Can you fix water-repellent container soil?

sunnyvalley(Phoenix)July 3, 2014

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.)

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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Not sure that you can fix it, but I found this thread when I was interested in growing in containers.

It's a bit of a long read, but the basics of making an excellent fast draining container mix is easy to find if you scroll down a bit. The name alone, "Water Movement..... should be of interest.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 6:48PM
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theforgottenone1013(MI zone 5b/6a)

You have to moisten the potting mix before filling the containers. Dump some in a bucket (or something similar), sprinkle it with water, mix, and repeat if necessary. You don't want it wet but you do want it moist.


    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 6:50PM
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I place my pots in a tub of water and let the pots soak up the water from the bottom (some even kind of float) for maybe an hour. I then put the pots on racks to allow the water to drain. This worked for me and there is less chance of the seedling dying from damp off disease.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 11:48PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I agree with theforgottenone: they key is to fully wet your soil mix before putting it in the pot. If the mix contains a lot of peat (which most store bought mixes do), you can put it in a large container and pour very hot water over it. Allow it to cool, stir it up well and then drain away the excess water before filling your seed pots.

Starting from seed is more difficult than many people imagine. Seeds need just the right amount of light, moisture, warmth and humidity, as well as suitable growing media in a not too deep container. There's a short overview of how to do it at the link below from the Growing from Seed Forum FAQ.

Here is a link that might be useful: How to get started growing from seed

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 2:01PM
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I use coir that comes in blocks and expands. I expanded one of those and left it on the bench and it stayed moist for ages. I used store bought seedling mix once and mistakenly presmoistened it a few days before (it still looked moist), then when I immersed the seed tray the soil just floated out because the bottom was hydrophobic. Such a pain. I have no idea what's in those seedling mixes but I don't find them very useful.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 7:36PM
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