travisaz

A tale of 3 potted trees and garden liner

Recently I have come to question if using garden liner causes drainage problems in potted plants. Here are my observations with three trees:
Trees 1 (Meyer lemon) & 2 (Ruby Red grapefruit) were both purchased at the same time last March. For different reasons, both underwent a repot a few months later into a bark and perlite mix. I placed a rock over the drainage hole in tree #1 and I used garden fabric liner folded over a few times for tree #2, believing it would be porous enough to allow water to freely flow. I realized a day or two after the initial watering that tree #2 wasn't draining at all. Horrified, I poked holes through the fabric liner to allow the water to drain. I lost a significant amount of foliage. Tree #1 had some transplant shock but eventually took off and put on significant growth throughout the summer. Tree #2 eventually stabilized but never really looked happy and did not grow all summer.
Tree #3 is a dwarf peach, purchased about 2 weeks ago. It was repotted into a 5-1-1 mix. I used garden fabric again on the bottom, but this time I left it a single layer instead of folding it over as I had done with Tree #2. This time I checked the drainage with the initial watering. It drained slower than I was used to with the first two trees, but it was draining. I thought the differences in rate related to including peat in this mix or the different drain holes (smaller) in the new container. It went several days and began to show significant signs of transplant shock. I wondered about the moisture content in this mix. I thought it would probably be a good idea to widen the drainage holes so I set out to do so and was horrified to discover water run out of the drain holes when I poked around. I decided the garden liner is just no good and so I poked holes through the single layer. This helped the mix start to dry out in the bottom, but I noticed there would still be a slow drain several hours after watering.
It wasn't until tonight that I wondered about the different trajectory of the trees planted with a garden liner. Even after poking holes in the liner for Tree #2, it never took off like Tree #1. Tree #3, though still young in its recovery, appears to be suffering much more than Tree #1 ever did. This makes me wonder if the garden fabric, even with holes poked in it, can create water problems. I think of Al's well known posts on the PWD and the different methods of water movement. I don't pretend to understand all that very well, but could the webbed lining basically act like a sponge that keeps the feet wet? Larger bodies of water will escape out the drain holes but will some water remain trapped in the liner? Perhaps I'm grasping at straws here, and I'm sure there are other variables that could explain the different outcomes for my three trees. I do know I will never use garden liner in my pots again.

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