10 Reasons Vegetable Seeds Don’t Sprout or Germinate


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Seed Germination and Sprouting

For those who are new to gardening, one of the things that can be quite frustrating is when vegetable seeds are not sprouting. This could have gardeners questioning the quality of seeds or soil and even end up discouraging them from further gardening.

So, what are some reasons why vegetable seeds don’t sprout or germinate? Vegetable seeds may not sprout because:

  • The seeds washed away
  • The temperature was not right
  • The seed casing was compromised
  • The seeds were eaten
  • The planting depth was not right
  • The seeds were too old
  • The soil was not suitable for growth
  • The watering technique was wrong
  • Not enough light was provided
  • The seeds were of poor quality

In this article, we will discuss ten common reasons why vegetable seeds may not be sprouting, some solutions for these issues, and even some tips to help with gardening.

Top 10 Reasons Vegetable Seeds Don’t Sprout

So, gardeners do their due diligence, pick the right seeds, and place them strategically in the backyard garden or in containers indoors, but after the stipulated period for germination, no sprouting is visible, and it is difficult to determine what could be wrong.

Times will arise when it isn’t clear why seeds won’t germinate. Below are some of the common reasons that vegetable seeds won’t sprout and what can be changed to remedy the issues.

How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.

1 Corinthians 15:36-38

1. The Seeds Washed Away

One of the most common reasons why seeds don’t sprout is that they are washed away.

Some ways that seeds could have been washed away are:

  • A sudden rainstorm shortly after they are planted
  • Pouring too much water over the soil right after planting
  • Strong winds that can carry light seeds that are not planted deep enough

In the process of such erosion, the seeds may have been carried away and deposited in some other place.

If seeds are carried to another place, the only solution is to acquire new ones and repeat the process. However, this time, be sure to take steps to prevent the seeds from getting washed away.

Gilmour’s blog “Preventing and Managing Soil Erosion in Your Yard” explains the two must-dos to keep seeds in place:

  • Make sure the soil is stabilized
  • Plan how and where plants are watered

Our best tips:

  • Cover the seeds with a light mulch to hold them in place and retain moisture (grass clippings, shredded leaves, peat moss).
  • Use a more gentle watering method such as a used water bottle with a few holes in the lid.
  • Cover the seeds if a storm or heavy rain is coming.

2. The Temperature was Not Right

Seed Starting Setup

While little attention may be paid to it, the truth is that the temperature in the soil plays an essential role in seed germination. So, when plants are planted under the wrong temperature conditions, the vegetable seeds may fail to germinate.

When planting within the winter season, it is possible that seeds are not sprouting because they are frozen. That means it may be necessary to wait until the weather gets warmer before any growth is evident. For those who live in regions that have a hot climate, it may be possible that the seeds are not sprouting because of too much heat within the soil.

In such cases, seeds may need to be planted in a temperature-controlled environment before transferring them to the garden. However, keep in mind that even plants that have sprouted may not do so well under extreme temperatures.

It is also crucial to realize that some vegetable seeds do well in warm climates, while others thrive in cold environments. Check out our article “What Temperature Do Seeds Germinate?” for more information on the best temperatures for different seeds.

Our best tips:

  • If starting seeds indoors, use a heat mat with temperature control to increase your germination rates. About 70 degrees Fahrenheit is a great average temperature for seeds to germinate.
  • If your soil outside is too cold and you want to get a jumpstart on your seeds, try placing them in a cold frame, under plastic, or use plastic containers/domes.
  • If your soil outside is too hot, use a light mulch or cover with shade cloth or tree branches with leaves on them.

3. The Seed Casing was Compromised

Some vegetable seeds are quite strong and resilient, which is why they can withstand rough handling and poor soil conditions. However, some specific seeds are more delicate and may not grow if handled in the wrong manner.

If seeds experience rough handling, inadequate packaging, or prolonged soaking, they may become too fragile to grow. That is because their casing may have peeled off or become too soft to endure the rough conditions of the soil.

Keep in mind that the coating may seem hard, but it can still be compromised if not handled carefully. Take note that this coating is the primary defense mechanism for the seed, and any damage to it can render those seeds useless.

Our best tip:

  • To guard against such damage, it is important to handle all seeds with care. When making purchases, ensure that all the selected seeds are packaged correctly and appropriately transported.

4. The Seeds Were Eaten

If vegetable seeds are planted in an open garden where there are birds and other types of animals, then the seeds may have been eaten. Some animals can dig into the soil and retrieve the seeds.

Chickens can dig through the soil to get food. Flies, beetles and moth larvae are particularly fond of small seeds while birds and mammals may prefer larger seeds.

Our best tips:

  • To avoid the frustration of dealing with such seed predators, plant seeds in an area away from animals and pests that pose a threat.
  • Fence off the field to prevent predators from getting access.
  • Use row covers to prevent birds and other animals from gaining access to your seeds.

5. The Planting Depth was Not Right

The depth at which a seed is planted can determine if it germinates or not. That is why the necessary depth should be considered when planting vegetable seeds.

Some seeds will not do well if they are planted too deeply, while others may fail to sprout if they are not deep enough.

In general terms, the smaller the seed, the more shallow you should plant. The larger the seed, the deeper you should plant it. Bigger seeds have more strength and power to push up longer through the soil.

Our best tips:

  • The general rule of thumb is to plant seeds at a depth of two times their width, or diameter.
  • The tiniest of seeds can even just be sprinkled on the surface and lightly tapped into the soil just to make good soil to seed contact.

6. The Seeds Were Too Old

Another possible reason why seeds may not be sprouting is that they could be too old. Try to figure out how long those seeds have been sitting in the store plus the additional weeks or months they remained in storage at home.

It may be shocking to find out that the seeds have remained in storage for longer than they should have. Check the packaging label to find out the dates of manufacture and expiration. These dates will help to establish if the seeds are too old.

Our best tips:

  • Dig up a few of the seeds after they are planted to see if any change in their form has occurred. If they are the same as when they were planted, then they are too old to germinate.
  • Put the seeds in a wet paper towel and wait for up to a week to see if they germinate.

If both methods show no change in the seed, then the best course of action is to purchase newer seeds that will be able to germinate.

7. The Soil was Not Suitable for Growth

Broadcast Seeding

For newer gardeners, the type of soil that is suitable for different kinds of vegetables may not be familiar. As a result, seeds may have been planted in soil that is not suitable for growth.

Some soils have high pH levels, while others have low pH levels. Some soils are rough, while others are exceptionally fine. There are also types of dirt that retain water, while others easily let the water drain.

All these factors can have an impact on how a seed grows when planted. Potatoes, parsnips, and carrots grow well in sandy soil, while lettuce and broccoli are better suited for clay soil.

It is with such factors in mind that gardeners should realize some seeds may not sprout because of the type of soil in the garden. The solution to this problem is to try to find out what kind of soil is available and its pH level.

Then, new soil can be brought in that can sustain the type of vegetables desired to grow or switch seeds to ones that can grow in the land available.

Our best tips:

Additionally, it is possible to use techniques to change the composition of the soil for your seeds, such as:

  • Add organic matter like compost.
  • Plant “cover crops” like legumes that bring more nitrogen into the soil.
  • Cover the garden with mulch.
  • Utilize no-till techniques.
  • Use a good seed starting mix for starting seeds indoors and in containers. Check out our own article for more information – DIY Potting Soil and Seed Starting Mix to Save Money.

For more information on improving your soil, check out more of our articles below:

How to Know if Your Soil is Healthy: 11 Simple Tests

How and Why You Should Increase Earthworms in Your Soil

8. The Watering Technique was Wrong

The way seeds are watered can determine how they grow. If too much water is being poured over the seedbed, then the growth of certain seeds may be stunted. If an adequate supply of water is not applied, then the seeds may not be able to germinate.

According to Oregon State University’s Extension Site, different seed types require specific amounts of water daily. Some can do well with a small amount of water, while some require substantial amounts of water.

Sweet corn and lettuce are examples of vegetables that require lots of water to thrive. However, black-eyed peas will not grow well if overwatered.

Understanding the needs of the vegetable seeds, the type of soil in question, and the method of watering is key to ensuring seeds sprout and continue to grow.

Of course, rain is considered the best source of water for plants. For those who live in a dry area or if the garden is not exposed to rain, it may be a good idea to do some irrigation.

9. Not Enough Light was Provided

Some seeds germinate and sprout when they are exposed to sunlight, while others do well when they are planted in a dark place. Determining the seeds that do well in darkness against those that germinate with the help of light can be vital to the success of a garden.

All vegetable seedlings require sunlight to thrive. Sunlight is an essential requirement because it helps seedlings manufacture their food through a process called photosynthesis.

But seeds may have different requirements when it comes to light. Some vegetable seeds are more likely to germinate and sprout under darker conditions.

If a garden is exposed to too much light and seeds are not sprouting, then it may be necessary to either cover the area of the garden where they are planted or transfer the seeds to a darker area for germination before taking them back to the garden.

10. The Seeds Were of Poor Quality

Another reason that seeds may not be sprouting could be linked to the quality of the seeds being used. Some seeds may have come from plants that are not healthy, and others may have been compromised by chemicals meant to protect them from disease, pests or parasites.

Seeds that are not handled or packaged well can also be contaminated, and that can have an impact on their quality. Poor storage conditions are another culprit when it comes to lousy seed quality.

Some common signs of poor-quality seeds include:

  • Seed discoloration
  • Different sized seeds for the same vegetable
  • The seed has been mixed with foreign substances
  • Deformed seed shapes

If any of these signs are evident among seeds, they are most likely of poor quality and will not result in a successful garden. Always be sure to buy quality seeds for the best results.

Our best tips:

  • Buy seeds from a good seed store. We recommend seeds from True Leaf Market and MIGardener.
  • Save your own seeds! If you learn how to save your own seeds, your plants will be stronger over time because they adapt to your climate and growing conditions.

Beginner Tips for Successful Gardening

Having learned some of the reasons why vegetable seeds may not be sprouting, it may be a good idea to also learn about a few things that can help make the gardening experience easier and more enjoyable.

Choose the Right Seeds

The first thing to do before attempting to grow vegetables is to learn about the different species of seeds that are available.

Some vegetables do well in hot climates, while others thrive in colder areas. Learning about the options available is key to achieving success on the first gardening attempt.

More than just temperature, consider the space needed, the vegetables desired to grow, what kind of soil is available, and more before deciding on seeds.

Prepare the Garden Well

Proper garden preparation is vital in order to succeed in growing vegetables in a backyard or any other place. The first thing to do is run tests on the type of soil available. If help is needed to test the soil, then consult an expert to test and give recommendations on how to proceed.

If the soil has a weak nutritional composition, then make use of fertilizers or compost to enrich it. Use various techniques to either raise or lower the pH level of the soil, depending on the type of vegetables desired.

Protect the Garden

As it may already be evident, predators can be a nightmare for a first-time gardener. Not only are they capable of consuming seeds, but they can also eat seedlings and render a garden unviable. Installing a fence around a garden or putting up some other form of protection system can be an excellent idea.

Be Patient and Passionate

Tending to the garden will inevitably have its ups and downs. There are times when seeds may fail to sprout because of one of the reasons mentioned above, and there are also times when everything will work out just as hoped. The key is to be patient and continue learning along the way.

Technology is a Friend

It is incredible what is possible if time is taken to learn about some of the technological innovations that can be used to achieve success in gardening.

The internet is filled with information on different types of vegetables, gardening techniques, and solutions to common problems. High-tech tools and equipment are also available that can help make gardening work more manageable and cost-effective.

In Conclusion

Gardening can be an excellent way to make a backyard look great. It can also be a great way to pass the time. Even further, it can become a decent source of income for those aiming to grow in large quantities.

Remember that in the first few days of planting vegetables, it is important to pay close attention to watering techniques and to protect them from any harmful substances or animals. Otherwise, keep the above details in mind and the garden will be successful.

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Corey Leichty

Hi, I’m Corey and I love using gardening as a way to provide food for my family, learn life lessons alongside my wife, Andrea, and teach life lessons to my two sons. Do you have gardening questions? Not finding what you are looking for? Please feel free to Ask a Question (Click Here!) and I will get back with you as soon as I can!

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