Pine bark fines

Joe1980(5)March 21, 2011

Al, or anyone else who knows

About the pine bark fines, I am searching the forums and internet, and it seems that pine bark fines are difficult to find. However, I have read that there are some alternate names, or suitable replacements. I read that a thing called Shop Greensmix pine bark mulch is the same, which is available at a local Lowes.

Is this a fact, or am I setting myself up for disappointment? I basically am trying to find this ingredient first, as it is the meat & potatoes of the mix.

On to the sphagmun peat. Is this simply the long hairy moss used for decorative mulch?

Also, garden lime is stated as an ingredient, but how much??

Thank you in advance!


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Also, Al, you list 2 mix types....which is best for my houseplants, which are basically all standard plants, nothing special, the "basic" or the "superb"??

On that note, in the "superb" I am gathering that turface is calcined clay, like my bag of oil-sorb? Also, am I correct in saying that here I'd use uncomposted pine bark, as opposed to "fines" which are composted, in the basic mix??

Thanks again!


    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 8:00PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hi, Joe. I think it's important to understand how and why combining certain ingredients in certain ways will lead you to the results you want. IOW - the concept is more important than the recipes.

There are two basic soils I use. One is the gritty mix

a mostly inorganic mix of ingredients that I use for all my houseplants, including cacti & succulents, as well as all my other long-term plantings I think will be in the same soil for two years or longer. The gritty mix, made correctly, will have a larger particle size than almost all other soils, yet still hold good amounts of water w/o holding any significant amount of perched water (if any).

The 5:1:1 mix is based on pine bark. Because of the barks much larger size, it holds very little perched water, and you can easily adjust the water retention and control the ht of the perched water table by increasing or decreasing the amount of peat or if you prefer, the amount of peat-based soil you add to the bark and perlite. You simply do NOT have that luxury when you START with the foremost fraction of the soil as peat or a peat/compost/coir-based mix. The largest fraction of the soil MUST be larger particulates or the soil will retain the drainage & aeration characteristics of the finer material, as well as the PWT height.

You can see the 5:1:1 mix in the middle below, and appropriate bark from 3 different suppliers at 3,6 and 9. The bark at the top is prescreened fir bark in 1/8-1/4" size and what I use in the gritty mix.

Sphagnum peat is the dry peat you usually get in bales - not sphagnum moss, which is whole sphagnum, harvested from the top of the bog. Turface MVP or Allsport IS calcined clay, but not all oil0dry products are calcined clay or suitable for the gritty mix. Some oil-dry products are calcined DE (which is ok) but some are either clay or DE that is not fired at high enough temps to be suitable. The bark is wherever you find it. I've found it as soil conditioner, clay soil conditioner, PB mulch, landscape milch, fine or double ground PB ...... Just look at the bag & ask yourself it it's pine bark and is it in the size range dust to 3/8".

The concept of fast draining, highly aerated soils and how they can greatly improve your ability to consistently produce healthy plants really is worth the little effort it takes to understand and implement. Once you have the knowledge under your belt, it will stick with you and help you for as long as you garden in containers.



Here is a link that might be useful: More on container soils.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 9:16PM
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I thank you for your knowlage, and the time you took to answer my questions. I understand my goals here, especially now that I am entertaining the idea of making my own potting mix. I guess all I can say is that I've always loved plants, but never payed much mind to the potting mix, just basically going on what I've been taught growing up....."Miracle Grow is the way to go".

I'll be on the hunt for the goods, mainly the pine bark. I already have a bale of the sphagnum, so I'm good there. The only question I have left is the Lime. I am assuming it is for offsetting the acidic nature of pine, but just how much would I be adding? And with time release fertilizer, follow dosing per package directions? I use Osmocote 19-6-12, but usually adjusted per plant growth to my discretion.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 9:43PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If you're using the 5:1:1 mix you should use dolomitic (garden) lime to adjust pH AND serve as a Ca/Mg source. If you're using the gritty mix, you'll want to add gypsum instead of lime as a Ca source. The gritty mix comes in at a little higher pH than the 5:1:1 mix, and gypsum has no significant impact on pH. Additionally, you'll need to add a little Epsom salts whenever you fertilize. We may have to talk about fertilizing a little. Would you have any objection to using a fertilizer that supplies ALL 12 essential nutrients in the same ratio as the average of what plants actually use, instead of the CRF? The only added effort is adding a few drops of liquid to your water when it's time to fertilize. It gives you excellent control & helps you keep nutrient levels as close to perfectly balanced as most hobby growers will ever achieve.

I'm 100% serious when I say I think you're about to take a step forward you'll look back on as a significant one, insofar as your husbandry effort:reward quotient is concerned.

Your choice of soil is the most important decision you'll make when establishing your plantings. Virtually every other cultural consideration except the soil can be manipulated to your advantage AFTER the planting is established ..... except the soil, which is the foundation of every conventional container planting.

Dr Carl Whitcomb PhD wrote what is considered by many to be the bible on Plant Production in Containers. Here are a few of the things I've gleaned from his offerings that reflect how important he thinks soils and root health are:


"If the root system ain't happy, ain't no part of the plant happy"

"Roots control the tree, the stems and branches just think [not my emphasis] they are in charge."

"The more roots to share the load, the faster the dirty work gets done"

"Roots provide the fuel for the plant engines we call leaves"

"Each root tip casts a vote to decide what the top will be allowed to do"

"Top growth gets all the glory, but the roots do all the dirty work"

He also notes that "Stress can ALWAYS be measured in the root system before symptoms appear in the top [of the plant]".


    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 11:54PM
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So far, I have been greatly successful in my plant endeavors, but from what I have been reading, I have room for more improvement. So, I am all ears.

As for fertilizer, I do have some of the miracle grow liquid fertilizer, I believe it is 8-8-8, with the other elements. However, the cost of these things is cheap, so I am all ears on your recommendation of what fertilizer is best. As mentioned, I have basically foliage plants, so that's what I'm dealing with, but mind you, people think I am a green thumb, and occasionally show up with plants to give me, which is how I got started on this hobby.

As for the soil, I will mostly go with the 5-1-1 mix, but I do have some succulents that will appreciate the coarse mix. I am still at odds with how much lime I will need to add though, so I can be sure I am doing this right. I'll tell you though, that even with Miracle Grow, I have rapid growth, because I have an abundance of sunlight in my south facing dining room where my plants are housed, so I think that's where the 5-1-1 mix will be good.

So, as I said, I'm all ears, so feel free to recommend what fertilizer is best, how much, when, and so on. I use 100% clean, filtered rain water, which drastically helped my plants when I started this years ago, as opposed to chlorinated tap water. Thanks again in advance.


    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 5:26PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hey, Joe - If you're making the 5:1:1 mix, a tablespoon of lime per gallon, or 1/2 cup per cu ft is how much almost everyone adds. If you're making the gritty mix, add 1 tbsp of gypsum instead of lime. If you decide to go with Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 fertilizer (I use it for virtually ALL my plants) you can skip adding the gypsum to the gritty mix, but you still should add lime to the 5:1:1 mix for pH reasons.

Some would have you believe it's a huge challenge to make your own soils, but once you've located the ingredients, you can make a 4 cu ft batch of the 5:1:1 mix in well under an hour, and for less than half the price of most bagged soils, on a per volume basis. The gritty mix is a little more expensive to make than it would be to buy a packaged mix, but I learned a long time ago that the added effort and minor expense is well-worth the peace of mind, and affords plants a much greater opportunity at optimum growth health than anything I've ever used from a bag.

In the end, it boils down to a personal decision as to whether or not you're willing to go through a little extra effort. As noted, the ability to water properly w/o worrying about root rot is a big plus. So many of the issues that surface on these forums, from root rot to other diseases to insect infestations that arise from poor vitality, usually linked directly to poor soils, could be avoided if a little more consideration was given to soil choice.

After you reach a decision about how you'll mix your soil(s) and how you'll fertilize, we can talk about the next step that is critically important to long term vitality - proper repotting technique.

Do feel free to ask all the questions you'd like.


    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 6:10PM
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My repotting has always consisted of adding all new, fresh potting mix, and depending on the age of the plant, root pruning. I usually base that on how large I am looking to grow the plant in question, but in the case of repotting, as opposed to potting up, I like to prune out the "old" roots, or basically the "useless" anchoring roots, and leave in the smaller, newer roots. I guess I look at them as a tree, in that the productive roots are the smaller ones that lie around and outside of the leaf ring, where water is plentiful, versus the anchor roots the lie beneath the base of the tree. But, as I'm sure you are well aware, I don't much for anchor roots in a pot.

If I'm off on anything, let me know. So far I haven't run into too many troubles with repotting, so I must be doing something right! Other than that, I think I am all set on the potting mix, as far as what to getting them....that'll be the tricky part. Thanks again.


    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 6:20PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Ok - good - you're ahead of most .....

Good luck!


    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 7:47PM
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