FUN with IFDs
by Steve Stroupe, Alabama USA
Click images to enlarge
DISCLAIMER: While this article purports
to contain bona fide horticultural information, the nature of
the subject matter and some of the ensuing experiments seemed
to dictate a rather playful and tongue-in-cheek approach, despite
the potential utility of the information ...
This article also provides information
about aquatic plant culture designed to help water gardeners
cope with their aquatic horticultural needs. But cultural information
is not the same as cultural advice -- the application of information
to an individual's specific circumstances. Although the author
of this article has gone to great lengths to make sure his information
is accurate and useful, he recommends that all readers consult
a professional if they are desirous of professional assurance
that this information, and the readers interpretation of
it, is correct, and appropriate to their particular situation.
There appears to be a burgeoning, and long overdue interest
... in the US anyway ... around Nutricote as an aquatic plant
fertilizer. (See Fertilizing
Waterlilies, One Growers Perspective in WGI Online
4.3) One of the questions which invariably arises whenever this
subject is being discussed is; What about re-fertilizing?
In this regard alone, tablets are demonstrably superior because
the plant nutrients are bound in a solid tablet which lends itself
to relatively easy soil insertion through standing water. Nutricote
is manufactured in a loose prill* form which is a bit more challenging
to get down easily to the root zone of an established aquatic
container or landscape planting. Osmocote manufactured a tablet
or plug at one time, constructed from prills held
together with a bonding agent, but it never really seemed to
catch on. In terrestrial fertilizing applications, it is usually
desirable for the fertilizer to be evenly distributed or incorporated
into the media. This is true with aquatics as well, but is usually
not practical** when re-fertilizing aquatic plants in situ.
* A prill is a small aggregate of
a material, most often a dry sphere, formed from a melted liquid.
** An exception to this is mentioned later on in the article
While some of the following suggestions may appear cumbersome
and time consuming, this perception must be weighed against the
time and effort of tablet insertions during the growing season
multiplied by the number of plants as well as the considerable
expense involved with purchasing tablets. Depending upon the
length of ones growing season, variety of plant being fertilized
... coupled with the type (release duration)
of Nutricote used, a single fertilizer application can last two
years or even longer with little or no supplemental fertilizer.
Here in central Alabama USA, [USDA Zone 7] I get at least
two full years out of my [Type 360] Nutricote applications with
hardy waterlilies planted in 16 x 7 (40cm x 18cm)
containers. No supplemental fertilization is necessary during
this period, and the blooming is phenomenal!
< N. 'Laydekeri
Fulgens', summer 2009
See large image for cultivation details
Fertilizer costs, as well as labor, are significant factors
when contemplating any fertilizer regimen. The Manufacturers
Suggested Retail Price [MSRP] for a nationally renowned brand
of 4000 count, 5 gram (0.18 ounce) aquatic fertilizer tablets
is $535.08 [US dollars]. Thats 20,000 grams of fertilizer
or about 44 pounds for a cost of $535 at full retail price. Even
a moderately skilled Internet sleuth can find a 50 pound (22.7
kilograms) bag of Nutricote delivered via UPS for a cost of less
than $100* ... from any number of sources, which makes the tablet
fertilizer cost over five times as much. Added to this initial
cost is the fact that these tablets are putatively applied to
a waterlily at the manufacturer-recommended rate of 2 tablets
per gallon (3.8 liters) of soil every two to four weeks during
the growing season. This application rate can be compared against
a Nutricote application rate of no more than once every two years
even in some warm climates [USDA Zone 7 in my particular case].
* There is no MSRP or retail
price on a 50 pound (22.7 kg) bag of Nutricote, as it is a professional
end-user item, rather than a consumer product. While large nurseries
will buy truckloads of Nutricote from a blending facility such
as Florikan, most smaller nurseries buy from grower supply companies
which distribute for these regional blenders, and many of these
horticultural supply firms will sell direct to consumers because
it doesnt create a supply channel conflict with their existing
greenhouse customers, because greenhouse operators are also end
users rather than resellers of these products.
The incentives to innovate and experiment with Nutricote delivery
systems are more than compelling on at least two major fronts
... time and money.
When challenged by Kit Knotts a while back to help her devise
a Nutricote delivery system which would be practical when re-fertilizing
large plants grown in her earthen bottomed concrete ponds, I
started thinking about this problem.
In my world, the largest container I normally use for my hardy
waterlilies is a 16 wide x 7 (40cm x 18cm) deep no-hole
plastic pot. Tropicals are rarely potted in anything larger than
a standard 5 gallon (19 liter) nursery pot. When I re-fertilize
these hardy waterlily pots, I simply remove them from the pond
in late winter or early spring before the floating leaves start
to grow, turn them gently upside-down, directly on the ground
... or on a soft hay cushion if one is faint of heart ... remove
the pot, add more Nutricote to the bottom of the pot, replace
the soil mass, give the container a short drop or two on the
ground in order to re-seat the soil mass firmly, and then the
plant is placed back in the pond. I like this method because
it gets the fertilizer right down to the roots zone, and without
any trauma to the plant. Nothing else needs to be done
for at least two years unless the waterlily requires
dividing in the interim ...
So until Kits request, I never needed to address this
The logical place for me to start thinking about this challenge
was with the Osmocote method of gluing prills together into a
homogenous tablet or plug. I briefly
toyed with the idea of taking plastic ice cube trays, spraying
them with a non-stick cooking spray such as Pam, filling them
with Nutricote, then binding them together them with a dilute
solution of water-soluble, white glue such as Elmer's. For some
reason this idea never had much appeal with me and seemed too
messy and cumbersome ... even if it had worked well, which was
by no means certain.
My next idea was to take some Nutricote, roll it up in a paper
towel, twist the ends up to prevent spillage, and then seal them
with a bit of Elmers glue. I christened this application
method the Doobie Delivery System. This paper towel
cylinder or cigarette filled with Nutricote can be
inserted into a hole in the soil mass made by a round wooden
handle or a PVC pipe of the appropriate dimensions ... just like
pushing a tablet down with a finger, or by making a pilot hole
with a dibble stick first, except on a much larger scale.
While the paper toweling is biodegradable, using the dibble
stick or ramrod to rupture the paper towel cigarette
by punching it a couple of times after its been seated
in the hole, will only increase the efficacy of this system ...
rupturing the toweling will spread the fertilizer around in the
hole and surrounding mud.
I really thought had a winner with this method, so I excitedly
called Kit, who for some reason seemed considerably less than
enthusiastic about this idea, and muttered something along the
lines of not really having the time to sit around during
the winter rolling Nutricote cigarettes.
My next idea was to take some Jiffy brand peat pots, fill them
with Nutricote, apply a thin coat of Elmers glue on the
top layer of the prills, making sure that I contacted the sides
of the peat pot with the glue as well. This insured that the
top layers of prills were securely bonded to the peat pot as
well as each other, and would not spill out during storage or
Square peat pots were all I had on hand for my prototypes,
but round ones should be used instead -- because of structural
integrity, much better selection of sizes, and perhaps most importantly,
round pots mitigate the oft-quoted difficulty of trying to stuff
a square pot into a round hole.
This is the best delivery system Ive found thus far
for the dibble/cavity application method when large amounts of
Nutricote need to be applied through standing water. Peat pots
are relatively inexpensive, biodegradable, available in a number
of sizes, quickly and cheaply configured, and will hold up well
during storage and application. As with the paper towel option,
it is best to rupture the peat pot with the ramrod/dibble before
sealing the cavity entrance.
The most low-tech solution to this problem is of course to
punch the desired number of holes in the soil mass, insert a
similarly-sized PVC pipe down to the bottom of each hole, place
a funnel at the other end, and simply pour the proper amount
of Nutricote into the hole, slowly withdraw the pipe, and then
close the hole. Nutricote will sink readily, so if the hole is
not positioned at too shallow an angle, this method works reasonably
well, although its not nearly as fun as some other methods
... and the tablet application methodology is proving a difficult
addiction to overcome. The above described method is simply way
too easy ...
There are undoubtedly many more options too, but the baseline
criteria for a successful Nutricote aquatic delivery system seem
to be permeability, biodegradability if possible, and sufficient
structural integrity to survive fabrication, storage, brief immersion,
and forcible insertion into the pilot hole.
< A paper coffee filter for a drip coffeemaker filled with
Nutricote, gathered, and secured with a twist tie is another
Even perforated polyethylene weed fabric
should work well, and although its not readily biodegradable,
it is extremely tough, and enjoys the advantage of being able
to contain large amounts of fertilizer without rupturing prematurely.
Old or mismatched socks, nylon stockings, old bandanas, etc.
... a lot of things could be conceivably recycled along these
Large gelcaps are another option, but may not be cost effective
for everyone. Those who find that the method of pot removal and
flipping is simply too physically demanding with a large container
may find the gelcap method to be an acceptable alternative which
doesnt differ significantly from the tried and true tablet
delivery method ... except for the fertilization intervals. Veterinary
gelcaps are readily available in sufficiently large sizes to
hold a sizable amount of Nutricote fertilizer. The largest size
Ive seen is an SU7 [Supersize??] which appears to be around
3 long (8cm) by 3/4 (2cm) in diameter. Here are some
sizes currently being manufactured by one company. http://www.erowid.org/archive/rhodium/pdf/gelcap.sizechart.pdf
Single dose balling gun - US$1.00
Recently I had occasion to speak with Jamie Beyer of Midwest
Waterscapes in Iowa USA. We were discussing Nutricote and I mentioned
the gelcap idea to him. Jamie, who has a background in wildlife
biology and is also quite knowledgeable about various aspects
of animal husbandry, mentioned the existence of a balling
gun which, despite what some readers may be speculating
at this point, is actually a device deployed by farmers and veterinarians
to deliver bolus (ball) or gelcap medications ...
The word bolus is Latin for a round mass
but one definition has come to mean a round preparation of medicine.
These balling guns are used to place and dispense balls
of medicine down the throats of otherwise unwilling farm animals
who have yet to master the skill of taking their medication voluntarily
with a glass of water. Balling guns come in both single shot
and repeating versions, and can be had for as little as $1 for
the cheapest plastic single-shot versions, and up to $50 for
some really slick-looking pump action multidose repeaters.
Multidose balling gun
Multidose balling gun
They come in many shapes and sizes depending upon a number
of variables such as the size of the animal, and the size of
the gelcap, bolus, or ball to be dispensed.
While Ive not used any of these devices yet, the guns appear
to merit some serious investigation. If nothing else, they look
like fun, and you can get one to try for as little as $1.00 US.
Its also entirely possible that these balling guns can
deliver homemade balls of Nutricote fertilizer made
with more primitive and less expensive materials than gelcaps.
Depending upon ones circumstances, a plain, roundpoint
shovel can be the most effective Nutricote delivery system. When
Greg Wittstock, CEO of Aquascape, Inc., was cleaning out his
large backyard pond, he was faced with an even larger problem;
his pond was constructed with a 45 mil rubber liner, but was
covered in a thick layer of heavy Illinois soil topped with pea
gravel. Hundreds of waterlilies had been planted directly in
the soil years ago. With the water pumped out of the pond, Wittstock
scraped the gravel back at intervals amidst the tangles of partially
exposed rhizomes, dug holes in the dirt below the rhizomes, threw
in shovelfuls of Nutricote, closed the holes, and threw the gravel
back over the dirt. When standing water is eliminated from this
equation, simpler solutions readily present themselves.
I tend toward admittedly silly extremes sometimes when contemplating
solutions for various problems, and Ive had some fleeting,
but highly impractical, thoughts around modifying paintball guns
to fire high velocity Nutricote-filled gelcaps through standing
water directly into mud-filled containers of waterlilies.
Waterlilies, One Growers Perspective
in WGI Online 4.3
No mention of Nutricote delivery systems could be made without
at least one reference from the delightful little book titled
Ballistics by William Gurstelle which contains [among other
things] a highly-detailed set of plans for building the famous
Potato Cannon, which is manufactured from PVC pipe and uses ignited
hairspray as the projectile [potato] propellant. Even a crude
version of this potato cannon can hurl a 1 pound (.5 kilogram)
Idaho spud for a considerable distance, and at an amazingly high
velocity. So Im thinking that you could hollow out a large
baking potato, fill it with Nutricote, and ...
Or ... following this idea a bit further ... the lead shot in
a shotgun shell could be replaced with a slug of
Nutricote prills bonded together by [water-soluble] Elmers
glue for the first ever, frangible*, or AET [Advanced Energy
Transfer] 12 gauge aquatic fertilizer shell ... or perhaps Ill
just replace the lead shot with loose Nutricote and do some experimenting
with shooting distances, patterning, soil penetration, and water
A 12 gauge field load with 1 ounce of lead shot has a muzzle
velocity of around 1200 feet per second [fps] and a muzzle energy
of 1400 foot pounds, [ft/lbs] although the same volume of Nutricote
prills replacing the lead shot would weigh considerably less,
resulting in a dramatic reduction of muzzle energy ... we certainly
dont wish to puncture our pondliner with this high-velocity
fertilizer application system!! Collateral damage to pond fish
is of course another legitimate consideration which will need
to be addressed at some point. I may try this "shotgun"
approach sometime just for the sheer fun of it ...
* A material is said to be frangible
if through deformation it tends to break up into fragments, rather
than deforming plastically and retaining its cohesion as a single
If one is ever traveling in rural Alabama near Birmingham
sometime in the future, one might hear a lengthy series of rather
loud bangs emanating from some secluded waterlily ponds ... Those
sounds will likely indicate that Ive simply gotten too
old to flip those 50 pound pots around any longer ...