Kim has been gardening and growing her own food for over 27 years. She is a Master Gardener and loves to explore agricultural challenges.
More Houseplants . . .
I adopt plants—not intentionally; it just happens. Sometimes my clients buy something they end up not liking, or they find out it doesn't really grow here and give it up. Then there are the near deaths. Some I get excited about, like my latest arrival: papyrus.
This poor guy was sold to one of my clients as an accent for a barrel pot. For starters, it won't live through the winter. It's zoned 9–12, and we are a 4. Second, it needs consistent moisture. A whiskey-barrel planter does not hold moisture unless you water it ten times a day. Thank you, greenhouse guys, for being so forthcoming. Third, this plant is for aquatic gardens.
My client was disappointed. She liked the grass, but couldn't keep it watered, and she was under the impression it would come back after winter, and she did NOT want a houseplant. So I dug the papyrus up and brought it home.
When I started writing Gaia's Garden, I made a list of 500 plants throughout history I wanted to explore. Papyrus was one of them, and now I have one. Woot woot! Paper . . . Egyptians . . . dead sea scrolls . . .
This was awesome. Cyperus involucratus or Baby Tut came to live with me. He was half dead from limited water, and he looked sad.
Off to Egypt
Time to research the West Nile . . .
Papyrus is a sedge or a rush. It needs consistently fresh water. There are not a lot of practical uses for papyrus to be found. We all should know that papyrus was the original paper and that the Egyptians were the first to use it. In addition to that, I discovered the roots were consumed or dried and burned in meditative practices. The flowering grasses were sometimes used to decorate statues in sacred temples.
Looking at the world zone map above, you will notice that Egypt is located in zone 9. My mom lives in zone 9 Florida, so this gives me an idea temperature wise. According to her, temperatures can drop to freezing, although rare. Anyone who has watched a mummy special on discovery knows that Egypt is arid. A humidity tray will not be necessary.
The river Nile is habitat to a plethora of life. The Egyptians relied on the rivers annual flooding to irrigate their fields for centuries. Yearly flooding would have deposited mineral-rich silt through the fields.
Papyrus grows near the banks of the river, much like cattails grow near murky spots in the United States. Wherever they grew, they would be an indicator of water nearby. They also like full sun.
After thoroughly investigating its habitat, our papyrus will want dry heat and moisture. Its substrate would be sandy with high organic matter in a water-retentive pot, and its position would be full sun. We found him a nice water retentive pot and used a 50/50 soil mixture. We look to The River Nile as an example to blending the substrate. Sand and high organic materials. Marshes tend to have very good soil in the muck.
Why Make Your Own Substrate?
The soil where you live is unique to your area. Your soil is made up of tiny particles, sand, minerals, clay, compost, loam. Your local DNRC or extension office can go into extreme detail on this subject, but it may bore you to tears. Different plant life requires different soils and different minerals. Which is why some plants grow better in one place than another, it s not just weather.
When you mix your own substrate, you control how many parts of each type of soil are present in the final product. For our papyrus, we consider where it grows when we mix our soil to best recreate its preferred growing conditions.
Substrates and soil types can get very technical, which is why going to purchase potting soils can be so daunting. There's Potting mix for roses, tomatoes, cactus, bromeliads, and many more. There's organic and nonorganic, seed start or potting mix, perlites, and peats. It's easier to just mix your own. And it's really very simple.
For this project you need two things, three if you include a wheel barrow or tub to mix it in.
- Potting mix or top soil
- Compost or manure
Sand: Any sand. I use sand from my area. There is a sand quarry nearby and the sand is soft, like beach sand. It is filled with minerals and nutrients. I fill a 5-gal bucket and use it as needed. I've never bought play sand, although I assume it would work just fine, the grains might be larger than beach sand, but for the purpose of mixing dirt, it should work. If you can get beach sand, go for it.
Top soil or Potting Mix: Top Soil has been scraped from the surface of the land, hence "Top Soil". The top 5-12" or so of soil in certain areas is primo. Full of nutrients and micro organisms. The soil is super soft and retains water well. Other areas, not so much. Before purchasing "top soil", know your areas soils and know what is being delivered. If the top layer of soil is clay or sand, you don't want it.
Each "Potting Mix" is different. Potting Mix is pre-mixed soil for container growers. It has been formulated with nutrients to feed container grown plants. There are some cheap potting mixes that are bare bones material. They will do just fine for mixing your own soil.
Compost or Manure: Compost is made up of biodegradable material which has been aged and turned to create an organic growing medium. Compost is not just food scraps, it is also leaf debris, grass clippings, sawdust, almost anything that can be returned to the earth can be composted to create compost. Avoid composts with chemicals added.
Manure comes from livestock. The benefits of manure vary by animal, as each animal digests food differently. Some animals return seeds to the garden that you don't want. A few of the most sought after manures are Cow dung, Chicken, and Rabbit droppings. Many manures need to be aged before using.
Find an old bowl or scoop to use as a measuring device. Take two scoops of sand and place it in your mixing container. Add 1/2 scoop of top soil or potting mix and a half a scoop of compost or manure. Mix everything together well. You want it dark brown with sandy flakes and pieces. Add a little more top soil and compost if you need too. Keep adding and mixing until you have enough soil to fill your chosen pot.
I mix my own soil for everything, not just houseplants. I try to use as much product as possible from my area. I want the minerals. Especially when I grow something I intend to eat. I avoid using anything with chemical additives.
Caring for Papyrus
We are getting along fabulously. She drinks a lot of water, and she has grown two feet since she came to live with me. I'm not sure how big she will get, or if I will ever get to "make paper," but I sure am enjoying having a piece of Egypt in my living room.
January 2018 Update: I have discovered my kittens love papyrus too. They have eaten half of it. They chew off a grass at the base and play with it. When they have thoroughly amused themselves, they proceed to eat it. It hasn't killed them, thankfully, and since research indicates it's not poisonous, I will have to rig something up to keep them out. Keep this in mind should you choose papyrus and have cats.
If you ever have the opportunity to grow papyrus, go for it. It's easy!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 Kim French