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Growing in pure sand


Palmfarmer

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Watched some lectures by Gary from Laguna Hills Nursery something got me curious.

He claims pure sand topdressed with compost is the best potting mix. 

He also claims compost and especially wood based compost is horrible to mix into soil and that "Sewer gases" will be made by doing that turning the soil black. 

Is he being a bit over the top or is his claims really true? 

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I have pure sand so I'm curious what people say.  My plants are planted directly in it without extra amendments but I don't use it as a potting mix.  Adding organic matter of done right should not do what he describes but it can break down into organic muck you don't want.  Major horizon changes are not great either, but the organic matter in an "o layer" on top of the soil is like mulch so I think it's situational.

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I load up planting holes with compost, manure, etc when I plant palms and other tropical plants, unless they are species that need exceptional drainage and are native to sand.   Since my base is sand, nothing gets soggy, or boggy.   Everything drains way too fast at baseline anyways.  The plants normally respond with explosive growth, especially if they were potted in sandy, anemic potting mixes.   

It all depends on the specific plant species, your native soil, air and ground temperatures/general climate, relative elevation of the spot, etc….

I grew up with horses, goats and sheep, on a small farm, and there was a lot of shoveling and cleaning out of wood chips from stalls.  We had a massive manure pile that needed turnover, shaping, stomping, and various other forms of tending too.   And my grandparents, who survived on subsistence farming using manual techniques prior to immigration here, couldn’t speak much English, but knew enough to teach us kids how to run the place using the old manual techniques.   

One look at the weeds and grasses growing on the edge of that pile would tell you all you needed to know about what well composed manure does to plants.  They were “prehistoricly huge” and deep, deep green.  We would limit the amount of that stuff we put in garden beds, because it caused rapid, uncontrolled growth, requiring too much maintenance. 

Raw wood chips and manure will kill plants, but the well composed stuff becomes a rich, black, dirt after a couple of years.  That stuff doesn’t give off “sewer gases”, which would be from raw, non-composted manure, as well composed manure isn’t found in sewers.  2 year aged composed stuff was what we would use, and that is done fermenting and producing methane and nitro and sulfur dioxides at that point.  

As with everything, “it depends” is probably the right answer..  It depends on a lot of factors.  For crotons, you can plant them in pure composed manure and peat, and they go nutty in that here.  They look terrible in mostly sand and alkaline conditions.  

One thing, I find you have to be careful of with organic stuff… it breaks down to almost nothing over time, leaving voids and air holes.   Sand remains sand.  I think that becomes important with planting bigger palms.  Small air voids around a small, 3 gallons palm on its way to 2 foot wide trunk aren’t as consequential as they would be in a big 25+ gallon planting.  

Edited by Looking Glass
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organic matter, in my opinion, is absolutely necessary. Plants live and grow by undertaking various chemical processes - from the intake of CO2 through stomata, expulsion of O2 as a byproduct of the photosynthesis of CO2 & H20 - to the absorption of molecules from soils for cell functions. We know, of course, N, P &K are necessary, but Mg, Calcium, Sulfur, iron, boron, zinc... are also. These sort of chemicals aren't found in pure sand (SiO2), so you'd have to supplement sand with fertilizers for healthy plants to grow in it - unless a plant has evolved to live on a certain chemical soup - like certain grasses or sedges for example. A good, aged top soil (and composts) can add all of these in a natural way. Additionally, sand has a very low water holding capacity - at the molecular level, H2O bonds to clay & organic compounds better than to SiO2. 

In Laguna Hills (or most of Coastal Orange County), where temps rarely go above 90F, sand might be ok if you have a regular fertilization schedule. My soil is between 70 & 80% sand down to at least 6 feet deep, and temps stay above 105F for weeks on end, so I would never plant anything in pure sand. I did keep some ferrocactus planted in sand, but there's no way I could grow a healthy palm in pure sand, and I mulch heavily with raw chips to keep the soil from drying and baking in the sun. 

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Sand only potted plants? How does the sand not escape from the drainage holes? Rather heavy too. I'm a firm believer in balanced mix growing mediums.

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14 hours ago, Palmfarmer said:

Watched some lectures by Gary from Laguna Hills Nursery something got me curious.

He claims pure sand topdressed with compost is the best potting mix. 

He also claims compost and especially wood based compost is horrible to mix into soil and that "Sewer gases" will be made by doing that turning the soil black. 

Is he being a bit over the top or is his claims really true? 


Remember,  as mentioned a few times in the past,  there is Sand ..and then there is  " Sand " 

Fine sand ..bad, for most stuff anyway.. Too dense ..so it traps too much water.. Any standard organics mixed in w/ that fine sand will break down much faster ..turning everything to sludge..  Ask me how i know.

...Then, of course, there is " Good " Sand..  as i've shown pictures of many times here..  It is larger in size than the fine stuff and doesn't compact like fine sand does..  Great stuff that i've never had any issues using ..for everything i grow in pots ( or in the ground )

I myself would not us it alone... As mentioned before, it is just one component of an overall soil mix.. 

Agree that using woody stuff is a big no no ..My experiences w/ plants grown in that kind of stuff anyway.  I've purchased plants from a nursery here that uses a heavy soil mix that is heavy in wood chunks ( ..and occasional pieces of plastic, Nails, broken Glass, lol )..

When un potting stuff from them, the soil smelled exactly as you mention ..Like a Sewer.. and was starting to turn black from the organics in it rapidly rotting. In a few cases, i had to return plants where this soil mix was rotting roots..  Simply put, i won't ever use ..or recommend using wood chunks in a soil mix. Period.

As a demo of " Going against the grain " ..Pun intended if you choose ( Cue the rolling of eyes ) ..  Here's a  Sabal mauritiformis  i have grown in my 80% in-organics mix. been in the same pot for ..4 years..  I don't fertilize,  barely water, esp. this time of year,   and ..this past summer, i accidentally left it where it got the brunt of afternoon sun -all summer-..

🤔 Maybe it is my eyes  but, sure looks flawless to me..  A bit slow due to me growing it hard.. I don't pamper my plants.  Needs to get into a 5 gal,  and a little fertilizer come spring  ..but is otherwise content.  Others i had from the same batch ( Seed collected in FL < At Kopsick > before moving here ) grown in a more standard  " organic " mix  all died off..

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So,  .....is a " Sandy " Mix really all that bad ...??



 

21 minutes ago, Las Palmas Norte said:

Sand only potted plants? How does the sand not escape from the drainage holes? Rather heavy too. I'm a firm believer in balanced mix growing mediums.

 A little cut n' shaped shade fabric over the holes does wonders for keeping soil in the pots, soil diggin' critters out..  Gonzer would be proud.  :greenthumb:

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" Sandy" / gritty ...high " inorganic " soil mix might be a little heavier than the light stuff, but  ..Good for keeping one's arms and chest in shape..



One of two rooted Pink- flowered form Pseudobombax sent to me a few months ago,  potted up in my " main " mix..  Large grained " Horticultural " sand ..AKA Chicken grit,  Turface MVP,  Pumice / small Lava and Granite grit ..W/ Coconut peat for the organics.. = Happy plants thus far.

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..And the fabric keeps the soil in the pot. :greenthumb:

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19 minutes ago, Silas_Sancona said:

Agree that using woody stuff is a big no no ..My experiences w/ plants grown in that kind of stuff anyway. 

Nathan, would you consider bark different than "woody stuff"?  I have used pine bark as an organic component in mixes for containers and it has worked out fine.  Maybe it breaks down much slower than wood chips?  I agree about the differences in sand.  The sugary-like sand I had in my yard in Corpus Christi made it difficult to irrigate due to runoff.  I had to water everything with drip.  The Cenchrus longispinus didn't mind living in pure sand however!  😡

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Jon Sunder

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In my opinion, while you can grow in pure sand, you're choosing the expensive and labor intensive version of just planting it with some quality mix (some ratio of organics, but never overdoing it). If you choose the pure sand route, you are literally choosing to IV feed your plants with every nutrient, measured to the precise levels. Not to mention when it rains a lot of that fertilizer could easily just wash away and into the creeks and waterways. I think compost on the top layer works best in conjunction with a proper soil mix around the roots and the compost layer on top, acting as the food for that ecosystem. 

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1 hour ago, Fusca said:

Nathan, would you consider bark different than "woody stuff"?  I have used pine bark as an organic component in mixes for containers and it has worked out fine.  Maybe it breaks down much slower than wood chips?  I agree about the differences in sand.  The sugary-like sand I had in my yard in Corpus Christi made it difficult to irrigate due to runoff.  I had to water everything with drip.  The Cenchrus longispinus didn't mind living in pure sand however!  😡

Slightly different?,  definitely.. That said, any " woody " material  ..Bark, sticks,  or chunks of shredded / chopped up wood... are composed of Cellulose / Lignin that will take their time breaking down in a soil mix,  or the ground ..A good thing for helping w/ drainage in pots perhaps, typically anyway.. 

On the other hand, it is a bigger task for soil bacteria to break down the Cellulose in wood to unlock whatever nutrient value is contained in it which in turn can rob plants growing in it of nutrients ..Because the bacteria have to use X nutrient / nutrients to do their job of breaking down the wood.. ..Or is my understanding of the process anyway..  So, that can be a negative..  Obviously, some folks here have had excellent results using some pine bark in their soil mixes.. @Pal Meir 's soil mix being a good example..

As a side note ...Mushrooms growing in your soil? - General statement for all-  That's a good thing ..Means the wood is being broken down.  leave them alone and let em' work...


Agree with this 100%...  I do have to water a bit more during the summer when using a chunkier / higher %' age " inorganic " mix, especially with certain things where i used too much " chunk " in.. That's here though. I'd bet if i pursue the soil mix  back in CA, i might not have to water as much, and still see the kind of growth i see here- for the most part-  especially with plants placed in bigger pots ( ..say specimen things potted in 10-20gal containers ) 

In winter, it's a different story ..i might water ...once every 2 weeks.. or not at all  if it is wet,  like last year. 

Soil that has a lot of fine sand is definitely a PITA to keep properly hydrated, esp if the " sand " is hydrophobic, or tries to form a crust on the soil surface ..which is why i sift out all really fine stuff from collected grit / when i recycle soil from pots, and/ or keep any amount of it i add into a " new " mix on the low side..  Some is ok, or is what i've noticed..  Plant roots do have to have something finer to cling to..


Obviously,  this is not a catch all approach..  I'll add more organics ( Coco- Peat, a few handfuls of dead leaves / Mesquite duff / Bougainvillea " junk " ) to the soil mix for things like the Fiddlewood,  Marlberry  ...and / or If i were growing any " Rainforest " Palms... but,  i personally won't add any wood / peat, whatever.. 



As for the " A sandy / gritty " low in Organics" soil mix contains no nutrient value " ..It's a little exhausting  but, i'll say it again ( ...and again )  Minus the organic / bacterial / fungal content, what is " soil " made up of? 

..Answer is simple. The base of any soil is a blend of whatever parent rock type(s) it was eroded from.. All types of rocks contain their own mix of elements / minerals / nutrients ..whatever you want to call it.. and release pulses of those elements / minerals / nutrients when wetted until each grain of rock has completely weathered away..  Even dust contains a number of minerals.

 Really porous rock types like lava, the porous types of it anyway,  Pumice, Calcined Clay  and even the hole-y Limestone you guys have there are capable of capturing and storing a certain amount of whatever nutrients pass over them. That captured nutrient is then released from the Pumice or Turface MVP in the soil mix when wetted..   So, yes,  those soil components do provide some extra nutrient value for plants planted in such a soil mix..

Chunky / Porous soil mixes also allow for proper ..or at least more ideal... oxygen exchange, while a soil mix full of really fine sand / silt / decomposed Peat Moss may not ( due to the lack of air spaces between the grains / layer of broken down organic " sludge ")

As mentioned a second ago,  this isn't ideal for everything.. Some plants love growing in oxygen - poor sludge. 

On the other hand, some Coccothrinax  i grew in just grit, thrived.  Don't recall noting any " concerning " nutrient deficiencies either.   After loosing them to -whatever killed them  -my fault.. No worries..   the roots had filled out every possible space in the soil mix, top to bottom( i should have taken pictures )..  I'll repeat the experiment again next time i grow some, but try not to kill them this time, lol..  Sabal uresana seedlings i have? ..will be going into a 20% = low organics / 80% = high in-organics mix when repotted ..even if i have to make a couple trips to collect enough grit.

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10 minutes ago, Silas_Sancona said:





On the other hand, some Coccothrinax  i grew in just grit, thrived.  Don't recall noting any " concerning " nutrient deficiencies either.   After loosing them to -whatever killed them  -my fault.. No worries..   the roots had filled out every possible space in the soil mix, top to bottom ( i should have taken pictures )..  I'll repeat the experiment again next time i grow some, but try not to kill them this time, lol..

Well, lol, you lucked out.. Found a chunk of " to be processed "  ( so i can recycle the Pumice / Gro Stones, Turface MVPin the soil mix ) root mass from one of the now dead Coccothrinax..

...3 angles of the same root ball..  As you can see, roots completely filled out the pot.. No gaps, ...or majority of the finer root mass sitting on top of the bottom of the pot.. or lack of finer root growth, which would indicate the plant not liking the soil it is in / stunted growth caused by nutrient deficiencies while growing.

If anything, i probably let them hang out in their 3gals. a year longer than i should have..

These sat in their chosen spot, got watered occasionally ..and were given a handful of fertilizer once or twice a year ( primarily SulPoMag, Crabshell meal,  ..some Mesquite duff  when in season, and a couple table spoons full of Calcium from crushed Oyster shells )  But, ...lo and behold.. one happy ( and healthy, ..when alive ) root mass ..in a 85%  in- organic soil mix.

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53 minutes ago, Silas_Sancona said:

Well, lol, you lucked out.. Found a chunk of " to be processed "  ( so i can recycle the Pumice / Gro Stones, Turface MVPin the soil mix ) root mass from one of the now dead Coccothrinax..

...3 angles of the same root ball..  As you can see, roots completely filled out the pot.. No gaps, ...or majority of the finer root mass sitting on top of the bottom of the pot.. or lack of finer root growth, which would indicate the plant not liking the soil it is in / stunted growth caused by nutrient deficiencies while growing.

If anything, i probably let them hang out in their 3gals. a year longer than i should have..

These sat in their chosen spot, got watered occasionally ..and were given a handful of fertilizer once or twice a year ( primarily SulPoMag, Crabshell meal,  ..some Mesquite duff  when in season, and a couple table spoons full of Calcium from crushed Oyster shells )  But, ...lo and behold.. one happy ( and healthy, ..when alive ) root mass ..in a 85%  in- organic soil mix.

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A lot of people around here grow potted Coccothrinax and Copernicia in very sandy mixes.  To my eyes, some look like they are in pretty much all gritty sand, likely alkaline in nature.  Some of them seem to look slightly anemic and some seem very happy depending on the exact species, even in the same nursery under the same conditions.   Overall, many coccothrinax are tolerant of temporary dry conditions and bad, but well draining soil.   They may not even mind being very wet, in that type of soil, if it’s the hot and sunny time of year.  

I’ve got some in pots out back for a couple of years, still in their original sandy mixes.  They respond strongly to fertilizer and 1/2 inch top dressing of composted manure.  But they can be a pain to keep fed and watered in all that sand.  I even let them sit in standing water saucers for months, in the summer heat, which they seem to enjoy.  They are dark green and growing fine.  In my mind, this mimics the hot, wet, seasonally flooded Cuban plains which are home to certain Coccothrinax and Copernicia species.  

These are potted in mostly pure sand, but I topped them with richer stuff (as the soil wore down or blew away over time), and put some wood mulch on top to keep things from blowing around.  I’m letting them stay more dry now that our wet season is over.  
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Other nurseries, growing rare, rainforest-type stuff seem to plant their palms in a small amount of rich soil, but mixed with mostly fine bark or wood chips mixed with perlite.  This soil seems to break down and burn out in a little over a year, at which point they need repotting.  It’s a more acidic, richer, wetter mix, but still seems to work well for those types of palms that naturally grow under those conditions.  

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9 minutes ago, Looking Glass said:

 

A lot of people around here grow potted Coccothrinax and Copernicia in very sandy mixes.  To my eyes, some look like they are in pretty much all gritty sand, likely alkaline in nature.  Some of them seem to look slightly anemic and some seem very happy depending on the exact species, even in the same nursery under the same conditions.   Overall, many coccothrinax are tolerant of temporary dry conditions and bad, but well draining soil.   They may not even mind being very wet, in that type of soil, if it’s the hot and sunny time of year.  

I’ve got some in pots out back for a couple of years, still in their original sandy mixes.  They respond strongly to fertilizer and 1/2 inch top dressing of composted manure.  But they can be a pain to keep fed and watered in all that sand.  I even let them sit in standing water saucers for months, in the summer heat, which they seem to enjoy.  They are dark green and growing fine.  In my mind, this mimics the hot, wet, seasonally flooded Cuban plains which are home to certain Coccothrinax and Copernicia species.  

 

Pretty sure your " sand ",  sans the annoying, fine sugar stuff,  which is mainly a type of finely eroded Silica- rich Quartz brought down from the Appalachians eons ago, if i remember correctly..  is of Sedimentary / Ocean floor origin so yes, it would naturally be alkaline in nature, often containing lots of ground up shell / coral fragments, etc ( and associated minerals like Calcium ).. 

Pretty sure many areas of Cuba and adjacent islands in the Caribbean that were not created volcanically are of the same -or similar- origin / geologic process as well, so it makes sense that they'd love that kind of soil ..more so than one that is richly organic / leans more acidic..

If i remember right ( Will have to look again )  i thought  ..While they do grow atop a long accumulated layer of organics, some of the " rain forest " type palms from various parts of the Western / Southern Pacific / Indian Ocean grow atop a base of ...what is essentially an alkaline,  Limestone- type rock as well  ..Where the underlying parent rock isn't something like Lava / other volcanic-in-origin material ( usually Acidic ) at least.   Regardless,  agree, adding some extra organics in the soil mix for them would be better than growing in a Desert or Caribbean " Chunk " mix.. but not something that is like 75+% organics ..I wouldn't myself add that much to a soil mix for them anyway..


 

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4 minutes ago, Silas_Sancona said:

Pretty sure your " sand ",  sans the annoying, fine sugar stuff,  which is mainly a type of finely eroded Silica- rich Quartz brought down from the Appalachians eons ago, if i remember correctly..  is of Sedimentary / Ocean floor origin so yes, it would naturally be alkaline in nature, often containing lots of ground up shell / coral fragments, etc ( and associated minerals like Calcium ).. 

Pretty sure many areas of Cuba and adjacent islands in the Caribbean that were not created volcanically are of the same -or similar- origin / geologic process as well, so it makes sense that they'd love that kind of soil ..more so than one that is richly organic / leans more acidic..

If i remember right ( Will have to look again )  i thought  ..While they do grow atop a long accumulated layer of organics, some of the " rain forest " type palms from various parts of the Western / Southern Pacific / Indian Ocean grow atop a base of ...what is essentially an alkaline,  Limestone- type rock as well  ..Where the underlying parent rock isn't something like Lava / other volcanic-in-origin material ( usually Acidic ) at least.   Regardless,  agree, adding some extra organics in the soil mix for them would be better than growing in a Desert or Caribbean " Chunk " mix.. but not something that is like 75+% organics ..I wouldn't myself add that much to a soil mix for them anyway..


 

I got a couple of my Coccothrinax from a grower out west toward the Everglades who seemed to use a base of that richer dredged up rotting muck in his mixes (as this was likely cheap and available underfoot) on the lot, as opposed to our usual sand on the east side here.  These coccos did not seem to like it very much.   They had trouble with deficiencies, that I couldn’t quite figure out, and could only begin to correct by getting them in the ground.   The rainforest palms from the same place were quite happy though in that heavier medium.  Also irrigation water from mucky retention ponds, vs alkaline limestone well water could have been a factor too.  What ones species loves, another might hate

The hard part with some palms is that they want excellent drainage, but also a lot of constant water flowing through that drainage…  (Think wet parts of Hawaii with 180 inches of rain per year)  That can be a pain in the anus to try to replicate in certain climates.  Porous underlying stone foundations of lava rock or limestone help with the drainage, and I guess trying to figure who came from what would be worthwhile when trying to get the right pH for each species, assuming their roots interact with that stone base.   

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When I mentally picture the ideal habitat for growing many palms of much of the Caribbean, the first thing that comes to mind are the mogotes of Cuba; palms like Hemithrinax, Coccothrinax and Gaussia. Succulent plants as well; like Agave, Ceiba, cacti (such as Leptocereus), and Bursera. Microcycas (like most cycads) also enjoy the extra sharp drainage. Of course epiphytes (orchids and bromeliads) thrive on these well drained stone outcrops. So I give my plants which are native to this type of ecology extra good drainage, but also frequent doses of water. The rock type can be limestone, but that doesn't seem to matter. Thrinax and Coccothrinax in Florida seek out similar conditions by growing on old coral outcrops with very little soil. This is also where most of the native cacti of Florida grow, such as the largest (Pilosocereus robinii).

Hi 87°, Lo 49°

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Casas Adobes - NW of Tucson since July 2014

formerly in the San Carlos region of San Diego

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He claims that if a soil is black from compost or manure regardless of age it will still gradually realese CO2 until it is roted to nothing and will potentially cause root rot along the way.

Then further on says the only good black soil is the soil with charcoal or vulcanic rock in it. 

He further says mixing compost into a yard that has problems with heavy clay is the worst you can do. 

Some of his claims are the complete opposite of mainstream gardening. 

I am confused on this topic. 

17 hours ago, Looking Glass said:

Raw wood chips and manure will kill plants, but the well composed stuff becomes a rich, black, dirt after a couple of years.  That stuff doesn’t give off “sewer gases”, which would be from raw, non-composted manure, as well composed manure isn’t found in sewers.  2 year aged composed stuff was what we would use, and that is done fermenting and producing methane and nitro and sulfur dioxides at that point.  

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4 hours ago, Palmfarmer said:

He claims that if a soil is black from compost or manure regardless of age it will still gradually realese CO2 until it is roted to nothing and will potentially cause root rot along the way.

Then further on says the only good black soil is the soil with charcoal or vulcanic rock in it. 

He further says mixing compost into a yard that has problems with heavy clay is the worst you can do. 

Some of his claims are the complete opposite of mainstream gardening. 

I am confused on this topic. 

Some of the most naturally productive agricultural land in the world is in areas that are temperate deciduous forest zones.  Constant seasonal leaf drop and cycles of rotting leaves gives these areas very fertile, dark soil.  

I guess, maybe we have to consider that statements made as absolute truths can sometimes turn out to be absolute nonsense, and that anyone can say anything, but that doesn’t necessarily make it true.  Perhaps what I’m saying right now is nonsense.  I guess you just look at the overall evidence, and then decide for yourself.    

I do agree though, that certain types of plants that are prone to root rot, and evolved to handle prolonged drought conditions, likely do better in fast draining, low nutrient soil.  I also think adding compost to sandy soil will have different effects versus adding it to hard clay.  

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11 hours ago, Tom in Tucson said:

When I mentally picture the ideal habitat for growing many palms of much of the Caribbean, the first thing that comes to mind are the mogotes of Cuba; palms like Hemithrinax, Coccothrinax and Gaussia. Succulent plants as well; like Agave, Ceiba, cacti (such as Leptocereus), and Bursera. Microcycas (like most cycads) also enjoy the extra sharp drainage. Of course epiphytes (orchids and bromeliads) thrive on these well drained stone outcrops. So I give my plants which are native to this type of ecology extra good drainage, but also frequent doses of water. The rock type can be limestone, but that doesn't seem to matter. Thrinax and Coccothrinax in Florida seek out similar conditions by growing on old coral outcrops with very little soil. This is also where most of the native cacti of Florida grow, such as the largest (Pilosocereus robinii).

Hi 87°, Lo 49°

Correction: My inclusion of Ceiba as growing on the mogotes, was not what I intended, instead I should have included the genus Bombacopsis.

There are 2 species found in Cuba; Bombacopsis cubensis, and Bombacopsis emarginata. They are both sometimes referred to the genus Pachira. A good example of how they grow is this image of Bombacopsis cubensis.

pachirasynbombacopsiscubensisandgaussiaprincepsonmogotesvalledevinalescuba.jpeg

This is an image of Gaussia from Palmpedia which shows Bombacopsis too. This ecology is outstanding.

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Hi 87°, Lo 49° Nov 2

Edited by Tom in Tucson
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Casas Adobes - NW of Tucson since July 2014

formerly in the San Carlos region of San Diego

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46 minutes ago, Tom in Tucson said:

Correction: My inclusion of Ceiba as growing on the mogotes, was not what I intended, instead I should have included the genus Bombacopsis.

There are 2 species found in Cuba; Bombacopsis cubensis, and Bombacopsis emarginata. They are both sometimes referred to the genus Pachira. A good example of how they grow is this image of Bombacopsis cubensis.

This is an image of Gaussia from Palmpedia which shows Bombacopsis too. This ecology is outstanding.

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Hi 87°, Lo 49° Nov 2

I think that’s Gaussia princeps, and there’s a few Leucothrinax moressii scattered in there too.    The roots on those Gaussia are crazy….  Giant wandering tentacles.  
 

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I think Gary’s statement need further explanation. First we need understand the need of plant related to root. Plant need root to provide support. Root need water with nutrient. Root need oxygen. That’s how deep water culture and aeroponics work. After we understand this, pure sand top with organic matters provide better structure than organic matter mix into sand because sand structure provides more oxygen to plant’s root and the reaction is more predictable. For clay soil, UCDavis recommends tilling and breaking the soil with spading fork and then mixing organic matter deep to 8 inch soil surface. https://vric.ucdavis.edu/pdf/soil_managingclay.pdf
One reason is in this way organic matters will decay faster. The other reason is organic matters will make clay soil form small granules which means more oxygen to plants root. However this method need pay great attention on the way you till clay soil and the depth you water the soil after amending. That makes it less practical so in my opinion just leaving organic matter on soil surface is better although it will improve soil slower. I think that’s the reason why Gary doesn’t recommend mix organic matter into soil because you need know what you are doing not just follow some gardening ‘brofessor’. Mixing organic matter in your yard can’t mimic natural rain forest. Its structure provides more oxygen to root than clay soil but less oxygen than sand and mixed into soil might have side effects.

As a former indoor commercial grower, I see the mistake people often make is ignoring the importance of oxygen in root zone. We pay much more attention on temp, humidity, air circulation, light level and nutrients because that’s what we can see from sensors that are commonly sold in store or can feel by ourselves. Generally saying, providing constant moisture with lower nutrient level while providing as much oxygen as you can around root zone will promote robust vegetative growth (that’s why aeroponics provide the fastest vegetative growth), and providing fluctuating moisture with higher nutrient level while providing as much oxygen as you can will lead to more generative growth. The more oxygen the better. The difference is some plants need more moisture to have better vegetative growth.

 

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On 11/17/2023 at 1:30 AM, Ray in Sacramento said:

I think Gary’s statement need further explanation. First we need understand the need of plant related to root. Plant need root to provide support. Root need water with nutrient. Root need oxygen. That’s how deep water culture and aeroponics work. After we understand this, pure sand top with organic matters provide better structure than organic matter mix into sand because sand structure provides more oxygen to plant’s root and the reaction is more predictable. For clay soil, UCDavis recommends tilling and breaking the soil with spading fork and then mixing organic matter deep to 8 inch soil surface. https://vric.ucdavis.edu/pdf/soil_managingclay.pdf
One reason is in this way organic matters will decay faster. The other reason is organic matters will make clay soil form small granules which means more oxygen to plants root. However this method need pay great attention on the way you till clay soil and the depth you water the soil after amending. That makes it less practical so in my opinion just leaving organic matter on soil surface is better although it will improve soil slower. I think that’s the reason why Gary doesn’t recommend mix organic matter into soil because you need know what you are doing not just follow some gardening ‘brofessor’. Mixing organic matter in your yard can’t mimic natural rain forest. Its structure provides more oxygen to root than clay soil but less oxygen than sand and mixed into soil might have side effects.

As a former indoor commercial grower, I see the mistake people often make is ignoring the importance of oxygen in root zone. We pay much more attention on temp, humidity, air circulation, light level and nutrients because that’s what we can see from sensors that are commonly sold in store or can feel by ourselves. Generally saying, providing constant moisture with lower nutrient level while providing as much oxygen as you can around root zone will promote robust vegetative growth (that’s why aeroponics provide the fastest vegetative growth), and providing fluctuating moisture with higher nutrient level while providing as much oxygen as you can will lead to more generative growth. The more oxygen the better. The difference is some plants need more moisture to have better vegetative growth.

 

I think it’s a good point, talking about the differences between mainly sand versus mainly clay soil.   Down here, it’s often described that gardening in ground is largely just hydroponic growing.  The soil has little capacity to hold water or nutrients, so water and fertilizer temporarily flowing past is what plants get.  That means a lot of consistent irrigation and fertilizer, unfortunately.  

The high drainage comes in handy, when you get 12+ inches of rain overnight, and can just drive to work on only moist streets by the morning.   It does suck though, when you get those 12 inches, and have to irrigate 3-4 days later in the summer heat, because things have already completely dried out.  

The University of Florida recommends tilling 25-100lbs of manure per 100 square feet, with periodic 5 lbs of side dressing, and a consistent top layer of wood mulch.  In your experience, what would your recommendations be under these conditions, where most ornamental palms struggle or die without a lot of help….

The native topsoil…
DFB3D48A-494D-4578-869F-C4661A80F117.thumb.webp.6103134f406f043258685f1a413c1d8d.webp

This iguana helping to reveal what’s down deeper…

2D0CE899-085A-4E67-880E-D07D308A70FD.webp.c082b02b5f7bd9c838667120c233264a.webp

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6 minutes ago, Looking Glass said:

I think it’s a good point, talking about the differences between mainly sand versus mainly clay soil.   Down here, it’s often described that gardening in ground is largely just hydroponic growing.  The soil has little capacity to hold water or nutrients, so water and fertilizer temporarily flowing past is what plants get.  That means a lot of consistent irrigation and fertilizer, unfortunately.  

The high drainage comes in handy, when you get 12+ inches of rain overnight, and can just drive to work on only moist streets by the morning.   It does suck though, when you get those 12 inches, and have to irrigate 3-4 days later in the summer heat, because things have already completely dried out.  

The University of Florida recommends tilling 25-100lbs of manure per 100 square feet, with periodic 5 lbs of side dressing, and a consistent top layer of wood mulch.  In your experience, what would your recommendations be under these conditions, where most ornamental palms struggle or die without a lot of help….

The native topsoil…
DFB3D48A-494D-4578-869F-C4661A80F117.thumb.webp.6103134f406f043258685f1a413c1d8d.webp

This iguana helping to reveal what’s down deeper…

2D0CE899-085A-4E67-880E-D07D308A70FD.webp.c082b02b5f7bd9c838667120c233264a.webp

https://casoilresource.lawr.ucdavis.edu/gmap/
You can analyze your soil by going to this soil map website and then type in your address. In my opinion, you can topping with compost and then mulch to retain moisture. Using fertilizer spike is a good option in sandy soil.

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22 hours ago, Ray in Sacramento said:

https://casoilresource.lawr.ucdavis.edu/gmap/
You can analyze your soil by going to this soil map website and then type in your address. In my opinion, you can topping with compost and then mulch to retain moisture. Using fertilizer spike is a good option in sandy soil.

I did look at the site, and pulled up the soil analysis for my location.  Though I’m no pedologist, I’m not entirely untrained in chemistry/biochemistry.   I never really liked analytical chemistry, but did enjoy synthetic organic chemistry, and at one point, I worked in a biochemistry lab, designing protocols for mass growing plants used for genetic experiments…. But that was a long time ago.   

Just looking at the data after work today, it’s interesting but definitely beyond my knowledge base in some areas.  

The soil area here has essentially 2 substantial components….

Paola, and “Urban Land” which is basically what was added by construction and homeowners and is therefore variable and unclassifiable.  So I’ll focus on Paola, which makes up the majority of the area….  Other types are negligible.  

7AB87690-1FFA-4464-9FBC-9189583B669F.thumb.jpeg.9c8071b68745c13bfea36d0154102701.jpeg

In amateur summary….
The dominant soil is mostly sand with almost no organic material, and the cation exchange capacity and plant nutrient availability is very low.  The soil can drain ~30 inches of water per hour.  The area is classified as excessively drained.  The capacity of the soil to retain water is very low.   A General pH of 6, which was surprising.  

In soils of this type, fertilizer spikes are in effective, as there is little lateral transfer of nutrients and the most go straight down in a narrow column. 

The soil overall has little capacity to feed or hydrate plants, which is why The University of Florida recommends heavy amending.  

The data is interesting, and aligns with casual observation of the local conditions….

Here’s a few snippets…..

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D7D2E549-ED8E-4BCD-A5D4-A509492266DB.jpeg.b902a11ae56c6b6120a3c2f069825690.jpeg

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882A7748-A8ED-4398-887E-2681B17FDDD8.thumb.jpeg.aea566d62f32c3d7ba0b9635f14eb9d1.jpeg


A little info on CEC from a different source….

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Overall, the table above shows one of the major differences between sand and clay when it comes to feeding plants.   

Thanks for the link!  Very interesting.   Just my amateur take on it.   

 

 

Edited by Looking Glass
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Wow that is high sand content, time to get some clay and mix it in around the plants.  Keep water lovers all in one spot and ammend with clay with mulch on top.  Drippers and spikes are a not in that soil, even after ammending, super fast drainage.  Definitely use a controlled release fertilizer too so fertilizxer will be more persistent in release of nutrients.

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Formerly in Gilbert AZ, zone 9a/9b. Now in Palmetto, Florida Zone 9b/10a??

 

Tom Blank

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On 11/20/2023 at 4:00 PM, sonoranfans said:

Wow that is high sand content, time to get some clay and mix it in around the plants.  Keep water lovers all in one spot and ammend with clay with mulch on top.  Drippers and spikes are a not in that soil, even after ammending, super fast drainage.  Definitely use a controlled release fertilizer too so fertilizxer will be more persistent in release of nutrients.

Yeah.   I’ve definitely shoveled in amendments by the truckload over the past 3 years.  I’ve come to appreciate drought tolerant palms more and more lately.  

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I am new to this hobby and I am learning alot from this platform. I just want to thank all of you.

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Many years ago a mall here in Ventura was being completely renovated . The construction crew dragged out some huge Howea F. (Kentia) palms that were planted in large pots . They sat in the work zone for quite a while , slowly fading and burning. Finally , after seeing them go downhill , I got ahold of the lead contractor and asked what was going on with the palms ( 6 of them) . He said I could have them. I went with my neighbor who had a large 4wd pick up to get them. The guy came along with a fork lift and went to put the first one in my friends pick up and slowly lowered it . The truck , it was clear , could not handle the weight. We had originally planned on a few trips. I told the operator to go ahead and smash the pots and we would load them almost bare root , we had brought canvas. The pots were full of sand!! I had never seen that, but when the plants were inside the mall they looked very healthy. I sill have mine . I planted them in the ground with a sandy loam soil additive and fertilized them about a month later. I soaked the root balls in water and wrapped in canvas to soften over night. Harry

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For the original point of the thread being in pots, it's a tough sell due to weight but I have made it work too. I mixed some garden soil into it and planted latanias seeds that are doing well. The pot is very heavy though and with no plant material yet since the seedlings are an inch tall.  I have the same sandy soil (just acidic) here as looking glass does, so the clay is where I'm leaning towards. Clay cat litter is used for aquatic plants, is there an ideal type?

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3 minutes ago, flplantguy said:

For the original point of the thread being in pots, it's a tough sell due to weight but I have made it work too. I mixed some garden soil into it and planted latanias seeds that are doing well. The pot is very heavy though and with no plant material yet since the seedlings are an inch tall.  I have the same sandy soil (just acidic) here as looking glass does, so the clay is where I'm leaning towards. Clay cat litter is used for aquatic plants, is there an ideal type?

Typically, the type of clay used for cat litter will break down fairly quickly. What you want to use is Turface  ...MVP specifically... Other Turface brand clay products are too soft. Is a type of Calcined Clay that is fired at a high temp. so that it won't break down ( as easily as " softer " clay products can at least ). 

Used it in my soil mixes for years in ..pretty much everything i have in pots. Works wonders.  Drains off excess moisture quickly, but slowly releases what amount of moisture the grains retain , esp. there.  

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I second the turface mvp, I have used it in everything of value I have potted or repotted in the last 3 years with some impressive results.  Really helps if you want protection against hot desiccating conditions  I also have used it as a an amendment in my yard for planting everything I have planted the last 3 years as it holds on to moisture while maintaining drainage and adding cation exchange.  

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Formerly in Gilbert AZ, zone 9a/9b. Now in Palmetto, Florida Zone 9b/10a??

 

Tom Blank

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What kind of usage rate does it take?  Do you follow the label in any way or tailor it for each plant?  I want to mix in organics also in my "moisture loving" beds but I want to create a good soil for all of them at planting. It gets moist down below so I was only doing the top 4 to 6 inches originally to help hold moisture.  It's hydrophobic when dry though so if I have to go deeper I will.

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1 minute ago, flplantguy said:

What kind of usage rate does it take?  Do you follow the label in any way or tailor it for each plant?  I want to mix in organics also in my "moisture loving" beds but I want to create a good soil for all of them at planting. It gets moist down below so I was only doing the top 4 to 6 inches originally to help hold moisture.  It's hydrophobic when dry though so if I have to go deeper I will.

For stuff planted in the ground? ..SonoranFans would probably have a better idea on how much to mix. I rarely add any in w/ in-ground stuff ..Though a few things where i did, really liked it.  May mix it in w/ the native soil / some grit when planting out a few Plumeria next Spring.



In pots?  i tailor the % 'age of MVP to each group of plants i grow..  Those who want more Organics? = less..  Those who want very well drained soil / really chunky soil? = more  ...Combined w/ other inorganics and just a little Organic content.

If you decide to play around w/ it in potted stuff?  grab a bag and play around with different ratios of it compared to whatever else you use in your mix(es)  You should be able to see what an " ideal " mix  looks and feels like.

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19 minutes ago, Silas_Sancona said:

For stuff planted in the ground? ..SonoranFans would probably have a better idea on how much to mix. I rarely add any in w/ in-ground stuff ..Though a few things where i did, really liked it.  May mix it in w/ the native soil / some grit when planting out a few Plumeria next Spring.



In pots?  i tailor the % 'age of MVP to each group of plants i grow..  Those who want more Organics? = less..  Those who want very well drained soil / really chunky soil? = more  ...Combined w/ other inorganics and just a little Organic content.

If you decide to play around w/ it in potted stuff?  grab a bag and play around with different ratios of it compared to whatever else you use in your mix(es)  You should be able to see what an " ideal " mix  looks and feels like.

I will definitely order a bag for potted stuff and see how it goes.  The ground I may have to do more chopped and broken down organics since I have a pile of logs and such waiting to break down. Buying that much inorganic additives may be a bit too expensive, at least right now.

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30 minutes ago, flplantguy said:

I will definitely order a bag for potted stuff and see how it goes.  The ground I may have to do more chopped and broken down organics since I have a pile of logs and such waiting to break down. Buying that much inorganic additives may be a bit too expensive, at least right now.

Agree, lol ..Would get expensive if using extensively in a yard..  Chop n' drop -ing of whatever leaves / seasonal annual / perennial type stuff that is already growing is the best means of getting a continuous supply of more organics into your soil over time.

I will add.. if using in a container soil mix,  ..if you add any fine sand to the finished soil mix, keep the amount of that low..  While it does drain off extra water well, if combined with too much fine material, like the sand there, and the weather is constantly wet,  it can hold onto quite a bit of water / moisture.

Is also recyclable / reusable also.

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In pots I use about 20% turface, 20 % perlite and a potting mix with coarse mulch on top1-2".  Ill mix the bottom of the pot with a little more turfance and the top of the pot is mixed with more organics.  I dont use much organics in mixing into the ground and never put organics in the mix under the rootball when planting.   The organics are digested by microbes over time so th3e soil will settle and the palm will sink.  In a pot not so bad as you tend to repot every couple years.  In the ground I use turface under and around the rootball, maybe 10lbs for a hole 2 feet in diameter and 2 1/2 foot deep.   OI typicalll ammend the soil under the pot with turface for 1 foot or so. The advantage of turface is that it does not decay and is not digested so the moisture retention and cation exchange is persistent over decades unlike organics you mix in with the soil.  I find mixing organics into the soil is fine initially around but not under the pot but in my sandy yard it is digested rapidly within a couple years(2-3) and you cannot redig the palm and put more organics in the soil to recover the lost cation exchange and moisture retention.  Instead I top mulch in ground palms every 1-2 year(first few years every year) to about 3" and what ever organics make it into the soil from that mulch go about 6" deep after 5 years.  Repeated top mulching isn't cheap, turface mitigates some of that maintenance(every two years) as a permanent cation exchange and water retention component of the soil.  Absence of clay in a particular spot means a bit more(25%) turface for say a solid sand spot.  The cost of repeated mulching is more than the $15 dollar a 50 lb bag price of turface since the turface is a one time treatment and the mulch and organics are digested and need to be replaced.  Sand in the ground is difficult to deal with in my part of florida since we can go a couple months without measurable rain in the spring.  

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Formerly in Gilbert AZ, zone 9a/9b. Now in Palmetto, Florida Zone 9b/10a??

 

Tom Blank

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3 hours ago, sonoranfans said:

In pots I use about 20% turface, 20 % perlite and a potting mix with coarse mulch on top1-2".  Ill mix the bottom of the pot with a little more turfance and the top of the pot is mixed with more organics.  I dont use much organics in mixing into the ground and never put organics in the mix under the rootball when planting.   The organics are digested by microbes over time so th3e soil will settle and the palm will sink.  In a pot not so bad as you tend to repot every couple years.  In the ground I use turface under and around the rootball, maybe 10lbs for a hole 2 feet in diameter and 2 1/2 foot deep.   OI typicalll ammend the soil under the pot with turface for 1 foot or so. The advantage of turface is that it does not decay and is not digested so the moisture retention and cation exchange is persistent over decades unlike organics you mix in with the soil.  I find mixing organics into the soil is fine initially around but not under the pot but in my sandy yard it is digested rapidly within a couple years(2-3) and you cannot redig the palm and put more organics in the soil to recover the lost cation exchange and moisture retention.  Instead I top mulch in ground palms every 1-2 year(first few years every year) to about 3" and what ever organics make it into the soil from that mulch go about 6" deep after 5 years.  Repeated top mulching isn't cheap, turface mitigates some of that maintenance(every two years) as a permanent cation exchange and water retention component of the soil.  Absence of clay in a particular spot means a bit more(25%) turface for say a solid sand spot.  The cost of repeated mulching is more than the $15 dollar a 50 lb bag price of turface since the turface is a one time treatment and the mulch and organics are digested and need to be replaced.  Sand in the ground is difficult to deal with in my part of florida since we can go a couple months without measurable rain in the spring.  

My gut told me just do the top layers and never do below but you reminded me of why I knew that already lol.  I have seen a queen palm stump ground out into a foot tall mound disappear very fast.  I think I will do the turface in the garden beds I care about the most and that are most finicky at the very least.  It wasn't terribly expensive for a permanent additive.  I have time to stock up on it as I go too.  In new mexico we used compost around the new plants to help keep the soil broken up as they settled in and it did a similar thing. Sand doesn't need broken up but the added benefit is very worth it.

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