If your house plants are not growing well, here are a few generalizations to help decide whether or not the problem originates in the soil mixture. An over-heavy mix (contains too much clay-like soil, not enough humus or sand) packs hard in the pot, which in turn makes it is difficult to moisten or thoroughly wet; the result is that the plants make little or no growth.
Conversely, a light mix – one that drains fast and holds no water – has no “substance,” dries out too fast, so the plant suffers from lack of moisture, wilts and dries up. This may result from too much humus, or sand, or both. Where there is an oversupply of humus, the soil mixture may be constantly soggy. If there is too much sand, water runs through the pot so fast it is of little or no benefit to the plant. A soil mixture for hanging baskets that may dry out quickly can go heavier on humus; but for pots to be set inside watertight containers, go easy with humus and heavier with sand.
Plants can be grown in several types of sterile mediums, without any soil at all. Coarse sphagnum moss is excellent for many plants; but before using it, get complete information on how to water and fertilize. (There is little or no nourishment in these “soil substitutes.”) Osmunda fiber is a growing medium for epiphytic, or air-growing plants like bromeliads and orchids. Plants can be grown in vermiculite, a mixture of vermiculite and sphagnum, or equal quantities of these two and peat.
You can find many brands of bagged soils at your local garden center for all kinds of needs. Potted material versus soil for staring plants may be different. These mixes are usually weed free and contain a fertilizer charge to get the plant going or feed the plant over a few months. It is also helpful to avoid lawn fertilizer burn.
These substitutes have the advantage of sterility, and harbor no harmful insects or disease. They also allow you to control a plant’s rate of growth. You can induce them to speed up by feeding balanced fertilizer; they will stand still indefinitely without food.
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