What's your method? Veggie seeds from germ to ground......

Little Falls, NJ(Zone 6a)

In short, I want to learn from everyone else's trial and error.

I have had successful, fruitful, deer proof, container vegetable gardens on my deck for 2 years now.
(Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Peppers, Zucchini, Pumpkin, Pole Beans, Basil, Mint)
(This year looking to try out Eggplant, Lettuce, Sweet Potatoes and Beets in burlap, and then Leeks, Garlic, and maybe a few other herbs in the ground - where the deer frolic, I assure you they are not starved where they would need to devour stuff they supposedly don't like)

This year, I've also decided I'm ready to put on my big girl panties and start from seeds!

I have the environment set up: a couple of wire tiered shelves in the kitchen with T5 Flourescent fixtures, 2 clamp lamps if needed, a timer power strip, and heating pads. I have acquired a collection of used K-cups, about 50 toilet paper rolls, and a variety of cowpots (3" and 4")

What I want to know, is what is your method?
Do you start in flats and transplant to cells before sending them outdoors?
Do you start in pre-fab celled starter sets?
Do you use newspaper, toilet paper rools, dixie cups, a hand molded blob of starter mix?
Can you start right in the cowpots?
How do you water?

I have gathered so far that:
1. I want to water from the bottom
2. To avoid unliked root touching, I want to start my Cukes and Zucchini right in the cowpots.
3. I want to watch germination times and keep like-germinating plants together
4. This is a really cool site and I'm probably looking in the wrong spot for the threads where someone already asked this question 20 times.

So what is your method?

Florissant, MO

Hi Junebugged and welcome to Daveís Garden!

Well, I donít grow vegetables, just flowers, but the basic doís and doníts are about the same. From your post, I assume that growing from seed will be new for you. Sounds like youíve got a nice set-up with the lights, heat mat, etc. However, you may want to reconsider using toilet paper rolls and/or any kind of pot made of peat. Both of those often lead to problems. Besides falling apart after awhile, the toilet paper rolls can lead to the same problems that peat pots do. Peat pots tend to remove the moisture from the soil mix, resulting in wet pots while the soil dries out. The wet pots then are prone to molds and mildews. When growing from seed, I think youíll find it hard to maintain proper soil moisture, while avoiding problems, if you use any kind of peat pot. Plastic pots are, in my opinion, a much better choice.

As far as starting from seed, if Iíve got quite a few seeds to start, and feel confident of their germination rate, Iíll use either the 72 or 36 cell inserts. More often though, Iíll use the paper towel method (unless the seeds are just too tiny), then transfer the ones that germinate into smaller sections of the 36 cell inserts (keeping like plants together).

Hope something here is helpful. I know youíre anxious and excited about getting started and I wish you the very best of success.


Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

I agree about the ones which don't like being transplanted or having their roots handled....I put the cow pots in a plastic pot. That way when/if it disintegrates, I can still sort of transplant the whole thing, and because it's still in a plastic pot (of some sort) it doesn't dry out. I don't usually grow veggies from seed. I do grow flowers from seed, though, and I've grown vegetable seedlings, just (um, er) forgot to water them at critical junctures.

A word about mint; it is VERY invasive. Generally people advise that you cut the bottom out of a terra cotta pot, plant that in the ground, and then plant the mint in the pot, so the roots have less chance to spread. Mint is perennial and is a lovely herb to grow. Even if it doesn't escape at first, it always has that capability, so be wary.

Joining Dave's Garden will be the best $20 you ever spent. If you want more free information, there are article in our database which are free and I know there are several about seed starting.


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

K-cups are very small - like one ounce or so, and shallow 91.5 inches).

That small a container will force you to "pot up" very soon after germination ... like around the time the first pair of true leaves emerge. That's possible, but you will have to do a lot of potting up in a short time period to avoid seedlings from getting rootbound.

Like art33, I love the insert trays. They are lightweight and can be torn along perforations so that when you plant out into the garen, you can hold a little "6-pack" in one hand and pop the root balls out with the other.

Or better yet, the sturdier "plug trays" or "proopagation trays" They let me move 50, 72, 98 or 128 little seedlings around in one tray, and nothing tips over!. The 98 and 128-cell trays have cells that are no wider than the K-Cups, but deeper. These sturdy plug trays last many seasons, but can be unweildy. i carefully cut my 10"x20" plug trays into 4-5 segments that are easier to carry, but it still takes some coordination to pop root balls out of a segment with 20-32 cells! (I'm not coordinated.)

For potting up, Dixie cups are almost as wide as a 3" pot, but perhaps deeper than necessary. They love to tip over on me! I would rather use a 50-cell propagation tray than Dixe cups.

you can buy 10-packs of those trays online, or find some nursery of Steuber's Distrbuting (nursery wholesalers) and pick up just 1-2 of each size and decide what you like.


You need something that holds water, like a "1020 tray", and set inserts or plug trays on top of that.

I like to put an absorbent pad between the 1020 tray and the cells or pots. Cotton flannel, denim, terrycloth toweling, 2 layers of Tee shirt - anything absorbant and with some "loft" or 'fluffiness" for good contact with the soilless mix..

Then I can bottom-water easily by just watering the mat. It carries water equally to every pot, and keeps their bottoms equally moist until the whole tray drinks it dry around the same time. You tell that time by watching the mat - the soil in the bottom of each cell is about as moist or dry as the pad is. I never have to flood the tray to be sure that every cell got some water. P.S. the hole in the bottom of each pot must TOUCH the pad.

Sturdy, expensive "Perma-Nest Plant Trays" that hold water:

Or you can line cardboard trays with heavy plastic bags cut in half, and set pots or cups or trays onto the plastic. But you can't set the cardboard on wet ground or it will dissolve.

Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

One classic alternative to growing in individual cells is the "seed flat". That can be any size from a 3" pot on up.

You scatter seeds of one variety in one flat - pretty densely. As soon as they emerge, or at least before the roots get big enough to be very tangled, you "prick them out" and set each seedling with its tiny, naked root into a bigger pot.

I use a fork with bent tines and one time cut off to help me lift them out without mangling them. But some experienced gardeners dig right in and untangle or rip them apart, and the sturdy ones survive!

Or you can tease the seedlings in the flat apart into chunks with 1-3 seedlings per chunk. Pot up each chunk into a cell or pot. More than one seedling will survive in each pot despite my timidity, so cut the weaker ones in each cell with a manicure scissor and keep the biggest one. "Attila the Gardener!" "We Klingons believe as you do: the weak should die!"

I don't do that much because I'm clumsy and feel like the rootlets are crying as I pull them apart.

I mention this method because you were thinking of K-Cup seed-starting. If you're willing to watch the K-Cups so closely that you pot them up before they are root-bound, you might like seed flats better.

Flats are THE most space-efficient way to start seeds. If you put the seeds 1/2" apart, you could start 64 seeds in one square 4" pot.

But then you'll need lighted room for 64 4" pots a week or two later! (Or 1020 trays of inserts, which can pack plants denser than 4" pots.)

I've been saving plastic soda bottles so I cut the tops off and use them to give seedlings away.

Which reminds me ...

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

What seed-starting mix were you going to use?

I have a "thing" against most bagged mixes carried by Home Depot. Miracle-Gro, at least the bag I tired years ago, was like powdered peat. Once wet, it had NO air in it and I drowned almost every seed.

If you learn NOT to overwater, you might not have that problem, but I like MUCH faster draining mixes. If most of the water drains out fast, then air can enter in behind it, and roots don't drown.

if the mix holds a lot of water, you can be sure there's little room left for air. Except for rice and a few aquatic plants, plants do the same thing humans do when held underwater: drown form lack of oxygen.

Trust the man who has drowned MANY trays of seedlings: roots need air.

You can get part way there by adding a lot of very coarse Perlite and coarse grit (if you can find it), to junky seedling mixes.

Or hunt hard and find "profession" seedling or potting mix. That will have "loft" with long fibers and not just powder. Pro-Mix is good, and there are probably others that drain fast enough and have so much "loft" or "open structure" that air can diffuse through the mix right down to the bottoms of the pots.

My hobby-horse is pine bark, or fir or balsam or any evergreen bark. near me, Lowes has really clean, nice, dry 2 cubic foot bags of "fine pine bark nuggets". It has very little dust and powder, but I still screen it to get rid of as much fine stuff as I can (and get rid of anything 1/4" or bigger, in fact in small cells I prefer nothing bigger than 3-4 mm, say 1/6th inch.

THAT makes a great amendment to improve any seedling mix! Depending on the mix you start with, and how big your bark chunks are, and how much fine bark powder you have remaining, you might add 20% bark to some good mix, or use 80%-90% bark with just a little peat powder to hold a little more water than the bark would.

If you can screen bark nuggets down to mostly the size of BBs plus some finer bark, you don't need much of the professional seedling mix at all.

Or ... buy a good fast-draining professional mix and learn not to over-water! They have varieties with extra-fast drainage ("high porosity") and even with added root fungi (beneficial mycorrhizae).

P.S. Many "mulch" products, especially at my Home depot are cheap and dirty with soil, sticks and stones. And stored damp, which promotes anaerobic fermentation which is not even welcome in a compost heap, let alone in the almost-sterile mix you wanted to start seeds in! If a bag smells musty, use it for mulch outdoors!

P.P.S. One way to prevent damping-off is the keep the 'soil" surface dry by covering it with coarse grit or biggish bark chips or shreds or nuggets. "Biggish" might be a shred 3/4" long and a few mm wide, or nuggets 1/4" to 1/2". They dry out fast and prevent fungus from thriving where the "soil" touches the vulnerable seedling stem.

P.P.S. Don't over-fertilize seedlings! That's like feeding a 1-week-old human baby Big Macs. Just water until they have 1-2 pairs of "true" leaves. Then maybe 1/8th strength or 1/4 strength soluble fertilizer every so often. It's very easy to kill plants (especially seedlings!) with too much fertilizer. It's very hard to kill them with none or too little. And they let you know when they're hungry by turning light green or yellow and stalling their growth.

Little Falls, NJ(Zone 6a)

Thank you for all the great responses!

I am definitely going to consider plastic of some sort, I think after hearing everyone's thoughts on the difficulties of watering properly I would rather do anything possible to make that a little easier.

If I start in an insert tray or plug tray, or propagation tray, with each plant in an individual cell, the next step would be repot to a 3" or 4" after the first true leaves where they can stay, hardened off, until they are ready to go into the final gallon containers? These would be similar to what I would purchase from the nursery, correct?

The only seeds I was planning on doing in a flat was the lettuce, I just assume the seeds are smaller and this would be the easiest method for them, this is my first go with lettuce all together, not just from seeds.

Once they are started in the initial tray, in the seed -starting mix, I would then move them, potting up into actual potting mix correct?

Thank you for all the great responses!

I am definitely going to consider plastic of some sort, I think after hearing everyone's thoughts on the difficulties of watering properly I would rather do anything possible to make that a little easier.

If I start in an insert tray or plug tray, or propagation tray, with each plant in an individual cell, the next step would be repot to a 3" or 4" after the first true leaves where they can stay, hardened off, until they are ready to go into the final gallon containers? These would be similar to what I would purchase from the nursery, correct?

Once they are started in the initial tray, in the seed -starting mix, I would then move them, potting up into actual potting mix correct?

The only seeds I was planning on doing in a flat then separating was the lettuce, I just assume the seeds are smaller and this would be the easiest method for them, this is my first go with lettuce all together, not just from seeds.

I read in another thread someone giving props to germinating mix from gardner's supply?
Or I may attempt to find a recipe and make up my own, but nothing to off the wall my first time around.

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

Although I don't do much sowing of flowers anymore, just iris and daylilies. When I did, I sowed in seed flats. When they germinated I transplanted into 6-packs, or you can sow directly into 6-packs (3 seeds in each). The 6-packs fits into a plastic tray that will hold water.

I don't water just from the bottom. I pour some water on top first to begin the syphoning from the water in the tray. I don't leave water in the tray nor do I like to place fabric there. Constant moisture will encourage roots to grow out of the drainage holes.

For plants that resent transplanting, I used the peat pellets placed in a 3" pot to prevent them from drying out too quickly.

I don't use plastic 3" pots. I use 3" foam coffee mugs that are cheap to buy. 100 was under $2 at Walmart. A sharp object will easily punch drainage holes. I clean them and reuse them. I use a black marker to write on the foam. Wite-Out will cover the writing.

After germination, the seedling go under light for 16 hours per day for sun loving plants. I keep the flourescent tubes 2" above the leaves. I also use a timer.

I have two, 4ft flourescent lights on two 4ft sheves mounted on the wall in my office.

1] Flats with flower seeds
2] Daturas (moonflower) in 6-packs
3] Daylilies under lights growing in 3" foam mugs, placed in 20-1/2" x 10" flat.

That is how I did it during the 80's and 90's before I discovered the Deno method.

Thumbnail by blomma Thumbnail by blomma Thumbnail by blomma
Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

The above was THEN, this is how I do it NOW with Deno method.

Any seeds that are large enough to handle will benefit this way. Also, you can determine how many plants you want so will save on seeds. Germination is also quicker.


Although all seeds can be sown directly in the ground ior in flats, I prefer the Deno method explained below. It offers control over the seeds, unlike those sown directly in the ground. The name ďDenoĒ is named after Dr. Deno, a scientist who invented this method. (Thank you Doctor Deno)

Since vegetable seed don't require cold to germinate, just soak them overnight in hand hot water.

You can simulate nature using a damp kitchen paper towel. Cut it into Ĺ, then Ĺ again. You will have 4 squares. You will have one square for each type of seeds. Wet the square, and then squeeze out the excess water. You want the towel damp, not wet. Fold it in half. Place the seeds in a corner and fold one end over the seeds twice. Place this package into a zip-lock bag and zip it, leaving a small opening to blow air into the bag to fill like a balloon. Once filled, zip it closed. Place the package in room temp to germinate. Check them frequently, and pot up any seeds that sprouted.

Seedlings should begin to appear somewhat earlier then recommended. Sprouting time can be a genetic factor. At this point, check the seeds several times during the week, starting after the 3rd day. As soon as seeds have formed a radical (tiny roots forming) use a tweezer to grasp the seed casing and transfer to seed flat or pot. Make a hole with a pencil and guide the root into the hole. Plant so the seed is 1/4" below the surface, 1" or more, apart. Be sure to place roots downwards in the hole. If the roots have grown into the paper towel, just tear around the roots and plant it. Do not try to remove the roots from the paper. The paper will eventually rot.

I plant the sprouting seed to a 6-pack, using potting soil. Available in Wal-Mart, or other stores, these are 6, 1Ē pots that are attached. Or, several seeds of the same cross can be sown together in a 4-6" pot.

If when sprouted, it is difficult to see which is roots, and which is the top. In that case, place the seed on its side and cover. The roots will grow downwards by itself. Do not allow the roots to become too long before planting. The seeds can be planted as soon as germination is seen.

Until the sprouted seeds have broken through the soil, they do not need light. However, once they do, grow them in a sunny window, under light, or place the flat outside in a protected area if weather is warm.

When the seedlings are large enough to handle pot them in a 3" pot.

1] Seeds in moist paper towel folded, then inserted in ziplock craft bag. (found in Walmart craft Dept.
2] A great tool to water delicate seedlings with.
3] Daylily seeds showing radicals and ready for potting into 6-packs.
4] Acclimating plants before planting out. They are in a plastic bin that can be covered if need be. Located on the east side of my garage for morning sun.
5] Another way to acclimate many plants. Purchased from Family Dollar for $34. It is all metal and comes with a plastic cover.

This message was edited Feb 2, 2014 12:25 AM

Thumbnail by blomma Thumbnail by blomma Thumbnail by blomma Thumbnail by blomma Thumbnail by blomma
Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

Deno can't be used with tiny or dustlike seeds. I do them in fine peatmoss in a covered container. I shatter the seeds in peatmoss that is damp and lightly press them in so they are in contact with moisture. Tiny seeds can't be covered or they would never make it to the surface.

Once sprouting, take a chunk of seed/peat and place it in a pot or seed flat filled with potting soil. First make a shallow furrow then place the mix along the furrow and gently pat it in. The strong will survive and continue to grow. As they do, you can seperate them by removing as needed to allow for the others to grow.

1] Photo is seedlings of Delosperma cooperi (iceplant) growing as explained above. The seeds are dustlike.
2] As they grew, they were potted to a 6-pack

For more information regarding seeds:


This message was edited Feb 2, 2014 1:02 AM

Thumbnail by blomma Thumbnail by blomma
Little Falls, NJ(Zone 6a)

Great info Blomma, thanks! I love the idea of the coffe cups! I think I am going to try the Deno method as its early and I am hoping to give myself enough room to mess up and restart.

I had some pole bean seeds last year thatIi had saved from the year before. I remembered starting seeds in paper towels in grade school. Needless to say, I had something growing but it wasn't the beans. Hopefully I will be more succesfull with a method to follow!

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

Wow, great info, folks!

Northwest, MO(Zone 5a)

Nice information. I will most certainly try this with some of my seeds this year.

Little Falls, NJ(Zone 6a)

Ok, I think I'm ready!

I picked up 24 cell Fast Start systems on sale at Gardener's Supply for $9.99 ....
Picked up germination mix from them as well.

Purchased and started receiving all my seeds.....So excited.....
The lineup!~
Tomatoes: Black Krim, Red Brandywine, Crimson Carmello, Early Annie, and Sungold
Zucchini: Raven and Striata d'italia
Eggplant: Fairytale and Prosperosa
Cucumbers: Marketmore 80 and Diva
Peppers: Red Marconi, Tiburon, and Biker Billy
Peas: Oregon Sugar II
Beets: Detroit Dark Red
Leeks: Belgium Giant (new use for toilet paper rolls)

Going to start the cukes and zukes in 3 inch pots....so they only get re-potted once

Gonna start the lettuce and beets in rectangular boxes inside that will go right onto my deck ledge....but as I just typed that I realized that can't work because they have to be attached from the inside...doh....back to the drawing board on that one.

I am planning to plant up everything else at least once from the cells to 3in pots...

I will be keeping one of each for my own deck container garden, and then supplying my mom's deck garden.
Anyone have a favorite container mix? I used the Miracle Grow Moisture control potting the first year and it was awesome! Last year it was full of sticks and twigs....Definitely looking to switch.

This year I also get to split a real garden in the ground with my dad!!! (I'd say an 80/20 split, I provide the plants, help with the initial setup and then maybe show up every week to collect...lol)

Happy sowing!

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

If you can find a more professional seedling/potting mix, you might find it worth the cost.

Pro-Mix (especially HP for "high porosity")
Maybe Black Gold

(There are several brands that pros and commercial nurseries use. I think that retail shops sell more MG products than pro products because the MG stuff has cheaper ingredients and a higher markup. Just my opinion.)

The Pro-Mix kind of potting mix (MIX, never potting SOIL) has coarser fibers and more amendments than the cheaper MG stuff.

I got unhappy with Miracle-Gro when i got a bag that was almost powdered peat. It held infinite water and no air, and my seeds drowned.

Of course, I tend to overwater.

If you do use MG, consider looking for very coarse Perlite to "open it up" and "make it drain faster" and "let some air in" and "hold less water". Or grit or coarse crushed rock (bigger grains than the coarsest sand).

Add 15% or 20% or even 30% coarse stuff to help a cheap, fine mix breath better. One part grit of coarse Perlite per 2-4 parts peaty mix drains better than straight peaty mix.

I love pine bark nuggets, and screen them myself to remove the powder and fines and large chunks. Chunks like very coarse Perlite are best: just under 1/8" to under 1/4", or say 2 mm - 6 mm.

Cheap bark mulch can be dirty and damp (fermenting) and full of powder, very big chunks, wood and even dirt. But if you can find clean dry evergreen bark mulch, it can work fine as an amendment for cheap peaty-based potting mixes that don't drain fast enough. if you can screen it.

If you don't see good "pro" potting mix in a retail nursery or garden shop, check the phone book or online for "indoor growers" or "hydroponics supplies", or "wholesale nursery SUPPLIES".

If you can only find the big 3.8 cubic foot bale of Pro-Mix for $22-35, maybe you can split it with a few neighbors. it also makes a great mix for pots and planters. It won't slump down into mud or clay like garden soil or "potting soil". You have 28.5 gallons of Pro-Mix in a 3.8 cubic foot bale. You could make a lot of pots and planters with that, even some 5 gallon tomato pots.

"Potting soil" is kind of a contradiction in terms. When you put soil in a pot (instead of in the ground), it packs down too tight and holds too much water and lets FAR too little air in. Potting mix is a soilless mix so that the plants' roots can get the air they need.

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

Great explanation!

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Thank you!

I seem to have acquired a real bark fetish over the last 2-3 years, and I keep expecting people to say "We KNOW, Rick, we heard you the FIRST 50 times!"

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

Years ago---during the late 70's and 80's---I operated a commercial greenhouse in Nebraska, specializing in drought resistant perennials plants for Zone 4. At that time, commercial potting soil was made up of peatmoss and perlite (or vermiculity) with plant food mixed in. I mixed my own in a large garbage bin and saved on the shipping cost. For succulents I added sand to make the soil a bit more lean.

Somewhere along the years, it changed. Now even MG is nothing but a mix with bark. That used to be my favorite potting soil. I think they scrape it off the forest floor. I have tried different mixes with the same consistancy. The problem is that the soil is not sterile since with it comes eggs of those tiny pesky flies. They live on the rotting wood pieces. They are harmless to plants but a pain in the neck. I keep a houseplant spray handy and spray the pots. The bark mix does not pack down due to the bark and does drain good. I am using it for my daylily seedlings.

A mix of peatmoss/vermiculity works well also and is great for starting cutting in.

I am seriously contemplating going back to the peat/perlite mixture until the potting soil "specialists" get their heads on straight. I rather pay a bit more for a quality product.

Little Falls, NJ(Zone 6a)

Thanks for the info Rick and again, Blomma.

Rick, you said:
"If you do use MG, consider looking for very coarse Perlite to "open it up" and "make it drain faster" and "let some air in" and "hold less water". Or grit or coarse crushed rock (bigger grains than the coarsest sand)."

Isn't the point of the MG moisture control to RETAIN the water in the pot? Once the transplants need to go into their final pots everything is good...then we get into August here in NJ and the plants are at their biggest, It's hard to keep the pot's moist and I get some wilting during the day if I am not up early enough to water before full sun hits.... I am not adverse to getting a more expensive mix, but will having a more airy mix make this worse?

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

June, plants (like every living creature) need oxygen. If the soil is water-logged, plants' roots drown. The water is more of a vehicle to bring the O2 and nutrients to the roots. When we talk about making soil looser and faster draining, it's so it just brings what's needed to the roots and then drains away. If it hangs around, it can drown those same roots. I don't know a lot about seed-starting, but I do know that.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)


>> then we get into August here in NJ and the plants are at their biggest, It's hard to keep the pot's moist and I get some wilting during the day if I am not up early enough to water before full sun hits

You are right: at that point you need maximum water capacity. And drowning is less of a risk. The "open, fast draining" mix that I use for seedlings and small pots might force you to use a bigger pot, or arrange some kind of reservoir or wicking or irrigating drip.

You might want a well-draining mix for seedling trays and 3 inch pots, but something else for the big thirsty plants.

After your seedlings have big thirsty roots and you have them in deeper pots, they can resist drowning better than little seedlings in the shallow cells or very small pots that I was thinking about. You have more leeway about drowning than I do, and you need more water retention than I do. (See next post.)

The measure for balancing drainage against water retention is how much water it holds before water drains out the holes in the bottom of the pot. You need enough water to be held that
- a pot of size X
- can support a plant of size Y
- For Z hours
- in a hot, dry wind (or whatever your NJ micro-weather is like).

If you're curious and like to fiddle, weight the pot when it is dry enough that the plant started to wilt. Weight it again after watering, after water stops trickling out the holes. That is capillary water plus perched water plus whatever the plant sucked up while water was still trickling out.

Then set the heavy pot briefly on some absorbent pad on a level surface to remove the perched water, and weigh it again. That small difference is how much water was "perched", probably plus some true capillary water since the pad has its own capillary attraction, and gravity is on its side. But it's a flubsy measurement since the thirsty plant probably drank a lot of the perched water and capillary water while waiting for the pad to suck water out.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Bigger deeper pots have more room to spare for a "perched" water layer occupying the bottom inch or two of the pot. That leaves plenty of root room in the upper 4/5ths of the pot.

Also, big roots and thirsty plants can drink their way out of drowning in soggy soil - like a big person in a small telephone booth, even if you fill the booth with water above his head, he can drink enough water to get his nose above water.

Plants only need to drink enough water that the water clears out of a few larger channels. That lets enough air diffuse rapidly through those open channels (gas diffusion through gas) and reach within an inch or less of most parts of the soil. Then the oxygen can diffuse the remaining short distances (but very slowly because now the oxygen is a gas diffusing through water in very small capillary channels) to reach every root hair so they don't suffocate.

Young seedlings in shallow cells can't drink that fast: flood their roots and they will rot.

Coarse additions like grit and small bark nuggets decrease water retention in two ways: first, the big grains take up room that could otherwise have held water-retaining fine mix. Second, the air channels that I try hard to create lots of also take up space that could have held fine mix and capillary water.

Capillary water is only held by fibers and grains that have SMALL gaps around them. I think that peat fibers and coir fibers themselves absorb water internally like vermiculite. Grit and Perlite hold no internal water. Bark does seem to hold a little water internally, but if you want much water retention from bark, you have to use fine fibers and powder, at which point you're better off with coir or peat.

(Until we run out of peat moss, and then everyone will have to figure out how to make substitutes work for them).

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

You donít need to search for a perfect balance, or trade off two desirable things against each iother, if you like to fiddle. Of course, irrigation drippers on a timer are an 100% overkill solution. One reason to go int hat direction is that it gives you an excuse to run 1/2" or 3/4" irrigation tubing around your yard. That lets you have a spigot every 50 feet if you want that! If you donít mind plastic parts, you can add each spigot for $3-4 each.


I think you can buy the "water crystals" separately and add them to any mix you buy to increase its water holding potential.

"Earth pots" are a fancy solution that provides BOTH a water reservoir AND an air reservoir in the bottom of the pot. That lets you grow a bigger plant in less soil, while watering less often but refilling a reservoir each time you water.

If the pots are big enough, and you donít mind a major "nerd factor" in your landscaping, you could also park one or more 2 liter plastic bottles on top of the soil. A few pinholes near the bottom would let water drip out slowly. Rube Goldberg-ey!

Propping the pot slightly ABOVE a saucer, on some absorbent fabric that dangles down INTO the saucer is another fancy solution. The saucer becomes a water reservoir, and when the soil in the bottom of the pot starts to dry out, it draws water UP from the fabric which then draws water UP from the saucer. Like a cotton towel, cotton flannel, a piece of Tee shirt or denim or a few layers of cotton sheet. But this wicking fabric must press against the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot so there is a capillary connection between the cotton and the soil. The fact that now the capillary wicking is fighting AGAINST gravity assures the soil will never get water-logged and not even all of the potential medium-sized capillary channels will have enough "pull" to draw water up from the well against gravity.

(That is another way that I keep my seedlings moist without water accumulating in the soil: cotton flannel pulls excess water out of the bottom of my seedling trays, and then bottom waters them if, for once in my life, I mange NOT to overwater them twice a day.)


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Just watch out for the really fine "powdery" cheap mixes. The "professional" mixes have more expensive ingredients so they hold a lot of water while also maintaining SOME open channels. and don't need as much amendment to drain fast.

(And I should stress that I still overwater seedling trays! If you NEVER overwater a seedling, the mix will always have some air space and some open channels, even if those are small channels.)

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

From my own experience, I think the near perfect mix is what I stated above---1 part peatmoss, 1 part perlite. It has excellent drainage due to the perlite and moisture-holding ability due to the peatmoss---perfecto.

I prefer the perlite since the peatmoss tend to stay moist and perlite fluffs it up and makes it pourus. Plant roots thrive in this light mix with excellent drainage. Year ago, that is the mix plants that I ordered mailorder were potted in it. The mix does not have any plant nutrient so that has to be added. If desired, the mix can be used with potting soil to make it lighter.

The mix should be moistened before use due the peatmoss which is difficult to wet evenly in a container.

I don't care so much for vermiculite for it tends to flatten out. I used it in a mix with peatmoss to root cuttings.

When the soil in a potted plant becomes too dry,the soil will shrink from the walls inside the pot. When watered only from the top, the water runs down the sides on the inside of the pot and leaves most of the rootball without moisture. I don't know how many times I have heard "why is my plant limp, I watered it"

To water correctly, place the pot in a pan of water. Pour a bit of water on the soil to begin the syphoning action. The water will be drawn up to wet the whole root ball. When the pot feels heavy, the plant is well watered.

Below is a turkey baster which is great to gently water tiny seedlings / seeds.
To plant seeds in a seeding tray, make a furrow the depth recommended for the seeds you are going to sow. Pour the seeds thinly along the furrow, then with you fingers gently close the furrow from the 2 sides so the seeds are in contact with the soil.

When it states that some seeds need light to germinate it is taken out of contex. It really means do not cover seeds---surface sow . It is in reference to small and tiny seeds that could never make it up to the surface if covered.

While I am at it, below it a gallon milk container I save up to use over my tomato plants to protect against light frost and acclimate them. They get diffused sunlight. Cut off the bottom. The open end is towards the east for morning sun. The entrance can be cut any size, or cut on 3 size to make a door. The jug is held in place with a dowel. Bury the bottom a bit.

1] turkey baster
2] tomato cover
3] plastic bin to acclimate plants before planting out. Placed on the east side of my garage. A cover is kept handy if needed. Drainage holes are made on the bottom.
4] My handmade coldframe that I couldn't garden without. It is against my fence, which holds the shade cloth frame open. I used to sow perennials in late summer and they were planted in the coldframe for the winter. By the following March, they were husky and some bloomed after they were planted in their permanent home. It also tested them for hardiness.

Thumbnail by blomma Thumbnail by blomma Thumbnail by blomma Thumbnail by blomma
Little Falls, NJ(Zone 6a)

Blomma help!!

I started my little baggies of seeds - peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant....most everything else doesn't need to be started yet or I was unsure so I held off.
I used a coffee filter instead of a paper towel, folding it 4 times over the seeds. Each little pocket of seeds was sufficiently moist but not dripping. I closed the zipper and put some air in the baggies. I placed two baggies on top of the cable box, one on top of the router, and 6 in my little Ikea greenhouse with a 60W in a clamp lamp below it. My house temp is average 65 give or take so the little bit of heat I could supplement was most likely placing them in the 70-80 degree range. I started them last night before going to sleep and worked all day from 6 am to 11pm. I got home and they were all dried out. Crappola. The baggies had a little condensation but the packets were pretty dry. I re-moistened and reset them all....... are they still going to germinate???

Little Falls, NJ(Zone 6a)

The fairytale eggplant germinated.... definitely not the one I expected first.... I guess I can only play the waiting game on the rest......

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

June, They dried out because you used filter instead of kitchen paper. Filter don't hold moisture like paper towels.

I would think a day like they were won't hurt them BUT USE PAPER towel!!!

What kind of plants other than veggies are you trying to sprout. I wonder because not all seeds require heat

Little Falls, NJ(Zone 6a)

Thanks Blomma,

The popular internet consensus was to use a coffee filter so I tried it, the problem with merging the different techniques is it seems the coffee filter people do not blow air into the bag. The air I was blowing into the baggie was allowing too much space for the moisture to evaporate. Instead of resetting them all in paper towels, I now just have the baggies half open and not blown up with air.

I have germination in the Marconi peppers now, too, so Im feeling optimistic... its funny I thought the tomatoes would pop first and the eggplant last.

I am doing only veggies, but my house is a cool 60 during the day and as high as 67 at night, plus now the lovely vortex is back ...... I figured just a nice little bump in the temp would help. All the packets are now in the little ikea greenhouse with the light under it to boost the temp a tad.

This message was edited Feb 26, 2014 10:25 PM

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

June, how large are those baggies. I use the small craft ziplocks for the seeds that Walmart sells. I also blow air into the bag and the towel never dries out.

For heat, you can put the seeds that need it on top of your fridge, tv, etc. where it is warm.

60, brrr I would freeze. I keep my house at 73F. It comes with age.

Little Falls, NJ(Zone 6a)

Sandwich ziplocs.

The eggplant doubled in size overnight, I still can't get over how all that grows from that tiny little seed.

Do you use a hydrogen peroxide mix?

Well, its 60 all day when no one is home, and I cant sleep if it gets too hot so I turn up the heat on the first floor to 67-68 (where the seeds are) and then I don't have to turn the heat on above 62 upstairs and its just right for me. Might as well save a ton on my heating bill now while I still like it cold. Genetic, my dad was always freezing us to death, now I'm the same way.

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

No since nature don't use Peroxide, neither do I. I have tried it and found it worthless. It is for people, not plants. If I need anything, I use a fungicide, which is for plants.

No wonder, sandwich ziplock are too large, unless you stuff it.

Little Falls, NJ(Zone 6a)

Thanks for all your help everyone! How do they look!!??? Are the tomatoes supposed to be bendy like that? They are 1-2 inches below the lights.... And they are doing so good I'm way ahead of schedule. Oooops....

Just one pepper variety I am having germination trouble with.... Sweet Pickle Pepper. I only got 2 plans out of 2 separate germination attempts.

Thumbnail by Junebugged Thumbnail by Junebugged Thumbnail by Junebugged Thumbnail by Junebugged Thumbnail by Junebugged
Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

they look great. They usually tend to bend lilke that until the stems get thicker with age. They are probably bending toward the light. No biggie.

For some reason, pepper seeds take longer to sow. Just cover them with soil and place where it is warm. Top of a fridge usually is warm. Give them some time to spout 2 weeks or more.

Little Falls, NJ(Zone 6a)

I germinated everything with Deno and the results ended up being awesome even though I jumped the gun and thought I killed everything at first.
As for the pickle peppers - I thought maybe the cable box might have been tooo warm and cooked them in their little baggie....and the dry out issues I had at first, so I started a new batch. I soaked them overnight, the next morning they were all floating but I packed them up in a baggie anyway and still waiting.....10 days and counting....
These sweet pickle pepper plants are the one's I was hoping to pot up for gifts.....keeping my fingers crossed.

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

Just because seeds float it doesn't mean they are not viable. They may be laying on a tiny airbubble or have on in betwed the seed and seed cover. Daylily seeds tend to float but I have never had any problem with them not sprouting. And, I use Deno.

Little Falls, NJ(Zone 6a)

Big huge thanks to Rick and blomma!!! (Im)Patiently awaiting the last frost!

Thumbnail by Junebugged
(Robin) Blissfield, MI(Zone 6a)

Wow June...you did awesome!

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Great seedlings! They must get great light.

Post a Reply to this Thread

You cannot post until you , sign up and subscribe. to post.