Can you fix water-repellent container soil?
I never thought I'd need help getting water to soak into dirt, but here I am.
I'm trying to start seedlings/cuttings indoors in cups just to get the hang of basic growing before I try terrariums & container gardening. (Usually I use bell pepper seeds from kitchen scrap to experiment with, because hey, free seeds). My germination is terrible, my seedlings are often slow/stunted, and most die by the time they get one set of leaves.
One big issue is that I've tried a few types/brands of soil and they all seem hydrophobic to varying degrees. Water will bead up on the surface and leak down the sides of the cup - I don't think the seed/roots even get wet. I thought the seed-starting mix I bought would be specifically good for this, but same story. I guess because it's largely peat.
Then I figured hey, transplants I buy from the nursery always seem to come in nice rich soil, so I'll just ask what they use, and use that. Same story again with the bag the guy sold me.
I've tried adding lots of perlite and also mixing in a little native clay soil, thinking that repellent + retentive = just right, but no. Is there something I can do/add to get water to soak in? (Do I want vermiculite instead of perlite?)
Otherwise, I'd love to hear some recommendations for a quality soil brand before I throw away another $10. (Nobody say Miracle Gro. I already learned that lesson.)