Starting a garden from seed? Well get ready for an education in germination.
These are the five best ways to germinate your seeds and a few tips on how to plant your seeds once they’ve rooted. Luckily, germinating seeds successfully doesn’t take a science degree. But it will take a glass of water and roughly 24 hours, so if don’t have either of those you should probably stop reading now. By following these simple ‘how to’ tips for germinating seeds, you can have an abundance of plants growing in the garden this year for minimal expense.
First Select Your Seeds
Starting a garden with vegetable or flower seeds is an inexpensive way to have a wide variety of plants. Start with top quality seeds. Purchase seeds from a reputable plant dealer and look for seeds that have not been chemically treated. If you are buying seeds from outside the country make sure it’s from a reputable dealer, as certain stains of seeds are not permitted to be shipped to the United States. Seeds should be mature, hard and brown in color. Seeds that have not had time to mature will be green and have a soft shell.
Seeds should be kept in a cool environment until you are ready to germinate. Place seeds in a cool dark room or even on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator until you’re ready to plant them. This will prevent seeds from sprouting before they are planted. Also note that it’s important to be as sterile as possible. This is a very stressful time in a seedlings life and any contamination could affect its growth. Using sterilized tweezers is a great option to avoid contamination.
Germination Option #1 – Starter Plugs
Certain stains of seeds can be very expensive so successfully germinating them is important! Using tarter plugs to germinate is the best option for the highest success rate possible. It’s as close to fail proof as you can get as these starter plugs to work almost 100% of the time. The plugs are made from peat and perlite making them airy and absorbent, allowing for perfect water retention. Your roots will sprout and thrive in their new environment with minimal stress. These plugs usually come in trays of about 50 and can be purchased at any gardening store. They come with a pre-cut hole in the middle for you to place the seed in and we suggest planting the seed pointy side down. If the taproot is already showing then you want to make sure the root is planted facing down towards the bottom of the plug.
*Mist the top of the starter cube with water. Place the plugs in a dark, warm location for roughly 5 days. A plastic seedling tray and humidity dome will work great to keep a sealed moist environment. Keep the starter cube moist but not damp to the point of run off. It is very easy to over water your seedlings at this point so make sure to not drown the plugs. On roughly the 6th day place the containers in a warm location with access to light. The light does not need to be very intense. A cheap T5 lamp works perfectly for starting seeds. Continue to mist daily. You can remove the lid around day 10 and look to transplant into your main grow container as soon as you see roots coming out the bottom of the plug.
Germination Option #2 – Rockwool Starter Cubes
Rockwool is the cheapest and probably most popular option used by gardeners to germinate their seeds. Rockwool is made from all natural, basalt rock and chalk. When the two are heated and spun in a machine similar to a cotton candy machine fibers are formed, and pressed into square cubes. These rockwool cubes are perfect for seeds and their roots to thrive. Rockwool has a great air to water absorption ratio making them perfect for water retention. These rockwool cubes have a small hole already punched into them allowing you to plant your seed with ease. Most rockwool cubes regardless of size will need to be presoaked in a pH bath. Rockwool naturally has a high pH, which is not good for seeds or roots. Soaking them in a pH 5.5 bath for 15 minutes to 2 hours is recommend. This will lower the pH level of the cubes for proper plant growth. These starter cubes can be purchased in packs of around 100 for about $15. Again we suggest planting the seed pointy side down. If the taproot is already showing then you want to make sure the root is planted facing down towards the bottom of the cube.
*From here you will follow the same steps as the starter plug. Mist the top of the rockwool cube with water…
Germination Option #3 – Soil or Coco Blend
If Mother Nature did it then why the hell cant we? Planting a seed directly in soil has been working for as long as I’ve been alive and maybe even longer. When germinating directly in soil or coco its important you use a blend that is designed for baby plants. This means a blend without tons of ingredients. One that won’t overwhelm your baby plants with nutrients only intended for mature plants. Something more on the simple side that is airy and absorbent. I would look for something has small amounts of perlite, earthworm castings and maybe some bat guano. Check out Coco Loco by Fox Farm, which is a product I’ve personally grown with. Seeds and plants love it and it holds water really well which means less feeding.
When using soil or coco I like to germinate in a small solo cup, but you can also do it in an egg carton or any other small container. Its smart to poke drainage holes in the bottom of the container to help prevent over watering. Fill the container 3/4‘s full of a quality potting soil mixture or coco blend. Dampen the mixture with water and use a pencil to poke a hole in the center of the soil 1/4 inch deep. If using a large container, space the holes 2 inches apart.
*From here we are going to follow the same steps as above. Mist the top of the soil or coco blend with water…
Germination Option #4 – Soaking
Many people do this method before planting their seed in a starter plug, rockwool cube or into their soil/coco mixture. This soaking method helps crack the seed just enough for the taproot to show. This cracking of the shell will help kick start the germination process. Soak seeds in water or a weak tea solution for 24 hours prior to planting. If you are growing multiple types of plants you don’t want to mix up your seeds. Remove seeds from the packets and place each variety of seed in a separate piece of cheesecloth. Write the seeds type on the cheesecloth or soaking container so there’s no seed mix-up during the soaking process.
If you want to use the tea method make a weak tea with a bag or instant tea at the rate of one bag or one tablespoon of tea per half gallon of water. Let tea cool completely before immersing seeds. After the 24-hour tea soak, remove seeds from the tea, drain and prepare for planting. Use tweezers, pick up one seed at a time and place in prepared, labeled containers of soil or starter cubes. Scratch a little of the potting soil over top of seeds and gently tap down with your finger.
Germination Option #5 – Paper Towel
I asked my best friend Dan where he germinates his seeds and he told me “just germinate in a towel” (lol that kinda sounds dirty). The paper towel method is another popular and widely used method among growers. It’s pretty simple and works like this. You will take two regular kitchen plats and 4 paper towels. First wet two of the paper towels and place them on top of each other on the place. Next place your seeds spread out across the wet paper towel on the plate. Take the last two paper towels and wet them. Place them over the seeds so the seeds are completely covered by wet paper towels. Last you will place the second plate upside down on top of the other plate creating a sealed container for the seeds. This DIY container creates a dark moist environment, increasing your chances of a successful germination. Keep your paper towels moist but not drenched. In roughly 1-4 days your seeds will have cracked and a taproot will be showing. Use tweezers, pick up one seed at a time, and place in prepared container of soil/coco or starter cube. Scratch a little of the potting soil over top of seeds and gently tap down with finger.
Transplanting To Their Final Home
It’s time to transplant when the roots are showing at the bottom of your soil/coco container or starter cube. Plants will have around 2 sets of leaves at this point. Prepare a new home for your babies in a larger container. Use a spoon to lift seedlings from the original container (taking as much soil as possible) and place it in its new planting hole. If you used a starter cube make sure your hands are clean and simply pick up and place in your new container. Gently place soil or other medium around the roots and up to the bottom of your stem. Firm soil by gently patting it and finish by adding a little water. I hope this germination education information helped your determination on the correct seed starting equation blah blah blah blah. I finished writing this at midnight, can you tell?
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