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Why Your Seeds Aren’t Germinating

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You started your seeds, you kept them warm, you watered them, you nurtured them… and nothin. Not a teeny tiny, single sprig of life sprung up from that “dirt.” Sigh. Talk about frustrating…. You are about to give up, right? Don’t….

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Starting your garden from seeds affords you so much more diversity than starting from plants. Have you seen a recent rare seed catalogue? There are so many heirloom seeds available for the taking, you could never hope to grow one of each variety.

I don’t know about where you are, but in our current location finding starts of any variety is almost impossible.  Most of the stores here carry hybrids and I prefer heirloom so we can save seeds. Most of plants have been treated with synthetic fertilizers and we prefer organic solutions. The varieties available are… well, they leave a lot to be desired.

There’s one or two of each species (if you’re lucky) and there are a lot of species that we can’t even get (kohlrabi, anyone?).

Plus, starting your garden from seeds just gives you that extra sense of accomplishment. Think of it… that’s how our ancestors did it. They didn’t go to the store and buy already started plants, they saved seeds and planted those seeds in their garden the following year!

I’m a huge proponent of learning everything you can, especially when it comes to old fashioned skills, learn how to start those plants from seed now… pass that knowledge onto your children and so on and so forth… otherwise we will have a nation full of people who think Doritos grow on trees. We are detached from our food supply, folks. Let’s get back to our roots, literally, and teach our youth where their food really comes from.

So, you put your seeds in your starting mix, you nourished them the best you know-how, and you don’t have any green in sight. Or, you do… but not enough green in sight. No one wants to start 100 plants and only have 20 germinate, right? So, what went wrong? Can you fix it? Maybe, but even if you can’t… it’s good to know why nothing grew, right?

10 Reasons Your Seeds Didn’t Germinate

It Wasn’t Warm Enough

Keeping your seeds in temps 60°F and above is important. They need warmth to germinate. If your seeds got too cold, they won’t come up. If your seedlings started sprouting and it got cold, well… you won’t have much luck. Seeds are smart, if they think it’s too chilly, they won’t sprout.

It Was Too Warm

Just like seeds want it to be warm enough, they don’t want it to be too warm. They start getting above 80°F and they’re going to cook and subsequently not sprout or die. Watch when you throw them out on a warm day that their soil temperature doesn’t get too warm!

The Seeds Were Started Too Early

Timing is just about everything when it comes to gardening, especially concerning seed starting. If you get too antsy and start seeds too early for your zone, they won’t germinate, or… they’ll die off before they ever hit the ground. Same with direct sowing… sow them too early, or too late, your germination rate is either going to be really low or you’ll have incredibly weak plants.

You might get lucky and some will hang on with all their might until the temperature and daylight hours are correct. Yet, they might not. It’s a gamble and not really one worth taking. Time it right and your results will make for a happier gardener.

Something Ate Them

More for direct sowed seeds, but it can happen with your starts if they’re sitting outside soaking up some sun. Birds, mice, earwigs, and a multitude of other things will eat your seeds. They’ll even eat seedlings you weren’t aware had sprouted!

Too Much Water

Soil needs to be moist, yes, but you don’t want it sopping. Drenching the soil will deplete the amount of oxygen in the soil (a necessary thing) or it can rot the seeds. Seeds need water, but they don’t need a flood.

Not Enough Water

Ugh, these darn plants are so finicky. Too much, not enough whine whine whine. Seriously, though. You don’t want your soil to look like a desert. If you start seeds and then neglect their fragile little selves and underwater, or don’t water at all, they’re not going to grow.

The Seed Was Planted Too Shallow (or too deep)

Check your seed packet and it will let you know the correct depth for sowing. Small seeds (like carrots) are generally planted shallow. Larger seeds, a little deeper. It’s important to get them in the right depth of soil. Well, within reason, it isn’t like you need to take a ruler out there. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

The Soil is Hot

No, it isn’t over 80 degrees, and boiling your seeds. It has too much fertilizer in it. Too much of a good thing is, well… a bad thing. I recommend never adding un-composted manure into your garden. If you choose to, don’t do it right before you put plants in the ground, do it in the fall so it has time to work its magic and not kill your food.

Your Seeds are Old and Decrepit

While there are many, many gardeners who have luck planting seeds a decade old, this isn’t the norm. Typically, seeds have a storage life. Especially if they’ve been subjected to temperature fluctuations. Seeds should always be kept in a cool, dark, dry place and it’s helpful to learn what their typical longevity is. Doing a germination test is not a bad idea, at all. No sense planting seeds that won’t grow.

You Didn’t Pre-sprout The Seeds

A lot of larger seeds, beans, for instance, do better if they’re soaked before you plant them. There should be instructions on the back of your seed packet if this is necessary. If you didn’t soak them or pre-sprout them before planting, that could very well be why you’re staring at the dirt with nothing green poking through. 

If you have time, you can try to restart your seeds. Check your zone and see when you should start a particular seed (indoors or direct sow).  I highly recommend keeping a gardening journal. You can download my free garden planner here, add a few note pages to the back, and voila, you’ve got a way to keep track of all this stuff.

Don’t give up, gardening successfully is a marathon, not a sprint.

Other Seed Posts You’ll Love:

Do you struggle getting your seeds to sprout come gardening time? 

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Amy Wilson

Wednesday 30th of September 2020

I tried getting the seeds to germinate inside in Florida and they did germinate and in less that 2 weeks they gave up and died ...all of them. I tried annuals perennials, flowers tomatoes, on and on and the same think happened. I got soil for germinating plats etc. same thing germinated look good then zap. even tried morning glories. help

Danielle McCoy

Saturday 3rd of October 2020

Lots of things can go wrong in the process after they've germinated. Without knowing exactly what happened my best guess would be... over or under watering. I have a post here on common seedling mistakes to help you troubleshoot. Hope that helps.

Max Holland

Monday 11th of May 2020

Mine I planted about on May 1st and then I waited and waited... but no luck and as you probably know from the date this is posted it has been 11 whole days but I think because it frosted a couple days ago I covered them but still no sign of GREEN ahhhh. so annoyed, so maybe you can help me with my problem.

Danielle McCoy

Thursday 14th of May 2020

It really depends on what you planted? Some seeds take several weeks to germinate, some won't germinate until the soil temperature is right and they have to have moist soil to break through the shell and the soil surface. Depth of different seeds, etc. What did you plant??


Friday 23rd of August 2019

So much to learn and so little time.:)

Stephanie-Noel Dodt

Thursday 11th of July 2019

Some things like pansies need to be darkness Others like milkweed need to be kept cold for a month before planting. I try to research on Google beforehand.

April J Harris

Tuesday 12th of April 2016

Pinned to my gardening board on Pinterest. This is a great post, so helpful! Thank you so much for sharing it with the Hearth and Soul Hop.

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