Follow these simple steps to get higher germination rates and stronger seedlings for the garden.
The first step to improving germination is understanding what seeds are and how they do what they do.
A seed is a completely self contained little miracle that carries inside it everything it needs to sprout and grow into a seedling. It has a food store and all the important information it needs to grow, including knowing when the conditions are right for it to sunflower sprouts.
Once the seed is formed, it is dormant. It’s just sleeping, and breathing. Yes, it is breathing: it is taking in oxygen and giving off carbon dioxide. Seeds in this state can last a long time and still remain viable, because it takes very little energy to remain in the dormant state. To keep seeds dormant, and extend their viability, keep them in a cool dry place out of direct sunlight.
1. Be consistent for consistent results.
Once a seed perceives that the conditions are right for sprouting, it will begin to transform. At this point it becomes active and the germination process is set into motion. Germination requires a consistent optimal environment to produce a successful sprout.
Any interruption in this process will reduce success., The seed has just so much stored energy and if you give it the signal to start its journey and then turn that signal off, it will not have enough energy to re-start the process. Drying out or exposure to extreme temperature swings can both cause the germination cycle to fail.
Be certain once you begin to germinate seeds that you maintain their moisture and temperature, cool nights that are a natural part of the process for seed out of doors is one thing, searing heat, or drought will stop germination.
2. Use appropriate seed starting mix for best results.
Seeds do not need fertilizers or plant food to sprout and these nutrient sources can inadvertently feed bacteria, moss, algae or other organisms which will wait for the seed to sprout and then eat your seed.
Preparing the Mix for Planting Your Seeds
Prepare your germinating mix using equal parts peat moss and perlite or a commercial seed starter blend. Potting soil can be used if it is not pre-fertilized. Well composted material can also be used; be careful to avoid any partially composted materials. Compost should be fine and crumble easily with no large pieces.
Tip: Try using coir rather than peat in your sprouting mix; it is a renewable coconut husk material and retains water exceptionally well. Mix with perlite to avoid over saturation of the potting media. Also, be sure to purchase the fine powder based coir and not ‘chipped’ coir which is not as fine and will contain chunks of fiber which can impede seedling growth.
3. Use Clean Containers with Good Drainage Holes for Sprouting Your Seeds
Reduce the risk of ‘damping off’ of young seedlings by making sure containers are clean. Clean containers reduce bacteria, molds, fungus and other potentially hostile organisms from developing and harming the germinating seed.
Be certain your container has adequate drainage by making holes in the bottom of the container. Alternatively, you can use rolled newsprint or newspaper or peat pots which allow moisture to evaporate through their walls. This also allows the potting mix to draw water in through the sides and bottom of the container.
4. Clean Used Containers with Hydrogen Peroxide, not Bleach.
Clean any used containers to be used for sprouting seeds with a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution. The best method is to first wash the container with dish soap and warm water and then rinse in a bath of 3% h2o2 for ten to fifteen minutes. This has the added benefit of being completely non-toxic to the future plant or to you, because the ‘residual by-product’ of h2o2 is oxygen; something the seed actually needs to sprout properly.