Ask a Question forum: my plants roots are dying

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jheight2
Nov 1, 2014 9:38 PM CST
Hi,

I have got into gardening about a month ago. I looked online and created a potting mix. The mix is as follows:

1 part coconut coir
1 part cheap potting soil
couple scoops vermiculite

I then added water and my plants died a couple days after. I realized then that my plants were not being fed the nutrition that it needs. After some more research, i came up with another recipe. contents are as follows:

previous mix
1/2 part bio compost
1/2 part fungal compost
couple scoops zeolite
couple scoops humus
couple scoops vermicompost
couple scoops red mulchp
couple scoops red rocks of different sizes along with some burnt wood

After mixing this new recipe, I thought this would fix my problem. My plants started to die once again. When i examine the plants, the roots appear very see through and lost its hardness. I had a garlic bulb in a store bought potting mix which grew well. I put this garlic in the new mix with its roots very healthy. After a couple days the roots started to die.

Can anyone help me what i have to do to fix this?

thanks

jheight2
Nov 1, 2014 9:56 PM CST
just to add more information:

I did a ph self test. After putting the test soil in a cup and adding vinegar. I saw a little bit of bubbles.

jheight2
Nov 1, 2014 10:23 PM CST

Here is a picture of my roots. You can see the healthy roots which are white and the dying / dead roots which are see through. Hope this helps in answering my question :)

Thumb of 2014-11-02/jheight2/26b410

Name: Sue
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sooby
Nov 2, 2014 10:19 AM CST
Welcome to ATP. It's very unlikely that a plant would die within 48 hours from lack of soil nutrients so probably there is something else going on. Can you tell us what plants you are trying to grow and how you went about putting the plants in the mix, and how you are watering?

It's hard to tell from the picture what is going on with the roots. Are they the roots of the garlic? When you move a plant it may lose some of its roots regardless because they are damaged in the process of transplanting.
Name: Donald
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needrain
Nov 2, 2014 7:39 PM CST
Your container does have a drain hole, doesn't it?
Donald
Name: Greene
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greene
Nov 2, 2014 9:51 PM CST
Welcome!
Just curious...after you tested the soil PH by using vinegar what did you do with the soil that was in the test cup?

If you are able, can you post photos of the plants so we can see them? Thanks.

What kind of plants are you growing?

Indoors or outside?

If outside; what climate zone?
If inside; temperature of house and type of available lights?

Many plants droop and wilt when they are transplanted; it takes them several days to get accustomed to their new surroundings.
We cannot keep digging them up to look at their roots or they will go into shock. Better to wait and see if the plant adjusts.
Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~~"Leaf of Faith"

jheight2
Nov 2, 2014 10:38 PM CST
Thank you all for your replies, much appreciated Smiling

I am in Malaysia, a tropical climate, very humid during the day. I have them outside my window in a shady area since i live in a condo, i cannot get full sunlight.

In this photo it is a garlic plant. Before i transplanted it to the new soil it was very healthy. Once i moved it it started to stop growing and its roots started to become like this.

I also had the same problem with vegetable kai lan sprouts.

I talked to a friend who said i might be over watering them. Even though the plastic pots have drainage. I am eager to see if you agree with him so i can lighten the water load if that is the problem.

I threw away the soil in the garbage because i didn't want to contaminate the rest of the soil and upset the ph value.

A garden supplier said that my mix is too complicated and it might not be balanced. Do you think i should simplify my mix? I want my plants to get as much nutrients and minerals as it can get.

Such a nice learning process Thank You!

jheight2
Nov 2, 2014 10:40 PM CST
Just to note,

I experimented with this mix and planted some more kai lan (as it grew very well). When i was dumping the soil back into the big soil container i saw some sprouts. I was under the assumption that my mix was killing the plants.

Any suggestions are more than welcome
Name: Danita
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Danita
Nov 2, 2014 11:31 PM CST
I'm no potting-mix expert but here are some thoughts.

1- Some low-quality coconut coir contains large amounts of salt. Salt can quickly kill plants so that is a possibility.
2- In the second mix, you added "burnt wood." Wood ash is very alkaline and can burn plants' roots.

There are also some other issues that would cause long-term problems but wouldn't have killed your plants in two day's time.

1- Your first mix sounds like it would hold way too much water.
2- In the second mix you added "red mulch." Red-dyed mulch is made from the actual wood of trees and not the bark. Wood should not be used in a potting mix because the microorganisms that decompose the wood will use up the nitrogen in the mix and leave none for the plant. It is made to put on top of the soil but not incorporated into it. Also, red-dyed mulch is usually made from recycled wood which can, sometimes, come from questionable sources that may contain some nasty chemicals.

Since you are very new at gardening, I think you would have better luck purchasing a good quality, commercial soil-less potting mix for most plants (if it is available to you, of course.) When you've learned more about your plants and their needs then you can start experimenting with making your own mix.

In the USA, a good, store-bought potting mix usually contains peat moss, vermiculite, perlite and, sometimes, conifer bark (also a bit of lime to balance the pH and some fertilizer.) However, I'm not sure what is used in Malaysia since ingredients tend to vary by region and availability.

If you are starting with seedlings, like the kai lan sprouts, then you'd probably want to keep the mix fairly simple. An excess of fertilizer can actually harm plants, especially tender seedlings. It is a balancing act. Smiling

Welcome! to ATP! Big Grin



Name: Tiffany
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purpleinopp
Nov 3, 2014 8:32 AM CST
Not much to add to Danita's excellent info... agree with every word.

For short-term plantings like seasonal displays and seed-sprouting, vermiculite might not be harmful, but in a more long-term planting, vermiculite will help suffocate/rot roots because it collapses. Without any air in a pot, roots can't grow. They need oxygen and moisture at the same time. Perlite is much better for aeration. Screening out tiny particles of any kind can also be helpful. The smaller the particles, the less air there is between them. (Think of a jar full of peas vs. a jar full or sand.)

It's normal for bulbs to discard old roots, then grow new ones when disturbed... depending on the nature and length of the disturbance. This may apply to your garlic. I don't know the other plant.

I don't know your climate, but garlic needs some direct sun to grow here.

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Name: Greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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greene
Nov 3, 2014 9:10 AM CST
Ah, the Kai lan, yes very tasty. I know it as Gai lan. Yum, save some for me!

My friend gardens in southeast Asia and says that vermiculite is not available where she lives. She told me about using burned rice husk/black chaf which is used as a soil amendment and for starting seeds; please, when you say 'burned wood' what exactly are you using for that part of the soil?

I agree with the others that as a beginner gardener it would be best for you to purchase a commercial soil-less mix if one is available in your area. If the pre-mix is not available it may be best to use less ingredients in your home made mix.

Yes, the plastic pots may not be the best in your very humid environment; are you able to find terra cotta/clay pots? Another thought is a fabric plant pot; please us the key words 'Brown Boxer Root Pouch' to see one type of plant pot which is made from recycled plastic. The pots 'breath' and the roots are 'air pruned' as the plant grows.

Since you are growing on a window ledge and have not enough sun, perhaps you could place an old mirror (or other reflective material) inside the house to direct some of the available sunlight toward the plants?
Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~~"Leaf of Faith"
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
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drdawg
Nov 3, 2014 9:12 AM CST
I quit using vermiculite long ago, for the very reasons stated above. Perlite is a much better choice and I use 8 cf. of it a year.
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
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If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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greene
Nov 3, 2014 10:09 AM CST
The original poster is in Malaysia. Each person has their own opinion of what is the right thing to use; the thing to remember is that vermiculite or Perlite may not be available for gardeners in Malaysia so he needs alternative choices.

Edited because I can't spell.
Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~~"Leaf of Faith"
[Last edited by greene - Nov 3, 2014 10:10 AM (+)]
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Name: Sue
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sooby
Nov 3, 2014 10:41 AM CST
I think we need to know more about the whole story. The OP does have vermiculite, it was in the first mix. Also in the first mix was coconut coir. It's not clear, to me at least, whether this was mixed and the plants planted into it, or seeds put into it, and then watered, or if it was mixed and hydrated and then the seeds/plants planted when it was damp. Both coir and vermiculite can be pretty dry. While over-watering is a much more common cause of plants dying, being too dry also has to be ruled out.

Were they seeds that germinated in the mix or were they transplants from somewhere else? If they were transplanted when very young, were they handled gently by their seed leaves without touching the stem? If young seedlings were they looking fine and upright and then keeled over from the base (damping off)?

I'm wondering if the "burnt wood" is actually charcoal since it was mentioned with the "red rocks" (put at the bottom of the pot?).

Vermiculite, assuming new, isn't going to be a problem in 48 hours, it would take much longer than that to lose it's structure. You can start seeds in plain vermiculite and grow them in it for some time, initially without fertilizer.

Having said all that, from the follow up "I experimented with this mix and planted some more kai lan (as it grew very well). When i was dumping the soil back into the big soil container i saw some sprouts. I was under the assumption that my mix was killing the plants", I'm not sure if there is still a problem?

To answer this question "A garden supplier said that my mix is too complicated and it might not be balanced. Do you think i should simplify my mix? I want my plants to get as much nutrients and minerals as it can get."

Yes, the second mix is too complicated, I would simplify it. I'd agree with going with a good commercial potting mix (or seed starting mix whichever is appropriate). The danger with aiming for as much nutrients and minerals as possible is in overdoing it. Remember that plants make their own food from light, the nutrients (minerals) are to help with that and other processes. A new seedling has all the nutrients it needs stored in the seed without any needing to be being supplied for the first few weeks.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
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I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Nov 3, 2014 3:33 PM CST
It's all good advice above, but it's hard to know without feeling the soil and seeing the roots.

The fact that plants suffered obviously and severely within just 48 hours is a big clue that narrows down the problem to something serious. and fast-acting.

Because I personally tend to overwater seedlings, I always suspect that first. Is it possible that you're watering them more than they need? Or, even more likely, the soil mix may hold too much water because it is too fine a blend (particles and fibers are too small).

A fine mix makes the air spaces very small and easily filled up with water. Even a little water in a very fine mixture fills the tiny air spaces. The fine mix tends to hold water in capillary films coating each particle and filling most of the air spaces.

The bad thing about that is that it keeps fresh air from diffusing into the soil. The roots need fresh air (oxygen) since they need to "breath" or they quickly drown and die - even in just 48 hours.

If the soil mix feels wet to the touch, and yet water does not drain out the bottom quickly when you water heavily, the mix probably holds too much water and needs faster drainage. People have suggested Perlite, and if you have access to that, look for the coarsest you can find.

Adding coarse particles to a fine mix improves drainage and aeration. Even better would be starting with a mix that does NOT have as much fine stuff! If you can remove dust, powder and fine fibers from a mix, it will be less likely to drown your roots.

Crushed stone (grit) is also good for improving drainage. Particle size around 2-3 mm is good.

"Coarse sand" is probably finer than you really want for improving drainage, but if lots of it is bigger than 1-2 mm, it may improve your drainage. "VERY fine gravel" might be helpful, as long as it's almost all smaller than 5 mm.

My favorite way to make a cheap potting mix drain much faster is to add quite a lot of screened, ground-up bark. I know that pine, fir or balsam bark work well. You'll probably have to screen it yourself and maybe grind it yourself, if it is available at all. The best sizes are 2-3 mm. If you can get bark chips or fibers around 1 mm thick and 4-5 mm long, that would be great.

Mainly, if you grind bark and screen it, get RID of as much small stuff as you can. You don't want bark dust or fine fibers if the cheap potting mix you start with is already prone to be waterlogged.



Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
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drdawg
Nov 3, 2014 4:01 PM CST
I really think we have numerous problems here. If jheight2 is trying to grow vegetables (garlic), there are few vegetables that will grow without lots of sun. Some herbs will but certainly none of the vegetables I grow will do anything in full shade. The lack of a draining soil simply compounds the problem. Without sunlight, those leaves won't transpire well nor photosynthesize. Thus the plants can barely use water or nutrients.

If you want to grow plants, regardless of what they are, you need to do a bit of research and see what grows in shade (if you can't get around the lack of sunlight problem).
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]www.tropicalplantsandmore.com[/url]
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Nov 3, 2014 4:02 PM CST
Besides drowning roots, other things can almost kill a plant in 48 hours: salt and pH.

Salt
The coir might have been salty. You can taste it to see.

Many water supplies are slightly salty ("brackish"). If so, can you collect enough rain water to water your plants?

Adding fertilizer or any soluble mineral adds salt. If watering does not make water flow out the bottom drain holes, those slats can accumulate. But usually that takes time to build up enough to kill the plant!

Nitrogen fertilizer is tricky - a little too much is toxic, so avoid over-fertilizing at all costs!

pH
That vinegar test is very rough. If the water or one of your ingredients is too acidic or too basic, you might have a serious problem with pH. Sometimes a drug store will sell pH paper that lets you tell the difference between pH 6, 7 and 8.

P.S. If a plant dies in a pot, don't mix that soil back into your big bag of soil mix. Even if it doesn't have toxic levels of salt, bad pH, or water-holding root-rotting peat, it had dead and dieing roots in it, plus any plant disease that gets started when a plant is weakened or dieing. Throw it away, or spread it on the ground somewhere it will be diluted by healthy soil and surrounded by healthy roots.

If the cost of good commercial potting soil is a major factor like it is for me, find something cheap but suitable that you can mix with cheaper commercial potting soil. For me, it's ground, screened pine bark. Many people use Perlite. Coarse grit is good (crushed granite, "#2 Chicken Grit" is great).

You might try a small bag of more expensive potting mix just so you can see how it drains and feel how damp but airy it stays. Then you'll know what you are aiming for.

It's much easier to learn gardening tricks if you can see and feel them! If some neighbor has a good garden or healthy potted plants, look at the soil there. See if it's drier and airier than yours. Ask that gardener where he or she gets her soil mix ingredients.



jheight2
Nov 3, 2014 6:49 PM CST
Thank you for all your replies and advice. I will see if i can dump my soil mix near a school where i live, i think nature will sort it out and neutralize any ph balance and wash away any salt contents from the soil.

At my school, i have been chosen to be lead our landscaping group. I hope to take some pictures and post them in another post. I am really watching my water filling. My friend told me that when you see the leaves wilt a bit that's the time to water them. Not all plants are aquatic like water lily and need time to breath.

In my area, we cannot buy perlite or vermiculite in big bags like other countries. we are left to buy them in small bags around 500g. | growmate trio | I think i'm going to switch to perlite suggested my many of you. In the first potting mix i thought they put little pebbles in it, but after i noticed that it was perlite.

Actually, my friend told me that some gardeners burn the rice husk for amending their soil. I thought this might make the soil ph alkaline. The burnt wood looked like something you would get out of a fireplace. very brittle and dark. I don't think i'll be putting a mirror, i would be afraid of it dropping and causing harm. A very good suggestion though. Very Indiana Jones :)

I will try pay more attention to the type of plant and what it requires, as in light, water, nutrition.

So minerals and nutrients are the same thing? i was under the assumption that plants need rocks to get their minerals, that's why i put the red rocks in there. Since perlite is a rock, i think that will do.

We don't have tree bark here as most of the trees are palm trees

I think the problem is a combination of many things. My lack of understanding, poor drainage, poor aeration in the soil, over complicating the mix, over watering, transplant shock, looking at the roots and then putting it down and repeating, over doing the fertilizer, too much nitrogen, ph levels are not right, and lack of sunlight. We can't put it down to one thing but many things in combination to give us a fast dying plant. As many commented that 48 hours is too fast for any plant to die, but i believe that in combination of other problems it can happen.

Thank you everyone for making me understand gardening more. It's a fine balancing act. I can take my experience and teach it to my students so they can learn not to do what i did. :)
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Nov 3, 2014 7:48 PM CST
jheight2 said:...

So minerals and nutrients are the same thing? i was under the assumption that plants need rocks to get their minerals, that's why i put the red rocks in there. Since perlite is a rock, i think that will do.

I think the problem is a combination of many things. ...

I can take my experience and teach it to my students so they can learn not to do what i did. :)


Congratulations! We all learn by trial and error. You might have learned three years worth of lessons in just a few weeks!

>> So minerals and nutrients are the same thing?

In very mature soils, minerals have had centuries to crumble into fine grians, and those grains have had centuries to break down and for their outer layers to dissolve. Lichens and fungi help that process go faster, as does humus in the soil (humus + microbes produce humic acids, which eat away at rock grains).

That process, over 100s or 1,000s of years, slowly releases the minerals into a soluble form, at which point people start calling them plant nutrients. Plants take them up very aggressively so you seldom see much soluble Nitrogen, Phosphate or Potassium in the soil. (or other plant nutrients like Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Sulphate etc.).

Plants capture the available (soluble) nutrients and build them into plant tissues. If the nutrients are not being leached out and washed away by rain or fire, the plants standing in an area can be thought of as holding all the nutrients slowly extracted from the minerals in the soil over many years.

Once in a plant, those nutrients are MUCH more available. As each plant dies, it composts or is eaten and releases those nutirients back into the soil in very soluble form .. where more plants grab them up and build them into their tissues.

It's like having two bank accounts: one that has long-term bonds and investments like real estate and companies. Those very gradually give off profits that you can gradually put into your checking account, where they are rapidly available and you can do whatever you want with them without wiating 100 years.

So there are three main ways to increase the fertility of soil in a bed or pot.

You can wait 500 years for minerals to slowly leach out of finely crushed rock powder, or wait 50,000 years for them to slowly leach out of pebbles or grit.

You can make or buy compost, and those solublized minerals are available within days or weeks as the compost continues to break down. Or keep a layer of mulch over your beds - it will break down and release nutrients over a year or three.

You can buy chemical fertilizer - soluble or pellets - and it's available the minute it hits moisture. That why you have to be careful to avoid adding too much fertilizer - one scoop is the equivalent of thousands of years of leaching from rock dust so it's easy to overstimulate the plant.

Plus, any soluble mineral is by definition a kind of salt, so you can kill the plant with excess saltiness.

Plus, chemical fertilizers are not necessarily pH-neutral, so you can kill a plant with excess acid.

Plus, many nitrogen compounds are both acidic and toxic if excess is present.

I think that's four different ways that chemical fertilizer can kill plants, especially young tender plants. I think people lump all four together when they say "burned by excess fertilizer".

My own policy is to use the least amount of chemical fertilizer I can without plants getting yellowish and stopping growth. It's the same policy as not watering until (just before) they wilt a little.

That's part of the same policy as adding as much compost as I can make or afford (not enough, since I'm cheap). It's safer and much better for the soil, and vital for the soil life that lives on the organic matter in compost.

In practice, I'm TOO cheap because the soil would be much happier if I bought and carried and spread much more compost and mulch than I do.

P.S. The process of very gradual leaching of minerals from rock dust is why some people buy powdered rock every few years and spread it in the garden. The rare micro-nutrients that plants need in tiny trace amounts can probably leach out of rock dust fast enough to replace whatever is lost from soil.
http://www.azomite.com/

Since rocks only "dissolve" from the surface, rock dust "dissolves" much faster than rocks, pebbles, grit or sand.


jheight2
Nov 3, 2014 10:30 PM CST
reply from the cocopeat supplier, Growmate | Trio

"The cocopeat has been washed before compressed and the sodium content is insignificant and we can consider none. "

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