To use peat pots or not to use peat pots?

bagardens (Ohio, Zone 5b)September 8, 2008

I have always used peat pots for my cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, squash, and eggplant, so as not to disturb their sensitive roots. But I HATE peat pots. Every year I complain about them and swear I will never use them again. Then the next year since I hate to risk loosing plants I play it safe and use the peat pots again.

I am curious to know what others use and if anyone has been successful using regular pots for these types of plants.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I grow the starter plants for sale and have done them for farmers (yes, even lima beans) in the greenhouses so that the plants can be up and growing in those transitional weeks when the soil may be too cool to have good germination by seed. They got planted in 3.5 inch square plastic cells and did just fine in the transplant with less than TLC by hired help. So, I guess I'm saying they should be fine.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2008 at 2:17AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Tons of previous discussions on them linked below for your reading pleasure and if you search some of the other forums - especially the Growing from Seed forum here - you'll find many many more.

Personally, I gave up on them and all their associated problems years ago.


Here is a link that might be useful: Peat pot discussions

    Bookmark   September 9, 2008 at 8:02AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I had great luck this year with reusable pipe pots for a lot of crops. They contain just over a quart of soil, so the plants can be grown larger. There is zero root disturbance at planting. I explained them in the thread linked below ...

Here is a link that might be useful: Starting corn indoors

    Bookmark   September 9, 2008 at 11:08AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The key to using plastic or any other rigid pot is proper scheduling. So many plants considered 'hard' to transplant, are so simply because of a fleshy tap type of root, if the container is deep enough, there is no problem. Other failures in transplanting are very often caused by allowing the starter plant to stay too long in a container. Simple root bound issue.

When I say I've started them in plastic pots, I'm talking THOUSANDS of those seeds over the span of several years. I do almost my entire personal vegetable garden from seeds started and grown on in my greenhouses, so I can set them out 'instantly' when weather conditions permit and have them large enough that rodents and other pests aren't interested in them. They don't have to be expensive pots, nor specially designed hand constructed ones. If you have a lot of produce to start the very inexpensive large cell packs one sees some flowers sold in are fine. Often free if collected from gardening friends when they put out their flowers. If you use good technique in when you plant and get that reconciled with how large you let the starters get at that moment, there isn't any need to make it any harder than you have to. They do just fine, if you watch your watering for a couple weeks thereafter.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2008 at 8:45PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I got a bunch of plastic plant trays from Lowe's (the kind that hold the 6 pack potted plants in multiples) I put my seed starting mix in these and then planted into them (they are already slatted for drainage and they are a nice depth (and they are FREE) then when the seedlings were ready to be transplanted, I used styrofoam cups from the dollar store. I too was under the impression that the peat pots were better, but after trying (first) the peat pots then running out and replacing them with the styrofoam cups, several weeks later, I was sold when the plants that were in the cups surpassed the other peat pot plants. In fact the peat pot plants really did not do well at all. They all the same amount of water, temps the same etc.

My 02 worth :)

    Bookmark   September 9, 2008 at 9:12PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

This is probably one of the most persistent arguments in gardening. I know I've weighed in several times on this topic in various forums over the years.

"The key to using plastic or any other rigid pot is proper scheduling.

Had you said "proper technique", I might have been inclined to agree. IMO, there are proper techniques - and proper applications - for both peat & plastic. I use both every year with great results.

There are both critics of peat pots, and advocates. I probably fall somewhere in the middle, because I am not an absolutist - I think both peat & plastic have their place in a gardener's toolbox. I am a Northern gardener with a taste for long-season vegetables (such as limas), and a temperamental climate. I am also a seed saver, and I need to get the most mileage out of what is often a small amount of seed, and give the plants time to reach full maturity. So like Calliope, I start a hundreds of transplants each year, many of which are seeds which would otherwise be planted directly (such as beans & squash).

I have previously described my methods for using peat pots (mostly Jiffy strips) on the Asian Vegetable (for bitter melon) and Bean forums (for reviving old beans). For plants with delicate roots, I have found them to be highly effective. But they have both strengths & weaknesses, and are not appropriate for all applications.

One of the potential problems with peat pots is the buildup of mold or algae. This makes them inappropriate choices for slow-growing transplants such as the Solanaceae (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant) and herbs. Those plants also tend to have less sensitive roots, and suffer no ill effects from transplanting when grown in plastic.

It just so happens that most of the vegetables that have fragile root systems (cucurbits, okra, some beans) are also fast-growing plants. Since the plants are set out relatively soon after germination, there is less of a problem with growth on the pots... so peat pots are less problematic for them.

Another complaint about peat pots is that they wick moisture away from the roots. This is true... but they can also wick moisture to the roots with the proper technique.

I solve both problems by filling the bottom of a non-porous plastic flat with sand, then pushing the planted peat strips into it. The sand prevents mold & algae to a large degree, and acts as a water reservoir to keep the pots moist. Not only that, but it limits air pruning of the roots, which are free to grow into the moist sand. At transplanting time, these roots can be easily pulled from the sand without damage, and give the plants a better root system to start with. These plants suffer little to no transplant shock, and begin growing almost immediately.

When transplanting a peat-potted plant, I tear off any protruding edges of the pot at the time of planting, and ensure that none of the pot is left exposed. If these edges are not removed, they could indeed wick moisture, and cause the pot to pull away from the soil.

And of course, there is the issue of expense, because peat pots are consumable, whereas plastic is (generally) re-usable. True... but then, using disposable pots avoids the need to clean & sterilize as many plastic containers. I use a lot of plastic cells as well, and that is a chore I never look forward to. I use two sizes of peat strips (50's and 32's), and buy them in bulk to reduce their cost. The bulk boxes hold enough strips to last me for about 5 years or so.

Lest we travel on a one-way street, I feel it worth mentioning that plastic is not without its faults. As mentioned above, they are re-usable... but if improperly sterilized before re-use, there is an increased chance of damping off. They also do not breathe, which promotes the growth of fungi in non-sterile mediums. Most of my problems with damping off over the years have been with plastic.

Plastic cells also root prune, or the roots that grow through the bottom holes are damaged as they are pulled out. For plants with strong fibrous root systems, this is not a bad thing... but for those with longer taproots, this pruning results in some stunting and transplant shock. These plants might survive, but they will struggle to get established. Early in my gardening experience, I had this problem with squash, cukes, and melons started in plastic cells. There are innovative methods for avoiding this with plastic (such as pls8xx's pipe pots), but the few products that are available commercially are cost-prohibitive for all but small-scale usage.

So in summary, I believe that both peat & plastic have their drawbacks, some of which can be overcome by technique. They also each offer unique advantages. IMO, when used for the purposes for which they are most suited, there is room for both. I couldn't have the garden that I do without either of them.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2008 at 12:25AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
bagardens (Ohio, Zone 5b)

Thanks everyone for the advice. Maybe hearing about the success everyone has had using plastic pots will give me the courage to use them also. I don't know why I haven't stopped using peat pots before. I think it is because I was always told that I should use peat pots and I believe it is just imbedded in my brain. It doesn't make sense because I always end up tearing off parts of the peat pot before planting, which I believe would be a lot worse then just planting in plastic pots. I always make sure I don't plant things too early so they wouldn't be root bound.

Thanks again everyone.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2008 at 3:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Peat pots, I love them.

I start about 400 tomatoes and peppers in them every year. I just go in and buy all the pots at the end of the year and then I am ready for the next spring.

I let them sit in water and the water wicks up to the roots. The roots also grow down to the water. I never have to worry about folage problems, as I keep the leaves dry.

I guess it is personal preference.


    Bookmark   September 10, 2008 at 4:50PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Plastic cells also root prune, or the roots that grow through the bottom holes are damaged as they are pulled out. For plants with strong fibrous root systems, this is not a bad thing... but for those with longer taproots, this pruning results in some stunting and transplant shock.

This is exactly why I said proper scheduling is the key to using plastic pots for transplanting into gardens. If you miss the window of opportunity when the plant is large enough to survive outside transplanting, and it stays in the pot too long, you will indeed have some stunting, and malformed roots and in some crops that is the swan song. You may have not control over the scheduling if the weather is unpredictable, or if you don't know how long it really takes for seeds to germinate, fill out and be ready to set out. You can have great success with either peat or plastic. I do this for a living and have been for twenty two years, and I start thousands of plants every year. Technique/sheduling .....semantics. It's how you handle the plants going to determine your success and I have adapted how I handle them into what I find out works well for me or my clients who need fields full of pumpkins or lopes. There are so many ways to do something RIGHT, and you find out what works for you, or how much or little work you are willing to put into it. An 1801 cell pack is plenty sufficient for starting cukes/lopes/pumpkin if put out at the proper time, given your fields or garden plot is ready and waiting.

You can do it however you wish........just wanted to tell you it can be done.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2008 at 2:58AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I have been using newspaper pots for years. They have all the advantages of peat pots, none of the disadvantages, and they are free! You just wind a strip of newpaper around a glass pill bottle, size of your choice, fold under the bottom in four folds, and crimp the edge around the bottom. Allways water from the bottom putting the pots on a tray, or a self watering device. Regards, Peter B.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2008 at 5:50PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I am anti-peat. I would like to find a good cheap source of coco noir around L.A. though.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2008 at 8:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Coir is an alternative I'd like to go to as well, and when it was first being introduced to the industry did trial it for some of my line. The drainage was just excellent and I was hoping the prices would come down as it became more mainstream. It just hasn't.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2008 at 3:04AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Has anyone given the CowPots a try yet? They've been around for quite a while now and I've only heard great things about them. It'd be interesting if someone did a peat/plastic/cowpot trial.
Honestly, I'm impressed with their ingenuity.

Here is a link that might be useful: CowPots

    Bookmark   September 13, 2008 at 7:31AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I love the pipe pots! I think I am going to try it myself this coming spring. I've got several 10 ft. sections of 8 inch pvc pipe that I can find no use for. Now I have! Thank you.

I am attempting to add a few links for newspaper pots.

I have not tried them, but my girlfriend says she has several years ago. She says that it is best to make them so they fit into the 3-4 inch seedling pots. The pots support the newspaper pots until planting time. She made one to show me how easy it was, this one was made for a 1/2 gallon plastic pot. This is something we will also try this next spring.
Good luck gardening,

Here is a link that might be useful: How to make a newspaper pot for starting seeds

    Bookmark   September 13, 2008 at 8:08AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I first designed my pipe pots in late Feb. and then quickly put them to use. This first year has been a learning process to their use and advantages.

Though there is little root disturbance and a larger soil volume with pipe pots, for some crops there appears to be a critical stage in plant development. I was successful with corn held in the pots for about 30 days. When this was extended to 6 weeks the corn grew well but harvest was heavily impacted.

A trial of green beans compared direct seeding to pipe pots at the same time. The beans were left in the pots until they were about a week short of bloom stage. When set out the pot beans went on to produce beans but were not near as robust and vigorous as the direct seeded. Clearly I had exceeded the critical stage to transplant.

With okra I sometimes get a skip in rows from direct seeding. This year I also started some in pipe pots to fill any skips. The pots were transplanted when the okra was about 5 inches. The pot okra boomed about 4 days earlier than the direct seeded and went on to a normal development.

I think I still have a lot to learn about the timing for pipe pots.

What I have learned ...

Pipe pots are good for crops that don't tolerate root disturbance.

Pipe pots can be used to get an earlier start to the season and can extend the time cool season crops need; crops like head lettuce.

Pipe pots reduce the time a crop is in the garden and allows for multiple crops on the same ground.

Reduced time in the garden cuts the total maintenance and weeding by a lot.

Skips in direct seeding can be filled.

Pipe pots are not going to work for everybody. I will continue to use all the other methods; direct seeding, cell packs, peat pots, and even newspaper. But pipe pots stand to have a bigger impact on my gardening than anything tried over the last few years.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2008 at 12:36PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Lots of really good posts in this thread!

My personal opinion of peat pots has run from love them to hate them. I agree with the posters who say their are ways to use them that are more and less effective than other ways.

The only thing I have to add to this discussion is that I do not buy into the idea that there are difficult to transplant plants that will suffer with even minor root disturbance. If there are any such plants I have not encountered them.

I transplant beans (direct sow also), tomatos, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, pumpkins, peas etc. Some are regarded as having no issues with transplanting and others are regarded as being very fussy about transplanting.

The 'secret', in my opinion, to transplanting the 'difficult' ones is simply timing. Don't allow them to get root bound and put them in the ground before they get too mature. With pumpkins and cukes, as an example, I consider the 5 true leaves stage to be the latest I would want to transplant them into their final location. Moved before this they don't appear to care at all about being transplanted.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2008 at 2:12PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

This is a great thread. Anyone try the cowpots yet...I'm tempted to order some.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2009 at 12:36AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

does anyone stick some burlap in their larger pots to make the transplants easier? This seems like a simple solution.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2009 at 2:05AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm kind of a noob, but I'm too cheap to buy peat pots.

I use cardboard egg cartons instead.

I like Peter B's newspaper scheme though.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2009 at 2:07AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sprouts_honor(5, southern shore of Erie)

There's a guy on the tomato forum that uses milk cartons, one instead the other as the tomato gets taller. Not very pretty, but inexpensive. Think I might give it a try this year. I use newspaper pots. When its too early to set out plants with tap roots that are getting long, I unfold or cut out the bottom and stack into another pot. It's not very sturdy but can usually hold up until the weather breaks. Always remove the newspaper. It doesnÂt break down fast enough in the soil (or maybe my pots are too thick!).

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 8:57PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Unfortunately, I've never had success with peat pots. I've had most success with styrofoam cups and foil loaf pans.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 9:14PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I too am going the no (or very little) cost way this year. Using newspaper and foil pans to hold the water. So far my only expense has been the soil and even that I have had stashed since last season. Newspaper is even free for me (my grandma has the subscription and just saves them for me). I do have some peat pots left over so think I will do a side by side and see what gives.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 9:56PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Let me start out by saying I'm no expert, but have been gardening, lets say 60+ years. I love peat pots because of easy plant watering and easy planting. Yes, I use all kinds of little and big solid containers but peat pots let me keep using two words, easy & reliable. This is my approach. Never buy a jiffy peat pot because they are too thick, too short and have no holes for water absorption. There are peat pots out there ½ the thickness of jiffies, aprox an inch deeper and most important they have at least 4 slits around the bottom that go up about ¾ inch. This all leads to easy watering by putting 18 pots in those black plant trays you see everywhere. Put the tray where you want it, put an inch or plus of water in the tray, come back next day to see if top is damp, if not, put more water in tray. Just keep top damp about 50% of the time. One more little item-----is the tray & water level? If not get that level out and make it so. This is nearly always necessary in my state of TN. When planting take your finger and with a little thump the wet bottom will fall off without disturbing the root system..That's it, nothing fancy.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2009 at 2:24PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I start all my seeds in trays, with plastic dividers if needed cut out from plastic bottles or something, and I grow handreds of seeds this way, when ready I just scoop them out by hand, it's easy, screw peat, it's detrimental to the environment anyways.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2009 at 7:47PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
bagardens (Ohio, Zone 5b)

Well this year (since I hate peat pots) I decided to use regular cell pots, for all my vines. I transplanted them outside a week ago and had no problem with any of them. They are all just fine. Needless to say I will not be using peat pots again.

I really do not understand why so many seed packs (and other places) tell you to use peat pots for plants such as cucumbers and squash. I think it would be better for them to say, to be sure to not let them stay in the pot too long before transplanting or even to say, to be careful of roots when transplanting, rather than tell you to use peat pots. The maker of peat pots must pay them to say so.

I can see how for some it may be more convenient to use them, but they are just not for me. Using them because they are more convenient for you or because you just simply prefer them make sense, but I do not think it is necessary to use them just because of the roots, since I didn't have a problem with regular pots.

Anyhow, thanks for all the responses everyone. It has been very interesting reading about how many different ways everyone starts their seeds.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2009 at 12:02AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Planting where dog used to poop
We haven't had a god in two years. Is it okay to plant...
Identifying garden pests
Dear Experts Could you figure what type of pests are...
Why is Zucchini Stem Splitting?
This is my first year growing zucchini. It's in a container...
Cliff Pruitt
Greenland Gardener Raised Garden Kit
Picked up 2 of these from Walmart yesterday to grow...
What's your favorite?
Sponsored Products
Sango Vineyard 16-piece Dinnerware Set
Green Tinged Handled Glass Beverage Dispenser
Classic Hostess
Killer Whale Bottle Opener
$24.50 | FRONTGATE
Elk Lighting Crackle Ceramic Table Lamp - D131
$190.00 | Hayneedle
LBL Lighting | Tear-S I Coax Pendant Light
$296.00 | YLighting
Domi Chrome Four-Light Bath Fixture with Mocha Glass
$445.50 | Bellacor
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™