It’s the most important time of your growing cycle, often overlooked in favor of other stages like vegetation and flowers, but germination is where the magic really happens.
In reality, without a successful way to germinate seeds, you’ll have nothing to work with.
Mastering the art of germination is one of the first steps in your cultivation experience, and there are so many germination methods to pick from that it’s difficult to know where to start. Fortunately, we’ve got everything you need to know about germinating seeds from all sorts.
Seed Germination Process
Success in seed germination is actually quite straightforward as there are only three factors that really matter: water, temperature, and oxygen.
All seeds will naturally seek out water. Water triggers germination, and is arguably the most important factor. All seeds require water to germinate. Water helps the seeds expand and break their shells, particularly if seeds are dry from being dormant for some time. Usually, damp environments are what seeds thrive in. If they have too much water, they’ll get waterlogged which stops them from receiving enough oxygen. However, if seeds are too dry, they won’t get the levels of water they need to sprout the tap root.
Here is a diagram of a bean seed. Cannabis seeds are very similar, as they are both dicots. A dicot plant is a plant that has 2 cotyledons (the first leaves that appear on a seedling) compared to a monocot plant that only has one cotyledon.
As well as water, temperature affects seed germination. In a natural outdoor environment with the changing seasons, the temperature will indicate to the seed that it’s the right time of year to grow. If your temperature is too low, your seed will stay dormant. While if the temperature is too high, your seed will suffer from heat stress or seed aging – both of which can cause weaker plants in the long run even if germination is successful. For most plants, springtime temperatures are usually what to aim for in germination stages (22-24ºC or 68-72ºF).
Last but by no means least, oxygen. Just like mature plants, seeds need oxygen to survive. As we mentioned above, the issue with water logging seeds isn’t really too much moisture, but a lack of oxygen. This isn’t the only way growers might deprive their seeds of oxygen. Other common factors limiting oxygen intake include sowing seeds too deep into the soil or a heavily compacted growing medium.
All this being said, if these simple conditions are met, most seeds will germinate. Depending on your germination method, you’ll know if this has been successful as you’ll be able to see a small, white root sprout from the bottom of the seed.
There’s a reason we said most seeds and not all. It’s a really common misconception that all seeds will germinate if given the right environmental conditions. Some growers will swear by a certain germination method for a 100% germination rate, while some seed banks will claim a 100% germination rate from their products. It’s not true, and in reality, all this comes down to the germination rate of your chosen species. This refers to what percentage of seeds are likely to germinate out of a given amount planted.
Ignoring the environmental factors listed above, germination rate is most influenced by how long the seed has been dormant. The seeds with the highest germination rate will be those planted within a year of being harvested from the mother plant. This is because they are newer seeds, and are more viable.
However, this is not always the case. Depending on the species, seeds can stay viable for quite some time. A date palm seed that was around 2000 years old germinated several years ago, making it the oldest seed to germinate. It was stored in hot dry conditions, shocking it was able to germinate!
With all this being said, plants are natural, living things and like all living things, they’re complicated. You can do everything perfectly, meet every environmental requirement and some seeds just won’t germinate. It’s a natural part of growing and certainly not something to be disheartened by if you’re new to growing.
Certain species are known for having seeds that have a higher or lower germination rate. In general, plants that give off many seeds (such as dandelions) have a lower germination rate as the plants goal is to produce lots of seeds, not necessarily quality seeds. A plant that produces less seeds such as a geranium, will often have a higher germination rate as this plant produces fewer, higher quality seeds.
If you’re growing cannabis plants, you’re in luck. Cannabis seeds germinate easily and generally have a high germination rate. Some strains may certainly be slightly trickier to grow than others, but this usually falls more into the vegetation and flowering stages than germination.
How Long to Germinate Cannabis Seeds
Depending on the seed and the environment, a general rule of thumb is you should see signs of germination within 3 to 5 days of moisture being introduced to the seed and, if your germination method allows, you will be able to see a white root tip within this time frame. If you’re using soil in your germination method, as you won’t be able to see the root appear, you won’t see a sprout until roughly 7 to 10 days since first beginning your germination process. Many gardeners will germinate seeds on a damp paper towel in a ziplock bag. This method allows you to see the root start to develop, and also works quite well.
It’s worth highlighting, as we have previously, that environment is everything in growing cannabis, including germination, so your environment may move these estimated time frames around slightly. As well as this, whichever strain you’ve chosen to grow will affect the length of time it takes to germinate. For example, sativa seeds usually take longer to germinate than indica seeds.
How Long to Germinate Seeds of Other Plants?
If you’re growing something else entirely, the length of time to germinate can fluctuate a lot further than the time frames above, from less than a week all the way up to an entire month. While all seeds have the same three basic needs to germinate successfully, the amounts of water and temperature may vary.
For indoor plants like flowers and herbs, many follow the usual 7 to 10 day germination period, but it’s well worth researching the exact species you’re growing to inform yourself of the exact length of time, as well as any specific temperature or water requirements your seed might need to thrive.
For some plants like ghost peppers, these seeds can take an entire month to germinate, so make sure to do your research for these as well so you’re not expecting to see signs of life too quickly, or give up on them too soon.
Common Germination Problems
If you’re struggling with germination, don’t worry. It’s a common problem for growers but fortunately, most issues are quite easily rectified with small environmental adjustments. Some of the most common problems include:
Letting the seeds or soil dry out
Leaving seeds to germinate for too long
Germinating the seed directly in soil, and the soil being too compact
Incorrect temperature or humidity
Planting seeds at the incorrect depth
Planting too many seeds
You can find excellent solutions and tips for germination in our incredible online growers’ community, where our experts and experienced growers will be happy to help you solve everything from common problems to complete conundrums.
Good Tips For Germination
Exact advice will depend on which germination method you’ve chosen, but we’ve found there are two simple tips that work for all germination methods.
Firstly, clean hands. We carry loads of dirt, oils, and other gunk on our hands. If you must touch the seed when planting it, make sure you’ve washed your hands first. However, if possible, it’s preferable to pour the seed straight from the container it came in directly into your chosen container for your germination stage to eliminate this possible contamination. You could also use small tweezers to move the plant.
Secondly, use distilled water or a reverse osmosis system for the best results. This ensures your water is free of contaminants and other particles that may cause issues with germination or weaker plants later in the growth cycle. Many regions have fluoride and chlorine in the tap water, both of which can be damaging to delicate seedlings.