Germination is the transformation of a seed into a plant. This is the very beginning of the growth process for a seed. When a seed germinates, the embryo plant within it begins to grow. This starts with a stage called imbibition during which the seed absorbs water, softens, and swells.
Next is the emergence of the radicle, which will become the primary root. This pushes down into the soil, soaking up more water for the emerging plant. Then, the hypocotyl pushes upward and emerges above ground. This stem straightens out in response to light and the cotyledons, or primary leaves, will unfurl. The cotyledons supply the seedling with its initial nutrients until it’s time for the true leaves to form.
The Requirements for Germination
For a seed to germinate properly, it needs:
- Water: Seeds should stay moist throughout the process.
- Oxygen: Well-aerated soil allows respiration for the seeds.
- Proper temperatures: Seeds do best at a temperature between 68 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
Where to Germinate Seeds
Where you germinate your seeds will determine the next steps that you must take in caring for them. You can germinate your seeds:
- In a temporary container for later transplanting
- In a permanent container that’s suitable for the full-grown plant
- Directly in a garden bed where the plant will remain for its life
Germinating your seeds in a temporary container is handy if you live in a cold climate where you want to start your seeds before the last frost. This allows you to germinate your plants indoors and transplant them to an outdoor setting later. Starting seeds indoors also offers added protection from pests, weather, and other hazards.
Consider your container carefully when you’re germinating seeds this way. A biodegradable container, such as a coir seed cup, is ideal. This allows you to neatly transplant the seedling without disturbing it too much. If you do not use a biodegradable container, you must take extra care in moving the seedling to try to prevent transplant shock.
Direct seeding often promotes stronger root growth, since you don’t need to move the plants. Seeds marked “direct sow” on the packet should be planted with this method. When you germinate your seeds directly in the garden, you may find that some germinate immediately and others surprise you by germinating in later seasons.
The drawback of direct seeding is a lower survival rate. You must have the right conditions for seeds to germinate, and you cannot control the temperature of your seeds outdoors the way that you can in your home. However, if you’re starting your seeds later in the season, you may find that temperatures aren’t a problem.
How to Germinate Seeds on a Paper Towel
Germinating seeds is fairly simple and straightforward, but there are a few tips and tricks that will help you increase your survival rate and promote the healthiest plant growth possible. An easy way to germinate seeds quickly is to start them on a paper towel. To do this:
- Lay a paper towel in the bottom of a container. Glass is ideal if you’d like a clear view of the seeds germinating.
- Add water to the paper towel a few drops at a time until it is evenly moist. Though the entire paper towel should be wet, there should not be any pools of water in the container.
- Place your seeds on the paper towel. Separate them by type and make a note of the placement for each kind of plant if you’re putting different seeds in a single container.
- Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap.
- Place the container out of direct sunlight. The seeds will not germinate if it’s excessively hot or cold.
The seeds on your paper towel may germinate in as little as one day using this method. Lettuce, broccoli, kale, and cauliflower are particularly quick to germinate. Peppers, eggplant, and celery may take longer, but you will likely see germination within a week. Make sure the paper towel remains moist, and spray it lightly with water if needed.
Once the seeds have sprouted roots, place them in soil following the steps in the next section. If you wait too long, they may grow through the paper towel. If this happens, it’s better to plant a tiny piece of the paper towel with the seed than to try to rip it off.
How to Germinate Seeds in Soil
The paper towel trick gives you a head start on germination, but you can also plant your seeds directly in the soil. Whether you have fresh seeds or seeds from the paper towel, you will follow the same steps to sow your seeds for further germination:
- Select a growing medium. Choose a sterile mix that hasn’t been used before so it’s free from disease and weeds. You can purchase a seed-starting mix or make your own using one part compost, one part sand, pearlite, or vermiculite, and one part peat moss. Alternatively, you may use prepared coco coir pods or rockwool cubes.
- Thoroughly moisten your growing medium. You want it to be completely wet, but not soaked. As with the paper towel, the medium should be moist throughout without any pools of water.
- Cover the container if you’re starting your seeds indoors. If you’re direct sowing your seeds in the garden, place a row cover or mulch over the bed.
- Keep the soil moist throughout the germination process, misting it regularly.
- Expose the seedlings to sunlight as they emerge.
Understanding how to germinate seeds is the first step in starting a home garden. Starting seeds yourself is a great way to save money and have an extra hand in the growing process.