Have you tried raising seeds but they failed to germinate successfully? It may be due to one of these five common causes.
Raising Seeds: 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid
1. Choosing Unsafe Food Seeds
- Did you know the majority of seeds (non-certified organic and some heirloom and open-pollinated brands) are sprayed with fungicides? This chemical process is used to stop rodents and insects from eating the seeds during storage. GMO (genetically modified) seeds are also creeping into our food system. Read the packets carefully when buying your seeds. Look for wording like “Certified Organic” and “Non-GMO”.
“What’s the point of growing your food organically, if you have sown chemically-treated or genetically modified seeds? A GMO seed will always be a GMO plant, even if you GROW it organically (without chemicals). Buy and save safe seeds.” – Anne Gibson
- See Saving and Sourcing Open-Pollinated Seeds for a global list of seed companies who supply safe seeds.
2. Using Potting Mix instead of Seed Raising Mix
- These soil mixes are NOT the same! Most potting mixes generally have a chunky, COARSE texture with larger particle sizes. They are ideal for planting or transplanting seedlings or plants, but not seeds.
- Seed raising mixes should have a FINE texture with small, lightweight soil particles with good aeration and moisture-holding properties. Why? So when seeds germinate, their delicate baby roots, stems and leaves can push through a light, fluffy mix easily, without damage.
- Potting mixes also have added nutrients or fertilisers to slowly feed maturing plants. Seeds don’t need that nutrition in order to germinate. Seeds provide their own stored energy as food for growth.
- I make my own organic seed raising mixes and they all contain a key ingredient to boost seed germination. You can too. If you want to follow the exact recipes I use to grow nutrient-dense food and healthy plants, click below to learn more about this laminated guide.
This How to Make Homemade Potting Mix Guide provides 5 DIY seed raising mix recipes and a step-by-step guide on making your own nutrient-rich, long-lasting potting mixes.
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3. Forgetting to Sterilise your Seed Raiser
- Whether you use a tray, pot or repurposed container, it’s essential to minimise the chance of soil pathogens that can kill your seeds. Poor hygiene practices are a common cause of seed death and unsuccessful germination.
- Use soapy warm water to rinse and scrub your seed raisers prior to use. Avoid bleach or other chemicals that will leave a toxic residue. This is especially important if you have been growing other plants in your container and old potting mix remains. This may harbour plant diseases and spread to your new mix.
4. Not Following Seed Packet Instructions
- Some seeds need light to germinate; others need darkness.
- Larger seeds like peas and beans should be pre-soaked to soften the outer hard seed coating before sowing. It’s kind of like ‘undressing’ them before you put them to bed! Not all seeds are treated the same.
- More difficult-to-grow seeds sometimes need scarifying (scouring or roughing up the surface of the seed coat) so it will absorb moisture more easily.
- Take note of any specific instructions for the seed variety you are growing e.g. depth and spacing.
“Make sure your seeds have consistent moisture, humidity and warmth AFTER sowing.” – Anne Gibson
5. Sowing Seeds at the ‘Wrong’ Time
- Timing DOES matter. This is one of the BIGGEST mistakes many gardeners make.
- First, check the seed packet and sow in the recommended SEASON. This relates to soil temperature. If the soil is too hot or cold, the environment is not working in your favour for successful germination.
- Have you ever blamed the seed company or supplier for failed seeds? It could just be that you sowed at an unfavourable season or time of the month!
- So next, check the MOON PHASE at the time of the month you are planning on raising seeds. Why does this matter? Just like the moon cycle affects the tides each month, it also affects the gravitational pull of moisture up and down in the soil and plants! You can use this to your advantage for more successful seed germination. How? By sowing seeds for above ground plants (e.g. tomatoes, leafy greens) in the new moon or waxing cycle. Sow root crop seeds (like beetroot and radish) during the waning moon phase.
- I use a simple, perpetual Moon Calendar to sow seeds at the optimum time for them to swell and absorb water each month. This is one of the easiest ways to boost seed germination. Learn more here.
For more information on sowing and raising seeds into healthy plants, see:
Seed Starting Guide: Quick Tips for Starting Seeds Successfully.
I hope these tips will help you avoid these common problems with raising seeds.
If your seeds have germinated successfully, but have long skinny stems or are bent over, you may have leggy seedlings. If so, learn How to Identify, Prevent and Fix Leggy Seedlings. For more articles, visit my free online library.
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“Think small. Planting tiny seeds in the small space given you can change the whole world or, at the very least, your view of it.” – Linus Mundy
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I live in Gympie SQ & grow a variety of veges in our small back yard. The only fertiliser I use is Natramin from Ag Solutions in Gympie & worm poo & juice from my worm farm. It’s taken a couple of years, but this year I have a bumper crop of Japanese Turnips, lettuce tomatoes, beetroot, turmeric & ginger. Some of the success is probably due to the mild, almost nonexistant winter, but I like to think most is due to my peserverence & organic practices. I also mulch heavily with organically certified cane mulch.
Thanks for sharing your experiences Tom. Sounds like you are doing everything right with minerals, mulch and worms. Natramin is a brilliant product and remineralising your soil will definitely iron out potential nutrient deficiencies. Worms produce the best free fertiliser in the world! Well done.
Hi, I am a lazy gardener. I sow my lettuce seeds directly in the bed in rows and thin as I eat. The trick is not to sow too deep, lettuce likes being surface sown. Shop bought lettuce is maybe worse than no lettuce!
This was really helpful Anne, thank-you. I’ll be more careful with my seeds this time.
Thanks for your feedback Penny – so glad you found the article practical. I’d love to hear how your next seeds germinate using these tips. Keep me posted!
Wow – I did not know all this about planting seeds, now we are getting close to seed planting here in England I will print this out and plan step by step as this has made it so much clearer.
Happy to share tips that are helpful. I think you would also benefit from following my Seed Starting Guide: Quick Tips for Starting Seeds Successfully.
If you want to try raising seeds as microgreens, you might find this Easy Guide to Growing Microgreens tutorial useful too.
Enjoy seed sowing! Cheers Anne