soil retaining too much moisture! help!

kawaiineko_gardener(5a)August 21, 2012

The soil mix I used before (pine bark mulch, spaghnum peat, lime, some Osmocote, and coarse vermiculite) leafy green stuff loved.

Root veggies hated it because it was too compact and coarse; bulbs never formed and/or root portion was thin and spindly.

Fruiting veggies (squash, melons, esp tomatoes and peppers) didn't do well in it because it dried out too fast, so soil wasn't moist consistently.

I found some new soil mixes. The texture was perfect...light, fluffy, and loose. Unfortunately it's too wet. Some of the 'recipes' retained so much moisture it became muddy, so I quit using them. The other recipes didn't retain so much moisture they become muddy, but it's difficult not to plant tiny seeds (cabbage, broccoli) too deep because it's loose.

I know drainage isn't the problem because I have holes drilled in the bottoms of my containers.

Does anybody have a soil mix that is light and fluffy? I'm also looking for a soil mix that doesn't dry out at the drop of a hat, which is the problem with my first soil mix, but doesn't retain too much moisture, which is the problem I'm having now.

Most of the recipes call for compost as an ingredient; I use packaged compost. Could this be creating the problem of it being too wet?

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

What was the proportions in your previous mix? All you need to know is in the thread below. I have yet to find something that does not grow in 5:1:1 well, and I primarily grow vegetables. It can also be adjusted to your needs.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 8:47AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Also, what size containers were you using with your previous mix. Drying out too fast is often due to containers that are too small. I grow incredible peppers and tomatoes in 5:1:1 which sounds similar to your first mix.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 8:49AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The proportions for the ingredients of the previous soil mix I was using (which is the one listed below) are as follows...

2-3 cu ft pine bark fines
5 gallons peat
5 gallons perlite
2 cups dolomitic (garden) lime (or gypsum in some cases)
2 cups CRF (if preferred)

Regarding the size of the containers they're plastic storage containers. For stuff like tomatoes, squash etc. 30 gallon containers.

For squash (winter) and melons I use 45 and 49 gallon containers.

Yes I've tried growing root veggies in the mix listed above.
I was doing 3 pepper plants for an 18 gallon container but I'm guessing that's too small of a container and overcrowding them.

I thought a 30 gallon container for 3 tomato plants (yes they're determinate/bush types w/short vines) would be enough space, but unfortunately that overcrowded them, caused them to fight for nutrients, etc.

For winter squash and melons I use 45 and 49 gallon containers, one plant per container and yes they're bush types/have short vines, compact (compared to traditional varieties).

I've tried growing root veggies in the mix listed above, but as I said, it's too compact and too heavy, and the veggies don't form their bulbs. With stuff like carrots, the root portion is thin and spindly.

I thank you for the advice given and taking time to post on my thread. However I'm looking for a loose and fluffy soil mix for root veggies.

Instead of it drying out too fast and being too compact, I'm having the exact opposite problem with the new soil mixes; their consistency is perfect, but they're still retaining too much moisture.

The new soil recipes don't retain so much moisture they're muddy, but they are much more 'moist' when they're wetted
compared to my old soil mix.

The new soil mixes have miracle grow (or topsoil) as the base mixed with compost, vermiculite/perlite, and spaghnum peat. I thought adding sand would fix the moisture problem, but I tried a recipe that used both sand and the ingredients listed above, and it didn't make any difference.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 5:12PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hmmmm, your experience doesn't match with mine....

First, we should probably define our terms - what you're calling light and fluffy,
I'd probably call fine-particled and soft. Indeed, the second mix you describe would
be called "heavy" by many growers in that it becomes saturated and compact when at capacity.
The bark-based mix that you mentioned is traditionally light or loose, in that the particulate
retains its structure and macro-pores.

I've only grown potatoes, garlic, beets, radish, and carrots in the bark-based mix,
so I can't speak for all root-crops....however, I didn't notice the small-growth or deformation
that you mention. Maybe something else was at play in your containers.


    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 11:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

kawaii, how big were the pieces of pine bark fines that you used?

What (if any) did you use to screen the pieces?

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 8:35AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Ok so you were using 5:1:1. A couple of things. Was your bark component very coarse, uncomposted or full of sapwood? Any issues I have seen with 5:1:1 are usually due to nitrogen problems due to composting bark and sapwood. A high nitrogen CRF in the mix resolves this.

Your container sizes seem sufficient. If you find that 5:1:1 needs to be watered too often for your liking you can increase the peat component of 5:1:1 such as 5:2:1 and that will reduce your watering frequency. I also agree with greenman on your soil descriptions. 5:1:1 could be described as coarse, but not compact or heavy.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 9:14AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Below is a link for the type of pine bark fines/mulch I use; you'll have to manually copy and paste it into your web browser as it won't display it as a hyperlink.

The 'mulch/fines' are kind of large. Basically when the soil mix is mixed together (finished product that is) it looks like mulch. Is this an indicator the piece of mulch are too large? If they need to be smaller should I shred them?

Is the finished pine bark mulch mix supposed to look like a soiless mix (ie. similar in appearance to something like Miracle grow)

The fertilizer I use in my soil less mix is Oscomote, and it's suitable for container gardening. It's just a dry pelleted fertilizer. The N-P-K is 19% Nitrogen (10% ammonical nitrogen, 9% nitrate nitrogen); 6% available phosphate, and 12% soluble potash.

I realize how high of an amount of nitrogen it has. Unfortunately the other balanced fertilizers are....

*Granular; you mix them with water and you use the liquid fertilizer at the surface of the soil

*Bloom boosters (i.e. they're designed for flowers and NOT suitable for providing fertilization/nutrients etc. for herbs/veggies, and herbs and veggies are what I grow)

*Not suitable for use in container gardening. That is they're basically for used for spreading and mixing into the ground in a lg. area of land (like a plot for example)

I can't just mix any of the fertilizers I described that have Balanced N-P-K ratio into my soil mix when I make it up, which is basically what the instructions of making it
say to do. You just mix up all your ingredients for the soil, dump the Osmocote in, and then stir it all together till it's well combined.

Can anybody here suggest a dry fertilizer (pelleted NOT granular) that can be mixed into the soil mix and has a balanced N-P-K ratio? That is it's not applied at the surface of the soil, but rather you mix it in when the soil mix is made up

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 9:24PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


did you have chance to read over some of the posting by Al (tapla) about soils - the reason I am asking is that besides very good explanation 'why & how' there are also photos showing sizes of the bark/other ingredients.

You can have a look at this one, and will find more if interested:


    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 8:37AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

KAWAII, I really hoep you get this message. Please email me if you need more help.

You CANNOT use the mulch right out of the bag. You have to SCREEN the mulch. The pieces have to be approximately 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch big. The pieces you have are TOO BIG.

That's why it was too "compact and coarse." When screened, it's almost the texture of commercial soil. Let me know if you need help!

    Bookmark   August 27, 2012 at 8:30PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
DMForcier(8 DFW)

kawaiineko_gardener, it is difficult to evaluate a soil or mix that one hasn't seen or touched (or tasted). And without knowing the medium, it is impossible to evaluate your practices et al.

Have you used a commercial mix that we are familiar with? Which one? How did that perform for you?

    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 1:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Well just to clarify the pine bark soil mix I use (that is coarse and looks like mulch when it's made and in the containers) not everything hates it.

Since my mulch is too lg of pieces for the stuff that doesn't like it (listed below) can I just shred it or does it have to be screened?

If so, how do you screen the mulch? I've never done this before, so I don't know how to.

Below is a list of the stuff that does well in it and also a list that will follow will be a list of stuff that hates it:

Stuff that loves the soil mix that uses the pine bark mulch mix with the pine bark mulch being used straight out of the bag....(coarse version of the soil mix....without the mulch being screened)

Pak Choi
Cabbage (normal green)
Lemon balm
beans (green; I'm going to assume that yellow and purple beans would do well too, though I've never grown them)

All of the stuff listed above that grows well in it, the plants were huge when I harvested the veggies.

Below is a list of veggies that doesn't grow well in it at all...

Eggplant (Globe/Asian) (soil dries out too fast, doesn't st
stay consistently moist; same problems w/toms and peppers)

Tomatoes (slicers/romas/cherry/grape)
Peppers (sweet)

melons (any kind)

summer squash and winter squash; basically same problems as I have with toms/peppers etc.)

any root veggie (too coarse, too compact)


A list of stuff that I don't know how well it does in the coarse soil mix (as I've never grown the stuff in it before)

Broccoli raab
Mustard greens (both asian and normal varieties)

I'm going to assume the leafy green stuff would do well, since other leafy green stuff loves the coarse soil mix.

I did have one question about why the root veggies aren't forming bulbs/roots.

I know part of the problem is it's too coarse; every site I've done research on with root veggies say they prefer a loose and light soil mix. However I was also told that another reason root veggies fail to bulb/form root portions is because the soil is too acidic.

Does this soil mix contain too much acidity for root veggies?

I also know root veggies don't like a soil mix too high in nitrogen. Is the osmocote I use, does it have too high of a nitrogen content? If so, can somebody recommend a balanced granular fertilizer suitable for container gardening that can be mixed directly into the soil mix when I make it up?

I've tried using dry fertilizers that weren't meant to be used for container gardening, and they didn't work well at all; the veggies couldn't absorb the nutrients etc.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 8:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Kawaii, the lime in the mix counteracts the acidity of the pine bark. If you need something to be more acidic or alkaline, adjust the lime.

You need to screen the mulch using chicken wire with 1/2 inch holes. I made a screen really easily and cheaply with some plywood and chicken wire, but you can even by screens on line.

Once the bark is screened, the finished mix literally looks like store-bought potting soil, but with more aeration. It's good for nearly all one-season container vegetables and houseplants.

IMPORTANT 1: when measuring the ratios, you need to screen the bark first, then do 5 parts bark, etc.

IMPORTANT 2: the mix needs to get WET before you plant.

The nitrogen in osmocote is not too high, because it's slow-release.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2012 at 11:24PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
container mixture
hi, Can someone give tips on how to choose composting...
Summer Squash
Last spring/summer, I planted a summer squash that...
Repotting into 5-1-1 soil. Questions about 511 materials.
Hey all! I am a newbie with 5 container citrus. Right...
"tapla" root pruning question
Hi Al, I bought another Brush Cherry, and wanted your...
Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece
I came to this forum a few weeks ago in an attempt...
Sponsored Products
Lamp Sets: 9 in. Mini Touch Lamp with Shiny Silver Metal Base and Ivory Shade (1
$59.99 | Home Depot
Electronic Kitchen Scale by Alessi
$204.00 | Lumens
Glistening Ridge Rug 8' x 10' - WHITE
$2,499.00 | Horchow
Porcelain Floor & Wall Tile: Emser Flooring Paladino Albanella Matte 4 in. x 8
$2.13 | Home Depot
Madison Oklahoma Rose Sand Storm Rectangular: 5 Ft. 3 In. x 7 Ft. 10 In. Rug
$170.40 | Bellacor
Kids Primarily Alphabet Rectangular: 5 Ft. 4 In. x 7 Ft. 8 In. Rug
$265.95 | Bellacor
Madison Rug 8' x 10' - GOLD
$2,499.00 | Horchow
MirrEdge Mirrors Royal Oak Contemporary Corner Plates (4-Pack) 63514
$9.98 | Home Depot
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™