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The problem with the wind

Wind can be damaging for our plants. Not only from sheer force and speed, but also when it comes to drying plants out. Hot winds often cause Drosera to loose its mucilage and can burn off Sarracenia, ruining their pitchers. Wind can also cause Dionaea teeth to become brittle and burnt. Hot and dry wind will decimate Pinguicula. This type of physical damage is pretty obvious, and to a large extend anticipated and relatively easily dealt with. Just provide some protection from the scorching sun and physical protection from the winds and plants will quickly show their appreciation and resilience.

The wind also brings another serious threat, one which thanks to land clearing and unsustainable agricultural activities, is becoming a more frequent problem. Strong summer winds often carry top soil with them. Top soil is the most fertile and precious soil because that’s where much of the nutrient content is. Nutrients will burn carnivorous plant roots and eventually kill our plants. If you’ve ever had a carnivorous plant suddenly up and die on you for no known reason, the answer may literally be blowing in the wind. If wind deposits nutrient rich top soil in the plant’s pot, it can cause the total dissolved solids to increase, killing your plant.

It doesn’t take much nutrient rich top soil to raise TDS to fatal levels. Of course it depends on the specific elements being deposited, for example we know copper and zinc are poisonous to our plants in very low concentrations. The same is true with nitrates, which are often found in high levels in top soil from agricultural areas because it is a large ingredient in fertilizer. Whereas inorganic particles from metamorphic and igneous rocks are less of an issue for our plants.

So the bad news is that winds, especially those originating from agricultural areas and inland Australia, can bring with it materials which may be poisonous to our plants. The good news is now that we know about this semi-invisible threat we can be on the lookout. A $30.00 TDS meter can be used to test water which is sitting in your plant trays, as well as the water which has been collected after being watered through your pots. Take a reading from the water you’re using to flush your pots so you’ve got a base level. Then collect and test the water coming through your pot. The water will dissolve and transport nutrients and salts. The reading you receive is what TDS your plant roots are living in.

TDS Meter
TDS Meter

If the TDS is 50ppm or greater the water should be replaced. In a tray situation it’s easy to replace. Empty the old water, wash the tray and replace with acceptable water. If the high TDS water is coming through your pot, you’ll have to keep flushing the media and the plant from the top until the water reaches a new acceptable level. You’re aiming for as low as TDS as possible.

If you test your plants every few months you’ll be all but guaranteed to catch any issues with nutrient build up before they become toxic to your plants. Of course you can run the check as often as you like but the more plants you have the more time it takes.

The last point on this topic worth mentioning is make sure your TDS meter is calibrated and accurate. When you buy your TDS meter you will also be able to buy some calibration solution to keep the instrument accurate. False positives waste water. False negatives kill your plants.

The images below shows a pot of Drosera capensis suffering from wind and scorching sun damage.

Wind damage of D. capensis

The same pot is sown below four weeks later, after the plants has been placed in a greenhouse and protected from wind. The sun intensity was also reduced. The plant still had bright, indirect light. Just not, direct, scorching sun.

D. capensis recovered from wind damage.

You’ll even notice, the Sphagnum moss has grown and looks greener and healthier than before.

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