This was first published in "The Buzz",BGI's quarterly newsletter.I have updated it slightly for use here.
Soil, dirt, potting mix. Call it what you will, it's the single most important thing to consider when planting your new brugmansia. I will just touch briefly on in-ground planting since most common garden soils will allow your brugmansia to grow and prosper. Unless you live in one of the western areas where the soil is alkaline, your soil should be safe. You can amend garden soils with sand and composted manure if you have clay, or humus and compost if you have sandy soil. If you have extremely alkaline soil there are things, such as aluminum sulphate, available to lower the ph. For those who may be unfamiliar with pH it is simply a scale used to measure acidity/alkalinity of various substances, in our case soil or soil substitutes. Seven is neutral on the scale, with numbers above seven indicating alkalinity and numbers below seven indicating acidity. Brugs tolerate a ph range of 7 down to about 5 and grow best at 6 to 6.5.
The rest of this article will deal with the commercially available potting mixes that most of us use when growing our Angel's Trumpets in containers. At Country Garden we started with a bagged mix from Walmart, sold as "Organic Cow Manure Compost". This mix had a great deal of sand so it drained well and best of all it was cheap. Two things were wrong with this. It was full of weed seed and the mix was not consistent. Soon we began to have a lot of root rot and general poor growth. We then switched to three other commercially available mixes... "Expert", "Miracle Grow" and "Jungle Growth". These products are mixes of ground pine bark, peat moss, vermiculite and perlite. As they come from the mill, they have a pH range acceptable to most plants. All of these did well for a period of about a year, then once again, we began to notice cases of root rot and general decline in our stock plants. Pulling a few plants and examining the soil showed another problem. As the potting mix aged it was decomposing in the pot and the drainage was getting worse as time went by. It was time to change again. It's worth noting that all of these are good products and the change we made next was to a product identical in composition to the three mentioned above. This change did two things. The new mix is "Fafard 52", a mix for commercial greenhouses. Though similar in composition to the three brands mentioned above, it is much less expensive.As of 2009 there was another change because "Fafard 52"became unavailable in our area.We switched to "Fafard 4", a similar mix.
Along with this, we purchased perlite in bulk packages. We now mix the perlite in a ratio of three parts potting mix to one part perlite. This is in addition to the perlite already in the mix.That is a lot of perlite. The drainage problems, and root rot, are gone and drainage remains good after more than a year of use.
It's worth noting here that we also tried vermiculite along with the perlite.While it did help to open up the mix,it also held water on the root system which defeated the purpose of the perlite.
All good things come with a price. In this case you pay for less root rot and better micronutrient uptake, with the need for more fertilizer and water as both leach through faster than in heavy soil. For our plants for sale, anything works as they are in the pot for three months or less. At various times we use 10-10-10 garden fertilizer, Peters water soluble, Miracle-Gro water soluble, or one of the "house brand" water solubles. 10-10-10 is used at one tablespoon per gallon of mix. For stock plants which will be in the container for a minimum of two years we use more organics such as blood meal, bone meal, gypsum and kelp powder. The first three are available at your local big box store and the kelp can be found at Hoegger Supply in Newnan, Georgia. Their web address is hoeggergoatsupply.com. Kelp meal contains all of the micro nutrients plants need. We also use a tea made from kelp meal on our plants for sale. Everything seems to benefit from kelp. Even our dairy goats get a spoonful on their grain at feeding time. I even tried it on my morning cereal once.Yecch. To sum up. Brugmansia love water but hate wet feet. They require lots of fertilizer but aren't particular about which kind. Think drainage, drainage, drainage.
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