Gritty Mix for plunged pots? Al, what do you think?

TruNorth7(8b (SF Bay Area))July 14, 2012

Al, Container Gardener Extraordinaire and others who can help!:

My plumeria are plunged in pots into a raised bed up against my house. Currently they are in a mix of perlite and cactus soil (which has many small particles so it has a significant PWT, right?). From reading "Container Soils and Your Plants' Nutrition," I know that Gritty is not appropriate for in ground plants due to the Giant Wick that is Earth... but my plants are plunged 7-8 months out of the year. They live in my dining room over the winter (Sweetheart hates this).

The trees aren't dormant the entire time they are inside, so they do get some water. Would it be better to have them in Gritty due to the time they are "potted", or would I end up fighting a losing battle the better part of the year when they are plunged? Also, due to the holes drilled in the sides of the pots to let the roots roam the raised bed, regular garden soil will migrate into the pot, I assume.

But, the roots have access to the bed outside their pot, so I won't need to worry so much about the wicking inside the pot, since they'll have access to surrounding soil... should this factor be considered?

The plants are doing quite well, but I have some I need to re-pot now (the soil they came in is terrible), so I'm deciding if I should buy enough Gritty ingredients to re-pot the rest early next year.



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mksmth zone 6b Tulsa Oklahoma(6b)

If I may ask. Why do you want to change if what you are doing and using has your trees "doing quite well".


    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 8:45AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

One thing we need to respect is another's perspective. One grower might look at growing with the attitude that nothing is going to stand in the way of my reducing the effects of every limiting factor that impact my plants' growth and vitality. Growers like this tend to look at growing from the plant's perspective. Another grower might not be interested in entertaining the thought of changing anything, so long as the plant seems to be doing well enough. I've found this to be especially true if the chance involves more effort or expense - this is more a view from the grower's perspective - how it affects ME, rather than the plant. Neither perspective is wrong, they're just different ways of looking at things and ordering priorities. We all go through the same considerations, but some people come down on the plant's side & others on the grower's side.

A prime example of this can be seen in the form of people arguing vehemently against the effort involved in finding ingredients and then making either the 5:1:1 mix or gritty mix. Almost always, the argument against comes from growers who have never tried either mix, and are content with the results they get from a from-the-bag mix because it's easy. Not all of us orders our priorities in that fashion. My good enough may be her poor; and good may in fact not be good enough for her. I know a lot of people like that and admire them for their desire for continual improvement.

Rachel's question is a very good one, and her commentary clearly illustrates she's been thinking the issue through (from the plant's perspective) and looking for some input. Any teacher would give her high marks for that.

I say often that our plants are already genetically programmed to grow to be beautiful specimens. The ONLY thing we can do to help is to be proactive in continually reducing the effects of ALL things that have the potential to limit growth/vitality. Remember, if everything is perfect except ONE thing, that single limitation can wreck the entire growing experience.

One thing for Rachel to consider is that water in plunged pots behaves differently than it does in conventional container culture. That they are partially buried turns them into mini raised beds, hydrologically speaking. As long as they are not plunged into clay, the earth will quickly wick any perched water from the soil she chooses; so she has roughly the same potential for growth/vitality using soils that would otherwise be too heavy (water retentive) to be well suited to container growing as she does if using the gritty mix or the 5:1:1 mix.

Since there is little notable loss in potential, based on her growing method, if using a heavier soil, we need to look to the interval between when the pots are lifted and moved indoors and when they're returned to the garden or beds and buried.

Normally, there would be considerable concern over accumulating salts during the over-wintering period; this, as a result of having to water a heavy soil in small sips to avoid the soil being wet for any extended period. Since I believe she will be watering rather infrequently, it may not be a serious issue. Just a guess - if she's watering less often than every two weeks, I think she should be ok until repot time. Also, if she's willing to cheat the state out of a little rain water and use that to water with, it pretty much makes it a nonissue.

I think Rachel's free to use a heavier soil if she wants to, and it shouldn't have any notable effect on her plants. If she has a suitable bark on hand - maybe something like a 5:2or3:1 bark:peat:perlite would be good - or even a bagged soil. The only real disadvantage to a peaty soil for this particular application is that it makes repotting more difficult.

So - there's a little about perspectives and growing for you to consider. I hope there's enough there for you to set course with a little greater degree of certainty. Time to get out in the yard before it gets too hot again. It looks like another day that will be pushing 100*.

Take care - thanks for the kind words. ;-)


    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 11:41AM
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TruNorth7(8b (SF Bay Area))

Thanks Al!

Mike- Al hit the nail on the head: even though the plants are doing well, I know that they could be better. I want my plumeria to look like Laura's!!!!!!!!!

Even though my Celadine is exactly the same as every other Celadine (thus has the same potential), I have many limiting factors (shorter growing season, plants that have to come inside, etc.) that ensure I will never have a Celadine as nice as those in Hawaii, but I have room for improvement.

Al- Thanks for the "high marks" comment. I feel warm and fuzzy :) I do indeed try and look at things from the plant;s perspective; if I looked only at what is easiest for ME I'd use Miracle Grow Moisture Control Potting Mix and water every 2 weeks. I would have some ugly plants though!

I appreciate your advice and help so very much. I can't even begin to tell you the degree to which YOU have improved me as a gardener, in all respects, not just plumeria. One comment you made along the lines of "Because I know how to grow one plant, I know 90% of how to grow any plant" was so helpful to me. Here I was thinking all about soil structure for plumeria only, then I started thinking about soil structure for every other plant. This has dramatically improved the health of everything I grow, from tomatoes to landscape trees to plumeria.

I am on agricultural water (aka rain/canal water), which doesn't have the same chemicals of tap water, but picks up salts and all kinds of stuff. For this reason I like to flush the pots very well when I water.

So, what I think I'll do is this:
1. Buy enough supplies to pot all the plumeria into Gritty Mix
2. Re-pot the trees that REALLY need it right now
3. Wick all pots when I bring them inside this fall
4. Switch to Gritty only for next season
5. Plunge the pots in the Spring
6. Hope, Hope, Hope my trees look like Laura's next season!!!

Thank you so much for your help Al! Does this seem like a good plan?


btw, I always laugh at the term "genetic potential" because my brother always jokes I never met MY genetic potential... I'm the "shrimp" of the family, being 4 inches shorter than anyone else :)

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 11:26PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If he's your older brother tell him that when God made you he was finally learning how to make efficient use of space. Instead of his old method of puff packaging - lots of unnecessary packaging, not much content - he decided to give the world a better value by offering A) the full package B) making sure the package was full of goodness, or C) using the packaging to its full potential. If he's your younger brother, I'm sure you can find a way to reword that idea to suit the sibling order. ;-)

Lots of kind words in your last offering. Thank you very much. The compliments are nice, but what really pleases me is knowing I had some part in helping someone to look at growing in ways that enhance their experience. That's the only reason I spend time on the forums. Laura is the same way - she is always looking for ways to increase her skills and knowledge base. She pays her dues, so it's no surprise that you and others want to emulate her. So now we're all 3 fuzzy/warm. Lol

I meet a lot of people on the forums, and it's always the ones that are enthusiastic - willing to think about what's being said and give some thought to ideas that at first don't seem quite 'mainstream' - that make exchanges fun .... rewarding is probably a better word. It's surprising how everything fits together once given some consideration - and how easy it CAN be - agree?

Your plan will certainly work, but because you're eliminating the PWT problem by 'plunging' (good word - is it yours or did you read it somewhere?) you probably don't HAVE to use the gritty mix. I'd encourage you to try to find 2 plants that offer you a good way to compare the gritty mix to something readily available so you can see if the effort is worth the reward. I think the gritty mix is the most productive/easiest soil for conventional container culture I've ever used, but if the method you're using makes using it a moot point, it hardly seems fair to encourage you to go that route. IOW - I promote fast draining, well-aerated soils every day because they work so well in conventional container culture. Still, I always hold the grower's best interest well above promoting a soil when there are variables to be considered, and it's not very often I get a chance to illustrate that. Your call of course.

The only other thing I'd question is #2 of your plan. I don't know enough about plumeria culture to say with certainty that it's not a good idea to repot them when in leaf. I hope someone who CAN say with a high degree of certainty will step up and offer some input. My first inclination is to think that spring is the better choice or possibly the only reasonable choice to perform full repots.

Best luck - thank you again for the very kind words.


    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 4:21PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hi Rachel!!!

You have asked such great questions and i just knew AL would finally see this post. Im so glad he answered your question and i also agree with himm that you are climbing the mountain to search for more and are willing to do what you can for the best growing potential for your trees and plants. It doesnt stop with Plumeria, this all works with all trees as well.

Understanding the basics and applying them is the first start. I was so touched that you want your trees to look like mine. That makes me feel so good and what could be a greater compliment than that?

I love messing with my mixes and getting my hands right in the trees and seeing what they need. Getting the mix, water, and fertilizing system down is the key factor in the health of out roots and then they will give you all that they have to offer.

Im so glad that you have read these articles and promote them as i do. Some people like this, some it will take time. It is all good. Just knowing that we want the best for our trees is the beginning.

You both have me all warm and fuzzy! LOL...

Thanks AL!! : )

You are such a kind and giving person. Thank you for taking the time to come around and answeer questions. You have taught me well...

Rachel.. Normally I would do a full repot in the spring (bare rooting), but i would also and have done a root prune during the summer with out any problem. I would probably wait until spring when they are coming out of dormancy and then do your full repot. Potting up is different. That can be done IMO anytime, but i would keep it sheltered after i do this just to acclimate it fron full sun and any stress.

Please keep us posted and thank you for your kind words. You make me smile...

Thanks AL!!

Take care,


    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 11:29PM
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Some ingredients like pumice and perlite are very lightweight and make for easier transport of potted plants. That is an important factor for me. I plunge big pots into my garden in the spring, and it makes it much easier to unearth them when they are filled with lots of perlite.

Another nice thing about the gritty stuff, is that for the most part it can be reused and recycled for new plantings. Turface for example does not break down.

One potential negative, depending on the substrate ratios, is that when it comes time to remove a plant for repotting into a bigger container, the soil mix falls apart easily from the rootball. However, I have never found this to be detrimental.


    Bookmark   April 23, 2013 at 12:11PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

;-) Semi-self-repotting is a huge plus in my book. It's important to work on the roots of most plants regularly if they are to have the best opportunity to realize their full potential. Plants begin to be negatively affected (growth/vitality) at about the point where root congestion has advanced to a degree that allows the root/soil mass to be lifted from the pot completely intact (except for the occasional particles that fall off the roots when using mixes comprised of predominantly coarse ingredients).


This post was edited by tapla on Wed, Apr 24, 13 at 15:57

    Bookmark   April 23, 2013 at 3:23PM
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