Get the truth about all of the peat pots for seed starting advertised in the stores and why you should pass on by. Advertising doesn’t mean it works!
Are you excited to start some seeds in your home? If so, that’s awesome! I fully encourage you go for it. There are so many cost saving benefits to provide good food for your family. But before you go inside your nearest store for supplies, read on my friend. If you don’t, you might end up thinking you have a brown thumb instead of a beautifully green one.
One of the most prevalent seed starting items in your local garden stores is most likely an item called peat pots. You’ve probably seen them. They’re a brown papery pot that comes in various sizes. They’re advertised as having the benefits of absorbing water along with the dirt and being able to be planted with the plant start at planting time. They say that by doing this you don’t disturb the plant roots and since the pot is degradable, it’s earth friendly and all natural.
But what is peat, exactly? Peat is partially degraded plant material such as moss that has been under certain conditions for prolonged periods of time. These include high water content, acidity, oxygen deprivation and nutrient deficiency. Under these conditions, such as in bogs, and with some time spanning some thousands of years, peat deposits develop. So while it’s a natural resource, its renewability isn’t very quick.
So peat pots are natural, yes. I have no arguments with that. So you would then expect that they would be very beneficial for starting seeds. Well… on the contrary. I’ve tried them in the past and found some major faults that warrant you looking at other products. Let’s dive into it, shall we?
When you think about the material peat is made from, you would think that it would make a great seed starting container. Actually, it has the opposite affect.
Peat pots don’t actually contain the water in the soil. Instead, they increase the surface area from which the water is able to evaporate from. If you were to start a plant in a plastic container, the only surface area from which the soil can dry out is the top surface exposed to the air. With a peat pot, the water absorbs into the container. Which means it can also evaporate from the container. This becomes an even bigger problem as they pots dry out because it leads to the peat actually pulling water from the soil. The end result is soil that dries out more quickly which isn’t great for seedlings. You end up watering more and it just becomes this viscous cycle.
So if you’ve run into the issue with your peat pots and soil drying out quickly, your follow up solution would probably be to keep supplying water… and ultimately this will cause a new problem – mold. By continually supplying water to a container that has increased surface area from which the water can evaporate from, it also has increased surface area for mold to form on. And mold loves organic material… which peat pots are made of… hmmm.
And the problem with mold is that it can end up killing your plant starts… which is counter-productive to growing plant starts, wouldn’t you say? Now, just because you use peat pots doesn’t mean that you most certainly will have mold to deal with. But it’s something to be aware and cautious of.
The longer your starts have in your peat pots, the more likely you’ll run into mold issues. So for tomatoes that need somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 weeks to get going before planting, mold could become a real issue.
The most advertised benefit of peat pots is that you can plant them directly into your soil when you plant your starts therefore causing less root disturbance because they are natural material. In theory, this sounds great. Especially for plants such as cucumbers or squash that don’t like having their roots disturbed. However, along with the benefit comes a huge draw back. If you plant the whole peat pot into the soil, there’s a good chance your plant’s roots will be restrained to the pot even in the soil. This can end up holding your plants back from major growth.
But if the pot is biodegradable, why would it be restricting root growth? The peat is biodegradable, but usually it takes a good deal of time to break apart. So in those early stages of plant growth when the roots should be establishing themselves in the garden, they are prevented from doing so by the peat barrier.
So now your plant’s roots haven’t developed to their full potential. This has other consequences. Since the roots didn’t go deep, they are less resilient to drought. They also are unable to access as many nutrients from the soil. The end result in my experience has been a small plant that doesn’t do well at all.
If you go ahead and transfer your plants with the biodegradable pot you started them in directly into the soil, it goes without saying that it is a one use item. And even if you take the start out of the peat pot, you won’t be able to reuse the pot even one more time.
And on top of that, peat takes thousands of years to form so you’re continually using up a resource that isn’t super renewable. The long-term practicality of using these pots just isn’t there. It might make you feel good about being “natural”, but actually you might be just using a slow renewing resource for an impractical purpose.
One huge factor that should deter you from using peat pots for starting seeds is the price. You may still be tempted to buy them because “natural is better” and you might try to justify it. But think about the factors above. When you start considering the cons of peat pots and then the continued cost year on year, it start’s to look a bit more expensive and impractical.
Other Options Besides Peat Pots for Seed Starting
That’s really it. Those are the biggest and most defining downfalls to peat pots. So what should you use instead? Some other great options can be the multiple plug seed flats and plastic containers. With that said, I highly suggest you invest in something durable enough so that you can use them multiple years in a row. Many garden centers have the plastic seed starting containers that work just fine. However, to be honest, I suggest getting something a bit more durable for a fraction of the price.
For me, I’ve found that solo cups and seed starting flats happen to work the best. The solo cups provide more than enough soil and are durable enough to use year after year. And you can get more than enough of them for just a few dollars. If you’re interested in learning more on how I do that, I recommend you read this post.
Have you ever tried starting your own garden starts from seed? How did it go? What materials did you find to work and not work? Let me know!