To repot or not

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To repot or not

Post  DanaKoziatek on Sun Aug 17, 2014 8:00 pm

Okay I have a dilemma. I made a tanuki with a 3 ft tall Pinus nigra attached to an old seargent juniper stump about 3 or 4 years ago. I have fed it bi-weekly with fish emulsion during the growing seasons and I have attempted to pinch candles but I really need to learn from an experienced pine person just when and how and so forth.

My dilemma is that I just finished watering it and the water is not draining freely. Should I wait until next year to repot or repot this fall. It is currently in a turface mix and all I can afford at this time is chicken grit(crushed granite).

Any suggestions?

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Re: To repot or not

Post  RKatzin on Sun Aug 17, 2014 11:53 pm

Hi Dana, I have been battling the same situation with many of my trees that I planted into turface 3-4 yrs ago. I also used fish and other organic ferts. I was seeing a steady decline in the past two seasons and upon inspection noticed the turface had locked up and was not rewetting due to it's reaction with organic ferts.

I have been repotting as many trees as I can get done and on ones I can't do now I am mixing in pumice to reduce the percentage of turface in the mix. I was not 100% turface, 60% on conifers and 40% on deciduous was the general rule more or less.

I am trying to get it down to no more than 20% turface by removing as much as I can and mixing in as much pumice as I can. I especially try to work it in around the edges using a chop stick to work it in as deep as I can get it. I then flush the container well to get it mixed well.

I also stopped using organic ferts in anything with turface in it and switched to good old Miricle-gro. Everything is showing marked improvement in terms of color and new growth. I would do this now and repot the tree at the right time.

I want say change out 1/3 of the soil, but turface doesn't behave like that. When you unpot it all the turface just falls away. I found few roots growing in the turface, all at the bottom of the pots around the drainage holes.

I hope that will help your dilema, sincerly, Rick

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Re: To repot or not

Post  leatherback on Mon Aug 18, 2014 2:30 am

If it is "just" the surface locking up, and not the roots filling the pot, you could use chop-sticks to gently break the surface, allowing you to keep the plant potted untill ideal repotting time?

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Re: To repot or not

Post  JimLewis on Mon Aug 18, 2014 7:55 am

leatherback wrote:If it is "just" the surface locking up, and not the roots filling the pot, you could use chop-sticks to gently break the surface, allowing you to keep the plant potted untill ideal repotting time?

I was about to suggest the same thing, but I would not be so gentle. If the chopstick is reasonably sharp on the end (remember what a pencil sharpener can do!?) you can poke it more firmly into the soil and not damage the roots. That will let water flow more deeply into the soil and (hopefully) out the drainage holes.

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Re: To repot or not

Post  RKatzin on Mon Aug 18, 2014 8:01 am

Hi leatherback, the situation is quite diabolical, as it is not just the surface area that gets locked up, but the whole mass of turface is affected. The process takes a few years to occur and the first and second year all seems well.

By the third season I could water for several minutes, then scratch the surface and a half inch below the surface it would be completely dry. I tried breaking the surface with a stick and it did help for that watering. The next time I would have to do the same again. It was taking way too long and not achieving a good watering. All my trees were suffering, barely staying alive. In my lot the maples especially seemed to despise the turface with other deciduous following suite. Conifers seemed to fair better, but still not good happy growth.

So, in answer, yes breaking the surface will help somewhat, but will not alleviate the situation. I did try some slip potting, but the turface will not hold together and falls apart when unpotted. So, I leave the tree in the container and backfill with pumice. The results are nothing less than spectacular. Trees I thought were on their way out are green again and showing two to three inches of new growth. By next spring I should have everything out of the turface.

I'm using the old soil to backfill holes in my driveway, for which the turface seems to be perfectly suited. I'll never use it to grow anything again. Sincerly, Rick

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Re: To repot or not

Post  MrFancyPlants on Mon Aug 18, 2014 9:03 am

For the original poster, I think that breaking up the surface can help the situation in all but the most extreme circumstances. I would break up the top layer and remove and weeds while you are at it. Also, poke a root hook or chopstick towards the bottom and rotate in a small leveraged circle in a few spots around the pot, back filling with a mix of your grit and some of the original soil (and I use a little compost from my vermiculture bin, but others may debate that aspect). Then switch to a "synthetic" fertilizer like miracle grow or Dyna-grow until you get a chance to go for a full repot. Pumice really does seem to be becoming the favorite soil component, and I'll add that I have never regretted using it.
How is the health of the tree at this point? I would hold off on de-candling or trimming until you see signs of vigorous growth.

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Re: To repot or not

Post  kevin stoeveken on Mon Aug 18, 2014 1:46 pm

another suggestion (in combination with the above suggestions) until you can repot is to give it a good bath (which is also the way to get peat to re-absorb water after it has dried out)

and when i say a "bath" i mean place the pot in a slightly larger tub and fill the tub up to the rim of the pot with water (some superthrive wouldnt hurt) and let it soak for an hour or two (you will probably need to add some water as the pot drinks up the water from the tub)...

the long soak should help...
and if you are lucky, maybe some of that turface will float away  Wink 

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Re: To repot or not

Post  0soyoung on Mon Aug 18, 2014 1:59 pm

On the other hand, this is a good time to repot most conifers - not adviseable if you've got candles/shoots still extending. Certainly it is a better time than in spring for mugo and scotts pines.

Keep in mind that unpolluted Turface can be gently washed from the roots - Turface is actually held by the roots, not vice versa. Put the root ball in a bucket and gently work out the Turface with your fingers. I would think the poop you've got in yours would only slow the process.


Last edited by 0soyoung on Mon Aug 18, 2014 10:53 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: To repot or not

Post  chadley999 on Mon Aug 18, 2014 9:29 pm

I remembered reading something about this before and i just looked it up again. It was an article on Bonsai Tonight

http://bonsaitonight.com/2010/08/27/summer-soji/

Also imo, letting the pots soak in a tub of water couldn't hurt. I fear the same thing will happen to me in the next few years as i've just started using green dream this summer, with excellent results so far i must add.

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Re: To repot or not

Post  MrFancyPlants on Mon Aug 18, 2014 10:06 pm

Nice article, I didn't know there was a name for that, but I like it. Nice pictures too. I'm going to have to check out that blog some more.

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Re: To repot or not

Post  chadley999 on Tue Aug 19, 2014 5:16 pm

Its a great spot, I can lose hours just reading there. Hope your find some interesting articles!!

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Re: To repot or not

Post  Leo Schordje on Wed Aug 20, 2014 12:22 pm

Hi Dana
When winter comes, how much protection does it get? P. nigra is fine without supplemental heat in winter in our zone, all it really needs is protection from winter sun, and protection from dehydrating winds. In the shade, freeze thaw cycling is minimized. BUT how you winter the tree determines whether or not you can repot in August or early September. Osoyoung is right that now is a good secondary season for repotting trees, but around here, if you repot now, you have to winter with protection from extreme cold. If you have a way to winter the tree where temps would be above 25 F and below 40 F, then now is an excellent time to repot. If you can not protect the tree from extreme cold, then wait on the repotting until spring.

Grit is a perfectly good component for potting media. If you have a Farm and Fleet near you, they carry Cherrystone brand which is a nice purple-brown, rather than the usual stark white.

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Re: To repot or not

Post  DanaKoziatek on Wed Aug 20, 2014 8:53 pm

Thank you all for your input. I've been away from the computer for a couple of days.

I think I compounded the problem of the soil not draining properly by letting a few weeds take hold. Scraping away the soil surface I am finding all these super fine feeder roots that don't belong to the pine.

I keep the tree on my south facing deck wrapped in burlap though the winter. I've been keeping my trees like that for 7yrs and the only problem I've had was this past winter the pines who's needles weren't covered looked like they were a little wind burned.

I do have a farm and fleet nearby. That is where I get the cherry stone. That's also what I put for gravel in my Cichlid tank.

I think that I will wait until next spring to repot and I will be using the grit. Without starting a soil war how much organic matter should I use as a general ratio for pines?

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Re: To repot or not

Post  Leo Schordje on Thu Aug 21, 2014 11:58 am

Personally, for pines, I use between about 10% to zero organic. Pines that hate wet roots in winter get 100% mineral (inorganic) media. For me these are P. parviflora on its own roots, Ponderosa pines, mugo etc. JBP I have gone with zero organic, up to 25% organic. I like the zero organic in terms of being "safe". I hate rotting roots off, and my winter arrangement tends to be wet.

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Re: To repot or not

Post  DanaKoziatek on Sat Aug 23, 2014 6:22 pm

Thank you for the advise.

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