Thursday, January 11, 2024

Starting Seeds

For seed starting, keep it clean and simple. When looking for a suitable medium, first, to clarify, there’s potting soil, and potting mix, and the terms are used interchangeably and not always accurately. Those brightly coloured plastic bags with bragging labels can be confusing. The difference is potting soil contains soil, often only a little, sometimes a lot. It’s more suitable for use outdoors. There are, however, mixes specifically formulated for seed starting.

Peat Moss
 Most products on the shelf are potting mixes, sometimes referred to as soil-free. They can contain any number of ingredients, with the usual claims for best results, but the ingredients aren’t always on the label. They can contain coco coir, wood fibers, peat moss, vermiculite, clay, pumice, or perlite. 

All have their uses, but not all are essential for starting seeds. Seedling grow best in a lightweight medium that provides a balance between moisture and air. Most potting mixes are made up of finely shredded peat moss. Perlite is usually added to improve drainage, and it also helps retain moisture. Perlite is a naturally occurring siliceous volcanic rock that after processing looks like tiny bits of popcorn.

Cheaper, no-name brands might even contain tiny beads of polystyrene as a perlite substitute (in my darker moments, I’ve often thought potting mixes would be a handy way to dispose of industrial waste). Some mixes also contain vermiculite, a spongy, gold coloured volcanic mineral added to help retain moisture.


Lime might be added to neutralize the slightly acidic peat moss, and other ingredients may include wetting agents to promote absorption of moisture, slow-release fertilizers, and charcoal, which is a natural filter that absorbs decaying plant odours. The problem with added fertilizer is you have no control over the amount, and since we all use our preferred fertilizers as well, there’s a danger of over-fertilizing. I prefer to be in control.

For seed starting, keep it clean and simple, and I'd avoid the $1.99 bags from that other store.

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