Germination is a vital stage of the growing process where life begins. Use these tips to ensure a successful start to your grow. Direct sowing, the technique of planting seeds directly in the outdoor garden, works well for many plants. Learn the correct techniques for this method.
How to germinate cannabis seeds
Germination is a vital stage of the growing process where life begins. Use these tips to ensure a successful start to your grow.
Germination is where it all begins. This vital stage of the grow cycle doesn’t receive anywhere near as much attention as the longer vegetative and flowering phases, but it’s just as important, if not more so! After all, if germination fails, then your potential harvest will never make it past step one. Some growers might think germination is as simple as tossing a few seeds into a growing medium and waiting several days. While in some cases this can work, there are numerous methods and approaches that can be utilized to increase the likelihood of successful germination.
When it comes to germination, many growers often fail to consider every piece of the puzzle. Most growers manage to provide water and darkness, but natural soil is one big, living organism filled with beneficial bacteria that assist in the process. This is what sets the Royal Queen Seeds Starters Kit apart from other germination methods (more on this below).
WHAT IS GERMINATION, EXACTLY?
But first, before we delve into these methods, let’s take a brief look at the biology of germination to better understand the process. Every seed is effectively a small package of genetic material that is the product of plant reproduction. These small vessels are designed to be dispersed by various means, such as wind and animal ingestion/excretion. If lucky, a seed will be transported to an environment that triggers the process of germination. Such vital environmental factors include temperature, water, and how deep seeds become buried in the soil. Of course, these factors can be simulated and optimized by modern growers to maximize the chances of germination.
When subject to these ideal settings, water exposure catalyzes enzymatic processes within the seed that initiates growth. Beneficial bacteria within the soil also encourage germination, plant growth, and photosynthesis. First, a taproot emerges from the shell of the seed and begins to descend into the soil in search of water. Shortly afterwards, a shoot emerges from the seed and heads in the opposite direction, above the soil, to begin photosynthesizing.
SEED VIABILITY IS CRUCIAL
So, if germination can occur this easily in nature, it must be simple to do indoors, right? Absolutely—but only as long as you recreate ideal conditions. But even if conditions are perfect, if a seed isn’t viable, it won’t germinate. Before attempting to germinate seeds, it’s advised to conduct several easy tests to determine seed viability so you don’t waste time and energy. Check out procedures such as physical examination and the float test here. With healthy and viable seeds, germination should begin within a matter of 12–36 hours.
DESIGN THE IDEAL ENVIRONMENT
One more thing to get sorted before germinating your seeds, and thus birthing your plants into the world, is the environment they are soon to be subject to. Aim to keep the area at 22–25°C with a relative humidity of 70–90%. This climate can be easily maintained using a grow tent or propagation chamber. You can use humidifiers to maintain high humidity and a heater or fan to bring temperatures up or down. Use a hygrometer to get constant readings of temperature and humidity.
HOW TO GERMINATE CANNABIS SEEDS
Now that we’ve covered how to identify viable seeds and how to create the ideal environment, it’s time to germinate our seeds. There are several methods growers can choose from, each of which is as good as the other—if done correctly.
SOW SEEDS DIRECTLY INTO THE FINAL GROWING MEDIUM
One means of germinating seeds is to sow them directly into your growing medium of choice, whether that be a large pot or straight into a garden bed. Cannabis seeds are equipped to do this—after all, it’s how they’ve managed to survive in nature. The benefit of germinating right in the final container is that you avoid the stress that comes along with transplanting seedlings into gradually bigger pots, a process that can potentially slow down growth and damage roots.
The downside of sowing seeds directly into the final growing medium is that you run the risk of overwatering and overfeeding in the early stages of life. This can saturate the soil and make it hard for the small roots to penetrate deeper and become fully established. Moreover, it can lead to stunted growth and root rot.
If you do choose to utilize this method, you will need to create a hole in the soil around 1cm in depth. Drop your seed inside and cover it with soil; water just around that area, being mindful not to overwater.
USE A PAPER TOWEL TO GET THINGS STARTED
Using a paper towel is a humble yet highly effective method of germinating seeds. Gardeners use this method to successfully germinate seeds of nearly all plant species. To carry out the paper towel method, you’ll need some unbleached paper towels, clean water, two dining plates, a misting bottle, and a warm and dark place to store your seeds.
Place three paper towels onto one of the plates and lightly mist them. Place your seeds onto the moistened paper towels, leaving with adequate space between them. This is to avoid the new roots from becoming tangled. Add another layer of three paper towels on top and mist in the same manner as before. Place the other plate on top to serve as a lid that will trap moisture and maintain humidity.
Move this makeshift germination chamber to a warm and dark place. A cupboard near a heating source will work great. Alternatively, you could position a heating mat under the bottom plate to provide an ideal climate.
The speed of germination will depend on the strain you’ve decided to cultivate. Some strains will begin to develop a root within 24 hours, whereas others will take a few days. Check on your seeds the next day to see their progress, and that the towels are still nice and damp. Once you begin to see the outline of taproots in the paper towel, it’s time to transplant the germinated seed into a pot. Make a hole around 1cm deep in the growing medium and place your seed inside with the root pointing down. Lightly water the soil and wait for the green shoot to emerge.
START YOUR SEEDS IN A GLASS OF WATER
Starting your seeds in a glass of water is another cheap and easy method, although some growers report a poor success rate. By starting your seeds this way, you’ll also be testing their viability at the same time. Place them in a glass of lukewarm water and store in a warm and dark place overnight. When placing your seeds in the glass, you may notice that some of them float, whilst others may sink.
You should notice taproots starting to emerge within 24 hours. It’s not recommended to keep seeds in water past this point as they may drown, but it doesn’t mean the seeds are less viable.
JIFFY POTS AND GROWING PLUGS ARE A STANDARD OPTION
Jiffy pots and grow plugs are a great way to germinate seeds. These products are small chunks of growing medium that provide an ideal environment for seed germination and can be used almost immediately. They often come packaged in a tray that allows growers to save space and keep all of their germinated seeds nicely organized. Grow plugs come pre-moistened and only require the grower to drop seeds inside the ready-made holes. Jiffy pots are crafted using dried peat and need to be hydrated before use.
To use grow plugs or Jiffy pots, simply place your seeds in the holes on top and help them in using a wooden skewer. Cover the trays and place them in a warm environment or on top of a heating mat. One huge benefit of these methods is that the plugs/pots can be planted directly into a bigger container or into the ground. This helps keep the roots intact and reduces plant stress.
ROCKWOOL CUBES ARE AN OPTION, BUT NOT ADVISED
Rockwool cubes work in a similar fashion to Jiffy pots and grow plugs. They come in cuboid segments within growing trays, providing a dark and wet environment for seeds during germination. However, Rockwool isn’t the most environmentally friendly option as it’s the product of mining and extreme heating. It certainly doesn’t have much of a place in an organic cultivator’s grow room.
RQS STARTERS KIT IS EASY AND BOOSTS SUCCESS RATE
Whether you are a novice to the growing game or a veteran of many years, starter kits ensure a much higher success rate and provide everything you need to get going! The Royal Queen Seeds Starters Kit has been designed to provide everything a cannabis seed needs to initiate and survive germination.
The kit includes a tray of Easy Start seedling pots and a packet of Bacto, which provides a mix of beneficial bacteria that enhance seedling growth and vitality. Introducing vital biodiversity into the germination process sets this method apart from others such as Jiffy pots and grow plugs, and gives seedlings a head-start in life. The kit also includes Propagator Pro, a container specifically designed to create a high-humidity environment perfect for germinating seeds. Buyers will also receive perlite, lighting, and 3 RQS Critical seeds to get them started.
HOW TO USE RQS STARTERS KIT
1. To begin the process, mix the contents of the Bacto packet with 1 liter of lukewarm water. Once dissolved, place the tray of Easy Start pots in the water to allow the bacteria to colonize the substrate.
2. Next, place a layer of perlite on the bottom of the Propagator Pro. Perlite is a form of volcanic glass that holds water extremely well. It works wonders to keep humidity levels high. After a good soaking, place the tray of Easy Start pots on top of the perlite layer. Use a pencil or skewer to widen the hole on top of each pot and place a seed of your choice in each one.
3. Finally, add the lid to the propagator to create a dark and moist environment. Your seeds will germinate within the next 1–6 days.
As a professional cannabis journalist, author, and copywriter, Adam has been writing about all things psychoactive, CBD, and everything in between for a long time. In an ever-changing market, Adam uses his BA (Hons) Multimedia Journalism degree to keep in stride with contemporary research and contributing worthwhile information to all of his projects.
How to Direct Sow Seeds Successfully in Your Garden
Colleen Vanderlinden is an organic gardening expert and author of the book “Edible Gardening for the Midwest.” She has grown fruits and vegetables for over 12 years and professionally written for 15-plus years. To help move the organic gardening movement forward, she started an organic gardening website, “In the Garden Online,” in 2003 and launched the Mouse & Trowel Awards in 2007 to recognize gardening bloggers.
Julie Thompson-Adolf is a master gardener and author. She has 13+ years of experience with year-round organic gardening; seed starting and saving; growing heirloom plants, perennials, and annuals; and sustainable and urban farming.
The Spruce / Meg MacDonald
- Working Time: 30 mins – 1 hr
- Total Time: 1 – 4 wks
- Skill Level: Beginner
- Estimated Cost: $5 to $20
Growing plants from seed is one of the most economical ways to add plants to your garden. And while starting seeds indoors under lights or in a sunny window is a very popular method, there is an even simpler way. Direct sowing is the method of planting the seeds directly into outdoor garden soil. There is no special equipment, and there are no little pots and flats to mess with. You don’t have to worry about transplanting (and the related risk of transplant shock) or hardening off your plants.
That’s not to say that direct sowing is foolproof, or that it is the right method for every plant. Plants that require a long growing season—including tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants—won’t perform well when direct-sown in cool-weather regions. And plants that require very specific germination conditions are best started indoors. But a surprising number of vegetables, herbs, annuals, and perennials can be sown directly in the garden.
Although direct sowing is an uncertain art, subject to the whims of weather and local wildlife, the enormous cost savings mean that occasional failure is a fair price to pay. A garden started from direct-sown seeds costs a fraction of what it costs to start a garden from potted nursery plants.
When to Direct Sow Seeds in the Garden
When to plant your seeds will depend on the plant species and on the climate in your region. Many vegetable seeds can be planted as soon as the frost is fully out of the ground in the spring and the soil can be readily worked, but some seeds may require warmer soil to ensure that they will germinate and sprout. Some seeds can be sown in the fall, depending on the climate and the seed. Research the plant species and read the requirements listed on the seed packet to learn the best planting time for the seeds you want to grow.
Before Getting Started
Each plant species has its own preferences for soil type, planting time, sun and water requirements, and care. Do some research on the species you are planning to grow in order to learn these preferences. You may find that only certain areas of your garden are suitable, or that your soil type will require some added soil amendments.
Most plants grow best in a soil type known as “loamy”—soil consisting of a balanced mixture of sand, clay, and silt. If your soil is very dense (clay) or very porous (sandy), amending it with organic material such as compost is often recommended. Other amendments may be recommended if your soil’s pH level is too acidic or alkaline to grow the plants you want. A soil analysis performed by your university’s Extension Service or a commercial testing lab is the best way to learn about your soil and what amendments might be needed.
What You’ll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Garden fork
- Hose sprayer with mist setting
- Seeds for planting
- Plant markers and string
The Spruce / Meg MacDonald
Prepare the Soil
Start with loose, weed-free, level soil. Take some time to prep the area first by removing all weeds, rocks, and sticks, and break up large clumps of dirt. Loosen the soil with a garden fork, add soil amendments if required, and rake the area into an even, level surface.
A recent soil test can be useful in learning the composition of your garden soil. The test will tell you what amendments are needed to make the soil optimal for the types of plants you want to grow. Almost all soil will be improved by thoroughly blending in some organic material, such as well-decomposed compost, peat moss, or manure, but you don’t want soil that is too rich, as not all seeds germinate well in extremely fertile soil.
The Spruce / Meg MacDonald
Prepare the Seeds (if Needed)
The seed pack instructions and your research may indicate that some seeds will do best with some prior preparation. For example, seeds for some plant species need to be slightly softened by soaking them in water before planting. Others may need to be “scarified” by rubbing them against fine sandpaper. Scarifying helps thin the hard shells on some seeds, making them more easily absorb water, germinate, and sprout more easily.
Some of the seeds where scarification is recommended include lupine, nasturtium, sweet pea, and morning glory. Some plants, including perennials like milkweed, need a cold/moist period to germinate, called stratification. While it often occurs naturally when seeds drop from a parent plant in nature, going through the cold, wet winter to weaken the seed coat, you can place these seeds in a container with moist seed starting mix, put them in the refrigerator, and mimic nature. A good book on plant propagation will tell you how to best prepare seeds for direct sowing.
The Spruce / Meg MacDonald
Plant the Seeds
Follow seed packet instructions for planting depth and spacing. Some seeds require light to germinate and prefer to be sown directly on top of the soil. With very tiny seeds, the sowing method is often to pinch the seeds between the thumb and forefinger and sprinkle the seeds into the soil by rubbing the fingers together. Larger seeds usually need to be buried at a prescribed depth—sometimes individually and sometimes in small clusters to ensure proper germination.
The general rule for planting seeds is that they should be planted three times as deep as the diameter of the seed. With very small seeds, this can be a matter of simply sprinkling a light dusting of soil over the seeds. But there’s no need to get out the tape measure; seeds aren’t all that picky and will often germinate regardless of soil depth.
For edible row crops, you can drive stakes and hang string to ensure that you achieve straight rows when planting. This is not essential, but straight, well-spaced rows can make weeding and other care tasks easier if you have a lot of plants to care for.
Commercial seeds will gradually lose their ability to germinate over time. A new packet of seeds may have a 90 percent germination rate, while a three-year-old packet may have a germination rate of only 50 percent or even less. There’s nothing wrong with saving partial packets of seeds, but just be aware that you may need to plant the seeds more densely to ensure that enough germinate and sprout.
The Spruce / Meg MacDonald
Moisten the Soil—and Keep It Moist
The single most important step after planting seeds is to keep the soil evenly moist. Nothing hampers germination more than letting the soil dry out. You do need to be a bit careful about how you water, though. A strong blast from the hose will either wash your seeds completely out of the bed or mess up the spacing if you surface-sowed them. Use a “shower” setting on a hose wand or a “rose” fitting on a watering can to get a gentle flow of water for your seeds.
The Spruce / Meg MacDonald
Mark Planting Location
Make sure to mark where you planted the seeds. Small craft sticks labeled with indelible marker work well for this. This is important whether you planted new annual or perennial seeds in an established ornamental bed or are sowing veggies in your edible garden. Marking seed locations lets you monitor the progress of germination and helps keep track of your garden’s layout as planting season progresses. Without labeled markers, it’s all too easy to crowd your seeds with additional plantings or to accidentally pull “weeds” that are actually your newly sprouted seedlings.
The Spruce / Meg MacDonald
Recognize the Seedlings, Thin as Needed
Know what your seedlings look like. When they are newly sprouted, it’s often hard to tell a weed from, say, a tomato seedling. The first leaves to appear are the cotyledon, or “seed leaves.” Wait for a set of true leaves to appear to help you identify your plants well. There are websites you can reference to see what certain seedlings look like, and some seed packets have photos or drawings on them, as well. Knowing what your seedlings look like ensures you won’t pull them by mistake while plucking weeds.
Your newly sprouted seedlings may require thinning to maintain optimal spacing for growing to maturity. This is especially true of very tiny seeds, like carrots or celery, which are often planted by sprinkling them over the prepared soil. If allowed to grow too close, they won’t be able to mature into sizable plants, so shortly after the seeds sprout, thinning can begin.
Follow the seed packet’s recommendations for proper spacing between plants, and make sure to perform the thinning gently, so as to avoid disturbing the fragile new roots of adjoining plants. Rather than pulling the seedings from the ground, some gardeners like to pinch or snip them off at ground level to avoid disturbing the soil.
You may need to thin a second time as the plants grow larger and begin to crowd one another. For many vegetables, the seedlings plucked during thinning make an excellent addition to salads and other dishes.
Many plants, especially flowering annuals, will readily self-seed by dropping their seeds from ripened flower heads. You may find, for example, that last year’s snapdragons, zinnias, foxgloves, or marigolds have done all your direct-sowing for you. This is especially true if your habit was to let the flowers go to seed rather than deadheading them. Self-seeded plants often sprout up in dense clusters of seedlings, so you will need to thin them out to make sure your garden doesn’t get overgrown with volunteers. Even the most attractive plants soon seem like weeds if they are growing where you don’t want them.
The Spruce / Meg MacDonald
Care for the Seedlings
Young seedlings are somewhat frail and need careful attention for their first few weeks—especially when it comes to keeping the soil moist. Daily watering using light mist is generally a good idea, but in hot weather, twice-daily watering might be needed.
Follow seed packet recommendations for fertilizing. Normally, feeding is not necessary until the plant gets large enough to begin setting flower buds. With some plants, seed packages may recommend feeding with a diluted fertilizer for the first month or so, until the plants are strong enough to tolerate full-strength feeding.
Also, be diligent in weeding around your young seedlings. Weeds will compete for water, sunlight, and nutrients, so regular weeding is a necessary task.