How to Germinate Plant Seeds

Start seeds in pots or trays. image by mrmac04:morguefile


When you look at a plant seed, what you are really seeing is the tough protective coat designed to keep the young embryo safe and secure until it is ready to germinate. The embryo, or baby plant, rests inside the seed coat ready to grow when conditions are favorable. Your job is to provide the necessary conditions to break dormancy and spur germination. The seed coat splits and a tiny root emerges to anchor the plant and to absorb moisture and nutrients to fuel the plant's growth.

Step 1

Plant seeds in commercially prepared seed starter. It is light and friable, providing the needed oxygen for seed germination. Although you can start seeds in regular potting soil, it tends to compact when wet and may choke out oxygen. Without oxygen, growth cannot occur.

Step 2

Follow the recommended seed depth (located on the seed packet) when planting seeds to ensure proper germination. If planted too deeply, young shoots may not survive to reach the surface, and if planted too shallow they may not germinate at all or new growth may wither and die with slight fluctuations in moisture level or air temperature.

Step 3

Water thoroughly and keep soil moist until seeds germinate. Seeds require moisture to break dormancy and break free of the seed coat. Moisture penetrates the seed coat and reaches the embryo. The embryo swells and begins cell division. When growth exceeds the confines of the seed coat, the coat splits or cracks and a tiny root appears. Keeping the seed and the emerging roots moist is necessary for plants to grow from seed.

Step 4

Expose newly planted seeds to the appropriate amount of light. Most seeds require light to germinate, and sprout quickly under artificial lighting or on a sunny windowsill. Some seeds however require darkness to germinate. Check the requirements of your seeds to determine whether to start them in the light or in darkness (see Resources)

Step 5

Maintain the appropriate temperature for the species of plant you wish to germinate. Each germinates best at a specific temperature. Look on the seed packet for the temperature requirements for seed germination. If in doubt, most seeds germinate between 65 and 75 degrees F, but there are some exceptions.

Things You'll Need

  • Seed starter
  • Pots/flats


  • Washington State University
  • New York State University
  • Ohio State University Extension

Who Can Help

  • Light Requirements of Common Seeds
Keywords: seed germination, seed starting, growing from seed

About this Author

Nannette Richford is an avid gardener, teacher and nature enthusiast with more than four years' experience in online writing. Richford holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education from the University of Maine Orono and certifications in teaching 7-12 English, K-8 General Elementary and Birth to age 5.

Photo by: mrmac04:morguefile