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Pine fine paralysis

last month

I like to make fairly large outdoor containers such as 16” cube, or ~ 10 gal pot, & maybe 5 gal, for things such as JM’s, large hostas, boxwoods, small azaleas, & groupings of perennial herbs & sedums. Plus some annuals & veggies.

I also do some smaller houseplants. For decades I just used plain ‘ole Miracle Gro and thought I was doing fine. Though in retrospect was less successful with houseplants. Then I learned about Al’s mixtures and made some attempts at 5:1:1 for houseplants— I think these are doing better. So u got the fever for using 5:1:1 for bigger outdoor things. Trouble is, I cannot source actual pine bark fines locally. I had been using Reptibark but even that looks too big for the recommended pine fine size. It is very expensive when thinking large amts— about $1 per quart at best. I found orchid bark in smaller amts a bit cheaper than Reptibark but it’s obviously larger- so not much help. Online I saw the Bonsai Jack site with bagged fives which look way more like what is recommended, & which get cheaper with larger volumes, but still over $2/ qt. One rainy day I “ sifted “ the regular Honey Depot 2 cu ft pine mulch— known for its not being any high % fines— and got maybe 4 gals which included superfines. And took a good while. I got some Kellogg landscaping mix which currently is so wet from outdoor storage I can’t assess it, except to say it seems to have a good deal of peaty stuff plus some fines of SOMETHING. In the process I seem to be turning my fun gardening hobbies into anxiety and paralysis because don’t have enough ingredients to fill some planned containers or even know if results are “ correct “ enough to have been worth the cost & effort. Now trying to focus my whining into actual questions:

Does the Reptibark used AS-IS in a 5:1:1 achieve the right conditions of moisture + drainage , or is it not fine enough ( a lot seems 1/2 “ or so) & hence I’ve spent the money but created faux 5:1:1? I’m not very interested in sifting it and having even less volume per bag.

Related to that, who has bought the Bonsai Jack at like $100 for 40-50 qts or something, is it way better? Is there a compromise where a gallon or 2 ( a “ part” or so ) of larger pine or fir barks in LARGE containers saves either some money or convenience and works well? Or is it just making the job more complicated for no benefit?

Since I need the most moisture retention possible in a well- draining mix, due to having some times in dry summer when I can’t water but every few days, ( hence have found gritty mix may be a problem), what recipe adjustments help? For example, does adhering to the very smallest bark fines do more good for moisture, so maybe resist pushing upward the bark size limit, or using higher % peat/ coir which then will impact drainage?

I’ll bet this all sounds overly compulsive, when the whole point is, how can I be LESS compulsive while still improving my container soils and to have enough materials on hand to actually do them. I may also stratify which plants may benefit most. For example, I’ve kept great hostas in pots of only potting soil ( adding a bit of soil, compost, mulch here and there) for years, & they come back up every year, get divided every few years. They are beasts. Whereas, I need to become a regular “ root pruner” of my JM’s so they can stay in the biggest containers that are still not too big to move a bit. Note, I can probably afford to spend more if there are some truly good

online- sourced products, but it is feeling weird to spend so much. A mind shift.

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