Nothing is more frustrating than planting seeds in seemingly optimal conditions, only to have them sprout weakly, sporadically or not at all. There are reasons why seeds sometimes do not sprout well, including soil temperature, humidity, age of the seeds and others. The tips below will help to minimize those issues, and give you the confidence to explore the possibilities of gardening from seed.
Use Fresh Seed
Fresh seeds, from the previous growing season, are nearly 100% viable. If you purchase seeds they may be more than a year old, but seed lots are required to pass germination tests in order to be sold beyond a specified date. If you save and keep your own seed, you have the greatest control over preservation and storage of seeds. Even under perfect conditions, however, some seed types don’t store as long as others. For best results always use recently harvested seeds.
Sow At The Right Time
Seeds of warm weather plants, if sown in cool conditions may rot before they have a chance to sprout. Cool weather seeds will not germinate in hot weather and though they may sprout when the conditions become ideal, that may be too late for the crop to mature. Knowing the right conditions each type of seed requires for germination will help with decisions such as whether to sow directly in the garden or sow indoors and transplant the seedlings later.
Soak Seeds Before Sowing
Seeds have hard coats that are intended to withstand a dormant season exposed to the elements without breaking down. If sown in their harvested state, some seeds may take weeks of exposure in order to germinate. Soaking them in warm water for twelve to twenty-four hours before sowing can reduce this germination time by 50% or more. This process is easy to do with all but the smallest seeds. After soaking for the desired length of time, strain the seeds out of the water and allow them to dry enough to be handled before sowing either indoors or outdoors.
Keep Soil Moist After Sowing
Even with pre-soaking, seed germination may be delayed if the soil dries out or crusts over. Though it will not kill the seeds outright, repeated wet/dry cycles lead to sporadic germination over a longer than necessary amount of time. Deep watering is not needed for germinating seeds, simply dampen the surface daily (or more frequently in hot, dry weather).
Sowing indoors allows you to control heat and humidity, both of which are very important. Bottom heat may be provided with specially designed heating mats or cables, or even a space heater. When the temperature of the soil is kept at the plant’s ideal germination temperature, the seeds will sprout quickly and uniformly. Humidity is helpful for seed germination, and almost can’t be overdone. Cover the seeded soil with a plastic cover or plastic bag to hold in the moisture. Remove the cover as soon as the seeds sprout to offer good air circulation for the young seedlings.
Some seeds are best sown in their permanent location. Carrots and parsnips may be damaged by transplanting. Beans and corn sprout so quickly that it may be impractical to transplant them. Peas like to be planted deeply, again making them impractical to seed indoors for most home gardeners. For these crops in particular, it is most important to sow at the proper time and pay close attention to site conditions. In heavy soils, seeds may be covered with vermiculite or peat moss instead of native soil for the ease of pushing seed leaves through while retaining moisture.
A wonderful way to ensure that you have plenty of fresh, viable seed is to grow the seed yourself. By harvesting seeds from the best of your crops, you not only have fresh seeds available when you need them, but other benefits are in store as well. Saving selected seeds gradually improves the crop’s performance in your specific soil and climate with each generation. You will improve germination by harvesting from plants that have germinated easily and performed robustly in comparison to their garden peers. Seed savers should replace older stored seed from previous batches once a new crop is harvested, tested and stored in order to have only the freshest seed on hand, and to get the maximum benefit from selected generational improvements.
Benefits of Uniform Germination
Quick, uniform germination plays into numerous aspects of gardening as well as preparing and preserving the harvest. When seeds germinate well and near the same time, the crop is likely to be ready for harvest at the same time. This allows you to preserve the produce in one batch, rather than streaming the process out over a longer period of time. For the gardener, it allows the entire row or bed to be converted to the next crop all at once, without having to decide whether or not to wait on those last few plants to mature for another week or so.
Taking a few extra steps to pamper your seeds right from the start will ensure success in the garden this year. Your plants will reward you with healthy and delicious fruit for all the TLC they received.