Why Did Your Seeds Fail?

Didn't get the result you wanted with your garden? Here's a few reasons why.


Some seeds require specific treatments before sowing. The 2 main types of treatment are scarification and stratification. Scarification is used for seeds with very hard outer coats and involves either hot water or rubbing the seed between two sheets of fine sandpaper. This allows moisture to enter the seed so that it can swell and begin the process of germination. Tree lucerne and winged beans need a treatment like this or germination will be very slow. Some seeds such as peas and beans should be soaked overnight until the seed swells, sown but not watered again until the seedlings are up. Stratification is a cold treatment for plants that evolved in areas with very cold winters. It involves mixing the seed with moist sand and placing it in the fridge for 4-8 weeks before sowing. It is unlikely to be necessary In Australia.


There are many reasons for poor germination of seed, just doing the opposite of all the strategies suggested earlier for starters. When conditions are right and seed is viable, the plants just seem to jump out of the ground.

• If you are trying to “extend the season” try a few seeds to begin with and keep a written record.

• To germinate seed must be viable, this means capable of germinating. Seed may not be viable because it is poor quality to begin with, if you believe this to be the case you should bring it to your seed suppliers’ attention, many will offer you a replacement.

• Seed Storage: Seed can lose its viability if it is stored incorrectly. To store it correctly use a sealed container and keep it in your fridge. Seed stored in a hot garden shed or garage that can reach temperatures greater than 40° in summer will simply die. Seed stored open to the air where it can take up moisture will lose viability. Seed also loses viability with age. Seed packets are best used within the same year they are purchased. If you plan to use them the following year reseal the packets well before storing.

• Seeds often fail because they rot in the ground, this can happen for several reasons. The soil is kept too wet, therefore there is not enough air and the seed suffocates. The soil temperature is too cold for the particular type of seed. Or the seed is attacking by fungal ‘damping off’ organisms. There is a range of these that occur naturally, the best way to avoid this problem is to use a good quality seed raising mix.

• If seed fails to germinate always take a look, especially at bigger seeds. Carefully dig up a seed and see if it has rotted. Check that a bird or animal has not eaten the seed. Also look to see if it has germinated and then been eaten by an animal or insect, snail or slug. There may be a row of tiny stems left behind. Sometimes birds will walk along your row and yank the entire young seedling up. If this is the case then you will need to look at better protection for your seeds.

Article by Frances Michaels
Green Harvest Organic Gardening Supplies

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