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How to Make a Seed Starting Mix

Updated on November 18, 2012

Raising Healthy Seedlings

To get the most healthy seedlings possible, it is imperative that you avoid the soil-borne diseases that can easily strike down a plant in the first few weeks of life. Knowing how to make a seed starting mix that will reduce or eliminate these problems is the key to germinating seeds successfully.

There are really two primary ways to prevent disease. First, the use of a seed starting medium that is not real dirt is a must, since typical soil is where many of the diseases begin. Second, watering only when needed and from the bottom is important, so that the soil surface is never soggy.

The right mix makes for healthy seedlings.
The right mix makes for healthy seedlings. | Source

Seed Starting Mix Recipe

To make your own seed starting mix, just follow this simple recipe.

  • 1 part peat moss
  • 1 part vermiculite

That's it! You can normally find both of these items sold in bags at a big box store or garden center. When it is time to plant, simply create a 50/50 mix of peat moss and vermiculite, add it to your pots, and drop in the seeds. It is the perfect soil mix for seed germination.

Why Not a Pre-Mix?

You will find pre-mixed seed starting medium in a garden center, but beware what's in it. Some contain fertilizer or other chemicals that you may not want. When you make your own, you know exactly what's in it and you control the fertilizing process.

Peat is fibrous and regulates moisture.
Peat is fibrous and regulates moisture. | Source

Why Peat Moss?

Peat moss does a wonderful job of holding moisture without becoming totally soggy like real dirt. This means less frequent watering and a more even source of water for your seedlings.

Peat also remains light and fluffy, so the tender roots of a new plant will be protected through the watering and drying cycles. Regular soil can get very hard when it dries out which chokes out the roots - peat prevents that.

Vermiculite keeps soil light and lets roots breathe.
Vermiculite keeps soil light and lets roots breathe. | Source

Why Vermiculite?

Vermiculite prevents soil compaction and allows the tender young roots to breathe, which makes them grow more vigorously. That makes young plants grow faster, reducing the time that soil-borne diseases can strike them.

Without an additive like vermiculite, normal soil gets harder over time, and when a plant is just germinating, that is a bad thing. Be sure to include vermiculite so the roots can take off.

Alternatives to Peat and Vermiculite for Growing Plants From Seed

For those that prefer not to use peat as a growing medium, there are options that many consider to be more sustainable to the environment. The most common choices would be coir, which is harvested from coconut husks, or redwood fiber, a natural material created from redwood forests. Both exhibit similar attributes as peat and make suitable alternatives.

Some gardeners will find that vermiculite is difficult to find locally, but a material known as perlite is a reasonable alternative. Perlite just doesn't have the same ability to retain moisture as vermiculite, so vermiculite is still favored.

Seed Starting Tips

Whether you are starting flower seeds or germinating tomatoes for your patio, there are some tips that will help to insure success in the early days and weeks of a young plant's life.

  • Dampen the soil before sowing seeds and simply cover the pots once planted. This will prevent soil compaction that comes from the weight of poured water.
  • Never water from the top - only from the bottom by standing the pots in a water bath. Watering from the top is stressful to your germinating seed and new seedlings.
  • Let the soil dry out fairly well between watering.
  • Offer some resistance to the seedlings once in a while, either by using a nearby oscillating fan or by using your hand to brush against them. This makes seedlings stronger.

If you start with a fine soil-less mix for germinating seed like the seed starting mix recipe we discussed, and employ these tips, it will be much easier to successfully grown your own flowers and vegetables from seed from now on.

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