small seeds in 5-1-1

hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)April 2, 2014

What are your experiences with starting small seeds in 5-1-1? Meaning, seeds that are actually smaller than the particles in the 5-1-1- mix? Tomatoes and peppers come to mind, as well as trees like Metasequoia (Dawn Redwood).

My concern is the mix won't hold enough moisture until the seed generates a root to keep it above the moisture level required for germination.

What about using the 5-1-1 in the cell, but filling a small, finger-sized hole with a denser mix just enough for the seed to germinate and get a good root out?

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Jay Part Shade (Zone 10B, S21, Los Angeles)

Hey, I tried exactly what you're talking about this year. My experience is 5-1-1 does not work for starting small seeds. What did work in 5-1-1 was corn, edamame and squash. 80% of my small seeds -- tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, kale, etc. -- died due to damping off or potassium deficiency (leaves turning purple).

It surprised me because, like you, I thought it'd be too dry, not too wet. But near everything started in 5-1-1 or transplanted from rooting plugs died. And the plants that have survived are far, far smaller than the ones done in traditional mix.

That said, I'm using 5-1-1 for all the bigger plants and they seem to love it -- artichoke, squash, corn, mature tomatoes, etc. I'll pot up my smaller veggies into 5-1-1 after starting them in 1 gal of traditional mix.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 9:29AM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

I have a bag of shredded pine fines (posted a pic on another thread) that's far too fine for 5-1-1, but I wonder if it would be OK for seed-starting. Or mix it 50/50 w/MG or something. It's VERY fine, and shreddy, not particles like the kind you'd make a 5-1-1 with.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 10:41AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

If you screen the bark fines to about 1/8" then add peat and perlite, it will work like a charm. I have been doing that. I dont even use peat moss ; BUT I wont attempt using chunky pine barks as seed starter. UNLESS you start things like BIG beans in it, not seeds like peppers, tomatoes.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 12:02PM
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Jay Part Shade (Zone 10B, S21, Los Angeles)

I wouldn't do it. I really wanted to start seeds in 5-1-1, but the issue I ran into wasn't because of the 5-1-1's size, rather nutrient lock out, ph, water and more. All the issues that big batches of 5-1-1 have, but with seedlings, they can't adapt before they die. You need something that's PH neutral, has some nutrients in it and actually holds moisture more evenly than 5-1-1.

Commercial seedlings are grown in seedling mixes for a reason. I've transplanted a number of six pack veggies into 5-1-1 and they work great. And because the way 5-1-1 works, even if the seedling is in a peat-based medium, it'll still act as 5-1-1. After all, 5-1-1 works really well to give big roots oxygen and keep moisture flowing, as well as later in a plant's life when a traditional peat potting mix turns to cement and no longer drains.

The mix I like is from Dr. Earth or Gardner and Bloome. The MG stuff is crap -- my last bag was terrible.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 12:02PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I've had no problem germinating seeds of peppers, tomatoes, and ground cherry (physalis) in a screened 5-1-1. I screen the bark over a 1/4 inch screen, but some larger chunks inevitably find their way in. I sow the seeds directly, make sure the mix is moist, then cover with plastic wrap until I see green....then I remove the plastic, and keep the mix moist with a spray-bottle while the rest of the seeds germinate.

This season I had a 94% germination rate with my superhot peppers, using zero bottom-heat at all. In addition, one of my superhots sprouted in 5 days, which is damned near a record. I've been starting peppers like this for the past four years now, if I remember rightly, and haven't had a problem at all.


Becomes this.....

Which is then re-potted into a classic 5-1-1.....these peppers are right at one month old.


    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 12:15PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Nice peppers!

So - I have no real consensus here. I guess I'll try half and half in 5-1-1 vs. the mixes I've used before.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 1:04PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Thanks :-)
Just screen the bark to 1/4 inch for your seed-starting mix, and make sure it is moist when the seeds go in. Cover with plastic and wait. Fast peppers - like Thai and Hungarian Wax - will germinate in 4 - 7 days on average; the slow peppers - the superhots - will take 9 - 12 days on average.


    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 2:51PM
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Jay Part Shade (Zone 10B, S21, Los Angeles)

Hey Josh, I think I kept my bark too large, I definitely didn't screen it down to 1/4, just 1/2.

Do you let the mix brew for a couple weeks to let the lime and ferts soak in? Or just mix it and go? I was getting purple under the leaves, which is classic potassium deficiency. Also, I'm having serious damp off and, when I pull the seedlings out, the roots have almost all shriveled. Not sure why 5-1-1 would trash small roots and not big ones. My trees seem to love 5-1-1, but fragile transplants and seedlings aren't digging it. Any thoughts?

    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 9:42PM
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Oxboy555(Las Vegas)

You don't want to add fertilizer to 5-1-1, then let it sit before you add plants. Bad recipe. I wouldn't add any fert to pre-germ seed mixes any ways. I would make sure the lime has already done its work before adding seeds to a mix.

1/2" particles will leave too many pockets and not enough particle contact needed to get the rootlings going.

You need 1/4" and under for your seed mix particles.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 10:25PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I did not add Lime to my seedstarting mix - but I did add Osmocote, and I also fertilized with Foliage Pro once the seedlings had their first set of true leaves.

I made the mix several days ahead of time, and left the trays out in the rain. I brought the trays indoors and set them to warm by my fireplace for a few hours, then I planted the pepper seeds directly.

The seedlings are now in a 5-1-1 that was screened to 1/2 inch. I added barely any Lime because my Lime got wet and I had to re-crush it....which is tedious. So I tossed in a bit and called it good. I added Osmocote, and will be fertilizing with Foliage Pro, as well.


    Bookmark   April 2, 2014 at 11:37PM
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Jay Part Shade (Zone 10B, S21, Los Angeles)

Hey Josh and Ox, thanks for the info! That all makes sense and explains why my 5-1-1 was killing my seedlings.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2014 at 3:34PM
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