A Tale Of Two 'Smidt'(ies)

severnsideSeptember 13, 2011

Both taken today, the first is healthy normal green

The green of the second has recently paled quite noticeably though the candles are looking ok, what could be the issue? No environmental differences, the growing medium may slightly differ but not significantly.

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My abies koreana 'Gait'. When it arrived at the end of August there was an amount of yellow but the green was deep.

I repotted it but the roots were not very extensive, noted at the time. Now the yellow seems to be on the march, a few needles dropped and the new growth/bud growth is still in limbo. I'm prepared to wait it out like others that went from similar condition loss and stasis to death but could I be worrying too soon? Taken today (windy conditions)

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 2:08PM
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bluespruce53(Dorset UK)

What's your potting compost? looks a lot like John Innes no 2, if so this is lime based and not really suitable for most conifers IMO

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 2:38PM
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I'm too mean for John Innes. It's just B&Q peat compost, clay and grit/aggregates. I generally add ericaceous compost in now but couldn't swear in the two 'Smidt's cases.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 3:10PM
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bluespruce53(Dorset UK)

Can't say for sure even if the compost is at fault, but just for reference, I always make sure that all my composts and aggregates are lime free! and if it doesn't say so on the bag then I don't touch it.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 3:25PM
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It's something I will certainly pay more attention to. I have two lime hating Fothergillas which are in the same clay but with only ericaceous peat and seem happy. This is the first pine that's lost colour which is the odd thing. I'll repot it in an ericaceous rich mix and see if that's what it wanted and then be on the look out for similar symptoms in others.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 4:04PM
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...and thanks for the input Mr.Spruce.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 4:05PM
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coniferjoy(z7 The Netherlands)

The soil structure is the problem here.
I asked you several times before what kind you're using.
The structure of your soil is to close and contains not enough air which makes sure that the it will not dry up in time and the roots are dying.
It's to sandy and must be mixed with peat to create a "healthy" roots enviroment...

The thing is that most needle conifers are growing on mountain hills with a little bit of soil and most of the time the enviroment is more dry then moisty.
We must try to create the same enviroment in our pots otherwise it's a waste of your investments because the plants will die soner or later!

The Abies needle colour is slowly getting a pale colour because of a lack of fertilizer.
Next year in Spring you've to give it a controled coated fertilizer like Osmocote which will come free slowly during the year.
Ask your gardencentre for more info.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 5:13PM
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Conifer I can only go more or less with the ingredients.

Clay 40% / peat 20% / ericaceous peat 20% / mixed agg. (grit sand thru pea and bean sized) 20%

If you suggest how those % should be altered I'll get right on it.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 6:17PM
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coniferophytus(Z6 Pa)

Did you try adding a little magnesium (Epsom Salt)?

    Bookmark   September 13, 2011 at 8:08PM
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coniferjoy(z7 The Netherlands)

Severnside, you need a soil with the following ingredients:
-60% peat from which 50% coarse and 50% fine
-10% white sand
-10% clay
-10% cocoschips or bark
-10% pumice

40% clay is way to much, your first pic shows us clearly that your soil fills up close which is the cause that the roots will die because of suffocation.
Air in the soil is the key for a healthy plant.
Repot your plants now so they can make new roots before winter will start and don't forget the coated controled fertilizer in Spring next year.

Why don't you visit a local nursery to some good soil there?
A nurseryman does have the knowledge which soil is good for container plants.
Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 1:48AM
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Ok Conifer, I'll work round from the most vulnerable (waterphobic) and those not having come through a winter to the rest. I think I was worried that peat would act like a sponge no other reason.



I could try that yes, thanks.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 5:39AM
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*Thread hijack* something happier :)

Sedum cauticola 'Coca Cola'

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 8:43AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Ver nice Sedum! I like the planter, too.

As I read this Thread, my eye immediately went to that heavy potting mix.
But I see that Edwin and others mentioned the lack of aeration and compaction.

My conifers are grown in a mix that is 70 percent fir Bark, 15 percent Perlite,
and 15 percent Peat (or any peat-based potting mix/compost). To this mix,
I add 1 Tablespoon Dolomitic Garden Lime per gallon of soil. Never a problem,
and my plants have phenomenal root-growth.

Often, I'll omit the peat entirely and just include durable, water-retentive grit,
such as Perlite, Pumice, Turface, bonsai gravel, et cetera.

This is the mix my Cryptomeria grow in:

And this is a mix for some maples:


    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 10:32AM
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Josh, wow it takes your explanation and pictures to DRAG me to the realisation that we don't attempt to make a copy of 'ground' such as generally beneath us with extra drainage, but a mix of ingredients that make a root 'environment'. If you took all my pots, poured them out and leveled it then it would be an improved clay topsoil. If you took your mixes and did the same it would be more like the spongy needle and wood mold ground in a conifer wood. In fact the mineral element is absent below a certain granule size. Ok, I think I've made the jump, almost working backwards from the all important drainage to the addition of nutrient provision.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 1:06PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

I had a local grower (decidious plants) actually tell me to mimic the potting mix to the soil it will be transplanted to. Make no sense...the drainage dynamics are different worlds when comparing potted vs. earth.

Severn, good luck with getting your little ones back on track. Sure it will be no time before they are back in the saddle.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 1:59PM
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Thanks Whaas, appreciated. It'll be ok, I'll instigate a program. 95% of my crew are looking fine so it'll be an intervention to keep them that way. The hard work is mixing stuff into clay so if that's a lesser ingredient then it'll be kid's play, and I'll have a dump of improved clay to use in the borders.

Brightside am I :)

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 3:37PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hey, Severn! You got it. Drainage is key when growing in containers.
Of course, the faster the media drains, the more often you'll have to water and fertilize.
So the trick is to make a mix that is nice and open, and yet retains enough moisture that you'll
only have to water every 2 - 4 days, for example. With a porous mix, you can also use larger
containers without fear of root-rot due to constantly saturated soil in the bottom of the pot.

Particle size is also key to drainage. For plants that I intend to keep in containers,
I screen and rinse my ingredients. Fir bark is passed over a 1/4 inch screen and a 1/16 inch screen,
to remove the excessively large particles as well as the fine bark dust. Turface, Pumice, and Perlite
are also passed over a 1/16 inch screen. Basically, I want particles that are in the 1/16 - 1/4 inch range.

In a very humid or rainy environment, you'll want to decrease the organic component in your mix.
What I mix for my dry California climate will necessarily differ from the optimal mix in your climate,
so tinker with the ratios.

Also, a great benefit of using a loose mix is that it makes re-potting and bare-rooting a breeze.
Much easier to prune roots for bonsai, and much easier to access the roots when planting trees in the ground.
There's less trauma to the roots, and so the trees seem to establish themselves sooner (in my experience).

When you transition your conifers, make sure to remove all the old soil, especially if it's a hard ball
of clay at the heart of the root-system. When re-potting, fill all the spaces around the roots. I use
a chopstick or a kabob skewer, and I work slowly, watering as I go.


    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 5:58PM
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Josh... What source do you use for your small coarse but not too coarse or fine Fir bark? That mix looks excellent.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 10:28PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Thanks, Noki. I use a product called Micro Bark mostly.
It's comparable to E.B. Stone's "Orchid Bark" in fine grade, just marketed in a larger bag
under the name Greenall. Fir and Pine are the most commonly used barks, with Pine having
a slight edge in longevity in the mix. I have heard of Spruce and Hemlock bark being used as well,
but most folks caution against using barks like Redwood or Cedar in the mix itself.


    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 12:49AM
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Thanks once again Josh! Your info and pictures are a great guide to follow. I've got to find a good source of water retentive grit as the last time I looked there were just little bags of pumice for bonsai. There should be small bark chippings but down to 1/14 - 1/16 I'll again maybe have to search. Once that's done it'll be coming together :)

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 4:56AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

My pleasure, Severn!

And good luck sourcing ingredients. Bark always seems the most difficult to find.
Optimally, you'll want two grades of bark: an uncomposted bark that is structurally durable
for long-lasting (2 - 3 year) mixes; and a partially composted bark that will hold more
moisture for summer/seasonal growing (1 - 2 years only).

I've learned about container soils primarily from Al (Tapla) at Garden Web.
His two mixes are a perfect starting point for most growers, and require only slight
modification (in extremely hot areas, for example). The long-term mix is called Gritty Mix,
and the shorter-term mix is called the 5-1-1 (5 parts bark, 1 part perlite, 1 part peat).
I'm going to link the latest Thread, which is now on its fourteenth posting:
Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention

And here's a link to a Thread on the re-potting of my Cryptomeria japonica 'Tansu.'
Pics of the bare-rooting, root-pruning, re-potting, and full recovery:
Cryptomeria re-potting (pics)


    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 10:58AM
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Thanks Josh, I've sourced plentiful perlite so that's one part done. The bark I'll look around and see what's available under 'small sized' and type. I'm totally dead beat after work with an early rise so I'll cut it short now but will check back with progress.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 8:14PM
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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

There's a lot to the science indeed. You guys who've studied are further along then am I.

I would like to share how easy my mix is and it will work for anyone/anywhere. 50-60%perlite to peat moss. I've learned that adding organic fertilizers and/or compost attract vermin so I now fertilize with mir-acid. A lot of growers use time-released-fertilizer. And in fact a buddy of mine uses the same perlite to peat with osmocote, that's it, period, easy as that.

I root in 90%perlite to 10% peat. You can never use too much perlite no matter what you're doing with container gardening and conifers imo. I much prefer 60-70% perlite to peat than 50/50 but 50/50 will do the job just fine.


    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 8:30PM
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look on the undersides of the needles on that Abies. Mine turned yellow like that. Ended up being scale on the undersides of the needles. Look close, you'll see those suckers on there,roundish type of scale like these abies,sucking the juices outta the needle. Kinda like ich on a fish. I have the correct name if you find out that its the problem......

    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 2:28AM
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Negative poops, had a look and the reverses seem clear. I should repot it again in a better mix but I'm worried the roots might not take it. I'll monitor it for another week or two before deciding.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2011 at 5:38AM
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GOOD GOOD. you dont want those suckers, PITA

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 5:19AM
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Yeah that's a GOOD for sure Poops :)

Well I went round a couple of places and bought some 'Super Fine' bark and purlite.

I've settled on a basic 6/1/1/2 bark/eric.peat/peat/purlite mix. The bark is very fine shreds so not as good as your wonderful bark Josh but that may be beyond reach or expense here. I can adjust accordingly where possible. Nothing is set in stone.

The 'Smidt' needed a major root untangle as one root had wrapped around the original 9cm pot area and was about 3 feet long! It's now in the new mix so hopefully a further decline will be arrested.

BUT, on emptying the old mix out - and we've had a LOT of persistent rain this month, it was damp but not wet (a handful crumbled like sandy loam, no clumping) and certainly not saturated. Just some water right at the soil to plastic interface at the bottom. Wouldn't now be the exact time to expect a perch?



    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 11:19AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Good work, Severn!

Honestly, I don't tolerate any perched water in my containers....
but that's probably a lot easier for me in a dry climate and with course ingredients.
However, even after months of winter rain, I can tilt my containers and very very little
water drains out (if any).

In your case, even the shredded bark is superior to peat moss of the same particle size.
The reason being that peat moss is a pre-collapsed particle with no nutrient value.
Bark, though fine-textured, at least has some structure. Given the fine texture,
perhaps reduce to 5 parts bark, with an extra part of Perlite.

Now that the roots are in order, I think the tree will do much better.
Also, after watering, tilt your containers a good 45 degrees and observe if water
drains out - this water, if present, was the perched water. Another trick to get
around retentive soils is to stick a "wick" into the drain hole to allow excess water to travel
down the wick and out the container, thus eliminating perched water. None of these tricks,
of course, will take the place of a properly made soil.


    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 11:35AM
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Here's a - gloomy weather, rain lol - pic of the mix

Mix MK.I

I read the link to the container soil thread, wow, just so enlightening. A must-read.

Noted on what you say about tilting and the wick, thanks.

In favour is the fact that the pot now weighs less than half the back breaking amount it did and it's the best for the plant, no finger crossing. On the negative side it looks a little unnatural compared to clay soil and the plant isn't held so firmly do you have much problem with wind?

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 12:08PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Now that is a fine looking mix!

I was worried about the "super fine" description, but that doesn't look bad at all.
I agree with you about the Perlite....and most of us have the same complaint about the unnatural
look (as well the fact that it "floats"). A thin layer of sifted bark/mulch can make a good
top-dressing to obscure the Perlite.

After re-potting, I'll sometimes use a few stones to support the trunk.
This will help the roots colonize the new potting mix sooner. If you were staging
your plants for bonsai, you'd actually wire them to the rim of the pot for maximum support.
But I don't find that necessary. Despite the loose feel of the mix, the roots
will anchor nicely; and, as long as the mix stays moist, it should have enough
weight to keep from tipping.


    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 1:46PM
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So glad I got it right on the first hit :)

Now that the drainage and aeration are down it just leaves the added nutrients.

Josh - I add 1 Tablespoon Dolomitic Garden Lime per gallon of soil To raise the pH value? Forgive crass simplicity of mind but that's not for conifers right?

Dax ...so I now fertilize with mir-acid. A lot of growers use time-released-fertilizer

Ken says never to fertilize but these spartan mixes would seem to merit an addition.

Dax, the mir-acid, any specific quantity you've settled on or per instructions? Btw, 90% Perlite would break my bank, unless you get bulk.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 4:09PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I add the Dolomitic Lime to all bark-based mixes.
The Lime will slightly raise the pH, but more importantly it's a source of Calcium and Magnesium.
I've never seen an adverse reaction to the Dolomitic Lime, and I have Pine, Cypress, Cedar, Calocedrus,
Redwood, and Cryptomeria in this mix. Other plants - Maple, Citrus, Avocado - do exceptionally well, too,
and many folks consider these "acid loving" plants.

Ken says never to fertilize *a tree in the ground* ;-)
In a container, you must provide nutrients for your plants. I add Osmocote to the mix
for a cushion, but I also liquid fertilize with a product that contains all macro and micro nutrients.
When purchasing a fertilizer, look for one with an NPK ratio of 3:1:2 - this is the *ratio* at
which most plants actually use the NPK. Therefore, any 9-3-6, 12-4-8, or 24-8-16 fertilizer will
supply the nutrients in a proper ratio. I know that Miracle Grow offers a fertilizer like this.

When all's said and done, bark-based mixes are about the most economical out there.
(Especially considering what it would cost to replace dead trees!).


    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 5:13PM
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I use a potting mix i got off the container garden forum recommend by a guy named Al.It is 5 parts pine bark fines or Composted pine barck 1 Part spaghnum peat and 1 part Perlite.If you are growing woody plants and plan to have them in the pot for more than a year you need to add turface or corse sand along with a time released fert. and a mineral supplement,i Use ironite for this. Joe

    Bookmark   September 21, 2011 at 6:26PM
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Should have read the whole post.Greenman beat me to it.Would also like to say this basic mix save my Rhodo liners from root rot.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2011 at 6:36PM
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Yes that's the superb info that I'm working from Joe, it was linked higher up, thanks though! Not surprised people are pointing that out it's gold.

Thanks again for the advice, we're bringing it in to land now. I've watered some basic liquid ericacious feed that I already had onto the three I've repotted so far in the new mix. That'll probably do for this side of dormancy right? Is it washed out quickly in these mixes? That's where clay was good for something, it holds nutrients well. Then a slow release season long fertilizer (checked for what you recommend) as buds expand in spring? You say you liquid feed on top of a slow release; how often in a season do you do that and how do you judge? That would seem to be where I could get it wrong and over fertilize.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2011 at 6:54PM
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No prob Joe, so you're a happy convert? It still seems a little strange and minimal. Cultural shift :)

    Bookmark   September 21, 2011 at 7:05PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

The more the merrier, Joe! ;-)

You got it, Severn. In these mixes, the nutrients do flush readily. Slow-release fertilizers
typically don't last as long as advertized because of the thorough watering we do. I consider a
4-month slow-release to be just about used up in 3 months. I apply liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks
during the growing season; but there are some conifers that I fertilize weekly. If you have been
growing plants in containers without fertilizer, you'll be amazed at the increased vitality and growth.

How often or how much you fertilize really depends upon the plant, the current vitality level,
the size of the container, the type of soil mix, and how often one waters.

How many potted conifers do you tend, and how much time per week can you spend on them?


    Bookmark   September 21, 2011 at 7:49PM
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In my opinion, most people over think their poting mixes. I have grown in straight douglas fir bark, no probelms. Add some lime to raise PH and slow realease fertilizer, and you are good to go. I have seen people try to grow conifers in poting mixes designed for flowers. Crazy. They need lots of drainage. Everyone has their own receipe, Im just trying to find the simplest, and easiest way to grow nice plants.

Pinus strobus grown in 95% coarse douglas fir bark.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2011 at 2:55PM
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^^^There is the proof, fantastic result and picture.

Don't underestimate how much of a leap this is for the likes of me (pity them). Simple, yes, but not in a way that could have been guessed. Less is most definitely more.

Josh, I have about twenty five. All on one patio area and so a thorough watering is 20-30 minutes, less if I can simply drench them knowing the excess won't perch. I think it'll be a case of starting conservatively with the liquid feed on top of slow release and see if new growth is optimum. I have a lot this year whose new growth has not matched last years (in the nursery) we know why. Does that seem like a plan or is playing catch up leaving it too late?

    Bookmark   September 22, 2011 at 6:36PM
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I should of mentioned,I don't add lime if I am growing any 5 needle pines. They like a low ph. 3.5-6.0. Bark is just about 5.5-6.0 with nothing added. The more you fertilize, the lower the ph goes. So that's why adding lime in the begining helps maintain a balanced media. Except for the acid lovers. And my high bark mix takes a lot of water. It dries out very fast until the nitrogen starts to break down the bark. But give the plants what they love. Just my experience in my climate.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2011 at 7:58PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hey, Severn!
That's definitely a batch of trees that you can manage effectively.
I think your plan is wise - less is more (which I call Moore's Lesson). You can always add fertilizer,
but you can't always take it away (the resultant damage, that is). If you ever do over-fertilize,
a fast-draining mix is far, far easier to flush.

Jth, the peat moss also lowers the pH from what I recall.
Like you, I have a few different plant varieties growing in pure/nearly pure Fir bark. I use a fine-grade,
however, which helps to hold a little more moisture than the medium or course-grade. Either way, pure bark
mixes do require more watering, especially as the plants mature and the roots colonize the media.

I'll investigate the use of Lime with pines.
I might omit the Lime for those trees in the future, since my fertilizer provides Calcium/Magnesium.
Another thing: when I fertilize, I often add white vinegar to my solution, which temporarily lowers
pH. I do this with Maples, Citrus, and Conifers. It also helps to eliminate salt build-up in less
often watered mixes, such as those for succulents.


    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 3:33PM
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The reason I use a coarse mix in the begining is because over time the nitrogen breaks it down. I like to stay away from potting mix "mush". I have had problems before. But to each their own. Lots of water, often is required the more bark you use.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 3:53PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I'm rather partial to porous, gritty mixes myself ;-)


    Bookmark   September 23, 2011 at 8:27PM
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blue_yew(Z9 Devon UK)

This is what I use to feed my conifers in pots its good
stuff would not use anything else.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2011 at 9:34AM
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Hi. Very interesting thread .May we see what the Miracle grow fertiliser composition is please. Should be on the back of the bottle I imagine. Thanks in advance. T.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2011 at 2:32PM
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Thanks once again Josh, seems that Blue Yew finds the slow release enough, that would make it very simple for me with over ferting a danger without your experience. Tunilla has asked for ingredients and I need to ask also how much and whether one season long application is sufficient for Blue Yew's specimens (After all they're rare and their health extra paramount - if that were possible)

I think then that simply the vigilance has to shift from the saturation to the dessication end of the root health spectrum. Water bills will be higher in droughts but hey.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2011 at 6:31PM
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blue_yew(Z9 Devon UK)


I can't get a good enough photo for the info on the
other side of the container camera can't pick up on

    Bookmark   September 25, 2011 at 5:29AM
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Too bad! But can YOU read it and give us an account of what's in those pellets? NPK , MgO, and the trace-elements of course. Thanks! T.

PS Never mind if you can't read it...these days the printing on some labels is so small, you need a microscope to read them! .

    Bookmark   September 25, 2011 at 7:28AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Severn, it's my pleasure!

Tunilla, most products have a web-page devoted to the label....

Miracle Gro all purpose slow release package details

Looks to be a 17-9-11 (NPK). And doesn't seem to offer Calcium, which is typical for
most fertilizers.

Osmocote Plus, however, is a slow release formula that does include Calcium.


    Bookmark   September 25, 2011 at 1:45PM
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Thanks for the link,Josh - I should have thought of that.
17% Nitrogen...no wonder plants grow "twice as big".
If you want them to be just as sturdy as those wich are only half as big, then make sure there is an adequate supply of Calcium in the growing medium, as this element is an essential constituent of cell walls .Too little Ca and high Nitrogen makes for floppy plants wich have little resistance against cold or heat or disease.T.

PS Most water supplies contain a fair amount of Calcium ,so there is usually no need to worry about this. Not so in soft water areas or when rainwater is used ,in wich case the addition of some Dolomitic limestone (Calcium-Magnesium carbonate) to the growing medium is recommended.
PS My 20 Eurocents -allowing for 'inflation' !

    Bookmark   September 25, 2011 at 4:25PM
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