It's a few weeks before spring, and gardeners everywhere are starting baby plants from seed. Germinating seeds isn't usually a difficult process, and for most veggies the process is quite simple. But what's a gardener to do if they're having problems germinating seeds? The first thing to check is Did your cannabis seeds fail at the first hurdle? Don't worry, our germination guide will keep you right moving forward! There are many to consider when germinating cannabis seeds — not only the germination method you choose but also the conditions your seeds require to thrive.
5 Fatal Mistakes For Germinating Seeds
It’s a few weeks before spring, and gardeners everywhere are starting baby plants from seed. Germinating seeds isn’t usually a difficult process, and for most veggies, the process is quite simple.
For complete instructions for starting seeds, get the seed starting guide.
But what do you do if your seeds don’t germinate?
When seeds don’t sprout, you should always take time to evaluate what happened. So I thought it would be helpful to talk about the most common reasons you might have seed germination problems.
Some years our germination is a little patchy, and occasionally whole rows of seedlings will not germinate. It is important to keep up with our germination rate to evaluate our technique and seed health.
For us, a minimum acceptable germination rate is when at least 80% of our seeds sprout. But ideally, 100% of our seeds come up, so anything less than 80 or even 90% germination rate, and we start looking at what went wrong.
Learn the 5 fatal mistakes for germinating seeds
When vegetable seeds are not germinating, there are a few common problems that you should look for.
1. You used old seeds
The first thing to consider is whether the seeds were viable in the first place. If your seeds have not sprouted within the appropriate number days (this will depend on your seeds), then you may want to consider using a pen or pencil to gently dig around in your soil and find the seed.
- If you don’t find the seed, think back. Did youforget to put the seeds into the mix? Don’t laugh! It could happen!
- If you find the seed, take a good look at it. You may see that it looks just the way it did when you put it in the soil. In this case, the cause for a low germination rate might be that it was an old seed or not properly stored.
If you have some old seeds and are unsure of whether your seeds were viable, you can always sprout a couple of them in a wet paper towel to check prior to planting.
For new seeds or seeds you saved last year:
- When you saved seed, did you put them away without letting them dry completely? This can cause seeds to rot or mold.
- Were they exposed to extreme temperatures during storage? For example, if you left seed packs in your car over the summer. High temperatures over 90 can kill the plant inside the seed.
- Was the parent plant healthy? Seeds can harbor infection from the parent plant that may prevent sprouting, however, this is not usually the case.
2. You didn’t use new or sterilized containers
Disease issues can be a factor in seed germination. Think back to last year and whether you had any disease issues with your seedlings.
- Most plastic containers can be reused for several years, but they need to be sanitized.
We clean ours by submersing them in bleach water at the beginning of the season.
If you are looking for a bleach alternative, try the environmentally friendly bleach alternatives that use hydrogen peroxide as their active ingredient.
Fungal and mold infections are the most common infection from dirty containers. If infection occurs you will notice a fuzzy growth on the top of the planting medium.
- You may also see that a seed sprouts, but then rots at its base and falls over.
This is called damping off and is caused by a funal infection in your soil. A hydrogen peroxide or colloidal silver solution can help treat fungal disease on your tender plants.
3. Your technique is not right
- If you started seeds in any mix that includes non-sterilized soil from the yard, your seeds may have been affected by disease organisms in the soil.
In order to use garden soil for starting seeds, you should sift it carefully to remove sticks and clumps. Then bake it on a cookie sheet in the oven at 180 degrees for 30 minutes. That should kill most weeds and pathogens.
You’re better off using a seed starting mix. Seed starting mix is usually a soiless mixture that has a finer grain and is free of clumps, sticks, and pathogens.
- Did you plant your seeds too deep?
Planting your seeds too deep can cause problems with sprouting. You should also avoid pressing down on top of your seeds after you plant them. If the soil in your container is too compacted, the seeds cannot sprout or form healthy roots.
4. You didn’t provide the correct temperature
The temperature of your soil is of utmost importance in getting a good seed germination.
- Temperatures that are too high or too low can cause problems germinating seeds.
Given all else is equal, even tray germination requires even temperatures. If temperatures plunge at night, or peak over 100 for a prolonged period, seeds will either remain dormant or die.
- Did you leave the heat mat too high or too low?
Even when using seed starting heat mats, accidents happen. If you forget to put the temperature probe into the seed tray, the heat mat can overheat and cook the seeds.
Sometimes heat mats get accidentally turn off, or you forget to plug it in.
An alternative to the heat mat is to put them in a sunny south facing window or on top of the refrigerator. You can also use grow lights to provide heat above, and I have even seen people use rope lights to generate warmth.
5. You watered incorrectly
Seeds need to be moderately moist to sprout.
- Seed germination is highly dependent on watering. Too dry and they won’t get the message to sprout, too wet and they will rot in the dirt.
Very young seedlings are even more tender. Seedlings do best in what we call the “Goldilocks zone.” You know Goldilocks. She likes her porridge not too hot and not too cold, but juuust right.
- Tender seedling babies can’t tolerate drying out. While young, even a short dry period can mean death after the first wilt.
On the other hand, their tender roots will be the first victim of conditions being too wet. They can’t get the oxygen they need to carry about their business, and it will stunt or kill the seedling.
What other problems have you had germinating seeds?
If you’ve had troubles germinating seeds and this article didn’t answer your question, leave me a comment below. I’m happy to help you work out what’s going on.
Why Won’t My Cannabis Seeds Germinate?
If you’re growing cannabis from seed, life begins at germination. But what happens if your seeds won’t germinate? Are you just doing it wrong?
It’s possible, but other factors contribute to the successful germination of seeds. Let’s look at what to do right, what can go wrong, and how to minimise the risk of germination failure.
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What is Cannabis Seed Germination?
Germination is when the outer shell of a seed cracks open, and the first sprout pops its tired head out to see daylight for the first time. From there, your seed is awake, alive, and ready to grow into the superb cannabis plant it dreamed of becoming. The first initial sprout to break the surface of the seed is known as the taproot. That’s the root from which all other roots made by your plant will sprout. Once the shell breaks open and the taproot emerges, you can plant it in soil. With time and the right conditions, you’re well on your way to growing a healthy marijuana plant. If you’re wondering why your cannabis seeds won’t germinate, there are some important things to know.
Cannabis seeds need three things to germinate:
Each is a vital cog in the germination process, and if just one is missing – or inadequate – you’re looking at a bust. Therefore, it’s crucial to know how to germinate your seeds correctly.
Three Ways to Germinate Cannabis Seeds
As sure as there’s more than one way to skin a cat, there’s more than one way to germinate a weed seed. Which way is your choice, and how you choose is entirely up to you. Some methods are more straightforward, and some are slightly more scientific. The main thing, however, is simply knowing what’s involved in your preferred seed germination method and following the instructions to the letter. Doing this allows you to rule individual errors out of the equation if things go wrong. Here’s a quick and easy guide to three popular methods of germinating cannabis seeds.
The Wet Paper Towel Method
Without a doubt, the simplest method, and probably the most common method among home growers, the paper towel method, has been around forever.
All you need is four paper towels or kitchen paper, two plates, and some distilled water. Begin by dampening the paper towels with distilled water. Place two of your damp paper towels on a plate, then grab a utensil like a set of tweezers or tongs, and use them to place the seeds on the paper towels. Carefully place the other two damp towels on top of your seeds, and cover with the other plate.
Cannabis for Beginners
Keep your newly-crafted ensemble in a spot where the temperature is between 20 and 30°C, checking on them daily. After just a couple of days, if you see the taproots have emerged, congratulations! Your seeds have popped and are ready for the next stage.
The Glass of Water Method
It’s said that this method is less effective than the wet paper towel trick, but some people prefer to drop their seeds in a glass of room-temperature water and wait 3-5 days until the seeds pop and the taproots emerge. It’s probably even more straightforward than the paper towel method. Whatever floats your….seeds….
The problem with this method is that it seems directly counter-intuitive to the philosophy of seed germination 101 – too much water will drown your seed. Yet somehow, people have success with it.
The Soil Method
You want to limit the handling of your seeds as much as possible, so what better way than to drop them straight into the soil and let them germinate there? Put some soil in a small pot and water it, then make a small hole about 15mm deep in the centre, and carefully place the seed (one seed per pot) in the hole. Cover with a light dusting of soil, then mist with water. This method takes longer, so you’re waiting between four and ten days for the seed to germinate. The beauty of this method is that the taproot emerges into the soil, meaning no further handling, and the roots can get to work developing in the substrate.
My Cannabis Seeds Won’t Germinate
It’s not uncommon, but as long you’ve followed our germination guidelines correctly, you know at least it wasn’t your fault. So what went wrong?
Here’s a list of common reasons why your seeds may not have sprouted:
Poor Quality Seeds
Where did you acquire your seeds? There are plenty of disreputable sources for cannabis seeds out there, be they online retailers, back-alley head shops – or even just a jiffy bag of random undefined seeds from a friend. The genetics aren’t assured, quality control is non-existent, and as for after-sales care? Forget about it.
To give yourself the best chance of success, only buy your cannabis seeds from a quality seed bank like Seedsman.com. The variety and quality of cannabis seeds are second to none, and they come with the peace of mind of knowing your seeds will have a much higher germination success rate. Better yet, you get the added value of knowing those seeds will grow into cannabis plants of the highest quality, with bountiful yields. You don’t have to break the bank to purchase top-grade marijuana seeds. From competitive prices on the latest strains to regular special offers, Seedsman.com offers premium cannabis seeds to suit any budget.
Improperly Stored Seeds
Not everyone realises that seeds have to be stored correctly to remain viable. If you’ve unfortunately got your hands on some old seeds, there’s a high chance they might not have been stored properly. If your seeds have been sitting in a bag on a window ledge, chances are the heat has sucked any chance of germination out of them completely. Treat your seeds like you would treat food. Whether you store in a cool, dry place or in a refrigerator in the correct container, you need to preserve them correctly to ensure they don’t spoil.
Over-Handling or Incorrect Handling
Treat your seeds with the utmost care at every step. If you over-handle them, use bare or dirty hands or use the incorrect tools to lift and lay your seeds, there’s a good chance you’ll damage their viability. Bare hands are harbours of all manner of bacteria, so it’s a good idea to use medical-grade gloves if you’re picking them up. Failing that, always wash your hands before and after handling cannabis seeds – but be careful what you use as soap!
The less you handle cannabis seeds, the lower the risk of damage. Sure, cannabis seeds seem hardy enough with that tough outer shell, but it would surprise you how easily they can be damaged. The same rule applies if using tools to lift and place seeds – tweezers and so on should be cleaned before and after use. Resist temptation to apply too much of a squeeze, as that can damage the seed shell.
Incorrect Planting Techniques
If you’re planting your seeds straight into the soil, place the seed carefully and gently into that 15mm hole mentioned earlier. Cover lightly with soil, and do not be tempted to push the seed further down into the soil. Don’t compress a large amount of soil over the top of the seed, either. This will do more harm than good because your seed won’t have the oxygen it needs. Likewise, excess moisture can scupper the chance of germination.
Everything from handling tools to pots and soil has to be spotlessly clean and sterile. Otherwise, you limit your seed’s chances of making its big breakthrough. Ensure you sterilise your pots; otherwise, there’s a good chance there will be residual mould and pathogens. Likewise, only ever use clean, new soil to accept your seeds.
Incorrect Water/Moisture Levels
Too much moisture in your soil and your seeds will suffer from a lack of oxygen. If that’s not bad enough, excess water will encourage fungal growth.
Too little moisture is just as bad – remember, moisture is one of the three critical components in the seed germination process. If using the paper towel method, ensure those towels are damp and not soaked. When potting in soil, make sure to mist the soil with a spray bottle. Don’t pour copious amounts into the soil, thinking the more, the merrier. If you’re overwatering the soil at this stage, neither you nor your seeds will be particularly merry.
You Germinated for Too Long
It can happen – if you take your eye off the ball, your seeds will have germinated, and that taproot has been exposed to air and light for too long before being planted in a safe growing medium. Don’t keep them out in the open beyond 2cm. If you do, handling and transporting the sprouted seed increases the risk of damage. Get them in soil or your preferred substrate as soon as possible.
Seeds germinate best when the temperature is between 20 and 25C. High temperatures increase the risk of drying out the soil. Any lower exposes the seed to conditions that could effectively stunt development or halt germination altogether. For this reason, we recommend carrying out germination indoors, where you can control the temperature.
After successful germination, allow your cannabis seedlings to develop indoors in pots. Wait until the outdoor temperature is high enough that your young plant will thrive (if you’re planning to grow your plants outdoors, of course).
Too Much Light
Cannabis plants love light – well, photoperiod ones, certainly. But seeds? Not so much. Light is not essential to seed germination; in fact, it’s not conducive to seed germination. Keep your seeds away from light as much as possible if you want them to have a chance at popping. Carry out germination away from windows and any other light sources, or you’ll hinder the likelihood of success.
The ‘Wrong’ Water
Avoid using tap water in the germination process. Tap water contains chlorine, fluoride and other additives that can harm seeds and potentially stop them from sprouting. Instead, use distilled water. Bottled water is fine.
They Can’t all be Winners
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why your seeds may not germinate successfully, and it’s a lot to consider. Keep this guide handy if you’re new to growing cannabis from seed, and follow the steps outlined above until you’re experienced enough to go it alone.
Always remember that, even if you do everything by the book, some seeds just won’t germinate. Frustrating though that is, sometimes it’s just bad luck. But by taking control of all the factors mentioned above, you significantly increase your chances of successfully germinating your cannabis seeds every time. Over many grows, an 100% germination success rate is unheard of. By obtaining good quality cannabis seeds from a reputable source like Seedsman.com, and following the guidelines, you can get pretty close. Good luck!
Cultivation information, and media is given for those of our clients who live in countries where cannabis cultivation is decriminalised or legal, or to those that operate within a licensed model. We encourage all readers to be aware of their local laws and to ensure they do not break them.
Care and Caution When Germinating Cannabis Seeds
For growers looking to produce top-shelf cannabis, it all starts with the seeds. Rich Hamilton explains there’s far more involved than simply burying a seed in a pot of dirt.
There are many to consider when germinating cannabis seeds — not only the germination method you choose but also the environmental conditions your seeds require to thrive. These conditions include temperature, light exposure, moisture, and oxygen levels. Get any of these wrong and it could spell the end for your grow before it even begins.
Cannabis seeds can be very delicate and temperamental even when germinating in the perfect conditions. You can understand why you should approach this task with best-practice knowledge and caution.
To try and give your seeds the best chance, we are going to look at some tips and methods to help you get better results, first time, from your germination efforts.
Firstly, what is germination? Well, germinate means “to bring to life.” Germination is the first part of a plant’s life, the growth or shooting of a seed into a seedling and then hopefully a plant.
Cannabis seeds germinate via epigeal germination which sees the cotyledons (seed leaves) pushed upward and out of the soil as the plant begins to grow. For germination to occur, several natural elements and conditions must be present in the correct ratios. Let’s have a look at them.
Water — This is needed to start the germination process as the seed is dry, holding only five percent water and needs to absorb a lot more to begin the germination process. Seeds store starch, oils, and proteins and when germination begins, hydrolytic enzymes are activated, releasing the stored supplies and giving the plant just enough of the right chemicals to get it started. Water is also needed to expand the seed’s shell and soften it, allowing it to split for the beginnings of the plant to emerge. The hardness of a cannabis seed shell can vary quite a lot. If your seed is ripe and mature enough for germination, then you shouldn’t have any problems. A more immature cannabis seed, however, will have a more rigid shell and may fail to germinate.
Oxygen — Seeds need to breathe, but without oxygen the seed may drown or suffocate. Overwatering can suffocate your cannabis seeds preventing oxygen from getting to them, so keep them moist but not soaked. Don’t overwater your seeds — use a spray mist rather than pouring water directly onto them.
Temperature — Ideally, your cannabis seeds will germinate best at their “sweet spot” between 70-75°F. If you germinate a cannabis seed outside this range, then it can negatively affect the plant’s growth and health in the future. When temperatures are too cold, it can ultimately stunt germination so keep seeds away from any drafts, open windows, or fans.
Light conditions — Cannabis seeds germinate best in dark conditions. During germination, your cannabis seed is working to develop its first root (the radicle), and roots (unsurprisingly as they exist underground) do not like light! It is therefore vital to keep your cannabis seeds somewhere dark until transplant. But as soon as germination occurs and your new seedling develops leaves, it will need to be exposed to light to start the vital task of photosynthesis. Now that we understand what your cannabis seeds need, let’s explore the most popular methods used to germinate them.
The Glass of Water Germination Method
You can leave your cannabis seeds in a glass of mineral water in a dark environment until the radicle/tip of the root shows.
Depending on the seed strain, you should generally see something happening within one to five days. Why mineral water? Well, depending on where you live, your tap water can vary immensely in terms of chemical composition and pH. The ideal pH for water when germinating is pH 7. Anything outside of this can have adverse effects on your seed. Using mineral water is a cheap and effective way of keeping a stable pH environment. If you use tap water, however, leave it to stand for 24 hours first. The tap water needs a chance to settle and dissolve any chemicals that are present and may be harmful to the seeds.
You can use an air stone and pump to oxygenate the water whilst it stands for 24 hours. By doing so, you will reduce the chance of the seeds drowning and helping to dissolve any unwanted chemicals at a faster rate.
The Paper Towel Germination Method
Using a paper towel to germinate your cannabis seeds is both reliable and straightforward. You should find that 90 percent or more of your cannabis seeds will germinate when following this method correctly.
Take a sheet of premium paper towel and fold it in half, then place the seeds to the left of center. If you are germinating more than one seed, then you can use the same piece of kitchen towel but do not let the cannabis seeds touch each other. Now fold the kitchen towel in half again so all the seeds are covered up and then saturate it with water.
Mineral water is excellent to use, or if you are going to use tap water, then follow the recommended process for the glass of water method as previously discussed. Now leave the kitchen towel on a plate in a dark place as the roots will hopefully begin to develop soon and they do not like the light.
Humidity levels are equally important and keeping the seeds in the paper towel will keep the humidity levels where they should be. Keep the kitchen towel moist at all times and do not let it dry out. If you have been successful, it should take about two to four days for you to see until the radicle begins to emerge.
It is best practice to place the moist kitchen towels between two clean plates. Doing so helps to stabilize temperature and humidity and block out any light. The plates should be face-to-face, with the germination towel in between. Once a cannabis seed starts showing signs of successfully germinating, you can easily remove them whilst leaving the others, which may not yet have germinated, undisturbed.
Direct Germination Method
Germinating “directly” is where you place the cannabis seed directly within a pellet or block of a medium of your choosing. You can germinate your seed within a soil or coco pellet, however, I would recommend choosing a one-inch rooting sponge or stonewool cube.
You can use a soil pellet, but the risk here is that soil already contains a certain level of minerals and elements that could cause an imbalance in your seed, affecting its development later on in life.
For seeds in their natural environment, there can be double, triple, or a hundred times more plants growing in the soil at any one time. From those plants, thousands of seeds are dropped for germination and of those thousands, only half may germinate, even under natural conditions.
We are trying to grow our seeds under controlled conditions and in much smaller numbers. The margin for error, therefore, is much smaller. Using a rooting sponge is an excellent alternative for germination as it eliminates any risk of deficiencies or toxicities you may otherwise experience when using a natural medium such as soil at this early stage.
The direct method of germination can be hard to control as you must wait until the seedling first shows itself out of the chosen medium to know whether it has been successful or not.
As the cannabis seed is buried within its medium, you cannot check on it during the process to see if it has begun the germination process. As a result, this process can take much longer than the methods already discussed.
If you are germinating “directly” then firstly you should moisten your medium by misting it with a spray bottle. The cannabis seed will then need to be carefully inserted into the chosen medium and be surrounded by its encasing environment to keep any light out.
Now that you have chosen your method and you have successfully germinated some seeds. What now? How do you know when you should transplant? If everything goes according to plan with your germination efforts, you will see the radicle/root tip of the cannabis seed breaking through the shell. This new root is the first sign germination has occurred. It is best to transplant each seedling when the radicle is around three times the length of the seed.
A rooting sponge is a perfect choice for transplanting as it is compatible with whatever medium or system you use later. Rooting sponges are also an excellent choice for those who are looking to sell their seedlings.
Rooting sponges and stone wool blocks make for more robust root systems. It can take longer for the roots to break through, but when they do, they will be stronger.
When you are transplanting the seed, it must be placed radicle first into its new home, quickly, gently, and precisely as it only has a minimal amount of energy to survive and develop into a seedling. Once your seeds are transplanted, they should go into a propagator, ready for the start of the growth phase of their lives. Your cannabis seed holds all the potential to give you the vibrant, robust, healthy plants, and bountiful yields you desire.
Taking the time and care to get your seeds off to a good start should be a no-brainer. Knowledge is power if you want to be a better grower, so think of the learning process just like a seed itself. Nurture it, cultivate it, and you will soon harvest success.