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Why Aren’t My Seeds Germinating?

There are a multitude of factors to take into consideration as to why your seeds aren’t germinating and we’re here to help you find out the solution to your problem. Don’t be disheartened if it germination doesn’t occur the first time around, seeds can be very temperamental requiring specific conditions so a little tweaking may be necessary.

Seed packets are so exciting, offering the promise of a beautiful show of flowers, along with the satisfaction of knowing that you have raised your prize specimens yourself, from seed.

 However, as every keen plant person knows, there are many reasons why seeds can refuse to germinate, even if you follow all advice for how to sow seeds closely. 

‘Nature can’t be rushed, and even though most seeds are very easy to germinate, there can still be challenges to do with things such as creating the correct temperature for germination to take place, exposure to light and special treatments required for particular seeds.

If we don’t get the conditions right, we might end up with very slow germination, or seeds that don’t germinate at all. This can be very disheartening, especially if we are first-time gardeners.

Plants naturally want to reproduce, and if seeds are sown at the right time in the right conditions, they will be desperate to germinate, making a gardener’s life easy and gardening more satisfying.

They’ve been over or under watered

Tempting though it is to water our seeds every day, we might be in danger of killing them with kindness. There is another reason why seeds are not germinating, and this is related to too much water. Overwatering might cause the seeds to rot and if that happens there is no hope and seeds will need to be started again. Use a spray instead of using a watering can. This is much gentler and less likely to break delicate seedlings. Avoid overly wet or dry conditions and ensure consistent dampness in the soil. Seeds can quickly dry out.

They’re planted at the wrong depth

Proper planting depth is crucial for successful seed germination. As each plant is different, check your seed packet for specific instructions regarding the depth at which seeds should be planted. Seeds sown too deep may not germinate, seeds sown too shallow can dry out.

Sowing larger seeds such as sunflowers a couple of centimetres below the surface. Just make a hole with your finger or a dibber and drop the seed in. Smaller seeds should be sown about 0.5cm deep but very fine, dust-like seed should be sown on the surface and not covered at all.

Poor quality soil

We need good soil to work hand in hand with our seeds. Soil needs to be well-draining with an appropriate pH level for the seed type. Balancing moisture levels is also important, avoid overly wet or dry conditions and ensure consistent dampness in the soil.

Check the consistency of soil, by gently rolling it between your hands: We’re looking for soil with a relatively fine consistency. When the soil’s consistency is perfect, the shoot can push its way through and head straight for the sunlight.

The temperature is off

Did you know that some seeds require ‘stratification’? This means exposing them to cold temperatures before planting. Check the seed packets in case this is required.

At the other end of the scale, have you given your seeds adequate warmth? Tender plants require a temperature of 18 to 20° C, whilst hardy annuals will germinate at about 15° C.

They’re overcrowded

Have you sown your seeds at the correct density? Seeds seem to germinate more successfully when they have company but they also do not want to be overcrowded, this encourages ‘damping off’, a fungal disease that attacks the stems causing seedlings to collapse.

If your seeds feel overcrowded and threatened by their neighbours, they tend to reproduce as quickly as they can, which creates one-minute wonders, which will later stop producing. Take one small pinch of seeds at a time and then sow them quickly in one fast sweep. Large to medium small seeds are easy to space. The real challenge comes with sowing very fine seeds. Do not be tempted to splurge the entire packet, thinking ‘the more the better’. Portion out only a small amount of seed – you may like to mix it with dry sand to make it easier to disperse. Place some seed in your palm, tapping the bottom of your palm with my other hand and using the heart line to dispense seeds in a slow, steady stream over the surface of the compost.

Neglecting them as they grow

Some of your seeds may have germinated happily, but chances are they will all be developing at slightly different levels until they become well-established. You can’t afford to neglect any of them, because stronger seedlings will overpower those still struggling to germinate. Paying regular attention to seeds is essential. Tend to seeds as they grow, thinning out any baby seedlings to avoid overcrowding, once these are about an inch tall and you see a couple of tiny leaves appear, it’s time to start thinning the crowd. Leave one healthy seedling for every four inches. Doing this will give the rest of your seeds the best chance, pull them up by the roots, they should come out easily.’

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