Ask a Question forum: Vermiculite for water retention in large flowerbed

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Apr 16, 2017 12:32 PM CST
We are about to replant a large south facing bed in our back garden. We live just outside Dover and our land is the equivalent of down land turf, shallow, over chalk. The earth in the bed is very light, thin, poor in nutrients. I want to boost its water retaining capabilities but have no compost to chuck in. Have read that vermiculture holds water well & thereby aids nutrient take-up by plants. Can anyone recommend this as a possible solution? I know it's usually used small scale for potting, but I'm thinking of using a couple of large sackfuls. Many thx in advance.
Name: Elaine
Sarasota, Fl
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Apr 16, 2017 1:40 PM CST
It might help, but if you've got to buy vermiculite, I'd advise you to look for bagged compost instead. The vermiculite will not improve the soil, nor will it hold moisture nearly as well as compost will and the compost will very likely cost you less as well. Get it from a reputable nursery, though. The "compost" sold at big box stores is cheap, but it's mostly sand. NB "compost" in North America is 100% decomposed plant material. I know "compost" in the UK can sometimes mean what we call potting soil.

Then, after you have your new plants planted, mulch with an organic wood chip mulch of some kind. If you give the bed this treatment every year, it will improve it a lot. Unlike vermiculite which would be a quick fix at best.

If the bed is on a down-slope you might look at placing some rocks or bricks on the downhill side to prevent your soil from washing away in heavy rains, too.

Are you in Dover UK or Dover PA? Please fill in your profile to show your location, so in future it's easier to help you.

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Name: Sue
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Apr 16, 2017 5:16 PM CST

From the description (downland, shallow, chalk) I would say Dover UK (I used to live further west of there). You might find this article from the RHS helpful.
Name: Tiffany purpleinopp
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Apr 17, 2017 4:18 PM CST
Agree, time and organic matter is all that is needed. Vermiculite would exacerbate your problem and make it worse because it collapses when wet, and you need to improve drainage, through the action of "the decomposition crew" doing their thing. 5 mins that will change your life!

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Apr 18, 2017 12:39 AM CST
Thank you one and all for such helpful replies. They tally with another on a U.K. forum. I've already ordered in some large sacks of composted manure, & shall be ordering in mulch as well. Thank you!

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