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Why Won’t My Cannabis Seeds Germinate?

If you’re growing cannabis from seed, life begins at germination. But what happens if your seeds won’t germinate? Are you just doing it wrong?

It’s possible, but other factors contribute to the successful germination of seeds. Let’s look at what to do right, what can go wrong, and how to minimise the risk of germination failure.

What is Cannabis Seed Germination?

Germination is when the outer shell of a seed cracks open, and the first sprout pops its tired head out to see daylight for the first time. From there, your seed is awake, alive, and ready to grow into the superb cannabis plant it dreamed of becoming. The first initial sprout to break the surface of the seed is known as the taproot. That’s the root from which all other roots made by your plant will sprout. Once the shell breaks open and the taproot emerges, you can plant it in soil. With time and the right conditions, you’re well on your way to growing a healthy marijuana plant. If you’re wondering why your cannabis seeds won’t germinate, there are some important things to know.

CANNABIS SEEDS

Cannabis seeds need three things to germinate:

Water

Heat

Air

Each is a vital cog in the germination process, and if just one is missing – or inadequate – you’re looking at a bust. Therefore, it’s crucial to know how to germinate your seeds correctly.

Three Ways to Germinate Cannabis Seeds

As sure as there’s more than one way to skin a cat, there’s more than one way to germinate a weed seed. Which way is your choice, and how you choose is entirely up to you. Some methods are more straightforward, and some are slightly more scientific. The main thing, however, is simply knowing what’s involved in your preferred seed germination method and following the instructions to the letter. Doing this allows you to rule individual errors out of the equation if things go wrong. Here’s a quick and easy guide to three popular methods of germinating cannabis seeds.

The Wet Paper Towel Method

Without a doubt, the simplest method, and probably the most common method among home growers, the paper towel method, has been around forever.

All you need is four paper towels or kitchen paper, two plates, and some distilled water. Begin by dampening the paper towels with distilled water. Place two of your damp paper towels on a plate, then grab a utensil like a set of tweezers or tongs, and use them to place the seeds on the paper towels. Carefully place the other two damp towels on top of your seeds, and cover with the other plate.

Cannabis for Beginners

Keep your newly-crafted ensemble in a spot where the temperature is between 20 and 30°C, checking on them daily. After just a couple of days, if you see the taproots have emerged, congratulations! Your seeds have popped and are ready for the next stage.

The Glass of Water Method

It’s said that this method is less effective than the wet paper towel trick, but some people prefer to drop their seeds in a glass of room-temperature water and wait 3-5 days until the seeds pop and the taproots emerge. It’s probably even more straightforward than the paper towel method. Whatever floats your….seeds….

The problem with this method is that it seems directly counter-intuitive to the philosophy of seed germination 101 – too much water will drown your seed. Yet somehow, people have success with it.

The Soil Method

You want to limit the handling of your seeds as much as possible, so what better way than to drop them straight into the soil and let them germinate there? Put some soil in a small pot and water it, then make a small hole about 15mm deep in the centre, and carefully place the seed (one seed per pot) in the hole. Cover with a light dusting of soil, then mist with water. This method takes longer, so you’re waiting between four and ten days for the seed to germinate. The beauty of this method is that the taproot emerges into the soil, meaning no further handling, and the roots can get to work developing in the substrate.

germinating in soil

My Cannabis Seeds Won’t Germinate

It’s not uncommon, but as long you’ve followed our germination guidelines correctly, you know at least it wasn’t your fault. So what went wrong?

Here’s a list of common reasons why your seeds may not have sprouted:

Poor Quality Seeds

Where did you acquire your seeds? There are plenty of disreputable sources for cannabis seeds out there, be they online retailers, back-alley head shops – or even just a jiffy bag of random undefined seeds from a friend. The genetics aren’t assured, quality control is non-existent, and as for after-sales care? Forget about it.

To give yourself the best chance of success, only buy your cannabis seeds from a quality seed bank like Seedsman.com. The variety and quality of cannabis seeds are second to none, and they come with the peace of mind of knowing your seeds will have a much higher germination success rate. Better yet, you get the added value of knowing those seeds will grow into cannabis plants of the highest quality, with bountiful yields. You don’t have to break the bank to purchase top-grade marijuana seeds. From competitive prices on the latest strains to regular special offers, Seedsman.com offers premium cannabis seeds to suit any budget.

Improperly Stored Seeds

Not everyone realises that seeds have to be stored correctly to remain viable. If you’ve unfortunately got your hands on some old seeds, there’s a high chance they might not have been stored properly. If your seeds have been sitting in a bag on a window ledge, chances are the heat has sucked any chance of germination out of them completely. Treat your seeds like you would treat food. Whether you store in a cool, dry place or in a refrigerator in the correct container, you need to preserve them correctly to ensure they don’t spoil.

Over-Handling or Incorrect Handling

Treat your seeds with the utmost care at every step. If you over-handle them, use bare or dirty hands or use the incorrect tools to lift and lay your seeds, there’s a good chance you’ll damage their viability. Bare hands are harbours of all manner of bacteria, so it’s a good idea to use medical-grade gloves if you’re picking them up. Failing that, always wash your hands before and after handling cannabis seeds – but be careful what you use as soap!

handling cannabis seeds

The less you handle cannabis seeds, the lower the risk of damage. Sure, cannabis seeds seem hardy enough with that tough outer shell, but it would surprise you how easily they can be damaged. The same rule applies if using tools to lift and place seeds – tweezers and so on should be cleaned before and after use. Resist temptation to apply too much of a squeeze, as that can damage the seed shell.

Incorrect Planting Techniques

If you’re planting your seeds straight into the soil, place the seed carefully and gently into that 15mm hole mentioned earlier. Cover lightly with soil, and do not be tempted to push the seed further down into the soil. Don’t compress a large amount of soil over the top of the seed, either. This will do more harm than good because your seed won’t have the oxygen it needs. Likewise, excess moisture can scupper the chance of germination.

Unsterilised Equipment

Everything from handling tools to pots and soil has to be spotlessly clean and sterile. Otherwise, you limit your seed’s chances of making its big breakthrough. Ensure you sterilise your pots; otherwise, there’s a good chance there will be residual mould and pathogens. Likewise, only ever use clean, new soil to accept your seeds.

Incorrect Water/Moisture Levels

Too much moisture in your soil and your seeds will suffer from a lack of oxygen. If that’s not bad enough, excess water will encourage fungal growth.

Too little moisture is just as bad – remember, moisture is one of the three critical components in the seed germination process. If using the paper towel method, ensure those towels are damp and not soaked. When potting in soil, make sure to mist the soil with a spray bottle. Don’t pour copious amounts into the soil, thinking the more, the merrier. If you’re overwatering the soil at this stage, neither you nor your seeds will be particularly merry.

You Germinated for Too Long

It can happen – if you take your eye off the ball, your seeds will have germinated, and that taproot has been exposed to air and light for too long before being planted in a safe growing medium. Don’t keep them out in the open beyond 2cm. If you do, handling and transporting the sprouted seed increases the risk of damage. Get them in soil or your preferred substrate as soon as possible.

Temperature Problems

Seeds germinate best when the temperature is between 20 and 25C. High temperatures increase the risk of drying out the soil. Any lower exposes the seed to conditions that could effectively stunt development or halt germination altogether. For this reason, we recommend carrying out germination indoors, where you can control the temperature.

After successful germination, allow your cannabis seedlings to develop indoors in pots. Wait until the outdoor temperature is high enough that your young plant will thrive (if you’re planning to grow your plants outdoors, of course).

Too Much Light

Cannabis plants love light – well, photoperiod ones, certainly. But seeds? Not so much. Light is not essential to seed germination; in fact, it’s not conducive to seed germination. Keep your seeds away from light as much as possible if you want them to have a chance at popping. Carry out germination away from windows and any other light sources, or you’ll hinder the likelihood of success.

The ‘Wrong’ Water

Avoid using tap water in the germination process. Tap water contains chlorine, fluoride and other additives that can harm seeds and potentially stop them from sprouting. Instead, use distilled water. Bottled water is fine.

They Can’t all be Winners

As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why your seeds may not germinate successfully, and it’s a lot to consider. Keep this guide handy if you’re new to growing cannabis from seed, and follow the steps outlined above until you’re experienced enough to go it alone.

Always remember that, even if you do everything by the book, some seeds just won’t germinate. Frustrating though that is, sometimes it’s just bad luck. But by taking control of all the factors mentioned above, you significantly increase your chances of successfully germinating your cannabis seeds every time. Over many grows, an 100% germination success rate is unheard of. By obtaining good quality cannabis seeds from a reputable source like Seedsman.com, and following the guidelines, you can get pretty close. Good luck!

Cultivation information, and media is given for those of our clients who live in countries where cannabis cultivation is decriminalised or legal, or to those that operate within a licensed model. We encourage all readers to be aware of their local laws and to ensure they do not break them.

Duncan Mathers