From David Mitchell, plant sale coordinator
Plants need soil to grow in, but what kind? Success is in the mix and if you have any number of materials on hand, you'll find it easier to make up a trough or section of the rock garden to meet the soil needs of most rock garden plants. You'll find many soil recipes include sterilized soil, but I don't use soil as most of the plants I grow in pots will end up at our plant sales where soilless mix is required by law.
Several people asked me where I found the materials I presented at the beginner's rock garden workshop: granite grit, potting mix, composted pine bark, gravel, fired clay grit, and sand.
Chicken grit can be found at Agway's feed and grain across from their garden center on Fulton Street. The brand I buy is called Gran-I-Grit "starter" size and a 50 pound bag sells for about nine dollars. This is 100% granite and it is slightly acidic at about a pH of 5 to 6, but doesn't seem to affect the pH of the soil mix. Granite grit: Ithaca Farm and Garden Center, 213 S Fulton Street, Ithaca, NY, Tel. (607) 273-2505.
The potting mix is Fafard brand Number 52 found at Griffin Greenhouse and Nursery Supply in Auburn. Griffin does not promote itself as retail, so you won't know how inexpensive they are until you find them. They have a website with lots of product details, but no pricing, but I can tell you the trip to Auburn is worth the gas money. The Number 52 contains 24% peat moss, 8% perlite, 8% vermiculite, and 60% bark. This is the lowest peat content I could find. Potting mixes, etc.: Griffin Greenhouse & Nursery Supplies, Inc., 1 Ellis Drive, Auburn, NY, Tel. (315) 255-1450.
If you want to eliminate the use of peat altogether, you may want to try using aged pine bark, also known as composted pine bark. I found 2.8 cubic bags 35 miles southwest of Rochester at Palmiter's Garden Nursery, 2675 Avon Geneseo Rd., Avon, NY, Tel. (585) 226-3073.
Local sand and gravel can be found at several gravel pits in the area. The one I use is the Brooktondale Pit, 113 Perkins Road, Brooktondale. Drive in and park at the white trailer, go in and let the person know what you want and they'll give you instructions. I usually get three or four buckets of material for about 5 dollars.
The Turface brand soil amendment I found at Banfield-Baker in Horseheads (thank you Bill Plummer). It's fired clay grit that is used on baseball playing fields and sometimes seen as cat litter. The clay is porous and holds moisture. Banfield-Baker Corporation, 2512 Corning Road (Rt. 14), Horseheads, NY, Tel. (607) 739-8771.
The beautiful, dustless white quartz sand I have was found at a garden center in Cleveland for about 4 dollars a bag, priceless as they say. Haven't seen it here, but play sand may be an option.