Seed Starting Mistakes – Reasons Seeds Fail To Germinate

Hand Placing Seeds In Rows Of Soil
planting seeds
(Image credit: RomoloTavani)

Starting crops from seed is a common, economical way to get plants for your garden and flowerbed. When growing from seed, you can choose many plants that aren’t available in stores. Lack of space doesn’t allow room for nurseries to stock many great plants, but you can get them started from seeds.

If you’re new to growing from seed, you’ll find it is a simple process. Avoid common seed starting mistakes for best results. Some reasons seeds fail to germinate are described below. Here's how to stop making these mistakes.

Common Mistakes with Seed Germination

While starting from seed is simple and easy, there are a few steps to follow for optimum germination. Don’t expect each seed to germinate for different reasons, but your percentage should be high. Use these easy tips to avoid mistakes and make your seed-starting process most productive.

Check Out Our Complete Guide to Seed Starting

  • Not putting them somewhere noticeable: Since you probably only start seeds a few times a year, it is easy to forget about them, so put them in full view. Locate them on a table or countertop with the right warmth and light to sprout. The other tips do no good if you forget to practice them regularly.
  • Planting into the wrong soil: Seeds need consistent moisture to germinate, but the soil should never be wet or soggy. If the soil is too wet, seeds can rot and disappear. Therefore, use a fast-draining seed starting mixture that allows water to move through quickly. This soil holds the appropriate amount of water to keep the soil moist. You may use regular potting soil that you’ve amended, but don’t start them in soil from the garden.
  • Too much water: As mentioned above, seeds can rot away from being too wet. Establish a watering schedule for seeds until they germinate, usually once or twice a day. Once seeds are sprouted, cut back slightly on watering to avoid damping off. Damping off is when sprouted seeds flop and die back from being too wet.
  • Too much sunlight: As you have likely discovered, young plants grow toward the light if placed in a sunny window. This takes a good deal of their energy and makes them tall and spindly. When starting seeds indoors, placing them under lights allows more regulated growth. This lets them develop and devote their energy to filling out properly. Grow lights are not necessary, just place them about an inch or two below fluorescent bulbs.
  • Not keeping them warm enough: While seeds should not be in direct sunlight, they need warmth to germinate. Seed failure often occurs when there is not enough warmth. Locate your seed starting tray away from drafts such as vents and open doors. Use a warming mat.
  • Large seeds: Large seeds with a hard covering will usually sprout more quickly if nicked or soaked overnight. Check each seed type before planting to see if it is a candidate for scarification or stratification.

If you want to take your seed starting skills to the next level, check out our FREE online seed starting workshop led by Master Gardener and seed starting expert, Geoffrey Johnson. He will guide you through the entire process from seed to garden and help you steer clear of common problems many gardeners face when starting seeds at home.

Becca Badgett

Becca Badgett was a regular contributor to Gardening Know How for ten years. Co-author of the book How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden, Becca specializes in succulent and cactus gardening.