Germinating Seeds Made Easy
If you ask ten growers how they like to germinate seeds, you’ll likely get 10 different answers! There are just so many methods to do it, plus many little tricks and tips if you have stubborn seeds versus fresh ones, and every method has a subcategory of some other trick to try. But which one is best?
Some growers will swear up and down that one method “gets 100% success EVERY time” and another will find that same degree of success with a completely different method. Gee, it's almost like there are a bunch of different techniques to do the same thing that are dependent on your individual environment and state of your seeds itself, or something... 👀
We will tell you our preferred methodologies below, but the one thing we want to underline first is that whatever you choose for a methodology - just choose one and stick to it for a while. Even if you don’t read the rest of this article. Even if you go with the most complex and rarely heard of method for germination. Great, and good for you. Just stick to a plan until you encounter failure.
If it fails to work, it doesn’t necessarily mean the method is flawed - it could be something small you did without even realizing it, or the mustard in the math could be that your home is not a perfectly controlled environment, or some other variable that was slightly different. It's nature - shit happens. You might need to make a tiny adjustment - maybe the seeds just pop at different times too - be patient and try to figure out what is going on. (Note: We have often planted multiple seeds of the same type, on the same day, in all the same conditions, and had most pop on day 3, some on day 4 and an outlier that popped on day 9. I happens. Again, we're dealing with nature, not machinery.)
The three common things that need to be provided to properly germinate seeds, including autoflower seeds, are moisture, darkness, and warmth.
So the first takeaway is that no matter what, as a rule, it is best not to put your germinating seeds directly under lights (such as in a paper towel, directly under a light) just yet - keep them in the dark or in a room with very low levels of ambient light. Or, have them buried in the soil which keeps them in the dark, insulated from light (this will be discussed further below). That’s not to say that seeds can’t germinate in the light - they can, but it can also cause problems and make more stubborn seeds take longer to start.
If you’re somewhere the temperature is around 80F / 27C, some strains might germinate right away but some might struggle to start or not pop their shells at all. Same thing is true if it’s below 70F/ 21C - cooler temperatures tend to slow autoflowers down in their growth during any stage of life. Keep a thermometer near where you are germinating your seeds and keep an eye on the highs and lows.
Regardless of how you choose to do it, control your environment as best as you can and choose a method to stick to and go for it.
Here’s our top 3 favorite recommendations for germinating:
This is as simple as it gets and it’s the ideal start for container grows in soil, coco, or a few other setups - just plant your seed and let Nature do its thing! Cover up seeds with about ¼” of soil - meaning a tiny divot into your medium and then lightly covered. Keep it moist with just a little water every day until it germinates and be patient!
If you don’t see plants sprouting within just a few days, double check your other environmental settings. How hot is it? Are you keeping it moist? At most it’ll be about 2 weeks to start unless your seeds are very old / dehydrated… But we’ve personally seen seeds take almost 6 weeks before sprouting in a supersoil setup before - so sometimes good things come to those who wait.
Note: In this case, it's fine to have a light going because the seed is being kept in the dark by the fact that it's buried, so the light can create the warmth needed. When we said previously to NOT put them under a light, we meant with direct exposure to the light (i.e. the paper towel method should be done in the dark, not under a light). But if you're following this recommendation and burying the seed in dirt, mission accomplished.
For those that still want to be able to start their seeds the natural way, but don’t want to have to prepare and maintain a larger grow container for it, you can always start off in plugs first. This is an excellent solution for people who want to start a bunch of seeds but have limited space.
You can buy literal “plugs” made from peat or rockwool - simply soak them in water first and put them into a saucer or into plastic inserts and plant your autoflower seeds - about ¼” into the plug’s hole. If your humidity is low, add a plastic covering to keep it high. Add a little water whenever it looks like they’re starting to dry out (typically just a little each day prevents this issue). Typically, seeds will pop in a similar timeline as planting directly in soil.
You can even “make your own” plugs by buying the small plastic tray inserts that are the right size. Fill it with a seed starting soil or even pure peat or coco fiber. Compact it a little bit - but not too much, tamping lightly into the container, and give a thorough soak. Then, use a pen or other small tool to poke a ¼” hole in the middle, drop your seed in, and cover it.
Remember that soil-less mediums such as coco or rockwool have a lower retention of water, so you’ll need to add more, more frequently. On top of that, soil-less mediums / plugs that will be going into a hydroponic setup prefer a slightly lower pH of water. Ideally for soil, use a pH between 6.2-7 - but for coco and rockwool it is best to use a pH between 5.5-6. This helps start your autoflowers off at their best to go to their new pots afterward but pH isn’t something you need to get perfectly for this stage of growth.
You must be VERY gentle when transplanting any sort of plug into soil - especially so with your "home made plugs," which tend to fall apart if you try and pick them up... So be very careful with transplanting and try to "pour" it into your hand carefully before placing it into your pot. Place gently into a hole in your medium in the final pot and very, very lightly put some extra medium around it and water it in.
You technically don’t need any medium at all to plant into… You can just sprout your seed right in water - which is a great way to guarantee it stays moist enough! In fact, it’s an easy method to use in combination with one of the previous two methods as well depending on how you go about it… This is, in fact, the best way to guarantee germination if you think that there’s a chance your seeds are older or stored in an overly dry environment, this will help rehydrate and get your plants going ASAP!
Get yourself a small container - anything from a red plastic cup to a shot glass. Fill it with some clean water - ideally the temperature of which is around 75F / 24C range. Ideally, it also has a pH of ~6.2 (if you really wanna be exact but don’t fret too much about it).
Now, you can just plop your seed into the container of water for anywhere from 12-24 hours but ideally in just 12-18 you should see the following: If your seeds were floating on top and you tap them with a finger, they float to the bottom of your container as they are taking in water. At this stage, you then transplant the seed gently to either directly into your growing medium or plugs. You should see it sprout within 48 hours if your conditions remain ideal.
Of course, you’ll see little “add on” recommendations sometimes that are supposed to help break down tough, older shells such as adding a couple drops of 3% hydrogen peroxide or a few drops of humic acid or enzyme. All definitely help, but they’re not 100% necessary as simply soaking a seed for this long will have the intended effect of softening the shell to allow water to be absorbed. In fact, if you leave the seed for over 24 hours you may even see it open up and the taproot wiggles out… And if that happens, be extra - extra careful with transplanting it as the root is very sensitive to being bruised at this early stage of life.
Now, if you have a seed that doesn’t germinate - it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes crazy things happen and in a 10-pack (or even a 3-pack), it’s not unheard of to have one failure. If this happens to you twice though, stop there - do not plant more seeds without reaching out to your provider of autoflower seeds.
They might advise you on your methodology for germination or, if you did everything right they may just replace a package as well. Seed companies are generally honorable and will make things right, but there’s not much that can be done if you continue to attempt to germinate in a way that is problematic. They want you to grow big, sticky plants just as much as you want to grow them - so reach out and talk to them before going through your entire hoard of autoflowers.
How do we know so much about germinating seeds? This article was written by Kyle Hamilton. Kyle leads the Concierge Support team at Green Goddess Supply, makers of personal home grow systems, helping first-time growers to learn and be successful, including germinating seeds!