It’s a brand new year, and we’re all planning our garden escapades for the next season and preparing to start seeds. Peat pots are a fantastic option for those who’re starting plants or transplanting them.
But what exactly is a peat pot? What are they made of, and how do they work? Are these better than other containers?
Today, we’ll explore these peat-based options: pots, pellets, and strips. You’ll learn how they’re made commercially as well as how you can make your own. We’ll explore some alternatives as well. And when we’re done, you’ll know how these little biodegradable bits of moss can enrich your garden!
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What Are Peat Pots?
Simple put, they’re a type of biodegradable planting pot. Made of natural materials, they eventually lose their form and simply become part of the soil around the plant. This makes them incredibly eco-friendly, as you don’t have to worry about plastic going into landfills.
They also add to your garden soil, helping to keep moisture around the roots of your plant. And, even better, there’s almost no chance of transplant shock when you put your plant into the soil later. The roots are never disturbed, and your plant is stronger and more vigorous!
How Are They Made?
Before a pot can be made, manufacturers need sphagnum peat moss.
Sphagnum peat is the decomposed remnants of sphagnum moss. Slowly decaying in an anaerobic environment, it develops great moisture-retention capabilities. It basically becomes a fibrous material that works as a natural sponge.
Since peat is slow to form naturally, some manufacturers have begun using recycled cow manure or coconut coir as an alternative to sphagnum peat. Both of these are also excellent choices and work functionally the same way as peat.
Commercially, manufacturers of these pots will take large quantities of their peat material and completely saturate it in water, causing it to turn into a thick muddy mixture. They will add some wood pulp to this mixture for rigidity and then blend it thoroughly together into a peat slurry.
Once the slurry is prepared, it will be pressed into forms. Pressing it compacts the moss and wood pulp into its intended shape and also squeezes out most of the excess liquid. Tightly compacted together, it will then be dried thoroughly, creating a biodegradable pot.
Due to the addition of the wood pulp, these pots will hold their shape long enough that starting seeds shouldn’t be a problem. However, the pot will eventually lose form, so it’s important to plant your seedlings quickly once they’re ready.
Should You Use Strips, Pots, Or Pellets?
There are a few different variations on these peat-based potting products. Let’s go over the differences and similarities between these now.
These pressed strips of peat form little chambers, much like a standard seedling tray. However, you can use a razor blade, Exacto knife, or scissors to cut the chambers apart, and may even be able to pull them apart by hand. You then simply plant the entire chamber, pot and all. This causes less transplant stress, and the peat will eventually break down in the soil.
However, as strips tend to be very lightweight, these only hold up long enough to start your plants. You’ll need to transplant these out rather quickly before the peat layer starts to break down.
Made exactly as I described above, peat pots are usually larger and thicker containers that can hold a plant until it reaches a reasonably large size. It’s also an option for transplanting seedlings into, giving you more time before they’re planted into the soil.
You may actually be able to use a peat-based pot consistently for a few months before it starts to warp and fall apart. These are very useful when paired with high-quality potting soil.
These little pellets don’t actually use the wood pulp that standard peat pots or strips use. Instead, they’re covered with a fine biodegradable mesh that helps give the pellet some form.
When these arrive, they’re small, compressed discs. If you buy one of Jiffy’s peat pellet starter kits, they also have a plastic tray with round indentations for the discs. The Jiffy peat pellets instructions say to pour warm water over the pellets until they have fully expanded.
Once warm water hits the compacted pellets, they immediately start to swell up, forming a cylinder of peat that is barely held in place by the surrounding bio-mesh. There’s usually a small indentation in the planting side, making it easy to drop a couple of seeds inside. It’s almost like using miniature fabric pots!
Which Peat Product Is Best?
It really depends on what you’re doing.
Starting out seeds with the plan of transplanting them soon makes Jiffy pellets the easiest option for beginners. They’re fun to use, and they work extremely well.
However, peat doesn’t have much nutrition, and you don’t have potting mix or compost. You may need to use some liquid fertilizer on these once you see signs of growth.
If you’re starting a tray of seedlings for transplanting into the garden, and want to use some of your own potting mixture or compost, strips are fantastic. These work extremely well, especially when you’re trying to get enough leeks or onion seedlings to work with.
Finally, there’s the standard peat pot. These come in multiple sizes, which means you can use them for transplanting or repotting purposes. The thicker material helps them support the plant for longer while you encourage it to grow to ground-planting size.
However, even these will break down, so you shouldn’t keep your plants in these without transplanting for more than a month or two.
How To Use Peat Pots
Using these seed pots is easy. Let’s go over the two major uses for these and how they work.
I described above how to start seeds in Jiffy pellets – just add water, wait for them to swell up, and plant.
However, you can get seeds started in both strips and in peat pots as well. Fill your strips or pots with your desired planting medium. You can use a quality potting mix, compost, or your own personal blend. Sow your seeds in your planting medium or in the pellets directly. Then place these in a warm place until the seeds germinate.
Regardless of whether you’re using pots, strips, or pellets, you will need to place these into some form of tray. The tray can be set on top of a seed starting heat mat if you need added warmth. The warmth of the peat will help the plants to germinate quickly. Don’t over-water, but keep the soil and peat damp.
If you’re not sure how many seeds to plant to get going, watch my video on calculating how many seeds to start!
One of the most difficult aspects of transplanting plants is that so many suffer shock when transplanting. With a peat pot, you eliminate the risk of transplant stress, as you’re planting the entire pot.
If you have small seedlings that you need to grow larger before putting them in the garden bed, you can use pots to do that, and then just plant your pot, strip, or pellet later.
They’re extremely useful for planting tower gardens, as the oddly-shaped spaces in tower gardens can be hard to plant into. With a peat pot, you just saturate the pot, and it becomes flexible and easy to set into place.
Something I highly recommend is that you loosen the base of the pot to give roots an easier time breaking through the peat material. This is also important for the pellets, because while the mesh easily gives way, it can take time for it to break down in the soil.
I find that taking a razor and making some shallow cuts around and through the bottom of a pot or a couple of slashes in the base of a pellet is essential before transplanting. This makes it much easier for growing roots to penetrate through and extend into the soil where it’s been transplanted.
Some people will actually cut the entire base off their pot. If you want to be absolutely sure that your plant’s roots can spread and grow easily, do it! You can crumble up the base of the pot into the planting hole.
If you’re a container gardener, using peat pots to transplant into your larger pots can’t be easier. Just prepare your new containers with potting soil and drop your biodegradable pots into the new soil. Voila, they’re planted!
Where To Buy
While most good gardening centers have a selection, your cheapest option is to purchase your pots online. You can buy them in quantities that most garden centers don’t offer, and the prices can’t be beaten. Here’s a selection of Jiffy pots for you to choose from in a variety of size options!
If you’d like to try using the Jiffy peat pellets instead, I recommend purchasing a starter kit. A 50-pellet starter kit comes with a plastic greenhouse cover, a tray that has round indentations that hold the pellets, and instructions on how to hydrate and prepare your pellets for planting.
Can You Make Your Own?
You can, actually! It’s a surprisingly simple process. You will need some peat, water, a container in which to mix those two, and a press. The press does not need to be elaborate, as the goal is to simply press excess liquid out of the peat and form it into your desired shape.
Mix the peat and water together into a mud-like slurry, and then place some into your mold. Depending on the size and shape of what you’re using, you will need varying levels of peat slurry. Pack it into place with your hand, then use something to press down hard on the peat, squeezing out any excess water. Allow it to fully dry out before use.
You can make your own pellets in the same way, and that’s actually much simpler to do. The more force you can exert during the squeezing process, the better. Tightly-packed pellets or pots are less likely to fall apart quickly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can you just bury the entire pot?
A: Yup! While peat in and of itself does not offer much plant nutrition, it does hold water well and will simply become part of the soil around your plant.
Q: Are there other biodegradable pot options?
A: While you don’t have to use them, they’re beneficial because of how they hold moisture. The peat wicks any excess moisture out of potting mix, but keeps enough water on hand to maintain your seedlings.
However, there is another readily-available biodegradable option: eggshells. Carefully rinsed out to remove any excess egg inside, an eggshell provides a future boost of calcium for your young plants while offering a handy container to hold potting soil.
As these are fragile, you do need to be careful while working with them, and you don’t want to overwater your plants while they’re in these non-draining containers. If you want something that’s easier to work with or that won’t break if you don’t handle it delicately, stick with peat pots.
Q: Can I start tomato seeds in these pots?
A: Starting tomatoes, or other vining plants, works just fine in these pots. However, as tomatoes can take a little time to mature to a transplantable size, you may need to repot your plant into a larger pot to give it more time. That’s not a problem at all. Simply take your peat strip or pellet and pop it directly into a larger peat pot.
Q: Can you make a substitute out of just newspaper?
A: Absolutely. There are a few options to do this. You can purchase a wooden form in which you can tightly compact and shape newspaper. Another variation involves some intricate folding of multiple layers of newsprint. Just be aware that unless you use sheets of paper, your pot may collapse quickly.
Newspaper “pots” are great for seed germination purposes, and most of the inks used now are soy-based inks that don’t release chemicals into the soil. Do not use glossy or multicolored newspaper for your seed pots, as that type of paper does not use the same soy ink!