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Saturday, December 11, 2021

Seed Starting Mix Should Be Sterile for Growing Transplants: Boiling Water to Prevent Fungus Gnats

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Soil microbiology is not needed for growing transplants. There is plenty of time for the benefits of soil microbes to help your plants, once they are planted into the garden and growing. A starting mix should be sterilized with boiling water to kill off any insects eggs, especially fungus gnat eggs. Boiling water will also kill most soil life. However, there isn't a diversity of soil life, like in the earth, present in starting mixes generally speaking.

The reason for sterilizing starting mix is to make sure you don't get an infestation of insects that will quickly spread through your plant growing station. With moisture, food, temperature, and no natural enemies, fungus gnats multiply extremely fast and will feed off the roots of your seedlings. Sterilizing does help with potential harmful fungi and other potential insects but fungus gnats are a major, if not the major problem when starting seeds indoors.


Microbes are just not needed for the growth of healthy garden transplants. Seed starts should be fed with water soluble fertilizer which is already in a form seedlings can uptake and use immediately. Microbes are needed to break down granular organic fertilizers or organic matter in the earth. This process in not needed in starting mix.

If you are concerned about microbes when growing transplants, I recommend starting with a sterile seed starting mix and adding microbes back to the mix. You can do this with worm castings, fish emulsion or add a very small amount of organic granular fertilizes that boast having microbes. I personally have used a sterile mix for well over 10 years and have always had wonderful transplants to grow in my garden.

Most starting mix is quite dry and peat moss based. Fungus gnat eggs are often carried in the peat moss. It needs to be hydrated before being used. If you use  boiling water to fully saturate you seed starting mix, you will sterilize it. Make sure you full saturate it to the point it would drip water if squeezed. It can be used once cool.  If you over saturate it, simply let it dry over several days before using it.

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