Why wont my seeds germinate


Seed Germination – Challenges and Rewards

Seed germination issues happen every spring and challenge many new and experienced gardeners and growers. Over the years we have found a lot of commonality in why our customers have problems with seed germination. The four biggest issues are soil temperature, moisture levels, knowledge or experience and patience. We’ve put this guide together to help everyone learn where the problems lie and make changes to become more successful.

We have a vested interest in you being successful both in starting seeds and in your gardening efforts. After all, we put our name and reputation on each and every one of the seed packets we send out. If you fail, we also fail; so we really want to help you succeed!

We know our seed quality and spend a lot of time, energy and effort to make sure you get the best possible seeds. When you have problems with seed germination, if we simply send you replacement seeds without helping to correct the issues, you will get the same results and no one will be happy! We aren’t asking these questions to make things difficult, but to help you. Also, if you learn some of these critical skills and steps, you will be much more successful overall.

Seeds are amazing; they have everything needed to continue their species stored right inside their seed coats. From their accumulated travels they have all the adaptations, the environmental and seasonal conditions they have encountered and grown through encoded into their DNA. Everything they need to sprout when the time is right is built right inside their shells. Within that hard seed coat is enough food energy to help them break dormancy and carry them into their first several days as seedlings. All the enzymes they need to convert the stored energy into food is there as well; they have the fats, carbohydrates, protein, enzymes and hormones needed to get the seed off to a great start. As home gardeners and small scale growers, our job is to provide the proper conditions, ensuring maximum germination into strong and healthy seedlings ready to be transplanted into the garden when the conditions are right.

Seed Germination Basics – What You Need To Know

Not all seeds are alike; likewise, many of them need somewhat different conditions to germinate. Some seeds are simply more difficult to germinate and require patience, attention to detail and time to be successful with. Pay attention to the seed packet directions – if it says, “Outdoor sowing recommended,” there is a reason! You will have a much harder time getting them to start inside, regardless of the professional greenhouse set-up you might have. Corn, melons and cucumbers are great examples.

Other seeds really need to be planted in the fall, lightly covered with soil and left alone – like most herbs and flowers. Duplicate the natural systems of seeds scattering in the fall and overwintering in the soil, then sprouting in the spring, and you will have less work and worry with a better, more vibrant garden.

Very few varieties of seed will have 100% germination. Under carefully controlled conditions, we might see 97% germination rate for tomatoes, but you might see 90% in your home. This doesn’t mean the seeds you get are weaker, just that your conditions are most likely different than what we used in our germination tests. We always beat the Federal Germination Standards!

This is why we pack more seeds in a packet for some varieties; it reflects the Federal germination rate. For instance, the standard germination rate for Okra is 50% – which is why we give you around 100 seeds – there is plenty of seed to ensure an abundant harvest. The minimum germination rate for peppers is 55% – we will stop selling it long before it drops to 70% in our tests. This is one of the reasons we pack 40 seeds per packet for peppers, as not all will germinate. We pack our seeds to give you the best germination rate possible, combined with our knowledge of how that variety grows to ensure a great crop in your garden; another reason to wonder what results you will get with 10 seeds per packet from other companies.

What Happened To My Seed Germination?

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.

Let’s look at the major factors that a seed needs for germination. They are moisture, temperature, air, light and soil. For a more in-depth look at these factors, read our article “Starting Seeds at Home: A Deeper Look.”

Moisture – A dormant seed only contains about 10 – 15% moisture, so it must draw water from the soil that surrounds it. As the moisture is absorbed from the soil or seed starting media through the seed coat, enzymes are activated that convert the stored nutrition reserves and softens the seed shell, allowing oxygen to penetrate the seed coat, starting the process of growing. The moisture levels are critical at this early stage – they must remain constant for the sprouting process to continue and for the seedling to survive.

Uneven moisture levels can seriously delay sprouting of a seed, and even a few minutes lack of moisture as a seedling can kill it, as it has no method of storing water like a mature plant does. During the germination process, a seed needs much more moisture in the soil than when it has sprouted, so be aware and decrease the moisture levels as young seedlings emerge and mature.

Temperature – Germination will only occur in a specific range of maximum and minimum temperatures for each variety. Our Germination Guide lists these, along with the optimum temperature each one needs. The temperature we are talking about is the soil temperature, not the air temperature above the seed tray or garden row. Slightly cooler temperatures can double or triple the time needed for germination – even as little as 5°F cooler can be the difference between a 7 day or a 14 day seedling emergence!

When starting seeds inside, a bottom heat such as a seed sprouting heating mat on a thermostat is invaluable. In the garden, double check the soil temperature with a soil thermometer before spending the time and effort in carefully planting your seeds and being disappointed later.

Air – Seed germination requires large amounts of oxygen to activate the metabolic process of converting the stored nutrients into energy. Oxygen that is dissolved in water and from the air contained in the soil is used. If soil conditions are too wet, an anaerobic condition can be created and seeds may not be able to germinate due to lack of oxygen.

Light – Some seeds need light for germination, while some other seed varieties are hindered by light. Most wild species of flowers and herbs need darkness for germination and should be planted slightly deeper in the soil while most modern vegetable crops prefer light or are not affected by it, and are planted shallowly to allow small amounts of light to filter through the soil.

Soil – It is the medium for successful seed germination. In the germination tray, it may be absorbent paper (blotting paper, towel or tissue paper), soil, sand or a mixed media made specifically for seed germination. The substratum absorbs water and supplies it to the germinating seeds. It should be free from toxic substances and should not act as a medium for the growth of micro-organisms. It needs to be loose, allowing the moisture to easily reach the seed and for the seed to move as it grows without spending lots of energy in moving the soil to reach the surface.

A few things to consider –

1. Keep seed packets in a cool dry place. Do not store in your garage, potting shed or near a heat source such as a heater or appliance.

2. Review the seed packets individual instructions and develop a planting schedule based on your local weather and growing season.

3. Re-seal any seed packets that you are starting indoors, such as pepper, eggplant, and tomatoes. This will allow you to start more seeds later if you want to stagger your plantings, etc.

4. It may be better to over plant and then share plant starts with neighbor and friends, than to under plant and be caught short.

5. Download the Terroir Seeds Garden Journal to get a jump start on tracking your garden this year.

Questions to Answer

And finally, a few questions to answer to help us help you in determining what went wrong and how to correct it:

Did you follow the germination instructions on the seed packet? Go back and read them again; we sometime spend hours in researching and experimenting to find the best methods, temperatures, etc.

What was the soil temperature? Not the air temperature, but the soil temperature? Were there fluctuations? If so, how much? Not knowing this is a critical error that is a major cause of seed germination failure.

How moist/damp was the soil? For seed starting, the soil needs to be damp to the touch. You should be able to see a small pad of moisture on your fingertip after you lightly touch the soil. It shouldn’t be a drop of water, but an easily observed spot of dampness. Was it too dry/too wet? Did it get dry during the day/night, or was there constant moisture?

What seed starting mix are you using – a complete soil, Miracle-Gro mix. sterile seed starting mix, home-grown or something else?

Are the seeds still physically in the ground? If you don’t know, dig a few up to check. Are birds, squirrels, rodents eating/stealing the seeds or seedlings? Many times we have heard that our seeds aren’t germinating, when they have been eaten! You may need to use a paper cup with the bottom cut off to protect the seedling from birds/rodents until it is more mature.

Once you have answered these questions, we can help you determine what has prevented your seeds from germinating. More often than not you will know what to change just from reading this.

When we are asked, “Why are my seeds not germinating?” we consider a number of factors. Seeds are living organisms in as much as a certain percent of them will germinate in the correct conditions and produce seedlings, which, in the correct conditions, will produce plants and eventually more seeds. Before we order our seeds, we determine if the germination rate meets our high standards. We also test each and every seed lot annually to ensure that the germination rate remains higher than Canada Number One, as set by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Samples of each lot of our seeds are tested in independent laboratories that are CFIA certified.

We take germination rates very seriously and print the result of each test on our seed packets. It is the goal of West Coast Seeds to provide the finest, fattest seeds, as well as the information needed, so that you have success in your garden and on your farm.

Many variables can affect the germination rate of seeds. How the seeds were stored, their age, the depth at which they were planted, the weather, the soil they were planted in, moisture, and temperature can all play a role in the success or failure of germination.

West Coast Seeds is proud to offer seeds of the highest quality, and we stand by our product. Our exceptional germination rate was the reason that our founder, Mary Ballon, began selling seeds. If you are not satisfied with the germination rate of our seeds, please contact us as soon as possible with the following information: Variety of seed and lot number – these are printed on all of our seed packages. Please be prepared to describe how the seeds were planted, and all of the details mentioned above.

We want you to have success in your gardens and on your farms. We will work with you to find an agreeable solution to your germination problems. This is our guarantee. West Coast Seeds cannot, though, accept liability for how you plant, maintain, or store your seeds.

The primary reasons for failed germination are:

  • Seeds get eaten – mice, voles, birds, and wireworms all eat seeds. Check to see that the seed is still in the soil. Seeds rot – planted too deeply, over-watered, or in cold weather, our untreated seeds may simply rot. Dig up some seeds and squeeze them. If they are soft or partially decayed, this is the problem.
  • Seeds need specific conditions to germinate – temperature and moisture can be difficult to control beneath the soil, and are easily affected by weather, human error, and other factors. Maintaining controlled moisture in the top layer of soil is particularly challenging if it is sunny and/or windy. Timing is everything with seeds, so rely on your local first/last frost dates and hope for the weather to play along. Be sure to plant seeds at the depth recommended on each seed packet. Seeds that are planted too deeply will not germinate.
  • Seeds (usually) require well-cultivated soil – while some plant seeds (think dandelions) will grow nearly anywhere, many herb, flower, and vegetable seeds require soil that has good drainage, the correct pH level, and adequate fertility to succeed. Follow the directions for each seed’s specific requirements.
  • Seeds are sometimes poorly stored – make sure to store all of your unused seeds in a dry, airtight container in a cool part of your house. Excessive heat will kill seeds. Moisture (even high humidity) can cause seeds to go moldy or otherwise lose their viability.
  • Seeds have a limited life expectancy – over time, the viability of all seeds will diminish. Use fresh, fat seed whenever possible.

Why Didn’t my Seeds Germinate?

  • Escrito por : Ciara
  • Crop articles

Why didn’t my seeds germinate? This is a question often asked by novice and experienced growers alike. Some people think that it’s because they bought old seeds or badly made seeds, but it’s generally because the germination process isn’t done properly. Cannabis seeds have a 99% germination chance, even after being in a box for up to 5 years.

Cannabis seeds are life matter, and if germination isn’t done correctly then the seeds are worthless. Cannabis plants are generally quite sturdy and they grow quite fast, but they’re extremely fragile before they begin their growth spurt. You need to germinate in humid places with a decent temperature, and make sure that the seeds have enough humidity for the 2-10 days it can take for them to germinate. Just because it hasn’t shown any roots in four days doesn’t mean that the seed isn’t going to open, you just have to wait and have some patience.

One of the most common errors is just leaving them in some damp kitchen paper on a plate, as they’ll dry up before they can root. You need to make sure that the paper isn’t dry, if it’s dry you’ll need to give them a bit more water, some people give them too much water in case they dry out etc. These practices are what cause seeds to dry out or to drown in too much water; it’s not the seed’s fault, but generally the grower’s.

Another big mistake is germinating in a glass of water. The issue with this method is many people don’t take into account the water temperature. If the water’s too cold then the seeds will sit there for days until they eventually rot due to the low temperature in the water. This method’s okay for warm summer months when there’s a decent temperature and the water doesn’t get too cold. This still isn’t the seed’s fault.

One of the biggest mistakes is germinating straight in a jiffy or soil. The issue here is that the seeds will most likely take much more than 48h to germinate, and by then the upper layers of soil will have dried out, and if it doesn’t die off due to that then it will probably die if you try and water it to keep humidity up; in these cases, the seed tends to come to the surface or they can sink even further into the soil. Once again, this is the grower’s fault.

The only way to be sure that your plants are going to get a chance to grow is to germinate them before putting them in the desired medium. The only way to make sure that they germinate is to make sure that the temperature never goes below 20º and that the paper doesn’t dry. How? By using a simple plastic kitchen container. If you germinate your seeds in a plastic container with some damp kitchen paper and you keep it closed, the water from the paper won’t evaporate and dry out. Even if it takes 10 days it will still germinate. Once the seeds have opened, you’ll need to place them in a properly watered pot because you won’t be able to water again until the seedling pops through the surface, although this should only take one day indoors and maybe 2 outdoors. With this system you can germinate hundreds of seeds in a small Tupperware container. If it’s summer and it’s warm, you can just stick them anywhere out of direct light. If it’s the winter and it’s colder you can place the container on top of your TV or internet box to give it that extra bit of heat. If it’s going to be somewhere where light can get to it, cover the box in tin foil.

So, now you know the best way to germinate your seeds. You might have been doing it one of the “wrong” ways and you’ve been lucky so far, but the only way you can germinate and blame the seeds if it doesn’t work is if you use the correct method we mentioned last. Happy growing!


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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.

Easily keep track of your germination rate with these garden worksheets.

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 you forget 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.


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Seeds Not Germinating or Growing Well? Here’s Why

This is an excerpt from the ebook, Seed Starting for Beginners: Sow Inside Grow Outside, sharing everything you need to know to start your own garden plants from seeds indoors.

If you would like the entire ebook with all the printable lists in one handy file,

How to Make Seeds Sprout

It makes me crazy when people say they do not have a green thumb and cannot grow anything, as if there is some sort of supernatural curse on them, causing even the best efforts to fail.


Every garden mishap has a cause. With a bit of thought and patience it is often possible to figure out where things went south. And, no, it’s not a curse. It’s just that something essential to growth was neglected or overlooked.

Here’s some troubleshooting tips.

At what growth stage did the problem occur?

Seeds Never Germinated

If your seeds never sprouted, it could be one or a combination of these factors:

  • Did you start with fresh, good quality seeds?

If not, here’s info on how to find good quality seeds you can trust.

The more recently seeds are harvested, the better they germinate. Some seed packets show sow-by dates. And, no matter how reliable the source, there are always a few duds in the lot (that’s nature). Get fresh seeds from a trusted source and always plant a few extras.

  • Did you sow them as directed?

Every type of seed has its own preferences. Read your seed packets for specific instructions. Some require presoaking, prechilling, or a scratch of their coats to encourage germination. Others can be directly sown.

From there, it matters how deeply they are sown. Most are sown just twice as deep as the seed is wide. Others go on the surface because they need light for germination.

Those seed packets provide a lot of valuable clues! This shows how to read seed packets and grow like a pro.

  • Did you keep the growing medium moist all through the germination and growing stages?

When we store seeds, they are dormant. To sow them, we wake them up with warmth, moisture, and then air and light. If a newly sown seed is not in contact with the growing medium, it may dry out and die. Even moisture—not too wet or dry—is the key.

  • Did you use growing medium intended for seed starting?

We use special seed starting mixes for sowing seeds indoors because they provide just what the seeds like in these special indoor conditions. Seed starting mixes are lightweight and make it easy for the seed to receive moisture without having to fight to grow. Garden soils and other potting mixes can be too heavy for the wee seeds and introduce pathogens.

Here’s a list of recommended supplies for sowing seeds indoors including the best growing medium to use.

  • Was your growing space warm?

There are two different temperature groups for seed starting: seeds that like some warmth, and others that like more warmth. If your room (and growing medium) is too cold or warm, seeds may struggle, die, or never germinate. There is not an ideal temperature for all seed types but a good compromise that can accommodate them is between 65-75° F (18-23° C). If you have the space to accommodate the two temperature groups, this has specific details.

Most Common Seed Starting Problems- and How to Fix Them

Starting seeds is super rewarding, but things don’t always go as planned. Here are 4 common seed starting problems- and how to fix them! So you can grow more for your garden from seed, with less problems!

Seedlings are a little like kids, don’t you think? They curl out of their tiny womb and depend on your for all of their needs. Then all of a sudden they are these tall, gangly things trying to stretch their roots, fighting you on every turn.

This site contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using one of these links, I may earn a commission. Please for more information about cookies collected and our privacy policy.

There may not be a parenting road map to help you with tall, gangly teenagers, but I can help you with your tall, leggy seedlings- and a few of the other common indoor seed starting problems you might come across while tending your seeds from sprout to outside.

The Most Common Seed Starting Problems

Get the best start to your garden this year with my Yearly Garden Planner! With a growing guide, charts, and planning pages you will be set for success this year!

My seeds never germinate!

Germination problems can be caused by a variety of reasons. Some of the most common are:

Incorrect Temperature.

Different seeds have different needs. Cool weather crops such as cabbage, kale or broccoli have a much lower germination temperature while warm weather crops like tomatoes will germinate better with temperatures in the 70F range.

If you are sprouting your seeds in a cool basement or outbuilding you may need to provide supplemental heat- such as a heating mat– to ensure germination.

✅ This Heating Mat comes with a digital thermostat so that you can ensure that your seedlings are at the optimum temperature for germination.

Old Seeds.

When properly stored seeds can have a very long shelf life. But the older they get, your germination rate will begin to reduce.

For the longest life, store your seeds in a cold, dry place. Humidity and warmth will greatly reduce your seeds’ shelf life.

Incorrect Watering.

Water in a necessity for all plants. In the germination stage you need to make sure you keep the soil evenly moist.If you water too much, you run the risk of your seeds rotting before they germinate.

If you let them dry out, they will either never germinate or die trying!

I use a handheld pump sprayer to water my seeds- a few times a day sometimes.

Planting Depth/Light.

When you plant your seeds pay attention to your planting depth. This is important because if planted too deep you plants could run out of energy before reaching sunlight. Planting too shallow can lead to drying out.

Some seeds actually need some light to germinate, so instead of digging them down you just press them into your soil. Read your seed packets for information on each seed so you know exactly what each seed type requires.

My seeds sprout and then die!

Everything starts off good. Your seeds germinate and you have little seedlings growing strong. Then all of a sudden they whither up and die! This is often called “dampening off”.

It can be prevented by using these seed starting practices:

Do not over water.

Too much moisture allows disease to grow and plants to mold. Once your seeds have germinated, water your seedlings only when the soil is beginning to dry out.

Watering from the bottom is best, but do not allow them to sit in standing water once they are done taking it in.

Do not overcrowd.

Your plants need room to breathe. A room with good airflow, as well as enough space between the plants will help them stay healthy.

Start with clean soil.

Oftentimes disease in seedlings is caused by disease that is laying dormant in your soil or in your seed starting pots. Wash your seed pots and trays each year before planting.

Consider buying a sterile soil if you have a major problem, that is not cured by the already mentioned steps.

You can also pasteurize your soil prior to use.

It all started off good, but my seedlings just aren’t getting very big!

They sprouted, they are alive, but they just aren’t growing!! Just like with germination, different seeds have different needs.

But here are some of the common reasons for stunted growth in your seedlings:

Incorrect temperature.

If it is very cold your seedlings will not grow at the same rate they would in warm weather. Warm weather crops like peppers, tomatoes, or eggplant require temperatures around 75F to be happy.

Even if they are small chances are when it warms up and they are outdoors they will take off and make up for their slow start.

Nutrient deficiencies.

If you seed starting medium is lacking in nutrients they will not grow properly. Keep an eye out for the symptoms of some common soil nutrient deficiencies and feed your plants a little bit as they grow.


Over watering is the number one cause of stunted growth. If your seedlings are stunted and have yellow tips, this is most likely the cause.

Waterlogged soil prevents the plant’s roots from bringing in oxygen, which will damage the roots and the seedling will be at risk for many more problems. Let the soil dry out just a bit before watering- and the soil should be moist not soaked.

My seedlings are tall, thin, and leggy!

Legginess is a common problem in plants that are started indoors and it is caused by the seedlings having to compete and stretch for their light source.

Here are a couple of ways to reduce the tall, leggy appearance of your seedlings:

Rotate your trays.

If you are using a south facing window, make sure to rotate your plants a couple of times a day so that all plants have an equal time closest to the window.

Even if you are using an artificial grow light, rotating the plants within your trays is still a good idea so that all get equal time directly under the light.

Take advantage of warm, sunny days.

If you have a warm day, set your seedlings outside in a protected area for a few hours. They will benefit from the direct sunlight, as well as get a head start on the hardening off process.

Use a grow light in addition to your sunny window to ensure the optimum daylight length of 15-18 hours.

Thin out your seedlings.

The more crowded they are, the more they will have to compete for light.

Get more tips on starting seeds: 5 Tips to Starting Seeds Indoors Successfully or if you are having trouble with sowing seeds outside, here’s my troubleshooting guide for Outdoor Seed Sowing Problems.

If you start your seeds at home what do you have the most trouble with when it comes to seed starting? If you have ones other than the ones I have listed, let me know in the comments!

5 Reasons Your Seeds Just Aren’t Sprouting the Right Way

So you’ve got all your seeds, grow lights, and starter trays to start some new plants. You plant them, water them, put them under light and… nothing. It’s all too common for beginners and pro’s alike to lose seeds while trying to pop them. If you’re sure you’ve done everything possible to get your seeds to grow and they’re just not performing, here are 5 things to look out for:

Disease & Infection

1. Mold & Powdery MildewSeen as white, fuzzy growths on top of your indoor plant soil, mold in the wild can be helpful to a plant. For indoor plants, however, mold can be a sign that there’s too much moisture in your growing environment. If your seedling’s environment is too wet- whether it’s at the root zone or in/on the grow medium (i.e. soil, coco coir, etc…)- and you don’t have good ventilation that moisture will attract mold and help it spread. Moisture lock, as it’s referred to, can attract mold spores which can start to take over your small, sprouting plant. The solution: If caught early enough, you may be able to simply wash it off using a solution of water to rinse off the parts infected by mold. However, if it’s spread across your medium before your plant sprouts or your sprouts are heavily infected, you may need to start all over again with new seeds and soil. Keep in mind that mold is in spore form, so be very careful not to let leaves touch and that you’re not too aggressive with your spraying. Otherwise, those spores can spread to other parts of your plant and make an infection even worse. 2. FungusThere are lots of forms of fungus out there, and when they turn on your plants they’ll kill them slowly. Some fungus, like mushrooms, are nice coincidences that aren’t harmful to plants. But when it comes to seedlings, sprouts, and clones, fungi like fusarium are harmful to your plant. If your plant is beginning to sprout and begins to bend or turn brown, chances are you’ve got fungal growth. Fungal infections can be attributed to fungus in the soil. There could be something in your soil when you planted your seeds, or it can be from high humidity or over-watering. Solution: Unfortunately if you have a fungal growth right off the bat you’ll likely need to get rid of the seed and the medium it’s grown in (soil, starter cell, etc…), and start over again.

Pest & Bug Infestation

3. Pests Bugs and pests won’t necessarily kill your seeds, but they can feast on young and growing plants, which can stop growth before it even gets to start. Bugs are a pain to get rid of, so it’s important to think of pest control in two waves: eradication and prevention. EradicationIf you’ve got pests on your plants, your plants are going to suffer. Remember: bugs thrive off of young and growing plants, so it’s essential to notice them early and get rid of them even faster. Some growers use hydrogen peroxide to get rid of pests, while others look for more organic chemical combinations to kill pests like Neem Oil and water. Others will use predator bugs (like ladybugs and mantises) to climb into your garden and eat those mites. No matter which way you want to go, make sure your medium and your growing area is free of pests before and after you plant those seeds. As soon as pests can smell or see your newly grown seedlings you’re in trouble, so eliminate them on site. PreventionPrevention is all about paying attention to your plants. It’s always a good idea to check the underside of your leaves every day. And not just a majority of them- every single plant. Bugs are mobile, so don’t assume that they’ll just stay on one plant. If you see mites on any of your growing plants there’s a chance they’re on more than one, begin treatment right away. If you’re growing outdoors or the pest situation is brought in by pets, you can also use a bit of their urine around your plants to ward off pests that might want to chomp down on your plants. Whether you’re growing indoors or outside, cover crops are always a great way to not only help keep certain pests away, but they’ll also help mine for nutrients to give a better harvest.

Seed Care and Quality

4. Seed DepthSeeds are strong little beings and will do anything they can to grow- but there’s only so much that seeds can do on their own. Taking in light from the sun or a grow light all starts by making sure the seeds you’re using are buried 1/2″ to 3/4″ deep into the soil or starter cell. Seeds need to be planted deep enough to be covered by the soil or starter cell, but not too deep so the sun can’t hit it. When that happens the water in the soil overpowers the seed and either doesn’t pop the seed, only partially pops the seed, or more often than not, it’ll rot the seed entirely. 5. Quality and Care of seeds Seed Quality At the end of the day when you’re buying seeds- especially expensive seeds- you’ll want to make sure that you get what you’re paying for. Always be sure to purchase seeds from a trusted seed bank, a farmer/co-op you trust, or a retailer known for supplying good genetics. Too often will growers buy the cheapest seeds they want because it happens to be the strain they’re interested, but that’s often a bad choice. Think about it: You’ve got to wait about 4 weeks to see whether your plant is male or female, and if you went the cheap route it might take way too long to realize that you have the wrong sex/plant you wanted. Take that a step further, and let’s say you have the gendered seeds you want. Do you know when they came from the plant? A poor quality plant will produce poor quality seeds. Can you pinpoint how fresh they are? Because the older a seed is, the harder they are to start growing in to mature plants- and even then, you’ve still got to be careful. Always go with quality over savings when it comes to genetics. Care of Seeds Just as important as the source of the seeds is the care given to those seeds. Note that plant seeds vary from species to species and should be cared for as such. For example, seeds from grain and tomatoes can be stored at room temperature, whereas cannabis seeds need to be stored in cooler, air-sealed spaces. You’ll want to make sure that both your supplier and yourself keep your seeds in the environment that keeps them fresh for as long as you need. Keep them out of moist areas to avoid rot or causing them to try to pop too early, and keep them out of overheated areas to avoid them frying and drying out (this is in extreme cases of heat, but it’s important to note).

In Conclusion…

Make sure that if you plan on starting your grow with seeds that you avoid mold, regulate and eliminate fungus and pests, prep your medium and grow room to help seeds grow efficiently, find the best genetics, and care for any seeds you’re not currently using. Take these steps and the next time you start growing from seeds you’ll finish with a harvest you’ll be proud to consume.

There are many reasons why seeds may fail to germinate, and not all of them are your fault! Most problems are related to the sowing conditions and once you know what can go wrong, these setbacks can be easily avoided.

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There is a lot of commonality in why growers have problems with seed germination. The four biggest issues are soil temperature, moisture levels, knowledge or experience and patience. We’ve put this guide together to help everyone learn where the problems lie and make changes to become more successful. Check what went wrong.

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Seeds need specific conditions to germinate – temperature and moisture can be difficult to control beneath the soil, and are easily affected by weather, human error, and other factors. Maintaining controlled moisture in the top layer of soil is particularly challenging if it is sunny and/or windy. Timing is everything with seeds, so rely on your local first/last frost dates and hope for the weather to play along. Be sure to plant seeds at the depth recommended on each seed packet. Seeds that are planted too deeply will not germinate.

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Seeds (usually) require well-cultivated soil – while some plant seeds (think dandelions) will grow nearly anywhere, many herb, flower, and vegetable seeds require soil that has good drainage, the correct pH level, and adequate fertility to succeed.

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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.

Seed Storage

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.

Seed Quality

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

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.

Avoid Overwatering

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.

Damping off

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.

  • Diseases

    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.

    Recommended Solution:

    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.

  • Pests

    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 Infection

    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!

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