I normally just buy in seedlings from big box stores since I am too disorganised to start my own seedlings in time. However, this year I did manage to get some seeds into the seed raising mix, and they have come up.

I've then pricked out the healthy ones and transplanted them into a flat, which is really just a 9-inch deep square grow bag which I partially filled with potting mix. I used a potting mix since they are used for containers being free draining, I had some bags of the stuff lying around, and it's free of seeds and hopefully other pathogens. But looking at the potting mix today just over a week later, it looks rather sterile and I wonder if I should really be trying to raise seedlings in such a substrate. I suspect it's too late now to change the mix without another shock to the seedlings.

Today in a fevered moment I did grab some wet worm-filled soil from the bottom of my year old compost heap, chucked it into some rain water in a bucket, and then poured the water over the "flat" hoping to inoculate the mix with some microfauna. So, the question is, is potting mix suited at all for raising seedlings, or should I add soil with something living in it to the mix before transplanting into it?

Grow bag with seedlings

PS: The image is of bok choy seedlings. By life I mean bacteriae, protozoa, microarthropods, worms and optionally mycorrhizal fungi

  • What kind of works are you referring to?
    – JStorage
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 19:59
  • @jstorage please elaborate Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 20:02
  • I meant worms and not works. Apologies
    – JStorage
    Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 20:04
  • @jstorage any worm found in the compost heap Commented Jan 16, 2017 at 20:09
  • Where I live, potting mix has warnings on it advising usage of gloves and breathing masks while handling it because it contains live microorganisms. Obviously (or perhaps not!) it doesn't contain larger organisms such as worms and insects. So, it already contains "living things", just not ones you can see with the naked eye!
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 2:06

1 Answer 1


The trouble with introducing 'life' by inoculating with garden soil is you have no control over which life forms you are introducing, and some of them might be pathogenic when contained inside a pot or grow bag. That is why there are commercially produced potting composts, to avoid that risk. Some people actually grow plants in soil they've dug from the garden and put into a container, often with no ill effect, but there is a risk. Pathogenic or troublesome life forms in open ground are much less of a threat than when contained in a pot or other container.

In particular, seedlings are much more vulnerable to pathogens, which is why its wise to start seeds off in seed and cutting compost, then grow them on in potting compost. Most potting composts contain fertilizer in various ratios which is sufficient to grow plants for up to six weeks healthily, depending on the formulation. After that, some extra fertilization might be necessary, depending on what you're growing in the container. If you'd prefer to allow your plants to have free access to 'microfauna' and fungi, then plant them out in the ground when they are large enough. Over time though, containers full of plants and potting compost do acquire various life forms - visible ones like worms and slugs for instance, and often, various fungi, particularly if the potting compost contains woody material.

  • I would guess that the risk is much lower if you take your source material from a newly mature compost heap full of earth or compost worms as the latter are an indicator species for a healthy ecosystem. Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 23:50
  • If the compost is produced using a hot, aerobic system, then its fine to use as part of a potting mix, but not if its been produced anaerobically.
    – Bamboo
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 23:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.