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How to Start Seeds in Peat Moss or Potting Soil

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Starting seeds in containers with peat moss or other appropriate medium will allow you to start the growing season early and offers you greater control over the germination and seedling environment. Selecting and preparing the containers and medium for sowing the seeds is very important and greatly influences the degree of success you will have with sprouting and young plant development. The ideal germination medium should offer a fine texture, excellent drainage, good aeration and low fertility. It will also not contain weed seeds, pests or disease pathogens.

Select and disinfect, if necessary, a flat or other shallow containers that offer plenty of drainage holes. New, never-used containers are typically sterile, but previously-used trays or pots could contain debris that is hosting pathogens or pests. Wash all debris off of the containers and immerse the container in a solution that contains 10 percent bleach for five minutes. Let the container air dry before using it.

Choose or prepare an appropriate germination medium. Sphagnum peat moss alone can be used to start seeds or you can blend it with vermiculite, sand or perlite. Potting soil or loamy garden soil by itself is often too heavy for seed starting, but a mixture of two parts soil, one part peat moss and two parts sand or vermiculite is acceptable, especially for large seeds. Use only sterilized potting soil to avoid problems with diseases, pests and weeds or sterilize soil prior to using it by placing damp soil no more than 4 inches deep in an oven-safe container covered with aluminum foil and heating it to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep it at that temperature for 30 minutes, then let it cool and keep it covered until you are ready to use it.

Fill the flat or other sterile containers most of the way with the chosen or prepared germinating medium. Gently firm the medium down as you place it in the container and fill the container to about an inch from its top.

Moisten the germinating medium thoroughly and evenly. Wet the medium enough so that excess water begins to exit from the container’s drain holes.

Sprinkle the seeds over the surface of the prepared medium or press them lightly into its surface. Recommended spacing between seeds varies depending on the plant species. In general, sowing seeds about an inch apart in rows about 2 inches apart is often acceptable. Thinning later can address any overcrowding.

Cover the seeds lightly with germinating medium. The appropriate amount of medium to apply varies between seeds. Do not cover very fine seeds like petunia with any medium. Otherwise, as a general rule, cover seeds with an amount of medium equal to about two times their diameter.

Mist the newly-planted seeds lightly but thoroughly. Cover the container with a clear glass or plastic lid or enclose it in a bag to maintain a high level of humidity around the seeds. Mist the surface of the medium as needed so that it remains constantly moist but not wet.

Place the container with the germinating medium and seeds in a warm spot that receives bright, indirect light. Most seeds germinate best when temperatures remain between about 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service: Starting Seeds Indoors
  • The University of Arizona Master Gardener Manual Reference: Starting Seeds
  • University of Minnesota Extension: Starting Seeds Indoors
  • North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service: Starting Plants from Seeds

Angela Ryczkowski is a professional writer who has served as a greenhouse manager and certified wildland firefighter. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in urban and regional studies.

How to Start Seeds in Peat Moss or Potting Soil. Starting seeds in containers with peat moss or other appropriate medium will allow you to start the growing season early and offers you greater control over the germination and seedling environment. Selecting and preparing the containers and medium for sowing the seeds …

Sphagnum Moss vs Peat Moss

Posted on 29 December 2018

There is a lot of confusion about the labeling of sphagnum moss and peat moss. The important difference between these two mosses has never been clearly explained to most gardeners. So, this article will try to clear up the confusion and describe how they are both similar, yet two very different soil amendments.

Sphagnum moss is pH neutral.
Yes, you read that right. Generally, the pH of sphagnum moss is pH neutral. It is soft, pliable, and very water-retentive. It is used to line baskets, as a seed-starter medium, as a medium that most big-box store Phalaenopsis orchids are growing in, and as an amendment in potting soils. Good quality sphagnum moss will be pure moss, without any other plant material incorporated.

Sphagnum moss and peat moss begin life the same way, from the same plant. Sphagnum moss grows on the surface of the soil, generally where the climate is mild, humid, gets plenty of rain, and perhaps somewhat shaded. Sphagnum moss grows in abundance in parts of Canada, Peru, New Zealand, Ireland, and Scotland. It grows all over the world, but these areas are where most of our commercially available moss comes from. Sphagnum moss is a living plant when harvested, but when we purchase it, it has been thoroughly dried. Basically, there are two forms of the sphagnum moss when sold commercially, long-fibered moss and milled moss. They are the same moss, but the long-fibered is left in its natural form and the milled is moss that has been finely chopped.

Peat moss is very acidic and is high in tannins.
Now Peat moss is quite different, and to add confusion, it is often labeled as sphagnum peat moss. It begins its life as sphagnum moss, but over time the sphagnum moss dies and is over-grown by new sphagnum moss. This is repeated over and over, and after hundreds or even thousands of years these many layers of dead sphagnum moss form a bog. This layer of dead, compacted moss is now called peat moss. Peat moss is saturated with water. Water is a necessary element for a bog to form. Peat moss is not pure moss and is a mixture of many plant varieties that died along with the moss and can have twigs and dead insects. Whereas sphagnum moss has a neutral pH, peat moss is very acidic and is high in tannins. Peat moss is sold in compressed bales and, like milled sphagnum moss, it is used in potting and garden soils. Peat moss is a less expensive amendment in potting and garden soils, and it is a great medium for growing acid-loving plants.

Practically everyone who grows plants, uses some sort of sphagnum moss. It is found in most commercially available seedling mixes, potting soils, garden soils, in bales labeled as Sphagnum Peat Moss, in 2 cf. bags labeled Milled Sphagnum Moss, in moss-lined baskets, and in small bags labeled Long-fibered Sphagnum Moss. This is good information for pepper and tomato growers who make their own seedling mixes. The sphagnum moss is great component for water retention and will not lower the pH of your mixes.

There is a lot of confusion about the labeling of sphagnum moss and peat moss. The important difference between these two mosses has never been clearly explained to most gardeners. So, this article will try to clear up the confusion and describe how they are both similar, yet two very different soil amendments. Spha