Plants in pots (outdoors)
Perusing the gardening questions I often see questions regarding what growing medium to use when planting in pots.
The following is my personal preference and I’ve had excellent results. I grow Bonsai therefore I’m mainly talking about trees and shrubs. Having said that, the following method is successful on many types of plants from cacti/succulents to woody plants and many types in between.
Firstly we need to clarify what a growing medium is;
It must support the plant, retain enough water to fulfil the plants requirements without waterlogging the medium. The growing medium must be able to carry feed/nutrients to the plant root system and also allow air to the roots.
Over the years I’ve tried many types of growing medium. Earth, mud, silver sand, builders sand, sharp sand, grit, coca husk type, varieties of bought composts, pea gravel, vermiculite, larger gravel, and various mixes of the above even hydroponic clay balls. I have to admit some were quite good … and some were pretty dire.
You see, the problem is that they all work… to some degree. The biggest problems are they are too wet/dry and/or soil compaction often seen as a loss of vigour in the plant.
Then one day, I was on a bonsai tree forum and saw someone mentioned ‘the open bonsai secret’. I was intrigued, curious and more than a little nosey.
Further research reveiled THE ANSWER.
Cat litter. Yup, you read right, cat litter. But not just any cat litter… Ho no! Not that paper or cardboard stuff. Not that wood pulp based stuff either. Nor any of that awful clumpy gubbins. No, no, no, no, no!
We’re talkin’ Fancy, Suave, Debonaire. Yea, dare I say it… Sophisticated. Verily the Rolls Royce of cat litters, the non clumping half baked clay granules. The one I use goes by the brand name ‘Sophisticat’ cat litter made from diamatomaceous earth (see below for more about this). You can get more inexpensive brands but I like this one because it has a more natural terracotta look when the litter is wet. Available at pet stores, supermarkets or online. price is about £10ish per sack (30 litres). For smaller quantities Tesco does a diamatomaceous earth cat litter for about £3:75ish per 10 litre sack, it’s their second most inexpensive stocked.
What is half baked non clumping cat litter?;
its a very absorbent porus irregular granules of clay that have been partially fired. This ensures the granules remain very absorbent, doesn’t clump (binding to themselves) and are more robust than none fired granules
How To Use Cat Litter;
Firstly, wear a dust mask then seive it through a small mesh screen (2-3mm) to remove the dust and very small granules. These fine granules make an excellent medium for taking cuttings. The dust can be used as a non chemical pest control (the microscopic dust particles are razor sharp which cut through insect exoskeleton, killing the beasties). Next, rinse the sifted litter until the water is clear. Now it’s ready to use.
Preparing the container;
Wash and disinfect the container. Using fine plastic mesh, cover the drainage holes with the mesh making sure it overlaps each hole by about 1/2" – 3/4" all around. This is to stop any litter from being lost. Fill the container to where the base of the roots are, then carefully pour cat litter around the roots and using a wooden BBQ skewer/chopstick/pencil push the litter amongst the roots making sure there are no air pockets. Top off with more litter to base of plant. Water well.
When to water;
Using a wooden BBQ skewer/chopstick/unpainted pencil push it deep into the cat litter. Leave it for 5 minutes. Pull it out and if its wet/damp don’t water. If it’s dry/barely damp then water it. When watering, water from the top. If you have done this correctly water will flow (not dribble) from the drain holes.
When to Feed;
This depends on the plant, however, having said that, you will need to feed more frequently as the cat litter is totally inert. On a personal note… I use liquid feed rather than solid or granular feed. I feel this ensures a more even distribution of feed throughout the container.
Benefits of using cat litter;
*odour free or pleasant light perfume scent (harmless to plants and humans)
*watering is easier
*feeding is easier
*easy to weed
*very little or no compaction
*cats won’t use it as a toilet if its kept damp
*makes root pruning a lot easier (essential if the plant is to stay in the same container all its life
*some cat litters are made from diamatomaceous earth which consists of fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae and are used as a mechanical insecticide, pests don’t like to walk/crawl/slime/slither on it
Detriments of using cat litter;
*water using a spray or rose watering can or gently pour water or you may wash away the cat litter
*lightweight (tall plants/trees/shrubs will probably need support of some kind until the roots are well established)
*tall plants can be top heavy
*some trees/shrubs need a little plant matter so add well rotted pine bark
*If growing bog or high water demanding plants you will probably need to stand the pot in a drip tray containing enough water to reach the drain holes and checking regularly to ensure there is water for the plant.(having not grown bog or high water demanding plants this bullet point is just a guess)
I can’t think of any more.
Inexpensive alternatives to cat litter;
can’t afford or get cat litter where you are?
*finely broken terracotta unglazed plantpots
*finely broken brick
*fine shale (not as good as brick or terracotta)
*fine grit or gravel (poor but… if nothing else available)
A final point of note:
When bonsai books/demo’s talk about a bonsai growing medium, they’ll say ‘a free draining soil’. This means excess water FLOWS through the drainage holes in the pot, not seeps or dribbles through. Partical size of soils are larger than you think. Here we’re talking cat litter size granules.
Thank you all for taking the time to read this blog.
For more infomation please visit http://www.bonsai4me.com/Basics/Basicscatlitter.htm
Peace n Love,
Ians Insights Thoughts of a hopeless gardener.
#59. Rocks make good visual displays and you don’t need to water, feed or prune them.
- 22 Jan, 2016
- 3 likes
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