minor issues with 5:1:1 mix

njhateAugust 31, 2010

Hey all,

I got a meyer lemon a few weeks back and planted it into a terracotta pot. Since I am now down at my apartment I have been having issues on where to keep my trees so they get enough light. I have only one south facing window and my two oranges, another lemon and a lime take it up. So i have been putting my tree outside in front of the window, since i live on the basement level and the bottom of my window is close to the ground.

A few days after i put the larger lemon out there, leaving started curling, turning yellow and falling off, so I took it inside, figuring the 95 degree days next to a stone wall, blacktop and the siding was roasting it. So i took it inside and put in on my desk.

I have watered it a few times inside and each time, a lot of the water runs right through it, the way the mix is designed so i figured that was the lack of water that caused the leaves to turn as well. I have also had problems with the overflow when i water, the pan at the bottom doesnt hold too much so when i watered it the other day, everything just overflowed so two days ago i watered it again with a maybe a quart of water (for a 27 inch high tree in a 14 in pot) and the water almost overflowed as well. Later in the day i checked with my dowel and only the bottom two inches were wet or damp. So i am concerned that the tree does not get enough water so i have been leaving it indoors but that still doesnt appear to be helping

My question is how can i amend this to make it hold more. I think i read that josh puts more bark on top of his or mulch or can i just add a thin peat layer on the top?

And for a last thought, I have been trying to keep my window open so the mixes dry out faster and prevent root rot.

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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Heat, or sudden increase in sunlight, could cause leaf-drop.

Yes, try adding a thin layer (less than 1 inch) of screened bark to the surface of the mix.
Once the roots colonize the mix and fill the spaces between particles, the mix will be easier
to keep uniformly/consistently moist. At such a time, you can simply pull back the mulch to ensure
that the upper inches of the mix are drying properly.

You could also try watering in two passes. Pre-soak and then saturate.
New mixes can tend to a bit hydrophobic.


    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 2:06PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

What Josh said, + it doesn't sound like a problem you'd be having if the bark size is appropriate and the mix had been thoroughly moistened to begin with. Also, both bark and peat tend to return to a hydrophobic state as the moisture content drops down below about 30%, so be careful not to let it get TOO dry.

If it IS because the soil id hydrophobic, you can also set the pot in a tub and fill gradually. Be careful not to fill too fast, or the water in the pot will float much of the bark, possibly along with your plant, right out of the pot. I make sure I have 'broken' the soils hydrophobic tendencies BEFORE I plant in it. Of course, it might not be hydrophobia-related at all. It still might be that the particle size of the bark is a little large?

Adding a considerable fraction of screened Turface would also be an excellent way to increase water retention w/o significantly impacting aeration.


    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 5:14PM
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thanks Josh and Al,

I think I am going to put some bark on top of it to see how it goes.

Al, I am not sure what you mean by thoroughly moistened to begin with, Are you talking before I had this problem or before I water? It has been in the mix for about three weeks now and when I had it on the deck back at my parents house, it was doing pretty good (setting flowers and etc) since I could dump lots of water in it and the bottom draining didnt make a difference.

So that leads me to believe it may be particle size. I got size pretty similar to what Mike recommended a bit ago. I also have other trees doing pretty well in the same mix sitting on a windowsill since they get good sun and I live in an apartment. However, they are different plants, different containers, and different batches of mix.

So I am not 100% for sure what it could be. It may be a bit of everything. the leaves that turned yellow were only on one side of the tree and have stopped changing since I have brought them in. I think it must have been the hot dry weather next to heat retaining objects that also contributed.

The main problem I have now is keeping the water in the container. Maybe the container holds less liquid than I think since I have never had to worry about overflow before. I don't know. I will keep you guys updated and post some pics.


    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 3:09AM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Hi Nate,
I think what Al's asking.. Is, was the mix thoroghly moistend before you planted your tree in it? Did you wet it when you made it to begin with?

If you plant something in the mix while the mix is dry it will repel the water.

He will be along and correct me if i'm wrong. ;)


    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 8:24AM
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Hi Nate...Back to school? I hope you are excited about it.

A couple of questions for you.

When you stuck it in that hot sun, did you let the mix go dry, maybe to the point of very dry by accident? Leaves..We know what leaves curling in the hot sun means..In that mix and those temps, you need to make sure you water well in the am, and possibly a second time during that day..

Because you say you have had it planted a few weeks, something tells me your bark or mix was just fine when you planted it..It is human error with watering that had caused the problem..Maybe letting your bark mix get way to dry to the point of repelling water, especially if you used uncomposted bark, such as that of repti-bark...Have you tried a watering can with a sprinkler head and evenly watered slowly?

Is there any possible way you can take a close up picture of the mix before you go and add more stuff in it..If your tree was doing great before, something tells me you sent that tree into a massive shock from getting too dry and changing locations so abruptly, and hopefully it will recover..

It is quite possible the mix is just fine, and if you add more water retentive stuff to your mix, you might have a problem with it drying out properly come in just a month or two when the cooler days are here..

    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 8:35AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Ahhh - "one side of the tree ... the hot dry weather ... next to heat retaining objects ..." sounds like it might be the cause you're looking for.

You'll always have to worry about overflow when using the 5:1:1 or gritty mix. They're supposed to allow water to move through the soil. You DO sacrifice water retention for the superior drainage and aeration, so it goes w/o saying (though I mention it over and over wherever I go) that the need to water more frequently (than you would with heavy soils) is the norm.


    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 9:44AM
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the mix when wet when i put it out in the sun, i had been watering it regularly in 80 degree weather and it was doing fine, but moving to school, there was a warm and dry snap and after a few days i noticed issues. I watered a gallon of water with foliage-pro in a 14 in terra-cotta pot(about 3 gals or so) at 8ish in the morning, so I was hoping it got enough. But now the weather has cooled down a lot, actually got down to 39 Monday night, so I am kind of glad i brought my tree is. I think I am going to put it outside again, if it doesnt freeze haha. I may try and do two waterings though, depending on the dowels. So I think Al was right, I thought I was watering enough and I probably wasn't.

School is going well. All my classes are going well, even though I am already sick of class. A

    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 9:47PM
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