The Quest for Horticultural Grit

This is from an advertisement for horticultural grit in England

There is a wonderful posting on seed sowing on the Scottish Rock Garden Club website.  Not for the first time I observed the casual use of the term ‘horticultural grit’.  In England, where practically everyone is a gardener, you can expect that they would have a specialized soil ingredient for top dressing seedlings and alpines.  For us, in the U.S., the search is more difficult.

I bought some bulbs recently from Telos Rare Bulbs that are from California and South Africa so I thought I would try to follow up on this idea of using small rocks as a top dressing.  I have often used mulch as a finish dressing in pots to prevent the soil from washing out when I water.  It has the disadvantage of getting crusty over time and not letting the water actually penetrate.  My local nursery had a product called Mosser Lee Soil Cover (river stone) which was sort of along the lines of what I was looking for.   But it was $1 a pound and not all that much different from the bulk pea gravel that the nursery sold in a plastic bag at 10 cents a pound.

Pea Gravel (left) compared to Mosser Lee River Stone (right)

So I took the less expensive approach and used the pea gravel with my Telos bulbs.

Pots finished off with pea gravel

But I still wanted to find a finer scale gravel at bulk prices.  So I consulted the web, naturally.  I found a long thread on Garden Web trying to track down something called Al’s gritty mix.  I discovered that there were people all over the country trying to solve this same problem.  My efforts led me to the local feed store in Frederick where I bought three different sizes of granite that is used for raising chickens. The product comes from North Carolina and is called Gran-I-Grit.  The 40 pound bags cost $6 apiece and have pretty much given me a range of options now.

Gradations in gravel size

Three different sizes in Gran-I-Grit

Gran-I-Grit Large Size

Another nice discussion of soil mixes and planting techniques that refers specifically to the use of chicken grit is from Tom Clothier on HortNet.

Lest you think that I have wandered off into the gravel mining industry I also did a few other things this week.  I’ve completed the overhead watering system for the greenhouse which will make it possible to travel when necessary…

Overhead watering system in the greenhouse

Overhead watering in process

And I did get outside to take advantage of some of the extended fall weather we’ve had.  I finally put in the garlic which was well overdue for planting…

60 ft of garlic row tilled up

And I’ve almost finished up with this year’s bulb planting, only about another 60 daffodils to go.  There are 40 new daffodils in the ground in addition to 55 tulips and 200 smaller bulbs.  I did some weeding this week too wherein I discovered that the Snowdrops are emerging (which is fine) but the Adonis is coming up too (which is not fine).  I put some compost on top of the Adonis to try to keep it from putting it’s flower up too soon, which it did last year prior to a hard freeze …