What to Do When Your Seeds Won’t Grow in Your Outdoor Garden

Nothing is more disappointing than spending every single day checking your backyard to see if your newly-sown seeds have finally decided to show off some sprouts, only to find out that they won’t be germinating after all. But don’t give up and throw your gardening gloves just yet! We’re here to help you pinpoint the possible reasons for your garden’s lousy start and help you solve these mishaps so that you can finally have the outdoor garden of your dreams!

Why Your Seeds Won’t Grow

There are tons of factors that might cause poor germination in your garden. Here are six of the most common causes for every beginner gardener’s nightmare and how you can fix them so you can continue growing crops from seed.

Too Little or Too Much Water

Germination starts when a seed is given water – it washes off inhibitors (compounds that keep the seed asleep), loosens up the outer layer of the seed to break open, and hydrates food stored inside the seed for the plant’s early growth. In the first days, you’ll notice seeds swell or get a soft coating from all the water they take in – this is a good sign that things are in motion.

If you are not watering enough, this should be pretty obvious because your soil would look dry. Give it just enough that the soil is moist and not flooded, as overwatering could wash away your seeds or, worse, cause damping, which we will discuss a little more below. An excellent way to keep your soil moist during germination is by using a spray bottle to spritz the soil with water because it gives you just the right amount of control. Remember that water is the giver of life. However, too much or too little of it can make water be the taker of life just as easily.

Too Cold or Too Warm

Another common problem with seed germination involves the temperature of your growing environment. Seeds have a relatively wide range of temperatures that they will be able to sprout, but germination will no longer occur if you go beyond that range. Many common garden crops usually germinate around 60-80 °F; however, you must always check your seed packet instructions because each plant is different. Cool-weather crops such as cabbage or broccoli have a much lower germination temperature and are best planted earlier in the spring. In contrast, warm-weather crops like tomatoes will germinate better with temperatures in the 70 °F range.

Having temperatures that are too low is usually experienced when seeds are sown directly outdoors. Sowing your seeds too early or sudden drops in temperature at night are the most probable reasons that prohibit your seeds from growing. We suggest starting your seeds indoors before transplanting them outside when it’s warmer to avoid this problem. Starting your seeds inside is also a great idea, especially if you have a short growing season and need to begin the process earlier. This way, you can control your temperature by using grow lights or heaters.

However, if you are starting your seeds indoors or during the height of the warmer seasons, you may have the opposite problem. Many seeds will cease to germinate once the temperature hits around 90-95 °F. Be careful not to make your room too warm if you’re starting inside. If you have sown seeds outside during a scorching hot summer, a good idea would be to provide shade, mulch your soil, and make sure your seeds get enough water – these will help create cooler soil and air temperatures.

Lack of Oxygen

Wait, what? Plants need oxygen too? Well, as a matter of fact – yes! Or, more specifically, seeds need oxygen to germinate. Oxygen facilitates the metabolism in seeds until photosynthesis takes over, so it’s essential to make sure your soil is well-aerated. If your lawn’s soil is made up of clay, germinating becomes extremely difficult because it is too heavy and compacted that your seeds can no longer absorb the oxygen and water they need.

Oxygen intake is also correlated with watering your seeds. Underwatering might not remove all the coating from your seeds, making it hard for your seeds to get oxygen and nutrients. Overwatering can also make your soil waterlogged and compacted, therefore, making oxygen more challenging to reach your seeds.

Sometimes, it’s also possible for a newbie gardener to get a little too excited, and they end up pushing their seeds too deeply in the ground. This will make it difficult for sprouts to form, so remember to check the back of your seed packet for planting recommendations about seed depth.

Damping Off

If your seedlings briefly germinated before wilting away and dying, then you may have experienced a phenomenon called “damping off,” a horticultural disease caused by several different kinds of fungi and other soil-borne pathogens, which attack your seedling before or after they germinate. These vicious organisms thrive in wet and cool conditions and are responsible for decaying your plants. If you see a white mold around your seedlings, this is often a dead giveaway that the harmful fungi have taken over your garden.

A few ways to prevent this problem from happening again is by making sure that your growing containers and pots are all clean and sanitized before use. The pathogens could potentially come from the rainwater that you’re using to water your plants, so we advise you to use clean water next time. But remember, and we cannot state this enough, don’t overwater your plants! The damp and cold environment will cultivate the perfect fungi party that will take over your garden, making it a habit to maintain the balance of water, light, temperature, and airflow of your garden.

Problems with the Seed Itself

Okay, so what if your environmental conditions are spot on, but you’re still left scratching your head because you’ve got zero sprouts? The only possible reason left is that something is wrong with your seeds. It is possible that your seeds were too old, not stored correctly, or pests just ate them in your garden.

Seeds are Too Old

Seeds have an expiry date since they are only viable for a particular window of time. Some seeds like parsley, onions, chives, and beans only last 1-2 years. Meanwhile, basil, squash, tomato, and cucumber seeds can last longer up to 4-5 years. If you are collecting seeds, aim to plant your seeds that lose their viability quicker within a year. If you are buying seeds from a store, make sure to always check the seed packet for the expiry date and ensure you’re buying fresh seeds. Some seeds will still germinate even after a year after their expiry date; however, germination rates will be significantly lower.

Seeds are Poorly Stored

You may also lose your seeds’ viability if you don’t store them properly. Having fresh, plump, recently harvested seeds that have been stored well is your best bet for successful sprouting. Ideal conditions to store seeds are the opposite of their sprouting conditions – instead of hot and humid, they should be kept cool and dry. For most climate-controlled homes, a drawer or closet works fine. If you want to keep the seeds viable for an extended period, you could consider a sealed container in the fridge. When taking it out, let the seeds warm up for a couple of hours before opening to prevent condensation (AKA moisture!) on the seeds.

Seeds are Eaten

And lastly, how can your plants grow when there aren’t any seeds planted in the ground in the first place? Birds, mice, voles, and wireworms are the most likely culprits to have eaten your seeds for lunch. Make sure to check the ground to see if your seed is still in the soil. You can avoid this from happening by sowing your seeds indoors or hanging a shelf in a polytunnel or greenhouse.

Of course, let’s not rule out the possibility that your seeds just take long to germinate, so make sure to read your packet instructions and practice patience. But whatever the reason may be, don’t forget that gardening is full of trials and errors. The most important advice we can give you is not to get disheartened and keep trying until you succeed. We promise the reward is well worth the wait.

If you have any more questions that we weren’t able to answer on this blog, then come on down and join our Private Facebook Group, where we have a community of indoor gardeners who might just be able to help you out with your gardening dilemma. We hope to see you there!

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