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Drying down the soil prior to dormancy WAS Re: [Aroid-l] help for novice PLUS

  • Subject: Drying down the soil prior to dormancy WAS Re: [Aroid-l] help for novice PLUS
  • From: scottvergara@comcast.net
  • Date: Mon, 10 Oct 2005 07:31:19 -0700

This may have been discussed previously so please forgive the redundancy.

From working with many genera over the years I have used a simple technique
for speeding up the drying out of the soil in a container. I learned the basics from a succulent grower years ago in Seattle, WA where it is very difficult to get a plastic pot with wet/damp soil to dry out in the fall/winter when there is no growing plant in the container.

Prior to the leaf beginning to senesce (starting to yellow & die) you sow some Scarlet clover (annual species) or other annual like annual rye, wheat, oats or buckwheat into the container. I prefer the clover as there is less likely to be any allelopathic interactions (one plant essentially poisoning another). This must be done so that at least one or two moderate waterings of the container can take place to allow the seed to germinate and establish so do not wait until the desired plant is turning yellow. Goal is to have the roots of the annual plant permeate the entire soil mass, especially the lower levels. Then stop watering all together.

The idea is to have some plant actively growing, taking up the soon to be excess water in the container so that by the time the desired Amorphophallus, Arum or whatever is loosing its foliage (which means it is not contributing to active water removal from the container) the soil is dry enough to reduce the chances of rotting due to cool wet soil. Before anyone sends an email to me, in outside in-ground plantings they usually remain quite wet all winter particularly here in the usually wet Pacific Northwest (PNW) but a potted plant in artificial mixes is a universe apart from in-ground plantings. The more quickly dried out soil also precludes the establishment of fungus gnats in damp algae covered soil which is common in containers in greenhouses in the PNW in fall and winter. Fungus gnats do contribute to a great deal of plant loss over the winter due to feeding damage to roots and potentially to corms, esp. if they are damaged.

The reason for using an annual is that once the soil dries out, it will die so no issues with removal later. If you use clover in the fall, I do not use an inoculant of the beneficial nitrogen fixing bacteria. The specific trick I believe I learned from the succulent grower was to use an inoculant in a spring sowing of the clover so that over the summer they may potentially release any the excess nitrogen to fertilize the desired plant. (Many to many years since my soil biochemistry courses in college so if the N is only released upon decomposition of the "green manure" I apologize before I get a note from my old soil science professor.)

Using this trick the Seattle succulent grower was able to obtain much greater growth in Crassulas and other succulents and cacti as he could keep them watered more heavily during the spring and summer. He told me he actually kept Jade plants (Crassula ovata, a.k.a. C. argentea) sitting in 1/2 inch of water all summer and obtained triple the growth each year.

One last point to my verbose comments is that under natural conditions, no plant is ever "alone". There are untold numbers of microflora and fauna in the soil and plant rhizosphere (root-soil interface) most of which contribute to a healthy soil and ultimately a healthy plant. The sterile (at least initially) potting mixes we use commonly today are devoid of most microbes and require the supplementation of nutrients. There is also the issue that without a competitive microflora present, the first invaders/colonizers into the soil mix often take over and if they are pathogenic, the results are usually predictable. I know my soil professor would be glad to know I remembered that lesson.

I apologize for my ramblings. When I taught college my students would comment on my inability to give just yes or no answers, but I have found life is seldom quite that simple if we choose to look deeper.

Good Growing,
Scott Vergara
Portland, Oregon
USDA Zone 8a to 9b (some winters)

----- Original Message ----- From: <bonaventure@optonline.net>
To: "Discussion of aroids" <aroid-l@gizmoworks.com>
Sent: Sunday, October 09, 2005 8:12 AM
Subject: Re: [Aroid-l] help for novice

I drag mine inside just before night temps go in the 30's, cram it into a corner of the living room, stop watering, and wait 2 months for the leaves to die down. Then I wait another 2 months to allow the rest of the soil to dry out, after which I unpot, check the tuber(s), and then hang them in an open plastic shopping bag from a nail on my basement ceiling rafters until I see shoots poking out in late May/ early June.

Bonaventure Magrys
Cliffwood Beach, NJ
zone 7

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