One of the best things a gardener can do when planting is to note exact dates that seeds are planted. Whether this be in pots or directly outdoors, it will make it much easier to make decisions about how the garden is doing. Once there is more familiarity with how long it takes certain seeds to germinate, it will help avoid drastic actions, like dumping pots only to discover little signs of life just below the soil surface. If you want to have an idea of how long it takes for your chosen seed to germinate before you put it in the dirt, you might try the same method that was suggested for checking seed viability. This would be a good winter time activity, when it is too early to reasonably begin seedlings for later planting out.
I like to add the date to the label right when I plant the seed. I suppose that it would work to keep a journal, but with all the watering and dirty hands, it seems like paper is at risk. Besides, I know from experience it is best to do thorough labeling before moving on to the next seeds. It is unlikely that I will stop long enough to even brush the dirt off of my hands for writing in a nice garden journal. I will, however, not hesitate to use the same dirty permanent marker over and over on wooden sticks or masking tape.
Although it depends some on conditions, I can give you some idea of how long a few of my regular seeds take to break out. Variables include moisture, temperature, and coating on the seeds. For instance, the tomato seeds that I saved took longer to germinate than the ones I have purchased. This is a comparison across the years and with other varieties of tomato seeds purchased this year. I am very familiar with starting tomatoes from seed. My guess is that there is just a bit of dry coating still on the home saved seeds that also has to soften. The germination rate was almost 100%, so it was not a matter of viability. (I’ll make a list below.)
One of the advantages of having checked germination time earlier is that you will have an idea of the seeds’ viability. So, if they are taking longer than that, you can adjust the environment. I basically did this when starting my greenhouse lettuce this year. I have enough experience with how long it takes lettuce to germinate, that when it was pokey, I put it in a cooler place. Once there, after a couple of days being in the best temperature it sprouted all at once!
It is actually pretty amazing to me how consistent the germination times for seeds have been for me. Keep in mind that this is in southwest Idaho. Also, I work hard at keeping them moist until they begin to sprout. Then, I back off on the moisture a little so they won’t rot, but still don’t let them dry out. Most of things I’ve listed here are seeds I started this year so far. Of course, you can always check the back of the package for a general idea, but I think you will find your own germination times will vary. It is helpful to get an idea of what they will be for you in your environment.
- tomato seeds, store bought, 3-5 days
- tomato seeds, home saved, 7-10 days
- peppers, bell, 7-10 days
- peppers, hot, 10- 14 days
- melons and cucumbers 3-5 days
- sunflowers 5-7 days
- zinnias and marigolds 3-5 days
- nasturtium 7-14 days
- thunbergia (black-eyed susan vine) 10-14 days
- lettuce 3-5 days
- broccoli and cabbage 5-7 days
- basil 5-7 days
Some of the seeds tend to all sprout at about the same time, like zinnias and lettuce. Others seem to have a much broader germination clock, such that even though all conditions seem uniform, the sprouting is more sporadic. Examples of this are nasturtium and thunbergia. If you have an idea of germination time, you can plan better for outside plantings and possible late spring frosts. It might be warm enough to plant, but with still some danger of frost, but if you know the seed won’t really germinate until after the most likely last frost date, you can go ahead and plant.
Even thoughI have been starting a large variety of seeds every year for nearly 25 years, I still feel like I’m holding my breath every year when I plant them. I can only do so much. The rest is a miracle of life beyond my control.