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Tomato germination trouble?


Anyone out there having a bit of trouble getting your little ones to emerge from their dark little cocoons? well, I thought I'd share a few tips and secrets I've picked up over the years.

1. Get a heat mat.
You may think you don't need one, or they're too expensive, but let me tell you what a revelation it was when I finally got one last year. My seedlings used to take FOREVER to come up, and sometimes not at all. My germ rate was way too low. I thought it was just the seeds - but no, it was that they were too cold (and also packed in too tight, but we'll get to that in a minute.) Once you get a heat mat, your seedlings will be leaping up overnight. Yes, they actually will. If I don't check mine in the morning, sometimes they are already up about an inch by the time I get home from work.

2. Don't pack 'em in.
When I first started trying to grow tomatoes from seed, I got my little peat pots and I looked at the directions on the pack. Ok peat pot expanded, seed 1/4 inch in, cover up and squish that peat down nice and cozy. Bzzzt! Nope. Seeds need not only moisture, but air to come to life. If you pack them in there, they won't be able to breathe. Now, I put the seeds in and barely push the peat over the top. Works like a dream.

3. Put 'em in the dark.

Seeds need dark to germinate for some reason. I know it doesn't make much sense, I mean in the "wild" the seeds would just fall on the ground and have to sprout in broad daylight right? I dunno. Just cover them up with something opaque like a box top or some newspapers though, ok?

4. Plant at least 2 seeds per pot.

I know, I know you don't want to waste seeds. Well, I didn't either, so instead I wasted time. Precious, precious time. Time those seedlings could have spent getting big and strong and ready for the "real" world. Just this year I decided to plant at least 2 seeds in every pot, and I can tell you every peat pot I planted has a seedling growing in it. Now my problem is I have too many, but that's a different kind of problem. The problem of insanity - but that can be solved with medication. Your weak little undergrown seedlings cannot.

5. Don't keep 'em too wet.

This is kind of a tough one for some reason. It took me quite a while to get this just right. If you're using peat pots or a similar moisture holding material, you need to soak them in water to be able to use them. But this makes them too wet. You can solve this problem one of two ways. You can wait to plant your seeds for a day (who has the patience?) Or, you can plant right away and leave the plastic cover off the first or second night. Likewise, you can alternate between leaving the plastic cover on and taking it off. One night it's on the next it's off, you get the idea. This way you can avoid the bane of seed starting; a mysterious mold that creeps up in the middle of the night and pounces on the little buggers, ruining them. (Actually it's not really mysterious,and it doesn't actually pounce. I bet it even has a name, I'm just too lazy to look it up right now.)

Once your seeds sprout, you do need to remove them from their dark moist cave and bring them into the light. Be sure to check them daily - or twice a day is best. You'd be surprised how fast they can shoot up -I always am.

***Bonus tip***

If you've tried all the above and been a very good little girl (or boy) and your seeds still don't sprout, I have one secret that I use. I call it "fluffing". You just take your fingernail (or similar small pointy object) and gently kinda dig into the top of the pot sort of fluffing up and pushing the peat aside until you uncover the seed or seeds. Then, you very softly cover them up again, and don't add any water for a day. You can also make sure when you do this that the seed wasn't planted to deeply. They don't like that either. Too shallow is actually better than too deep.

Well, that's all I got for right now. I hope some of these help. Lemme know 'eh?

April 12, 2007 in Handy Tips | Permalink


Excellent tips! I've learned most of these lessons the hard way myself. One note, though: Not all seeds germinate in the dark. Many of the seeds I've sown actually require light to pop out and get growing. Interestingly, most of those are from a UK seed company. Bollocks!

Posted by: Maggie Tacheny at Apr 14, 2007 8:08:43 PM

Good tips. Most everything of mine is sprouting...........I'm having a little problem with some of my peppers. It's only been a week though so I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Posted by: v-nick at Apr 16, 2007 10:36:02 PM

In my experience, peppers seem to be a little harder to grow. They have a harder seed case, need a longer time to germ, and also tend to need the heat. I'd give them a little more time. Also, I have some peppers that are coming up long after their pot mates did, so I'm afraid it's the ax for them. But, it does say that sometimes a seed will germ long after you have given up on it. (And replanted a gazillion more to replace it!)

Same thing goes for tomatoes, in fact, they seem to like it really dry sometimes before they'll come up.

Posted by: Lorika at Apr 17, 2007 3:02:26 PM

Hey Maggie! Those light germing seeds, are they pretty much all flowers? That's the only ones I've seen so far that want light.

Posted by: Lorika at Apr 17, 2007 3:11:50 PM

Do you have any advice relating particularly to growing Thai Dragon Peppers? I just ordered seeds from the Seed Exchange and hope to present my boyfriend with a gorgeous birthday plant to replant in his garden on June 1st.

Posted by: Jen at Apr 18, 2007 11:01:13 PM

Well, near as I can tell, Thai Dragons are extremely hardy and will grow in almost any pot. I have one on my window sill left from last summer that is still in its' yogurt container, and hasn't had any direct sunlight to speak of for ages.

It still blooms though at regular intervals.

I would just follow the packet directions for planting and stick a few seeds in some peat pots, or other small containers. I would also provide bottom heat (a heat mat is ideal, but the top of the VCR, or TV would do too) and put them in the dark 'til they come up. Once up, they'll need light, preferably a growlight.

You'll need to carefully re-pot the seedlings into a larger container when they get about 5-6 inches tall or so. Each time you re-pot they will get bigger, as the roots bet bigger. Then eventually if it's going in the garden, it can reach full size. Otherwise, they make great potted plants too.

Hope that helps!

Posted by: Lorika at Apr 19, 2007 12:57:15 PM

You know, you're right. Most of the seeds that need light to germinate are flowers. Sorry, I forgot you were talking strictly tomatoes. Surprisingly, though, a lot of my dud tomato seeds are responding to light -- fat lot of good it does me now.

Posted by: Maggie at Apr 25, 2007 9:16:03 AM

You mean you've got some of the extras you planted in each pot coming up, now that they're under the light? That happens to me too - sometimes weeks later! Little bastards. Why don't they all just decide to come up at the same time, so we only need to plant one seed per pot?

Posted by: Lorika at Apr 25, 2007 10:35:32 AM

These are great tips! What do you recommend for organic pest control with tomatoes? I'm having trouble with aphids. So far, I found Safer Brand's Tomato and Vegetable Insect Killer. Have you used this? It’s certified organic and gentle on tomatoes.

Posted by: Jerry at Apr 21, 2010 3:11:16 PM

I really enjoy any kind of meal or beverage made with tomato.

Posted by: kamagra at Apr 23, 2010 10:32:59 AM

Tomatoes have many properties and vitamin and if you eat it frequently is sure you will see more beautiful because the tomatoes contain antioxidant that help the skin to stay young longer. In fact i read a blog some days ago and i knew all the properties of the tomatoes. That is why i talk to bases.

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Posted by: Volunteer in China at May 16, 2011 9:01:04 AM

What an excellent blog! You mean you've got some of the extras you planted in each pot coming up, now that they're under the light? That happens to me too - sometimes weeks later! Little bastards. Why don't they all just decide to come up at the same time, so we only need to plant one seed per pot?

Posted by: russische frau at May 27, 2011 8:19:18 AM

I have the same problems with my tomatoes, nice advice!

Posted by: xl pharmacy at Nov 14, 2011 7:53:50 AM

I'm actually searching for information of garden huckleberry germination because some people around the forums mention that growing garden huckleberry is the same as tomato.

Thanks for the advises first.

Posted by: Nick at Jan 19, 2012 11:09:12 PM