Problems with germination for surface-sowed seeds

Astroknot(10a)May 8, 2012

I just cant seem to get any of them to sprout. I'm trying to grow seeds that 'everyone' says are really easy to grow, but from several attempts now, I have had zero success.

These are the seeds I'm trying to grow: Allyssum, Violas, Trailing Lobelia, and (soon) Hardy Begonia.

My technique is probably to blame, although I have a feeling I need to be doing something extra for these seeds. For instance, I followed the directions for cold stratification for the violas, but still no luck after a couple of weeks.

This is how I've sowed them so far -- I prepare a seed starting mix with half soil-less mix and half perlite. I moisten the soil, then I scatter the seeds on top. (I do not 'press into surface' because the seeds always stick to my fingers). I spritz them with a water mister, then I let sit in a bright room (no direct sunlight). I've tried varying some things in hopes that I might get them to finally sprout, I've put plastic baggies now over the pots so keep things humid. I've tried putting my allyssum outside, thinking that it needed 'cooler temps' to be happy. I'd really prefer to direct sow some of these guys since they probably don't like to be transplanted, but if I can't get them to germinate in a controlled, moist environment, then how am I going to get any plants outside?

Things that I know that I'm doing right: sterile potting medium, keeping the soil evenly damp but not soggy, and not putting them in direct light where they'll burn.

What am I doing wrong? Am I overlooking some other variables? This is surprisingly difficult for me, and I could really use some advice. What's the big secret for successful surface-sow germination? (Is there any?



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naturemitch(3/4 WI)

For seeds that need light. I do one of 2 things.

1-I always add a little substrate on top of seeds, VERY little, but remember light is getting thru a thin layer of substrate. Then I water them in well.

2-For seeds that may be put outside, I put my soilless mix in a container, add a layer of coarse grit, and deposit seeds on top of grit. I then water in. Thats it.

I have not started any of the seeds you mentioned, so someone else will have to chime in on that note.

Couple of other notes. Get those seed pots under lights (light isn't going to burn seeds), and I would keep the plastic over them.
Why are you adding extra perlite? I just use a good soilless mix, like Metro or Fafards. Many others out there as well.

Also, when I water initially after sowing the seed and covering with plastic...I never have to water again before seeing germination....even on a heat mat.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2012 at 11:42PM
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Thanks for the response, naturemitch.

I add the extra perlite only because several (online) gardening sources instruct you to to a half and half mix, to increase drainage (prevent water retention) but I suppose it's overkill, to an extent. I do seem to have a little more success rate when I do add more perlite, but I'm trying to be more conscious about not drowning the poor seeds when I plant. (Still making mistakes!) I have not seen either Metro or Fafards in the garden supply stores in my area (San Francisco). I checked Fafard's website, but it doesn't look like they sell them in California at all. Rats!

What kind of "grit" do you use for sowing? Are you talking about small gravel, chicken feed, sand, etc.?

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 10:04PM
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ifraser25(z11 Brazil)

You haven't had any germination from any of these seeds, right? What is the source of your seed? The only reason for what you describe is infertile seed or too low temperatures.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 11:50PM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

For seeds that ask to be surface sown, I do not suggest adding grit such as perlite. To do so risks seed to mix contact, especially when seed is not pressed into the mix. Covering with clear plastic to maintain 100% humidity is a must until germination. Al

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 8:23AM
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Thanks for the advice, everyone.

ifraser25, I have considered this a possibility with my Alyssum seeds. They are a Botanical Interests pack from last year, which is a seed company I like and I usually get good quality seeds from. But it's possible the seeds are duds. I'll keep giving them a chance, though.

For a while I was worried that it's actually too warm for the Alyssum to germinate -- we've been having 70 degree weather here, and I think the seed packet mentions it liked cooler temps. But I will leave out the perlite from my mix this time and see if that makes the difference.

By the way, this warm weather has caused all my other seeds to EXPLODE with growth. I guess they were all waiting for that tiny extra rise in temperature.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 12:43PM
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I think Violas seeds need darkness to germinate, so try covering the seeds a little instead of surface sowing them.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 9:40PM
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Thanks Art, I think I did cover up the violas a tiny bit. The cold treatment worked, they've all peaked their little green heads out of the pot now! Just took a little longer than I expected.

My coleus, lobelia, thyme, and violas have finally germinated, hooray! The plastic baggie tent worked well. Only thing that hasn't sprouted is the Alyssum. I suppose those are a lost cause, now.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 10:14PM
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I sowed a mess of alyssum outside, in a pot. I know they're supposed to be a certain distance apart, but honestly, they're tiny seeds...I planted them in some soil (nothing special, I guess--potting soil?) and set them outside. All I've done is try to keep them moist. And I put netting over it to keep the cat out. Several came up. Alas, some of those that did got utterly bowled over in last night's storm. But there are some smaller ones that are OK because they weren't tall enough to get knocked down.

I also tried the same thing with some columbine this year. Nothing happened with them at all. So much for supposedly easy plants (at least, I think they're supposed to be pretty simple).

    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 3:45PM
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