Succulent Sundays – Making “Al’s Gritty Mix” and Leaf propagation

Edit from the future:
I see from my website stats that this post gets a lot of hits — mostly from search engines, which I suspect means that if you’re reading this, you might be looking for information about “Al’s  Gritty Mix” and not necessarily to read about what I was doing with my succulent collection back on this day in early 2016.  If that’s the case, I have a dedicated post just talking about ‘Al’s Gritty Mix’, which I think you’ll prefer to this long, disjointed post. Click here if that sounds like you. Thanks!

I haven’t posted in a while, so I apologize for the long and disjointed post – but I have a lot of pictures to track the events of the last week or two.  There’s a lot more to talk about with the succulents, so I’ll start there.

I made several field trips this week and spent a few hours this morning on another round of repotting.  Despite my efforts to use some common ingredients (perlite, gravel, sand, etc) to create a gritty mix for my first few acquisitions, I’ve noticed some of my new succulents are staying damp much longer than I’m comfortable with.  I feel bad repotting them already – especially because one of the haworthias just starting blooming this week!  Another quick repot might be preferable to root rot, however.

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This haworthia cymbiformis pot has concerned me with how damp it appears to stay, but it’s blooming, has sent up a new flower stalk, and has eight pups.  It can’t be too unhappy, so I’m going to let it finish it’s flowering before attempting to repot.

In addition to the mix, I think part of the problem might be that I had lined the bottom of the pots with a small square of landscape fabric to help keep the soil from falling out.  Even though the fabric is supposedly liquid and gas permeable, when I went to do the initial watering of these (from below, by dunking them in a bowl of water), I noticed they were very slow to absorb until I pierced the fabric several times with a safety pin and an exacto knife.  Not exactly a good sign.

One of the offenders (my haworthia coarctata v. tenuis) actually got taken out of it’s pot mid-week and left to dry out before repotting.  Partly because I was worried about its appearance, but also because it gave me a chance to get a second opinion on the roots from a few succulent forums.  The plants were quite healthy when I got them, but they were terribly root bound; much more so than the root systems I’ve seen on the mounding haworthias.  This may be part of a tactic for the nursery to encourage fast growth (some succulents do well and like being root bound) but it does make cleaning off and examining the roots more difficult).  The advice I was given by the community on reddit was that it’s probably fine to leave as is, and I don’t know that I have a lot of other options that don’t severely damage the root system.  It doesn’t show so much in these images, but while unpotting I noticed a lot of the lower leaves had dead tips and grey spots, which is likely from over saturation.  The roots still look healthy enough, although I can’t examine the main taproot which would be at the center of this block of roots.  At the very least, both sets of plants have at least one lateral pup starting out at the base (you can see one starting at the base of the right most plant in the image below), so I will try to keep these dry and watch to see what happens.  These are some of my favorites that I have acquired, and my source has already sold out of these (for now), so I’m most concerned about the health of these little guys.

hbw_rootbound.jpg
I am open to suggestions on how you would possibly remove the peat from around the roots of these haworthia coarctata v. tenuis.

For the repotting this morning, I’m trying two things – one is a “soilless” medium that’s talked about a lot online (“Al’s Gritty Mix”) and replacing the landscape fabric with drywall tape.

hbw_tapeBotom.jpg
Testing the use of a patch of drywall tape at the bottom of a 2″ plastic pot.

Before I could start the alchemy for the gritty mix, I had to do a scavenger hunt around town to the tractor supply store (for chicken grit, aka crushed granite), the pet store (for reptile cage bedding, which is crushed bark), the car parts store (for “floor dry”, which is vulcanized diatomaceous earth), and the hardware store (For the drywall tape).  Fortunately I had also picked up some cheap $1 storage bins on clearance without a clear plan, and I’m wishing I’d picked up a few more as they proved very useful — I’m using those to use the rinsed and strained floor dry pebbles, and another for storing premixed gritty mix.

When it came time for mixing, the recipe is pretty simple:

  • 1 part turface (which is hard to find here, and the floor dry is a common substitute)
  • 1 part ground pine or fir park
  • 1 part pumice (for which the crushed granite is a common substitute)

It’s a bit strange that there’s no actual soil here; the bark serves as the absorbant organic material, and the floor dry also works as a mineral absorbant that will shed and release water relatively quickly.  (I’ve talked with some folks who have shown me pictures of succulents which have been growing for two years in pots with nothing but the floor dry, so it can work quite well as long as it’s rinsed and sifted first to remove fine particles.)  The advantage of the bark over peat is that it also will hold up without breaking down for a longer period of time.

image

If it seems like a lot of effort, but I wanted to share this fantastic quote I found online while researching it:

“It’s better to put a two cent plant in a ten dollar hole than a ten dollar plant in a two cent hole.”

I’m not done after this morning, though – I still have a few new acquisitions that are drying out on my grow shelves before being officially repotted.  My moments of weakness lead to a few unmarked succulents that I’ve added to my collection.  They’re fairly unique, which makes identification a bit easier – I believe I have a “black prince”, “perle von nurnberg”, and “benitsukasa”.

hbw_threeNew.jpg
Three common echevarias, which I believe to be (left to right): black prince, perle von nurnberg, and benitsukasa.

All of them look like they are more or less rooted rosettes off other plants, judging by the small root systems associated with each rosette.  Part of why I am waiting to repot these rather than doing them all at once is more about callousing.  I did some general housekeeping by twistering off a few lower leaves that were in the process of being shed, and then on a whim took a few more lower healthy ones to try propagating.  (This is in addition to a random leaf I took home from shopping which I had found at the bottom of a shelf at the hardware store while nitpicking over their leftovers; it was already sending out and seemed bound to get swept up and thrown away, so I tried to identify which plant it came from (for reference, judging by the leaf appearance) and decided it might make good material for my initial propagation attempts.  It’s not something I was overly drawn to, but then I won’t be sad if this experiment fails).

I’ve set the leaves on top of a dry half-and-half mix of the gritty mix I prepared earlier, plus some additional leftover original “gritty peat mix” from the unpotted plants.  The plan is to let them sit for about four days before I start misting, and as soon as roots emerge I’ll lightly cover the ends of the roots with additional soil and continue misting until I see new vegetative growth.  As the original leaves shrivel and the new growth swells I can start migrating to the typical drench-and-dry watering method… providing I get that far.

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Three small pots with leaves from the black prince, and two with leaves from the benitsukasa.
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Rescued from the floor, a tentative identification from it’s source, and a close up of the roots it had already started.

In other news, the haworthia cooperi truncata I’m keeping at home looks like it has a quickly developing pup coming off the side of the plant.  Perhaps because it’s a shallower dish, but this one seems to drain quite well given the original peat-based soil mixture.  This I’m more concerned about figuring out the right sun exposure. The original leaves are looking dull and white, but the new pups are still looking a bright healthy green.

hbw_cooperiPups.jpg

The small kalanchoe that I picked up in early December (and kind of forgot about on the counter above the kitchen sink) finally got a proper pot.  We have horrible luck with kalanchoes, and this one took some minor damage in lower leaves falling off while being repotted (I’m not entirely convinced they were even attached, some just seemed stuck into the soil), but the main plant appears to be doing alright still.

hbw_kalanchoePot.jpg

And I’ve been slowly exposing the lithops to more direct sunlight for periods throughout the day.  I’m a little worried that they may be in a seasonal confusion given their time in the greenhouse and the odd conditions that I found them in; I think by now we should be seeing more progress with the emergence of the new leaves.  Since I started increasing their sun exposure, the leaves have been looking a little more turgid, so I’m hoping that means that moisture is being drawn away from them for the new leaves to emerge.  At least one shows the new leaves down inside the crevice between the leaves, but they haven’t been doing much of anything since I got them.  I know they’re slow movers, but given that I am not supposed to water them until after the new leaves emerge and the old leaves shrivel, temperature and the amount of sun exposure is the only variable I have to play with.

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The large schefflera is still going gangbusters, getting larger and larger with continual new growth.

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This petiole just came out this week, and there’s already another one at the base popping out.

The cutting I had taken off this schefflera, plus the dieffenbachia cutting, are still sitting peacefully without much visible positive action; the one change this week was that the dieffenbachia did lose a second of its large lower leaves.  My guess is that cutting is shedding leaves it can’t support with whatever new emergent root system it’s hopefully developing, and that the cutting itself it still pulling through.  The rest of the cutting still looks bright and health enough over a month after being taken separated from the parent plant and driven across states, so I haven’t given up hope yet.

hbw_cuttings.jpg

Last night I had a doorstep present, as one of our friends was cleaning out his basement and found some leftover seed-starting things he wasn’t planning on using anymore.  HE was sad we didn’t also want his fondue set and breadmaker (which means he didn’t completely dodge a trip to the Goodwill donation center), but I was given two more heat mats and a couple of covered tray propagators for use this spring, which will definitely get used – three mats, three shelves on my light station.  Outside, in our oddly warm February, my foxgloves from last year are not only green but show signs of new growth.  They’re not alone, as several others are doing the same, but thos are mostly bulbs or shrubs.  All this despite still getting hit with a few snaps of snow in between our unseasonally warm weather.  My lesson here is that I probably don’t have to be too concerned with frost damage on these in spring for future years.

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Showing new rosettes in Feburary, with old leaves looking sad but still surprisingly green.

And finally, I’m impressed with how well the bagged lily scales are coming along.  The new growth is actually starting to look like tiny little bulbs.  I anticipate that lower in the bag there must be some extremely large growth, given the very long feeder roots that have made their way up to and along the surface of the bag.  I’m running an experiment this winter with a few scales grown in soil in small cups on a periodic heat mat through the winter (versus the ziploc method), and the cups are less transparent but from what I can tell from the activity in the ziploc, I’m anticipating this method will win.  The same method with the gladiolus cormlets, however, looks like a big bust.

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And finally, the echevaria seeds.  I skipped showing week seven last week, but here we are at week eight.  One of the seedlings in the pot-of-four that had been bleaching finally withered away, and a few of my front runners are getting exponentially larger than the ones that have struggled.  If you compare week six to eight, you’ll see the battle against the algae is turning in my favor (the use of an eyedropper to deliver very targeted localized watering has helped, I think), and the pots are now a far more unsightly orange rather than green.  Slow and steady – slow enough it’s easy to forget how far these have come, looking back just one to two weeks reminds me that they are still making decent progress.

echeEight.jpg
Echevaria seedlings – week eight

Until next time. 🙂  I’ll try to keep more frequent posts of shorter length. 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Succulent Sundays – Making “Al’s Gritty Mix” and Leaf propagation

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