Sprouting seeds is a common challenge experienced by gardeners, experienced and beginners alike. Not all seeds are the same; most of them need variable conditions for optimum growth. Seed germination can sound daunting to any novice but it is nothing to stress about.
With some close observation and patience, seeds can sprout just fine! Mostly, extreme temperature and lack of consistent moisture are likely causes of seeds not sprouting or seedlings withering. Here is a list of factors that affect seed germination and the condition can be fairly avoided by taking care of these small things.
Storing the seeds in the appropriate manner is crucial to keep their potency. Seeds must be kept out of moist areas to avoid rot. They can pop too early otherwise. It is also important to keep them out of overheated areas so that they don't dry out. Store the seeds in an airtight container or packet, in a cool and dark place. Remember to read the seed packet for storage instructions.
If you saved your seeds last year:
- If you make your own seeds, remember to never put them away without letting them dry completely as this can cause them to rot or mold.
- The seeds you save should belong to a healthy parent plant otherwise they can harbour infection and prevent sprouting, however, this is not the most apparent case as most people do not make their own seeds and the contamination happens due to other variables.
Most of the stores and nurseries sell hybrid and GMO seeds but you would like to start with heirloom and pure seeds that are GMO-free for a healthier crop as most plants are otherwise treated with pesticides and fertilizers.
Be sure to purchase seeds from a trusted seeds company or a seed bank for the best genetics. Also look out for expiry date as expired seeds may not germinate at all.
Seed dormancy is a condition in which seeds fail to germinate under optimal environmental conditions. For example, some of the seeds of plants that thrive best in spring are auto-tuned to germinate only after cold temperatures have passed.
Seeds come out of their state of dormancy if their dormancy factors are broken in physical or chemical form. Seeds often might have a thick seed coat constituting physical dormancy. That’s why it is recommended to pre-soak or scratching the surface of some seed varieties. Many seeds have internal chemical dormancy that prevents germination. For these seeds, keeping them in the refrigerator for a specified time period allows them to gain required oxygen levels and energy to germinate.
Optimal Seed Starting
There is special premade seed starting mixes for sowing seeds indoors available in the market. Seed starting mixes are lightweight in nature and provide just what the seeds need in these special indoor conditions. They make it easy for the seed to receive moisture while garden soils and other potting mixes can be too heavy for the seeds at germination stage. You can start with organic potting soil or organic seed starter mix available at AllThatGrows.
Seed Spacing and Placement
While some seeds require pre-soaking, or to be scratched off their coats to break dormancy, others can be directly sown. It is extremely important to ensure that they are planted at just the right level of depth. Wide and big seeds need to be planted deeper while others need to be at the surface because so that they can germinate with the help of light.
Overcrowding can cause various nutritional problems. Make sure that too many plants are not competing for the same limited resources by putting them together in a tight space as many shall surely lose. If the soil in your container is too compact, the seeds cannot fail to form healthy roots and won't sprout.
Optimal Soil Temperature
When it comes to seed starting, timing is key as it involves temperature levels.
Be watchful that the soil temperature is not too cold for your seeds. Keep them above 15°C as they require warmth to germinate. Similarly, the soil temperature should not be too warm otherwise the seeds are going to cook and consequently not die. Watch out when you throw them out on a warm day to keep the warmth levels in check, below 27°C.
Avoid Over Fertilizing
Resist the eagerness of starting seeds too early for your region just when the season approaches as they won’t germinate, or die off before they are ready to sprout. Also, make sure you are not over fertilizing the soil. While it is normal to be concerned about soil health, it is also possible to add more than that is needed.
You can plant the seeds in premixes containing vermicompost that contains naturally occurring minerals. It will hold moisture and disperse it as needed for seeds to sprout.
Seeds need moist soil for optimal growing conditions. Drenching the soil by over watering will deplete the needed amount of oxygen in the soil and rot the seeds. But you can also not cover the soil into sand by not watering enough for they need water to germinate. Especially the tender seedlings won't be able to tolerate drying out. On the other hand, their tender roots will be the first fall prey to being too wet as the roots development will terminate. We recommend increasing drainage by elevating the soil and using raised beds to keep the moisture moderate.
Over watering seedlings will drown them by depriving the roots of air due to which, the tiny germinated leaves will hang low and the stems will droop. Hence, we recommend starting seeds in small containers with cocopeat of potting mix which offers sufficient moisture. You can transplant the seedlings to a larger pot later on.
A group of pathogens called damping-off prefer wet as well as cool conditions and kill seedlings. It’s not a tough condition to identify as the seedlings start looking like they were kicked crumbled and they gradually fall over. You can not revive the seedlings from this stage so it is better to start afresh in a fresh container with changed growing medium. The only way to prevent the seeds from damping off is by feeding the seedlings with fertilizers formulated for the early stages of seed growth. This can help in providing just enough nutrients to meet the plant's requirements.
Pests and Diseases
The garden is a host of a huge list of possible diseases, insects and pests that can infect seed germination and stop their growth.
If you have started your seeds outdoors or sown directly, chances are they might become a feast for birds, mice, and countless other things capable of eating your seeds. Some of those may have already sprouted by you will never get to know!
Similarly, your indoor garden is equally vulnerable in the initial few weeks after you plant. Your seedlings and plants can be prone to some of the common attacks of aphids, nematodes, snails, wire worm, beetle worm, leaf hoppers etc.
Pathogens are disease-causing organisms, often present on or in the seed. These organisms can destroy the seed or seedlings. However, many seeds are chemically treated. The chemicals are applied to the seed to prevent the harmful attacks of pathogens. The seeds are hence treated with fungicides, insecticides to protect them from any disease attack and make them less prone to failure.
However, its seed treatment does not eliminate the changes of any attacks in the soil but only reduces the possibility of harm. Some of the issues that you can face which keeps them from becoming healthy plants are listed below. We hope you can identify the issue as it arises just in time and can take care of them with small preventive measures.
Mold is an indication of high levels of moisture in the environment. This can prevail at the root level or in the growing medium. Mold spores appear as white and fuzzy growths on the top of the soil in which the seeds are sown. It is important to ensure decent ventilation to avoid the condition of the mold to appear and spread.
You can wash the infected area off with water if caught on the seed germination stage. Although, if it’s spread across your soil before the seeds germinate, you will have to restart the process with fresh seeds and soil. As the mold appears in a spore form, it is highly likely that it will spread and infect other parts of the plant in case the plant has grown a bit. In that case, be careful to keep off the leaves.
Several pests and insects are associated with damage to small seedlings. While not all pests are equally injurious and the control measures are based on specific pest variety. Pests and insects do not directly affect the seeds but they can surely feast on the young, growing plants, hampering growth at the very stage. Please ensure that your growing medium is free of pests before you plant the seeds. Once you have pests on your plants, they are going to stay as they thrive on the growing plants. Hence it is essential to notice them early and get rid of them sooner.
You can use hydrogen peroxide and organic neem oil to get rid of the bugs once they have infected. We recommend keeping a check on the leaves as they grow for any signs of pest so that they can be avoided before they appear or start to spread. Cover crops are the best way to keep some pests off and increase nutrient supply for a healthier harvest.
Whiteflies are a common variety of pests of indoor gardens. Appearing as yellow spots and black mold, they suck sap from plants. The black mold appears as a result of these pests excreting the excessive plant juice they feed, named as honeydew.
Sticky traps come in handy to capture the flies before they can do any damage.
Fungal infections are easy to identify as the sprouted plant will start to bend or turn brown. The infection appears in the presence of fungus in the soil or in the case of overwatering. A seed may sprout successfully but can fall over as the base gets rotten. This occurs due to the phenomenon called damping off, caused by a fungal infection in the soil that attacks stems at the soil surface and is usually fatal. The situation occurs due to the high proportion of nutrients or moisture in the soil and can cause the germinated sprouts to wither overnight. The infection can occur from a dirty container or growing medium. The growing mediums, based on the nature of their material can be used for many years, however, they must be sanitized with bleach water or hydrogen peroxide solution at the beginning of the season.
Once the damping off takes over, it is recommended to start all over with a fresh container, soil, and seeds. You could also use hydrogen peroxide to treat fungal diseases on your tender plants. Make sure to not overwater the seedlings while they are required to be kept moist. Avoid over-fertilizing and thinning them out will prevent overcrowding and promote good air circulation.
While every day is a new day at gardening, seed germination and growth can be made easy by taking care of simple things discussed above in the blog. They will not only give a head start to a hearty and healthy crop but also save you a lot of time and cost in your garden. There can surely be more variety specific challenges based on what you are sowing, however, you are all set to avoid some basic common issues no matter what you choose to grow. Happy and healthy gardening season to you!