Types of soil for winter sowing?

katskan41November 18, 2010

Hello all. I'm new on this forum and wanted to ask about soils. I'm planning on growing trees and shrubs but first I would like to find a good soil that works for winter sowing. What do most people on this forum use as soils for winter sowing?

I've read that some people use high-end "pro" mixes, and others use "dollar store" bagged mixes.

Seems like a good mix would retain at least some moisture and also allow seedling roots to breathe in spring when germinating.


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Welcome to the wonderful world of winter sowing!

I use Fafard Professional Growers Mix in a compressed bale. I bought Pro-Mix when it was available but the Fafard is the same formula, costs a couple $ less & is more readily available where I am. A compressed bale will fill 200 milk jugs for winter sowing--I kept track last year.

My neighbor winter sowed in his own compost and got zero germination.

You'll get lots of different opinions/suggestions on this forum. Also, if you read the FAQs there will be soil suggestions/recommendations there as well.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2010 at 9:38AM
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I like any potting soil that has plant food in it.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2010 at 10:10AM
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Well this is always a very opinionated discussion.

For me I actually am what I consider poor. I went to seeds for economic reasons. I love the theory of winter sowing because, once again economic reasons.

The soil I actually have been using was a mix that I had previously used for a house plant I poorly neglected (long story why I neglected it). I get great germination rates.

Personal opinion, here!!
Winter sowing is based on the idea if it self sows then you can winter sow it. Well seeds that grow wild get distributed many ways in different soil types. I personally do not think it matters what kind of mix you use as long as it holds enough moisture to allow your seed to germinate and grow properly. Yet you do not want a boggy mix either.

I want to say I have tried a real fine mulch mix, and that did not work. I believe it was because of the "moisture issue".

    Bookmark   November 18, 2010 at 10:26AM
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kimka(Zone 6B)

As others say, there is a wide variety of soils with which that people have had success. I personally have had great great luck with Miracle Grow garden soil. It holds the right amount of moisture for my climate and condtions and, since it has three months of fertilizer, it takes care of the first sets of true leaves so I don't have to fertilize what I get potted up or planted out early. It is cheaper than the potting soil.

One year, I tried cutting the garden soil with various combinations of garden soil, seed starter mix, vermiculite and or perlite (to stretch the most expensive soil further) and found in many cases that the resulting soil didn't hold enough moisture especially after genmination began. I lost a number of containers to tiny seedlings either drying out and dying or dying in the flood as I tried to water.

I buy the MG garden soil whenever it goes on sale usually at Home Depot and stockpile in the garage so the bags aren't frozen solid when January hits. You do have to watch and not end up with some not fully composted into soil bags of MG garden soil. If the bag seems light for the size, don't buy it. You may be able to find some end of season sales on the soil this time of year.


    Bookmark   November 18, 2010 at 11:02AM
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I was strictly a container gardener for over 7 years, due to apartment living. ;)
If you grow mainly in containers you understand how different it is to think about soil for plants in containerized situations. Since wintersowing is basically that concept, it is best to use the same thought.
I use organic Pro-mix because it is what I had best results in container gardening. You can re-use it if you have some leftover from previous years. I think it's best to add a little perlite if you are reusing any soil-less mix that's a few years old, to help with drainage.

If you visit the container gardening forum they have lots of ideas on soil less mixes, including making your own bulk. People love tapla's/ Al's mix recipes, if you are inclined to make your own bulk mixes.

I think in the end any soil less mix (with fertilizer/ without/ any brand) will give you better results than anything else.
good luck!

    Bookmark   November 18, 2010 at 11:03AM
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Would a peat mix (I think it has fertilizer) work well, or should I mix in some potting soil with it?

    Bookmark   November 19, 2010 at 12:45AM
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This probably sounds horrible of me, but it totally works. The mix I use that came from my house plant even has some of the root of the plant. It is a lot like peat, what I do is always mix well with the soil mix.

Originally the soil I used was a combo mix, I had some dollar store soil and I had a bag of miracle grow. The dollar store brand alone is hard to work with, but combined with the miracle grow and the old root and the original container soil, it is perfect. Very peat like!!

    Bookmark   November 19, 2010 at 8:35AM
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I use only promix for myself But a friend used walmarts expert blend and had great germination! It says that it fertilizes for 9 months!


    Bookmark   November 19, 2010 at 9:24AM
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Thanks for the great ideas everyone. Looks there a lot of people using a lot of different soils. Great variety of ideas!

I plan to sow seeds in this soil (whatever I end up using) and a few weeks after germination in spring I will transplant the trees to larger, individual containers.

Basically I want to make sure that the germination soil I use holds enough water to give the seedlings moisture but not too much to start fungus or root rot issues. Also want to make sure the soil stays "loose" and has plenty of air for the roots. The peat-based soil I used to buy always worked great at first but eventually turned very dense and brick-like, so hard for roots to grow.

I was going to customize a starter soil mix but there are a lot of pre-bagged "seed starter" soils available so maybe its not worth the time to build one, especially since in my case the seeds will only be in this soil for the winter and a few weeks in spring after germination.


    Bookmark   November 19, 2010 at 10:16AM
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terrene(5b MA)

I have used Fafard, Miracle gro, a local nursery's potting mix, and last year I bought a bale of Pro-mix. I still have more than 1/2 of the bale left, after doing about 80 containers last year and using some for repotting WS'n seedlings. All of the mixes worked well, except the Pro-mix has a more even consistency and no sticks/stones, and it seemed to compact less in the container over time.

I agree Weebay that the conditions for winter-sowing are similar to container gardening. EXCEPT the mixes like Tapla's mix, use bark fines and other coarse materials that are perfect for a larger containers with plants that grow large and mature, and are probably too coarse for seed-starting.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2010 at 10:31AM
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So, a 100% peat mixture would be fine? It wouldn't go moldy or something? It's Klasmann TS 1, made of white sphagnum peat. I'm nervous as it's my first time trying winter sowing, and I'm sowing about 100 different plants, and don't want a huge failure rate as I can't afford it.

(Sorry, I hope I'm not hijacking your thread katskan!)

    Bookmark   November 19, 2010 at 10:09PM
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girlgroupgirl(8 ATL)

Recently I found a new favorite here in Georgia. It's the organic Jungle Grow for Veggies. It is so much lighter and fluffier than their other types and without chunks in it. I would like Pro-Mix but I can't find it here. The Jungle Grow is as close as I can come.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2010 at 12:24AM
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terrene(5b MA)

What you want to buy is a bag labelled "potting mix" not "potting soil", "top soil" or "compost". Soil or compost, including garden soil or compost made at home, etc. should not be used in the mix for winter-sowing containers. These will compact too much over time and then drainage and aeration are reduced, which will inhibit root growth.

100% peat moss would probably hold too much moisture and I have heard it's too acidic by itself - which is why Pro mix and other potting mixes add perlite, vermiculite, and lime to the peat to improve drainage and balance the pH.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2010 at 3:46AM
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kqcrna(z6 SW Oh)

And regular potting mix works well. You don't need special "seed starter mix".


    Bookmark   November 20, 2010 at 5:25AM
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I must agree with Terrene about using only peat. In addition to what she states, when the peat actually begins to dry out it will be difficult to rehydrate.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2010 at 8:23AM
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Great info everyone! I've not tried bagged "potting soil" for seed starting but might give it a try. I think thats what Trudi recommended in the FAQ.

I have used a peat/sand mix which is OK, or a bagged "seedling soil" but that's mostly peat anyway. Long as the soil mix holds some water but remains loose (non-compacted) for air to get to the roots.

Great tips on this thread!

    Bookmark   November 20, 2010 at 8:55AM
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molanic(Zone 5 IL)

I would also recommend that if you live somewhere with wet winters and spring don't get the potting mixes with the large water holding polymer gel things in them. They just soak up all the rain and float to the top.

Also, the potting mixes that are specially formulated for growing in containers that have extra bark chips in them to stay fluffy and not compact don't work so well for wintersowing. The containers stay well drained and the seedlings grow fine. The problem is at planting time. Instead of sliding out of the jug as a nice solid chunk that can be torn into hunks o seeds ...you get a loose pile of potting mix and seedlings that falls apart the second it leaves the container. The mix just doesn't hold together by the roots very well.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2010 at 2:50PM
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Thanks everyone for your advice!

    Bookmark   November 21, 2010 at 6:42AM
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Yes some great advice on this thread, thanks everyone!

I wouldn't mind using a "loose" mix with fine bark chips for winter seed starting since I use something very similar for container soil for growing larger trees. I do like the fact that loose soil comes off the roots easily when transplanting, but usually I go from smaller container to larger container. If you are planting winter grown seedlings from sowing container directly to the garden, then you might prefer the more dense soil that stays together.

Just depends on what you are doing with the seedlings and what type of seedling you are growing.

Some great and economical idea in this thread for sure.

Thanks. :)

    Bookmark   November 21, 2010 at 8:17AM
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Could someone tell me please a good soil to use for winter sowing seed perennials. I am in Zone 5.
Thank you!

    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 10:35PM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Joyce, any good quality potting soil as you would use for mature plants in containers will be great for winter sowing. Different products are available in different locations, people here use ProMix, Farfards, Miracle Grow - I use one of the Cornell mixes but only because a local nursery prepares and bags it, I don't mix it myself.

(The only commercial product I know does not bring good results is Hyponex)

    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 11:07PM
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kvenkat(5a Colo)

I recently saw someone demonstrate to me why Hyponex is a crappy mix. When you water it, it turns to a heavy, thick sludge which does not drain. NOT good for planting anything.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2011 at 10:29PM
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