Why is my thinking so out of whack?

runswithscissors(MT 4/5)April 6, 2013

I posted this message on a couple of other forums, but then I remembered this one and thought perhaps you visitors might be able to put some sence to me.

I have had a hobby 8' x 12' greenhouse for 4 years....which I love! I had electricity and a water faucet installed. On the back wall I put up a shelving unit with a shop light over each shelf and then some soil heating cables (steady at 70*) for each shelf.
Every year I overwinter stuff. Getting things to "survive" the winter with supplemental heat is not too hard, even in Montana. I even sucessfully dug up a pepper plant from the garden last fall, brought it in and harvested 3 whole peppers from it over the winter. But then spring comes and I catch the bug....and thats when I decide I want to "grow" things. (surviving and growing are two different things I'm finding.)

Each year I end up cooking, baking, steaming and drownding every sprout I have because I just can't seem to get it thru my thick skull that plants don't feel heat and moisture the same way we do. If the themometer reads 65*, I shiver, go brrrrr and jack up the heat. If the overnight low is going to be in the teens I will make sure the heat is on high, all the heating cables are on plus the shop lights just to be sure everyone is cozy. And water...if the top of the soil looks dry, it must be dry, right? Better add some more water.

So, this is the last spring I want to learn this lesson, and I'm asking you guys to put some of this into perspective for me. At what point does a baby plant go "brrrrr" and how dry is it supposed to be before the plantlet wilts from thirst? Should I keep the little fan on all the time to circulate air? If the temp feels comfortable to me, but then the fan blows past it makes the air feel cooler on my skin...do plants feel this same affect? or do they just appreciate a little fresh air? Also, the portable heater I use does a fine job of regulating the greenhouse heat as per thermometer reading. But just hold your hand over by the door or next the the ground....it feels considerably colder than the "room" does. If I was a plant I wouldn't want to be on the shelf by the door, I would much rather hover over the heater. But I'm not a plant. Any idea how they act, react, wish, want, need, think....(think?) How can I alter this mentality of mine that they have the same needs for growing conditions as I do.

Light? Alaska summers have 24 hours of daylight, and their plants grow HUGE...mine don't seem to be alaskan plants.

Water? In the jungle it rains all the time and its always hot...my plants don't seem to like the jungle.

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SouthCountryGuy Zone 4b-5 SE BC(Zone 4b-5 SE BC Canada)

Sounds like your killing them with kindness and this is from a self proclaimed, but only for this post, expert. :)

I don't overwinter but do grow veggies inside to eat. When doing so I aim for a temp of about 65F. For seedlings I plan to transplant outside I shoot for 60F. Some of my seedlings (rudbeckia for example) like it colder and have lights on the floor where it is about 50F. You might laugh but I just installed an air conditioner in my grow room. We can get days above 85F ,albeit somewhat rare, in April and early May. I don't want to fry my plants with the added heat from lights while I am at work.

Judging the top of the soil often isn't the best way to tell if you need to water. I either check the soil at the bottom of my seedling containers or for larger plants often wait for them to show signs of needing water (slightly drooping leaves). After a while you can tell by how heavy the cell or tray is whether it needs water or not. Roots can rot very fast if in standing (perched) water.

Often we are trying to mimic a plants natural conditions to get it to grow to its full potential. For example you wouldn't water a cactus like you would a orchid from the rainforest. Nor would you plant an orchid in sand. Same goes true with amount of light. Since most artificial lighting setups don't have the intensity of the sun so we make up for it by having the lights on longer.

Hope this helps some.

I am now 'unproclaiming' myself.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 12:54PM
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bdgardener(3 AB)

First of all I had to figure out what 70 degrees was, sorry I'm from the generation caught in the cross over, and temp conversion was my down fall. Thank goodness for myconvert on the iphone. OK so 21degees celsius. At this time of year too hot, If you are trying to maintain a constant temp I would shoot for 10 degrees C ( 50 F ) We try and mimic out side temps so of course warmer during the day and cooler nights. Of course don't let it get too close to freezing this is a dangerous time of year as temps can drop so suddenly especially at higher elevations. I'm in the foothills of Alberta I can get frost in the middle of August. Now lets talk about light. All plants need some darkness, 6-8 hrs. I'm not educated on the heat cables but I'm sure someone from here will let you know when to turn those babies off.
I'm sure you will get lots of info from this forum, my kids are complaining it's their turn on the computer. C

    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 12:55PM
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SouthCountryGuy Zone 4b-5 SE BC(Zone 4b-5 SE BC Canada)

bdgardener, that is funny cause I work in C too but RWS is from montana so I had to convert.

I don't know nothing about soil heating cables either. I was under the impression people only use them for germination. In a greenhouse your soil would be the same temp as ambient. Isn't another function of soil is to keep roots cool?

I, too, also drop the temp at night. BTW do you keep your plants at 10C during the day and is this for all species? What do you drop to at night? The temps I use are from the advice, not that it is right or wrong, from a large seed/nursery company. So about 15C days and I drop to 10C nights. I am always willing to learn and try new things.

I hate to admit it but I am from the foothills of AB...yeahp scary.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 2:22PM
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runswithscissors(MT 4/5)

The soil heating cables are little wires that you can put in soil to keep the germination flats at a constant 70*F (21*C). Many seed instructions advise that seeds need heat to germinate, so that's why I figured on the cables. They work well, and according to a thermometer, are fairly accurate.

I'm wondering if it is a far north/high elevation thing, but when the sun peeks out, even if it well below freezing, my greenhouse becomes an oven. But as soon as the sun goes behind a cloud, the temp plummets back down again. This is the main culpret giving me such a hard time stablizing temperature.

So, rationally, I KNOW that plants like it cooler, but the cooler I keep it, the slower stuff grows, and maybe it's my impatience that is the driving force behind my fingers on the heater knob. Doesn't 50*F seem cold? Maybe not for brocolli, but how about the flowers, and the peppers?

What do you think about leaving the fan on? Air circulation - check. But does circulating air, actually help stabalize temps even in the corners and by the sides of the greenhouse? Or would you say the fan lowers the temp significantly?

Southcountryguy - If 85*F is considered frying temp to you for your growing room, then my greenhouse is a blast furnace. ( I always smile to myself when my temps read the balmy Florida-vacation temp of 85*) No wonder my plants are croaking!

    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 9:58PM
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SouthCountryGuy Zone 4b-5 SE BC(Zone 4b-5 SE BC Canada)

RWS, I understand the cables are to keep the soil temp for germination. I was under the impression you were using them for something other than that.

If you can keep the greenhouse warm enough when it is cold then you just need better venting. Numerous ways to accomplish this but you should have at least two, somewhat apart to get flow, although one is better than none. Just an open door won't cut it, but a gable vent on the end opposite the door would be huge.

The slower plants grow the stockier they become. Huge if you want to plant out.

My fans are on 24/7 to circulate. A fan won't raise or lower the temp but average it out throughout your room.

If the temp goes to 85F outside my grow room would probably hit 100F under the lights. I started another fan a couple days ago when outside temp was 74F and my plants nearly hit 80 before I got it going and the other windows open.

Right now I am only growing annual flowers.

Where in MT are ya if you don't mind me asking?

    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 11:08PM
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bdgardener(3 AB)

Right now my plants are all still in the basement under lights. My basement stays cool 10-15 degrees unless the kids complain and want the wood stove started. Under the lights it would be warmer but I'm cheap and don't have a thermometer under the lights. Stocky is what you want, I have annual flowers, perennials, peppers, and tomatoes going right how. For something like the peppers and tomatoes stocky is really good, it just means the flower buds will be closer together. If they get leggy or tall they won't have any more buds. When I move stuff out I will keep the door on the greenhouse open and I have a vent window on the opposite end. I close it up around 4pm and trap some of the warmer air for overnight. If your daytime temps are above freezing you know the temp in the greenhouse will be considerably warmer. A couple of summers ago I let it get too warm inside and all I had was massively tall plants and little fruit. Cheryl

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 1:19PM
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runswithscissors(MT 4/5)

South- you're right...(blush). I was using the cables for growing on heat after germination. I do have two gable vents, but for the winter I tape them up because air leaks out of them so fast. I guess now, since it only gets to a little below freezing now, I can untape them and start using them...but it would have put me in the poor-house last month if I would have jumped the gun on that. So, 2 vents, plus the door, plus a fan. I think that problem is solved. Stop using the cables and lights for ambient heat....got it.

I did not realize that slow growth means strong growth. Some of my sprouts just sit there for weeks tho, before dieing. Do they have a do-or-die time line?

I guess the whole idea of this exercise is for me to fully understand that plants don't need as much warmth as I would like them to have. They need alot more air than I thought, too. So now, watering and fertilizing? Here's my plan: water when the containers start to feel light, and I decided to get one of those gallon pump-spray bottles to keep the top of the soil mix wet for light-needing seeds. Plus I decided to come up off the hip for comercially prepared seed germination mixes, instead of using my own. Altho I do add my fert mix to the potting soil, I don't use it for germination. Instead I'm planning on foliar feeding once true leaves develope. My fert mix: 1 cup blood meal, 1 cup bone meal, 1 cup kelp, 1 cup alfalpha meal, and 1/2 cup epsome salt.

Thanks you friends, for walking me thru this. I know that the Bitterroot Valley, south of Missoula is not concidered "Far North" but it is northerly. :) I sooooo wanted a greenhouse my whole life, and now that I have one I really need to learn to use it properly.

For the summer, I have been tarping the greenhouse, to try and preserve it for as many years as possible. Do you utilize your greenhouse during summer?

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 6:15PM
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SouthCountryGuy Zone 4b-5 SE BC(Zone 4b-5 SE BC Canada)

RWS, I can't give you a definitive answer on a do or die timeline. I also can't find conclusive evidence on to when we 'have' to start fertilizing. There are many schools of thought out there. From what I can conclude from all my research is that it is probably best to fertilize each time you water with a very weak (say 1/8th strength 3:1:2 NPK) solution and to add 1/4 to 1/2 strength when you see plant deficiencies. My thoughts are that this is more like nature would be. Nutrients there when they need them with the odd influx.

Before starting this fertilizing regime I noticed stagnant times with my seedlings. At the time I was following the school of thought that seedlings had enough nutrients to take them to their first set of leaves. Yet I still found stagnant times where my seedlings did nothing. One day I accidentally fertilized the seedlings and they took off in growth. Coincidence? Possibly.

I would like to know how your foliar feeding program works for you. I have read up on it but never considered it solely as a fertilization system. Seems like a lot of work LOL.

I use my spray bottle a lot but also either have my seedlings in a covered dome or covered with saran wrap to hold moisture on the surface. I just can't be there often enough to keep the surface damp.

At the moment I don't use/have a greenhouse. I used to use one all the time in the summer but that was 30 miles away and a couple zones colder LOL.

I provided a very good link for container soils. It is well worth the read.

Here is a link that might be useful: container soils

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 11:29PM
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SouthCountryGuy Zone 4b-5 SE BC(Zone 4b-5 SE BC Canada)

RWS another article on foliar feeding I had bookmarked and just found.

Here is a link that might be useful: Foliar feeding

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 12:09AM
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bdgardener(3 AB)

I use my greenhouse all summer long, I have it full of tomatoes, don't get me wrong I also have tomatoes in the garden. I have soil in wooden boxes the hubby built, kinda like raised beds. Every spring I dig out a little and add some manure. And before any one asks no disease or blossom end rot I must have really good manure. I keep the door completely open for the most part. Will shut it at night if I remember. I get some really early cherry tomatoes this way. Cheryl

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 5:15PM
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runswithscissors(MT 4/5)

Thank you for the links. I find it interesting that it is a VERY good possibility that I'm over-watering, and that poor draining soil may be one of the reasons why....but I have to water my stuff every day, sometimes twice a day to keep it from wilting. If my soil were more porous, I would not be able to go to work and be back in time to water before everything died. (But this is for plants that are already up and drinking. I know my germination mix is being overwatered...and that is something that you've made me realize that I need to fix.) Perhaps it's because of complete lack of humidity. Even my greenhouse never gets over about 60% and usually hovers around 30%.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 10:42PM
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SouthCountryGuy Zone 4b-5 SE BC(Zone 4b-5 SE BC Canada)

Hey ya RWS,

Me thinks if your having to water that much to avoid wilting those plants are in too small of containers. I don't like having to water every day much less twice.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 5:52PM
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bdgardener(3 AB)

I think that might be it too. I have learned over the years that the cell packs (9's) are too small. I use the 6's to sow seeds and transplant into 4" or 6" pots. Yes you use quite a bit of soil but I usually buy it at the end of the season on sale. C

    Bookmark   April 11, 2013 at 9:55AM
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SouthCountryGuy Zone 4b-5 SE BC(Zone 4b-5 SE BC Canada)


I was thinking about your wilting issue as I was driving today. The other possibility for your plants wilting, if they are in large enough pots and the bottom of the pot is still wet, is that if your growing medium has a high perched water table and the bottom part of your container could have roots that are rotting. Thus effectively reducing the capacity the pot can hold.

I am becoming more like bdgardener. I usually don't use 72 cell packs anymore and am seeding in 3" or 606 trays. That is only because I am lazy and don't like repotting. If I use 9's (72 Cell trays) i usually repot within a week tops.

Hope this helps somewhat. :)

    Bookmark   April 11, 2013 at 9:23PM
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runswithscissors(MT 4/5)

Oh no, guess what!!! I killed alot of my plants today. All the smallest ones. Pampas grass, ageratums, delospermas, delphiniums, red lettuce, scunnions (altho they may come back), petunia, impatiens, coleus, vinca....

I'm just sick.

Had to take a trip to the city today. Gone all day, but it was such a perfect day weather wise that I water/misted everything this morning and went about my day worry free. Not too hot, not too cold, not over-cast, but some clouds so not fully sunny either. Got back about 6:00. DEAD.

In an effort to solve my mortality rates I had cut back on watering and tried using more misting. It simply wasn't enough. I use the 6 packs in 1020 flats and half-flats. So I think I have plenty of soil for the first few inches of life.

So, after evaluating the evidence, two big issues you helped me solve were air-flow...now I leave the fan on....and too much heat....I've turned that way back and turned all the heating cables off. It's still too early to tell, but before today, I thought things were looking up. Foliar feeding was putting some color into everybodies leaves, and stockier growth seeming to be coming a reality. Then I blew it.

Ahhh Damn.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2013 at 9:07PM
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SouthCountryGuy Zone 4b-5 SE BC(Zone 4b-5 SE BC Canada)

Hey RWS,

Man I feel for you. I am trying to in vision how things could go so wrong so fast. I had problems with not being able to water media that was peat based and the seedlings were very small and lost them, which is why I shy away from it.

You seem to have been looking at the cause. I lost a pile at the start of this year as well. My issues were poor media, improper airflow and to high of temps.

I can't really say I know anything about foliar feeding other than the research I have done. IMHO it is a great way to supplement feeding and I do mist my plants due to a low humidity. I also mist plants when they are showing symptoms of something. This is to figure out why....magnesium shortage, iron shortage or most common nitrogen deficiency.

I wish I could help you more....where they in the media you initially started them in?

    Bookmark   April 12, 2013 at 10:52PM
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bdgardener(3 AB)

Hmmmmm, Way too strange, I'm still thinking it got too hot. Where they in direct sunlight? Did we establish what size of pots are they in. This just shouldn't happen that quickly, I have left mine for days without extra care and even if they are wilted a good drink usually brings them back. We need to figure this out. C

    Bookmark   April 13, 2013 at 2:22PM
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SouthCountryGuy Zone 4b-5 SE BC(Zone 4b-5 SE BC Canada)

bdgardener I have been thinking about this alot as well. I am not sure the age of the seeds but could have been damping off that caught up. Especially with media explained a long time ago and overhead watering....Heck unless my seedlings are under a week I can usually miss a day of watering without them doing much other than wilting.

RWS can you provide more stats so we can figure this out?

    Bookmark   April 13, 2013 at 9:41PM
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runswithscissors(MT 4/5)

That is so nice of you, to try to help me solve this problem. I believe damping off may have played a role on my first batch of seedlings...due to the fact that I kept it too hot, too wet, and cover on to boot.

This second batch does have me puzzled...and I think (i don't know) that lack of fertilizer is the problem as well as lack of water. Since this thread started I began a twice weekly foliar-feeding program (weak solution) so far I have misted 3 times....and everything I have sprayed is turning a darker green, putting out true leaves, and getting bigger. The tiny seedlings are the only ones I lost yesterday...and pretty sure it was because the media was too dry. As per tons of advice I figured my media needed to be more porous than the last batch...so by golly I made it porous. Seeds sprouted just fine, but now I've made it too hard to keep up with watering. I need to meet at the happy medium. I am going shopping (maybe tomarrow) for some ProMix BX. I think you guys are right and that may be a great point in the right direction...for PH reasons too. I have also been faithful at adding 1 tsp of vinegar to each gallon of water, which bring the ph to 6.7. I can definately tell that I'm not leaving water spots on leaves nearly as bad.

It may have gotten up past 80*F in my greenhouse yesterday, but not much more. I didn't take the plants out because the forcast called for scattered showers, and that usually means a downpour. Lately I've been able to to move them all outside for at least part of the day, so genuine sunshine (not filtered) might be helping with the growth spurt too.

To tell the truth, I am quite happy with the week and a half improvements made, with all your help. And other than yesterday's disaster, I believe my greenhouse is going to start seeing more green. :)

I'll try to take some pictures...if I can figure out to post them.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2013 at 12:46AM
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SouthCountryGuy Zone 4b-5 SE BC(Zone 4b-5 SE BC Canada)


Glad your happy with the results even though still losing the odd plant. I still do some stupid things that I know won't work and have the odd plant die. Not sure why I can't just leave things alone somedays. I always have to try something new.

ProMix BX, from what I can see on here and locally, is probably the most used medium on the market. I recently bought a bunch of bales the store clipped with their forklift. I am sure I am going to have enough for life now :). Especially since I am only going to use it to germinate small seed varieties, possible larger as well. I am still going to use the 5:1:1 for my main growing media. Everything is still doing better in it for me. Did I send you the link on container soils? I had a long struggle with media until I stumbled across that article. If I didn't let me know and I will get it to you.

I am not sure if adjusting the PH of your water is warranted unless you know the PH of your medium although it seems to be working ok for you. The PH of the 'soil' you use might surprise you.

Them tiny seedlings could have been either damping off or too dry, especially if it hit 80F in the greenhouse. I still think you should do what you can to keep the seedlings at about 60F. It is also much easier to control watering under cooler conditions.

There are lots of posts on how to post pictures that explain it better than I could. I used "how to post pictures" in the search engine.

Ug off to work...have a great day.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2013 at 10:24AM
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bdgardener(3 AB)

I wouldn't mess with your water either, I'm on a well with really hard water and my seedlings survive. I would imagine anything you add to the water would remain in the soil and accumulate. I use a organic seedling potting soil and then pot up with commercial mixes. In my large planters it's whatever comes out of the compost bin and the field. How crowded are your seedlings? As soon as mine are big enough I cut (with scissors) any ones that I don't want, leaving one per pot. That way I don't damage roots when transplanting. C

    Bookmark   April 14, 2013 at 11:50AM
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bdgardener(3 AB)

I just wanted to give you some encouragement, over the years I have killed many, many things and every year I have failures. I still can not get zinnias to grow. I try every year and every year I say no more, but for some strange reason they appear and plead with me to try once more. About three years ago it was time to pot up the tomatoes (120 plants) and I opened my bag of soil and went hmmmm that smells a little like ceder. Checked the bag and it was the right stuff, the same stuff I used for several years. Began to pot up, got about 80 plants done and went that's enough for today. Watered them, put them back under the lights and went back to taking care of the kids. The next day I went to do the rest and the first 80 plants stems were burnt, and they were all laying on their sides. The ceder or whatever it was had destroyed my babies. I was so disheartened. Every year we have failures some worse than others but we learn and tell others. This years my petunias have been planted 3 times and I have never had problems with them before, first two batches were old seed, the ones that are coming along now are not the color I wanted but will do and they are considerable smaller than the lobelia that they will be partnered with but they will come. So how are things this week? C

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 8:18PM
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runswithscissors(MT 4/5)

Thanks for all the encouragement. I went to the feed store and have them calling their suppliers to see if they can order in some ProMix BX for me...yes, southie, you did provide the link, and it was a really interesting article.

Since I haven't turned my water on for the year, I'm still carrying it in gallon jugs from the house to the greenhouse. I'm still adding 1 tsp of vinegar per gallon, and so far my plants seem less chlorotic (is that a word?). Less yellow, so it is either the foliar misting or the lower PH or probably both in combination. Once I turn on the water in a couple of weeks, they will just have to suffer with what comes out of the hose.

I figured out how to post pictures...now I just need to take some. (smile.)

BD, I'm sorry about the cedar story, but I'm wondering if that was it. Last year I ordered 2 dumptruck loads of shredded cedar mulch in and smothered my flowerbeds with it. It didn't kill anything. I also found an answer to alot of questions I've seen in these forums: can you plant seeds in mulch? Yes! You! Can! (no, I'm not running for office.) The mulch smothered all seeds on the ground, but any seeds landing on top, sprouted just fine.

Vinca...vinca is my never survive plant. No matter how hard I try, I cannot grow annual vinca.

The next big problem I'm having...fungus gnats are starting to show in numbers. I shopped for bt, but none of our stores have ever heard of it. I'll have to order it on line, I guess. I've tried soapy water, and systemic water on my larger plants...none of which show any signs of helping. I think these little buggers are eating my baby onions. Do you have a secret recipe?

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 11:17PM
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SouthCountryGuy Zone 4b-5 SE BC(Zone 4b-5 SE BC Canada)

Fungus gnats are horrible. Let your soil dry out really well then water with 1 part hydrogen peroxide (3%) to 4 parts water. I use a spray bottle to make sure I get all the soil in the container. Thankfully I haven't had this problem in a very long time.

On the ProMix it is to bad you weren't a bit closer you could come and get some. I have lots and got it cheap :) Wonder what they would think of it at the border LOL.

I'd love to see a pic of your plants that are exhibiting a yellow condition. Is it all your plants or just a few and of those is it more species related? My heavy feeders, e.g. petunias, will yellow when I fall behind on my fertilizing from being nitrogen deficient.

Marigolds used to really give me a problem. I couldn't get over the fact that they liked to dry out before watering.

*edit* forgot to mention that it often takes more than one treatment of hydrogen peroxide and H2O2 is quite beneficial to boot!

This post was edited by SouthCountryGuy on Wed, Apr 17, 13 at 0:03

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 11:54PM
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runswithscissors(MT 4/5)

Ahh good recipe idea Southie, thanks. I did a little research and found out that mosquito dunks have the same bacteria that kills fungus gnat larvea. I ordered some "bits" to sprinkle and see if they work. But I'm going to try the hydrogen peroxide too.

Having a very busy week. Plant orders starting to come in, and wouldn't you know it...right before a freeze spell.

Finally got all my simple chores done this week...namely yard clean up, and spreading of 3 dump-truck loads of mulch. Question? Do you prefer shredded mulch, or bark chips? I can't decide which one I like better...but the chips sure do last longer.

I still have a few yellowed plants, bellis (English daisy) and a couple of teeny, tiny vinca's still holding on....but almost everything has came out of it since I started foliar feeding.

Tomarrow I'll take some pictures....(if I remember.)

    Bookmark   April 20, 2013 at 10:06PM
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