Bark fines for Gritty Mix

lenle(4)July 3, 2012

I am still searching for a good source of uncomposted pine bark fines for gritty mix. After researching here on the forum, I ordered a bag of Agway Pine Bark Mulch. I've since received & opened the bag and now have a couple of questions since it isn't exactly what I pictured.

How do I tell if it's composted/uncomposted? It sat outside (semi-shaded) for a couple of days (we had a hot day or two, and then some rain) before I was able to open it and begin the sifting process. I discarded any pieces that felt soft to the touch.

Secondly, I was surprised to see sapwood in the mulch. I'm attempting to sift it out, but the pieces are mostly small slivers. Still, there seems to be a lot of it... I'm not sure how to figure the 10% per volume bit (math and I are not on speaking terms) either.

Suggestions are always appreciated!


Pics of the unsifted bark:

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hi, Jeni - I don't think the amount of sapwood in the bark you picture is anything to be too concerned about. If it's partially composted, it will be dark in color and some of the sharp edges of the broken bark and sapwood will have been rounded off by microbial activity during the (beginning of the) composting process, and it doesn't look at all like that's occurred. As long as the pieces are about the right size, I think you're good to go. After you have a little experience under your belt and learned the soils traits, especially in watering, make sure to keep us posted when the opportunity arises. I had a 'success story' in my email just yesterday from a person I helped with a rubber tree (Ficus e) a while ago who was STILL excited over switching to a better soil:

[This message originated at GardenWeb]

"A little over a year ago I started growing a ficus elastica. Reading your posts and the emails you sent me, taught me what I needed to turn my withering plant into the healthy plant it is today! I just mixed my second batch of 5-1-1 mix which my roommate is now using too and repotted my plant. I thought of you and just wanted to thank you for ..... !


The rest was very complimentary, and the compliments are nice - I deeply appreciate them, but the real blessing in mail like this comes in the fact that it confirms (to me) that the person feels that he has advanced his abilities and improved his knowledge base, and is excited enough about it to want to take the time long after the fact to say thanks, which is also a compliment to Z for being a thoughtful person. I could be wrong but in his message I don't see the perfunctory thank you for the common advice we all offer on a daily basis. I get the feeling that Z's outlook on growing and on soils in particular has undergone a major change for the better. I have no doubt that Z's confidence has also increased considerably. To me, it sounds as if he can't wait to tackle the next project, and I find that to be a tremendous reward. Hopefully, you'll be blessed with the same positivity Z has.

Let me know if you have any other questions about the mix or how to apply it - or any other questions you think I might be able to help with.


    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 11:26AM
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Hey Al!

Thanks for the reply. The average size is about dime sized or smaller (roughly). I'll try and post a picture once I've sifted everything tomorrow. I really do love this mix and swear by it. I don't know if you remember, but you helped me bring back a prayer plant that meant a great deal to me -- so your input is always welcome!


    Bookmark   July 7, 2012 at 9:55PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Thanks, Jeni - I really appreciate that.

It's kind of funny. I think all of us are influenced by the feeling that because "good, rich, black loamy soil is a blessing in gardens & farm fields alike, it should follow that something similar should be coveted for our containers; so it's no wonder that people tend to gravitate toward soils that look like compost - and the darker the better. Enter the gritty mix, the very antithesis of the aspirations harbored for our garden soils, but something that makes far better sense from a scientific perspective, if we have the inclination to think about it for a moment.

I've been growing in the gritty mix for more than 20 years, and experimenting with soils a few years longer. If it was required, I'd travel a great distance to obtain the ingredients for the best soil I know how to make; this, evidenced by the fact that I live in the crotch of MI's mitten and travel around the big lake to MW of Chicago to get my bark. Fortunately, everything I would need to make the gritty mix is readily available here, so travel isn't required, though I still do buy enough fir bark in CHI to keep me going.

Where I was heading with all this is, at first glance, the gritty mix doesn't LOOK like anything you could grow anything other than fringe plants that subsist on the most meager of soils. With it's 2/3 inorgainc fraction, it doesn't LOOK like our preformed vision of what a good houseplant soil should look like. Surprisingly though, it's the most productive soil I've used for houseplants (succulents love it) and all my other woody plants; AND, it has the added advantage of being the easiest soil I've found to grow in, while at the same time being most forgiving of any errors I might make - especially where over-watering and fertilizing are concerned, two areas where the less experienced often end up in the ditch.

It's always good to learn or see that someone has put science to work FOR them, instead of shoveling against the tide, and it's good to see you're getting comfortable enough with the mix to want to make it a regular part of the program. As you become more familiar with it, you'll almost certainly be able to grow in your ability to fully utilize the soil so as to get all the benefits it has to offer, and if necessary, adapt it to your specific and variable needs.

Best luck - take good care. If you ever think I can help with anything .......


    Bookmark   July 8, 2012 at 10:00AM
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