface particle has pores ranging in size from very small to very large, so to suggest that the pore size of Turface particles is .045 is inaccurate and misleading. The variance in pore size can be verified with the eye or a magnifying class. Too, since I never allow my soils to dry out completely, even if Turface DID hold water tightly it wouldn't be an issue.

    Al

  • drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I probably need to try again. You know it could have been the product I used. Where it is made, where it was mined all play a role. As noted about the different grades of pumice. Some are terrible! Same with DE too! So my results no doubt are inconclusive. Enough people have had success with it to give it a try. You know it's like eating at a great restaurant, but you happen to get a bad meal, you're not going back no matter what the reviews say. Kinda how I feel.
    That is one thing about making your own soil is every ingredient can range from great to garbage. You really have to know your amendments to make your own soil.
    You need to know what pine is good, and what is bad. And the same with everything you use. With results decent with pine and peat, I'm probably not going to make anymore mineral mixes anyway. Although I have a lot of it made right now.

    In a way this discussion is funny as nobody came out to defend pumice, Not sure why anyone even cares what I think about turface? If I was the only one, OK, it makes sense, but many people do not like it. Even formal experts for that matter. Not sure why people care? I have no desire to guide anybody in what they use, just expressing my experiences. Do you guys own stock or something?
    Just kidding! Take it easy!

  • tapla
    Original Author
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Drew - I guess where I'm coming from is the position that I know with certainty that the 5:1:1 and gritty mixes are excellent places for beginning gardeners or even experienced gardeners who have been troubled by water retention issues to put some faith and start turning their growing experience around. Part of the proof can be seen here on the for a, but I also get a LOT of emails that are sent specifically to say 'thanks for helping me turn things around'.

    We both know that science is truth, and truth is what it is, so when I see something that is misleading or can be taken more than one way, I want to offer clarification and reassurance where I can. My reply doesn't have anything to do with someone slighting or putting 'Al's Soils' in a bad light; rather, it's meant to downplay something I know to be a nonissue - so people don't simply bypass the concept behind the soils or scrap it entirely.

    I'm just interested in seeing that people have enough good information to make informed decisions, and I don't believe it's in someone's best interest to believe that Turface holds water tightly - my only reason for the comments.

    I mean it when I say I hope you have a prosperous and fruitful 2015.

    Al

  • drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hey no problem Al, you too have a good year. Last year was great for me, it was a good year, it's going to be hard to get better, if I get some peaches and plums, it will be better!
    I guess we just have to disagree, I'm only saying what I'm saying to help people, really, no other reasons. We want the same thing, and there are many roads to get there.
    Your reasons you mention for responding are the exact reasons I post. When I see something wrong, I have to speak up.
    If you're having problems, it's one thing to look at. All I'm saying. One of the best quotes of gardener's I like is from Farmer Fred, he has 10 rules of gardening. All are good! But I especially like a few of them.

    1) All gardening is local
    7) Everything you know is wrong
    8) If it works for you, fine, but keep an open mind

    Number 8 is all I'm asking. Glad it works for you but keep an open mind. I myself would change the gritty mix formula, but hey that's me. (along with many other experts).
    The amount of aluminum in it is not good either. And that varies widely depending on where it is mined. That's what I don't like about any of the amendments, they vary greatly.
    So if you see failure, you might want to check the PH of your turface. The lower it is the more aluminum. I prefer to keep heavy metals out of my mixes. But you won't know unless you test PH. The company even admits the metal problem. I'm just trying to inform people, nothing againt you and your mixes. It never was about that ever. It was about correct information. I'm not really worried about the metal in the mix. Most likely it is not available to the plants. Sifting it without a mask is probably not a good idea. That goes for anything though. PH can be corrected easily enough too. I want an acidic environment anyway. It's tough to keep one, easy for mixes to get too basic.
    I would consider why turface was made, to keep water off of sports fields. To keep it away. I'm more worried about keeping pots wet, not dry. If you like to water a lot, it's perfect.

    I'm extremely tired of this discussion, but you will never shut me down. I will express my opinon time and time again. You always want the last word, so feel free. It is clear, you don't believe the documented pore size. The Bonsai author and artist Michael Hagedorn
    is wrong. The study done by Claudia Calonje, Chad Husby, and Michael Calonje is wrong too. You have made that clear. Evidence otherwise is only by members here, nothing documented, no studies, only emails by newbie gardeners, etc. I feel extremely confident in my position on the subject. Other can draw their own conclusions.
    If anybody wishes to try alternatives I would suggest DE (holds more water than turface, yet has a larger pore size .36 microns) or sharp sand (outperformed turface in the Claudia Calonje, Chad Husby, and Michael Calonje study).

    This post was edited by Drew51 on Mon, Dec 29, 14 at 3:03

  • lunarsolarpower
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hi guys,

    Drew, aluminum is the most abundant mineral on Earth. As I understand it, it plays a primary role in the pH of soils worldwide. I avoid cooking on it, drinking from it, but it's really everywhere in agriculture. In my conversation with the technical rep, the aluminum in Turface was never characterized as a "problem", because it isn't. It's just the component of clay soils primarily responsible for reserve acidity.

    My "day job" is working with natural stone and ceramic and porcelain - fabricating, installing, maintaining. I deal daily with porosity and pH issues of natural stone and fired clay products. I have to agree with Al, the pores in fired clay do vary, both in size and density.

    Pumice is just rock blown out of a volcano, under certain conditions. The word "pumice" describes a stone structure - not the mineral composition. Pumice tends to be alkaline feldspar, with a rather high pH - and no available calcium.

    I'm still wondering if the insect screen method is less preferable to my 10 wire/inch soil sieve.

    Regarding Turface's affinity for water, I've tested Turface vs. pumice, and found water would perch higher in pure Turface, than in pure pumice. I just perforated the bottom edge of a clear plastic (polypropylene) round quart food container, filled it with Turface, flooded it with water, let it drain, measured the height of the perched water. Repeated the process with the same screen sized pumice.

    I haven't run this test on an actual gritty mix yet. I'd have to screen some material with insect screen. Was hoping to hear from Al, regarding my insect screen question.

    In my pots, the issue is uniformly wetting the growing medium. My secondary issue, is stability for tall succulents in small pots. Is the insect screen recommendation a matter of tooling pragmatism? I'm thinking the finer mix would help slow/disperse the water flow, and reduce the looseness of the mix, to help the plants' stability.

  • drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Yes, I stated that I'm not worried about the aluminum, all the same I won't use aluminum sulfate either. Although it may be safe, I worry about toxic levels. Just because lead is in all soils doesn't mean it's a good idea to add more. Same with aluminum.
    And if you mix turface without a mask, you will be exposed to it.
    As far as water absorption Axis noted that turface holds
    95% of it's weight in water. Pumice only holds 15% and DE holds 142%
    Try diatomaceous earth in your tests. Optisorb is about the largest size available to home gardeners. Axis makes an excellent size, but is for commercial use only. Numerous studies document it's use as superior to most other amendments.
    Such as
    " Effects of diatomite on soil consistency limits and soil compactibility" by Ekrem Lutfi Aksakala, Ilker Anginb, , ,
    and Taskin Oztasa
    Or
    "Effects of diatomite on soil physical properties" by the same authors.
    Also
    "Sustainable effects of diatomite on the growth criteria and phytochemical contents of Vicia faba plants."
    Mona M. Abdalla*
    Department of Botany, Faculty of Science, Ain Shams University, Cairo, Egypt.
    The Axis company also has great info on all amendments.

    As far as particle size, do a test. Fill a pot with sand, and one with gravel. Stick a pole in, and see which one gives more resistance. It seems to me gravel would. But I might be wrong? I don't know physics well enough to figure it out on paper.

    Ah and pumice is further dashed to the ground and called a fake, not a single user rises to defend.

    Well we can agree to disagree, my day job is a laboratory researcher,or was, I'm retired. If turface has various pore sizes then it is not very well made. Thanks for pointing that out. So you do not believe the manufacturer? Controlling pore size in fired clays is often accomplished with the use of polymers such as Polyethylene glycol. This process is extremely important to control how well purifiers work, or how well they hold up with the addition of salts. You are incorrect about the pore size. Yes pore sizes differs, but that process is used to make different products, and is very controlled. Turface is meant to have small pores size or it would ineffective in it's intended use. The porosity of fired clays is extremely important to have a consistent product such as fired brick used to built houses. Varying pore sizes will compromise the strength of the brick.
    Selling a product and manufacturing one are very different things.
    The pore size I reported is for calcinated clay. Range of pore sizes is from .1 -.01 microns. Median is .045 . Plants need a .2 micron minimum pore size to utilize. This info is from a study by Andreas Kalytta-Mewes, Kathrin Mattern, and Armin Reller
    University of Augsburg, Chair of Solid Body Chemistry
    Georg Armbruster Soil Laboratory.

    The pore analysis in the study was conducted by Quantachrome,Bavarian Institute of Applied Environmental Research and Applied Technology.

    Of course it appears none of these sources trump Al.
    Who has not provided any data at all to back his claims.
    Please prove to me that pore size is bigger, thinking Al is right because you sell clay products is not proof.

    After saying all this will turface work? Yes, it will. Works pretty good! Is it ideal? No, it's not, but what is? It's still worth trying for sure. It didn't work for me, but that means nothing. it has worked well for others. It would be nice if it allowed easier access to stored water, but it does store water, and air, and it lasts a long time, maybe 20 years. That's decent. It's a decent product, or appears to be. It would not be on the market if it didn't work. I know it's not meant for potted plants, but it is meant for grass. DE seems a better product, it has it's own problems. it is marketed though for plants more than ball fields, although it is marketed for that too. It's marketed for large commercial gardens. I use it in my garden. I use turface too for my grass, works well. Just not that well in pots for me.
    All i said that it didn't work for me. Sorry blame me, it's what you usually do when the mixes fail, you blame the poster. Many have said DE doesn't work for them. I actually believe them. All gardening is local.

    This post was edited by Drew51 on Mon, Dec 29, 14 at 15:33

  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I've used Pumice varieties in the past, but found the fine foamy white Pumice to be a bit damp in the mix - and thus I can imagine other growers having problems with perched water and soggy layers. So I switched to Scoria (red and grey lava rock) which holds less moisture and has much larger pores. I also prefer the texture, and the aesthetics. My mixes are a bit faster as a result, but if I water regularly, I have no issues with mixes drying out excessively or becoming hydrophobic.

    We all know that DE holds more water (and has a slightly better CEC). However, its often flake/flat shape, color, and hardness make it *less* desirable for me to go out and source it. Turface, on the other hand, is readily available from a local Turf & Supply yard. It is easy to screen, has favorable aesthetics, and I know how to use it and how it will perform in my containers under my conditions.

    Lunar, about the screening of the Turface; the insect screen removes only the finest particles. You really don't want those in a mix for a large container - the reason being that the finest pieces migrate deeper into the mix, lodging between larger bark and grit particles, and impeding drainage. After a while, this results in a sodden, perched layer in the lower inches of the container.

    Uniformity is key, from top to bottom. You do not want the ingredients separating in the container.

    Josh

  • lunarsolarpower
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Wow Drew. You sure have an odd way of trying to win folks over to your point of view.

    Turface. You didn't cite the pore size as a mean value. You cited a pore size of .045. I just said that pores in fired clay products actually do vary in size. For this, you attacked me personally and professionally, twisted what I said about myself, and called my integrity, and intellectual capacity, into question. The evidence you presented, as proof of my flawed character, and intellectual limitations: The published range of pore sizes for calcined clay - proof that pores in fired clay products actually do vary in size.

    I did read the balance of your post with some interest, and while there would appear to be merit in things you post, I find your approach has gotten in the way of my perception of your positions.

    FWIW, porosity and pH really are things I deal with all the time, on a professional level. Among other things, I work with sealers on a range of applications. NOT topical coatings, but chemicals that work with material porosity. One application involves glass laboratory slides. Most applications involve interior and exterior veneer - stone, porcelain, ceramic, terra cotta. It's mainly about keeping salts, oils, and/or water out of the materials, without closing off gas exchange. I've been doing this about 25 years.

    Greenman,

    Thanks for the feedback. I'm quite interested in calcined DE. Looks like folks have had inconsistently fired product, but that when it's good, it would be the aggregate of choice. I appreciate the heads-up on the particle profile issue.

    On Turface, yes, I understand the fines are to be discarded, and finer aggregate will migrate. Most of my mixes have been screened @ 10 wires/inch. From your reply, I guess you aren't a fan of screening with insect screen. Thanks again!

  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    My pleasure!
    I do screen with insect screen for smaller batches.
    For the larger batches, I actually use a pond-basket with 1/16 and 1/8 inch perforations all around the bottom and sides. I shake out the fines vigorously, and then rinse out the dust. I lose more material, but I get a larger particle size on average.

    Josh

  • tapla
    Original Author
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    LSP - I'm sorry - wasn't trying to avoid you. It's been a busy Christmas Season this year, and my mail is backed up, so I haven't been spending a lot of time on the forums. I read your comments with much interest. Thank you very much for the kind comments in your initial post - good to see you posting instead of lurking. It sounds like you have the potential to be very helpful if you decide to hang with us - thanks for your contributions!

    In a perfect world, 10 mesh is better than insect screen because it leaves you with a larger product to use in your media, and reduces the likelihood of perched water issues. The problem with preferring Turface in a larger size is how fast the waste fraction increases as the screen openings increase. I accept a Turface component smaller than ideal to reduce the fraction of unused fines. I WISH Profile could the average size of ALL the particles in a bag of Turface MVP or Allsport could be increased by somewhere around .060 to .100. It still works fine at the smaller size because the bark and grit fraction is much larger than the Turface fraction, at 1:1:1 ratios.

    Take care and have a Happy New Year.


    {{gwi:5839}}

    Al

  • lunarsolarpower
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Hi Al, and a very Happy New Year to you, to!

    I appreciate your help, and kind words. Of course, this is the holiday season, and perfectly reasonable that you would focus your time on family and friends. I never felt ignored, figured you'd be around eventually.

    All the best to you and yours, for 2015, and beyond.

    Phil

  • Ohiofem 6a/5b Southwest Ohio
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Bump. This is such an important post that must be 10 years old. Please don't let it fade away.

  • tapla
    Original Author
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Thanks, Robin. It often drops off the first or second page, but someone always seems to stumble on it and resurrect it by asking a question or providing something helpful.

    I'm not sure that I got a chance to wish you a Happy New Year, other than collectively. I hope it's a good one for you!!

    Al

  • tapla
    Original Author
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I'd like to thank everyone who contributed to this thread and invite you to follow the link to its continuation.

    If you click me I'll take you to the new thread!