Learning how to germinate seeds is one of the most important aspects of becoming a gardener. You can always buy clones, but as you'll soon learn, starting seeds yourself unlocks all kinds of benefits.
One of the two methods of plant propagation, starting your plants from seeds can be a rewarding experience. When planting from seed, you are able to select from a wide variety of strains and genetics.
Another reason some growers choose to germinate seeds instead of cloning is because a seedling will generally yield more than a cloned plant come harvest.
Whatever your reason, you have your seeds, but you are unsure the best way to sow them. These are just a few of the benefits. We'll cover more later, along with a few of the drawbacks in the interest of transparency.
Worry not, because today, we are going to teach you how to germinate seeds quickly and efficiently, ranging from the simple paper towel method to a high-quality complete seed starting kit!
First, let's cover all the reasons you should consider the seed starting route vs starting clones, along with what a seed actually needs to start popping taproots.
What Are The Benefits Of Germinating Seeds?
Learning how to germinate seeds offers quite an extensive list of benefits to growers. The most obvious one is accessibility to a wide range of strains.
When it comes to buying seeds, you can purchase from either an online or in person seed bank. Whichever you go with, you'll be astounded at the diversity you have at your fingertips.
Plus, you can buy a bunch of different seeds and store them for a prolonged period of time. With clones, you have to get them rooted as soon as you take them for the most part.
Furthermore, seeds yield more than clones. Because a clone is a replication of an existing plant, growers claim it doesn't have the same capability in terms of growth rate & yield potential.
So, the benefits of starting seeds can be summarized as diversity in strain and genetic selection, and better yields and healthier plants. However, there are some drawbacks to starting seeds too.
The Drawbacks Of Starting Seeds
There are two main drawbacks of starting seeds over starting clones: time, difficulty, and the guessing game of wondering whether the seed is male or female.
If you choose to germinate seeds over taking clones, you can expect to add at least 3 weeks to the timeline. This isn't a super quick process, although there are things you can do to speed things up. We'll cover these in depth later.
Plus, the process of starting seeds isn't easy your first few times. The recipe for popping seeds is simple - but getting it just right is not. Plus, not every seed you attempt to pop, will pop. Some will be duds - even if you provide the perfect conditions.
The final drawback of starting seeds is the guessing game if you didn't purchase from a reputable seed bank (for example, maybe you're trying to start some bag seeds).
This means you don't know exactly what genetics you're starting, and you will be unsure whether you're getting male or female until you flip to flower and watch for flowers or pollen sacs. Of course, buying feminized seeds from a trustworthy seed bank will prevent this issue, so it's hardly a drawback if you do things right!
Now - let's cover what seeds need for germination.
What Do Seeds Need To Germinate & Pop A Taproot?
Seeds really only need three things: moisture, warmth, and air. Seeds have a little taproot inside of them, and when the seed "pops", the taproot extends out of the shell in search of moisture.
When you provide the seed plenty of moisture, the taproot swells up, cracks the shell, and shoots out, extending into the grow medium. This taproot then starts taking root and extending other roots from it's body. The result down the line is a robust, healthy root mass.
The seed will not germinate until the conditions are perfect, so make sure you give your seeds everything they need to germinate!
What Is The Best Way To Germinate Seeds Indoors?
There are any number of ways you can start your seeds inside.
We are going to give you three ways to start them, ranging from the simple paper towel method, to planting right in your grow medium, or using a premium seed starting kit.
We will start with the most simple and budget friendly option - starting seeds in a paper towel.
How To Germinate Seeds In A Paper Towel
This is one of the most common methods of germinating seeds, especially among hobby growers.
In this method, you will need an absorbent kitchen paper towel. Since paper towels are so absorbent, they will hold moisture very well for your seedlings.
Soak your paper towel, and allow excess water to run off. You don't want to drown your seeds.
Then, place your seeds inside, and fold the paper towel over them in half, creating a "blanket" almost. You can then place them in a windowsill or under natural light.
If you notice the paper towel starts to dry out, just reapply water.
With any method of seed starting, keep your seeds warm. This is one of the three critical aspects of germination. You can use a seedling heat mat to accomplish this if you have no other way at home.
How long does it take seeds to germinate in a paper towel?
Be patient and try not to disturb your seeds while they germinate. This process can take up to 5-7 days depending on the genetics of your seed.
Remember that this is not the best way to start seeds. You will have to handle the delicate seedling once the taproot sprouts, which can damage it. You should also be prepared for some of your seeds to never germinate.
If you really can't shell out for some pots or a seed starting kit, you can get by with this method. But we don't recommend it for serious growers.
Planting seeds straight into soil or other grow medium
Some growers try and save themselves some work by planting seeds directly into a pot with soil.
This will prevent you from having to transplant them once you see the taproot pop, saving you time and the possibility of damaging the fragile taproot.
Prepare your garden pots in advance. You should use small garden pots, like these.
To supercharge germination, mix in some rooting compound with the water to provide the seedling with compounds to encourage rapid rooting.
Once you have your medium pre-soaked, put some holes 5-10mm deep in preparation for your seeds. This height allows them to be close to your seedling light, and encourage them to grow towards it.
Then, carefully place your seed inside and cover it up. The one issue with this method is you don't have the ability to examine progress of your seeds.
With the paper towel method, you can easily open it up and see if a taproot has emerged yet. With the soil method, you are at the mercy of your plant, watching for that first set of leaves to pop through the soil.
How long does it take seeds to germinate in soil?
You should see signs of germination within two weeks. This method may take a little longer than using paper towels, but there are benefits here.
This method causes minimal stress to the seeds, and the rootlet can start developing as soon as it emerges, unlike the paper towel method.
If you are afraid of damaging your sprouted seeds, just avoid the paper towel method altogether and opt for this method or using starter plugs, which we will discuss next.
How To Germinate Seeds In A Seed Starting Kit (best approach)
If you are serious about your grow, and don't want to spend time messing around with lower success rates, jump straight into using a complete seedling kit and starter plugs.
A complete seedling kit includes:
- Seedling tray with inserts
- Humidity dome
- Starter plugs
- Heat mat
- Grow light and timer (depending on your kit)
This method of germination offers you the highest success rate, with the least amount of work on your end.
Just like any other method, pre-soak your starter plugs with water and rooting hormones.
These make germination a breeze because you can pop your seeds into them once they are soaked, put them in your tray, cover it with your dome, turn on your equipment and let them grow!
Another reason for using rooting plugs is that once the seedling becomes a baby plant, you can transplant the plug and the plant directly into the new medium. This will prevent you from disturbing the delicate new roots.
An alternative to starter plugs are rockwool cubes, which work just as well.
How long do seeds take to germinate in a seed starting kit?
These kits set up the perfect conditions for germination, so it is no surprise that you will shave a few days off the process with this method. another advantage, which was already listed, is the starter plugs can be transplanted right into a new grow media when the time comes.
If you are serious about your grow, or just want to make things easier on yourself, use a complete seed starting kit. Our year end review of the best seed starter kits of the year is a great resource if you're not sure which one is right for you.
How To Increase Seed Germination Rate
This can be a frustrating time period for growers, and a common reason many opt to start with clones. Nobody enjoys the waiting game.
Being patient is important, but there are some ways to decrease your waiting time.
Using A Grow Light To Increase Heat & Energy
Providing your seeds with a high-quality seedling grow light will encourage them to root faster. They will absorb the light's energy, and in hopes of reaching more of it, start growing towards the light.
If you are using fluorescent grow light, you can place it incredibly close to your seeds. This will prevent them from growing very long in spindly when reaching towards the light, which can result in them falling over.
You can follow a basic veg lighting schedule, 18 hours of light followed by 6 hours of darkness.
A simple light timer will automate this for you, so you don't have to turn them on and off yourself, and you can remain consistent.
If you want a recommendation, check out our review of the top T5 fluorescent grow lights of the year. These will be perfect for starting seeds indoors.
A Heat Mat Will Warm Up The Seeds
This is one of the three things important for germination, and many growers use a seedling heat mat to increase the temperature of their seeds to 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
This range will encourage them to sprout much faster. Using grow lights will also increase heat around your seeds.
Keep Your Seeds Moist
Since seeds don't quite have a root zone to seek out water yet, we need to make sure they can access moisture easily. This is why you need to presoak your growing medium or paper towel, and keep it moist the whole time.
If you can cover your seedling tray with a humidity dome to increase the moisture for your seeds. You should shoot for humidity levels of up to 75%.
For measuring and maintaining temperature and humidity, use a hygrometer. Be sure you aren't doing the opposite extreme - drowning your seeds. This will prevent them from ever popping.
What To Do After The First Sign Of Leaves Popping Through Soil
Once you see the first bit of green popping through the soil, it's incredibly fulfilling. The hardest part is behind you, and you can rest assured your root mass is forming and your plants are off to a great start!
So what comes next? When do you start feeding nutrients? Should you bring the light closer to your plant, now that there is foliage to absorb this energy and undergo photosynthesis? When should you start feeding nutrients?
You likely have lots of questions. Our indoor growing guide is the best place to start - it covers each and every step of the growing cycle indoors - from veg all the way through flower. However, we'll briefly cover next steps below.
Ease Your Way Into The Vegetative Growth Stage
While you may see some small green leaves poking through your media, these are likely not true leaves yet.
There is a difference between the first set of leaves and true leaves - just wait and you'll see exactly what we mean. Watch for the striations in the leaves.
Once you see your first set of true leaves, you are on your way to veg. Once you have 3-4 sets of true leaves, you can turn off the fluorsescent and bring out a more powerful grow light to get the ball rolling.
Around this point, you'll want to start feeding your plants nutrients. If you invested in a nutrient package, you can follow the feeding schedule on it to slowly dose up the nutrient concentration over time. You definitely don't want to feed heavy at the start - you'll shock and potentially burn your young plants.
Your plants are going to grow quickly over the coming weeks. So, watch for roots to pop through the bottom of your pot (assuming you started in plugs or a small container), and prepare to transplant into a larger pot for the duration of veg, or even the duration of the entire grow cycle.
In terms of light height, you'll probably want to check with the manufacturers recommendation in terms of hanging height. You can watch for visual signs of plant stress, and of course, use the hand test to monitor heat levels above the canopy. There will be some trial and error with light height, and you'll need to adjust this as your plants grow.
Why Do My Seedlings Look So Lanky & Weak?
If your seedlings appear elongated and spindly, it's very likely they are stretching - this usually means not enough light.
If you are attempting to start seeds in a windowsill with the absence of a grow light, you can expect this until you move the seeds outdoors where they benefit from the full power of the sun.
Or, if you are still experience this stretch with grow lighting, it's possible your lights are too far away - hence the plant stretching towards the light. Try bringing the light a bit closer to the canopy of your seedlings, but be careful to avoid burning or stressing them - make small adjustments, monitor change, and adjust again if needed.
Final Thoughts On How To Germinate Seeds
One of the biggest takeaways you should gather from this is that you will probably not have a 100% germination rate. Plan in accordance for this. If you want 5-10 plants, don't try and germinate just 5-10 seeds.
Germinate more than you need, and discard what you don't need in the end. It's also worth starting all your seeds, flipping to flower to identify males/females, and then discard the males.
A good start is crucial to a successful, heavy harvest. Put in the work now, and reap the benefits in a few months when you start pulling buds off your plant!
Now that you know how to germinate seeds, learn about the rest of the grow cycle. Check out our complete guides on indoor growing or outdoor growing, depending on how you are planning on getting started.