Miracle Grow Garden Soil - problem?

Phoenix, AZ

Yes, I do compost. Everything. However, there was a sale on MGGS and I bought several bags, thinking I'd mix it with my yard soil (as recommended) to fill containers. I did and I planted veggies and flowers. So far, petunias, marigolds and lobelia have died. Beans, tomatoes and a huge datura all have leaves with white spots all over that eventually (and not long) just thin out and wither into crispy brown dead leaves. I remember reading about infected bagged compost last year - or the year before, maybe? Now I'm wondering if this might be the problem here.

Have any of you used this soil? Have you had any experience like this with any bagged soil?

I still have 3 big bags of this stuff and I'm afraid to use it. I'm going today to buy compost at a farm to add to mine.

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

"...... thinking I'd mix it with my yard soil (as recommended) to fill containers".

That you used it inappropriately to fill containers was simply an error in judgment on your part, and says nothing about the value of the product for its intended use. Expect similar results with compost unless you are using something coarse (pine bark?) as the primary fraction of the medium.

Al

Phoenix, AZ

Well, you do have a point there, but dirt has to come from somewhere to fill containers. And I did add pine bark once I had mixed the MG with my own compost. I may have made an "error in judgment" but that still doesn't explain why the leaves have spots and are crisping up and dying.

Forgot to add that I've been reading your tutorials. Very interesting and I'm learning.

This message was edited May 8, 2010 2:38 PM

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

The reasons could be several. Too much water and a lack of sufficient air in the root zone (compaction) is the first likely suspect, followed by over-fertilizing, possibly photo-oxidation (sunburn).

Al

Phoenix, AZ

So you don't suspect any pathogens in the MG soil? I ask because that happened a year or so ago and affected commercial as well as backyard gardeners. I haven't fertilized and we're not yet (quite) to the sunburn stage here. And the spots aren't like sunburn, anyhow.

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

Root rot can be any one of a number of pathogens, so yes, pathogens are certainly suspect. They are present in virtually any soil, whether it is primarily a mineral soil (garden soil topsoil) or a soil comprised almost entirely of organic components. Give them the anaerobic conditions surely present in the mix you are using & they will multiply rapidly and attack the soft tissues on the lower parts of the plant first. Plants stressed by poor soils are a prime target for a number of fungaluglies and insect marauders because the plants' ability to defend itself depends on the byproducts of a strong metabolism.

Again, the pathogens are present in all soils (unless sterilized), but how you combined the ingredients in your soil is what determined whether or not they would become an issue. Plants just won't/can't do well in containers when the soil is likely to have less than 10% air porosity at container capacity - and you can't fix it with perlite.

Al

Phoenix, AZ

I didn't use perlite at all; I used pine bark. You'd think there is not the same drainage with a container that there is in ground; however, soil here is pretty well compacted after 50+ years of flood irrigation. Dig a hole, fill it with water and you pretty much have a sink of dirty water for quite a while. It's one reason that I do use containers.

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

I only mentioned perlite in case you were to suggest that you could amend the problem soil by adding it, which won't help.

Of course you're free to do as you wish. I simply shared observations based on my own experience and what I know of science, which tell me you're facing a steep incline in an uphill battle. I just wanted you to have the information you needed to make up your own mind re. how you'd like to move forward.

Best of luck.

Al

Phoenix, AZ

I think I may need to remove the plants, take the soil out and start over. :(

POTTSBORO, TX(Zone 7b)

I bought "MGGS" last year and was totally shocked when it turned out to be a globby, poor draining, messy goop that killed 2 very expensive plants via root rot. I knew better then to plant something in it but I blindly trusted the "brand".
Never-ever-ever again.
I wanted to write the company and suggest that their "soil scientists" read a pamphlet named "soil 101"
tomatofreak-I sincerely agree with removing the plants and starting over.
Use Pro-Sol or Fafard if you can find them.

POTTSBORO, TX(Zone 7b)

My conclusion is that extremely poor drainage is the culprit.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

tomatofreak - In the past I have used MG Garden Soil for growing tomatoes in pots. However, I lightened it with perlite, and compost. I grew lots of tomatoes, but many had blossom end rot and had to be discarded. That same year, tomatoes in the ground produced tomatoes with far less BER.

I will not use it in pots again, especially as I have now discovered coconut coir.

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

Honeybee - Soil structure is a particularly important part of the success/failure equation. If if you were having BER issues and problems related to a particular soil that was based on peat moss, and could magically replace the peat with coir, I would expect that the transition would exacerbate the problems, not moderate or solve them.

FWIW - you cannot 'lighten' a peat-based soil with the addition of perlite, and certainly not with compost. To illustrate my point, ask yourself how much perlite you would need to add to pudding to get it to drain well?

If you have a heavy, water-retentive soil, and you add perlite to it, it doesn't change either the drainage characteristics or the ht of the perched water table. What it DOES do is take up some space that would normally be occupied by water, so the soil DOES hold less water because of the additional perlite, but to change the drainage characteristics or ht of the perched water table the soil would need to be PREDOMINANTLY perlite. Technically, once the volume of perlite sets it apart as the primary fraction of the soil, you're adding the other ingredients to PERLITE.

Al

Lewisville, TX(Zone 7b)

Tapla, I really thank you for your knowledge.. I have had no problem with MG at any time, & I have both mixed it with other soil AND used it on it's own..all successful. What I am thinking ( & please correct me if I am wrong) is that it's the PINE BARK that could be the problem... not the MG.. as I've heard things about not using bark of any kind with plants in case of diseases that may have been in the trees.
For instance.. when Hurricane Katrina hit LA all the damaged trees were shredded in hopes of selling it out of state for mulch, but it was soon discovered that the trees were infected with termites ( or something like that?) so none of it could ever be used..it was a waste of time, money & a lost venue.

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

If the possibility of pathogens was adequate cause for eliminating conifer bark from soils, we would have to eliminate peat and coir as well - none are sterile and all carry with them the possibility of the same diseases. The nursery and greenhouse industries are chugging happily along with most plants growing contentedly in soils with conifer bark as primary fractions, so I would have to discount the suggestion that diseases in bark-based soils are any greater consideration than in peaty soils like MG or others. In fact, it is far more likely that the fungaluglies that prosper under anaerobic conditions will join legions in peat or coir-based soils than in the better-aerated and aerobic bark-based soils.

It's probably a blessing that you haven't had water-retention issues with container media that is comprised of any mixture of MG and topsoil or garden soil. By far, the highest % of problems I find myself helping people work through stems from such soils. Either heavy peat soils like MG, or soils that contain significant fractions of compost or topsoil are simply too water retentive to offer plants the opportunity to grow at as close to their genetic potential as possible within the limitations of other cultural conditions. I wouldn't say that if I couldn't back it up, so if there is interest I'll be glad to elaborate.

Water retention is directly linked to particle size, and when you load a soil up with fine particulates like peat/coil/compost/topsoil, there is absolutely no way to avoid having to deal with the effects of excessive water retention and the effects of a considerable perched water table, two factors which are nonexistent or so insignificant as to be negligible in well-made bark-based soils. I can make a case that it's not that you haven't had problems, only that you haven't recognized them. Even if people think everything is ok, it isn't. It may be a situation where people can say "It's good enough for me", and we can all drop the discussion, but there are issues you cannot see that affect plant vitality in these heavy soils; again, I can elaborate if there is interest.

The odds overwhelmingly favor the issues TF is dealing with are being caused by the soil he is using. I've probably helped thousands of people improve their growing skills by helping them improve their soils before moving on to other less significant areas. It's very powerful testimony that virtually all those having trouble were growing in heavy soils.

I've never once suggested, "Let's take that light and airy medium and make it heavier", but I've suggested many a time that we "Turn that mudium into a productive medium". ;o)

Al



Lewisville, TX(Zone 7b)

hmm.. though some of what you said Al went right over my head :0) I think I did get the message. Very good points indeed. I will take you up on your elaboration one of these days.. because right now I don't know when I will be online again... I have a retreat to go to this weekend, for instance.

I will tell you, that I put things at the bottom of my containers such as plastic water bottles, etc to let the water run through the bottom better... then I mix soils..my availaility goes from composted material from our county extension to MG soil, since I found it to be better to work with than anything else. Not that it is the best but, like I said..what is avaliable to me.

I really appreciate your time Al..& seriously look forward to further discussions. THANK YOU.

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

Take care, Cindy. I hope your retreat is all you hoped or expected it would be. ;o) TTYL.

Al

Baldwin City, KS

This has been a very interesting thread. Thank you tapla and others. But, after rereading this for the third time, I don't see a recommendation of what is the best (or reasonably good) addition to soil to make it more "light".

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

You mean fixing container soil that's compacted?

Baldwin City, KS

Actually I am talking about the whole garden.

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

The short of it is: For gardens, add lots of organic matter on a regular basis - finished compost is best because there is little issue associated with N immobility, as finished compost breaks down slowly.

For container media: You really can't amend a heavy soil and make it light. I'm speaking on a % of ingredients basis now. If you start with mud, you'll need to add 60-75% perlite to get it to the point where it will drain and offer the opportunity for the plant to grow at as close to its genetic potential as possible. IOW, you need to START with larger ingredients if you want a fast draining and airy soil, not add them to fine ingredients.

In the 5:1:1 mix, I start with pine bark, which is many times larger than peat or compost particles. Then, I add peat (or compost) to adjust the water retention - the more peat/compost I add, the heavier the soil becomes until at around 50% peat content the soil has taken on the drainage and aeration characteristics of peat.

The gritty mix I use for all long term plantings is superbly aerated and durable, because all the particles are around 1/8" or a little larger. This guarantees the soil holds LOTS of air, and because the soil is 2/3 mineral, it is exceptionally durable and can be counted on NOT to collapse, where peat/compost soils are water retentive out of the bag and only decline in air porosity as water retention increases.

Al

This message was edited Aug 12, 2010 3:34 PM

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

So, how DO you fix container soil that's become compacted?

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

You can't. It's compacted for a reason, and the reason is, it's made of small particles or a lot of small particles mixed with a few large particles. Container soils only compact if there is a large fraction of small particles. Even if there is a fairly significant presence of large particles (perlite in compost or peat), the small particles just surround the large particles and compact as they would if the large particles weren't there. The only way to fix that is by mixing a small amount of the small particles with a LOT of larger particles; and that should be done before the soil is planted in and has the chance to compact.

If you have a bucket of mud, it's compacted, poorly aerated, and drains poorly. Mixing in a half bucket of BBs doesn't change the aeration, drainage, or compaction. If, on the other hand, you have a bucket of BBs, it is highly aerated, drains like a champ, and will never compact. You can add about 15-25% mud to the BBs before you start to see a significant deterioration in the properties I mentioned.

Al

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

GREAT ILLUSTRATION! "By George, I think she's got it!"

Phoenix, AZ

OK, let me start with a new question re: MGGS. I still have 3 bags of this stuff and need to use it somehow. Since I don't have a lot of available space to garden in ground, how can I make this into a good aerated soil fit for a container? Short of adding BB's that is! Can I add bags of pine or cedar bark and, if so, in what proportions?

I believe I understand your bit about soil and plant optimization. So far, I haven't lost any more plants in the containers with MGGS, but I can easily see that they are not thriving. They should be 2 or 3 times the size they are. So let me ask this question: If you are starting from scratch to build a container soil, what would you use and in what proportions?

Phoenix, AZ

Regarding the 'recipes': I found this thread, http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/t/1073399/, but I'm not certain what you mean by these terms: "pine fines" and CRF. I'm also not familiar with Turface; what is it and would I find it in most any garden department?

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

tomatofreak - I assume MGGS stands for Miracle Grow Garden Soil. I think the instructions on the bag says not to use it as a potting soil. I have used it in pots in the past because my neighbor said to do so, he's a landscaper for a local church/nursery school. I did not have good results as you can read in my post above.

My suggestion is to return the three bags and exchange them for potting soil.

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

I wouldn't use it in any container media - it's just poorly suited as a part of a container soil. Use it to fill in ruts or low spots in your yard or garden, or take it back.

I would use a mix in the ratio of 5:1:1, pine bark fines:peat:perlite to ensure durability and long term aeration. You can read abut it here: http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/t/1073399/

The picture below shows what the pine bark should look like, at 3, 6, and 9, and what the soil looks like when finished and dry.

Al

Thumbnail by tapla
Glendale/Parks, AZ

http://www.phoenixpermaculture.org/xn/detail/2008067:Event:85254?xg_source=activity

Alma, try this class. Vynnie is a local gardener.

Lewisville, TX(Zone 7b)

Hello folks! I have returned!! hahaha... all I can say is WOW!! What a weekend! I won't get into it as I may go overboard & some people may not like what I have to say! hahaha
Which is ok.. this is not the forum to do this anyway.

I was reading the threads & hope all has gone well while I was away.

It's nice to be back! hahaha

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Cindy,
If it involves "dirt," then just give us the "scoop!" This is definitely the place to talk dirt!

POTTSBORO, TX(Zone 7b)

LOL-Gym

Lewisville, TX(Zone 7b)

OOOOHHHHHH Gym... that's cute!! hahahahahaha

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

Looks like Miracle-Gro isn't the only brand that's got problems: http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/fp.php?pid=7850196

Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

PP, that reminds me of the bag of "Composted Cow Manure" I bought last year that was I swear 90% sand and sticks!! I never knew cattle ate sand and tree limbs.... Of course I should have known after looking at the label. It was "produced" by a lumber company somewhere in GA.

Al, I've never seen your postings before but I am very impressed with your knowledge of soil science. Keep up the good work informing us lesser "dirt lovers".

Doug

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Tapla, thanks for this education. I am learning so much. Just reread the other posts on container recipes anD ferts too. Have a question I hope isn't a repeat of something I missed.

I'll start off by saying (loosely) if it ain't broke don't fix it. As a relative newbie (since 2007) I'm about to start my 3rd crop of brassicas. I've been very successful with cabbages (especially), and broccoli and cauliflowers to a lesser degree.
To date, my planting medium in 5-gallon eBuckets has been various combinations of: MG potting MIX, Black Kow Composted manure, coco coir, homemade compost, and leaf mold. Last season, I mistakenly introduced some heavy, sandy veggie growers blend I had ordered from a commercial grower for 2 raised beds. Didn't catch the error until I had mixed 50% garden blend into most of my eBuckets.

I still pulled in a beautiful harvest of cabbages last season, but I can see the mixture is compacting, and getting tighter. I'm getting ready for a new plantout of seedlings starting September 1.

Al, I don't have a lot of money to spend right now, and I'd like your assessment of the least expensive route I can take to begin repurposing my medium to the loose, highly? Organic blend it was. Or, as close as we can on a tight budget. I have lots of leaf mold and homemade compost available (and, yeah, I think I remember you stating the compost contributes to the compaction without an abundance of larger particulate, like the pine bark fines, right?)

So, what can I mix with what I have that's a large enough particulate? Is there a modification of your 5-1-1 recipe that could incorporate my present ingredients?

I truly can't afford 2 start from scratch.

Thanks!

Linda

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

Does ebuckets = SWCs, Linda? It makes a difference if you're using SWCs or conventional containers.

I hope we're not drifting too far off topic, TF?

Al

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Al,
Don't think we're drifting as original post regarded MG and container gardening.

EBuckets = 5-gallon buckets with an overturned plastic colander that creates a reservoir underneath. The mix packed around it creates a wick for the self-watering feature, like an Earthbox. Plants draw water up as they need to. There's a fill tube that goes through the soilbed and colander and rests on the bottom of the bucket.

In essence, a SWC unit.

What does TF mean?

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

TF = Tomato freak, the original poster.

I'm familiar with SWCs & how they work. I'm actually doing some testing of a design for a company I'm pretty sure you've heard of right now.

You can use a somewhat heavier soil in SWCs than in conventional containers and still get away with it. The reason is that watering from above tends to compact peaty soils and flood all the soil pores with water, even the larger pores. Once the pores are flooded, they're 'reluctant' to give up water. In SWCs, water is pulled upward by capillarity. It tends to move along the route of the highest capillarity, i.e., from particle to particle, so more of the soil pores remain open.

In your case, to keep expenses down, you might want to consider mixing your old soil with at least an equal part of pine bark fines and a small fraction of perlite - both are inexpensive. I pay 10.99 for 4 cu ft of perlite wholesale, so about twice that is a more realistic expectation @ retail, but that's pretty inexpensive, considering the volume. I pay about $5 for 2 cu ft of pine bark., so for less than $6, you can make 4-5 cu ft (just under 40 gallons) of freshened soil. Something like

4-8 parts pine bark fines
4 parts used soil
1-2 parts perlite
lime @ 2 tsp per gallon or 5 tbsp per cu ft

would probably work very well.

Al

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

AL,
I LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ^^_^^^^_^^ (Me and Al doing the "Save-My-Soil" (SOS) dance!!!)

Math is still challenging for me. I need a little more help on the ratios. I'm dealing with a 5-gallon bucket which I treat as one square foot of potting medium. Let's say I'll be using 20 buckets September 1st. That's 20 sq. ft. of existing potting medium. I'll need to cut in 20 sq. ft. of pine bark mulch/fines, and maybe 10 sq. ft. of perlite?

How does that translate to cubic feet?

My local supplier has a 3 cu. ft. bag of pine bark mulch for $3.99. They also carry pine bark nuggets, which are larger. Shoud I go with the smaller mulch, or keep looking for pine bark "fines?" They never heard of it...

Thanks!

This message was edited Jul 3, 2010 10:23 AM

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