December 17, 2013

Potting a Plant and Potting Media - The Bare Basics

Most of us make do with the same potting mixture for all kinds of plants; and we wonder how places like the Lal Bagh Garden in Bangalore manage to showcase such lush green plants.

I attended a Course in Home Gardening conducted by the Government of Karnataka in 1993. The then director of Lal Bagh Gardens conducted the course; which was supposed to be a 10 day course but was extended to nearly 20 days because of the eager beavers who attended. It was here that I learnt that different plants need different soil compositions.

Bangalore has a race course; so, you'll find that almost all compositions listed below use horse manure. Fact is horse manure is better than the usual cow manure for roses.

1. Soil Composition for Sowing Seeds
1 part sieved leaf manure (by weight)
1 part sand

Leaf manure is nothing but dried leaves fallen from trees. Allow it to decompose to a stage where it crumbles when you touch it. The logic behind using this combination is, sand does not absorb moisture while leaf manure does. Combining the ensures that the compost is damp, yet not soggy enough to rot the seeds.

2. Soil for Vegetables
2 parts red soil
1 part dried horse manure 
1 part dried (மக்கிய) cowdung (don't make the mistake of using raw cow dung or horse manure - your neighbours will start complaining)
1 part ordinary soil
1 part leaf manure

You can use 2 parts of cow dung if you can't get horse manure.Some people use goat manure in place of cow dung or horse manure. In that case use only 1/2 part well pounded goat manure in place of horse manure + cow dung. This is because goat manure generates too much of heat that might kill the plant.
Note: Fruit trees and vegetable plants respond well to donkey manure.

3. Flowering Plants
2 parts red soil
1 part horse manure or cow manure or 1/4 part sheep manure
1 part sand
1/2 part leaf manure

4. Foliage and Indoor Plants
1 part red soil
1 part leaf manure
1 part sand
1/2 part horse manure or cow dung

5. Bonsai - For a Container that is 2"-3" Deep 
1 part red soil
2 part leaf manure
1 part sand
1 part charcoal powder
1/4" stones and pebbles
1/4 part broken pots

Notice the proportion of horse manure and cow dung is very high for vegetables, slightly lower for flowering plants and very low for foliage and indoor plants. They apparently play a vital role in yielding good flowers and vegetables.

Blocking Drainage Holes
All containers meant for plants should have drainage holes to drain out excessive water. But, you have to block it with broken pieces of old pots to prevent the soil from going out through it as well. In spite of your best efforts, a bit of soil does go out anyway. The pictures below demonstrate how to block them.

The image above shows just the soil. I plan to use this pot for a foliage plant. I don't have access to red soil where I live and as I live in an apartment, I don't have access to sand either. So, I'll make do with dried cow dung and leaf manure (our watchman so kindly swept up for me from a nearby government building) and a handful of neem cake powder.

Note: If you can somehow get the dung of a milk cow, your garden will simply bloom. Milk cows are usually fed better. Therefore the quality of the dung is better.