It happens to all of us. You buy all your new seeds months in advance, waiting for the right time of year to plant them, anticipating all of the greenery and food that you're going to produce, You plant your seeds in your perfectly prepared soil, in the area with the perfect amount of light, mark your calendar, and begin to wait. And wait. And maybe these seeds just take longer to germinate? You wait some more, until a full month goes by and nada. You eventually throw up hands up in the air and go but some plants from your local nursery instead.
Nothing is more frustrating.
So what went wrong? Is it the seeds? Is it you? Is Jupiter out of alignment? Well, the good news/bad news is that it is likely you! The good news is that you can change your own habits and start sprouting seeds in no time.
1. Over watering
Plants love water, we all know this. But did you know that your seeds are actually more fickle than you realized and only want a certain amount of water on the right day, and may only want to be watered a certain way?
Over watering is easily the number one silent killer of seeds. You want the soil to be damp but not soaking wet. Beside increasing the likelihood of rot, soil fungus, and annoying gnats, over watering can also strip your soil of the helpful bacteria.
The Fix: Try watering your seeds from the bottom - keeping the seeds starters in a tray and only add water to the tray. After 5 minutes, dump out or remove any excess water that remains in the tray. I have also had success with a spray bottle of water to just dampen the soil if it looks dry. If planting outdoors, only water if the top inch of the soil is dry.
2. Planted Too Deeply
Depending on the seed, it may want to be planted an inch deep, 1/4 inch deep, or even just scattered on the surface and firmly patted into the soil. If your seed prefers to be scattered on the top soil and plant your seed too deeply, it may run out of energy before it reaches the surface - or just continue to lay dormant until the right conditions arise.
The Fix: Pay attention to the planting instructions when you receive your seeds, or do a quick internet search on planting depth. This is an often overlooked preparation that literally pays dividends in the long run.
3. Critters Love Sprouted Seedlings
This one applies more so to outdoor gardens. The patrons of farmer's markets and Wholefoods aren't the only ones that love sprouts - so does every critter in your yard! Often times you will think your seed didn't sprout, but on closer inspection find a chewed little nub where your plant should be. Mice, voles, birds, squirrels, deer, and even some pest worms will eat your sprout before it even has a chance to form true leaves.
The Fix: Try starting your seeds indoors until they are at least 4-6 inches tall, which usually means they have their own sets of true leaves, before you move them outside. If you're growing something that critters always love (I'm thinking of the lettuce variety), try installing 1/4 inch hardware cloth to make a little dome or protective structure around your new plants while they establish themselves. I have also seen small office wire trash cans used.
4. Poor Seed Quality/Storage
While most seeds are resilient, every now and then they had a hard season before getting planted. After seeds are harvested, they should be stored in a dry and cool container in your home, garage, or shed. If it gets too hot, it can leave your seeds unable to germinate. Excessive moisture can lead to the same problems in areas with high humidity, causing your seeds to rot before they even get a chance!
The Fix: Store your seeds in paper envelopes in a cool and dry area. If you live in a area with a lot of humidity, consider including a desiccant pack (the kind that show up with almost all new electronics) in your storage container to absorb any excess moisture in the air.