7 Amazing Tips for Germinating Seeds Indoors Quickly

by | Mar 27, 2018 | Guides, Tips & Tricks | 14 comments

Are you popping seeds in soil and hoping for the best when it comes to planting? Wondering why some of your seeds are coming up quickly, others slowly, and some failing altogether? Germinating seeds indoors is easy, but it takes some very specific steps to get the best results.

It can be very frustrating when you have waited for weeks and have nothing to show for it. I have been there too. Learning these awesome tips will set you up to succeed in growing plants from seed.

You will be surprised that with a few changes you will be able to germinate seeds quickly.

Tip #1: Germinating Seeds Indoors by the Book – Read the Package

There are many variables that affect seed germination. The type of plant you intend to grow. Seed depth. Light Requirements for germination. The soil, heat and water requirements to name a few more.

The fantastic thing is that most should come with an operator’s manual. The seed package.

The seed package is a valuable resource to use. Each plant has different needs and they are detailed in the planting instructions. When planting instruction is missing the internet can be a backup source. Sites like this one and others can give you the information you lack.

In addition, the seed package will give you special instruction for specific seeds. Some seeds require extra steps to get them to germinate. Neglecting these steps will result in failure!

Example of Special Needs for some Seeds:

Pre-Soaking. – This is helpful for many larger type seeds. This softens the seed coat and prepares them for easier germination. I will often soak seeds overnight even if not indicated, not tiny little seeds, but large type seeds.

Stratification. – This is the process of mimicking a natural process such as the seasons to stimulate a seed to grow. Often you will need to introduce them to a period of cold moisture that they would experience in winter. Refrigeration is often the easiest way.

Scarification. – Tough coated seeds will often require cutting or clipping to allow them to germinate. In some circumstances, this scarification involves a specific soaking method as well.

〉〉〉 A tip on Planting time. Planning your inside garden, you can plant your seeds any time of year. You do not need to follow the recommended planting dates. That is only when moving them to an outdoor garden.

 → Now you have read any specific planting instructions. The next step – Viability!

Tip #2: A chance at Life – Test Seed Viability

The viability of a seed is the ability of a seed to germinate when presented with the proper growing conditions. You could plant a thousand seeds but if they are “bad”, unviable nothing may grow.

Doing a viability test can help you determine if the seeds you want to plant are still good. Improper storage, outdated or poorly harvested seeds can be unusable for replanting.

Also, testing can determine an overall measure of the germination rate. Typically, a test is conducted with 10 seeds. As an example, if a completed test shows 5 of those seeds germinated. That equals a result of a 50% germination rate. using that as an example, that is a very poor rate.

This type of result would help you when planning your planting. Planting seeds with a 50% germination rate you would want to place at least 3 to 5 seeds in each planting cell. This would raise your chance of successfully growing a plant.

The best method for testing viability is the paper towel method. The attached video offers an excellent visual demonstration of how to conduct this test.

Test Viability- Paper towel method

  1. Pre-moisten paper towel
  2. Layout 10 seeds evenly spaced on one half
  3. Fold towel over covering the seed
  4. Seal in a plastic bag and place in a warm dark place for 4 days to 2 weeks.
  5. Check after 4 days and every few days after to monitor for germination

〉〉〉〉 Tip: Can you plant the germinated seeds in the paper towel? Sure. A lot of people do it. I find they do not tend to be the healthiest plants but, in many cases, can be successful. Avoid planting any germinated seed that grew too much top growth, long stem. It will be far too weak.

 → Now you know if your seeds are viable and the germination rate from your test. The next step is – The right soil!

Tip #3: Giving Them Something to Root in – Soil Options Matter

Special seed starting mixes are available on the market specifically for your needs. Many are very good at what they are designed to do. Some, ugh, maybe not so much. I gave up on buying the brands labeled “seed starting” several years ago.

I found that the ones that did the job were overpriced for such short-term use I could not justify it. Secondly, the ones lower in price lacked nothing of any value to my seedlings and often led to failures.

You Have Options:

1 –  Buy Pre-Made. 

If you are going with a pre-mixed seed starting brand. Go with the one that has great reviews. Make a better investment with a higher-grade product. Reuse what you can after germination by learning how to sterilize your soil. How to Sterilize Soil For Planting.

2 –  Make your Own Starting Mixes.

This is a very good method I adapted and used for years. I still use it for some seeds today, although I have recently changed. Here are three recipes to choose.

Premium Homemade Blend – Best Mix

3 parts Coco coir (coir is preferable if you can get it)

2 Parts premium Worm Castings (vermicompost) – I use Simple Grow

1 part perlite

1/2 part greensand

Good blend! Easy and Universal

1 Parts premium Worm Castings (vermicompost) – I use Simple Grow

2 parts Green Sand/ horticulture sand or Builders Sand

Quick Mix in a Pinch – OK

1 Part Good Nutrient Rich Potting Soil. (should have Peat, perlite, and compost as main ingredients)

1 Part Green Sand/ horticulture sand or Builders Sand

*A Part can be anything. If you use an old coffee can 1 Part is a full can, ½ part is half the can as an example.

The Important part about these mixes is that they are light, airy and no large pieces of organic matter. The seedling will be small and struggle to break the surface of the soil. Large pieces of bark or other organic matter in your soil can create barriers for your emerging seed.

Here is a review of the Simple Grow worm castings that I recommend. They make great fertilizer throughout the growth of your plant as well.

In addition, the soil that I use most frequently that can be used in the last mix. Fox Farm makes a great soil when you are ready for transplanting your new seedlings as well. View the review here.

3 – Try Something Different –  Sponge!

Last year I fell in love with this method. I germinate a lot of seeds, so I still use my own mix too, but this is my adopted MOST AWESOME method.

It started with the Park Seed Germination Dome and their bio sponges. I will be adding a review for this later. I was in awe of the germination rate and time. It was also cleaner and more efficient to transplant.

7 week chives in rapid rooter - germinate seeds indoors quicklyAs I hydroponic grower as well I was then introduced to Rapid Rooters. Another sponge material made of primary peat and enriched with nutrients. They sent my seeds and their new growth into a supercharged mode.

The best part is that both the bio sponge and the rapid rooters transplant into soil or hydroponics. Since I do both types of growing these make perfect sense for me. Plus, the results are outstanding for root and plant growth in a short amount of time.

This is the root and plant growth of 7-week-old chives on transplant day in Rapid Rooters. They speak for themselves, impressive! A review is coming up in the next day or two!

If you do not wait for the reviews, you can follow the links below. ⇓


 

→ Now your base is set for success. Let’s heat things up!

Tip #4: Heating Things Up – Germination Mats

 

Seed germination temperature can be very important for some plants to even begin to grow. Basil and Peppers are just two common examples of seeds that need an extra dose of heat. Without this heat, they may fail to germinate at all or take forever to do so.

Even seeds that say heat is not required for germination can benefit from it. Heat imitates spring to give them a leap into life. Raising the soil temperature can also soften the seed coat allowing your new plant to emerge.

You may have ways right there now at home to produce heat or you can supplement it if you don’t

 

Ways to get heat

⇒ Ambient heat from a warm sunny window. This may be enough for some plants to get them heated up. If you still have winter weather or cool nights watch for those chilly nights!

⇒ Top of Standing Freezers or Refrigerators. Some appliances like these put off a bit of heat above. It can sometimes be enough to generate heat into your planting medium.

⇒ Seedling Heat Mats. They make a smart investment if you plan on growing many plants. As an example, I wrote a review about a complete set that includes the heat mat, tray and greenhouse dome here. It can give you some more ideas on how these mats work. Hydrofarm germination station review.

 → Your seeds are feeling toasting and warm – how about the right humidity?

Tip #5: Greenhouse Effect is a Good Thing – For Seed Germination

These are tips for germinating seeds indoors Quickly. As part of that quick process, I highly recommend creating a greenhouse. Yes, it does increase the risks of potential mold and fungus issues. But, if you use proper water techniques, and create venting those risks are minimal.

A pre-vented dome is easiest. Simple set it over the seedling trays and crack the vents slightly to allow for air flow.

You can also create domes from recyclable plastic containers. The produce section of the grocery store often sells salad or other produce in vented plastic trays. The bottoms make perfect domes for the greenhouse effect.

Plastic wrap will work as third, OK option. This method is a little trickier to vent. Use plant markers, popsicle sticks, or plastic straws to create small posts in your tray. This will hold the wrap slightly off the soil surface allowing you to cut slits in higher areas for venting.

Important! When using plastic wrap remove it immediately when the seedlings have emerged from the soil. Domes and covers can remain longer but should never touch the plant growth. When plants reach the domes they need to be removed. Sooner if any fungus or mold becomes present. They can be removed as soon as seed leaves spread out.

 → Your maintaining good humidity and moisture levels but are you properly watering?

Tip #6: Using Good Watering Techniques

 

I am going to stress water from below for seed germination! This is the best course of action when it comes to watering your baby plants.

Why?

Top watering can disturb and even sometimes harm the tender growth of your seed. Worse yet small seeds could easily be washed away.

Decreased amounts of top moisture results in less risk of mold, fungus and dampening off disease. This is a disease caused by a fungus that happens in damp conditions. Most often affecting young seedlings and causing death.

Stronger roots! Bottom watering will grow stronger roots as they search downwards for water, as nature intended.

Go back and look at the picture from the sponges. Those are bottom watered roots. Strong and healthy!

How?

In an empty flat or tub that is large enough to hold your seedling trays or pots. Feel the weight of your dry seedling trays so you can gauge later.

  1. Set seedling trays inside the tub
  2. add water to about 1/3 to halfway up the side of the tray
  3. check every ten minutes. You should notice a darker color change in the soil if it is lighter colored dry. Also, a weight difference of the try. Trays can sit up to 20 minutes but no more! Overwatering is bad!

 

Keep your seedlings evenly moist during germination and growth. Not swampy and over saturated. Your domes should help with the amount of time your seeds need water.

 → Proper moisture levels are met. Now the Sun!

Tip #7: Shine On – Lighting

Most, but not all, seeds require light for germination. This goes back to check your package. Once seedlings emerge they have different light requirements as well.

Almost all your plants will need some type of light once they begin to grow.  Whether they are herbs, flowers vegetables or house plants.

Natural lighting is perfect if you have it! A bright west or south-west window should be ideal for your seeds. You should be receiving at minimum 6 hours of light for most herbs. 8 to 10 hours for other plants.

“Leggy seedlings” and plants will result if you are not providing enough light. This refers to a condition where your plant’s stems are thin and weak. Often, they are bending, usually towards a source of light.

You may need to duplicate natural sunlight as best you can with grow lights. In the past, these options could prove to be expensive and power hungry. That has changed a lot since I started using them.

Look for the simplest options that fit your garden space and can adapt to what you intend to grow now and in the future. That will help you get the most return on your investment.

I have 2 Articles on Site that can help “illuminate” options for lighting when natural light is not there. The first here will provide you with more information about grow lights in general. The second article dives it to the Best LED grow lights, a powerful low power consuming option.

Instant Gratification is Sometimes Impossible

 

Taking these steps will help you in germinating seeds indoors quickly. However, there will always be exceptions. Certain seeds by nature are tough and slow to germinate. You can follow these steps to ensure success, but you will still need to cultivate a bit of patience.

For those hard to germinate seeds experiment a little. Try pre-soaking or scarification to loosen seed coats. In your viability test note how long it takes to germinate. This can help you anticipate the timing better.

Not Seeds but let’s talk roots. For Rhizomes, root planting, soak the roots overnight in warm water. This will aid them in taking root in their newly planted soil.

red arrow down rightDo you have a seed type that has been tough for you to germinate? I have found rosemary and lavender were difficult until I started following these steps. Let me know your experiences below. Also, if you have any questions or anything I can help with, reach out! Here to help!

Happy Germinating!

Christina insideherbgardens.com

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Author: Christina

Author: Christina

Hi! laughing It is great to meet you! I am happy you found your way here to Inside Herb Gardens. This is a hobby I am extremely passionate about. I love gardening, herbs and using them! I hope you do too. I am here to help. Reach out or drop me comments.

Learn More about Me HERE.

14 Comments

  1. Chris Towers

    I must admit that dealing with plants and indoor gardening techniques I have always come up short.

    It has never been a massive interest of mine, and it is only because of my girlfriend wanting some plants in her office that has lead me to start looking into it.

    We live in Greece, so we need to pay attention also to the excessive heat here. When we are sometimes in temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius, would it be better to grow plants and plant seeds outdoors? for example on our balconies?

    Or can it still be done indoors?

    Thanks for any advice you can offer.

    Chris

    Reply
    • Christina

      Hi Chris,
      Excessive heat can be just as tough as cold when dealing with some plants. You are going to need to carefully monitor the water in the high heat. In addition, you will need to choose plants more suited to your weather. Succulents and drought tolerant perennials would be great choices. There are many varieties of Aloe vera that would work wonderfully in your environment and they are also extremely beneficial. They do not start wonderfully form seed but rather from small pups (small offshoots of the mother plant) You can learn more about growing aloe here. Growing Aloe.
      Starting from seed outdoors on your balcony and then moving indoors would eliminate your need for additional heat for germination. As many herbs come from warming Mediterranean temperatures they would enjoy the warm start. Just make sure you cover the seeds using the greenhouse technique to preserve moisture. Basil is very easy to grow and useful in the home garden. How to Grow Basil
      Herbs I would avoid outside would be dill and cilantro.
      If your girlfriend loves flowers you live in a great area to enjoy hibiscus. This is one of my favorites and would really add to your balcony. Tropical hibiscus should do well in your heat. I would recommend using Terra Cotta pots as they tend to hold moisture or a self-watering pot. Growing Hibiscus This article talks about growing hibiscus indoors but you can easily grow it outside as well.
      I would also suggest visiting a local nursery or greenhouse. Many local plants and seeds would be available there that are best suited for your environment. They may also be able to point you in right directions on size and spacing you have available.
      Your climate sounds ideal for most plants. I think you will have much success 🙂 You should be able to enjoy both indoor and outdoor gardening throughout the year. You will be able to thank your girlfriend for it!
      Happy Gardening!
      Christina

      Reply
  2. Cristina

    Hello there,
    Thank you for sharing a helpful and interesting article, I always loved plants and especially flowers.I learned some things from this post.I will take your advice but I still want to ask something. I live in Greece and I have plenty of Sunlight, can you help me and tell me what indoor flowers are most suitable for a hot sunny place? Is better to take them already grown or to do this method you showed in your article?
    Thank you again, very green reading:)
    Have a good day
    Cristina

    Reply
    • Christina

      Hi Cristina,
      My second person from Greece. As you can see from a previous comment you are very fortunate. Your climate will allow for a lot of options for both indoor and outdoor gardening. The biggest thing to remember for your amount of sunlight is too avoid flowers that require shade. Indoors I am sure there are some spots you can place some shade lovers that are in indirect lighting.
      Most flowers start wonderfully form seed and it can be very rewarding having them grow that way. I would take a walk through a local greenhouse or nursery and see what local flowers and plants they have available. It will give you a good idea of the ideal ones suited to your environment. When growing indoors however you present yourself with more options than just “local”. As I live in a four season state in the US I am able to grow tropical plants from all over the world indoors I would not be able to grow outside. You would be able to grow a diversity inside as well.
      I would assume that your indoor temperatures stay lower than outside temps? If so all you would need to do in most cases is avoid placing containers or pots directly in very “hot” windows. This will keep your indoor plantings in balance for heat and avoid extremes.
      Since your environment can be a bit arid at times I would suggest self-watering planters to ensure proper watering on flowers. I did a review recently on a planter that works well and looks nice. The water in a planter like this also helps to regulate temperatures better.
      Good starters I would pick would be Calendula. These are an edible flower that is an herb. They are gorgeous and just keep blooming and blooming. They grow very easily from seed. Super easy to maintain. They love full sun!
      Scented Geranium is also a nice addition to flowers and nice house plant. They love the bright intense light and are very easy to grow. These are not an edible herb but are very showy and with a wonderful relaxing scent to the home.
      Hibiscus! I recommended this to another commenter form Greece as well. This is a wonderful plant for you indoors and the flowers are beautiful. When it is not flowering the foliage is also great. The more sun, the more blooms! How to grow hibiscus So many color options to choose as well!
      I hope this helps and if anything else I can do along the way to assist, let me know!
      Christina

      Reply
  3. Dr.Doug

    Lots of great ideas here for getting those seedlings going! I grow all sorts of plants year round and have found that watering from the bottom almost always nets me less pest problems than having damp soil on top. I think its that combination of damp organics and warm light that makes it a more inviting habitat for pests.

    Do you or have you incorporated fish into your hydro system? I keep fish and only use their water for my plants, but they live separately from my plants right now. My dream is to devise a hydroponic system that brings the two together.

    Reply
    • Christina

      Hi Dr.Doug,
      I agree on the watering from the bottom. Now and again a flush from the top is helpful to remove any solids that build up in the soil and give it a flush. I wrote an article directed on watering plants Watering plants that demonstrates the pro and cons of both methods and how to use.
      Aquaponics a similar growing method to hydroponics that uses fish. I do use some aquaponics. I primarily use that outdoors with a Koi pond and a drip irrigation method from the pond water. It is extremely beneficial. I run a small system indoors for growing microgreens. On a small scale, they grow very well indoors. In this article Difference Between Hydroponics & Aquaponics I explore some of the differences and some basic setups.
      I have not tried to set up a larger aquaponics indoors due to space constrictions but your plans sound very doable if you have the room and depending on what you grow.
      I am very fond of hydroponics and I experiment with various plants and herbs in different hydroponic methods. My goal in the next 2 years is to convert a small greenhouse into completely hydro growing.
      I look forward to further communicating with you and seeing how your plans develop with your aquaponics and hydro growing!
      Keep growing!
      Christina

      Reply
  4. Glenys

    You learn something new every day – Stratification. I tried this method once with tulip bulbs….. but when I eventually took them out and brought them upto room temperature they had mould on them and I had to throw them out (Duh!!).
    Thank you also for the tip that seeds can be grown from any time of the year. I really did think that I had to use the season guide in order to maximise my changes of success.
    I haven’t invested in a commercial heat mat yet. When I need some extra warmth I actually just put my seeds on top of our hot water service. This seems to do the trick nicely.
    I was just wondering if your method works for all plant types. I am looking to grow some native plants and I have heard that they prefer outdoor conditions and are tricky to grow indoors. I was just wondering if you have tried at all?

    Reply
    • Christina

      Hi Glenys,
      I am sorry that happened with your tulip bulbs 🙁 I have seen that happen before with bulbs and seeds. One way to prevent it using distilled water if you need to moisten seeds or soil. Or With Bulbs rinsing them well (but gently) and allowing them to dry for 3 to 5 days and placing them in an airtight bag or vacuum sealed bag. Thirdly bacteria and fungus that causes mold are active in the damp cool conditions in a refrigerator. It is normal. Baking soda box partially open on a shelf or two can help to eliminate the cause of mold and work for prevention.
      Your hot water service sounds perfect. I am all for using what you have when it works!
      Now as far as native plants. I am not sure where you are from so I can address specific ones to your area. Let me know and I will give you more feedback. This is my general thought on what you can and can not grow outside.
      I feel that in 95% of circumstances indoor gardening is only limited by SPACE. You clearly will not grow a giant oak tree. Could you start one? YES. I have not started an oak specifically but other tree types. In almost every case you have an options to provide and mimic the conditions a plant needs inside better than you can “out of its element” outdoors. For example a tropical plant in the state of Main. A cool weather decorative kale in the heat of Hawaii. One of my favorite things to grow is tropical hibiscus tree type. I use to live in Buffalo NY. (NC now) They will not survive outdoors in a blustery NY winter ever. Or even in my cooler NC temperatures. I am able to grow and keep them all year by growing them indoors. I move them in and out and keep them trimmed, but they grow successfully out of the tropics.
      Also, most herbs and vegetables have their heritage from other much warmer and different climate than most home gardeners have.
      I hope that helps to clarify your question a bit. Let me know what else I can help with or if I can help with specific plants for you.
      Thank you,
      Christina

      Reply
  5. DianneBee

    Even though I can’t use this information right I find it fascinating!
    The meticulous detail assures me that your methods work and would be the right ones to follow should I acquire the indoor space, and eventual growth area to use this.
    I’m very impressed!
    I do have aspirations to one day grow some greens using an aquaponics system. Hydroponics may be my first step.
    Great information.

    Reply
    • Christina

      Hi DianneBee,
      That sounds like a wonderful aspiring goal. Greens work wonderfully in hydroponics or aquaponics. I have an article on site that compares the differences here. There are several small systems of either method that works great just starting out that fit in small spaces. A very simple jump into hydroponics that does not take much investment or a learning curve is a passive method. I did a review of a hydroponic salad box. It may be just what you are looking for in an easy to start method. Indoor Grow Box Review In that review I also mention another system that is a step up for a bit more extensive growing you may also want to glance at to compare.
      Seed starting can be a lot of fun and not very complicated once you have direction. I am glad I was able to give you the confidence in wanting to give it a try in the future. I am also available to help if you hit questions. Drop a comment or reach out on the contact form. I am always happy to assist especially if it inspires more people to fall in love with gardening!
      Christina

      Reply
  6. Fred

    Good planting information and yes it will speed your growing up to start your seeds. I always plant a big garden with the normal things like potatoes, corn, beans, cucumbers, watermelons, lettuce, and different quashes. I love to garden and usually buy my plants when it comes to tomatoes. Thinking seriously on starting some of my own seeds this year and using some of these techniques.

    Reply
    • Christina

      Hi Fred,
      Really glad to hear you are thinking about starting your own from seed. I always enjoy the entire process from the moment it goes into the ground until the plant bares harvest! I find it rewarding. I am also a big gardener outside as well. I had a large raised bed vegetable garden, A kitchen herb garden, and flower greenery gardens. I just love growing. We moved this past September so doing a lot of start over this year and planning for new things. I turned a lot of focus on my indoor gardens this year and greenhouse growing until I get everything planned. I will miss many of the harvests you will enjoy this year I am afraid. Container plantings for the spring summer season anyway. I started pepper seeds here (zone 7) in Mid January Tomatoes and Eggplants Mid February and planning potatoes to go in buckets within this week. I am going to envy your melons and squash this year. Some of my summer favorites! Throw in a few extra in my honor haha.
      Let me know how seed starting goes.
      Thank you
      Christina

      Reply
  7. Dena

    When I planted a garden a couple years ago I used the peat, perlite and compost in raised garden beds. I did not know about adding the sand. I will have to try adding this to my mixture as my garden did ok but not like I thought it would. I have to used raised beds due to black walnut trees in my yard so blamed it on those. Hopefully I will have better luck this year by adding a bit of sand to the beds. I also found in intriguing that you could use a heat source like the top of a freezer I have one just waiting for seedlings that is a great idea.

    Reply
    • Christina

      Hi Dena,
      Black walnuts and the nightshade family of plants, particularly tomatoes are not very friendly with each other. Your choice to go raised bed was a great idea. I would try to keep them as far from each other as possible. Sand will help with drainage in your beds which is sometimes needed with compost material because of its rich nature. I would also recommend testing your soil ph as well. if the soil ph is off for the type of plants you are trying to grow it can impact your growth. Also using natural fertilizers that are ph neutral and usable by the plants immediately, like worm castings, throughout the growing season will be sure to offer a good boost.
      The first year I did raised beds in NC the manure compost that I bought was not aged or composted enough. I noticed it a bit too late when my plant leaves showed burning, browning color and I had a hard time regulating ph. This could have also been an issue. The following year I added a lot of vegetable compost matter, worm castings, remineralized the soil, and got the ph to balance out. If you have a local Cooperative extension they can usually connect you with somebody that can test your soil for you. That could give you a good idea of the make-up and if there is an issue. I also heard that Lowes was doing it as well but not had it done there.
      I did a review of the worm castings that I use if you are looking for more information. Simple Grow Soil Builder – Worm Castings The are a great way to build soil and offer natural fertilizer to your plants in raised beds, containers or anywhere.
      Happy Growing! Please let me know if I can help anywhere else.
      Christina

      Reply

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