Tell me about 'Soil Conditioner' from HD

nancedar(z7NC)February 9, 2006

I have some really rich topsoil from the woods that I use for potting up plants. I bought some Home Depot "Soil Conditioner" to mix with it since it is rather heavy and condenses when used for potting, pushing out the oxygen in the confined soil. Ya' know what I think this stuff is? I think it is ground up bark, sand, leaves, and weed/grass clippings from cutting the public roadsides - kinda ike unfinished compost maybe? What do you think is in this bag of stuff? What are your views on this amendment?

P.S. I have huge compost bins and it also gets mixed in with the topsoil but it still does not losen the soil enough for potting up plants.

Nancy the nancedar

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Usually it is ground pine bark.

I use permatil to break up clay permanently. Even a small amount mixed in is helpful. Adding organics is great, but over several years, organics will break down and you will have clay again. Permatil is permanent, although I don't think it completely removes the need to continually amend soil with organics as well.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2006 at 7:08PM
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I have not bought from HD but Lowes soil conditioner is ground pine bark with nothing else mixed in. I like to add perlite for better drainage in potting mixtures and have used the pine bark soil conditioner as well.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2006 at 9:53PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I have used the Lowes stuff extensively as a soil amendment, but also as a potting medium ingredient. I'm so glad that they finally came out with something like that so I could stop scrounding for bark fines elsewhere.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2006 at 10:15PM
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I love the soil conditioner from Lowes - I use it as a mulch even tho I know it will break down faster than other mulches. My soil is soooooo lacking of organic matter. I don't mind adding it a couple times a year....


    Bookmark   February 9, 2006 at 10:35PM
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jeffahayes(8a Upstate SC)

If you took standard pine bark mulch and ran it through a shredder several more times you'd essentially have the same thing as the soil conditioner they sell in the bags at Home Depot and Lowe's.

You can use either as a mulch, but only the ultra-shredded pine bark "fines" make a good soil conditioner. I swear by it, and was taught to use it in master gardening class, as the class "mentor" said that's all he uses for soil conditioner AND for mulch... If you use the regular single-ground or double-ground mulch, it will eventually decompose and incorporate into your soil, thus enriching it and improving its condition... If you don't mind spending a little more money and using the "soil conditioner" as mulch in areas that maybe really need soil conditioning done, but you have existing plants and don't want to disturb their roots, you can do like the MG "mentor" does, and like I now do with some of my younger trees and shrubs where I maybe didn't amend as much as I'd have liked and I also don't have to use so much that it's a financial burden, and use the soil conditioner as a mulch for your plants... Since it's a bit denser, you won't need or want to go quite as thick with it (so you don't keep oxygen from the roots), and since it's already so finely ground, much of it will decompose and be incorporated into the soil by rain and earthworms each year, and you'll need to add more the following year.

The advantage, however, is that after a few years of doing that, and PROPERLY fertilizing (sometimes I just mix in some of the high-yield composted cow manure with the pine bark fines... the 0.5-0.5-0.5 stuff, or I use something like Miracle-Gro), you'll have some incredibly fertile, rich soil around the roots of whatever's growing there and it should be doing good.

You could even top-dress your entire lawn (not that I'm encouraging lawns) with a small amount of fines (say an inch or slightly less), then go over that with an aerator to simultaneously aerate the soil and mix the fines in somewhat and water the lawn, and likely also slowly improve a heavy clay lawn that way.

This truly IS "nature's way." In fact, the brand you USED TO see at both Home Depot and Lowe's was called "Nature's Helper,", but it suddenly disappeared about the time I started buying a bunch of it... My understanding is that the Scott's company (owner of Miracle-Gro, Ortho, and A LOT of other lawn and garden products, pressured both companies retail chains to quit carrying that brand, or something to that effect, but who knows?

You can also buy pine bark fines by the scoop some places, which I've done ONCE, but aside from the fact that you need a trailer or a pickup bed for them to dump them into, there's two other facts that dissuade me from doing that again (I've done it once)...

1. Unlike some other products, the savings didn't add up to that much... maybe the equivalent of getting 3 more bags of the stuff I'd buy at HD or Lowe's for the money.

2. But most importantly, the QUALITY of the fines wasn't nearly as good as what I get in the bags at HD and Lowe's... Sitting out in a big pile, it had already degraded a good bit, so much of the fines had "gone to powder," and it was all VERY DRY. The bagged fines are always moist when they come out of the bag, and of a fairly uniform size, both of which I believe are important to proper soil conditioning.

The bags of fines are usually 2 cubic feet for about $2.50; The high-yield cow manure is generally $1.19 per bag for 1-cubic-foot bags, and the cheap topsoil is generally $.98 for a 1-cubic foot bag... Depending on how fertile I think the soil already is, I generally mix 1 bag of the cheap, high-yield cow manure to 1 or 2 bags of soil conditioner, and then maybe top that with enough of the cheap topsoil to make an even layer... sometimes I'll mix that in, too.

(You can ALSO pay $4 for a bag of .5-.5-.5 "Black Cow" or "Mushroom Compost," but I've found NO benefit except that both HD and Lowe's keep those in stock better... the Earthgro [I think that's the brand] composted manure that's also .5-.5-.5 has the same analysis and looks and feels the same, so I go with that -- One caveat on any "composted manure": I ALWAYS poke a small hole in one bag and take a sniff; if it smells RANK... sulferous, or like a sewer, DON'T buy it -- Wal-Mart had some smelling like that outside, reduced for quick sale at the end of last season... was AWFUL smelling... it's either not DONE composting, or got contaminated.)

Happy Conditionings!

    Bookmark   February 9, 2006 at 11:31PM
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Plenty of container experts tell ya to use a simple mix of "conditioner" or bark fines mixed with compost or coarse sand or topsoil. Whatever the mix it is almost always mostly conditioner with very little obvious compost or other ingrediant. Potted plants need a lot of air to breath and regular garden soil (and plenty of bagged potting mixes) just stay to dense to help out with the air situation. Next time you buy a plant from a nursery check out the media its growing in - more than likely it will appear to be solid "conditioner".

    Bookmark   February 10, 2006 at 4:52PM
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aisgecko(7b Raleigh)

I thought the bags even said "pine bark fines". Anyways, as stated, thats what it is. I use it as a light mulch or to mix in with the soil. I think it's pretty good stuff but it is not anything like compost. I mixed it in with the clay in front and the soil is much better to work with. Of course I have been mulching and topdressing as well for the past few years and it all helps. -Ais.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2006 at 6:39PM
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Nature's Helper is still available at HD's near me. It is a GA product, bagged by Smith Industries of Cleveland, GA. Years ago, our neighborhood would combine an order and they would deliver it(in 3 cu. ft. bags, back then) and dump them on a vacant lot. Minimum order was about 100 bags and they cost $0.75-0.85 per 3 cu. ft. I must have used 1000 bags of it to ammend my solid clay soil and still buy many smaller bags each year, mostly for potting plants. For awhile, HD sold another brand, called Earth Helper. but the quality was not as good, as the size of the fines weren't consistant within the bag and often had to run them through my shredder to reduce the size. I have noticed their stock of other brands of soil ammenmends and mulch has increased, but the one's that sell around here are the one's from Smith Industries, which seem to offer a better product at usually a better price.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2006 at 10:40PM
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