Sempervivum and Jovibarba forum: Mail-order semps: bare root vs. coir blocks

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Name: Mark McDonough
Massachusetts (Zone 5a)
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AntMan01
Apr 8, 2018 9:03 AM CST
Question regarding Mountain Crest plants, their plants come in petite 2" pots, with the "soil" a self-supporting cube of what I'm guessing to be coir, perhaps coconut coir? I like the idea of bare-root plants because I choose my soil mix, and I can ensure direct integration of plant roots with permanent planting medium. Should I try to knock off most of that coir material before planting? I'm going to replant these in larger pots, but thinking I'll let the coir blocks become dry, and then squeeze-crumble the coir off without too much root damage.

I ask because it's unfortunately all too common in nurseries these days to use peat as a "soil" with fertilizer added, I've even seen this with Delosperma plants. In my experience planting out such a plant with a peat block intact is certain death to the plant. If I buy plants grown in peat, I try to blast-wash the peat off, which can be difficult, and still had failures. The "peat block" never integrates with native soil, and becomes an "island" unto itself, either too wet, or too dry. I realize coir behaves differently than peat, but I'm still concerned about planting these heuffs and semps with that cube of coir. Your experiences?

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Name: Tim Stoehr
Canby, Oregon (Zone 8b)
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tcstoehr
Apr 8, 2018 11:04 AM CST
I personally prefer bare-root over the MCG peat blocks. Even potted Perennial Obsession pots are preferable cuz the soil generally shakes right off of the roots.
I shake and scrape and rinse as much of the peat off of the MCG plugs as I can. I do lose some roots as I do this but I also expose some roots that then get surrounded by my native soil. I don't like that peat plug forming its own distinct zone in my otherwise very mineral soil. I have planted many of these plugs "as is" and for the most part they do fine. I have had some problems due to rooting issues but I can't say it was the peat or little critters in my soil.
What seems likely is that the peat will rot away over time leaving an open, airy zone around the roots.
I am also suspicious because I've had bad experiences starting squash plants in peat pots and finding that the roots have trouble leaving the peat and reaching vigorously into the soil. That's a bit different but I avoid those like the plague.

I asked MCG about these and they don't seem to think it's an issue and they would know better than me.

I guess it all comes down to personal preferences and experiences.
[Last edited by tcstoehr - Apr 8, 2018 11:06 AM (+)]
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Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
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dirtdorphins
Apr 8, 2018 11:12 AM CST
I know what you mean, Mark, about the death island of peat--generally remove it myself

However, all of the semps I have received from Mountain Crest have been very well rooted and ready to grow. I scuffed them a little and planted directly into my gardens 'as is' and have had 100% success with them. Even the late spring planted ones took off and did not wither or melt down when the heat of our summer arrived whereas other purchased potted and bare root semps have not fared so well in the same circumstances.
Name: Bev
Salem OR (Zone 8a)
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webesemps
Apr 8, 2018 12:21 PM CST
I do a few squeezes of the coir/peat/soil to knock some of it off and then plant into another pot. I do this no matter where my plants comes from. I don't like excessive perlite, green balls of fertilizer, oyster shells, etc in my pots to begin with so I get as much of it as I can off before placing my newly acquired plant into its own pot.
[Last edited by webesemps - Apr 8, 2018 1:03 PM (+)]
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Name: Mark McDonough
Massachusetts (Zone 5a)
Region: Massachusetts Enjoys or suffers cold winters Garden Procrastinator Native Plants and Wildflowers Garden Photography Foliage Fan
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AntMan01
Apr 8, 2018 1:22 PM CST
tcstoehr said:
I am also suspicious because I've had bad experiences starting squash plants in peat pots and finding that the roots have trouble leaving the peat and reaching vigorously into the soil. That's a bit different but I avoid those like the plague.

I asked MCG about these and they don't seem to think it's an issue and they would know better than me.
I guess it all comes down to personal preferences and experiences.


Thanks Tim and Dirt for your experiences & opinions, that's helpful info. It appears unanimous that removing the coir or peat block is best handling procedure for planting.

Dirt: you've coined the phrase I was trying clumsily to express, "death islands of peat".

Tim: I have a different take on nursery protocols. It is nurseries that have gravitated to using peat in large scale commercial production, particularly for perennials, in spite of the fact it's a poor choice for gardening consumers for all the reasons we know about. Maybe nursery folk don't know better than us gardeners after all, regarding what's best for planting-ready products, their focus is on what works best to make saleable products in a moisture-holding medium. They may not care or think about "easy plantability" once in the hands of consumers. When I go to nurseries now, I avoid peat-rootball plants like the plague.

By the way, had an interesting experience two years ago. Had a late harvest of seed on Japanese Arisaema sikokianum (in December). I went and bought some Pro Mix Seed Starting mix, sowed seed in a large container, but when the peat-based mix is dust dry, it's completely unwettable. A layer of water would just sit on top of the so-called seed starter medium, left it overnight, still did not sink in, I poked holes into the medium using a wire, left it another day, water still thoroughly repelled by the peat. In plant forums, someone suggested adding some mild dish detergent, which finally worked after 3 days of attempted soaking. I had excellent germination in spring, once the medium is wet, you can keep it wet, but NEVER allow it to dry out because it becomes a powerful water repellant when dry. It is the water repellant action when dry, that I suspect is the biggest contributor to "death islands of peat".
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[Last edited by AntMan01 - Apr 8, 2018 2:42 PM (+)]
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Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
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dirtdorphins
Apr 8, 2018 2:36 PM CST
coir vs peat--
they are not the same thing
out here in the desert, it is common to use coir mixes because it's not hydrophobic like peat and it holds moisture okay, plus drains okay
Name: Lynn
Dallas, OR (Zone 8b)
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valleylynn
Apr 8, 2018 6:33 PM CST

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I agree with dirt on this topic. Also Mountain Crest Gardens uses core for that very reason.
I have never had a problem with the plants from MCG since they went to core.
Name: Tim Stoehr
Canby, Oregon (Zone 8b)
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tcstoehr
Apr 8, 2018 7:13 PM CST
Another similar discussion in the tender succulents forum:
The thread "Rootball during repot" in Cactus and Tender Succulents forum
Name: Mark McDonough
Massachusetts (Zone 5a)
Region: Massachusetts Enjoys or suffers cold winters Garden Procrastinator Native Plants and Wildflowers Garden Photography Foliage Fan
Birds Seed Starter Hybridizer Sempervivums
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AntMan01
Apr 8, 2018 7:39 PM CST
I followed the discussion, interesting. Long and short of it: peat = bad
Avatar: Jovibarba x nixonii 'Jowan'
Allium 'Millenium' - 2018 Perennial Plant of the Year:
http://www.perennialplant.org/...
https://www.waltersgardens.com...
Name: Greg Colucci
Seattle WA (Zone 8b)
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gg5
Apr 8, 2018 7:52 PM CST
I only skimmed the above thread but want to say, living here in Seattle I find a little amount of peat is good - not right at the root ball but mixed in with inorganic material is helpful, even though we get lots of rain, we do have dry periods here in August and Sept, and if I have too fast draining soil, I'd have to water every day in summer, which I'd rather not do. Thumbs up

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