'duh' gardener here ...

terratoma(7a)September 11, 2012

Have read so many messages about those "infamous" pine bark fines that I'm almost afraid to try any for fear I'll do the "wrong" thing. And while I totally agree with the point that I can make modifications to best suit my situation, I'm really not comfortable with doing that until I get some experience. So I'm looking for a basic ("beginners") tried and true 5-1-1 mix ... which brings me back to the pine bark fines and their size. Believe it or not, the only hardware cloth available in the entire Roanoke (VA) Valley is 1/4" and 1/8", and I was fortunate to find those. I purchased Lumber Jack pine fines, put it through window screening (1/16") ane the whole shebang went through! Am now trying Jolly Gardener pine bark fines, of which about half goes through. Given what I've read, it seems that I shouldn't use much, if any, of that fine stuff because it will increase water retention too much.. (Right or wrong?) So allow me to make a guess: exclude any bark/fines that won't go through 1/4", as well as any that does go through window screening (1/16"). Any and all suggestions, advice and direction will be my best early Christmas present, I guarantee!


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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

have you read the actual recipe for the 5-1-1?
You want to keep everything under 1/2 inch. Can you post a pic of the material you have so far?


    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 12:47PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

I agree with Greenman28.

Any particles from dust up to 1/2" will work (I use up to 3/8".) I like the very fine dusty stuff because I need the extra water retention, otherwise the mix drains too fast for me. Don't know why you are messin' with any screen smaller than 1/2".

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 1:08PM
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Thanks,Josh and edweather. Yeah, I've read Al's recipe so much I can recite it in my sleep. :0) But to be sure that I'm on the same page with you:
5 parts pine bark fines
1 part sphagnum peat moss
1-2 parts perlite (coarse)
dolomitic lime (no quicklime) 1 Tbsp per gallon/1/2 cup per cu. ft.
Following your suggestion, I was able to locate 1/2" hardware cloth; didn't realize I needed so had never inquired about it locally. Now I'll be able to keep the size of the pine bark fines under the threshold.
But my original question had more to do with the "fineness" of the fines to be used and the wide suggestions I've read in this forum led to my question.
Like you, many suggest using 1/2" (or 3/8" in some instances) down to dust. Then here are those that warn against using anything less than 1/16", citing the increased water retention as the particle size decreases. (edweather: I can appreciate your use of the dust to prevent too fast drainage.) Others state that the bulk of the bark be in the 1/16"-1/8" range, with more emphasis on the larger size, also citing the water retention concern, as well as noting that perched water disappears with particles just under 1/8" (I believe 1/10" was mentioned.)
So I reckon the concensus is that there is no concensus.:0) Josh: my son-in-law has promised to teach me the art of uploading pictures, per your request, in an effort to bring me into the twenty-first century!! Depending on his success, will post the pics!
Again, many thanks to you both.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 10:02AM
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Frankly, you're going to have to experiment and get a feel for how the different mixes perform. I usually don't worry about the fines as much because everything dries out really fast here...I need the water retention for my own convenience. Also, some plants will perform better with more fines (in context) and some will perform better in a more uniformly coarse mix. When you have a lot of fines, you can consider leaving out the peat to bring things closer to a "classic" 5:1:1 consistency. Don't be afraid to experiment - whatever you come up with will be much better than anything you can buy pre-mixed at the store.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 11:17AM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Yes, you will have to experiment. My first year I tested a batch of my double ground pine bark and it had almost 1 part fine stuff to 5 parts not fine......so it was perfect to use as is without any peat. That being said the mix still drained too fast and I need to water a little more often than I liked, so the next year I increased the fine stuff by a part. And yes it's all good because it will still be the best mix you've used regardless. You're definitely on the right track.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 1:19PM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

I think where you may be getting confused is that the "Gritty Mix" requires the serious sifting for particle size. The "Gritty Mix" and 5-1-1 are very different mixes.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 5:06PM
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Great ideas! I guess there is consensus after all: experiment! I should have known that was the answer but, even after nearly seventy years, I still don't always use common sense.
Based on these (your) suggestions, I'll weed out everything larger than 1/2", use everything that remains (Again, thanks to all; I feel that I have that right "beginning" recipe!
I have questions more about the actual planting in containers; I'm guessing that the forum protocol is such that I should start a new thread (is that what it's called?) I look forward to any help there.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 8:31AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Excellent, you've gotten some great suggestions.
Just remember to fertilize adequately, and you should be very satisfied with the results.


    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 4:25PM
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Thanks everyone, for your suggestions. Next spring is really going to be an eye-opening experience for me, and one which I look forward to.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2012 at 7:01PM
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