Benefits of vinegar?

Poink88

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Poink88 said

" Most plants (if not all) have a wide range of pH they thrive on...may not be optimal but they thrive never the less. "

What kind of range are you suggesting?

Paul
I am not suggesting any range...I just found they are way wider than those listed on books and definitely not strictly bounded by the acidic or basic range.
 

jk_lewis

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The optimum pH range for most plants is between 5.5 and 7.0.

As far as Miracid or Miracle Gro Azalea food goes, I don't understand it to have much -- if any -- long-term effect on soil pH. They are fertilizers -- plant foods, and are taken in as such by the plant's roots. most that is left over washes out of a pot when we water.

It takes the use of elemental sulfur to provide any lasting change in soil pH, and there's no way to calculate the amount needed for bonsai soil unless we prepared many. many pounds of it in advance. Organic matter such as plant litter, compost, and manure will decrease soil pH as it decomposes. Organic matter like pine needles, pine sawdust and acid peat are effective at reducing pH, for some time, but still for a relatively short time.

Some good info on soil pH in general (but NOT for bonsai) here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soil_pH#Examples_of_plant_pH_preferences

The section on individual plant's preferences is probably the most useful to us, but the fact is that almost all plants prefer acidity that is on the acid side of neutral (pH 7).

Except for a few acid-loving plants -- pH 4.5–5.0: Ericaceae (Azalea, Bilberry, Blueberry, Cranberry, Heather, Liquidambar or Sweet Gum, Orchid, Pin Oak -- 99% of what we grow as bonsai will thrive in soil that approaches neutrality.
 
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coh

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I think the fact that so many people are able to successfully grow so many species in so many different types of soil, with so many different water sources and types of fertilizer, is pretty strong evidence that most plants are not too specific in their needs regarding soil pH. Of course, the phrase "successfully grow" is rather subjective, as there can be a big difference between keeping a plant alive and having it really thrive.
 

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Chris,

You are correct about root uptake of nitrate causes an increase of soil pH. I wrote this late at night and got myself befuddled.

The point I want to make about controlling soil pH with fertilizer is that you would be better off applying ammonium based products as this will cause a lowering of soil pH. If you use urea then decomposition will produce a rise in pH, but the acidification that follows with ammonium uptake or nitrification is hit and miss. For greater certainty in lowering soil pH , it is easier to avoid the whole urea thing altogether.

Regarding monthly vinegar washes or 1/2 yearly anythings

People seem to miss the point that soil pH rises due to alkalinity in water or plant uptake of nitrate (if supplied in the fertilizer). These are processes that occur on a daily basis, trying to amend these changes on a monthly or half yearly basis is ineffectual.

Water pH is a minor driver of soil pH due to soils a buffering capacity, which is strongly depended on soil CEC and how long a plant has been planted in the soil. By lowering water pH with vinegar, which is a weak acid, and will only drop (distilled) water pH to about three at a tablespoon/gallon, will possibly only drop the soil pH by about 1/2 a pH unit, depending on buffering capacity of the soil. So not much is going to change in just one watering.
Plants growing at their preferred pH are already accessing nutrients they need. So there is no need to use vinegar while soil at high pH will not drop significantly with only one wash to release nutrients.

Acidification can release bound cations to CEC exchange sites, but plants do this themselves by releasing citric acid from root tips. Major misconception about bound cations in potting mixes is the it is mostly potassium that is available, due to the high concentrations that are used in fertilizers. More essential elements such as copper, zinc are bound tightly but cannot be accessed due to the saturation of potassium ions. The major reason for more frequent application of trace elements then once or twice a year.

Flushing salts from soil is not pH dependent. For starters, insoluble salts contribute nothing to soil EC (or saltiness) If you feel there is too much salt in the soil, flush with water, the soluble salts will wash away, the insoluble salts, are insoluble and just stay there. Bound cations remain where they are.

So in the end there are lots of reasons why a monthly or yearly wash with vinegar is pointless.

Paul
 

coh

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Chris,

You are correct about root uptake of nitrate causes an increase of soil pH. I wrote this late at night and got myself befuddled.

The point I want to make about controlling soil pH with fertilizer is that you would be better off applying ammonium based products as this will cause a lowering of soil pH. If you use urea then decomposition will produce a rise in pH, but the acidification that follows with ammonium uptake or nitrification is hit and miss. For greater certainty in lowering soil pH , it is easier to avoid the whole urea thing altogether.
Paul, I know we've had similar discussions about these issues before but I'm still trying to wrap my head around it all. It leaves me with one question about miracid - is it all just marketing hype or is there something about it that does make "acid loving" plants healthier? Maybe the trace elements? Lots of people claim that it does work but the research evidence seems to indicate that it does not really do much if anything to lower soil pH.

Acidification can release bound cations to CEC exchange sites, but plants do this themselves by releasing citric acid from root tips. Major misconception about bound cations in potting mixes is the it is mostly potassium that is available, due to the high concentrations that are used in fertilizers. More essential elements such as copper, zinc are bound tightly but cannot be accessed due to the saturation of potassium ions. The major reason for more frequent application of trace elements then once or twice a year.

Paul
I know I read somewhere but can't remember where - that plants tend to use nutrients in a ratio very unlike what most fertilizers contain. Something like 13-1-1? And I've seen the comment about potential problems due to excessive potassium before. So does it make sense to find a fertilizer that has very low K? For instance, something like
http://firstrays.com/cart/Horticultural-Chemicals/Plant-Nutrients/K-Lite-Orchid-Epiphyte-Fertilizer---2-lb

Chris
 

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Hi Chris this kind of rambles a lot, it such a big subject, but hope it makes sense.

I think the fact that so many people are able to successfully grow so many species in so many different types of soil, with so many different water sources and types of fertilizer, is pretty strong evidence that most plants are not too specific in their needs regarding soil pH. Of course, the phrase "successfully grow" is rather subjective, as there can be a big difference between keeping a plant alive and having it really thrive.

I wonder how many simply give up because they have water issues they are unaware of. I know when I started I took it for granted that the water out of the tap was fine for my plants. If I had started bonsai where I live now, I would not have persisted for long at it.

Paul, I know we've had similar discussions about these issues before but I'm still trying to wrap my head around it all. It leaves me with one question about miracid - is it all just marketing hype or is there something about it that does make "acid loving" plants healthier? Maybe the trace elements? Lots of people claim that it does work but the research evidence seems to indicate that it does not really do much if anything to lower soil pH.

I reread Argo and Fisher and they only mention urea in terms of slow release fertilizers and interestingly, in the glossary near the back of the book:

"Urea nitrogen - An organic form of nitrogen that tends to decrease pH of the soil solution over time."

I think that referring to slow release pellets and over a period of time is telling.

Miracid is about giving a big dose of urea in one hit, like in an agricultural setting. You have to remember that these products are designed for ground use (and making profits for the company as urea is very, very cheap). Soil behaves completely differently to a potting mix. I think where people are seeing positive results with Miracid is that they fertilize only once a month or so, there pH is OK but they haven't tested it; and when they give the trees a hit of miracid, they get a response from the N, P and K that's presented to it, not from any change in pH.

I know I read somewhere but can't remember where - that plants tend to use nutrients in a ratio very unlike what most fertilizers contain. Something like 13-1-1? And I've seen the comment about potential problems due to excessive potassium before. So does it make sense to find a fertilizer that has very low K? For instance, something like

Excessive anything is bad, the only element that doesn't cause toxicity is calcium, but too much of it inhibits potassium and magnesium uptake. Forget what people say about plants only taking what they need and the rest washes out of the potting mix, if you have too much K, or copper, or iron, or magnesium in your soil, it will cause problems with toxicity. You have to "balance" K with all the other elements in your mix, it's not as easy as just getting a low K fert, or a high Mg fert.

This formula (12-1-1-10Ca-3Mg) has been developed in response to recent studies suggesting that excessive potassium, whether applied-, obtained from- or accumulated in growing media, can have a negative impact on the health of plants, especially in the absence of adequate calcium and magnesium levels


Welcome to the Darkside, Luke, er, I mean Chris. Welcome to the world of hydroponics. Your officially moving into forbidden territory now. I can hear the flat Earthers stirring.

"Noooo; this is science, we can't have science in bonsai."

Jim's head is about to explode.

"Sacrilege, this is against the gospel of Brent!"

But simply put, too much K can have an impact, Yes.

But the important point is in the absence of calcium and magnesium. If there is too much Mg and Ca then the tree will become K deficient. It's a balancing act. Generally there is a suggested ratio of K:Mg:Ca but this varies from species to species. It's a tough call to say what it should be for anything other vegetables, generally it's quoted as Ca should be twice that of magnesium, and potassium is half of Ca+ Mg. But its highly variable, so you may not get a fertilizer that suits, especially in a one off dry fertilizer because calcium forms insoluble salts with phosphate, so you can't have them together. Also your irrigation water might be quite hard, and so you may not have to add any calcium to you fertilizer. In which case you have to find a fert with high magnesium and K to suite. It gets rather difficult from here for the average bonsai-ist. But basically you have to get a complete water test done on your irrigation water and then make you own fertilizer to suite. Not something the average punter wants to do. And really, it's only if you have crap water, if you have good water all you have to do is sprinkle some gypsum on the pot every month or so, and add a little bit of epsom salts to your fertilizer.

I fertilize every time I water, so my concentrations are much lower then what fortnightly people would use. Currently , my water has some bicarbonate in it, and some sodium, which is why I fertilize every time I water.

Sodium is not so good for plants, as it displaces potassium from stomatal guard cells preventing them from closing, leading to marginal leaf necrosis (burn). To counter this I have slightly more potassium then sodium in my water, I then balance calcium to magnesium depending on the level of K. So it's something like 35ppm K, 40 Ca and 16 Mg. But last summer I got lazy and just hung a stocking with gypsum in it into the fertilizer tank and whatever dissolves is my calcium level. So I'm not so fussed about K:Ca:Mg, what I am fussed about is ammonium and phosphate and these levels are way down on what people imagine they should us. So I would recommend a low N & P fert with higher K and then add gypsum and epsom salts to suite, or just use organic fertilizers, they seem to work well.

Regards

Paul
 

Poink88

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WOW. This discussion is way over my head. After reading it...I got more confused! :D

I'll just keep doing what I am doing (simple fert 2-4 x a month) since my plants are doing fine anyway (thankfully).
 

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Lots of gobblty-gook, Dario. People -- and especially bonsaiests -- tend to vastly overcomplicate the art of fertilization.

Why they do this, I don't know.
 

coh

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WOW. This discussion is way over my head. After reading it...I got more confused! :D

I'll just keep doing what I am doing (simple fert 2-4 x a month) since my plants are doing fine anyway (thankfully).
Well, of course. If whatever you are doing is working for you, then you don't need to worry about any of this. However if the day comes that things stop working, or you move someplace that has "bad" water, then you might appreciate that discussions like this exist on the forum. Remember, Dario, you've only been doing this for a couple of years. You don't know what lies around the corner - your plants might start to struggle or decline slowly over the next few years.

It is complicated but fascinating stuff.
 

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About gypsum.

Gypsum is calcium sulfate, which is only slightly soluble in water. Calcium is an essential element for the development of cell walls in plant cells. It is especially important for new leaf growth, a deficiency causes extreme leaf deformation, and can cause splitting of stems.

Calcium doesn't move within the plant like nitrogen does, so you only see symptoms of deficiency at the young leaves at the growing tips of stems.

Sprinkling gypsum onto the surface of your pots gives a slow release of calcium and only needs to be done during the growing periods. The other way to do it is to add calcium nitrate to your fertilizer, but that's a bit more complicated. Easier to just sprinkle half a teaspoon of crushed gypsum on the pots once a month.

Hard water contains calcium and magnesium, in varying quantities depending on your water source, and this can provide all the calcium and magnesium that a plant requires. So never complain about having hard water.

Calcium is only taken up by root tips, and anything that effects health or root tips interferes with calcium uptake, eg. excess ammonium. Generally it is difficult for plants to take up calcium, and transport it in the plants as it forms insoluble compounds in the cells. In ground soils it is a very common element and rarely in short supply. Gypsum is often added to vege gardens as these plants grow rapidly and have a high demand. Because it is difficult for plants to take up, calcium is often the highest concentrated element in a hydroponics type fertilizer.
I was using calcium nitrate for my fertilizer, but I was having issues with nitrate and Japanese maples, so switched to gypsum as my source of calcium. It's easy to just hang a bag of gypsum in my fertilizer tank.

Often adding gypsum to soil will see an increase in scale develop on the rims and bases of pots, this is a reaction that forms with phosphate and calcium, it's also a sign of how much excess phosphate is being washed from your pots. If you switch to a lower phosphate concentration the scale will go away.

Cheers

Paul
 

Poink88

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Well, of course. If whatever you are doing is working for you, then you don't need to worry about any of this. However if the day comes that things stop working, or you move someplace that has "bad" water, then you might appreciate that discussions like this exist on the forum. Remember, Dario, you've only been doing this for a couple of years. You don't know what lies around the corner - your plants might start to struggle or decline slowly over the next few years.

It is complicated but fascinating stuff.
I hope you did not misunderstood my message. I ado appreciate all the discussion and knowledge flow. BUT I am thankful that I do not have to delve into this as much (yet) since my plants are doing okay. I am sure it is helping someone as I type this actually. :)

I subscribe to the KISS principle...something my (declining) brain cells can understand (and retain). LOL :p
 

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Paul,
Thanks for the information on gypsum. Your point about scale and phosphate is interesting - never heard that. I appreciate your quick answers.

Two followups -

1. if I use an MSU type fertilizer (formulated for orchids), will that deliver sufficient calcium?

2. What issues were you having with nitrogen and your Japanese maples?

Frank
 
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Hi Frank

You asked:

If I use an MSU type fertilizer (formulated for orchids), will that deliver sufficient calcium?


I'm not familiar with the formula, do you have a link?

2. What issues were you having with nitrogen and your Japanese maples?

I have been having problems with deformed Japanese maple leaves that come on in late spring. I also had problems lowering pH below 7. I was using Argo and Fisher recommendation for NH4:NO3 ratio and acidifying water to pH 5.5, but was still having troubles getting a good response with my Japanese maples. It was mostly in summer that this started. Turns out the maples had switched onto nitrate as N source, and with warm temps and high pH a lot of the ammonium was being converted to nitrate.

I read somewhere about nitrate induced chlorosis and so cut Nitrate from my mix, lowered ammonium to reduce impact of nitrification. I also read in a Japanese Soil Science Society research paper of the pH of Japanese soils in a beech and maple forest, pH ranged from 3.5 to 4.8. So I dropped my fertilizer/water to pH 4.5 and things improved remarkably for my maples. The pH stabilized at about 6. I needed a calcium source, and the easiest approach was to hang stockings stuffed with gypsum in my fertilizer tanks.

I'll see how things go this summer, already my korean hornbeam are starting to push their buds, so not far now, another 4-5 weeks before spring really kicks in.

Paul
 

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Hi Frank.

The RO Special looks OK. I like the calcium and magnesium levels and low P is good. It has a lot of nitrate in it so would be best for tropicals. I'm not sure what plants you want to fertilize as this product may not suite pines.

I'm not sure of rates and frequency, that would have to be worked out with trial and error, but a the rates the author is talking about I would only apply it fortnightly or weekly.

Definitely worth trying.

regards

Paul
 

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