During this time of turmoil we have so many other things on our plate to worry about: what brand of Greek yogurt to buy, choosing our next dictator, or where to park your car. But I want to share with you a little-known crisis that affects almost all of us: our potting soil is in danger!

Here’s why: the potting soil you buy at most garden centers or hardware depots is merely ground up wood product. It contains no mineral content. It’s great for the potting soil industry because that lousy fluff is light and cheaper to ship. But for you, it sucks. I don’t know exactly when real soil stopped being sold, but it happened right under our noses. I hope the following information will help you nurture your plants in pots.

soil pyramid

What is your soil type? Sandy clay or silt loam?

Real soil (esteemed soil scientists don’t call it “dirt”) is comprised of mineral content – a mixture of sand, silt or clay, and organic content like dead plants and stuff. And don’t forget water and air. These two are vital, especially when you consider the importance of the space between mineral particles and neighboring organic matter.

A pot that contains only ground bark product will dry out faster but harbor a wet core. This is because there isn’t a lot of air circulation to the middle of the soil mass since it’s so compact, so basically the soil doesn’t breathe. And a wet core means root rot. Add to it you have to water bark product more frequently, it’s just too much to ask a backyard gardener.

So here’s what you do: get some sand, and some clayey soil and mix it in with the shitty bark product to condition it. I’ll often haul a bucket of beach sand from Rehoboth or Assateauge, or from the creek bed of Rock Creek Park. If it’s from an oceanside beach rinse it out with fresh water first. If you come across a construction site, grab a bucket of our lovely old Appalachian clay-heavy soil. Mix that sand and clayey soil in with your bark fluff and you have a nice environment for healthy roots and happy plants.

That’s all I got for a blog post today. Clearly I’m running out of things to write about.


  1. Jim says:

    That chart – I’m not sure if it looks like “get rich quick” scheme or one of those “Divine Plan” preacher graphics that explain how we’re about to enter some sort of messianic age.

  2. Mari InShaw says:

    I’d been meaning to buy some Home Depot soil for a bay laurel I’ve had too long. Remind me, all that wood product is high acid, right? Well I do have a lot of organic matter in the back yard composter to mix it with.

  3. jimbo says:

    Compost is great, but it is yet more organic matter. The point I was trying to make was that you need to add mineral content to organic matter to make good soil. And NO DRYER LINT!

    Jim: science is hard. Please try to keep up.

  4. TED says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this crucial public service. When I think that — but for your valiant efforts! — I might have subjected my seedlings to root rot, I am overcome with relief at having escaped such a fate.

    But what should I do with my bushels of dryer lint?

  5. FearsomeBeard says:

    If not dryer lint, how about belly button lint?

  6. Tim Mc says:

    that’s a really good post and probably why our potted plants have been sucking, I’ll keep more sand on hand to condition our potting soil for sure.

    do you have any garden plans this spring? I can’t remember how big your space is at your current domicile.

  7. napoleonva says:

    How goes the new job?

  8. jimbo says:

    Hmm…for some reason I can’t comment on my own blog unless I go into admin mode! Anyway…I do have plans to share about my guerilla gardening plans but the dandelions haven’t bloomed yet so it’s not time to plant yet.

    Tim: mix sand AND some local soil into your pots. If possible a 1/3 mix each of sand, local soil and crappy store ground bark.

    The job has had a steep learning curve, a fast pace and I’m currently in the stage of working late and getting home to stare at the wall drooling. But I’m getting there.