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Jiffy Peat Pellets – Not Good For The Environment

Jiffy peat pellets, also called Jiffy pellets and Jiffy-7, are a convenient way to start seeds. Just add water to the small pellets and they expand, ready for us. Place a seed in the top and in no time you will have happy seedlings.

This all sounds like a good idea, but how well do plants grow? Are the pellets bio-degradable in the garden?

Jiffy-7 pellets not good for the environment

Jiffy-7 pellets for starting seeds

Jiffy Pellets – What Are They?

Jiffy pellets are purchased as small disks as shown above. When water is added, the dry peat moss or coco husk (coir) expands dramatically. In order to keep this material from falling apart, everything is contained in a fine mesh. The mesh forms the pot around the potting material.

Seed is inserted in the top and pressed into the potting mix. As it grows, roots will reach the fine mesh. Some roots find the mesh to be a barrier and stay inside the mesh. Other roots will manage to sneak out through the holes, but since there is no potting media or water outside of the mesh they don’t grow very far. In effect they are root pruned.

When the seedlings are ready to be planted you simply pop the whole thing into a small hole and water it.

Admittedly, the whole system seems to be a good idea. It is much cleaner than filling other types of pots with potting mix, and once everything is planted you don’t have pots that need to be stored for next year. They are more expensive than using a traditional pot and buying a bag of potting mix. There are also some concerns about plant health and the environment.

The renewable nature of peat moss is not a concern, I’ve discussed this myth before in Peat and Peat Moss – The True Story.

Jiffy Pots and Root Damage

The Jiffy pots are quite small, and in no time the roots will want to grow past the outside mesh. If the roots do not get past this, the pots are really too small to grow seedlings to a size large enough to be planted out in the garden. A simple solution is to pot them in a larger pot. The problem with this is that most of the roots will still not grow out of the confining mesh unless you remove it. If you are going to remove the mesh why not start the seed in the larger pot and skip the Jiffy pellet?

If the roots do grow through the mesh they don’t find potting media or water and so they can’t grow very far. If you later remove the mesh before planting, you will damage the roots that have made it through the mesh.

The solution is simple according to Jiffy – don’t remove the mesh. Plant the whole thing as is.

Jiffy Pots Don’t Decompose

What happens to the mesh when you leave it on and plant the whole thing? In the past, promotional material from Jiffy suggested that you don’t need to worry about the plastic – it just decomposes. But does it?

I have recently heard stories from two gardeners that make it very clear that the mesh does not decompose quickly.

Jiffy pellets entwined in fine mesh and not decomposing

Jiffy pellets entwined in fine mesh and not decomposing

This picture from The Gardening Girl shows the netting after being in the ground for two years. She says, “Here’s an example of one I found today. This was an old parsley plant from 2 years ago, that I started from seed. You can see how the roots tied themselves around the Jiffy pellet and couldn’t find their way down into the soil. It’s shocking to think this waste material is littering most of my beds.

 

 

 

Jiffy-7 pellets completely intact a year after being planted

Jiffy-7 pellets completely intact a year after being planted

And Wendy reports ” they really don’t break down as quickly as we hope! I’m planting my cold frame and found these from last year. I’m going to replant them and see if I dig them up again next fall!!! Wonder how long till they really break down?”

How long does it take to decompose the mesh? I could not find an answer but based on the above reports it is at least several years. I have asked Jiffy for this information and will post it if I get it.

In fairness to Jiffy they no longer promote the bio-degradable nature of the mesh on their website.

Jiffy Pellets – Should They Be Used?

I don’t think they are a good solution. They are too small for most seedlings, and we do not need more plastic waste in our gardens. If you do use this product you should definitely remove the mesh before planting even though doing so damages roots and negates the convenience of the product.

Just use regular plastic pots and seed starting mix. They are larger, easier to use and less expensive. Moving seedlings to larger pots or planting them is much easier and does not damage roots in the process. Plastic pots can be reused for many years and I get mine for free when I buy plants.

References:

  1. Photo source for Jiffy 7; The HydroStore
  2. Photo source for celery in Jiffy pellet mesh; The Gardening Girl
  3. Photo source for 2 year old Jiffy pellet mesh; private correspondence

 

Robert Pavlis
Editor of GardenMyths.com
I live in southern Ontario, Canada, zone 5 and have been gardening a long time. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

I hope you find Garden Myths an educational site that helps you understand your garden better.

10 Responses to 'Jiffy Peat Pellets – Not Good For The Environment'

  1. skyeent says:

    I also have had problems with tea bags not decomposing in the compost. It tends to be littered with ghosts of tea drinks past! Another reason for loose leaf! Mind you my compost heap is never a hot heap so maybe that’s why.

  2. patricia says:

    Speaking of plastic in the garden I would be interested in a post about tea bags in one’s compost. In my experience most of them have non-biodegradable plastic content, making sifting one’s compost in the spring a real hassle. Do you know of any tea brands which do not use plastic in their tea bags?

  3. Roger Brook says:

    You are right about the drawbacks of jiffy sevens and I endorse your advice to gardeners to recycle their pots by repeatedly using them (Psst I don’t even wash mine as I once explained on my blog)
    I must say the horticultural college I worked for used them quite a lot in the commercial nursery attached to the college and I remember they used them to propagate cyclamen – that they later potted up to make fine plants. This was 30 years ago – I am surprised jiffys are still around

  4. Michael Murray says:

    I have tried the mesh peat pellets and find they both restrict root growth and do not biodegrade even after being composted. Once was enough for me!

  5. Marilyn Needham says:

    I am in the UK, I don’t buy the jiffy pots, but when I buy small plants from a garden centre ie geraniums to grow on, I always check that they aren’t in similar net pots and then in a proper plant pot because they can’t grow properly. I think anything like that should be banned. Do you think garden centres do it on purpose, so customers end up having to buy more when the plants don’t grow properly? Ibet your gardens look lovely,any photos of it please? Cheers and thankyou, Marilyn.

  6. Jim says:

    I’ve had similar experience with Jiffy peat pellets. Do you have any data regarding the decomposition and degradability of the bio sponges used in the Bio Dome system sold by Park Seed and similar systems sold by other garden supply vendors?

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