Savvy Alternatives to Peat-Based Products for Starting Seeds Indoors

upcycled toilet paper roll as a seed starter with small plant growing inside

Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura

If you start your plants from seed, you've likely noticed that commercial seed-starting products are heavily peat-based: seed starting mixes, compressed peat pellets, even pots and flats made of compressed peat. However, peat is not really a sustainable option. So, what's a gardener to do?

Make your own mix, and re-purpose biodegradable objects to replace those plantable peat pots. Here's how.

Peat-Less Seed Starting Mix

coir, vermicompost and perlite mixtures in three small piles on wood floor

Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura

The best alternative I've found for peat moss is coir, which is a by-product of the commercial coconut processing industry -- definitely more sustainable than peat. Coir is usually purchased in compressed bricks, which yield quite a lot of seed starting mix once fluffed. Here's the basic recipe I use:

  • 1 part coir
  • 1 part vermicompost
  • 1 part perlite
hands mix up mixture of coir vermicompost and perlite for seed starter soil

Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura

A "part" can be anything, depending on how much mix you're making: a cup, a bucket full, a scoop -- whatever. The coir provides water retention and bulk. The vermicompost provides nutrients to the seedlings, but, perhaps even more importantly, protects seedlings from diseases like damping off. And the perlite (light volcanic rock) provides lightness and helps the mix drain well. Mix this up, moisten it, then fill up your seed starting containers or flats. Which leads us to...

Make Your Own Plantable Seed Pots

old newspaper, empty egg shells, and toilet paper rolls are all good upcycled seed starters

Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura

Those peat pots that you simply plant when it's time to plant your seedlings out in the garden are definitely a convenience item, but you can do the same thing without peat by using items you'd normally toss out. Three great options are newspaper, toilet paper rolls, and eggshells.

So there you have it: seed starting, peat-free!

close shot of hands building a seed starter in empty egg shell with dirt and seeds

Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura