Germinating seeds is probably the most important phase that you will ever encounter in establishing a new batch of crops.
Some growers think that it’s the seedlings that carry much of the weight – but before you can even get to the seedlings, you have to germinate the seeds first.
And as many of you have probably already experienced, germinating seeds isn’t always successful.
We’re here to provide you the best tips to increase seed germination rates, so that every batch of seedlings will always have a high level of robustness.
One of the main characteristics of seeds is their capacity to lie dormant until they are able to detect that there is sufficient moisture in the environment to possibly support plant life.
Commercially available seeds have probably been sprayed and dried to prevent the growth of molds. This makes the seeds doubly dry and possibly doubly challenging to germinate in some situations.
To increase the germinate rate, you have to be able to penetrate the outer layer of the seeds with moisture so the seeds will get the signal earlier that they need to come out and germinate.
A pre-soak before you add the seeds to the starter plug that has also been pre-soaked in starter solution will do the trick. Then there’s also the possibility that your seeds will only germinate quickly during certain times of the year.
Ambient temperature, humidity, available sunlight – all these factors fluctuate depending on the time of the year. Read the manufacturer’s notes (if any) if the seeds germinate quickly during certain months of the year so you can set your expectations accordingly.
There are situations when the harsher conditions outside prevent seeds from germinating quickly. If you feel this is the case because it has become too warm or too chilly outdoors as of late, then germinate your seeds inside instead.
This is a best practice for hydroponics growers, anyway. However, there is a catch if you do succeed in germinating seeds indoors.
Since indoor conditions are highly regulated and even the ambient temperature and humidity levels are controlled, seeds that are sprouted indoors need to be hardened first before they are brought outside (assuming that you have a greenhouse outside).
Hardening is accomplished by bringing out your grow tray outside for one or two hours, then bringing them back again (like toddlers!) Do this for about a week and by then your germinated seedlings will be ready for the big, wide world.
Nearly all seeds require warmer conditions in order to germinate quickly. If you feel that your grow tray’s immediate environment is mostly chilly, then you may want to invest in a heating pad and an LED grow light to bring up the temperature to an ideal range.
On average, germinating seeds need an ambient temperature of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit to develop normally. Anything lower and the process becomes very, very slow.
Each type of crop has an ideal temperature during germination and yes, it is a good idea to make sure that you hit this ideal range while germinating. Germinating your seeds in an ideal environment will also help give rise to more robust seedlings which in turn will transform to healthy plants.
All of these phases of growth are interrelated to one another. If you have just one grow tray, a small LED grow light may be all you need to encourage the seedlings to emerge more quickly.
There are plenty of choices when it comes to LED grow lights, and we’re sure you will be able to find one that you can use not just for germinating seeds but also to support the plants as they are maturing. LED grow lights are quite useful in this respect.
As we have discussed earlier, moisture plays a vital role in signaling to the seeds that they can open and emerge.
When your seeds have been pre-soaked and have been transferred to your starter plugs and they are still not germinating at a rate that you’d like, it’s possible that your starter plugs have dried up.
Monitoring the moisture content of your starter plugs is imperative, but be careful not to overdo the watering as too much moisture can actually rot your seeds.
Between slowly germinating seeds and dead seeds, we’re sure that you prefer the former to the latter.
An easy way to find out if your starter plugs need watering or not is by observing the surface of the material. Starter plugs are designed to hold the appropriate amount of water and resist evaporation so the seeds don’t run out of moisture.
However, heat will eventually evaporate some of this moisture. If the surface of the starter plugs become completely dry, it is safe to say that you can water the grow tray a little – but be careful not to soak the plugs too much.
Overwatering can harm your seeds by depriving them of vital oxygen needed to continue the normal development of the plant embryo inside the seed. Remember: the roots of plants need three things: water, nutrients, and dissolved oxygen. Too much water can reduce the interplay of dissolved oxygen and the roots.
Once the seeds germinate, make sure that you transfer them to a substrate or grow media that can hold enough water but at the same time is free-draining. Again, this is done in the interest of increasing the availability of oxygen to the roots of the young plants.
And to really ensure that the water will not cause any issues to your plants, consider investing in a reverse osmosis setup to remove impurities from tap water. It might be an additional expense, but for the purpose of keeping a hydroponics system healthy, it is a pretty good investment.
Let’s say that you have done everything humanly possible to make your seeds germinate. You used the best starter plugs, a heating pad, etc. But still, only a tiny percentage of the seeds are able to germinate.
You become frustrated and you start to question whether or not you are fit to become a farmer.
Wait! Before you start questioning your capabilities, keep in mind that it is a possibility that the seeds were a dud to begin with. Perhaps it’s time to change your seed source?
Seeds can become a dud for many reasons, including inappropriate handling or processing, or exposure to extremes in temperature. You can’t really tell if seeds are healthy by just looking at them.
If you want to find out which brand of seeds germinate the fastest, you can purchase multiple seed packets from different brands and germinate them in different rows.
Exposed to the same ambient temperature and other factors, you will see which row germinates the fastest and you can just avoid buying the slow growers next time.
Pathogens can come in to wreak havoc as early as the germination phase, and two particular pathogens are known for “damping off” disease: Pythium ultimum and Rhizoctonai solani. Fungi can be transferred to your grow trays via insects, like gnats. Since fungi operate primarily via spores, all they need is to latch on to the substrate and they can begin growing from thereon out. They’re fairly efficient, so to speak, and can destroy a lot of germinate seeds.
The most common reasons for fungi attacks during seed germination are: too much moisture in the grow trays, frequent overwatering, contamination from insects, contaminated water, drainage is not working well, and there is a lack of proper ventilation. In the beginning it might feel daunting because seed germination has so many requirement, but trust us, it’s going to be worth it in the end.