You are here: Home > Tips & Guides > General Gardening > Germination & Dormancy

Seed Germination & Dormancy: How To Help Your Plants Grow

Gardening is an art that requires patience, effort and attention to detail. From making sure your plants are getting enough sunlight to watering them just the right amount, most plants require a lot of dedication. Even trickier than keeping a delicate plant alive is planting seeds and getting them to grow into beautiful little sprouts. The seed must be placed in the best possible conditions for growth before it can even begin the germination process. Otherwise, the seed will induce itself into a state of dormancy, which halts or prolongs the germination process. You may be asking yourself what exactly is dormancy and germination, and how can I make sure my seeds don’t go into dormancy? We’ll discuss both stages along with some measures you can take to make sure your seeds grow successfully.

What Is Dormancy?

Dormancy is simply the first stage that your seeds enter immediately before they can begin to germinate. However, if the seed does not detect optimal conditions for growth, it will remain in dormancy until you provide it with just enough soil, oxygen, water and sunlight. These four factors are key to the growth and development of the plant at all stages of growth and even after.

What Can I Do To Help My Seed Overcome the Dormancy Stage?

Sometimes seeds can get stuck in a state of dormancy even when the right conditions for growth are present. But this doesn’t mean the seed is permanently stuck there. Here are a few things you can do to break your seed out of dormancy:

Stratification. This is the most common way to break your seeds out of dormancy. Essentially, you are simulating a short winter for the seed by placing it in the refrigerator. Most seeds carry inhibitors that prevent them from germinating until warmer temperatures arrive in the spring. When the plant goes back to room temperature after being placed in the refrigerator, it is more likely to undergo germination. The length of the stratification process depends on your specific seed. Larger seeds often need to be placed in between wet paper towels before going into the refrigerator. For your smaller seeds, you’ll want to place them in a tray of soil.

Add Light. Some seeds need sunlight to begin to germinate. Place your seeds on top of your soil for a few days and have a little bit of patience while expecting them to begin to germinate.

Scarification. In order for the seed to begin to germinate, it needs to break out of its coat, and some seeds just have a coat that is too hard for water to permeate. You can help your seed a little by chipping away at its coat with a knife, razor or sandpaper.

Water. An alternative to chipping away at your seed is simply to soak it in water to soften the shell. You can even try to pour boiling water over the seed and wait for it to cool to produce faster results.

What Is Germination?

Seed germination is simply the process of seed development in which the organism grows from seed to plant. There are very specific environmental conditions that need to be in place to trigger the germination process. Available soil, water and temperature conditions all determine whether the plant germinates. If there is enough water, the embryo of the seed will undergo a process called imbibition, in which it absorbs water to activate enzymes, which are proteins that help the seed grow. As the seed continues to grow, it starts to need more water, and so it grows a root, which will help it absorb more water. Now the visible growth can begin and the seed grows a shoot or a stem, and subsequently leaves, and so on until the plant is fully developed, concluding the process of seed germination. Sometimes, this process is prevented by the seed itself if it can detect unfavorable environmental conditions concerning water, sunlight and temperature.

What Can I Do To Help My Seed During Germination?

Plants are precarious organisms, and as such, they require specific care. Here are just a few tips on how to care for your plant and place it in the best possible conditions for growth.

Water It Just Right. When you overwater your seed, the soil tends to get soggy, which clogs up the soil and blocks oxygen from the seed. The seed relies heavily on oxygen for energy since it cannot make food while sunlight is not yet available to the plant. That is why soil and water conditions are among the four most important elements of plant growth. Watch Your Thermostat. Temperature is the third most important element for seed growth. If the seed is in an environment that is too hot or too cold, it will not begin to germinate. It is helpful to find out which region your plants are specific to in order to determine which temperature is optimal for the germination of your seeds. This will also give you a better idea of how much to water your plant and how much sunlight it will need once it begins to sprout.

Label Your Plants. If you are cultivating multiple seeds, you want to be able to differentiate them from one another so you don’t get confused and you know how much to water each plant.

Fertilize. Use the right fertilizer for your plant, but make sure you have the right type and only use the right amount for your specific seed.

Give Enough Sunlight. Sunlight is also among the top four determining factors in a seed’s growth. If you live in an area that doesn’t receive the amount of sunlight your plant needs, you may want to invest in purchasing some supplemental lighting to help your plant grow.

Start Small. Don’t try to grow too many seeds at once. Because each seed requires specific care, you can overwhelm yourself by trying to care after too many seeds, especially if their germination conditions are different. Don’t Plant Too Deep. It’s better to plant your seed too shallow as that can be adjusted. Some seeds even need light to germinate, such as lettuce, snapdragons, begonias and poppies, among many others.

The first stages of growth for your plant are the most important and require the most care. You want to ensure you are providing your plant with enough water, oxygen, sunlight and the right temperature control. Miss out on any one of these factors, and your seed can get stuck in state of dormancy. Luckily, there are a number of ways to help the seed get past this stage, and with enough care and dedication, you can easily grow your dream garden.