More About Mediums...

jodik_gwOctober 25, 2009

I did a little bit of re-potting today, so I snapped a few quick pictures of the ingredients I'm using in my custom mixed medium.

This is the bag the granite chips come in...

The chips are close to the size of small aquarium gravel...

This is what the pine bark comes in... notice it states "100% fir bark"...

Here's a freshly re-potted baby Amputo bulb...

Another pot of bulbs in the same medium...

And these are seedlings from seeds Kristi sent me... they're currently in 4" pots, in regular potting soil, and they've grown quite nicely under lights...

The seedlings will be re-potted into my custom medium mix very shortly. I only use bagged potting soils to start seeds in, and I re-pot them into a more porous mix after they gain some size.

To recap... my medium is made up of small pine bark pieces, granite chips, and perlite. I didn't show the perlite bag, because I figure most of you already know what that looks like.

When I re-pot, I fill in around the roots with the medium, and then tap the side of the pot to settle it better. There's no need to pack it in tight. Then, I simply water it in until the water runs out the drainage holes, place a saucer under the pot, and put the whole thing where it can get plenty of bright light.

Happy Gardening!

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socalgal_gw Zone USDA 10b Sunset 24

I've had a lot of trouble with planting mediums - could you please explain the purpose of the granite chips? I understand the other two.

Thanks, Ruth

    Bookmark   October 26, 2009 at 10:55AM
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Jodi, do you use equal parts of each ingredient? Or a formula more like Al's 5-1-1.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2009 at 11:15AM
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The granite chips add to the durability of the medium. They don't decompose, which adds to the length of time you can keep a plant in the same medium, and for certain plants, this is better than having to re-pot frequently.

Take Amaryllis Belladonna, for instance, which I have to grow indoors if I want to grow it... these bulbs do not like to be disturbed, and if they are, they normally won't bloom. This means that I need to find a medium that I won't have to replace or disturb for several years. This type of medium allows me that time span.

There are other ingredients that can be used to make similar mediums. The article in the link below gives a few different recipes using the same basics, but with slightly different additions, for different uses. It also gives some very good information on the relationship between roots, water, and mediums in a container environment. Very interesting reading.

The basic idea is to end up with a medium that won't decompose quickly, thereby collapsing and suffocating root systems... will drain well and quickly... won't promote the growth of fungi... is properly aerated... and this type of medium allows the grower better control of moisture and feeding.

Your individual climate and growing environment will dictate the type of medium, or the ingredients, that will work best for you. For me, the three main ingredients I list work best. For someone in a more arid or hot climate that grows outdoors, some adjustment may be necessary to suit your needs.

Once I understood how the components of container gardening fit together, and how it differs from gardening in the ground, I could see that I needed to completely change my medium. The organic potting soil I was using was the cause of all my problems... rotting bulbs, root rot, fungus issues...

Granite chips also add to the weight of my containers. Not much, mind you... but it's enough to help keep the pots from tipping over when the leaves start to get long... before I notice they need staking!

I hope this helps. Please check out the link... there are other recipes you may find more to your needs.

Happy Gardening!

Here is a link that might be useful: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention VIII

    Bookmark   October 26, 2009 at 11:46AM
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I tend to eyeball it all when mixing... I use more of an "equal parts" mixture, like Al's long term planting mix recipe, listed further down in that article.

I also might add a little vermiculite, or perhaps a handful of horticultural charcoal, or maybe even a handful of a quality potting soil... it depends on what type of plant I need it for, mainly.

For me, it's not exact. I add and mix until I'm satisfied with the texture and "feel" of the mix. The important thing to me is keeping the particle size fairly uniform, especially for my bulbs and other plants that will spend a long time in the same pot.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2009 at 12:02PM
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purpleclover(CA Sunset 18)

Thanks for the photos, Jodi. Can I ask you something(s) semi-related?

I notice that your seedlings are not showing any bulb. Do you plant them deeper or not as shallowly until the bulb is a certain size?

Are you less worried about the seedlings rotting, and that is why they are in potting soil? Or the soil-less mix doesn't work for seed starting?

I have seedlings that are a few months old, the bulbs are not as big as a pea yet, and after reading your info on potting mediums I keep wondering if they are in soil that is too dense. Its very peaty with vermiculite and perlite.

I have them in tiny individual clay pots (a big PITA) and I let them dry out between waterings. I had all the little pots in a deep plastic container. But then it rained and I was away overnight and the whole container flooded and some of the babies washed out of the pots. :-(

My thinking at the time was that I wouldn't have to repot them for quite a while once they were in the single pots. Then I put them in the container thinking it would serve as a bit of an insulator with winter weather. (High of 90 today with high, very dry winds yesterday. Tomorrow a high of 72 and a low of 45!)

I thought about repotting them together again, but each time I re-do the scheme I lose some. Upside, I figure the survivors are going to be tough as nails. I think I'm going to sink the little pots in a couple of large pots. That way I can not torture them with another repotting, but they won't be so easy to knock over and they won't drown or dry out when I'm away for a couple of days.

I plan to go by the feed store today where I get the dog's food and talk to them about poultry grit. Got to get my order of new bulbs potted up. I've got scape!

I appreciate the info. G

    Bookmark   October 26, 2009 at 4:31PM
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Jodi, I would like to extend a huge THANK YOU for posting pictures and names of the materials you use for your mix. I have looked and searched for turface and pinebark fines here in my area to no avail. How easy it was to find the ReptiBark at the pet store and granite chips at the feed store!!! I did this all in one day and am in the process of repotting my bulbs. I've found that they are root bound with not much soil left in the pot so it was time for re-potting. Again, thank you for all the information you are so willing to share.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2009 at 5:03PM
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Jan Sword

Jodi, my mix needs more chunky stuff looking at your mix but mine dry fast down here because of heat & breeze.
Thanks for sharing.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2009 at 5:23PM
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Jodi, hope you don't mind, I borrowed some of your advice for the Co-op on Dave's Garden. Lots of folks with questions about how and what to grow their new bulbs in.

Phoenix Ryan

    Bookmark   October 26, 2009 at 5:45PM
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It's my pleasure to share what I've learned. I realize that what works for me may not work for everyone... we all have different growing environments to deal with... but if it helps just one person, or leads someone to learn more, then it was all worth it!

If you grow outdoors in a hot, arid climate, you might want to adjust the mix a bit, or use one of the other recipes offered in the article.

As far as seed starting goes, you certainly can start seeds in this medium... I just haven't tried it yet. I didn't have much luck with the flotation method, so I just went to my tried and true method of starting seeds in regular potting soil.

I'm not much for any method that is too involved, or requires special handling and care... I have too much to do to baby any seeds along. So, I just filled a flat of 4" pots with regular old MiracleGro potting mix and stuck the seeds in. Nothing special to it. As they grow, I guess the tiny bulbs develop under the soil. When I re-pot them into their own larger pots, I will raise the bulbs up to a higher level. I usually give them a good spring and summer's worth of growth before re-potting into individual pots. In fact, I may wait until early next spring, depending on how they do over winter.

Since most of my seeds are started either outside after the danger of frost, or late in winter under lights, along with all of my perennial and herb seeds, I don't really worry too much about rot. We have a lighted seed starting area set up in the basement, and there are oscillating fans running continuously for air circulation. I take care of all the watering, and at that time of year, it's my number one priority.

A word about re-potting... be sure to knock all of the old soil from the roots before re-potting your bulbs. It helps to tease the roots apart, removing any dead or dying ones. Good grooming will help your bulbs in the long run. And don't worry if you accidentally break a few roots... the bulb will regrow what it needs. They're actually tougher than you might think, even though we all tend to treat them with care.

If your root system is way beyond impressive, a bit of root pruning won't hurt. It can actually help to rejuvenate growth in many cases. Bonsai Masters constantly root prune their trees and plants... and look what they achieve.

Jan, a bit of vermiculite might help to hold some moisture for you... or you may want to give an orchid mix a try. The idea is to create tiny air pockets so the roots can breathe. In your climate, you may want to try one of the other recipes noted in the article.

As far as the poultry grit goes, there are two items sold for feeding to chickens along with their normal feed... granite chips, like the ones I use... and oyster shell chips, which I would NOT use. Make sure you get the granite chips!

I think that covers everything... if I forgot to answer any questions, please remind me. I'm always happy to help! It makes me happy to know that you are all just as enthusiastic about your bulbs and their health as I am!

    Bookmark   October 26, 2009 at 6:14PM
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I just pulled a good paragraph off of the Container Gardening Forum that gives a little insight into the reasons for the different specific ingredients of the mediums we're talking about...

"Technicalities: All the ingredients, because of their size, in the gritty mix are there by design to prevent a PWT. The granite's sole purpose is to balance the Turface so as to lend adjustability to the soils water retention. Because Turface has tremendous surface and internal porosity, it holds lots of water. Granite, on the other hand, has very little surface porosity and no internal porosity, so increasing the amount of granite while decreasing Turface lowers water retention. Increasing Turface while decreasing the presence of granite (while keeping the bark fraction at 1/3 of the soil o/a, or less) increases water retention. Technically, the granite has nothing to do with perched water - only water retention, which is a different aspect."

So, if you need a little more water retention, you would use turface... and for less water retention, you would want the granite chips. Both can be used, also... simply adjust the amounts of each to suit your purposes.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2009 at 8:25AM
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Speaking of all this mediums and repoting when is the best time to repot hippes that are grown indoors, I'm guessing probably right now so they can settle in and get ready to bloom this spring or do you wait until after they bloom in the spring as to not disturb their recharge cycle.


    Bookmark   October 28, 2009 at 11:22AM
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I would think that the best time to re-pot would be right after they finish blooming... but as these are pretty resilient plants, I've potted them at various times throughout the year, with no ill effects.

Disturbing the roots can have a slightly negative effect on some bulbs... especially the different types of amaryllids that don't like to be disturbed... but hippeastrums seem to take most things in stride... except over-watering, freezing, and not enough light.

It would also depend on why the bulbs are being re-potted. Just to bump them in pot size? I'd wait until spring, post-blooming. But if you're re-potting because you want to change the medium or because of any fungal or rot issues, re-pot now.

What's the worst that could happen? You miss one bloom cycle, but you're bulbs remain healthy and rot-free!

    Bookmark   October 28, 2009 at 12:47PM
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betonklotz(7b Baltic Sea coast)

I did make quite good experiences with simple (I don't know if that's correct in English, can you call it like that?) Cocofirbresubstrate ...

I don't know if Hans-Werner is still active on this forum (I found some post via google of his here), I know him from a german forum and copied (I'm not sure if he's doing it still like that but I have good results with this method) from him:

The lower 1/3 of the pot is filled with swelling clay (?) as a drainage, the upper 2/3 are filled with the coco-substrate and well watered. After that I just water from below, the clay-balls then carry the water directly to the cocos and the roots. All my Hippeastrums are in this substrate and it worked for me quite well.

But! I'm of course happy to try something new and your medium sounds promising! I'll check whether I can get all of your ingredients and will try to put my newly ordered papilio in it!

    Bookmark   November 3, 2009 at 10:04PM
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I haven't seen Sir Hans posting in quite a while... I hope all is well with him.

Your described method brings up the question of different layers within a pot, and how they behave when watered. Anyone who has the read the articles from the Container Gardening Forum that I frequently attach to my posts will understand the concept of perched water tables.

I'm not good at explaining the science of it, but due to the different sizes of the different layers, water tends to get hung up and doesn't drain properly. If you don't live in a hot, arid climate, this behavior within the pot could spell death for your bulbs.

My recommendation is always to use only one single layer of medium, from surface to bottom, within a pot. A drainage layer is not necessary, and is actually detrimental to proper drainage.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2009 at 10:22PM
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betonklotz(7b Baltic Sea coast)

I'll check the Container Forum when I have time for it, as a matter of fact I do live in a quite humid climate ... at least now in the winter ;)

I water in a way that I can see the water flowing into the pot, if all the water I gave is not gone (from the underpot?) within some minutes, I'll pour it away.
By observing how much time the water needs to be completely absorbed into the pot, I know quite well how much my plants need and when to water again.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2009 at 10:38PM
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For myself, checking for moisture needs means sticking a finger down into the medium as far as I can, and feeling for moisture. My fingers never lie.

A word about cocopeat... I tried this last year because it supposedly breaks down slower than regular peat based potting soils... but I found that it not only breaks down just as quickly, it also compacts quite tightly and does not accept even watering. Some parts would be saturated while other areas within the pots would be completely dry.

I abandoned the cocopeat, and went in search of an education on container growing. What I found was a well written article explaining exactly what takes place under the soil in a container, and how container growing differs greatly from growing in the garden. Once I understood the relationship between roots, water, and the medium, I could see that an organic medium was not helping my plants, and was, in fact, the cause of all my problems.

I'm not saying that my way is the only way or the best way... I'm saying that, regardless of your medium choice, it helps immensely to know exactly WHY you're using that medium, and HOW everything in a container environment works together.

Your choice may turn out to be completely different than mine... your growing environment may dictate that it needs to be... but at least be aware of the how and why of container gardening before making a final choice.

I hope I explained that well enough...

Happy Gardening!

    Bookmark   November 4, 2009 at 10:58AM
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I'm getting back into amaryllis after being discouraged by grasshoppers and deer when I moved to Austin, TX,10 years ago. Pulled out some old literature and found a recommendation for potting in pure decomposed granite. This is available here at Natural Gardener. It is not uniform in grain size; different from the chicken grit granite. I potted up a few bulbs in it and they are doing fine. I've got a bunch of seedlings coming along and I am figuring on potting them up in a mixture of decomposed granite and perlite. I generally pot with the bulb below the surface in a large pot, but sticking maybe 1/3 out in a small pot. Outside I plant the whole bulb. I've still had deer pull them out of the ground.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2009 at 8:24PM
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betonklotz(7b Baltic Sea coast)

I've been to a garden center today and checked whether they had your ingredients. They had reptilian bedding, but it was spruce bark and wasn't cleaned like yours but quite fibrous (I guess I can take the bigger parts and clean them ... but it was quite expensive, 8 for a small bag). I didn't find granite chips and perlite but I'll surely find something equal.

The e-tailer had to re-order my papilio and Emerald so I still got some time to figure that out. I'm going to let my other plants stay in the cocopeat and will try to keep track on their development.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2009 at 9:34PM
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I think in order to grow healthy bulbs, we have to look at their natural habitat, and we have to somehow translate that into a container environment... keeping in mind that a container will be completely different than growing them in the ground.

The garden has a balance of decomposition and all the micro-organisms and worms... it all works together to keep aeration and balance.

A container doesn't have that, so imbalance is almost imminent.

In my indoor environment, the humidity level is very low... so I need a little something to retain some moisture, but not too much. The fir/pine bark chips do this. The granite helps maintain the durability of the medium, and the perlite keeps it on the lighter side.

Turface is another option... turface will hold some moisture, so in a drier climate, it might be a better choice than granite only.

Hydroton or Seramis are used for bonsai or hydroponic growing... small lava rock pieces could be used, as well, though these tend to hold even more moisture... these are also options as medium ingredients.

The idea is to create a medium that will not break down quickly, will allow for the exchange of oxygen and gases to and from the roots, and will not hold too much moisture at the root area.

Science tells me that one single layer within a pot works the best... otherwise, you'll have perched water hung up where the layers meet. It used to be thought that a drainage layer was necessary in a pot... but we now know that this can actually be a bad thing.

Wicking can help with excess water in pots, also... but I haven't found that necessary with the average size pots I'm using, which are anywhere from a 4 inch to a 12 inch clay pot, and the fairly even sizes of the ingredients I use.

The ingredients you choose for your inorganic medium will largely depend on your individual growing environment, and on what you can find locally.

ZooMed Labs in California carries the pine bark reptile bedding... they have a store locator on their website.

Suppliers to the poultry industry, or farm oriented stores will carry the granite chicken grit...

Some garden places may carry Schultz brand medium for aquatic plants, and I think this is a pine bark product. Some soil conditioners might be pine bark, as well.

It may be necessary to screen for dust and particle size... or rinse the product to get rid of the dust. It all depends on what you can locate and how it looks.

You may have to really search in order to find the right medium ingredients. It took me forever to locate everything I needed to make small batches of what I use!

Particle size should be somewhere in the vicinity of aquarium gravel... a BB to a pea... somewhere in that range... we're trying to avoid the silty mud of fine particles, but we don't want them too large, either.

I usually plant my bulbs with half or more above soil surface... mine are all in pots, indoors...

If you're in doubt as to whether an ingredient will work or not, just pop in over at the Container Gardening Forum and ask... there's a great group over there, and they're always happy to help!

And let me repeat... what works for me in my environment may not necessarily work for someone else. I have found that container growing... all gardening, really... is an ongoing learning experience, and it's through trial and error and success that we find a balance of what works for us.

The one thing I will say about using a more inorganic, porous medium for containers is that the science is there to back up the ideas. The proof is in healthy roots, which make healthy plants.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2009 at 10:49AM
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