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Peat…and re-peat

transplant1 All my other hanging plants look great. Why does this one look on its ‘last legs’?

Well, to be blunt, this is not ‘my’ plant. It was a gift to me. And like a dummy, I did not follow my usual standard operating procedure, which is to knock the plant out of the pot, shake off all the planting mix and replant it in ‘my’ mix. I just never got to it and I watered this plant at the same time I watered all the other plants, which are in ‘my’ mix (and some of them have, as I’ve mentioned before, a disposable diaper in the bottom of the basket which acts as a ‘water bank’. We’ve actually had quite a wet spring so far – there should have been enough water, but this plant is in major pain here

Let’s take a closer look:
transplant2Uh oh. There’s the culprit. See the inside edge of the pot? See the potting mix? See the huge gap between them (“Look, Jane, look,” said Dick. “See the gap in the pot?” “Yes,” said Jane. “This is bad.” “We must tell Mother, quick.”)? This is the telltale sign of potting mixes that are overwhelmingly peatmoss. Now, I’m not one to trash peat, ok? It has it’s place. It’s sterile; it’s light and fluffy, so it’s a great ingredient in potting and seed starting mixes.

But unless you water this stuff every..single…day… it dries out and shrinks up and forms this almost impenetrable brick-like mass in a pot. Even if you stuck the pot into a bucket of water, it would take forever for the peat to really soak up the water. And once it’s formed that gap in a pot, you can water it from today until the end of time and all the water…is…going…to…escape out the gap at the sides and out of the bottom of the pot and the plant is not going to get any water at all.

Let’s look closer at this mix, ok?

transplant3Now, this is a very boring picture but it’s a really good illustration of a commercial potting mix. Very basic stuff, this – and it’s a very popular mix because it is very inexpensive: peat and a little bit of perlite(tm). Yummy. Perlite(tm) is there to make the mix even more fluffy and light. No wonder this planter has all the consistency of a potato chip.

So, what to do to try to save this plant?
Well, first of all, I knocked it out of the pot and trimmed it way back. As in, down to about 4″ worth of stems and leaves and shook off all the planting mix on the roots. If you leave that peaty planting mix (say that three times…peaty planting mix..peaty planting mix) on the roots, guess what? You STILL have stuff that doesn’t hold water right on the roots. Roots need that film of water on them (well, at the microscopic level anyway) to do water and nutrient exchange – that’s what helps plants grow. So, shake all that stuff off. Dunk it in a bucket of water if you have to, but get it all off so that what you’ve got is a plant on the top and naked roots on the bottm.

I mixed up my mix, which uses potting soil that has compost in it – and I mix that half and half with…(and I’ve discussed this before) vermiculite(tm). Vermiculite is mica (mica ), that flaky mineral, which has been heated so that all the little layers basically explode like puffed rice cereal. It lightens up potting mixes AND it holds water, a lot of water. It’s great stuff. If you want to do your own potting mixes, you can’t go wrong with a mix of ‘potting mix’, ‘potting soil’ and vermiculite(tm). It’s so much better than just ‘potting mixes’, seriously and you will save a lot of time and water on your plants.

transplant4So, what I ended up with is this – I had some cuttings that I’ve been rooting for a couple of weeks, so I put a couple of those into the pot as well to jazz it up a bit and gave the whole thing a good drink of water.

But again – save yourself time, money and water with your planters: use a mix that does more for you in terms of holding moisture onto the roots of the plants. Otherwise, you will be spending a lot of time and water trying to keep them alive, or you will be rushing out to the home center looking for new annual flowering plants for your planters at just the time when the retailers have run out.

Have a great week (and a terrific Father’s Day!! Hug a dad!!). And remember: eat something green!

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