Al's potting mixes - another 'will this work' post

oakirisMay 24, 2011

Gritty Mix:

I was planning to use NAPA Floor Dry as a substitute for Turface as I was unable to find Turface locally. I then found a product called Amturf Ultra Soil Conditioner at a nursery I went to on Sunday. It looked somewhat like the pictures of the Turface I had seen on line, but there was no info on the bag as to what it was made of, nor was there anything on their web site with this info.

I called Amturf this morning. The person I spoke with knew nothing about the product, other than that it was all natural, and she didn't really understand why I needed to know, but she checked with someone who told her it was made of "92% bentonite and 8% quartz." So, it is a mostly clay product and, as it is recommended for use in water gardens and ponds, I "ASSUME" it will not break down in the soil.

Is there anyone here familiar with this product who can tell me if this would work? It is $5.99 for a 40 lb bag so certainly affordable!

5:1:1 Mix:

I had just about given up finding pine bark fines for the 5:1:1 mix and was going to just use the same fir bark that I was going to use for the gritty mix, but then, at the same nursery that carries the Amturf, I found a product by Permagreen called "Bark Mulch." There is nothing on the bag to indicated what type of bark it is, but it looked like the right thing - partially composted, small pieces - so I bought a bag. I later found the exact same thing at a Lowes - for about $2 cheaper, of course - though I hadn't seen it there before, and they had a price sign listing it as pine bark. Anyway, I called Permagreen and they confirmed that it was composted pine bark. Here are a couple of (rather poor) pictures of it: From Bark Mulch From Bark Mulch

Will that work?


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peapod13(8 South Sound WA)

Bentonite is a clay product (as you were told). However, as a Civil Engineer I use Bentonite to seal ponds. In my experience Bentonite isn't a baked product. When mixed with in situ (in place) soils it swells and seals the pond bottom so the pond will hold water.
On the other hand, Turface will hold it's shape and not seal the soil when it absorbs water. Turface will also relinquish the water to allow the plants roots to absorb water from it.


    Bookmark   May 24, 2011 at 10:16PM
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peapod13(8 South Sound WA)

Since I'm not sure my last post was clear, I'll try again.

Turface is used under sports fields to provide rapid drainage and water absorption, while holding its shape to maintain the "playability" of the field.

Bentonite's main purpose is to absorb water, swell multiple times its original size, and seal pond bottoms.

They aren't usually interchangeable.

Hope this helps.


    Bookmark   May 24, 2011 at 10:27PM
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Thanks, Blake. I do know what bentonite is; it is a danger to foundations in my part of the country!

The thing is, Amturf is being sold as a soil conditioner, not a pond sealer. It is advertised as promoting drainage and improving clay and sandy soils - converting such soils into "a loose, rich-growing medium for flowers and vegetables" (a quote from their site) so it doesn't sound as if it swells up into a sticky clay mass. I think the clay, like the clay that Turface is made of, must be processed in some way so it doesn't break down and swell up. And they definitely say to use it in containers as part of the soil mix, both for "land plants" and for water garden plants. Here is a quote from their instructions PDF (my emphasis):

- Holds water and nutrients without degrading.
- Retains moisture in the root zone.
- Increases drainage in most soil.
- Works well in water gardens and ponds.

I guess the only way to find out is to buy some and put it to the water/freezer test!


    Bookmark   May 25, 2011 at 1:21PM
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Wow, dickiefickle, you sound pissed! :-(

I didn't mean to offend anyone by asking about this product, nor was I dismissing Blake's posts. He stated that in his experience Bentonite was not a baked product, but, just from what Amturf claims for their product, I would think that they must process it in some way so that it maintains its integrity like Turface does, thus my response to his posts.

I am not sure what you meant by Does say anything about in "CONTAINER GARDENING " but I will try to explain what I meant by my response.

Amturf describes their product as a soil conditioner for improving sand and clay soils, for increasing drainage in heavy soils, etc. Obviously, adding pure uncalcined/unprocessed clay to clay soil or to sandy soil will neither improve the soil nor increase drainage. Their PDF document goes on to say it IS for use in containers, that it DOESN'T degrade, as in, presumably, turning into a sticky mass of clay (or just disintegrating.) As someone whose soil is clay, I can assure you that if it did turn into the sticky mass that wet clay soil can become, it is very far indeed from their descripion of a LOOSE rich growing medium! If it blocks the drain hole in the container, how can they claim that it improves drainage?

Turface is 100% point was that I believe the bentonite clay in Amturf must be processed (calcined??) in some way, as was done with the clay in Turface, so it will not degrade.

All I have to go on is how Amturf advertises their product, as no one with experience with the soil conditioner seems to have posted on the Internet (maybe there's a reason for that!!) nor have I found anything on GW about this particular soil conditioner. My last statement was that I would probably need to buy the product and put it through the freezer test, as was done for NAPA Floor Dry and other Turface substitues, to see if it would actually work. So, when I am about to run out of my current supply of NAPA Floor Dry, I will do just that.

Anyone have any comments about the other part of my "will this work" post? Will the pine bark mulch I found at the nursery work for the 5:1:1 mix or is it too composted, or...?


Here is a link that might be useful: Amturf usage instructions

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 12:36AM
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peapod13(8 South Sound WA)

Hi Holly,

Based on the additional information you've posted, it does sound as if the Amturf product is a processed product intended to be used for the same purposes as Turface (increase water retention in sandy soils and increase drainage in clay soils).

Unfortunately, I have no experience with the product, and therefore can't give any info on how it will hold up or how its properties compare to Turface.

That being said, Turface is recommended because someone (presumably Al) thought it had the properties they were looking for and tried it out. Same for the Napa floor dry product. The only way you'll know if the Amturf product works is to try it. Just be ready to replant if you see signs of the soil being too wet.

The downside of being the one to try something new is you're in uncharted territory (ie no one knows what to expect or how to remedy problems). The upside is you may have found a replacement product for those in your area.


    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 6:03PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Hi Holly,
I don't think you offended anyone that's here to help. And I wouldn't worry too much about dickie, i've seen several rather rude/snotty posts from that person today.

As far as your mulch, I really don't know if it's O.K. to use. It looks kind of fine, so hopefully someone who can say better will be along.

If you do try the new product, maybe use a wick until you get a feel for how the water retention is. And of coarse, do the freeze test. ;-)

Best wishes!

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 6:17PM
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Thanks, Blake and JoJo. Yep, guess I'll need to be the guinea pig (??) (no comments please lol) if I want to try the Amturf. I will definitely try the freeze test before using it to make up a batch of the gritty mix. It's kind of cool that it also has quartz in it.I still haven't checked at one of the local John Deere Landscape places to see if they have the Turface, but both the NAPA Floor Dry and the Amturf are so much cheaper....

I was afraid the pine bark might be a bit too composted, though I did read a post by Al (which of course I can't locate now) in which he said particles down to the size of sawdust were fine for the 5:1:1 mix. The pine bark mulch from Permagreen is the only pine bark mulch I have been able to locate here in the Denver area, so I might give it a try anyway and hope for the best. Maybe use less sphagnum moss?? Or add some Cherrystone #2? Or just give up and use the same fir bark as I will be using for the gritty mix, even though it is not composted at all? Sigh.

(And JoJo, thanks for the comment about "dickie;" I was wondering if it was just me and I was misinterpreting the intent/tone of his post!)


    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 9:42PM
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lrvjim(7 to 8)

Holly- I think the mulch product you have pictured upthread would be perfect for the 5-1-1. I've used a composted bark product that looks very similar to what you pictured for going on 3 years now and have been very happy.

Cannot speak to the Amturf product, I've never seen it locally.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 7:57AM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

O.K. Holly,
No comments. ;-) lol..

Particle down to sawdust is fine for the 5-1-1. Some will just leave the peat out if it has alot of fine material.

I don't think I would add cherrystone.

No, you didn't misinterpret what some one said or the tone. ;-) No problem Holly! :-)

1rvjim~ Thank you for your help here, I am also looking for a reliable bark product, so you've helped me too.


    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 8:14AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Holly - Dickie has a long history of hit & run strafing - so don't worry about him. Turface is clay too, much like bentonite, that is baked at high temperatures until the particles melt and fuse together, which makes it almost like a ceramic and stable. I use powdered bentonite mixed with peat moss to build dam walls when I plant bonsai on flat slabs or on rocks. The walls are used to contain the soil the plants are in, and are usually covered with moss that grows on them and looks natural. This is a completely different type of bentonite (physical form) than the calcined product you're referring to. The way to test yours is to put a little in a cup of water & freeze it overnight. If it remains stable the next day, you can use it ..... if the particle size is appropriate.

The mulch product you have looks ok for the 5:1:1 mix ...... if it's pine bark, though a little advanced in its composted state. I'd feel pretty comfortable using it, but you might want to cut the peat fraction in half (5:.5:1).


    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 10:45AM
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Thank you again, JoJo and thank you as well, Al.

I hadn't run into Dickie's mean side before; I had seen some posts by him (her? don't know) but didn't pick up on the tone I guess until it was directed at me. I will pay more attention from now on - or maybe just not read his/her posts! We are here to help each other and to share the enjoyment of gardening; there's no time or place for mean-spirited folks, IMHO.

The mulch product is indeed pine bark so I will use it in the 5:1:1 mix and reduce the amount of peat as advised.

From the brief look I had of the Amturf at the nursery - there was a hole in the bag - the particle size looked right, about the same size as the Floor Dry. The Amturf will definitely be tested before use; if it passes the freeze test, I will let everyone here know. I still have 3/4 of a bag of the NAPA Floor Dry left so it will be a bit before I will be checking into the Amturf suitability.


    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 12:34PM
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