Germination, What Is It?


Every seed packet gives information on germination times, but what is germination and what are its secrets? From a simple definition to methods of germination, let’s take a quick look at this important part of a plants life.

Define Germination

From Websters: to cause to sprout or develop

Seeds commonly have a form that includes the “germ”. The germ is the embryo, where the plant actually sprouts from; while the rest of the seed is made up of supportive and protective structures to make sure that the sprout makes it into a a structure that can grow on its own. So seed germination is when the sprout has the conditions it needs to spring forth into life with the emerging of leaves an roots.

seed germination

Conditions For Seed Germination

Generally speaking, the needed conditions for germination include proper moisture, oxygen, and the right temperature. These will vary according to the needs of a particular plant. If the water, oxygen, and temperature properties are not right, it will result in lack of germination and the seed will rot, which is why instructions for certain seeds to germinate vary in methods.

Some seeds need light, some need darkness; there are seedcoats which are particularly resistant and they will need methods which help open the seed to sprouting more readily. In the case of morning glories, that is why “nicking” the seed coat or a short period of soaking the seeds before planting helps them to germinate.

Method for Growing Morning Glories

Besides scarification, another method that influences the ability of a seed to start growing is the response to light. Keeping certain seeds in the dark at the initial phase or making sure they have light exposure affects the germinating abilities. Most seeds need darkness, and that is why covering with a certain depth of soil may be important. But some seeds require the opposite, they need light to begin growing.

When light is needed, just press the seeds into the soil, don’t cover. Keep the medium moist, but not soggy.

Seeds Requiring Light for Germination

  • Ageratum
  • Balloon flower
  • Begonia
  • Browallia
  • Coleus
  • Columbine
  • Gaillardia
  • Geranium
  • Impatiens
  • Lettuce
  • Lobelia
  • Nicotiana
  • Osteospermum
  • Petunias
  • Poppies
  • Savory
  • Snapdragons

Stratification for Germination

An advanced method which mimics natures work is stratification. This is when a plant needs cold, moist conditions to begin life; similar to a temperate winter. Using refrigeration for 3-8 weeks, the plantings are brought into warmth and light to grow. If you have to use this way to get your plants, the directions to follow will depend on the seed, so follow instructions for that particular one.

Seeds For Stratification

  • Carrots
  • Columbines
  • Lupines
  • Echinacea
  • Milkweed
  • Perennial Poppies

Useful article on types of stratification methods and seeds that will benefit, from MorningChores.

planting seeds

Use your seed packet instructions

I find specific, detailed instructions for plants I want to start from seed directly on the seed packets. Seed germination times, best conditions and planting windows are all listed, usually; as well as the all important depth of planting information.

Another useful resource has been garden books which include this kind of information, like my old ‘Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening’. If you are serious about growing many of your plants this way, I highly encourage you to buy the book, The New SeedStarter’s Handbook by Nancy Bubel, put out by Rodale Press. It covers everything in one expert tome.

The Seed Starters Handbook

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author


I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of "Ilona's Reflecting Pool". Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. The work on "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.