Sawdust for amending soil?

jennaj_z4mn(4)July 6, 2011

I am in the process of making a new 25' x 13' raised hosta bed (finally got rid of our wooden playset)!!! My dad does alot of woodworking and has bags and bags of cedar, oak and pine sawdust. I was wondering if anyone has used, or knows if this would be a good thing to amend in with the soil?

Also--could I use it in pots along with a perlite and peat moss mixture for a potting medium?

Thanks in advance everyone!!


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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

not real good for anything.. unless fully composted ...

it robs water.. decreases drainage... and steals nitrogen in the decaying process ...

also.. it clumps or mats if used as a mulch ...

no upside anywhere in the equation ...

been there.. done that.. killed a few things..

unlike chunks ... its surface area is too large ....


    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 12:40PM
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kskaren(z5 MO)

Unfortunately, some folks in the business are still telling people to dump sawdust on their flower beds. When we had our hardwood floors refinished a few years ago, the guy told us to do that--said it made the greatest compost ever! I did some checking on another gardening forum, and the answer was a resounding NO!! I wonder how many flowers have been killed by his advice.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 2:35PM
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andy10917(NY 6a)

I've got to disagree a little here...

Some of you may know that I'm a Soil and Composting moderator elsewhere. Sawdust is excellent for improving soil tilth, but has to being applied in certain ways.

Don't dig large amounts into the soil - it can rob the surrounding plants of Nitrogen as the decomposition process fires up.

Applying it to the SURFACE of the soil is great in small amounts. Once the soil bacteria microherd that decompose sawdust build up, you'll be able to add more, but start slowly. A dusting of sawdust once every 4-5 weeks makes a very friable soil three years down the road. There was an old guy on one of the GW forums years ago that did it for ten years and claimed he could stick his arm into the soil up to his elbow. After five years of doing it, I no longer think he was lying.

Obviously, this is not something for the impatient...

    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 2:40PM
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My goodness do I have sawdust/woodshavings...perhaps I will experiment.


    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 2:57PM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

Sawdust is great for composting, and you could use it for lasagna bed building. Mix it with lots of grass clippings(nitrogen). The sawdust has a lot of carbon. Leave it on top of the beds until it is composted (next spring) and then plant. Let it rot first.


    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 3:00PM
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Ooops! I poured a bunch of it in a raised bed (about 3 weeks ago) and topped it with more soil. Could one use a high nitrogen fertilizer to compensate for the dumping such as I did?

I just went out and used an old-fashioned spray nozzle on the strongest setting to plunge down in the soil around the one hosta I have in that situation!

    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 4:34PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

hey J ..

do not complicate one mistake.. by adding more mistakes ...

observe and react..

but whatever you do.. do NOT dump high nitro fert

if you see .. in the next few weeks .. something wrong .. dig up the hosta and put it in good soil ...


    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 6:37PM
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Got it, ken! Thanks heaps! :^)

The highest I was going to go for was 'Miracle Grow'! But, I'll wait and see and do as you advise!

    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 9:47PM
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Sawdust can be just what Ken says, IF not used properly, and just the opposite if used properly. I had a friend in Afkansas that ran a U-Pick farm. Smitty lived next to a sawmill and he used the free sawdust to advantage, improving the tilth of his clay heavy soil in his tomato, blueberry and strawberry beds. Note that all of these plants favor acidic soil as do our hosta. So it is not taboo, particulary if you have clay heavy soil. But before using it, make sure you learn how to use it to advantage. I can't see it being much use where I am now at. My soil has great tilth. I think it is due to the high amounts of natural coal particles. Whenever I have rototilled I have turned up 2-3" chunks of ccal. Strip mining for coal in past years was big here for use in electric generating plants.

I miss Smitty's wonderful U-Pick goodies.


    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 10:16PM
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Not for pots, but possibly for as mulch in planting beds, but our experience is that we prefer it composted 1st.

Just this April used it as a 1" thin mulch in some newly expanded garden beds as an experiment.

It was a partially decomposed mix of the pelleted bedding with mini horse & guinea pig manure & used coffee grounds. I'm in western WA, so likely the sawdust was from Douglas fir.

In the sunny bed it was gone by the end of July, so I spread a layer of finished dark compost for summer.

In the shady beds the sawdust is still visible & texture can be felt especially underneath the hosta leaves.

We have 2 piles of composting now. If I get in an ambitious hurry I'll turn the older one more often & add a bit more nitrogen (either chicken manure or used coffee grounds) to possibly be done by November. Otherwise, it will be ready to use in spring with only a few turns now & then when someone is in the mood for a workout.

In beds where we dug in a lot of the compost or have applied as mulch for several years it is much easier to dig up hosta companions for division & if stepped in feet sink easily. The soil fluffs back up okay I guess, but we try to keep feet out in our often wet spring & fall.


    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 10:52PM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

When I was younger and stronger I would go to the lumber yard gather bags of it and dump it on my vegetable garden and work it in...I also added some composted cow manure....never had any problems with clumping mold or nitrogen deficiency, but of course I combined the saw dust with manure.
Whatever free vegetable matter I can get I will pile on my gardens, sawdust, cedar puppy bedding, grass clippings ( provided they are herbicide free) ground corn cobs, shredded wood from the tree service. It's all good. And remember.....the nitrogen robbed from last year's sawdust is this year's nitrogen when that sawdust has decomposed.

Frankly I find it very hard to believe that sawdust in your garden has actually killed any plants unless you used sawdust with chemicals of some sort in the wood. It might cause some plants to look puny if you don't add a source of nitrogen, or haven't been adding plant material to your gardens regularly, but kill your plants?? Really?
Or was it sawdust from black walnut trees? That might do a number on tomatoes!!
Linda C

    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 1:24PM
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The harvested trees in the Ozarks were Oak or Pine, so I assume the sawdust Smitty was using were from one of these. Again, I feel sawdust is good for heavy clay soil as it improves tilthe. If I were to use it I would make sure I added nitrogen in some form while it was composting in the soil.

Any thing you do to your soil as far as ammending it is concerned has to be weighed against how the unammended soil performs. In some cases, anything is better than nothing. Books have been written about this, so it cannot be covered in casual discussion. Given the right circumstances I would eagerly welcome a huge truckload of sawdust being dumped in my yard. I will figure some way to use it. In Arkansas I had a source of chicken litter that was dripping with urin when it was loaded into the bed of my pickup by a frontloader. It brought tears to your eyes. You do not want to put it directly on your gardens. But when properly conditioned a bit - wow-!


    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 1:25AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

when it all boils down.. its a matter of 'not too much' ... at any one given time ....

if once a month you want to dust some around.. you probably wont have any problems...

on the other hand ... if you layer 2 to 3 inches every month.. you will have problems ...

if you dont believe.. go dig up your lancifolia.. pot 4 of them.. one pure sawdust.. one 3/4 saw dust with potting media .. 1/2 .. 1/4 ... etc... and report back ...

its not like you will be wasting them.. as your mother plant will reproduce 25 more during your experiment .. lol ...

i would predict.. 100% dust .. you wont be able to get water thru it... and there will be molds and fungus [shrooms] in it as the wood rots ... and then from there .. somewhere in the varying percentages.. you will find out where it will work ..

and dont forget to winter them over.. to find out if any struggle next season with a nitro deficiency..

and no fert'ing .. for the sake of the experiment ...

its really the only way we will get an answer.. and inquiring minds want to know.. lol ..


    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 4:02PM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

There was someone here who had fabulous hosta growing in wood chips on his cement drive way.....who was that?
His contention was that hosta grew well in only wood mulch.
Anyone else remember?
Linda C

    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 4:45PM
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Linda, pretty sure it was Butch/Esther_Opal/Wild Dog/Maggie Mae, etc. you're referring to!

    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 11:34PM
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Ken - your experiments intention is of course right but the question is about using "sawdust for amending soil". No one has suggested using it to grow hosta in it, which your I.P. suggests planting a lancifolia in 100% sawdust, 75%, etc. Doing the same experiment starting with 100% clay or 100% peat would give similar results. Also what consititutes the remaining percentages would be a factor. Let's assume a 75:25 mix of sawdust:compost vs. a second set using a 75:25 mix of sawdust:sand. You all get my point. If inquiring minds want to know start with a 20:80 mix of sawdust:potting soil and move towards 100% potting soil in 2 part increases in potting soil (18:82, 16:84, 14:86........etc.). There will be a point where the advantages overshadow the disadvantages when proper controls are imposed.

If I could do it I would travel to the hosta-rich eco-systems of China and Japan and note how much uncomposted vegitative matter (which sawdust and peat are) is in the top 2-3 inches of soil where the hosta thrive. I would guess (ouch) a lot of it.


    Bookmark   July 9, 2011 at 7:32AM
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yikes! To much math. I like words like,a little of this,and more of that. :0)

    Bookmark   July 9, 2011 at 10:22AM
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