What Happened to My Germination?
Part 2 of 4
Now that we have some information, where do we start in evaluating why our seed germination failed? When seed germination doesn’t happen, there are a few things to consider.
Have none of the seeds germinated? If this is the case, there is one of two potential answers. The more likely answer is an environmental condition is preventing the seeds from sprouting. We will look at those below. The second cause is that the seeds are old, leftover from several years ago, forgotten in a box or cupboard, or stored in extreme temperatures that have destroyed the seed germination potential. Extremes of heat can kill seeds in a short time, which is why we recommend storing them in a cool, temperature, and moisture stable environment.
If only a few of the seeds germinate, it is most likely from being impatient or planting older seeds that have less viability. Most garden seeds have a high germination rate for the first 2 – 3 years, with the exception of hulless pumpkins, leeks, and onions. Once the germination drops to about 75%, their ability to sprout will drop considerably faster. Of course, when you see the first few pepper seeds pop up in 3 – 4 days, then nothing for another day or so and you give up, you lose out on the rest of the seeds emerging at the end of the week! Have a bit of patience, observe the seeds progress each day, and check our Germination Guide or the back of the seed packet to see how long they really should take. Many times a couple more days makes all the difference in germination rates.
Other conditions such as improper soil temperature and moisture, or a combination of the two, are the majority of the reasons that seeds don’t germinate in a timely manner. Planting too early, too deep, watering too much, or too little are common mistakes made. Other factors include soil preparation, birds, and/or rodents stealing the seeds.
If you are in doubt as to the viability of seeds, whether they are an unknown seed that was given or traded to you, or you’ve “discovered” them in a closet or back shelf, do a paper towel seed germination test.
Wet a paper towel and wring most of the moisture out of it. Fold it in half and then lay it open. Arrange the test seeds – usually 10 or so – along the fold, then re-fold the towel over the seeds. Roll the folded towel into a tube, then seal it into a zip-lock type of clear plastic bag. Put the bag of seeds in a constant, very warm temperature location – such as the top of a refrigerator, freezer, or in the oven that has a pilot light. You need about 85 – 90°F. Record the date started and check the progress daily, opening the bag to check the moisture level. You should see water droplets on the inside of the bag, add a little more water when you don’t. Check the germination rate and amount of days needed against our Germination Guide. If the seeds germinate well, you can plant them directly by cutting them out of the paper towel, and then you know they are viable.