In Praise of Sifting

fortyonenorth(6b)April 23, 2012

I've been using the 5-1-1 mix and variations of it for the past four or five years and I've been relatively happy with my results. This year was the first year that I've taken the added step of seriously sifting the bark fines. In years past, I've screened through 1/2" hardware cloth to get rid of extra large chunks, but that was about it. This year, I've really focused on attaining a particle size in the sub 1/4" range. Well, I have to say this seemingly small difference in particle size makes an amazing difference in the overall texture of the soil.

I know this isn't "news," but for anyone who's resisted making the extra effort, I would highly recommend giving it a try.

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There's a bark I buy here in California called the Gardeners Orchid Seedling Bark.

I would say 80% plus of that bark already falls through 1/4 hardware cloth. By your guidelines, it looks like you don't even need to screen or put much effort if you bought this bark.

I get them at San Gabriel Nursery at $13 for 2 cubic foot bag.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2012 at 3:23AM
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DaMonkey007(10b - Miami)

I couldn't agree with you more. I've said it before, if you're not sifting the 5-1-1, you're really kinda flyin' blind. My only comments would be that I think that you are unnecessarily discarding alot of product by limiting yourself to only 1/4" and less....but if your happy with the results - by all means - go for it! I also feel strongly that sifting the lower end is just as important, as it is very difficult to judge by eye the amount of bark dust in your product. If you have 1 whole part of dust for example (which is not uncommon for many products out there), you are actually making a 4-1-2 (bark-perlite-peat/dust). If you think that the difference is noticable when you really are careful about the larger should see the results when you just as careful with the smaller's amazing, you'll never go back. Great Job!


    Bookmark   April 25, 2012 at 1:13PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a


I agree, the more effort one puts into assembling the mix, the greater control over one's plantings.
The beauty of a mix like the 5-1-1 is that it can be thrown together "quick and dirty" and still produce
excellent results because it's so forgiving. However, refining the 5-1-1 can take plants even further.
Not only can the moisture retention be adjusted, but the longevity of the mix can be increased, too.


    Bookmark   April 25, 2012 at 2:28PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Maybe my situation is different from yours, but I don't sift out anything except the bark chunks that are larger than about 1/2 inch. I use 5-1-1 primarily for large hanging moss-lined baskets of flowering annuals with about a gallon of soil and vegetables in 15-25 gallon pots. I use partially composted pine bark that contains a noticeable amount of particles under 1/8 inch. In some of the large smart pots, I replace the perlite with turface to increase water retention. And still, at the height of the summer, I have to water every other day. I thought 5-1-1 was only intended for one season of growing, so it doesnt need greater longevity. I use gritty mix for tropical plants and succulents, and of course I sift those ingredients.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2012 at 10:57PM
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