In the past, I've tried peat pots, the puff-up peat tablets, the cheap flimsy trays for doing starts.

Peat pots don't really let the roots through. The tablet things are a recurring cost (so are the peat pots, but I made the mistake of buying a big case of them)

I want to invest in something that will last.

I see a couple of options:

  1. Block makers. I like the idea of easy step-ups.
  2. Air pruning trays.
  3. Rootmaker, speedling, star shaped (no brand)
  4. I'm trying hydroponic pots. They work OK if I cut out the solid circle on the bottom, and enables me to push the seedling out.

What are the trade-offs? The block makers have good reviews in other questions, but I haven't seen much mention of the fancier, air-pruning, trays.


I have used soil blocks for starting transplants since the late 80s. For me, they are close to ideal for the following reasons:

  • It is "green" because except for what is used in the manufacturing of the soil block tool, there are no plastic or disposable parts involved.
  • I can set up an automatic wicked watering system simply by setting the new blocks on a wicking mat, so they can water themselves for the most part
  • There are gaps between the soil blocks which allow for natural root pruning of the seedling growing in it
  • I can make and use my own soil block mix, which cuts down on the cost.
  • The plant's roots can go directly from growing in the soil block to growing directly in the soil without any of the barriers found in peat pots or pellets. No matter what the manufacturer says, the nets and the pots do not simply disappear into the garden soil in one season and will restrict plant growth in most gardens
  • My whole seed starting setup can be easily nested and stored for the next season, without having to find room for tons of small pots and easily broken plastic seed starting trays and pots.

Disadvantages of soil blocks include:

  • The soil blocks need to be properly packed into the tool when being created, and that takes a bit of practice to learn to do well
  • The blocks can be a bit fragile at first, but within a couple of weeks or so will strengthen up to where you can lift them and move them around without any major catastrophes occurring
  • Seed blocks may dry out a bit faster than seedlings in plastic pots, because the air flow is greater on all sides - this is why watering from the bottom and using a wicking mat is a good idea

The root pruning plastic seed starting cells have many of the same advantages as the soil blocks, except they will require storage in between seasons, are subject to tears and cracks if not handled very gently and stored in a protected way, and involve an ongoing use of plastic as they age and need replacement. This means that they will eventually be a more expensive and less "sustainable" option than soil blocks. (As an example, my first soil block maker tool - bought in the 80s - is still going strong.) They may require a bit less watering, because only the tops and bottoms are open, but they will still require more attention than a traditional plastic seedling pot setup.

  • 1
    Heh heh. Thank you for answering this one. I had my eye on it for when I had some extra time, but you did great. I think newer block makers don't last well. They're usually too chintzy.
    – J. Musser
    Aug 12 '14 at 19:44
  • Thanks! I have some newer soil block makers I bought from Johnny's a couple of years ago, we'll see how they do. They do seem thinner, but still sturdy enough for decent use.
    – TeresaMcgH
    Aug 12 '14 at 19:49

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