Seed Germination Tips


Seed Germination Tips

The conditions for high germination rates and success in growing strong seedlings is: warmth (70- 90 deg. F), bright light, soil that drains well, even moisture from watering, high humidity, and air circulation, and patience. A few days or even hours of inconsistent conditions can quickly lead to disaster.

Table of Contents

Cactus and Succulent seeds

For best results, use a premixed Seed Starter Mix (easily found online or home and garden stores), or make your own. 

To make your own mix: 65% ground sphagnum peat moss and 35% perlite / pumice and or vermiculite.

Plant seeds in shallow pots approximately 4-6 inches in diameter and 3-5 inches deep.

Moisten the soil thoroughly.*

*For Opuntia and Cholla seeds, soak overnight in warm water before sowing. Keep above 85 deg F night and day.

Sprinkle 6-10 seeds on the soil surface. Sprinkle a fine layer of soil or sand on top. Expose growing area to strong indirect light.

Filtered real sunlight is most beneficial for seeds, but you can use fluorescent or grow bulbs  to sprout them as well.

Seal growing area with glass or plastic, leaving plenty of room over the seeds for ventilation. If possible, maintain a soil temperature of 70-90 F. Bottom heat from a soil heating mat is very effective.

Good moisture, good drainage, very bright light, heat, and aeration are important factors for high germination rates.

Germination will take anywhere between a week to four months. Do not give up on your seeds unless you notice fungus. Keeping your soil consistently moist will ensure eventual success.

When seedlings sprout, spray them with a light mist often enough to keep moist. Don’t let them dry out. Continue protecting them from hot direct sun light.

For the first few weeks of growth, moisten the soil every 1-4 days. Once the plants are established, water every 1-4 weeks (depending upon the time of year, your soil and the temperature).

When mature enough, (this depends upon the species and the specific conditions in your garden), the new plants can be moved to indirect sun or possibly full sun in the garden or patio. Be careful not to sunburn the young plants when moved.

Tiny Seeds (Mesembs, Crassula, Echeveria, Small Succulents Seeds)  

Tiny seeds, almost as fine as dust, such as lithops, other succulents and some cacti can be difficult to handle. Sometimes, in fact, the packet seems to contain nothing except a trace of dust-sized particles.

1. Use a small pan or pot for sowing, about 4 or 5 inches is adequate.
2. Fill the pan or pot to overflowing with the seed compost, then firm it first with    your fingers, then with a wooden presser.
3. Pour a heaped teaspoon of fine sand into the seed packet and shake to mix sand and seed.
4. Sow the seed direct from the packet, tapping it slowly to release the sand-seed mixture evenly over the compost.
5. Do not cover the seed with compost, simply press them into the surface with the wooden presser.
6. Water the compost from underneath by standing the tray or pot in a bowl of tepid water.
7. Cover with a piece of glass, cling film or seal inside a polythene bag to keep the compost moist and the atmosphere slightly humid.
8. Remember that very fine seeds have a lower germination rate than normal-sized ones and the correct temperature for germination is very important.

Sowing: Sow indoors at any time of year.
Fill small pots or trays with a light and well-aerated compost. Stand the pots in water, allow to soak thoroughly and drain. Scatter the seed onto the top of the compost. Do not cover seeds, they require light for germination, avoid direct sunlight by shading the seeds after sowing.

If possible, germinate in a propagator otherwise, secure a polythene bag around the pot or cover the container with glass or and place in a warm shaded place. Care should be taken to prevent the pots drying out from below. The majority of seeds germinate best at a temperatures of 20 to 22°C (68 to 72°F). Germination will usually take 10 to 180 days, patience is required, don’t throw away the tray too soon.Once germination has taken place, remove the glass or plastic and move into a brighter light. Be careful to keep the top of the compost damp. As soon as the first seeds have germinated, remove the plastic or raise the lid slightly to permit some circulation of air. From now on, the tiny seedlings need to be in a good light, but must be protected from direct sun. Shading from all but winter sun is desirable for the first 12 months.

Growth is slow, 6 to 8 weeks after sowing transplant to single small pots 7cm (3in) Grow on at 18 to 25°C (64 to 77°F) during daytime and 15 to 18°C (59 to 65°F) during night. Cooler temperatures in the night are better for the foliage pigmentation. Temperatures below 15°C (59°F) will result in leaf deformation. Echeveria does not tolerate frost. After 12 to 14 months transplant into a bigger pot.

Some succulent seeds should be covered well, they do not need light for germination. The sowing of Anacampseros, Conophytum, Echeveria, Crassulacea, Lithops and Mesembryanthemum should not have a temperature above 20 °C until germination and should not be covered. Dinteranthus requires up to 3 months to germinate.

During the growth period Echeveria needs a relative high amount of water and in winter Echeveria needs a dry substrate. Avoid over head irrigation, because wet leaf rosettes rot rapidly. Moderate fertilisation levels are required during the spring and summer, but don’t fertilise after mid September.

Large Desert Tree, Shrub Seeds

1. Soak large, hard seeds overnight (up to 36 hours) in water to start the  germination process.
2. Bury seeds to a least the depth of the seeds thickness.
3. Germinate seeds in pots with sterile soil (1/2 peat moss and 1/2 perlite is one   popular mix)
or plant directly into non-sterile commercial potting mix (approx. 75% tree compost and 25% sandy loan)
or plant directly into the garden.
4. Germinate in full sun during growing season. Soil needs to be 75 deg. F. + for quick germination.
5. Provide plenty of water until seeds are established. Keep evenly moist until roots are fully developed.

Small Desert Tree, Shrub And Ground Cover Seeds

1. Sow directly into rich garden soil or in pots with commercial potting mix or (our favorite) 1/2 peat moss and 1/2 perlite. Cover with a thin layer of soil and keep moist until seeds germinate. After seeds germinate, decrease moisture level.

Germinating Cacti Seeds: Sow seeds in compost. There is a great debate as to the best “compost”. A popular mix consists of 50% aged, black, fine compost (from bark), 15% sandy, sterile loam, 15 % pumice or perlite, and 20% fine peat moss. I use a mix of 1/2 peat moss and 1/2 perlite. Shallow ( 3″ deep) plastic grower’s trays with newspaper lining the bottom make excellent growing containers. Other have good luck with very different mixes and containers.

Sprinkle seeds on surface, they should not be completely covered. Water from beneath. If watering from above, be sure that the mist is quite fine. Seal growing area with glass or plastic, leaving plenty of room over the seeds for ventilation. Maintain a soil temperature of 70-85ºF. Bottom heat is very
effective. Keep moist, having a sterile soil with peat moss and pumice is very healthy for the seedlings. Good moisture, good drainage very bright light and heat and aeration are important factors for high germination rates. Commercial growers use a general fungicide so that the frequent watering and misting does not encourage fungus attacks. The conditions that young seedlings like are the same
conditions that most fungi like. The cacti can become a quick meal if the moisture content gets out of whack or if the soil is not reasonably sterile.

When germination commences, make sure that the infants receives indirect, bright light (do not place in sun). Allow good air flow. Keep warm 70-90ºF. When seedlings begin to overcrowd the container, thin them using a spoon. Try not to disturb the roots. During the first winter season, make sure to keep plants warm, depending upon the variety. Allow to dry between watering but not allow to get too dry. After your first winter, slowly harden the plants by a longer drying period and brighter and brighter light. By year 2 they should be strong starts.

Note: Some of our desert tree seeds have been treated with SEVIN (a pesticide) to control weevils.