Jiffy Pellets: What They Are and How To Use


Close look up of watered Jiffy pellets – Photo from F Delventhal in Flickr

Perhaps you have already used Jiffy Peat Pellets, or you are thinking of using them soon to germinate your seeds. However, you want to know more. Perhaps you are interested in what they are made of, on how to use them most effectively or maybe you are in look for some tricks. No worries, this article, based on extensive research and gardeners opinions, has you covered.

Hence, what jiffy pellets are made of? Jiffy pellets are made of:

  • Peat Moss: an organic-rich medium
  • Mesh: a fine netting to hold the peat moss;
  • Typically Lime, Ammonium, and fertilizer: to improve chemical properties.

Jiffy Pellets are dry compressed discs with the main advantage to be used as both pot and potting mix in one.

Jiffy Peat Pellets are a neat and effective way to start the growth of strong and healthy plants. They can be used both indoors and outdoors. Would you like to try them for your next gardening project? If so, there are a few things you need to know if you really want to make the most from them. Keep reading to know more.

What You Can Find in A Jiffy Peat Pellet

A Jiffy Peat Pellet is a small disc of compressed material. When water is added, it expands up to seven times its size creating the perfect conditions to start the germination process. A fine mesh acts as a pot to contain the material.

To use the Jiffy pellet, you need to water it first. Then, you need to place the seed a bit below the surface level. Then, just wait, and when the plant is strong enough, you can transplant the whole pellet into a container.

So what is it that makes Jiffy Peat Pellets so useful for seed germination? It is the following three components:

Peat

Peat is a natural and organic substrate (a substrate is just a name for a medium in which plants can grow and take nutrients from). Peat Moss is constituted almost exclusively by broken down Sphagnum peat moss.

It has a fluffy and light texture which makes it a material with high water capability, essential to allow the full development of your thirsty seeds. Moreover, its physical properties are excellent for aeration allowing the roots to grow undisturbed through it. This combination of physical properties makes peat a very successful medium to high germination success for your seeds.

For more info on peat moss, you can have a look at one of my previous articles.

Mesh

A plastic mesh is used to hold the substrate mix together. This is one of the main ideas behind the concept of pellets itself. Indeed, the need is keeping the soil on your behalf (or on behalf of your container). So you do not need to touch any soil.

In this close look up you can notice the pellet mesh – Photo from florence_craye in Flickr

Usually, a net (rather than enclosed container) is used to allow external new air and water to reach the soil. This is another point in favor of peat pellets. Indeed, the aeration takes place all around the pellet, not only on top as happened form a standard pot set-up

However, the mesh creates a barrier for the roots and therefore, a natural restriction for the seed to develop. Even in case, the roots manage to escape (and this happens most of the times) they will be just hanging in the air without any water or nutrients to feed on. Therefore, when the seedling is strong enough, it needs to be planted in a bigger pot or directly into the garden soil to allow the plant to keep growing.

Like any gardening method, there are pros and cons to using Jiffy Peat Pellets. Here are some things to keep in mind if you are considering using peat pellets to start your seedlings.

Lime, Ammonium, And Fertilizer

As you now know, Jiffy pellets are mainly peat moss. However, although an excellent substrate, (that’s why it is exceptionally well known among gardeners), it is definitely not suitable, as it is, to seed growing. Indeed, its main issue is its acidity.

Peat moss, present, naturally, a very low pH of around 4.4. This is not ideal for seedlings, that strive with a pH of approximately 5-6 (depending on the seedling). Hence, lime (a very alkaline material with a pH of around 9.9) is added as a countermeasure. This allows the Jiffy pellet to reach a pH of 5.5, ideal for many seeds.

Finally, fertilizer is added to provide the basic nutrients for the first 1-2 weeks in which plant will grow. However, such amount is really limited (given also the volume of the pellet). So do not expect to last for long after your seed sprout

Jiffy Peat Pellets: Pros And Cons?

To understand the real benefits of using Jiffy Pellets to grow seedlings, you need to have tried to have started seeds with more “standard method”. Such a method consists of planting the seed into a small container filled with seed starter material (by placing just beneath the surface) and watering accordingly straight after.

Hence, compared to this classic approach, why Jiffy Peat Pellets should be used as an alternative?

Pros: Clean and Convenient

With Jiffy Peat Pellets you just place the seed directly into the hydrated pellet. There is no need to buy soil or use plastic garden planters – the pot and the soil are contained in the one handy disc. In this way, peat pellets are much cleaner, easier than planting in containers. There is no need to get your hands dirty at all!

No need to get your hand dirty again – Photo from Jason Lander in Flickr

Cleanliness is only one advantage (already significant) that make such products so popular. Indeed, talking with different gardeners, I discovered a few more aspects that, at first, might pass unnoticed.

For instance, a few mothers told me how happy their kids are in using Jiffy pellets. Indeed, being able to see those discs increasing in size is already a source of wonder for them. More importantly, having them to plant the seeds and see a few days later, the first plant growing and their roots is a source of excitement. Hence, jiffy pellets are a strong ally to involve your kids in the beautiful art of gardening.

A senior gentleman also mentioned the benefits for him in using jiffy pellets. Indeed, it was imperative not to spend too much time bent on his knee due to and general articulation conditions. However, having those small discs that can water and plant seeds in it while sitting on a chair was a game-changer for him.

Moreover, due to their weight, they are straightforward to transport and store. However, despite these advantages, I need to be objective. So here you have reasons why you might not want to buy them.

Pros: Avoid Transplant Stress

Considering a more traditional way to plant seeds, the medium (here the potting mix I usually use) and container need to be changed when your herb in it starts growing. This is called a “transplant” as you are actually moving your herb’s home as detailed in how to the 4 steps to save store herbs that will last months article.

Despite essential, a transplant is not a process that an herb will enjoy. This is because of the so-called “transplant stress” a cause of death for many plants. More on this topic in this article. Root damage and the simple effort of your herb in adapting to the new environment are the leading causes of such a problem.

The Jiffy pellets avoid this problem altogether. Indeed, the critical point is that the roots are not moved or damaged in any way. For them, there is no change in the environment to cope with. Indeed, once the pellet is planted on the soil, the plant roots will simply expand from the pellet to the soil through the mesh.

Cons: Expensive Alternative

Pellets are much more expensive, with a cost that can be more than double than pots and potting mix all together. This is because Jiffy pellets are exclusively peat, a costly material. On the other hand, a standard potting mix might have only a third of peat moss, while the remaining is given by cheaper medium (such as perlite, compost).

Despite more expensive, Jiffy pellets are definitely worth their price

Moreover, do not forget the manufacturing cost of pellets. Indeed, peat moss requires further processing (compared to when it goes in a potting mix) like drying, compressing, and sterilization. Moreover, unlike pots and potting mix, pellets can’t be reused, which also makes them a less cost-effective option.

Cons: Root Constraint And Mesh-Waste

Many gardeners, over the years, have noticed that sometimes, your herbs’ root would not be able to go through the net. This gets evident as, after months of moving the pellet into the container, when the gardener noticed that no significant growth happened. This is because the net became a cage from which the plant roots cannot escape. 

This will cause the same root bound of a normal container but way worse as a pellet is smaller than any standard plant container. This problem depends significantly on the quality of the mesh, hence on the manufacturer. However, some brands (like Jiffy, you can check their prices here on Amazon) are quite well-known and respected with little evidence of such problems.

To avoid any eventuality of this issue to arise some experienced gardeners suggested to gently snip up the mesh on two sides once the pellet is on the soil, before covering it. This will make the mesh way lose and easy for the roots to grow. Others suggest removing the mesh altogether. I do not offer advice for such an approach as it will nullify the main advantage of Jiffy pellets in avoiding transplanting stress.

A second problem that a few gardeners raised is the concern of net-waste. This is the case when, years after transplanting, they found the mesh on the soil, almost intact. This is, of course, an issue as you do not want to turn your plant container in a plastic garbage bin.

A gardener with more than a decade of experience in working with jiffy pellets claimed that all come down to one factor: moisture. Indeed, to allow the net (and peat moss) to break a minimum level of humidity should always be guaranteed. Indeed, as already discussed in this article when chatting about peat moss, you might know that once dried (after being watered) peat moss is quite “water-repellent.” This is bad news as it prevents the net from breaking down.

Cons: Environmental Concerns

Jiffy pellets are mainly made of peat moss. Around this material, there are serious ecological concerns. Without getting into much detail (for more, just give a look at the end of this article), peat moss is: 1) a finite resource 2) covering important water regulation roles in the environment 2) is a carbon sink.

Given that we are “mining” peat moss at a significantly higher pace that is produced by nature (it takes hundreds of years) this resource will soon disappear. That’s why (as I will discuss later) alternative are slowly starting appearing in the market.

Peat moss, in the environment, has to purify the water that passes through it and preventing (or limiting) the magnitude of the damage that floods can cause.

Peat moss is carbon sink that would be better to leave underground

Finally, peat moss contains a significant (compared to its volume) amount carbon that might end up released in the atmosphere. Indeed, exhausted peat moss will be very likely burnt as happens in any traditional waste plant.

Given the above, I do suggest to use Jiffy Pellets over pots and soil. Here’s what you need to know to make sure you get the very best results.

Jiffy Peat Pellets: Know-How Guide

Jiffy pellets have been designed with all types of users in mind, from kids to seniors. This is indeed the real number one factor for its success. You need around 10-15 minutes for starting 10 peat pellets following the approach detailed below:

Container: Place the peat pellets on a tray. They should not overlap each other, all on one layer. The tray is usually provided by the manufacturer, especially for a small indoor application like this one on Amazon. If this is not your case (because you bought the pellets in a plastic bag), you can use an oven tray, or anything similar. The container needs to have a few cm borders to retain the water.

The container that comes with the pellets will make your life easier when watering – Photo from F Delventhal in Flickr
  • Tip: Ideally, you want the container to be of a size to fit perfectly the pellets without too much extra space. Indeed, if this is not the case, the water might lay around the pellets without them absorbing all of it.

Water – Type: Some gardeners suggest to use distilled or still water, although I do not totally agree. Indeed, tap water contains chlorine (to remove harmful kill bacteria). Despite chlorine is toxic for plants, this is true only for high concentration, unlikely to be present in tap water. Moreover, remember that chlorine is a high volatile product. This means that it will quickly leave the water once it gets out from your tap (that’s why you can smell the chlorine).

Let the tap water sit for an half-hour to be sure that most of the chlorine evaporates
  • Tip: If you want to be on the cautious side, but you do not have time to buy distilled water, what can you do? In this case, just pour the water in a container (the wider the better) and let it rest for half an hour. This should allow most of the chlorine to leave the water.
  • Tip: If you want to be on the cautious side, but you do not have time to buy distilled water, what can you do? In this case, just pour the water in a container (the wider the better) and let it rest for half an hour. This should allow most of the chlorine to leave the water.

Water – Temperature: Use warm water. A temperature of 100F (or around 35C is suggested) will improve the seedlings grow rate expanding the pellet faster.

Water – How much: around a half-gallon of water (approximately 2 liters) for a 50 peat pellets, a quarter of a gallon (around a liter) for 25 pellets and so on.

Planting: just place the seed, at the center of the inflated pellet following the instruction (if you bought the seeds in a store you likely have some guidance such depth and best period). If not, just Google it.

  • Tip 1: Place the seeds in a bowl first. This will make it easier to pick them up. Use a wet finger to grab them;
  • Tip 2: 1 to 3 seeds per pellet. If you have many different plant seeds, place them strategically to remember what is growing and where;
  • Tip 3: use a pen or pencil to create a little hole (by pressing) on top of the pellet where the seed will be placed;
  • Tip 4: if you are using many pellets to plant multiple types of herbs, use some kind of labels to identify them. For instance, you can also draw a little “map” on how you place them within the container. Also write down the date you planted your seeds somewhere, possibly on the container itself (with a tape). This will allow you to know when you need to migrate the pellets.

Place a plastic cover: if you have a plastic cover coming with the pellets use it. If not, you can use a plastic film (clinging film). This will allow the moisture to stay there, and you do not need to water anymore.

In case you do not have a dome, then further watering might be required, generally after a week or less. Just add approximately 2cm of water to the bottom of the tray and after allowing a half-hour for absorption. If any water left just take it out from the tray to prevent the peat moss from being soaked continuously (possible cause of mold development).

In this second watering, do not drop water on top of the pellets to avoid moving the developing seeds. This might cause them to lose anchorage within the peat negatively affecting the seed growth;

Wait: After a week, you should already be able to see your seedlings come back to life. They should be ready for the transplant in 2 weeks;

Transplant: compared to a standard transplant (detailed in this article), in this case, you just need to create a hole in the soil and place your pellet in the plant container. Remember not to submerge the plant, the soil level should stay almost the same after migration to the new pot.

An old, video, but very clear

Where Can You Buy Them From?

Jiffy pellets nowadays can be purchased at nurseries, garden supplies stores, and large online retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, AliExpress, and eBay. They are available in small packs of 12, 24 and 36 (or more) pellets, larger bags of between 50-200, and bulk lots of 1,000 or 2,000 pellets.

For beginner indoor gardeners, I do recommend the Jiffy kit that also includes the container. Why? The company is well-established in the market, trust by many gardeners all over the world, and their kits come with containers and plastic cover. They are way more practical than a cheaper alternative in which the pellets arrive within a plastic bag.

What Sizes Do They Come In?

The standard Jiffy Peat Pellets come in three different sizes: 36mm, 42mm, and 50mm in diameter. The different sizes are to cater for the varying growth needs of different plants. For example, the 50mm pellets are better for larger plants such as tomatoes and squash. However, some gardeners like to use the larger size regardless of the plant because they are easier to handle.

Larger pellets are also recommended to seniors as way more comfortable to handle compared to smaller 3 cm counterpart.

Do You Need to Add Fertiliser?

In short – no. Apart from water, there is no need to add anything else to the peat pellets. The pellets have all the nutrients you need to give your plants a fantastic start. In the Jiffy pellets, both lime and a low-ammonium fertilizer have already been added to support seed germination and growth. However, as said before, the will last only for a short period of time after germination.

The Alternative: Coir-based Pellets

From the gardening point of view, peat most is an excellent material with, up to know, unmatched quality in moisture retention and quality of its physical structure. However, as discussed before, its environmental impact cannot be neglected.

That’s why alternatives are getting more and more popular in the market. The most famous one is coir or natural fiber derived from the husks of coconuts. This is the material found between the shell and the outer coating of the coconut. It is a great way to give a second life to industry bio-product (the husk is indeed by food manufacturer) that years ago was just a waste.

Similarly to peat, coir has excellent water retention capabilities. It can absorb ten times its dry weight in water (against the 25 times of peat moss) which ensures the seeds to stay hydrated. The space between the fibers promotes strong and healthy root development. Moreover, insects don’t like to settle in coir, so it also assists with pest management. It has a significant advantage over peat as well in that it does not break down in the soil, so it can be reused.

However, at the moment they are more expensive than their peat moss counterpart (around double the price). This, nonetheless, should not be a big problem if you are planting for small indoor application. Indeed, in such a case, the smallest kit available in the market should be more than enough for your starting indoor use (and you can buy them for around 20 bucks).

What After? Potting Soil

After your seedling is ready to a larger pot, it is time for transplant. However, which soil should you use to place within your Jiffy pellets.

There are many alternative potting soil available in the market. However, a not trusted brand will cause you more hassle than others. Indeed, many of my friends gardeners complained regarding the presence of rocks, very coarse medium and, even worsts, pests in the potting bag they just bought.

So, spending a few dollars more is totally worth extra expense. Check the article below (image) to check what is my best pick and why! It is totally worth it.

Related Questions

Are Jiffy pellets organic? Jiffy pellets can be considered organic, considering the broad definition of the organic product. Indeed, jiffy pellets are produced without the use of factory-produced pesticide, modified organisms, or ionizing radiation). The only caveat is the fertilizer they contain (it might come for sewage if low-quality pellet, although this is hardly ever the case).

How long Jiffy pellets take to decompose? Around 1-2 years, according to the manufacturer. However, if the conditions are not right (moisture level), this might take longer.

Further Reading

Article on how to make your supermarket herbs last for months

21 easy tips for grow massive basil (applicable to most of the herbs)

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Andrea

A young Italian guy with a passion for growing edible herbs. After moving to the UK 6 years ago in a tiny flat, it was impossible to grow herbs outside. So I start my journey in growing indoor and so I decided to share my knowledge.

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