Beginner Soil Question

KSlemonsMay 29, 2014


I am a new/beginner gardener. Actually when I lived in Louisiana, not a thing would grow for me. I used to wear the title "Plant Murderer". Since I have moved to Georgia it seems all of that has changed.

I have decided to start a container vegetable garden because I cannot dig in my backyard. There are about 20 huge trees and everywhere I stick my shovel, I come up with roots.

I have started a compost pile, but I know it will be months before it is ready to use.

I am on a tight budget since there is only one of us working right now. So I bought topsoil (cheap off brand) and some hummus/manure mix. I also pick up Starbuck's used grounds 3-4 times a week.

I mixed the topsoil with the manure and the coffee grounds. I also added a handful of Scott's fertilizer and mixed thoroughly. This is what I used to plant the seedlings in. So far it appears to be okay because the cucumbers, squash, tomatoes and garlic are all sprouting.

My question is, can I do this on a larger scale for when it comes time to transplant? Will this soil be sufficient for the long term? Any advice is appreciated.

Thank you for your time!
~New Green Thumb

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GeorgiaStreak(8b GA)

Hmmm. I'm not sure about adding coffee grounds to a small container. I haven't done that before when gardening in containers.

I use the Miracle Grow potting mixture that has a tiny amount of a slow release fertilizer in it. This MG mixture is heavy in peat moss (peat is very acidic), so I add 1 1/2 cups of dolomite limestone to each 2 cu ft bag of MG soil and mix it all together very well before using it in my containers. I have had success with this method.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 8:20PM
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I create my own planting mixture. I call Moo's Poo. Lol

I use black cow manure, peat moss, mushroom composite as my base mixture depending on what I'm plant I might add worm casing or bone/blood meals. Everything I plant is just amazing size, color etc.
btw, I don't use any miracle grow items. Good luck

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 11:40AM
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Instead of peat moss I use finely ground up bark sold as "soil conditioner." It is cheaper, more available and adds good texture to the mix.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 1:43PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I saw your post in the "Most Recent Posts" box, so I thought I would try to give you some direction. I think the most helpful thing you can do is realize that growing in the garden and growing in containers are culturally very different. I can see that you're trying to bring the garden with you to container culture, and that really makes your growing much more difficult than it has to be.

Excess water retention has a significant impact on root health; and it follows that the hope of a healthy plant is just that, a hope, if you can't keep roots healthy. Water retention is directly related to the size of particles that makes up your medium. ALL of your ingredients are fine particles, so predictably, your soil is going to hold water in excess - lots of it. If you try to water in small sips in order to guard against excess water in the soil, dissolved solids (salts) from your fertilizer solution and tap water will build up in the soil and create a badly skewed ratio of nutrients and antagonistic deficiencies, not to mention slow death because of high TDS/EC (salt) levels.

If you don't want to be fighting your soil for control of your plants' vitality, at a minimum you need a soil you can water to beyond the point of saturation (so you're flushing the accumulating salts from the soil) without having to worry that your soil will remain soggy so long it impacts root function, or worse - causes root rot.

In order to make a soil like that, it will need to have a very high % of larger particles, and only enough fine material to ensure enough water retention that you don't have to water more than daily or every other day. Pine bark fines mixed with a little peat, a little perlite, and a little dolomite (garden lime) will allow you to grow almost anything, well. Your soil will end up looking something like this:

The bark in that picture is from southern yellow pine, so you shouldn't have much trouble finding a suitably-sized product. Particle size IS important to a well-made soil.

For more information about how water behaves in soils and how water retention impacts plant vitality, follow the link I left below. As someone who has helped others with their container growing proficiency for many years, I can say w/o blinking that understanding how water behaves in soils is the largest step forward a container gardener can take at any one time; this, because you will have learned to select or make soils that work FOR you, instead of against you.

Best luck. Let me know if you have questions.


Here is a link that might be useful: Click me for more about container growing .....

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 2:10PM
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Now I would agree with using larger particles for containers. I usually buy a bag of hardwood mulch to mix in for containers to create nice big spaces for draining. I don't use perlite but I know others that do.

I was specifically focused on a replacement for peat moss in my comments above.

I have decided to start a container vegetable garden because I cannot dig in my backyard. There are about 20 huge trees and everywhere I stick my shovel, I come up with roots.

You might also try building a couple of raised beds using 6x6 lumber for the sides. But with that many trees you also have to make sure you have enough sun for the vegetables.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2014 at 7:50AM
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Hi Everyone,

First let me thank you for your replies, though at this point it will be Spring before I can utilize them. I originally posted this question in May, because I wanted to plant tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.

My backyard is impossible to use for raised beds or as a normal garden due to the huge trees that are in it. There is little to no sunlight and I can't dig in the soil for the roots. Now if I had several thousand dollars, I would gladly pay someone to remove them! But, I don't.

I tried using the soil I asked about in my post, but failed. In fact only a few of the seeds I planted came up. So, I went to the hardware store and bought an expensive bag of enriched soil and I have to say it's the best soil I have ever touched in my life.

The container garden worked out quite well and nearly all of my squash, cucumber and tomato plants came up. A tray of basil also came up. However, I have to this date not gotten a single tomato to turn orange/red. Not one. I have had lots and lots of pretty green balls, but that's it. My cucumbers on the other hand have produced delightful quantities of excellent tasting vegetables.

So I learned to use better soil, use super large containers, water frequently and pray. :) I have decided to utilize the right half of my super sized driveway to construct raised beds for Spring planting next year. I get full sun and we never use that part of the driveway anyway. So, I'll have a garden... even if it is smaller and in raised beds.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   September 2, 2014 at 8:08AM
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