What is too wet for seed starting mix

ginjjJanuary 25, 2011

I am using a seed starting mix. I've read to put it in a plastic bag and thoroughly wet it. Next I've read to put it in a cell pack or other container, pat it down, and place your seeds.

I would think this soil is very very very very wet. Do I not need to worry since the seed is sitting on top and by the time the roots get down the soil will be drier down below?

In most cases I would either put the cell pack on a heat mat (where I know it will dry out sooner) or outside.

I may have answered my own question here, but I've always worried about the soil being toooooo wet, after I moisten it.



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Mix usually straight out of the bag is extremely loose. So one thing I always say to people is to water your container thoroughly!! I actually stuff my mix in my container, then I sit it in my sink. Then I add water, I add enough where sometimes my mix may even float. Then I let it drain, then after it completely drains I then add my seed. Sometimes after you water and before you add your seed you may have to add more mix, cause the water knocks out the air out of the mix. So you may think you have a lot of soil in your container but you truly know only after you thoroughly water.

Do not worry at first if your soil is a little moist, of course that first watering it may be a little more moist than normal but it really seriously doesn't hurt.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 8:31PM
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loretta5_gw(Z6 PA)

It's much easier to put your medium in a plastic bag or other container and mix it with water that way. Try not to add too much water but don't worry if you make it too wet. Sit the pots on a tray over a sink and let it the water drain out. Problem solved!

    Bookmark   January 26, 2011 at 7:53AM
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keriann_lakegeneva(5B WI/IL border)

In my humble opinion�.

The moisture in seed starting mix and the moisture level in germination till mature plants is one of the most important and often overlooked keys into healthy seedlings.

I put my seed soil into a 5 gallon bucket and add warm water and mix like crazy. There are many air pockets in fresh dry soil, so it takes a lot of mixing and squishing. After I am confident that the soil is thoroughly wet I squeeze all the excess water out. I ring it out until it feels like a well rung out sponge. I then add this mixture to my flats or cells depending on what I am starting. I do use humidity domes for germination to keep the soil moist but remove it as soon as the first seed germinates.

I find the problem with letting too wet of soil dry out (over a heater or in the sun) is that the tops get dry and crusty but the bottom remains soaking wet. Seeds are planted so close to the top, if not on the top of the soil, that the dry surface will not provide adequate moisture to the seeds and the soaking bottom will encourage mold, algae or other spores. I much rather add water then panic about reducing the moisture in my soil.

I hope that helps start you off on a successful path!


    Bookmark   January 26, 2011 at 8:26AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

For those seeds expected to germinate in a week or two I use a mix of half peat and half vermiculite. I keep this mixed and moistened at all times, not moist enough to be able to squeeze any water out. I start most of my seeds in four inch (used)nursery containers. I fill the pot with mix and press it down firmly. it will then be about 5/8 inch down from the top. I TRY and spread the seeds evenly up to about 25 for most seeds. Now the pot is set into about 3 inches of slightly warm water in the sink. When the top of the soil glistens with moisture wicked up, I take it out of the sink and cover the pot with clear cling plastic wrap, securing it with a rubber band. I put the pot on a 70 degree mat and will not have to water again until germination is apparent and the plastic is removed. There will be variations of this routine dictated by the seed variety being planted, some requiring light and some requiring dark. If a seed requires stratifying or scarifying it is a waste of time and money not to provide it. Al

    Bookmark   January 26, 2011 at 9:30AM
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keriann_lakegeneva(5B WI/IL border)

...Just a quick follow up

I also do not pack my soil medium very tightly becuase it is much easier transplanting the seedlings in loose soil and I believe it is easier for the roots to grow deeper in loose soil. A deep root system is always my goal, not a shallow one.

I just fill my flats or cells and give them a good tap on my potting bench and then scrap off the excess soil


    Bookmark   January 26, 2011 at 10:12AM
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Keriann_lakegeneva, brings up a very valid point about not stuffing mix in the container.

That is why I tend to water while my mix is in my container. It adds the element of natural settling not us pushing and compacting our soil. If we water our soil first then shove it in the container we tend to lose our natural settling.

Plus if you grow in other containers like recyclables as I do. The watering in your container prior to adding seed lets you know if you have enough drainage holes before you run into the actual "too damp" situation.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2011 at 11:34AM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Conventional sowing advice is normally - Fill the pot with sowing medium. Firm it gently, water, then sow the seed, either cover or not depending on what is appropriate for that seed. Grit makes a great topping, will let in some light for those seeds that need light, help to maintain soil contact, discourage algae and mosses on those pots that will be slow to germinate.

You need to find that range in between gently and too firm - we're not compressing like to level for stepping stones here.

Illustrated tamper:
(this is an old Martha clip but still a handy suggestion. I don't necessarily follow Martha's garden wisdom, but Dan Hinkleys I absolutely do and to the letter, never varying. If he has said it, I do it :))

Here is a link that might be useful: Preparing seed pots

    Bookmark   January 26, 2011 at 1:28PM
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indi1(Z7 VA)

I'm sure you have enough responses to consider, but I will add my two cents.. I combine the water and mix in a big container(concrete mixing pan)and "massage" it until it is the consistency of cake mix, not cake batter. If you squeeze a handful and open your hand, it would be just wet enough to stay clumped together with no drips. Then I spread evenly in flats, sow the seed and cover with press and seal. I use painters tape to label the side of the flat. Those that require light go under shop lights and those who require dark, sit on holiday lights for extra bottom heat. Either way, after they germinate I remove the press and seal.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2011 at 6:17PM
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Thank you all for your feedback. It sounds like I do want to avoid overly saturated soil. I like the different ways of making this happen, have to decide what to try first.

Thank you for taking the time to help me with this.


    Bookmark   January 26, 2011 at 10:47PM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

Good growing Ginny. Each of us has offered their own methods, usually arrived at by "trial and error". Obviously they all succeed. The reason for tamping the loose soil when planting seed is to assure seed to soil contact. Al

    Bookmark   January 27, 2011 at 9:31AM
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I grow hundreds of seedlings and have found the best way to wet the mixture is fill a 5 gallon bucket about one third full with dry seed starting mix and add water until it is slightly soupy. Then keep adding more dry mix while constantly mixing until you get a moist but not dripping wet mixture. After you have mixed several buckets full you will be able to judge pretty well when you have the right amount of moisture.
Also, try to buy seed starting mix that contains a wetting agent otherwise the peat moss will just float on top. If it doesn't have a wetting agent then use very hot water. But I use Pro-Mix with Biofungicide so I don't use hot water because it might kill the friendly bacteria which eat damping off fungus. If you save rainwater, use that instead of clorinated salt laden tap water.
If by chance you do make the mixture too wet leave the seed starting container uncovered until it dries out a bit.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2011 at 11:13PM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

I have a collection of 33 gallon plastic garbage containers, I buy when they are on sale. Each of my ingredients is kept in its own container with lid. When I fill the containers I moisten the Peat, Vermiculite, Moss, Turface,Chicken Grit or Play Ball. Nothing is stored in a dry form. Anything dry is just too time consuming to mix with anything else. Al

    Bookmark   January 31, 2011 at 9:29AM
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