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multi thought/question post. 1) I have several eggplants in pots of varied large sizes that have never produced well over 6 months to 2 years planted... and now they are flowering ! Does that make any sense?I have been keeping  them going with so little rewards. They look great now !  Dump and use soil?2) Same quest applies to sweet peppers but there are now several peppers on the plants, but these pepper plants  have never grown large fruit  in the past couple years in their big pots.  3) Okra in 5 gallon pots, again did not get much out of them since planting this summer. now  leaves are falling off but harvest one yummy okra other day and getting buds and flowers . Pitch or baby it. 4)Tomatoe in big pot left in through summer and now flowers and  has tiny toms . I thought this plant was dead and gone! Keep  and protect into spring? 5) my experience with fish emulsion of all types has never been great. I seem to usually fry the plants. I now have 64 gallons from fish pond draining next door, that took place over summer ( which seemed to have killed my neighbor's large and my 1 year old  lemon  tree when pond was drained ,obviously  too much ! . ANy suggestions on how BEST to use what's in barrel? AND FINALLY 6) what brand and type of organic fertilizer have you all found to be the MOST helpful I have resorted to trying to add more compost regularly and have used Dr Earth that helped but as we all have our $64 tomatoes still looking for  more economy to this garden :)

thanks, linda

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I don’t have answers to you individual questions but in 2012 I started growing/keeping plants alive in nursery pots here in Phoenix. Four major things to overcome in container gardening in Phoenix maintaining moisture, controlling the high PH from our water, not letting the pot heat up, and what type of organic fertilizer to use. The first thing to develop is a container soil that works for our climate. Having tried different mixtures to attain the proper balance between drainage and moister retention because if tomato, pepper, eggplant ever dries out to the point of the leaves wilting the plant will be set back by weeks that might be why they are finally looking better this time of year because there aren’t drying out?

What I’m currently using is an equal parts peat moss, Kellogg’s Organic garden soil, live compost, and the smallest size bark chips. The peat moss will help acidify the container soil to counter the high PH of our dessert water. The Kellogg’s Organic garden soil could be left out if one has enough compost. Without the live compost the soil will be lacking the food soil web and the plants won’t grow. The bark chips will help with proper drainage and will last ~1-2years before you have to repot. At this point all the old potting soil can be returned to the compost pile.

To keep the pot from heating up is to have it shaded. This can be done many ways by putting the pot inside a bigger pot to shade it, putting a cardboard box around the plant but this is really tacky looking. Put all the plants under ~50% shade cloth. Bury the pot in the ground. The task is to just keep the sun from hitting the pot.

I have tried different organic fertilizers worm casting, alfalfa meal, organic bagged fertilizer, Sea kelp meal, fish emulsion and other things. The problem with organic fertilizer without the food soil web they don’t break down which is really hard to accomplish in a pot. So tea’s and foliar feeding is the most bio available but who wants to make tea or foliar feed so what I have been doing is to get a 55gal drum cut the top out and keep Gold Fish in it. Use the water/fish poo from the drum to water the plants. This has worked really well and I don’t use the water every time I need to water the plants but just when it’s turned green or fish poo is building up on the bottom of the container. The main expense with this is the fish food.

The most challenging part is to keep the moister just right. It’s the Goldie locks syndrome. During the summer using a drip line works well. If the plant is in a small pot lift test can be used because a freshly water pot is much heavier than a dry one. Sick you finger in the pot but this doesn’t work well after the first pot. I also keep a layer of wood chips on the top of the pot to retain moisture.

"peat moss will help acidify the container soil to counter the high PH of our dessert water."

Just because something grew in an acidic environment and slow decays in an acid environment does not mean its dead corpse provides acidity.  While several ostensibly authoritative sources (county exchanges and master gardener programs (not in this state) extol the virtues of peat moss and acidity in potting soils, I have never been able to find a single study demonstrating it nor have these sources reference their claim.

I'd consider substituting environmentally friendly waste product and superior to peat IMHO, coconut coir or rice hulls.

Yes giving coconut coir a try and maybe use Citric acid to lower the water PH.

A simple experiment is measure the PH of water and pour a cup of water through a cup of peat moss and then measure the PH it will be much lower. I have kept tropical fish and a very effective way to lower the PH was to pour the water through Peat Moss. It most likely short lived in a pot. When my acid loving plant start looking gloomy I take the top 2-3 inches of soil off and replace it with fresh peat moss and they perk right up. This works really well with the miracle fruit berry plant. I have been wanting to use Citric acid be haven't gotten around to it. I wonder if phosphoric acid would help with flowering while lowing the PH of the water? So many things to do and not enough time.

Thank you for your thoughtful description of what you do. I think all urban farmers must have a little chemist in them :) 

Powell ,

thanks for sharing the article. Interesting how un-environmentally friendly peat moss is sounding but the article also notes lead issues with some of the   options are nasty too.

Testing to ph change in the soil would  vary  (I would think ) depending upon how long after adding anything .

hmmmm, love a great dialogue on this. Although my original questions were not really answered in this thread :) 

That is my same thoughts and that brings me to your questions. What do you think is the missing ingredient/s for your container vegetables? Did they dry out during the summer? Did the pots get hot during the summer? How old is the potting soil did you refresh it? Did you do anything to lower the PH of the water that you used?

Great questions:

My fIrst response though is ....doesn't  it seemout of the gardening chart expectations for swest gardening to be getting peppers, okra and tomatoes in the pots in December? Are they really confused? SUmmer:1)  I probably let pots get too hot. I try to covers the plants by where they are placed ( under trees, with protective fabric etc ) but... it is brutal.

2) I am always adding more compost , soil, mulch on top  on goingly

3) some pots were brand new soil others recycled with amending and additions while big rubbermade of eggplants is the 2 year old that always looks great just not producing.

4) I have notoriously had plants  leaves turn yellow and often die after fertilizing with fish emulsion , including stuff from Singh and from water from pond next door. WOndering how much is considered too much. I try to dilute till it looks more like water ! 5) lowering ph of water... thank you Bruce this was new thought for me. I TRY to use water gathered from roof run off ( not sure how much unhealthy stuff is in there though) and let water buckets sit out but honestly the drip system was a nightmare for me epecially in pots . The flow to get to all the pots and tinkering with nozzles that clog and the breaks and water gushing at times... a mess. Hose and sprayers and try to water soil not plants. :) BUT  I find when emptying pots that there is ( summer or winter ) amazing amount of wet soil at bottom of deep 24" wide pots when the top foot  or so is bone dry. I have resolved to keep babying these plants and come spring planting repot them all or put in ground and see what survives. u mmmm what survives me trying to get them out of these big pots will be first miracle... if they get that far. I did another round of fish pond water on sunday. What ever does not kill them will make them stronger :) and adding more compost and soil on top this week. Thinking about adding bagged organic ground soil from HD on top to see if that would help them acclimate till I put in ground  (?)

I think I should attach photos this week for show and tell :) thanks Bruce!

Yes the sun can really do harm to the plants roots in a pot even in the winter the pot might get to hot in direct day long sunlight. Once the roots are cooked is a long or loosing battle.

Pepper starting to fruit in pots in December isn't that normal :) that's what mine are doing but the roof rats ate all the fruit and leaves off the plants this summer. So I thought the plants were just trying to make up time by leafing out and blossoming now? (I was surprised they didn't die from getting eaten!)

I think you're right on by reducing the strength of the fish emulsions but without proper pot soil that might not work. When I first started to container garden I had that same problem with the top half of the pot drying out and the bottom half wet. What I think the main problem was using potting soil with some periolite mixed in. When I increased the drainage the only time a pot goes rotten is when it's kept to wet and the plant starts to decline (but it's evenly wet), if I want to keep it alive I need to re-pot. At least 50% of the mix has to be drainage. Back east some nurseries plant in 100% partly composted tree bark. Because I don't have composed tree bark (but making some now) I use the the above stated panting mix. And when adding compost to the top of the pot if more than an inch is used the potting mix needs to be added to it otherwise the compost may dry out or compact. Without putting drainage in the compost is like baking a cake without flour.

You might want to check the hardness of the pond water? Are there any plants/fish growing in it? Does it stink? If it full of plants I would most likely use it for my plants.

No need to acclimate plants to garden soil if your soil is good they will take off when the weather conditions are right for the plants!

One more thing only fertilize when the plant is actively growing.

your reference to "drainage" seems to sound more like mulch to me , is that what you mean? I know I got the WORST results when I started out using Singh Compost/ mulch.... seemed way too barky.

Re what is normal... well depending upon how well I do with all my covering of peppers and tomatoes . I have stuff growing ! I would be wary of transplanting any of those pots till spring and if they survive will put in a much more Barky mix :) woof. Linda

This is where I got my understanding of drainage. It's been awhile sense I read it but it explained container soil and what is going on with the water.


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