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What You Need to Know to Germinate Cannabis Seeds

Updated August 9, 2022

If you plan on growing cannabis, you need to make sure you understand how to germinate the cannabis seeds. This is a crucial part of the growing process because if your seeds do not germinate, your cannabis plant will not grow. Luckily, germinating cannabis seeds can be straightforward, provided you have the proper knowledge.

Be Prepared for Variation

It is essential to recognize that not all cannabis seeds will germinate according to the same timeline. Some seeds may grow more slowly, taking a while to begin germinating and then taking extra time before they pop through the surface of the soil after transplanting. Others will germinate quickly and then grow just as quickly. Additionally, not all of your cannabis seeds will germinate.

Start With Mature Seeds

.You should know always to confirm that your seeds are mature before germinating them. You can recognize mature seeds based on their hardness and dark brown appearance featuring lighter accents. Seeds that are not yet mature will be softer and green.

Know You Have the Proper Grow Room

Before you start germinating your cannabis seeds, make sure that you have an area to grow the plant with the proper conditions. You do not want to have cannabis seedlings without anywhere to put them or without being able to give them the ideal growing conditions.

Know You Are Ready for the Entire Process

You should be sure that you are ready to grow the cannabis plants to full maturity when you germinate the seeds. Make sure that you have the time to tend to the plants, the space to propagate them, and the funds or supplies needed for things like lights, nutrients, and soil or hydroponics.

Know the Laws

It should go without saying, but before you germinate cannabis seeds, you should find out if it's legal in your area. Every state in the United States has regulations regarding growing cannabis. The rules do not always line up perfectly with whether medical or recreational marijuana is legal there. In addition to whether you can legally grow any cannabis, there may also be limits on how many plants you can grow.

What Cannabis Seeds Need to Germinate

To germinate cannabis seeds, you technically only need air, water, and heat. Because those are the only requirements, there are many methods that let you germinate the seeds, with some offering more success than others.

Remember that you want your cannabis seeds to stay sterile for the best results. As such, you should avoid touching them with your hands, especially after the seed has begun to split. There is a bit more flexibility with this before the seed splits and germination begins, but after that occurs, always use something like tweezers to move the seeds.

What Successful Germination Looks Like

No matter your chosen germination method, germinated cannabis seeds will always have a few common characteristics. This makes it easy to identify that your work was successful. Germinated seeds will have split with a sprout coming out of them. The taproot should be visible in your germinated seed. This will eventually become your cannabis plant’s main stem.

Germination With Paper Towels

One of the most popular methods to germinate cannabis seeds involves paper towels. You will need some paper towels, clean water, seeds, and a pair of clean plates. Start by soaking four paper towels in distilled water. You want them absorbed without excess water coming off them.

Place two of these paper towels on a plate. Spread your cannabis seeds on the towel, ensuring a minimum of an inch between each seed. Then, cover the seeds with the other two wet paper towels. Flip the other plate over and place it on the first plate, creating a dome. This will give the seeds a dark, safe space to germinate. Store the plates and seeds in a warm area, ideally between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Now, you wait for the seeds to germinate. This may take several days, or it may take less time. Check on the seeds occasionally to see if you need to add water to the paper towels.

Other Germination Methods

Some beginner growers may also germinate the seeds by placing them in a cup of water. This is less effective but popular for its simplicity. You can also choose to plant the seeds directly into the soil, but this will take some extra care and monitoring. It should give you a bit less success than the paper towel method. You can also get stone wool blocks, a simple and effective way that makes transplanting easy.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

It is also wise to be aware of the common mistakes as you germinate your cannabis seeds. This will help you avoid those errors and increase your chances of success.

The Medium Drying Out

As mentioned, cannabis seeds need moisture to germinate. As such, one of the common mistakes that growers make is not providing enough moisture. This can happen if the medium you use dries out. If, for example, you opt for the paper towel and plate method, allowing the paper towels to dry out too much would cause the problem.

This is crucial because the seeds must absorb moisture throughout the entire germination process. If there is not enough moisture, it cannot germinate. You should ensure that your germination medium does not dry out if you use a heat source to control the temperature since this could increase evaporation.

Not Controlling Humidity and Temperature

Growing cannabis requires controlling the temperature and humidity levels of your grow space throughout the growing process. Unfortunately, some growers overlook the importance of this during the germination stage. This is a mistake because cannabis seeds require relatively high humidity levels and temperatures to germinate properly. This means that you may need to provide a heat source depending on the time of the year and where you live. If you are unsure how to do so, consider a heated greenhouse or thermal cables.

Ideally, you want your cannabis seeds to be in an area with temperatures between 26 and 28 degrees Celsius (78.8 and 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit). You should also aim for about 70 percent relative humidity. If either of these values is lower, your germination will be less successful and slower. If the values are too high, then you may experience issues with rot or fungus.

Issues When Germinating in Soil

Some people choose to germinate their cannabis seeds in the soil, but this can be much more complicated and should be reserved for growers who know what they are doing. It is common for beginner growers who try to germinate seeds in the soil never to germinate the seeds successfully. This is particularly common if you fail to water your substrate before you sow the seed and then water it afterward.

The biggest issue with planting the seed right into the substrate is that you may bury it too deep. Watering the medium right after sowing will only worsen that problem. Because of this potential issue, most growers suggest germinating your cannabis seeds outside of the soil and then transplanting them.

While germinating in the soil does provide the benefit of eliminating or reducing the need for future transplants, the potential complications make it not worth it for most growers. As a bonus, germinating outside of the soil lets you attempt to grow more seeds in a smaller space.

Not Transplanting Soon Enough

It is also common for growers to be unsure when to transplant the seeds and unfortunately do so too late. If you germinate your cannabis seeds with paper towels, you do not want to leave the seeds there until you see the cotyledons. This will make the transplanting process much harder and almost guarantee that you accidentally damage the root during the transplant process. There is also the fact that the longer you leave the root exposed to the light and air, the higher the risk of damage becomes.

Avoid this issue with the following guideline. Transplant the seeds when the taproot is about one centimeter long. Do not let it grow past two centimeters before transplanting. This should maximize the ease of transplanting and will not negatively affect root development.

Incorrect Seed Placement at Planting or With In-soil Germination

Another common mistake regarding germination is incorrectly planting the cannabis seeds afterward. You should always ensure that the crown of the seed faces up. The top is the end of the seed that has a small crater. The other end of the seed, which should face down, will have a point. When germination occurs, the crown acts as a hinge, letting the seed open by the tip so the root can escape and go down. If you place the seed incorrectly, your taproot will grow up with the seedling growing down. This will not result in a plant that grows.

Incorrect Depth at Planting or With In-soil Germination

Another mistake you can make when germinating seeds directly in the soil or during the transplant process after germination is placing them at the incorrect depth. If you put the seedling or seed too deep, then it may never be able to emerge past the soil to get the nutrients, like light, that it needs. On the other hand, if you plant the seed too close to the top of the soil, the seed may germinate but with a weak stem. This weak stem may not bend or let the seed to develop correctly.

Instead, make sure you plant or sow your cannabis seeds about two centimeters deep. If you want, you can also cover the seedling’s lower stem as it grows. This will encourage it to produce new roots along the portion of the stem buried and gain stability. The increased root growth can accelerate plant growth.

Placing Multiple Seeds in the Same Container

If you are low on space, you may feel tempted to transplant multiple seeds into the same container or germinate seeds directly in the soil with several in the same container. This would save you space, but it would hurt the growth of all of the plants involved.

The cannabis plants would have to compete for the minimal amount of space available within the container. This will result in restricted root growth, which could lead to increased intermodal distance and weaker growth. The lack of space also means that the cannabis plants would compete for the available light.

Additionally, it is hard to place multiple seeds within the same pot properly. This requires experience and precise spacing to ensure all plants have enough room and nutrient access. Placing multiple germinated or germinating seeds in the same container increases the risk of the plants experiencing minimal lateral branching and intermodal distance. This would reduce your final bud yield.

How to Transplant Germinated Cannabis Seeds

Since germination typically only takes a few days, you should be ready to transplant the germinated seeds almost right away. You will want to transfer the seeds once the taproot appears.

There are several options, depending on whether you want to transplant the cannabis plant again when it gets larger. If you are willing to transplant the plant later, you can use two-inch pots as your starting point. Fill each container with potting soil that is loose and airy. Use a pencil, pen, or something similar to poke a hole in the center of the pot, going around a quarter-inch deep.

Use tweezers to gently pick up your germinated cannabis seed and place it into the hole. Make sure to orient it so that the taproot faces down. Then lightly cover the seed with new soil.

Now, you can water the soil. Do so using a spray bottle as this will let you give the seeds just enough moisture without oversaturating them. Over-watering the fragile cannabis seeds will suffocate them, killing the plant. You will need to keep monitoring the moisture level of the soil as well as the temperature. The seedling should start appearing through the ground in about a week or less.

The Bottom Line

To germinate cannabis seeds, the most important thing to know is that your seeds will require moisture, heat, and air. You also need to know how to recognize the appropriate time to transplant the seeds, as this will maximize your chances of healthy growth and a good yield.

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