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Peat Pots: Biodegradable Planters For Your Garden

It’s a brand new year, and we’re all planning our garden escapades for the next season and preparing to start seeds. Peat pots are a fantastic option for those who’re starting plants or transplanting them.

But what exactly is a peat pot? What are they made of, and how do they work? Are these better than other containers?

Today, we’ll explore these peat-based options: pots, pellets, and strips. You’ll learn how they’re made commercially as well as how you can make your own. We’ll explore some alternatives as well. And when we’re done, you’ll know how these little biodegradable bits of moss can enrich your garden!

Listen to this post on the Epic Gardening Podcast

What Are Peat Pots?

Simple put, they’re a type of biodegradable planting pot. Made of natural materials, they eventually lose their form and simply become part of the soil around the plant. This makes them incredibly eco-friendly, as you don’t have to worry about plastic going into landfills.

They also add to your garden soil, helping to keep moisture around the roots of your plant. And, even better, there’s almost no chance of transplant shock when you put your plant into the soil later. The roots are never disturbed, and your plant is stronger and more vigorous!

How Are They Made?

Before a pot can be made, manufacturers need sphagnum peat moss.

Sphagnum peat is the decomposed remnants of sphagnum moss. Slowly decaying in an anaerobic environment, it develops great moisture-retention capabilities. It basically becomes a fibrous material that works as a natural sponge.

Since peat is slow to form naturally, some manufacturers have begun using recycled cow manure or coconut coir as an alternative to sphagnum peat. Both of these are also excellent choices, and work functionally the same way as peat.

Commercially, manufacturers of these pots will take large quantities of their peat material and completely saturate it in water, causing it to turn into a thick muddy mixture. They will add some wood pulp to this mixture for rigidity, and then blend it thoroughly together into a peat slurry.

Once the slurry is prepared, it will be pressed into forms. Pressing it compacts the moss and wood pulp into its intended shape and also squeezes out most of the excess liquid. Tightly compacted together, it will then be dried thoroughly, creating a biodegradable pot.

Due to the addition of the wood pulp, these pots will hold their shape long enough that starting seeds shouldn’t be a problem. However, the pot will eventually lose form, so it’s important to plant your seedlings quickly once they’re ready.

Should You Use Strips, Pots, Or Pellets?

There are a few different variations on these peat-based potting products. Let’s go over the differences and similarities between these now.

Peat Strips

These pressed strips of peat form little chambers, much like a standard seedling tray. However, you can use a razor blade, exacto knife, or scissors to cut the chambers apart, and may even be able to pull them apart by hand. You then simply plant the entire chamber, pot and all. This causes less transplant stress, and the peat will eventually break down in the soil.

However, as strips tend to be very lightweight, these only hold up long enough to start your plants. You’ll need to transplant these out rather quickly before the peat layer starts to break down.

Peat Pots

Made exactly as I described above, peat pots are usually larger and thicker containers which can hold a plant until it reaches a reasonably large size. It’s also an option for transplanting seedlings into, giving you more time before they’re planted into the soil.

You may actually be able to use a peat-based pot consistently for a few months before it starts to warp and fall apart. These are very useful when paired with a high-quality potting soil.

Peat Pellets

These little pellets don’t actually use the wood pulp that standard peat pots or strips use. Instead, they’re covered with a fine biodegradable mesh that helps give the pellet some form.

When these arrive, they’re small, compressed discs. If you buy one of Jiffy’s peat pellet starter kits, they also have a plastic tray with round indentations for the discs. The Jiffy peat pellets instructions say to pour warm water over the pellets until they have fully expanded.

Once warm water hits the compacted pellets, they immediately start to swell up, forming a cylinder of peat which is barely held in place by the surrounding bio-mesh. There’s usually a small indentation in the planting side, making it easy to drop a couple seeds inside. It’s almost like using miniature fabric pots!

Which Peat Product Is Best?

It really depends on what you’re doing.

Starting out seeds with the plan of transplanting them soon makes Jiffy pellets the easiest option for beginners. They’re fun to use, and they work extremely well.

However, peat doesn’t have much nutrition, and you don’t have potting mix or compost. You may need to use some liquid fertilizer on these once you see signs of growth.

If you’re starting a tray of seedlings for transplanting into the garden, and want to use some of your own potting mixture or compost, strips are fantastic. These work extremely well, especially when you’re trying to get enough leeks or onion seedlings to work with.

Finally, there’s the standard peat pot. These come in multiple sizes, which means you can use them for transplanting or repotting purposes. The thicker material helps them support the plant for longer while you encourage it to grow to ground-planting size.

However, even these will break down, and so you shouldn’t keep your plants in these without transplanting for more than a month or two.

How To Use Peat Pots

Using these seed pots is easy. Let’s go over the two major uses for these and how they work.

Germination

I described above how to start seeds in Jiffy pellets – just add water, wait for them to swell up, and plant.

However, you can get seeds started in both strips and in peat pots as well. Fill your strips or pots with your desired planting medium. You can use a quality potting mix, compost, or your own personal blend. Sow your seeds in your planting medium or in the pellets directly. Then place these in a warm place until the seeds germinate.

Regardless of whether you’re using pots, strips, or pellets, you will need to place these into some form of tray. The tray can be set on top of a seed starting heat mat if you need added warmth. The warmth of the peat will help the plants to germinate quickly. Don’t over-water, but keep the soil and peat damp.

If you’re not sure how many seeds to plant to get going, watch my video on calculating how many seeds to start!

Transplanting

One of the most difficult aspects of transplanting plants is that so many suffer shock when transplanting. With a peat pot, you eliminate the risk of transplant stress, as you’re planting the entire pot.

If you have small seedlings that you need to grow larger before putting them in the garden bed, you can use pots to do that, and then just plant your pot, strip, or pellet later.

They’re extremely useful for planting tower gardens, as the oddly-shaped spaces in tower gardens can be hard to plant into. With a peat pot, you just saturate the pot, and it becomes flexible and easy to set into place.

Something I highly recommend is that you loosen the base of the pot to give roots an easier time breaking through the peat material. This is also important for the pellets, because while the mesh easily gives way, it can take time for it to break down in the soil.

I find that taking a razor and making some shallow cuts around and through the bottom of a pot or a couple slashes in the base of a pellet is essential before transplanting. This makes it much easier for growing roots to penetrate through and extend into the soil where it’s been transplanted.

Some people will actually cut the entire base off their pot. If you want to be absolutely sure that your plant’s roots can spread and grow easily, do it! You can crumble up the base of the pot into the planting hole.

If you’re a container gardener, using peat pots to transplant into your larger pots can’t be easier. Just prepare your new containers with potting soil and drop your biodegradable pots into the new soil. Voila, they’re planted!

Where To Buy

While most good gardening centers have a selection, your cheapest option is to purchase your pots online. You can buy them in quantities that most garden centers don’t offer, and the prices can’t be beat. Here’s a selection of Jiffy pots for you to choose from in a variety of size options!

Are you getting ready to start seeds, or looking for a biodegradable option for easy transplants? Peat pots should be on your list! Learn all about this eco-friendly option, how they're made, and how they're used here!

How to Transplant Plants in Jiffy Pellets

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Jiffy plant pods are sold as compact disks that swell up when the pellet is soaked in water. The soilless mixture held within the biodegradable mesh is made up of sphagnum peat moss and a little bit of fertilizer. This mixture gives seeds enough nutrients to germinate and put on strong growth. Once the seedlings are big enough they are transplanted to the garden or containers, which improves the soil with the addition of peat moss when the seedlings are planted, explains University of California Cooperative Extension.

Benefits of Jiffy Plant Pods

Using Jiffy pellets for germination offers the grower many benefits. These pellets hold enough moisture to germinate the seeds while draining well so the seedlings do not drown. The netting around the Jiffy pellets allows air to circulate through the root ball. By starting seeds indoors in these pellets, a gardener gets at least a month’s head start on the regular growing season.

The main benefit is that these pellets reduce transplant shock of the seedlings by minimizing the damage to the roots during transplanting. When transplanting from Jiffy peat pellets, the entire root ball wrapped in mesh is planted. In other words, the entire peat pot is planted along with the seedling, notes PennState Extension.

Transplant shock is a big drawback associated with starting plants indoors. When transplanting seedlings, shock occurs when the roots are damaged. This is especially a problem with sensitive plants like cucumbers, melons, squash, cabbages, cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and lettuce. If these plants suffer root damage, then growth slows and the seedlings could die before recovering.

Hardening off Seedlings

Hardening off is an important step in transplanting from Jiffy peat pellets. This process toughens up the seedlings so the exposure to the environment is not as damaging. It takes about seven to 10 days to harden off seedlings grown in Jiffy plant pods. Place them in a sheltered location with bright indirect light and wind protection.

Increase the time seedlings spend outside daily until the young plants can tolerate being outside during the night. Once the plant spends two to three nights outside and all danger of a spring frost is past, then the seedlings are ready to transplant outdoors into the ground or containers.

Transplanting from Jiffy Peat Pellets

Prepare the soil according to the preferences of the seedlings. Plant roots should be pushing their way through the mesh by planting time. Place the root balls enclosed in the pellets in a tray of water. This prevents the roots from drying out while transplanting.

Gently pull apart the wet pods, disturbing the roots as little as possible. Next, dig a hole a little deeper than the pellet and place the entire root ball, including the pellet, into the hole. Fill the hole covering the pellet mesh completely.

Do not leave any of the pellet mesh above ground since this will wick the water away from the roots and disperse it through evaporation. Once the seedlings are transplanted into the garden, treat the seedlings like any other young plants.

How to Transplant Plants in Jiffy Pellets. Jiffy pellets are sold as compact disks that swell up when the pellet is soaked in water. The soilless mixture held within the biodegradable mesh is made up of sphagnum peat moss and a little bit of fertilizer. This mixture gives seeds enough nutrients to germinate and put on …