THE GROWING MEDIUM

No less important than light to the successful acclimatization of interior plants is the provision of a proper growing medium. The roots must be placed in an environment that provides structural support, allows the roots to absorb water, and provides essential minerals. Further, the growing medium must allow rapid drainage of water past the root zone and provide the correct pH for growth.

The medium that serves when plants are growing in a nursery field or production container is likely to be inappropriate for an interior installation. Natural field soil may be:

• too heavy to permit rapid drainage

• too heavy for the floor to support if the container is large

• inconsistent in composition, making standardized maintenance of separate planters difficult

• infested with insects, pathogens, or weeds

Although pasteurized natural soil may be a component of the grow­ing medium for interior plantings, additives will probably be needed. It is even possible that the growing medium selected for the interior plantscape will have no natural soil in it for reasons of improved drain­age, hygiene, pH balance, or nutritional consistency. The use of synthetic soils, whose composition is as controlled as a cake recipe, is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

Cornell University and the University of California have been lead­ers in the formulation of synthetic soils for interior plant production. The Cornell mixes are made from vermiculite or perlite and sphagnum moss. The University of California (U. C.) mixes are made from fine dune sand and sphagnum moss. The ratio of components varies with the spe­cies of plants and the maintenance program to be followed.

In addition to the U. C. and Cornell mixes (termed the peat – lite mixes), there are bark mixes composed of pine bark, sand, and sphagnum moss. These are especially acidic growing media and may require buffering (with dolomitic and hydrated lime) to sustain healthy plants.

All of the synthetic soils are mixed and sold commercially. In large interior installations, it may be more economical to mix the medium at the site rather than purchase the premixed commercial products. All decisions about the growing medium should be made before the plant­ers are filled and the plants installed. Once planted, errors in the medi­um’s composition are difficult to correct without removing the plant.

Because the artificial media have low nutritional value for the plant, complete fertilizers are required as well as periodic application of the minor elements. Regular soil testing is necessary to ensure that the fer­tilization program is correct.