Jiffy Peat Pellets – Not Good For The Environment

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Robert Pavlis

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 which 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.

Compost Science for Gardeners by Robert Pavlis

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 contacted Jiffy and got a reply from Sylvain Helie, Jiffy-East Canada & Hydroponics, who said, “Usually the mesh around our Jiffy pellet will breakdown within 1-2 years. Since they are mainly photo degradable, it takes more time than biodegradable mesh.” They did not supply any real data, but based on the above observations from gardeners it is more than 1-2 years.

If the mesh is buried in the ground along with the root ball the way it is intended, it will get almost no light. Since it is photo degradable and needs light to degrade, you can expect this plastic to be in the soil a long time.

Here is another example. These were in the ground for 5 years – see how well they “don’t” degrade!

Jiffy pellets after being in the garden for 5 years
Jiffy pellets after being in the garden for 5 years

In fairness to Jiffy they no longer promote the bio-degradable nature of the mesh on their website, but many customers still believe they biodegrade.

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

 

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. 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!

42 thoughts on “Jiffy Peat Pellets – Not Good For The Environment”

  1. Here is a link to a study titled The Effect of Soil Compaction Levels on Germination and Biometric Characteristics of Coffee Seedlings in the Nursery.

    https://scialert.net/fulltext/?doi=ijar.2007.581.589

    You can still have a good germination rate with compacted soils (increasing contact between seed and soil can actually increase germination rate) but the problem isn’t in the seed sprouting, the problem is after it sprouts. Compacted soils prevent the roots from growing well. The results of the study conclude that both plant density and plant height of the seedling are negatively effected in compacted soils. Germination rate isn’t really the only important thing with seedlings – if you have skinny spindly seedlings that can barely even stand up straight, then your germination rate might be irrelevant to your success. Just because you can get a seed to sprout in compacted soil doesn’t mean that it’s the best medium for the plant’s earliest stages of life.

    Furthermore, starting in a paper towel or some other non-soil medium means that you will need to transplant one extra time. Every single time that you transplant, the plant receives some shock. Starting the roots in a paper towel, then touching those roots with your hands and putting them into a different medium – that can shock the seedling, and young seedlings are more sensitive than fully grown plants. With that being said – I have had success with the paper towel method, but there are potential drawbacks. There are also potential drawbacks with jiffy pellets, but there’s pros/cons to everything. It’s really a matter of the individual’s particular situation, needs, and experience which way is best for them.

    Reply
  2. “Germination rates have nothing to do with the pot or soil – you will get the same germination on paper towels.”

    Sorry, I do not agree with you. I have germinated with various methods and not all have equal success.

    The type of soil is actually very important (provided you aren’t doing the paper towel method). It’s recommended to avoid using garden soil unless your garden soil is very loose and friable. Compacted soils will throw a wrench in your germination rates. Seed starter mixes like jiffy pellets provide mediums that are optimal for those baby roots. Garden soil always gave me poor germination rates.

    I have tried the paper towel method with success, it does work well. But then you still need to transplant them into a cup or pellet or something anyway, so if I get high germination directly in jiffy pellets then the paper towel method is just extra work. This year my friend at the local farm is giving me plenty of space to grow crops at his farm. I’ll be starting over 100 plants in my bedroom (closer to 200) and the Ferry Morse seed trays with the jiffy pellets make it possible to do so in a small space. I don’t own a house, I only rent a bedroom. Once I transplant them into solo cups then the farm can help me harden them off (at that point I will no longer be able to fit them into my bedroom).

    Last year when I used the ferry morse seed starter kit I was more successful than ever before, and all of my plants turned out great (except for my pepper plants which had been mostly eaten by an animal). So while I could probably succeed with the paper towel method, it would be extra work for similar results and still only covers the germination phase.

    Reply
    • Soil has nothing to do with it – you can germinate all in paper – you don’t need soil. Germination rate is controled by water and temperature.

      Reply
  3. I have used jiffy pellets successfully. Like some of the others that chimed in, I have found jiffy pellets to give me very high germination rates (close to 100%, probably about 85% of the pellets sprouted). Compare this to not using jiffy pellets where my germination rates were closer to 30%, although I suspect the heat mat that came with the kit was probably the main game changer.

    I have found that the claims of any product that can biodegrade, just plant whole in the soil, are half-true. Pretty much any peat based pot/pellet seems to stick around for longer than they say. I also find some roots do get constricted and only go through halfway. Originally I used to plant these things whole, but for the past few years I will either completely remove the netting/peat if the roots aren’t poking through much yet, and if they have lots of roots already then I just tear the sides of the mesh a bit to help the roots escape, then I plant it.

    I know you always ask – so what’s the point? Well, they are very convenient and also very space efficient. I only rent a bedroom, I don’t have a whole house, so space is of a concern. After I get lots of plants started, I can give some away to friends to help harden them off for me, and I transplant them into solo cups once they get to a decent size. Plus I notice the particular mixture of jiffy pellets with the added super thrive has insanely high germination rates. Again, I have limited space, so 100% germination rates makes a big difference. When you can only grow a limited number of plants, every single seed counts! If I owned a big farm, I could afford to lose a few seeds that don’t sprout.

    Jiffy pellets really aren’t very expensive ($6 for 36, so roughly 15-20 cents each). Compared to buying starts at the nursery, the cost of a seed and a pellet is still quite cheap. Of course – I could buy a bunch of plastic cups and store them (I actually do have some of these stored). But I can only store so many, because again, I only own a single bedroom at a house, I do not own a whole house. Renting a single bedroom and buying jiffy pellets every spring is ultimately much cheaper than buying a house just so I can re-use plastic cups instead.

    I think your advice is pretty good regarding the pellets (such as how they can make plants get root bound). But you must keep in mind that some people’s particular circumstances are different from yours, so even with the drawbacks they can still be worth it for some people. People should definitely be informed about the possibility of root constriction though, and encouraged to take the mesh off (also transplant before they grow in much, these jiffy pellets are really only for the first 2 to 3 weeks of growth, maybe even 1 week for very fast growing plants).

    Reply
  4. G’day from another Aussie with un-degraded jiffies. Not sure what the corn starch reference is sourced from- their own page says “poly lactic acid” QUOTE

    PLA Netting
    Reducing the use of plastic in packaging and production purposes is an important global issue. Jiffy is now in the process of switching from PE and PP plastics to PLA netting for all Jiffy Pellets. PLA net is a lightweight (12-gram weight), fine-fibre bio-web made of polylactic acid. This material is designed for any growing applications. The PLA net is biodegradable and compostable under controlled, industrial conditions. It is certified according to the harmonized European standard EN13432.

    As found https://jiffygroup.com/solutions/jiffy-pellets/

    UNQUOTE

    The industrial composter info was sure as heck not advertised on the Australian packaging when I bought mine. I’ve several (hundred) left to use so I’ll be cutting them as usual now before planting out.

    Reply
  5. Great article, I was worried I would never find anything about this. Someone commented that the new mesh is made of cornstarch, but either that hasn’t made its way over to nz or this is the toughest cornstarch I’ve ever seen. Can anyone confirm that they changed?

    Reply
  6. I’ve been gardening for 50 years, and have found that all the pots that claim you can just plant the whole thing DO, in fact, restrict the roots. This includes peat pots w/planting medium. They will grow, but with an early challenge to the root system, they won’t do as well as they could have. And some plants never do escape their little prison.
    Cut vertical slices in the netting, and the roots will find their way.
    Also, the 50 mm pellets are the only ones to use- the small ones are useless!
    One more note: the new Jiffy netting is made from cornstarch, not plastic. Shouldn’t stick around for too long in the ground.

    Reply
  7. Read your blog and comments on them. I am amateur at gardening. Started out maybe 7 yrs back. Was not so good first year in seed germination. So to get better start, I invested in jiffy pellets with its dome. It brought nice results on germination of normal plants like pepper, tomatoes, etc. But still not as good on Indian vegetable varieties. So next year, I invested in heat pads, grow lights from ferre-morse. They brought in best combination and almost 100% germination rates. I also used jiffy peat pots to grow and sell/give few seedlings to friends who were rather impressed with how nicely seedlings grew for me… especially Indian varieties.

    I agree with your point on non-degradable quality of those peat pellet’s mesh. I see them in my vegetable garden intact even from maybe several years. Anytime I find them while tilling, I dump them in bin.

    About root locking, I may not be as experienced to notice that since I was almost every time using pellets.

    Two years back, I read that these pellets were not good for roots, so last year, I invested in 6″ by 8″ plastic pots with slits in bottom with trays that held 18 such pots.

    My problem is germination in them. My seed germination rates with similar condition minus the pellets dropped to around 50% while some variety like spine gourds, moringa, etc wont germinate at all.

    Can you suggest better alternatives to increase germination rate without pellets?

    Reply
  8. I use them all the time, to avoid the roots pruning themselves I simply cut the bottom of the mesh net off and leave the sides and top before transplanting them into bigger pots, that way the roots can reach right through the bottom.

    Reply
  9. I just find them convenient, easy to moisten and less messy. The mesh is really not hard to remove. I pull the mesh off and plug them into a pot without issues or damaging the roots. I also don’t have to worry about separating seedlings individually like when I grow a bunch in a pot or cup if when I i have one seedling per plug.

    Reply
  10. I have used the jiffy pellets, am always tempted to keep using them because they are so easy. I have had plants that seem to be stunted by the root restriction. I have tried cutting the sides with an exacto before putting them in the ground or removing the nets all together. I think success depends on the specific plant type and whether they have sensitive roots. I hate finding the nets years later, and often find them completely intact meaning the roots weren’t breaking through. I don’t plan to use them again, but am always tempted by their ease of use.

    Reply
  11. I’m surprised no one has mentioned a simple trick that works with peat pots and pellet mesh: Just slice them up with a sharp razor knife when you go to plant. Usually doesn’t harm the roots while at the same time you create escape routes for any roots that may have otherwise been confined.

    Reply
  12. Nice article. I found these same things out the hard way. I have found some of the pellets still intact 3 years after using them in my garden. I quit using them after I had a batch that smelled like oil and my plants didn’t grow well in them. I had some that completely molded and I also found some that had bits of plastic in them that hurt the roots of my plants. My plants grew better with regular pots and soil.

    Reply

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