It was hard to pass up yet another planter bargain at Costco. These attractive bowls were a little over $2 a piece ($13 for the box). Not that it makes any difference to me or the plants but these are not melamine, they're stoneware. No surprise that they were gone in a short time. If they return, I'll buy a few boxes for sure.
My hobby is propagating and growing tabletop Ficus benjamina trees in a bonsai style. What I did here was transfer a little tree from a cheap Party City plastic bowl to one of the stoneware bowls.
The tree does not care one bit whether the planter is inexpensive plastic or high quality stoneware when using sub-irrigated planters called SIPs. I call them "bubble SIPs" because the water and oxygen reservoirs beneath the trees are like bubbles.
Thanks to the U.S. gardening industry perpetuating the erroneous term "self-watering" few understand that SIPs are an elementary form of hydroponics. An essential part of all hydroponic systems is an oxygen supply. This usually requires an electric pump.
There is no need for an electric air pump in a SIP. When properly used a SIP supplies oxygen in a passive way by the ebb and flow of the reservoir. There is always an air space over the top of the water supply.
Unwitting consumers who buy into the highly misleading "self-watering" term often defeat the system by constantly refilling the reservoir and shutting out the oxygen supply. The result inevitably is an anaerobic condition followed by root rot and then death.
Sad to know that most commercial houseplant growers prefer death to life because their business plans are founded on consumption rather than sustainability and long life.
When you grow a plant in a traditional drain hole pot or misuse a "self-watering" planter you are helping perpetuate a misrepresentation while wasting water, your time and your money. Once you gain some experience with SIPs you will know that there is no need for drain holes in plant pots and that you are the "self" in so-called "self-watering".
It might be informative to SIP beginners to see how I made the transfer. I am still using a scale to measure soil moisture but using an "erasable plant tag" rather than the Excel spread sheet method I've been using for many years.
Once you get the hang of it you will be watering your houseplants with pinpoint accuracy and giving them a reason to live rather than die. Everyone, besides the chosen few, can now have a green thumb.
(edited w/new photo 06-27-15) My indoor plants SIP tool kit.
Starting upper left: Goof Off to "erase" the magic marker weight reading posted on a plant tag (leaning on a recycled pill bottle). Note that Goof Off is not for unsupervised kids. It give off fumes much like paint thinner.
It is not likely to be a problem even for those with sensitive noses if you apply it with the small spray bottle size. The large can is for refills. It takes just a very small spritz, and a paper towel to remove the magic marker writing on the plant tag. Goo Gone is a citrus oils solvent without fumes but it has not worked for me.
Goop clear plastic glue (for attaching reservoirs and fill tubes if necessary). Box cutter (used rarely), bonsai cutter (excellent for pruning small trees), Fiskars snips (just the right size for houseplants and cutting thin plastic), scissors (for plant trimming and cutting thin plastic), red plastic soil probe, bamboo chopstick and skewer (for tamping down the soil to remove air pockets), baster with clear plastic tubing attached (to remove excess water via the fill tube to correct overfilling mistakes), pipette made from 1/4" plastic tubing to check if there is water in the reservoir. Hold a finger over the top end, insert into SIP fill tube and remove. Water level, if any, will be visible at bottom of pipette tube.
I used a 5.3 oz/150g yoghurt container to make the reservoir. Cut the rim off. The reservoir in the plastic SIP bowl (left) was cut down from a 16oz yoghurt container.
Use of a scale to measure soil moisture is an exact science but the size of the reservoir is not. You need room for both the plant and the reservoir whatever the planter size. It won't take long to get the hang of how large or small to make the reservoir. Next time I do this with another Ficus tree, I will measure the exact size of the reservoir after cutting the yoghurt cup.
A professional greenhouse grower would admire the soil moisture and root system of the tree when I removed it from the old SIP. No surprise. I use basically the same system they do when they grow houseplants in their greenhouse. It's called by several names including ebb and flow sub-irrigation.
Viola! Tree ready again to face the world in its new SIP bowl. No raspberries in this bowl, but I can hear them from some growers who hate me for showing you how to do this.
There is no better endorsement of how good SIPs are than the hate spewed by some misguided greenhouse growers who don't want your plants to live too long. I say, grow up and run your business with a social conscience rather than as a personal privilege or entitlement.
Part 2 of this post will be about how I use a scale to accurately monitor soil moisture and use plant tags to record it. Stay tuned.