Growing Cannabis part 3

The Pot Seed Germination Process

Awesome, you ordered some cannabis seeds online or bought pot seeds at your local head shop or dispensary. So now you are standing there with this puny package of even beanier seeds calculating how much each one cost you. Were you crazy? What if one or all of them don’t even germinate?

No worries, this is your guide to germination using a method that has brought me 100% germination results (knock on wood!). Like many folks, your goal might be to grow your favorite organic strains, so you want to know the best way to germinate cannabis seeds, including marijuana germination temperature and pointers about planting marijuana seeds in soil. You don’t want to waste a precious seed.

Reptile warming pad

Your Handy Germination Center

The next thing you need besides your seeds is a germination center. Its not necessary to spend a lot on this and you’ll get your money’s worth in the number of seeds you save. This is what you have to source:

  1. An old piece of glass that is 4 x 6 inches minimum up to 6 x 10 inches. I grabbed one from an old shelf I wasn’t using. You can also score a piece of glass from any reuse or renovation store, take it out of an old door or piece of furniture. Don’t sub in plastic or plexi because it doesn’t conduct and store the heat like glass.
  2. A reptile warming pad. This is the only part that costs money but it should last you for years. It is a flat plug-in pad that just so happens to keep the perfect marijuana germination temperature. Look for a used one on Kijiji or any online buy and sell site with a pet supplies section.
  3. Stick on feet or any kind of stick on pad that can act as feet. Rubber is ideal but cork or plastic will also work fine. The material isn’t important. You’ll need 3 – 4 depending on how big your piece of glass is and they should end up minimum 1/4 inch high. I would hit the “dollar store” or any cheapo supply shop for these. Their purpose is just to create room under the glass so you could also sit it on two wood strips. The reptile warming pad link I included above actually includes 4 feet.

That’s it. Peel and stick the reptile warming pad to one side of the glass. This side is going to be the bottom, so put the feet on this same side. Awesome, your Handy Germination Center is complete.

Seed germination center

Seed Viability

marijuana seedsIn case you did not purchase seeds but instead got a handful from someone local, you might want to check seed viability.

This is a test that’s been around for a long time and is not 100% accurate, but it’s pretty close. Lets just say that it will punt the least viable seeds out of the group.

Take a clear glass of water and drop your seeds into it. The viable seed will eventually drop to the bottom of the glass. Before writing off a seed, give it a tap to ensure that it isn’t just clinging to an air bubble.

If it’s no good it will bob back to the surface.

The principle at work here is that seeds which are fully formed inside their shell will be heavier and sink. Partly formed or dried out seeds are lighter and will float.

Another way to measure viable seed is to gently press a seed between the pads of your thumb and index finger. The duds will often crush easily. There are people who will argue that seed color will tell you whether the seed is good. However, there are so many different looking marijuana seeds out there from all the various strains that I would not recommend judging by looks alone. Just because a seed looks different, doesn’t mean it’s not going to germinate.

How Many Seeds to Pop

Pot seedlingsNow that you have your viable seeds and Handy Germination Center, you want to determine how many seeds to pop. My choice is always to germinate exactly as many seeds as I intend to plant. Why pop more and waste valuable seeds?

Cannabis seeds take 12 – 24 hours to sprout, so if you pop a seed today you must be ready to plant it tomorrow. This means that if one fails to germinate, within one day you’ll have a replacement going and you’ll be right at your perfect number of plants again. On this quick timeline, there is no reason to germinate extras “just in case…”.

If you only have room to properly grow 5 plants, pop 5 seeds. Germinating 6 or 7 plants will only lead to crowding which can trap heat and moisture leading to pest problems. And when you have a pest problem in a crowded grow, it can get ugly fast. Crowding also reduces the amount of light each plant can access due to shading.

At the end of your grow, you will get more harvest from optimum conditions than you will from overly crowded plants. In fact there are techniques that help you fan the plants out for maximum budding and this is exactly the opposite from crowding. I’ll discuss these techniques in future articles.

The Pot Seed Germination Process

Find a shallow container. I use the glass lid from a large jar but you can use anything that is flat with raised sides such as a plastic container top.

Make a bed of 3 – 5 layers of paper towel. Fewer layers will dry out too quickly while a thick wad will stay too wet. Saturate this seed-bed with spring or rain water.

Cannabis seedlings under cover Don’t use distilled water because all the minerals are stripped out of it and both you and your plants need those minerals.

Likewise, try to avoid most tap and bottled waters with fluoride in them.

A clean grow starts with living water. Spread your seeds out on the wet towel and cover them with 3 layers of similarly saturated towel.

Place a cover loosely on top of this and once again, a plastic container top works beautifully.

Set your seed-bed atop the glass right over the reptile warming pad of your Germination Center. This will maintain the perfect cannabis germination temperature. Monitor your seedlings’ progress by checking in on them approximately every 6 hours to see if the towel has become too dry. You can plant when the seeds are in any state from just cracked to 3/8ths inch long.

Don’t let your seedlings get a lot longer than that because they are very fragile and you will risk breaking them when you try to plant these babies in soil. I can’t over-emphasize that weed seed germination is a fast process and the only time during your grow that you will have to watch over your plants hour by hour. Its worth it to clear your schedule so that you do it right.

Alternate Germinating Methods

close up cannabis seedlingYou will find a lot of alternative cannabis sprouting methods on the internet and most of them work just fine.

I believe that what I have given you here is the best way to germinate cannabis seeds because I am getting 100% success with it, however you might want to try a no cost method to see if you even like growing marijuana. Fair enough.

When considering how to germinate marijuana seeds water is often the first choice. Simply drop your seeds into an opaque container holding about a cup of spring or rain water.

Loosely cover and leave for 12 – 24 hours in a warm spot. Germination failure with this method can occur because the water is too cool or the seed drowns from not enough oxygen.

You need to be extra careful while draining the water not to injure the new fragile seedlings. There are people who will say that you should plant your seed after 24 hours regardless of whether it has actually popped it’s shell because the water has sufficiently softened it for successful sprouting.

You can also germinate cannabis seeds in rock wool, which is a spun volcanic material. The advantage to this is, like the towel method, the seed is not completely submerged. Once sprouted, you plant the entire rock wool plug so you don’t have to worry about damaging the fragile seedling. However, rock wool is too alkaline at 7.0 pH and has to be adjusted down to around 5.5 pH by soaking overnight. It also has no nutrients, which requires adjustment and these two things taken together make it less than ideal for the newbie grower.

Direct Planting

Direct planting in soilPlanting marijuana seeds in soil, both indoor and outdoor, is obviously the simplest method of germination.

It is also the least dependable.

If your seedling never sees the light of day you are left wondering whether it successfully germinated or if it did indeed sprout, but a skunk or bug got it.

One reason seeds might not germinate in soil is that the dirt is too compacted which can lead to the seed being starved of air.

Compacted soil drains poorly so the seed could end up drowning in a pool of water. As well, the soil might not be warm enough or be the wrong pH, so too alkaline or acidic.

If you are feeling serious about making outdoor cannabis germination in soil work, here are a few tips to help you take some guessing out of the process. Buy a quality organic soil from a grow center and mix it half-and-half with about a square foot of the dirt in your planting area. Dig in and break up the soil around your planting area as well to ensure good drainage. This will go some way toward correcting any pH problems and will help to aerate the soil.

Outdoor Cannabis Seed Germination

The planting area should be pre-soaked to ensure that you have no standing water. Plant cannabis seeds 1/4 inch deep and 3 feet from each other.

Outdoor seedling Definitely visit your planting site and water at least once a day before noon.

Remember that you get successful indoor germination in a cup of water, so moisture is going to be your number one concern.

Without enough water to soften the seed case, the beanie greenie won’t be able to pop out. Cover each seed spot with a clear container that has a couple of air holes punched in it as you plant your seeds.

A particularly good cover is a large size plastic soda bottle with the bottom cut off. That end gets pressed a few inches into the soil and the cap is left off for air circulation and to let moisture transfer. A transparent cover will help deter animals foraging for sprouts and early pests as well as trapping daytime warmth to help seeds survive cool overnights.

Unlike indoor germination, you have to time outdoor to give you a full warm season to reach harvest. This can mean that at germination time the soil is still pretty cool, the days haven’t yet lengthened, and the sun is somewhat weak. Make the most of the light you have by placing reflective materials around your seedlings just like you would do in an indoor grow. Go for the clearest protective cover you can get to let as many rays in as possible.

However, my first choice for how to plant marijuana outdoors is to pop pot seeds using the Handy Germination Center. This way I know that all my seeds are viable and I don’t have to fuss with temperature and moisture issues. I will then plant them outdoors in a half-and-half bought and native soil mix and use a cover.

Choosing a Strain to Germinate

For outdoor cannabis planting in my region, I choose a faster seed strain that allows me to plant the seedlings in late spring. By that time the weather is warmer, there are more daylight hours and I still have enough growing days in the season before harvest.

Afghan Express If you can get them, indigenous seed to your area could be more responsive to your growing conditions and more successfully germinated by direct outdoor seeding.

Cannabis used to grow wild right across Turtle Island (aka N. America) and there is no doubt that these genetics will produce the hardiest outdoor plants.

If it’s impossible to track down an indigenous strain, turn to strains that are typically grown outside or have been developed outdoors such as Afghan Express.

Some of these hearken from mountainous regions and have a higher cold tolerance as well as pest and mold resistance.

Whichever strain and germinating method you choose, note down what you are doing so that you can make improvements next time around. You don’t need to keep a daily grow diary, but at least record your bigger decisions and key dates such as your germination date. It all starts from here.

8 Replies to “Growing Cannabis part 3”

  1. Who knew I would read a website about Cannabis on the same day the Canadian Prime minister announced it would be legalized on Oct 17, 2018. Are you Canadian? I have done some gardening in my life but I never grew this plant. I was once told it is a pretty plant. Is that true? Growing them seems to have some similarities to growing sunflowers.

    1. Yes, happy legalization day! We have yet to see what this legalization will entail but at least we now have some protections under the law, especially for medical use. Cannabis is a beautiful plant. I grow a great number of things inside and out and I can honestly say there is little that approaches the uniqueness of the cannabis plant. It has a cycle like no other plant I know, from seed to flower. I am in Canada and I would compare it more to some of the other “weeds” that grow here, such as Goldenrod. It goes to flower quickly, has a spectacular flower and is super hardy in the right conditions. However, if those conditions are not met it becomes leggy, weak, and dies off pretty quickly. For people living in the right conditions, it can take off like an invasive species. For most Canadians, we have to reproduce those conditions to get the fullest version of the plant. 

  2. Germinating cannabis seed is very similar to other seeds for growing. The viability test is a great idea. I like to do that when I am growing other herb and garden plants. If I have a seed germinating heating pad will it work or is the reptile heating mat different? Perhaps it gets to a better temperature the pot seed that my regular seed mat doesn’t?
    I never realized they would germinate so fast! That is faster than most anything else I grow!

    1. I believe that the reptile mat is warmer than a regular seed mat. In truth any warm place will work to germinate cannabis but I found that the temperature of the reptile warmer made the seeds pop super fast. I literally have to set the time aside to constantly monitor them and then get the popped seeds into the soil.

      When you remember that this plant is really a weed, the agressive germination is pretty typical. The growth stays aggressive with the sprout breaking the soil within days of being planted. Its an exciting plant to grow.

  3. Hello Dr. Doug,

    I read your article with much interest, as I know quite a lot of people who would benefit from being able to grow their own cannabis for medical purposes.
    Unfortunately here in South Africa, it is illegal and one could face some jail time if caught doing this.

    I found it interesting on the way to test if the seeds were good or not, by dropping them into the water. Is this test foolproof, in other words, if the seeds sink they should definitely grow?

    1. I’m not sure what would make the seed heavy enough to drop if it was not fully formed inside unless a bit of grit got stuck to it. I have even grown seeds that float, so while I would say that the dropped seeds are pretty well 100% good, the floaters are not necessarily 100% bad. For myself, I tend to skip the test and go right to the germination center which is where you can make the biggest gains in guaranteeing germination. 

      Happily things are changing in South Africa, where there is intolerance for poor farmers who grow cannabis but more tolerance for rich tourists who smoke in resort areas. This article goes through some of the concerns, but I want to pick out Dave Martin’s line that “In South Africa, medical marijuana is in the process of being legalised and the Western Cape High Court recently ruled that parliament has two years to legalise/decriminalise marijuana for personal use at home.” 

      Right now the SA government is taking back lands for use by the indigenous population and if marijuana growing became a part of that reform, it would give South Africa an opportunity to significantly improve its financial situation just as it is improving the economies of Colorado and California. Apparently there is significant popular support for changing the way that South Africa has been handling cannabis legalization and SA can take on a leadership role when it comes to putting forth progressive rights. 

  4. Hi Dr. Doug — I learned a lot about germinating seeds! I remember my Mom teaching me the wet paper towel trick back in the day. I also appreciate your in-depth explanation on how to make a germination center, especially the reptile heating pad.
    Thank you also for including tips for outdoor growing as well. I would never have thought about adding reflective material around the plant. I also never even considered that each strain would have a different tolerance to temperature. All in all, I learned so much that I want to plant a few in the backyard. Do you have any suggestions concerning an appropriate strain to plant in Southern California?

    1. In southern California you have a long dry summer so you dont need a fast strain like an autoflowering one unless you just want to get to the flowers quickly. The reason to go for a regular slower plant is that they are often bigger and thats a bonus of outdoor growing — having the time and space for a larger, fuller plant. You really have your choice with that kind of environment but I would suggest a plant that needs less water such as Acapulco Gold which has some CBD content as well as high THC. Another all-time favorite is White Widow which has Brazilian genetics and gives a high yield outside. Both of these strains are good for first time growers and I would look for pest resistant varieties. My one tip is to really stay on top of watering because a long dry spell can stress the plant and turn it to seed instead of flowers. Generally cannabis plants want to be in full sun but if you are in a part of SoCal that is really dry, I would suggest a spot with light shade through the hottest portion of the day. 

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