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Germinating Marijuana Seeds: What’s the best way to start them, really?

Germinating marijuana seeds isn’t technically easier or more tricky than sprouting the seeds of any other plant. What makes it different? I’d like to argue it may be their worth! You typically won’t be spending well into the double digits per single seed to populate a vegetable garden.

So the stakes are higher and whether a cannabis seed pops out that first taproot or turns out to be a dud is rather a big deal. Pressure’s on.

What to make of all the information on how to best sprout marijuana seeds?

Here we’ll figure out how many different ways there are you could do things, and then determine which one(s) has/have the highest success rate.

In a hurry? Here’s the summary: Seeds can be soaked in water before moving into paper towels, soil, seedling pods, or starter cubes. They can also be started in pods or cubes without any steps prior to that, or go in potting soil right off the bat, whether in small or large pots. It may take longer before germination, but if the seeds are viable there shouldn’t be an issue. In any case, just make sure to keep their environment moist.

Important: Some of the best seed banks ask customers to follow specific steps to qualify for their germination guarantee. This applies to I Love Growing Marijuana, Crop King Seeds, Ministry of Cannabis, Growers Choice Seeds. If you’re germinating marijuana seeds from any of these places, be sure to know their guidelines. For details, check Where to Find Cannabis Seeds with Guaranteed Germination.

marijuana-seedling-cotelyden-leaves
When a seed sprouts, it first grows a set of generic-looking leaves called cotelyden. The second pair of leaves has the distinctive cannabis look.

Germinating Marijuana Seeds

On one hand, marijuana seeds are seeds like any other. Unless severely mistreated, they’ll at the very least try to make it happen; make life happen.

On the other hand, from nature’s point of view, if only a portion of seeds sprout that’s totally cool. Certain plants, such as sunflowers or tomatoes, have high sprouting rates, while others, such as lavender or stevia, have notoriously low ones.

When growing cannabis, the first part of the mission is to provide an ideal environment for seeds to germinate… All while being aware that sometimes, for some seeds, even the very best simply won’t do it.

Nature can be finicky. So be on top of the game, but don’t forget to bring a healthy dose of realism to the party as well.

To prevent big disappointments, you can also choose to work with seeds backed by guaranteed germination.

Different Ways to Start Seeds

There are various ways to go about the very first step of the growing process, but they have one things in common.

Seeds get the message that it’s time to pop when three elements come together:

  • water
  • air (more specifically: the oxygen in air)
  • a relatively warm temperature

Obviously, each of the methods below meets those criteria to some extent, so it’s basically a matter of deciding which way meets your criteria.

Guaranteed Germination? Read the Fine Print

Have you ordered from a seed bank that offers some kind of guarantee on germinating marijuana seeds? Great – those places are the best!

Be sure to read the fine print, because some seed banks require you to use a specific method. (Other ways will void the guarantee.) Where to Find Cannabis Seeds with Guaranteed Germination gives the overview of online seed banks that back their seeds. Or head straight to the fine print in question here:

I Love Growing Marijuana guarantees the sprouting of their seeds no matter what, but on the FAQ page, they recommend following these steps.

Crop King Seeds guarantees 80% of seeds to sprout but only when using the steps described here. It consists of soaking, followed by the paper towel method.

Ministry of Cannabis says exactly the opposite – go figure – use of the paper towel method will void their guarantee. Instead, they ask customers to do it this way.

Sprouting seeds succesfully: steps & methods

Next, we’ll go over the different methods people use to sprout their cannabis seeds. For clarity’s sake, I’m describing each step separately and mentioning throughout which steps to combine (or follow up with) for the most successful germination.

  1. Soaking seeds
  2. Paper towel method
  3. Straight into soil (large/final pots versus small/biodegradeable pots)
  4. Seedling pods & Starter cubes
  5. Rockwool
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1. Soaking seeds

Whether to soak seeds prior to planting them (in any given medium) is a hot topic. Experienced gardeners – tending to all sorts of plants, not just cannabis – typically agree that soaking does something good. Let’s take a quick look at how and why soaking seeds can make them germinate faster.

Seeds are sturdy little fellas – they have to be; life in nature can be rough. They’re designed to wait for favorable conditions and not germinate too quickly at the first tentative drop of moisture. Soaking communicates to the seeds that ‘yes, it’s really, really safe to go for it now’.

What happens in the water?

Water dissolves the seed’s protective coating. The abundance of water around it also leads to the seed softening and soaking up moisture. This in turn urges the life force contained inside the seed to start growing and breach the (already softened) shell to the outside world.

Not soaking won’t harm your seeds. I’ve successfully grown all kinds of plants by putting the seeds straight into soil and keeping that moist. But it does seem to work well for most seeds and give them a little jump-start.

How long seeds should soak depends on who you ask: anywhere between 6 and 24 hours. Once out of the water, they do need to be tended to right away. Whether it is to be planted in soil or to follow up with the paper towel method, it’s important to not let them sit and dry out again.

Animal droppings & Expert opinions

Some people even add an acidic substance to the water when soaking seeds. This mimics the digestive tracks of animals. I haven’t verified this personally, but it is said that seeds in nature never germinate better than when they’ve been consumed by a little critter first. Another great way to dissolve a seed’s protective coating!

Before you start busing out a lab kit or feeding marijuana seeds to your pet raccoon, water really does just fine. Make that lukewarm water or at least room temperature.

And lastly, when poking around for expert opinions, soaking in water isn’t just what all of my friends and family members who garden swear by. The best online seed banks also recommend it.

2. Paper towel method

The so-called paper towel method consists of putting seeds in between one or more layers of wet paper towels, on a plate of some sort. It is often used after first soaking the seeds.

Whether to cover the plate and paper towels with a second plate is yet another controversial question.

After some experimenting, I’m decidedly leaning towards no second plate on top. My concern is that it restricts the airflow, even if that means I have to check on the paper towels’ moistness more diligently.

germinating-marijuana-seeds-paper-towels
cannabis-seeds-on-wet-paper-towels
Because our air is extremely dry, these paper towels are a bit more drenched than recommended.
germinating-marijuana-seeds-plate
marijuana-seeds-first-taproot
That’s one eager beaver, top left! And bottom right, you can spot two cotelyden leaves popping out instead of a taproot.

Help! The taproot grew into the towel.

Some recommend the very cheapest paper towels because they would be less likely to attach to the roots. It is true that the sprout can grow into the paper towel instead of on top of it, especially when left in the towels a bit longer.

If you come back to a small taproot that has managed to grow “into” the paper towel in the few hours since you last checked on it, no panic!

In trying to get it out, there’s a huge risk of breaking it and ruining the seed. Don’t worry about it; just cut around it and plant the whole thing, the entangled taproot plus the attached paper towel, wherever you want it to go. Paper towels are easily composted. Roots will grow, no harm done.

They’ve dried out – now what?

Well – it’s not good. How humid or dry is the air where you live or grow? It helps to be aware of the environment, so as to know how often the paper towel set-up needs checking on. I’ve been surprised after moving to a new area and climate – it can be a world of difference.

If for whatever reason you come back to the paper towel completely dried out, the damage is already done. All that’s left is hoping for the best. Wet it again, and the seeds may still work their magic. If it hasn’t been too long of dry spell, they may just make it.

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Worst case: their attempt to sprout has been compromised and caused the taproot to die off, either visibly or inside the seed if it was just starting out. In that case, the seeds in question are done for. The taproot is a one-time thing and there is no backup. Actually, nature’s backup plan consists of other seeds.

3. Straight into soil

Planting them straight into (moist) soil is one way to go. Since they’re seeds like any other, they can, of course, be planted straight into the earth; in their final growing medium and location.

This is mother nature’s age-old and time-tested system and it works fine in principle. However, many agree that combining it with a pre-soak and/or the paper towel method can give seeds a boost.

In the final location

  • Seedlings will need no further transplanting or manipulation.
  • No risk of damaging the taproots or other parts of the fragile seedlings.
  • If you wish to check on the fate of seeds that didn’t sprout, they’ll be much harder to locate in a larger pot.
  • Some say young plants grow better when they’re not in a very large pot straight away.
  • Less insight into what’s going on. You can’t keep track of the progress before the seedlings show; it’s a wait-and-see game.

In a smaller pot

  • Again, no visual clues to get excited about prior to anything showing above ground.
  • Size is manageable enough to keep an eye on, for example in a window cill.
  • While pots may be small in size, the type of soil used is your choice.
  • You also have the choice between using little plastic pots, or the ones made from coconut fiber.
seedlings-potting-soil-small-plastic-pots

4. Seedling pods or starter cubes

Another popular way to start seeds is by putting them into seed starter cubes or seedling pods. This is almost like an even smaller version of using soil in small pots, except that the type of soil is pre-defined.

Rapid rooters and Jiffy pellets are two of the main brands.

They are small-sized and convenient to manage. Seeds can either go straight into the pods/cubes, or after they’ve been soaked or spent time in paper towels.

  • Seedlings in pods can easily be put into larger containers without handling or damaging their roots.
  • Sprouts and young plants in pods are easy to manage, care for, and take up little space.
  • Transplanting will be required at least once, if not more.
  • No visual on the (further) development of a taproot. Patience is in order until something starts showing above ground, especially if you choose to forgo the paper towel step.

5. Rockwool

Especially among hydroponic growers, you’ll find mention of cutting cubes from Rockwool to start seeds in. However, it has a few downsides that make it impossible for me to recommend. If you’re growing hydroponically, coconut coir is an alternative worth considering.

  • Rockwool is absolutely terrible for both human health and the environment.
  • Whenever working with Rockwool, you’ll want to be very careful and at the very least protect your airways as it releases particles that are harmful to the lungs.

Germinating marijuana seeds: a few footnotes

Appearances aren’t everything.

Whether it’s from hands-on experience or from enviously studying the close-up and exceptionally detailed pictures of seeds online, I’m sure you know what a nice, healthy marijuana seed is supposed to look like. Mature seeds are hard to the touch, showing various shades of darker and lighter brown.

However, don’t be too quick to toss out a seed that looks less photogenic, is smaller in size, or lighter in color. (As long as it’s not obviously immature and green.) It doesn’t cost much to give it a shot anyway. Growers have reported stunning results from seeds with a less than impressive appearance. Pop it in with the rest. It may be a dud, or grow into an amazing plant… there’s only one way to find out!

cannabis-seed-ready-to-sprout
One seed has the so-called “tiger stripes” and the other doesn’t, but they’re both perfectly viable Northern Lights (auto-flowering) seeds.

Time varies

Seeds don’t all sprout at the same speed. After a few days, perhaps the fast one(s) will show a taproot of a quarter inch or more, while other seeds aren’t doing much at all.

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Keeping up the good care for a while longer should give slower seeds the chance to catch up and come out of their shell. We’re talking days here, not weeks. It’s not an exact science.

Personally, once days hit the double digits I start wondering and past two weeks it’s about time to call it quits. Or at least a visual inspection to gauge whether there’s reason to call it quits.

marijuana-seeds-sprouting
Five out of these nine White Widow seeds were most eager to germinate. After a few more days, two others followed. The remaining two didn’t pop.

Sterile

Some articles put a lot of emphasis on a sterile environment. They’ll stress that the water needs to be distilled, and the taproot needs to be kept sterile. Are we sprouting seeds or making microchips in a clean-room?

In our personal and professional opinion, this is highly exaggerated. Nature isn’t sterile, the soil isn’t sterile and the growers of these gigantic plants sure as hell aren’t concerned with sterility.

Seeds do just fine with normal handling. Breaking or damaging that fragile little taproot is something to watch out for; keeping it sterile not so much.

What happens next

Is everything in place for the next step of your seedlings’ journey?

Even though it seems like a slow process, it doesn’t hurt to have everything prepped for them to grow into large plants. If not done in advance, at least use those first sprouting days to get supplies lined up.

When seedlings are left to spend extra time in small containers, well… the sun will still rise in the morning… but it can stunt their growth.

seedlings-turning-towards-light
Speaking of sun, the tiny seedling are incredibly quick to turn towards the light!

What’s you favorite way of germinating marijuana seeds?

If you’ve had positive experiences with one of the following seed sprouting methods in particular, then it makes total sense to be biased toward that one. Let us know in the comments!

Conclusion & good luck germinating marijuana seeds!

When it comes to germinating marijuana seeds, what are the most important takeaways?

If seeds are viable, they will sprout sooner or later, as long as the conditions are anywhere close to favorable. Bad seeds won’t, regardless of how well you pamper them. Which method you use to tempt seeds to start growing is less important than keeping up the care long enough to allow them to do so.

Starting seeds with a soak, followed by the paper towel method does have a solid fan-base. Doing it this way has some attractive advantages, as far as I’m concerned (aside from being the “required” method of certain seed banks):

  • It can speed up the action because it exposes seeds to conditions that are beyond favorable. And who will complain about getting faster results, right?
  • It’s nice to be able to be witness the appearance of taproots.

With that said, putting seeds in pods of soil – either straight away of after a pre-soak – also most definitely works. It will likely take some more time, and then even more time because you’re not in on the very first signs of success. But good seeds will grow.

It’s hard to say which method is better than the next, however, I think we’ve made a solid case for which way might be more appealing to us, humans. And don’t forget to have some fun because that should be part of germinating marijuana seeds too!