Houzz Logo Print

My solution to pine bark fines for Al's (Tapla) 5-1-1 mix

9 years ago

First off, I would
like to thank all of you for a TON of information that has helped me with my
container plants. There is soooo much useful information that you all bring to
this site and I hope other people can benefit from the knowledge you have
shared and use the information here to their benefit as well. Secondly, I would like to specifically thank
Al (Tapla) for sharing his vast knowledge and all that he has given
me/us. I have learned so much and continue to learn from his posts. THANK
YOU!!! That being said, I thought I would add my .02 in and see if I can help
by sharing my findings.

Feeling the need for
some plants in my house has driven me to research information to find out why
my plants seemed to only “hang on for dear life” instead of thriving like I
know they can and should. I, like some I assume, have always been that typical
person that buys a nice plant, buy x brand potting soil and a pot, re-pot….and watch the
plant die a slow and agonizing death. This research led me to the many posts by
Al and others. I highly recommend reading Al’s threads as they are most
informative and easy to read and understand. This all started when I came across this site
and his post about the famed 5-1-1 mix.

This is the post by Al if you are new here (like me) or just want the 5-1-1 mix information: container
soils-water movement and retention, found here.

There is a great follow up by goodhumusman (thank you!!!) which posted specific questions that many may have had and Al’s answers to them. Found here.

So we come to the meat of this post and I apologize for my
ramblings but I wanted to address an issue that many have had with finding the illusive
pine bark fines. Some have been lucky enough to find them with no problem, though
here in the southwest and especially here in Arizona, I have not been able to
find anything other than a tiny overpriced bag of orchid potting mix. There are
several issues we are dealing with when trying to find this item ranging from way
too large, mixed with other unknown stuff or just plain not available. Also, some
of the posts have suggested brands or items that people have found that are not
available at your local hardware store or nursery in the Southwest but are in other parts of the country at the same store. I read a post (can’t remember who posted it, sorry) where they said that the only thing close to it that they could find was the
earthgro decorative bark and were going to try that. (I believe that person
also posted up later and said it was working well.) So I tracked it down at our
local Home Depot (2 cu. Ft. for 4.37 a bag) and figured I would give it a try
as it is pine bark and looked to be an OK size. It does have some sap wood in
it but there wasn't that much in there so I just picked out the larger items
as the consensus is that the remaining few little pieces are not going to make a huge
difference. (Please correct me if I am wrong.) Upon getting it home my excitement was
crushed a little as the size I saw through the bag wasn't a good representation
of what a majority of it is. Probably 60-70% of it is bigger than a half inch
and some over an inch. From what I have read, it’s usable by adding a bit more
peat moss to compensate but not TOTALLY ideal. I went ahead and mixed up a
batch, breaking apart the bigger pieces and pulling out sapwood which could get
very time consuming if you get all OCD on it. (Don’t ask me how I know…lol!) I planted a few plants in this mix and they
have been doing great! But I was still trying to track down the 1/4 inch or
smaller fines that everyone talks about. Some have suggested going to goodwill and buying a blender and chop them up (that would take forever for big quantities) Others have posted that they have
gotten so desperate in their searches that they said they were going to buy a
wood chipper just to make their own pine bark fines. $$$$!!! I don’t know about you all but I don’t
have that kind of money to throw at my plants and especially something that I
would more than likely only use a couple times and then it would just sit and take up space. I
wanted to try and figure out another way to get the mix right or as close to it
as possible.

The other day I mowed my lawn and while I was blowing the clippings off the sidewalk, I remembered that my
leaf blower (old electric craftsman one) can also be a bagger/mulcher and will shred a
huge pile of leaves into tiny little pieces reducing your huge pile down to a
minuscule amount. The rusty gears started turning in my head and I thought…what
if?!?! Lo and behold it worked and you end up with ¼ inch or smaller pine bark
fines! If I were to screen it I think most would be under 3/16 to 1/8. All I did was dump
some of the bag of bark into a container and vacuum them up. It will then chop up the
pine bark and put them into a nice convenient bag that you then just dump right
back into the container you just vacuumed up so that you can mix the other
ingredients into. If you already have one of these amazing machines, you are
set. If not and your desperate for the rare unicorn that is pine bark fines,
pick one up at your local hardware store or maybe borrow one from a neighbor. Your local hardware store should have several
for around 55 bucks and you can still use it for other things that it was originally
used for (like those pesky leaves from your neighbor’s tree!) so you’re not really
wasting any money. Here is an example.

A couple things to note:

1) There were about a handful of rocks in the bag and though
my mulcher would pick up some of the smaller ones, the bigger ones tended to
stay at the bottom of the container when I was vacuuming the bark. A quick
and easy solution I decided on to separate the rocks and bark beforehand was to
pour some into a container and add water. The bark will float and the rocks
will stay at the bottom. I then just scooped up the bark (I used an old pot
that a plant came in with holes in the bottom) off the surface of the water and
you will have a pot full of bark and the water just runs out the bottom. I then
put the bark into another container and left it out to dry. (took all of 15 min here
in AZ) I then used the mulcher to chop up the bark. Easy enough.

2) If the first run doesn't bring the size down enough and
you want them to be even smaller, you can just run it through another
cycle. It takes all of 5 minutes to do the whole bag of bark and no mess since it is
all caught in the mulcher bag. (Make sure the bag is zipped up all the way...again, don't!) You can then go about screening it with hardware
cloth if you choose too but I found 99% of it is about the right size the first time
around and wasn't necessary at all.

3) My blower/mulcher has a plastic blade on it and even
though over the years it has sucked up several good size rocks into it, the
blade has not been affected. Some models I have seen have metal blades and
would probably fair better but so far, two bags of bark into this and it is
unscathed. I wouldn't recommend using this technique for anything much bigger
and definitely not full size bark pieces. I have only found a few pieces that
were larger than an inch in length in these bags and just for safety, I would
recommend those be picked out during your OCD moment or broken down further by
hand as they do break apart pretty readily.

4) As for the perlite, I have found the best place to get this is at a hydroponics store near me which sells a 3.5 cu. ft. bag for just under 20 bucks so that might be a more cost effective option for some of you if you have a store near you. For the peat moss I just picked up a bag at a Lowes (Home depot didn't have it, weird) near me for about 12 bucks for a 3.8 cu. ft compressed bag. Dolomite lime was about 5 bucks for a good size bag that should last a bit.

Now that you have your pine bark fines, perlite, peat moss, CRF and lime, get to mixing and save those plants!!! Lol!

Below are examples. Top left: how it comes in the bag, Bottom left: some of the bigger chunks of pine bark. Bottom middle: Some sapwood pieces, easy enough to spot and pick out. Bottom right: some of the rocks. Top right is the end result of just one pass through the mulcher.

If you have made it this far, thank you for sticking with me through my wandering words and I hope it can help the less fortunate that don’t have a ready source available to them. Again, thank you to everyone who has helped me to have plants in my house that are actually growing and thriving!

Good luck!


Comments (18)

The Art of Landscape
Average rating: 5 out of 5 stars9 Reviews
Award winning Landscape Designer in Loudoun County | 2X Best of Houzz