Nothing is more frustrating than putting your garden together, being careful to have everything in place, and then planting seeds only to have… nothing. Having sprout failures, even just a few, is maddening even for the experienced gardener.
Here are five common reasons for failure to sprout in any garden.
1. Seeds Wash Away
Probably the most common cause is when seeds wash away. This happens when seeds are not planted deep enough and irrigation or rain washes them up from the ground and away, where they fail to germinate or catch because they are no longer in the soil.
To prevent this, make sure that seeds are planted at their recommended depth (for that type of plant) and then protect them from heavy rains, over-watering, and other washes of water that can cause them to wash away.
2. Seeds Freeze
Another common seed killer is freezing. Planting too early or when hard frosts come through after planting can result in the seeds freezing and dying. Sometimes this is also caused by improper seed storage in the off season.
The best way to prevent seed freezing is to know when your frost dates are, mulch after planting, and use proper seed storage methods. After seed planting, a thick mulch (2-3 inches) of suitable material such as straw, hay, or shredded wood can keep the frost off of the soil and thus keep the seeds safe from freezing. The mulch can be removed when the plants are expected to begin sprouting through the soil.
3. Seed Coatings and Casings Breached
Sometimes the things done to the seed before it’s planted can harm it, causing it to lose nutrients or internal moisture and thus die. Usually this is damage to the coating or casing of the seed. Often this is caused by scoring due to rough handling or bad packaging or it can be because the soil is too rough or the soaking was too long, causing the casing to get too soft.
Preventing this is just a matter of being more careful with the seeds. Keeping them in proper containers and using proper handling to be sure they are not harmed will keep this problem from happening.
4. Seed Predators
Sometimes, seeds in the garden fall prey to predators who eat them. Birds and squirrels are the most common culprits, but other animals can also be the thieves. They eat or dig up the seeds while looking for other food like insects or worms. Even common house cats digging in the garden to poop can destroy seeds.
Prevention is a matter of keeping these animals out of your garden. Several techniques are available for this.
5. Seeds Planted Too Deep
Finally, this problem is caused by the gardener getting overzealous with the planting and pushing the seeds in too deep. The seeds will sprout and germinate, but their stalks and leaves will fail to reach the surface and gather much needed sunlight before the seed pod runs out of nutrients and dies.
Want to learn more about seeds not sprouting?
Vegetable Garden Seed Storage and Germination Requirements from University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension
Soil Temperature Conditions for Vegetable Seed Germination Chart from Alabama Cooperative Extension Service