Germination: How long will it take for X to grow?

Seed germination in two to three weeks, according to the label.

“Germination in 2-3 weeks.” They forgot to tell the basil seeds inside this packet.

The easy answer about seed germination time is “not normally overnight.”

One of the most common questions that new gardeners come up with is “how long will it take this seed to get going?” The best answer is “it depends.”

I know that’s not satisfactory… but when you think about all that’s involved for a seed to decide to grow, it’s pretty dang accurate.

Sweet corn, for instance, takes 4-12 days if the germination conditions are right:

  • – if the soil temperature is between 60F and 95F
  • – if the soil is prepared properly
  • – if the planting depth is at an inch
  • – if the seed is viable (alive and in the mood to grow)
  • – if the birds don’t dig it up and eat it
  • – if the seed isn’t too old or too dead to grow
  • – if it isn’t overwatered and turned to mush
  • – if the right nutrients are present
  • – if the right amount of moisture is provided.
Overachiever basil ignores seed packet instructions showing germination at 2-3 weeks.

Overachiever basil ignores seed packet instructions showing germination at 2-3 weeks.

This Basil is Ignoring Germination Guidelines

Here’s a basil that popped up after three days. The packet says to expect it in two to three WEEKS. Overachiever? Basil can’t read? Perhaps, or maybe it’s because all the germination conditions were perfect and the seed was in a hurry to get going. Who knows.

Maybe it knew I needed more basil.

Germination General Guidelines

I wrote about this earlier, but failed to take my own advice. I figured if I were going to ignore it ( and apparently so is the basil), it bears repeating.

So before you call your friendly seed purveyor in a panic, here are a few germination times for things you might want to grow.

Here, too, is a nifty Seed Germination Guide from Thompson & Morgan, which used to be included with each seed order. I don’t know if they still do that, but it’s a great way to get started.

To your garden success!
Casey – the Garden Lass

Cardboard Palm, Take Three

So it’s been a month or so since I put in Take Two cardboard palms, soaked in boiling water overnight and planted per instructions into peat pots, kept moist and very warm – just like the instructions say. They joined Take One on 8 July 2012  – hot water soak and planted per instructions into peat pots on 31 May 2012.

Sawing Into the Cardboard Palm

Zamia furfuracea or cardboard palm

Zamia furfuracea or cardboard palm is of the cycad genus.

So this time the seeds were placed in boiling water and left to cool down overnight, then two more nights – to the point that now they’ve been soaking for nearly a week. I’m told this won’t hurt anything – in fact, tomorrow morning before I put them into their starting pots, I’m going to run a steak knife down the edge of each one in an attempt to break the seed shell.

Stubborn is Just the First Part

So this will be the third method of “shocking” the cardboard palm into germinating. If it does germinate, maybe it’ll send a message to the first two batches that it’s ok to come out into the sunlight. As it is, these have now been soaked, boiled, steamed, sliced, slashed, steak-knifed and begged. It seems like something should have happened by now, but time is a strange mistress for the new gardener. I swear it’s been YEARS since I treated the first batch, when in reality it’s only been 5 months.

Meanwhile I found out that these cycads (cardboard palms are not even real palms, dangit!) are very very poisonous. Every bit of them. This means that even if they do manage to sprout, they’ll have to be stored completely out of reach of our predatory felines who think anything that grows is being grown for their enjoyment and munching.

Since they’re poison and stubborn and prima donna and diva par excellence, why the heck am I working so hard to get them to hatch?

Beats me!



Cardboard Palm, Take Two

More cardboard palms that you can shake a stick at – no sticks yet.

Since the original planting of cardboard palm seeds hasn’t shown any signs of life since the initial seeding on 31 May, I decided to give it another shot.

Boiling Over the Cardboard Palm

Instead of soaking the seeds in hot tap water this time, I brought the water to a rolicking boil.  When I dropped the seeds in, each made a most satisfying sizzle and sneeze, bubbling water up all over the place.

Why boil? Well, I did some research (after the fact – I know, I know), and stumbled onto a site called where a group of gardeners were waiting for their cardboard palm seeds to germinate. Days turned to weeks, which turned to months, and apparently at the end of a YEAR, some participants still had no sign of palm. I stopped reading at that point; too discouraging.

How Stubborn Can a Cardboard Palm Possibly Be

I remember reading someplace that some stubborn seeds grow very durable protective coatings and need to be ‘shocked’ into germinating. The ways to be shocking include scraping, soaking, cutting, steaming, burning, boiling, slicing, slashing, pounding, and setting on fire. In fact, some evergreens require a hot forest fire to make their seeds to open and scatter. Since I’m not going to toss seeds into the fireplace and hope a palm tree grows there, boiling water sounds more logical.

Hawaii Found in Southern California Sunroom

Right now I have both the first planting (back row) and the second planting (front row, with their peat pots propped into little oval butter containers) perched on a box in the patio room – aka sunroom – aka hotter’n Hades’ hinges room. I tell myself that this is to give the cardboard palm seeds a nice warm place to nestle in and wait for germination day.

I tell myself this because there’s no air conditioning or swamp cooler inlet back there.  I’m trying to convince myself this is Good For The Plants, because that same room also acts as a great humidity chamber. This hasn’t helped the first planting at all, but then again all they got was a hot tap water soak over night, not the full boiling treatment.

So now both the original cardboard palm plantings and the Take Two seeds  can sit around with the ginger root, which craves hot humid places with plenty of indirect light and lots of daily rainfall. Two out of three ain’t bad. And if the daily rainfall in our house is more than an inch a day, we’ve got more than just a gardening problem on our hands!



Germination Times for the Patience-Impaired

no germination happening here, just empty peat pots waiting for seeding mix and seeds

Is it soup yet? Is it soup yet? is it…

To keep my 7-year-old Inner Child from checking on freshly seeded pots every 10 minutes – (“Is it soup yet?” “Is it soup yet?” “Is it… ” you get the picture) – here’s a list of some common vegetable germination times.

  • 2-10 days:
    • potatoes (domestic white)
  • 7-14 days:
    • beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, corn, lettuce, onions, peas, potatoes (red), radishes, spinach, turnips
  • 7-21 days:
    • cucumbers, squash
  • 7-30 days:
    • tomatoes
  • 7-60 days:
    • peppers (varies widely)
  • 14-45 days:
    • gourds, bitter melons
None shows germination times under an hour. Checking if they’ve germinated each time the clock chimes is a waste of time.

Germination varies by growing zone and general climate, but a good rule of thumb is:

  1. Follow packet instructions
  2. Find instructions online if the seed packet doesn’t have them
  3. Germination happens when the seed’s ideal conditions are met
  4. Keep plants with the same germination needs in the same area
  5. For ideal germination results, give seeds consistent light, heat and moisture
  6. Invest in a germination mat or light (or both)