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Best mulches, soil amendments and potting media

I asked the staff of Behnkes Garden Supply Department in Beltsville, to recommend their top choices for these three essential garden supplies, and they weren’t shy at all.

Favorite Mulches

  • Hardwood mulches are what they usually recommends and the kind most commonly used in our area.   They’re also the best buy.
  • One kind of hardwood mulch, “pine fines”, will also make your soil more acid.
  • Cedar is a natural insect repellent, so the best option near the house foundation.

Favorite soil amendments (anything you mix IN the soil to improve it)

  • Leafgro compost is a good product at a great price.  It’s also an outstanding example of recycling. By composting leaves and grass clippings that would have normally been disposed of in a landfill, the Maryland Environmental Service converts organic wastes into a valuable resource.
  • Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix adds organic matter to red clay or sandy soil, conditioning garden beds and landscapes and promoting healthy root growth.  It’s specially formulated to drain well while retaining moisture.  Recommended for any and all outdoor plants – trees, shrubs, vegetable & flower beds.   It’s also recommended for lawn repair.
  • How they compare: LeafGro adds more biology to the soil than the Fafard Ultra does; however, both are excellent soil amendments.

Favorite potting medium

  • Espoma Organic Potting Mix. No synthetic plant foods or chemicals are used.  A premium blend enhanced with Myco-tone Mycorrhizae.

What’s all this about coir?

I’m hearing concerns about peat-based potting media (is it really renewable?), so I asked about that.  Is coir, the alternative to peat being talked about, really a better choice for the environment?  Short answer, NO.  But here’s what one of the Behnkes experts had to say.

“Coir, extracted from the husk of coconuts, is an alternative to peat moss; both are sustainable resources. Peat moss from Canada is very highly regulated regarding harvesting and restoration. Bogs are restored to a natural state where they support the fauna and flora in as few as five years.  (Yes, I know “regulated by the government” can sometimes be questionable but in this case it IS regulated.)

“Coir comes from Sri Lanka. The process of producing coir requires large quantities of freshwater and takes almost nine months of washing to produce a finished product.  Freshwater is a precious commodity in that part of the world.  Then add in the impact of transporting the product to the U.S. and it turns out that coir has a very large carbon footprint.”

by Susan Harris

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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