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rainbowgardener
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potting/ seed starting soil

So it is the new year and a lot of people are looking at seed catalogs and at least thinking about starting some seeds for this year. So I thought it might be a good time for a new discussion of what kind of soil / potting medium do you use.

Personally, I don't make any distinction between seed starting mix and regular potting mix. Seeds don't need to have fertile soil (they have nutrients built in), but it doesn't hurt them any. And while they may like the extra fine texture of seed starting mix, they were evolved to push their way out of dirt, so I don't think that's necessary.

A basic potting mix recipe goes like: compost or something organic that supplies texture and nutrients, something to keep it fluffy and moisture holding, something mineral or gritty to promote drainage, more or less thirds of each. In my quest for eco-friendly sustainable potting mix, the recipe I have come up with is mushroom compost (left over from growing mushrooms), coconut coir (outside fuzzy stuff from coconuts) instead of the peat moss that people often use, rice hulls (left over from milling rice) instead of perlite or vermiculite. All of this is agricultural by-products and all but the coconut coir can be fairly locally sourced. None of it is mined, heated to high temperatures or otherwise environmentally destructive to produce.

So I think it is very eco-friendly. It turns out that it is not as nitrogen rich and maybe generally not as nutrient rich as the Miracle Gro potting soil I used to use. So I need to supplement it a bit. Things I have used include soaked alfalfa pellets, aerated compost tea, seaweed fertilizer, etc. I still need to keep tweaking this part a bit.

So what do other people do?
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

I just use potting soil or make peat lite with slow release fertilizer. Just no manure or fast nitrogen for seedlings or they may not sprout.
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

you are right. The supplementing I was talking about was for the seedlings, especially once they are up-potted to the 4" pots. The seeds sprout and do just fine at first in the mixture I described.
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

Trying a new potting soil nearly scuttled my plans for gardening one year. It was an off-brand with a forgotten name. Fortunately, I had time to start over with more seeds and my regular starting mix.

Risk-averse, I use the same mix for starting seed as I've almost always used and the same as I'll use for up-potting, after a few weeks. I doubt if Black Gold Organic is absolutely the best choice. It's just thinking another choice can be made casually was nearly disastrous!

A sterile, soil-less mix would give me more confidence that fusarium might be dodged. It is only a problem every now and then and seldom very significant. I like having some fertility in the mix, however. Some nutrients will be needed at some point and worm castings in the mix seem a good choice to me.

I won't use an additional nutrient source until I'm faced with nearly root-bound plants in a mix that has been watered so many times, I feel any plant food has been leached away.

Here are recipes for potting mixes for organic production. I've used several as guides for some up-potting later in the season. National Center for Appropriate Technology

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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

Garden planning...It's that time again, even though the snow and cold surround us.
I have ordered flower seeds, am choosing herbs and vegetables, which I order a bit later.
For seed germination I use sterile soilless mixture. As one member stated, it does help prevent diseases, and provides a medium with no added or unknown variables.
It has worked well so far, but am sure there are other options (other than digging up the clay soil around our house )
It's a great hobby that makes winter not so gloomy, especially once the plants get to the greenhouse, which I call "Florida". If you can't go to where it's warm, you might as well pretend you're there.
Happy seed starting everyone. :D

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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

I use 4 inch pots with potting mix and slow release fertilizer added to the mix to start seeds. Most of what I plant are not hard to transplant so community pots take up less space than cell trays. I can remove the pots that fail to sprout and not have so many empty cells taking up space. I have more plants that take up a lot less space at least until I have to pot up to individual pots. I have not had much luck with cell trays or six packs. They either dried out or held too much water and the seedlings died.

I know some people like to sprout their seeds on paper towels first before planting them, but it was a little too tedious and I damaged a lot of seedlings that way. I used to soak slow sprouting seeds like cilantro, morning glory, and parsley. I figured out how to grow cilantro and parsley now so I don't have to soak and they usually come up in a week. I don't do morning glory anymore. For seeds that are slow to germinate or hard to keep from moving, like onions, I sometimes put a cut piece of paper towel on the top of the pot and water through the towel until the seedlings emerge, then take the paper towel off.

I did try to make my own seed tape once. I don't remember how that turned out, but since I don't plant in rows and I never did that again, it probably did not go well.

I don't have to worry about frost dates, but I still have to work on starting only the seeds I can use, otherwise I end up with more seedlings than I can use or give away. Last year, wow, that was only a few days ago, I planted my corn late because the broccoli lasted longer that I expected it would, so I have to work more on timing. I started early planting seeds but because the snails kept eating the seedlings, it delayed the planting, so I hope I can get this year's corn planted on time. I think I have too many kale seedlings. I will have to think of where else I can put them.
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

Nice post on all the different variables gardeners juggle trying to work out space and timing!

The only thing not sterile in my mix is the mushroom compost. But only mushrooms have grown in it, so it shouldn't have any plant diseases. I've never had any trouble with disease using this mix.

The paper towel thing always seemed too tedious to me too. Probably works better if you aren't starting 600 plants from seed. The cell trays work well for me and I rarely have empty cells for very long. :) I start with things really crowded, lots of seeds per little cell (especially for the tiny seed things). That's to conserve space on the heat mats, since I refuse to run more than two. Then they get spread out to one per cell (which may or may not be when they are taken off the heat mat, depending on the plant needs and how the space is working out) and eventually potted up in to 4 inch pots.
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

I see your point. If you are starting seeds indoors and using heat mats a couple of cell trays can hold up to 240 cells each so you can save space that way too. You have a controlled environment and are probably bottom watering and you have figured out how long it takes between watering.

Since I start outdoors, and I don't bottom water, it is harder for me to keep those kinds of trays from drying out or getting too much water. Not to mention the seeds that get washed out because that bench is watered overhead usually only once a day and it is exposed to the sun (good), wind (dries out too fast) and rain (uncontrolled watering= dampening off, hard rain can dig out the soil from the cells, so can the birds).
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

You are right, I am doing this indoors, in controlled environment, with bottom watering. Top watering would make it much more difficult to manage.

@ Marlingardener - my seedlings did better on the MiracleGro also. Not at the germination and baby stage, my homemade mix really works just fine for that. But by the time they are little plants in 4" pots, the homemade mix doesn't seem quite rich enough. Need to keep working on it.
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

I start very nearly all of my seed in cookie boxes. Yeah, just like what the bakery uses for the chocolate chip cookies ;).

When they sprout, the lid is cut off . With care, I can bottom water in the lid as a tray.

With the appearance of their 2nd set of leaves, the seedlings are moved to 4-packs (sometimes, 6-packs). On x-large hands, if my big, clumsy digitS' can move snapdragon and basil seedlings when they have just grown a tad beyond their seed leaves -- most anybody's can!

;) Steve
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

Over the years I have tried expensive mixes made just for seed starting and the most inexpensive mix I could find. I have tried major brands and unheard of generic type mixes. I have tried mixes with and without added fertilizer and have tried to make my own from all the ingredients the "pros" say should be good for starting seeds. My worst experiences have been with the expensive mixes made especially for seed starting.

The mix I have settled on is one of the more major (sometimes major regional ) brand with added fertilizer. Since the added fertilizer (as in Miracle-Gro, Schultz, etc.) is so little, it does not burn tender seedlings but provides just enough for good growth. My reasoning is that the majors are more consistent from bag to bag and the ingredients are pretty close to what is listed. I only use maybe five or six big bags per year so I get it when the mixes go on sale. Call me cheap but it works for me.
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

The regular miracle grow potting soil has a little bit of slow release fertilizer, so it works great for seed starting and transplanting out.

The moisture control miracle grow potting soil will kill everything, especially when it rains for days so I avoid it.

I do like black gold but it is pricey and not that easy to find around here anymore

The cheap potting soils that have replaced most of the peat moss with compost and have very little perlite in them just hold water. The pots don't even drain well after a short time because the mix packs down quickly so I don't buy them. Supersoil is the worst, it used to be a better product until the peat moss was replaced.

I still make most of my potting mix for starting and growing. 50/50 peatlite works for most things with a little slow release fertilizer like osmocote. The hardest thing for me to get is the perlite. I do not use vermiculite because it is harder to get, costs considerably more than perlite and holds too much water. There is another slow release fertilizer I get that I only know the color of, not the name. I buy bulk bags from the agricultural suppliers or I ask the garden to order a couple of extra bags when they place their order since they have an account and get a better discount. Fertilizer is expensive $80 for 50 lbs but it would cost twice that much buying it in 5 lb bags at the retail outlets. 50 lbs will last about 3 years. I only buy sulfate of ammonia and some citrus food for everything else, which has cut my fertilizer costs down considerably. I used to miracle grow every two weeks. My soil tests indicated I only needed to side dress with nitrogen in the garden. I probably don't have to add phosphorus for 10 years. The citrus food contains micros and the numbers are low so it works for everything that I grow in pots and is cheaper than osmocote for that purpose. I use compost as mulch in the border beds to hold moisture as well as feed the soil.

I have some sphagnum peat moss and orchid bark for the orchids, but I try to go media-less as much as possible, the orchids do better, but need to be watered more often.

50/50 perlite is a fast draining mix so I don't have problems with dampening off. But since I don't repot for summer or the rainy season, it means I do have to water more frequently in the summer. I use the perlite for starting cuttings.

I can also customize the mix and use a little less perlite for plants that like stay moist longer.
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

yup, I also hate the MiracleGro moisture control stuff. It's easy to get it by accident, because it's more common now than the regular stuff, so look carefully. By moisture control, they mean holds moisture forever, never dries out. Really only good for plants that normally grow in bogs or something.
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

rainbowgardener wrote:yup, I also hate the MiracleGro moisture control stuff. It's easy to get it by accident, because it's more common now than the regular stuff, so look carefully. By moisture control, they mean holds moisture forever, never dries out. Really only good for plants that normally grow in bogs or something.
I agree. I do not like the moisture control for seedlings, but it is okay for more mature plants.
It doesn't seem to hold moisture forever, but it is hard to gauge when to water, or how, without overwatering.
The slow release potting soils are good for transplanting, containers and hanging baskets.
It seems just when I get my "system" perfected someone changes a variable somewhere, and I either have to hunt for what I was using that worked, or 're-vamp. :(

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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

This year, I'm going to try/having been trying using gravel size diatomaceous earth sold for oil absorbent mixed with other ingredients. I'm currently using one called UltraSorb. I've been using it with organic potting mix for the indoor growing. Have a big block of coir to hydrate for mixing with and using for seed starting.

You are lucky to have a nearby pickup source of inexpensive mushroom compost, rainbowgardener. Not sure how I'm handling that this year since I'm not doing the full size worm bin and outside compost pile is frozen until spring thaw.
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

what does the DE do for your potting mix?

Day after tomorrow my mushroom compost should arrive and then I will be ready to mix everything up and start the first seeds! :D :D
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

The chunky diatomaceous earth size in UltraSorb is about same as perlite. I basically intended it to provide better drainage/aerating the soilmix. It's used by Bonsai folks and some hydroponics as growing medium. It seems to keep the soil mix drier and when those things dry out they are REALLY dry, so I was hoping for better fungus gnat control -- which I think IS working. The porous nature of the material should also act as microbe reservoir, though the drying characteristic may depress their viability as well (which from my perspective is a minus).

It's been working well in potting mix for mature plants and large containers. How well it will work for seed starting remains to be seen, though I've seen it mentioned by itself as being used for seed starting medium. (Was that here? I'm sorry to not remember or else I would attribute it to the person who mentioned it).
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

My system is a bit different, but then sprouting needs different. I need a few ready-to-go plants of many varieties. As I am doing some herbs, hard to find stuff, perennials, traditional plants etc, it is a constant learning process, a worthwhile challenge when something works! Germination times may be 3 days to 3 months, and market/planting ready 2 months to 2 years. I am able to use my micro space 12 months/yr, and of course in summer months take advantage of outside space.
I use peat pellets in the little trays (10/12 per). I can plant 2 -6 trays at a time. Usually a couple go to the frig drawer for chilling. Part of the game is to have some easy and fast going mixed with the slow, as that will keep a few things moving through the system. I can handle about 14 trays in the prime area at a time now (winter). Once the seeds sprout and have true leave, I use Johns Recipe (Lady Bug Brand) about every 7 -10 days. Johns is 3 - 1.5 - 2, so pretty easy on the plants, and if not registered organic close to it. FWIW, I did try the coir pellets and they are not good! Germination low, and if sprouted didn't do much.

When the baby plant up enough, gets up potted to 4". A few that don't like to be disturbed much go directly to qts. The mix for the 4" varies, well to be honest weather a factor! I am working that now off a utility cart in my small kitchen, and use MG Potting mix. In pretty weather often use Fafards and throw in a little osmocote. For longer term starts and playing with Garden Tone in with the fafards. For a few herbs with several stems, 2 pellets go into one 4" (oregano, marjoram, savory). Some I do 2 plants anyway, like basil.

That sorta sums up the system.
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

I think the moisture control potting mix may only be useful for indoor plants or locations that rarely see any rain. Even for indoor plants, you still need to be careful since with watering.

I tried peat pellets and peat pots. The pellets, I never could get anything to live in them for very long, they stayed to wet. The peat pots were expensive and while I could grow things in them, they were very brittle and fell apart to easily. I ended up having to put them in another pot, so there was not advantage there. I don't have problems transplanting from plastic pots.
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

agreed. I hate the peat pots. In my system, the pots may sit in trays getting bottom watered for up to two months. The peat pots get moldy and nasty and fall apart or they dry out and suck all the water away from the soil and plants. I use all plastic which is re-usable for years. I also don't have trouble transplanting things out of the plastic pots. You have to take them out of the peat pots anyway, since they don't biodegrade soon enough to do the plants any good and will sit there and smother the roots.
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

Ok, this year's seed starting has begun and I'm settling into using about equal parts fine damp coir and espoma organic potting mix, plus a bit -- eyeballed amount depending on type of seed -- of UltraSorb, a sprinkle of mosquito bits, a little bit of lime for those that need it. So far so good.

Watering at first with weak willow water (tips and bark steeped overnight).
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

Applestar, what do you use the mosquito bits for? :?

I've been following all the potting soil mixture threads and this is the first time I've seen them mentioned.

Thanks!

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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

Mosquito bits are Bt var. israelensis infused corn cob bedding. This strain of the bacteria infects larvae of mosquitoes and fungus gnats as well. I'm tired of fungus gnats that spontaneously generate in the soil mix, and decided that I'm going trust this is not toxic. It has been approved for organic use recently.

I needed a solution that doesn't involve killing off the beneficial soil microbes in the mix since I'm working on building them up -- can't be sabotaging my own efforts, :wink:
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

Thanks Applestar! I normally don't have problems with the fungus gnats until later in the seed starting season about 1 month before I want to be transplanting. Hmmm, around the time I start bringing the plants in and out to harden them I believe.

I bottom water with cinnamon water and let the plants dry out but I wonder if I put the bits in the top layer of the pots just before that timeframe if it would work as well as putting it directly into the entire pots soil.

I may need to try this experiment! :)

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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

I put cinnamon in the water preventatively from the beginning. I haven't lost a seedling to damping off in years. Before I discovered the cinnamon, it was a regular occurrence. Also keeps the fungus gnats away as long as I keep it up. If I forget for a week or so, the fungus gnats suddenly appear! Spontaneous generation indeed.
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

How much cinnamon would you put in a quart of water, for instance? Do you change the amounts as the seeds grow or same amount from seeds being planted until transplanted in the garden?

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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

Very little. I have a half gallon pitcher I water from. I just do a couple shakes of cinnamon from the shaker every time I fill the pitcher up, then stir it in. It's probably less than an eighth teaspoon in that much water. But it probably builds up in the soil. The amount is adjusted automatically in the sense that bigger plants take up more water, but I don't do anything different.

It's all very low tech and unmeasured, but it seems to work since I don't have damping off or fungus gnats. In the days before I discovered the cinnamon, I had both.
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

Thank you! I will try that. I am having poor germination with my onion seeds. I don't think it is damping off .

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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

nope, damping off does not affect germination, only young seedlings after they have sprouted.

Onion seed should germinate in about 7-8 days with soil at 70-75 degrees. Like most seed, it needs to be kept damp, not wet, through that time.
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

I've been reading through all the posts on fungus gnats. Im saddended that I repotted all of my plants (3 trees 3 plants) about a month ago and they are back. I started seeing one sporadically this week, then today I saw 5. I just tried cinnamon tonight. I can't stand these bugs. Please tell me is there a permanent solution? I read the gnats can kill the plants. I don't feel like I'm overwatering. The soil is dry. I was overwatering in the past but not now. Overwhelmed and I don't want to lose these plants. :(

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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

Biological Mosquito Control also kills Fungus Gnats, so says this article in Mother Earth News.

I have not tried the Bt recommended. I'm just happy enough with limiting watering of potted plants that have been outdoors all summer ... and ... using yellow sticky traps.

Trying to kill the critters years ago with an organic contact spray was a complete fail.

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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

Since the snails are having a party with my seedlings I am trying something different. I usually start my cuttings under the bench, but between and the weeds and the snails they aren't very happy. I put them on the lanai table to try to keep them out of reach of the snails but they are a bother to have to carry them out every day to water.

I am trying to root green roses and Mr. Lincoln cuttings in one pot and lavender in two other containers. I have been successful with the green rose in the past, but failed miserably with every hybrid tea so far. I usually don't have a problem with lavender, but this year they are not cooperating. I have a 25% success rate. I am starting the cuttings in potting mix (peat lite) instead of perlite which is my usual thing for starting cuttings. I am also using the baggie method to create a mini greenhouse/terrarium so I don't have to water as much. So far the roses look good although I have had to turn the baggie a couple of times because of excess condensation. The lavender is less happy, and most of them look like they are dying. I am also keeping my seedlings on the bench under cover longer to try to keep the snails from eating them. Today I did catch two snails mowing the cuttings that were coming through the top of the tray and they ate another tatsoi on the bench, only the harder parts of the stems are left.
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Re: potting/ seed starting soil

Hi LeeLee and welcome to the Forum. Re the fungus gnats:

The cinnamon does not work instantly. It does not actually kill the fungus gnats or their larvae. It is a natural anti-fungal, that kills the fungus in the soil that the gnats feed on. You will have to be consistent with it - a little bit in the water every time you water- for awhile. If you already have a bad infestation, it will take longer.

Water really is the key. It would help to know what your plants are, where you are, whether these pots are indoors or outdoors. But my indoor plants, especially the trees and large plants, I do not water any more often than twice a month. In between, I mist the leaves daily, to keep it humid and keep them from losing water through the leaves. With this routine, I NEVER have trouble with fungus gnats in my potted plants.

It also makes a difference what the potting mix is like. If it is heavy, like has some actual soil in it, or has a lot of peat moss in the mix, it will hold water too much. Your plants and especially trees will do better AND you will have less (or no) trouble with fungus gnats if you use a more free draining mix. You can do this by mixing in more perlite or coarse sand or using part cactus mix.
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imafan26
Mod
Posts: 11392
Joined: Tue Jan 01, 2013 1:32 pm
Location: hawaii, zone 12a 587 ft elev.

Re: potting/ seed starting soil

I agree, I don't have indoor plants but I have a lot of plants that are crammed together outside so I do get bugs flying around. Less watering and better air circulation helps. If the plants are indoors, if they can be taken outside on warm days or use a fan to help to dry them. Also make sure the saucers are empty so you don't have standing water under the pots.
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

catgrass
Green Thumb
Posts: 532
Joined: Thu Jun 19, 2014 6:56 pm
Location: Southwest Louisiana

Re: potting/ seed starting soil

Water with soapy water. Might not kill them all, but it will cut down on them. Or make a soapy solution and spray the soil with it.
zone 9 Southwest La.

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