We often have the best of intentions around gardening. We buy essentials, such as seed starting mix but then forget about it. Can you still use the seed starting mix if it is old and how long will it last?
Does seed starting mix go bad: Seed starting mix will give your new seeds the best possible start on their germination journey. Made of many substances, including coconut coir and peat moss, the seed starting mix comes in a sealed, sterile bag. However, once you open that bag, it can become contaminated with fungal spores. To prevent this, place your opened bag in a cool, dry area and re-seal it to your best abilities.
What is a seed starting mix?
There can be a lot of confusion around what the seed starting mix is. The biggest issue is that it is often confused with potting soil.
Seed starting mix is indeed used to help seeds start growing. It is a mixture of many substances that provide the right initial environment for tiny seeds to sprout.
While there are different variations of seed starting mix, it is commonly made up of peat moss, coconut coir, vermiculite, and perlite. Interestingly, the seed starting mix will have a lot of different ingredients but regular old soil is not one of them.
The purpose of all these elements is to create a light and airy texture that allows seeds to start sending out roots and shoots. If the dirt is too compacted, the tiny tendrils can’t move through it.
While many people use potting soil to start their seeds out, it is better to use a seed starter mixture. You can find both mixtures in the same area of a gardening center, so be sure to carefully check the package.
When do you use a seed starting mix?
A seed starting mix is used right at the beginning of your planting process. If you are starting your seeds indoors, you want to purchase small trays that make it easy to transfer the seedlings to your garden when they are ready.
Fill the trays or small containers with your starting mix. Then, gently use your finger or a thin object like a pen to create a small hole. You can then place your seeds into this hole and cover them with the starting mix.
Benefits of seed starting mix
If you run your hands through a seed starting mix, you will find it to be quite light and fluffy. You could throw it in the air and watch it scatter in the wind.
This lightness allows the seeds to spread out as they expand their root structure. The more roots a seedling grows, the healthier the plant becomes.
Soil that is compact will impede the growth of roots, which will stunt the growth of plants. While mature plants have thicker, hardier roots that can survive soil in a garden, seedlings are delicate and need a special environment that only a seed starting mix can provide.
One of the benefits of a seed starting mix is that it actually doesn’t have a lot of nutrients in it. This may seem counterintuitive but there is actually a reason for it.
All that a seed needs to start the germination process already exists within its casing. Once the seed is exposed to water, sunlight, and soil, it will naturally start to germinate.
Because seed starting mix doesn’t contain extra nutrients such as fertilizer, it can therefore contain more substances that the tiny seeds actually need.
Of course, this means that you will eventually need to transplant your seeds once they are a certain size. After a few weeks of growth, your seedlings will need more nutrients and if it isn’t warm enough outside, you will need to transplant them to larger containers that have potting soil in them.
The tiny spaces that seedlings start out in don’t allow for a lot of variation in watering. However, the materials used in a seed starting mix give you a bit more breathing room if you forget to water.
For example, coconut coir is a major ingredient in the seed starting mix and it has the ability to soak up extra moisture. Then, it slowly releases this moisture.
So, if you accidentally overwater your seedlings then forget about them, the coconut coir will soak up the water and then start to release the water over the next few days for a more even water routine.
You want your new seedlings to have the best chance of survival and that includes not exposing them to unwanted bacteria or disease. Regular soil can be home to all sorts of fungi which can wipe out new seeds.
The seed starting mix will be completely sterile when you purchase it. It will come in a sealed bag and you can be assured that it doesn’t carry any harmful fungi to infect your seeds.
How to use a seed starting mix
Using a seed starting mix is quite simple. It is made to be exactly what your seedlings need, so you don’t need to use anything else.
You should start with a seed tray that has small, shallow compartments or small containers. If you can isolate your seeds from the beginning, it will make it easier to transplant them when they grow bigger. However, you can also use larger containers if this is all you have.
Fill the containers with your seed starting mix. The mixture is very light so you want to fill the containers to the top with the starting mix as it will settle a little with water.
Most seeds are small enough that you can simply press them into the seed starting mix and then cover them up with a bit more of the mixture. Space larger seeds out but don’t worry if smaller seeds are close together as you can thin them when they begin to grow.
After about a month of growing, your seedlings will need more nutrients to grow that your seed starting mix can’t provide. At this stage, you have two options.
If it is warm enough outside, you can think about transferring your seedlings to your garden. As long as they are large and healthy, they will survive the transition.
If your seedlings are still small and the weather is cool outside, you will need to transplant them to larger containers that have potting soil. This will give the plant roots more space to spread out and will also provide them with the extra nutrients that they need to grow.
How long does the seed starting mix last?
When you purchase your bag of seed starting mix, there should be an expiration date on it. This might be small, so check the bottom of the bag to see if there is a stamp.
If your seed starting mix is left unopen, you can confidently use the mixture until this day. Even after the date, you can still open the bag and use your best judgment to see if it looks and smells good.
After you open your bag of seed starting mix, your timeframe for using it narrows considerably. This is because bacteria and fungi can enter the opened bag and if this happens, your seed starting mix is no longer usable.
Does The seed starting mix go bad?
The seed starting mix goes bad for a number of reasons. First, even if you keep the bag sealed, the contents can become compacted, which lessens the attributes of the mix.
The main reason the seed starting mix goes bad, however, is after you open the bag. Even though the bags are small, you may only need part of the mix and then decide to leave it for later use.
Once open, the bag is exposed to the air around it, which means bacteria and fungal spores can enter the mix. Add in water and more oxygen, and these unwanted elements can start to grow.
When using seed starting mix, always open one bag at a time, just in case you can use the whole bag without needing an extra one.
If you are left with more seed starting mix, you will need to reseal the bag to the best of your abilities. It’s not enough to simply fold the bag down and hope for the best.
Start by removing extra air from the top of the bag. Then, fold down the entire opening.
Use clips along the top to close the bag as tight as possible. It might seem like too much effort, but if you can then put that bag in another bag and tie or seal it, this will protect the seed starting mix even further.
Always store seed starting mix bags in a cool, dark area. Exposure to humidity will increase the chance of fungi forming.
Finally, be careful where you store your unopen bags. Even the smallest prick from a sharp object can result in the mixture becoming un-sterile.
Once you open your bag of seed starting mix, you are exposing it to potential bacteria and fungi. Re-seal your bag with clips and place it in another bag to keep it as airtight as possible.