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From: scottvergara at comcast.net> on 2005.10.10 at 07:31:19(13418)
This may have been discussed previously so please forgive the redundancy.

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

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