The Best Seed Starting Mixes to Jump-Start Your Garden – BobVila.com

the-best-seed-starting-mixes-to-jump-start-your-garden-–-bobvila.com

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BobVila.com and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Photo: amazon.comStarting plants from seed allows you to grow almost any plant species that can be propagated from seed, rather than choosing from a limited selection of starter vegetables and flowers at nursery centers. When the weather warms, gardeners often head outdoors to sow quick-sprout vegetables, such as cucumbers and squash, but other traditional summer favorites, including tomatoes, need more time to mature before being transplanted in the garden.Starting seeds indoors is a rewarding, economical way to get a jump on the gardening season, but it can be tricky. An entire flat of tiny seedlings can succumb to fungus or disease without warning or apparent cause. To reduce the risk of seedling failure, use the right medium, an uncontaminated grow mix, instead of any old soil. The best seed-starting mix is clean and lightweight, and it offers an optimal foundation for delicate seedlings to take root. Ahead, learn what to look for when shopping for a seed-starting mix and find out why the quality products detailed here can help gardeners get a jump on the growing season.BEST OVERALL: Espoma Seed Starter Potting Mix Natural & OrganicRUNNER-UP: Hoffman 30103 Seed Starter Soil, 10 QuartsBEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Miracle-Gro Seed Starting Potting Mix, 8 qt. 2-PackBEST WINDOW KIT: Window Garden Seed Starting Kit – Complete SuppliesBEST COMPOST-BASED: Purple Cow Organics Seed Starter Mix, 12 QT BagBEST ORGANIC: Coast of Maine Organic Seed Starter Sprout IslandBEST COCONUT COIR: Burpee Organic Coconut Coir Seed Starting Mix 16 Qt.BEST STARTER PELLETS: 50-Count Jiffy 7 Peat Pellets Seed Starter PlugsBEST FOR HYDROPONICS: Urban Leaf AeroGarden Compatible Sponges (50 Pack)ALSO CONSIDER: Sun Gro 1311002 8-Quart Seedling MixPhoto: amazon.comBefore You Buy Seed Starting MixBefore spring arrives, garden centers begin stocking large bags of growing medium, but don’t grab one without reading the label. Growing mixes come in various blends, some designed to amend outdoor garden beds, while others are for potted plants. Still others contain fertilizers for specific plants, such as “acid-loving” or “indoor.” Along with standard potting soil, most of these options are not suitable for starting seeds because they contain some contaminants. Choose a mix labeled for starting seeds to ensure it doesn’t contain traces of fungus or bacteria that could wipe out tiny seedlings.What to Consider When Choosing the Best Seed Starting MixMost seed-starting mixes are soilless, which means they contain no dirt. While established plants may thrive in real soil, the delicate roots of just-sprouted seeds may find it challenging to expand and dig deep if the soil contains hardened clumps. Moreover, the leaf ends of sprouts (called “cotyledons”) may not be able to push their way to the surface of the soil. Seed-starting mix has a light, airy consistency, so tender roots and sprouts can grow without resistance.IngredientsMost seed-starting mixes contain one or more of the following ingredients: Sphagnum peat moss: The most common base ingredient in seed-starting mixes, sphagnum peat moss is the decomposed material of sphagnum moss, a moss that grows in peat bogs. After it’s sterilized and dehydrated, sphagnum peat moss provides an optimal base for seeds to sprout; it’s absorbent yet won’t pack down. Peat moss, also popular for compressing into small pods, is called “peat pellets,” which expand into fluffy grow mix for starting seeds when immersed in water.Coconut coir: Removed from the outside of coconuts during the harvest process, coir is the fibrous layer that surrounds a hard coconut shell. Formerly discarded as a waste product, coir is now valued for its ability to retain moisture without compacting, making it well suited as an ingredient in seed-starting mixes. Like sphagnum peat moss, coir can be dehydrated and compressed into plugs for rehydrating and starting seeds.Perlite: Perlite is a byproduct of volcanic glass that’s been heated to high temperatures, resulting in a product that resembles puffy white beads. Perlite retains a small amount of moisture, but its primary purpose is to keep the growing mix from compacting.Vermiculite: Almost as light as perlite but highly absorbent, vermiculite is a silica mineral that’s mined from the earth. It’s in potting soil and seed-starting mix to lighten the mixture and help retain moisture.Diatomaceous earth (DE): This powdery natural product in some seed-starting mixes helps kill insects. Diatomaceous earth contains the finely ground fossils of tiny aquatic organisms known as “diatoms.” When insects come into contact with DE, the powder sticks to their bodies and acts as a desiccant to dehydrate and kill them.Lime: Powdered lime is in some seed-starting mixes to help lower the pH level of the mix to around 6 to 6.5 on the pH scale. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 considered neutral. Higher numbers indicate greater alkaline content, and lower numbers indicate more acidic content. Most plants grow well in soil with a pH level of around 6.5 to 7.Wetting agent: Completely dry grow mix ingredients initially resist absorbing water, so some manufacturers include a wetting agent (surfactant) that helps the material absorb water. A wetting agent, such as powdered kelp, is needed the first time the material is moistened.Organic vs. Non-OrganicWhen a seed-starting mix is labeled “organic,” gardeners know that all its ingredients are natural and contain no chemicals or synthetic agents. Most seed-starting mixes contain most, if not all, natural ingredients, but the inclusion of synthetic fertilizers disqualifies it as organic. An organic seed-starting mix may be more important to those who produce edible vegetables rather than flowers or ornamental plants.SterilizationManufacturers remove fungi and bacteria from seed-starting mix by heating it to over 200 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of time, usually at least 30 minutes, to destroy pathogens that might kill tender seedlings. Depending on the manufacturer, heat may be applied by forcing steam through the material or by submerging the mixture in water and heating the water. Sterilizing the mixture gives delicate seeds their best chance at survival.Aeration and Moisture RetentionA seed-starting mix should retain its lightness and loft, even when wet. Not only do new roots need moisture to grow, but they also need oxygen. Manufacturers add perlite and vermiculite to aerate the mix. Starting seeds in compact or heavy potting soil usually results in poor germination rates. Optimal seed-starting mixes retain just enough moisture for the mixture to stay damp to the touch while still providing the aeration necessary for roots to develop.pH LevelsIf a seed-starting mix is labeled as having “balanced pH,” the pH should fall between 6.5 and 7. Adjusting the pH level of a seed-starting mix isn’t always essential, since the natural ingredients in most mixes fall within the correct pH levels. Monitoring pH is more important if the plant is grown hydroponically (in water). pH adjusting solutions, known as “pH UP” and “pH DOWN,” are available to mix with the water in a hydroponic system to help maintain a neutral pH level.Our Top PicksTo qualify as a top pick, a seed-starting mix should be lightweight, contain ingredients that retain moisture, yet drain well, and be free from harmful contaminants. The following products are better suited to some situations than others, but each provides an optimal environment for germinating seeds. Photo: amazon.com Espoma Seed Starter Mix contains all-natural ingredients, including sphagnum peat moss, peat humus (a decomposed ingredient from peat bogs), perlite, and Myco-tone, a proprietary blend of ingredients designed to help seedlings develop strong roots. This premium seed-starting mix retains moisture without compacting. Its all-natural formula helps when rooting cuttings, and it produces healthy plants with abundant blooms, making it well suited for both flowers and vegetables. The mix comes in an 8-quart bag. Photo: amazon.com This seed-starting mix from Hoffman, which comes in a 10-quart bag, contains Canadian sphagnum peat moss, vermiculite, limestone (a pH adjuster), and a wetting agent. The mix retains moisture while providing a light, airy growing medium that promotes germination and root development. Also use this seed-starting mix to root cuttings and in larger containers when transplanting seedlings. Ground limestone makes this mix work as a potting soil and for acid-loving plants, such as hydrangea or blueberries. Photo: amazon.com From a manufacturer well-known in the gardening industry, this Miracle-Gro mix is specially formulated to boost root development. Miracle-Gro contains sphagnum peat moss, perlite, fertilizer, and a wetting agent. The mix helps retain moisture and drains well, and it won’t pack down.The included fertilizer contains nitrogen, phosphate, and potash to help stimulate sprout growth, root development, and blooms. This Miracle-Gro product, which comes in two 8-quart bags, is suitable for starting root and leaf cuttings as well as seeds. Also use it in larger containers when transplanting. Photo: amazon.com This Window Garden seed-starting kit features three grow trays that are small enough to fit on a windowsill. Each tray comes with 10 compressed coconut coir grow pods. A clear dome sits atop each tray to act as a mini-greenhouse and help keep the pods from drying out.Put the coconut coir pods in the bottoms of the trays and add warm water; the pods will expand and become light and fluffy. Each pod contains only organic coconut coir. When the seedlings are ready for transplanting, insert the entire pod in the garden. Photo: amazon.com Purple Cow Organics Seed Starter Mix contains sphagnum peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, and compost derived from yard trimmings. It also includes a fertilizer certified by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) plus an all-natural blend of trace minerals to boost plant health.The mix is lightweight, offers moisture retention, and provides aeration for tender roots to develop. The activated compost provides added nutrients to feed young plants for up to 45 days. Although the mix bears the name Purple Cow, it contains no manure, and it comes in a 12-quart bag. Photo: amazon.com This Coast of Maine Organic Seed Starter contains a blend of ingredients designed specifically for starting seeds and root cuttings, including sphagnum peat moss, perlite, aged compost, kelp meal, and worm castings. The mix also contains an all-natural fertilizer to encourage growth and help produce disease-resistant plants.Coast of Maine seed starter is a lightweight, well-draining growing medium that won’t pack down, so tender seedling roots can develop. It retains moisture to help prevent roots from drying out. The mix comes in a 16-quart bag; other sizes may be available. Photo: amazon.com The compressed coconut coir in this seed-starting mix comes as a 7.25-by-6-by-4-inch decompressed brick. Just add water and crumble it to obtain 16 quarts of seed-starting mix. The Burpee Organic Seed Starting Mix contains only coconut coir and bone meal to help promote plant and root growth.Once expanded with water, use the coir in any seed-starting container, by itself or in combination with potting soil to grow larger plants. The material retains moisture yet won’t pack down. Photo: amazon.com These Jiffy 7 Peat Pellets arrive in small, compressed discs but expand into fluffy grow pods when immersed in water. The pellets contain only compressed peat moss—nothing else. The user places a pellet in the bottom of a plastic flat or tray and pours in warm water to trigger expansion. When the expansion is complete, the pellet measures 1.5 inches by 1.5 inches, just large enough to insert a seed or two in the top of the peat moss.The peat moss is held in place with a thin biodegradable net, and gardeners place the entire unit in the soil when transplanting to the garden or a larger pot. Buyers receive 50 compressed peat pellets per package. Photo: amazon.com For starting seeds in consumer hydroponic systems (such as AeroGarden), consider easy-to-use Urban Leaf Coco Coir Sponges. Each sponge holds a single seed for germination and provides growing support for the plant’s entire life. Place one sponge pod in the basket of a home-type hydroponic system, add seed, water, and liquid nutrients as recommended by the manufacturer. The hydroponic system takes care of the critical details, such as circulating the water and providing light.Urban Leaf sponge seed pods are compatible with AeroGarden and many other home hydroponic systems. The 50 sponges in each bag contain only coconut coir for starting and growing seeds. Photo: amazon.com Help seedlings thrive with Sun Gro Black Gold Seedling Mix, which contains Canadian sphagnum peat moss, perlite, and a trademarked organic wetting agent that makes moistening the mix a snap. It provides a well-draining, lightweight growing environment that promotes root growth and retains moisture to keep the mix from drying out.This Sun Gro mix can be used to start seeds and propagate cuttings, and because it’s organic, it can be used to grow fruits and vegetables for consumption. Buyers receive an 8-quart bag of seed-starting mix (other sizes may be available) to use in plastic flats, trays, or other containers.Tips for Using Seed-Starting MixUse a seed-starting mix rather than soil or potting mix to increase germination and get tiny seedlings off to a healthy start. Employ these tips to simplify the process and increase success.Empty dry mix in a large bowl and stir in water to moisten the mixture before filling a seed flat or seed pots with the mix.If the tap water is high in mineral content, consider using distilled water to avoid creating a high alkaline pH environment.Consider wearing a dust mask when working with a dry seed-starting mix since some contain powdery, fine elements that can become airborne.FAQs About Seed-Starting MixesBy using a seed-starting mix, you increase the chance of successfully growing plants to transplant to the garden later. Frequently asked questions about seed starter mixes appear below.Q. Which type of soil is best for starting seeds?None, actually! Avoid planting seeds in natural soil; instead, opt for a commercial seed-starting mix for optimal germination and survival rates.Q. What is the difference between potting soil and seed-starting mix?Potting soil is denser and may contain larger bits of ingredients, such as twigs or clumps. Seed-starting mix is very fine and contains no large pieces.Q. Can you reuse seed-starting mix?No, once it’s been used, it’s no longer sterile. But you can sprinkle leftover mix on the garden or blend it into a potted plant to help lighten the soil.Q. Does seed-starting mix expire?No. Seed starting mixes don’t have expiration dates.
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