When Seeds Don’t Germinate: Dud or (Potential) Bud?


Boy it’s a bummer when your indoor (mostly) seeds don’t germinate. I can tell you that this happens to all of us at some point. it can be a numbers game sometimes, there are always few that are going to be duds. These are the 5 most common reasons some seeds end up being duds.

And if these are your indoor garden seeds, it’s safe to assume that the birds didn’t eat ’em (wild birds, that is….if you have pet birds that’s a whole other ball game!) Anyway…

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seeds not germinating

1) You planted them too deep (or too shallow)

Have you ever heard the rule of thumb “for every inch in width, plant two inches” Or something like that….Of course, you’d go backwards in the same way with smaller sizes as most seeds are smaller than that. And some seeds are teeny tiny, too small to actually measure. Getting back to the issue of too deep, the big issue here is seeds have a way of getting lost in the soil and can’t reach that light and the moisture, even if you did good and used slightly damp soil, it still needs regular moisture.

If you’re familiar with a tool called a “dibber” note that this is an ideal instrument for marking the holes that are the right depth. In the case of real tiny teeny seeds (lettuce comes to mind here) I just sprinkle them on the layer or dirt and then I will top it off with a little “dusting” of compost. That’s what you should do, too. If you planted seeds too deep and you think this is why they failed of course its too late to try to dig them back up but remember next time when you decide to re-sow.

seed starting troubleshooting

2) Lack of the ideal amount of moisture

Hopefully you used potting mix that was slightly damp (great) Of course, there needs to be continuous moisture applied. For some plants I have a standing tray and when the water runs into it I let the planter absorb the moisture from the bottom. This is good to have for a few days and keeps from the mistake of overwatering. For peat post/seed trays the best approach to avoid overwatering , I take a spray bottle filled with water and mist it daily. That’s a great way to batch-moisturize, plus it keeps pools of water from drowning seed compartments.

Too much water and the seeds will probably be vulnerable to fungus, too little and they may just remain dormant. You can obtain a water monitor and know exactly how much needs application, and it can save you a lot of headaches too.

3) Soil may not be warm enough

Even indoors, you may not have quite warm enough conditions ideal to sprout. They have dna encoded into them knowing when the conditions are right.  You may want to check the temperature and humidity level of your grow rooms overall and make adjustments if necessary. A warming pad like this one, can raise the tray temperature up by about 10 degrees.We got these (it was a set of 2) from Amazon not long ago.

heat mat for plants

Out of my milk jug menagerie I’ve started (five total), I think the dill is getting started but the rest are still dormant. Reason? We did have a little of an overnight freeze, so it may have slowed things a little. And dill is a more resilient plant that some others. I plan on adding more as the days outside start to get warmer. This winter has not been a typical Georgia mild winter…its been colder than usual.

After we started using our new heat mat with a new batch of seeds (the others turned out to be “duds”)..After just 4 days, I spotted an inch of growth. What a difference it made!

seed growth due to warmed soil

4) They’re past their freshness window

This one is hard to admit, I know that that date stamped on the aback is not always carved in stone. But it can make a difference in the seeds’ quality overall and after that date it can lessen (dont shoot the messenger.) I’ve planted old aged seeds just because I hated to throw them away (what with everything being expensive these days.) And lived to regret a few times.

Organic/heirlooms seeds may do better here in terms of lasting longer. Make sure if you collection is extensive, you have a good plan to keep your seeds stored where they will not deprecate in quality. But yeah, you could have duds on your hands because of this issue.

5) It might not be their time (yet)

The typical germination window is around 3-4 weeks. But that doesn’t apply to all plants.

This one can vary depending on what you’ve planted. So be sure to perform due diligence and read up on when each crop type you can expect them to make this way forward. You may have a few things sprouting very well but another one hasn’t showed up because well it’s just too soon. So don’t hassle it. It will do what it’s supposed to do, when it is . So it may all be a matter of seeds not dead but delayed. I know I’ve had seeds that come up later than I anticipated and it surprised me when it did out of the blue as I’d forgotten about some of them.

Did you find your answer in this possible list? If so. please share and what you are trying to grow. It will help others going further. It’s also a good idea to keep a journal log of everything you plant so you can track everything and learn what to do better next time. Knowing when and what you planted can tell you so much going forward.


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