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Common Pitfalls to avoid

Common Pitfalls to avoid

Gardening, at its heart, is humans attempt to control nature. It is easy to forget that there are laws of nature at play beyond the naked eye that can end your gardening season before it starts. Even the most experienced gardener can be hit with fungal growth, or have plants go into environmental shock. Through our years of talking to our gardening community, we have noted some common mistakes in hopes to help ensure your growing season is fruitful. While you may not be able to control for every variable, the below tips should help avoid heartbreaking setbacks and help you achieve more consistent results. 

 Pitfall #1 Ignoring Night Temperatures:

"Its already 70 Degrees where I live, so I planted them outside!"

 Most seeds germinate when soil temperatures are consistently between 68 and 86 degrees. Many tropical varieties prefer temperatures of at least 75 degrees. One mistake some gardeners make is not minding their night temperature trends and rushing to plant seeds(or transplant seedlings) outside when their daytime temperatures only are in the 60's-70's. In many climates in the United States, this can mean that nighttime temperatures are still in their 40's or even lower! Recent years have shown unexpected and inconsistent temperatures throughout the United States. These fluctuations can either kill germinating seeds or cause quiescence(stalled germination). It is important to monitor your daytime as well your nighttime temperatures to ensure they are consistently in the correct ranges before plant seeds or transplanting seedlings. 

 Pitfall #2 Planting all your seeds at once

"I dumped the whole packet in the pot, but forgot to water it!, now I am out of that seeds!"

Our Retail seed packets are calibrated by seed type to give enough seeds for an average home gardener with a small error margin. We recommend you save some of your seeds from each packet should something go wrong. That way you can quickly start again should you have any issues. This is a common practice among experienced gardeners. Be precise with your seed planting and do not waste your seeds. One packet of seeds does not have to be used up on one planting. That is a common misconception. 

Pitfall #3 Oversoaking seeds

 "I soaked my seeds for 1 week". or  "I did the paper towel method!"  

Most seeds that need soaking should  be soaked for around 12-24 hours, and no more than 72 hours. While soaking seeds is beneficial for encouraging seed germination, more is not always better. The longer soak time can increase the risk of rotting your seeds or creating "damping off" conditions. 

Pitfall #4 Not scarifying seeds

 "I did not scarify my seeds last time and it worked"

If you did not scarify a thick seed coated variety and had previous success, that does not mean this will always work. The best way to ensure consistent results is to scarify the seeds. If they are not scarified, you will apply more water as you wait for the seeds inevitably longer germination. The seeds are more likely to get overly soaked and rot leading to low or no germination.

Afraid to damage your seeds by mechanical scarification? Chemical scarification by soaking seeds in hydrogen peroxide diluted in water has been shown to be an effective method. You will have to experiment with concentration and soak time based on the type of seed. Too high of a concentration and too long of a soak time can damage the seed.  We have not yet established recommendations, however, we have experimented with this method with some success.

Pitfall #5 No humidity cover during germination

 "I bought seeds from my local garden store and they did not need a humidity cover!" or " It worked for me last year without a cover!" 

While we believe a humidity cover is a good practice for most seed germination, domestic varieties will be more suited to germinating at your local humidity levels. A humidity cover is a must for ensuring consistent germination results for more tropical varieties of seeds.

Pitfall #6 Using dirty pots or reusing soil.

 Gardeners love to recycle. This is a great quality, but in terms of germination supplies, it must be done wisely. Old soil should not be used for germination as it is likely to be rife with microbes from being the medium for a season of watering and growth and decay. It is possible to sterilize old soil, but it generally is not worth the effort for the average home gardener. It is easier just to add it to your garden bed or compost pile instead without harm. 

Dirty pots and trays should be washed to remove debris and soaked in a dilute bleach mixture prior to being reused. 

Pitfall # 7: Using the wrong type of soil

 "I used garden soil for my garden seeds, what's the problem?"

 Seed starting soil is an important part of getting consistent results in seed germination. Seed starting soil is generally more sterile and fluffier than potting or garden soil. Potting soil is generally pretty sterile, but it may contain bigger pieces like wood chips, etc that may keep small seedlings from being able to penetrate the soil surface. It is also more likely to become compacted than seed starting soil. Compacted soil can also keep seedlings from germinating properly. Both of these factors can also lead germinating seedlings to dying before they can penetrate the soils surface. 

Garden soil is absolutely NOT for seed germination! It is to be used for your outdoor garden beds only! Garden soil often contains fungal substrates(which are beneficial for more developed plants), but can be deadly to germinating seedlings. Many people erroneously use garden soil to germinate seeds. 

When in doubt, just remember these mixes were all aptly named. Seed starting soil is for starting seeds, potting soil is for pots, and garden soil is for your garden.

Pitfall # 8 Using the wrong pot

It is important to use seed starting cells for germination. These cells help manage your planting depth, keep roots adjacent roots from competing with each other, and minimize soil use. Too deep of a pot can lead to improper conditions and be exceedingly wasteful.

It is also important to ensure your pots have drainage holes as this is pivotal in tropical seeds to minimize the risk of root rot.

We also do not recommend the use of peat pots for germination. While they are a great eco friendly option going forward, we have found that they can lose moisture from the sides in a way that is hard to compensate for. This can impact your germination. Save your peat pots for your first transplant so you can have a nice biodegradable pot to put right into your garden bed.

Pitfall # 9 :Prioritizing light over warmth and humidity in seed germination

It is a common misconception that seeds need light to germinate. While as soon as seeds germinate they need light to keep the seedlings from becoming etiolated(long and stringy), most seeds do not need light to germinate. What we have found is some gardeners prioritize shining light on ungerminated seed, as opposed to prioritizing bottom heat from a germination mat, or humidity retention through a dome cover. This, in a lot of cases, leads the soil surface to dry out too quickly, inhibiting germination.  Seeds can be either positively photoblastic(need light to germinate), neutrally photoblastic(do not need light to germinate), or negatively photoblastic(germination is inhibited by light). A vast majority of plant species are neutrally photoblastic. 

Keep your lights ready for as soon as your seeds germinate, but a germination mat and humidity cover will be far more beneficial in germinating most tropical seeds.


Feel free to contact us with any gardening questions or advice. While we do not guarantee your results, we are always happy to guide a fellow gardener!