[Last week’s Part 1]
More from indomitable garden correspondent MaryG:
I read a lot about proper growing mixes for succulents over the years and have been able to do all kinds of experiments. The succulent world seems to be divided between two camps almost as vociferous as Republicans and Democrats. One says that 50% regular potting soil with 50% perlite is the thing and the other swears by “Al’s Gritty Mix.” This is one third fir tree bark chopped fine, one third Turface MVP, a red clay product used in baseball diamonds and other athletic field applications, and one third “GranitGrit,” which is fine granite gravel people feed to chickens.
All three were initially impossible to find, and I bought a bunch of stuff I thought might be good substitutes, whatever was cheap. Finally I found some fine fir bark at Petco on sale (it’s good for snake bedding) and broke down and bought five pounds of chicken grit off Amazon. It’s usually $14.64, but did you know if you look at something often enough without buying it, Amazon might start lowering the price? I paid $9.99. Still ridiculous for five pounds of rocks. I finally found out you can buy Turface at irrigation supply companies, and got 50 pounds of a different variety, Turface Pro, for $17. Just to be scientifically accurate, though, I bought two pounds of Turface MVP from eBay for $12, plus shipping. (Pro is a smaller particle size than MVP).
Gardener Dan has a wholesale license and he got me three identical two-inch pots of six different succulent plants for less than a dollar each. One set of six went into potting soil with perlite, one into Al’s mix, and one into my own, which is one third coconut coir, one third Turface Pro, and one third rocks of whatever kind I can find that aren’t expensive. HBM and I found a building materials place that sells 1/8 inch gravel in 75 pound bags for less than $20, so I am mostly using that now. I’ve tried Growstones and pumice, which are lighter weight, but they both float up to the top of the mix.
The potting soil with perlite plants did OK, but not nearly as well as the other two. Al’s Mix plants did the best, but only about 10-15% better than mine. Since the coir holds water about a thousand times better than the fir bark does, my mix needs lots less watering, I’m going with it. Seems to be working well, as you can tell by my nursery area.
Everything you see in this [top] picture is a free-to-me plant. They were all started as small cuttings from other plants, or grown from just one leaf pulled off a plant, and in the case of one cactus and one succulent, grown from seeds. This ledge only gets very early morning sun and is in shade the rest of the day, but it doesn’t seem to bother the baby plants. As they get older, I have to repot them and move them into a little more sun.
The ledge filled up and I did a bit of dumpster diving. A few of these on the top right were boughten plants, but all the rest are offsets and cuttings too. My front yard is still bare dirt, I don’t even want to get into why, except money, but when the time is finally here to redo it with drought tolerant landscaping, I should only have to get a couple of big agaves for statement pieces and the rest of the plantings can come from the driveway garden.
Just a note on watering the succulents. Here is my system: I save water in the house. There is a kitchen bucket. Partially melted ice cubes from the bottom of drink glasses go in it. Vegetables are washed over it. Stale water from cat bowls and flower vases too. I even stopped putting salt in the water that I make pasta in so it can be drained into the garden bucket. There are also shower buckets. My bathroom is about as far from the water heater as you can get and it takes a good minute for really hot water to come out of the shower spigot. I want to be green, but I cannot stand a cold shower on my arthritic joints. So I put the handheld shower head in a bucket and count to sixty, when the water is finally hot. This happens a couple of times as I turn the water off to lather then back on to rinse.
I end up with five to seven gallons of water in several partly-filled buckets for each shower, depending on how many times I lather, rinse, and repeat. I haul them out one by one to the driveway. I use a moisture meter and only water if it is below one on its scale, meaning the pot is completely dry all the way through. If the bucket is full enough, I just dip the little pots into it several times until the potting mix is good and wet. I hold each pot over the bucket until it stops dripping and move on to the next. If the water is lower or the pot is heavy, I put the plant into a dry bucket and use the ladle to scoop water into it. The same drop of water might pass through ten pots before it is done. It takes me ten days to two weeks to do a lap of the whole driveway.
I have only used tap water on succulents twice when I was using liquid fertilizer. In March I had to use probably six gallons and in July I used less than two gallons. Otherwise all water going into the succulents would have otherwise gone down the drain. My summer water use allowance is 14 units a month, and last month I used 5. The plants are thriving.
The less said about the patio and back yard the better, because I haven’t had the energy to get to them yet. Other people occasionally water, when they think I am not looking. The raised beds have all kinds of self-sown flowers and tomatoes and strawberries from last year, which get drip, but the succulents are struggling. It’s hard to get house water back there, because there are steps down to the back yard on the driveway side, and a bumpy ride on the mobility scooter to go around the other way, with water sloshing out. I have three new housemates living with me, and once I am sure that there is enough water in the budget I will look for some solutions to that. I have my eye on the clothes washer outlet hose, which drains into a sink in the garage.
Here on the other side of the country, we’ve finally reached Tomato Harvest Season. After rejoicing over one or two ripe tomatoes or a handful of tasty cherry tomatoes every couple of days for the last month or so, I picked a good ten pounds of gorgeous variety on Wednesday, and another five pounds or so yesterday. Of course, that means it’s also Tomato Blight Season… spent several hours clipping off blasted leaves, some wilted and some yellowed. This afternoon, everything needs to be sprayed with Serenade, which means I need to figure out how to assemble the 2gallon sprayer still waiting in its box in the garage, because that’s more greenery than my weak thumbs can handle with a quart spray bottle…
What’s going on in your gardens this week?