Thursday, March 24, 2011

Seed Germination

Getting seeds to germinate isn’t an exact science, but some general knowledge can help to get seeds off to a great start.

Water, air, light
Seeds need to be moist to germinate.  At planting time water the seedbed, plant the seeds to the depth that is stated on the seed packet, and then tap the soil down lightly and water the bed.

According to an article in Growing For Market, most vegetables (unlike flowers) are indifferent to whether they have light or darkness when germinating.  Celery and lettuce do better with more light, so shouldn't be sown to deeply. 

Seeds need oxygen to germinate so don’t let them drown in too much water.  Well-drained soil will help prevent this.  Organic matter in the soil will help keep soil well-drained and also from crusting.  Crusted soil is difficult for seeds.

Watering after sowing should be shallow and frequent.  Seeds should always be moist. 

Seeds can be soaked before planting.  This helps seeds get all the water they need absorbed into them.  After the soaking seeds will need a smaller amount of water to sustain their moist level.  This pre-soaking works better for big seeds as the smaller ones tend to clump together.    Small seeds can be drained and mixed with a dry material like coffee grounds or oatmeal to reduce the clumping. 

Soak seeds overnight if they are large seeds like beans and peas.  Soak smaller seeds for a smaller amount of time.  Legume seeds should not be soaked so long that their seed coat splits.  They will lose nutrients and become more vulnerable to disease attacks.
Seeds can be sprouted before they go into the ground.  The advantages are that you can have much better control over the seed’s environment.  After soaking the seeds as described above, drain off the water and put seeds on a piece of window screen or in a small sieve.  Put them in a cool place and rinse them twice a day.  An alternative for keeping them wet is to wrap them lightly in wet paper towels.

Sprout seeds just until they’ve germinated to avoid breaking off longer sprouts.    If you aren’t ready to plant, you can put the seeds in the refrigerator to slow down the growth.

This pre-sprouting process can also be done to test whether or not old seeds are still viable.  Just pre-sprout a few of the questionable seeds to see how they do.

Germination Times
Below is a table with vegetable seed germination information.   

The table below shows how long seeds remain viable.  The first source is information gathered from the Territorial seed catalogue.  The second source is the the University of Nebraska Extension website.

To see more tips on growing your vegetables, visit this page at my website.


  1. Thanks for the great tip on celery and light...I was not aware of that and will keep it in mind.

  2. Really great info you have here, I have never had much success with sprouting indoors. I think I will take some time reading here and see if I can't do it this year.